THEME VERSES: Ephesians 5:13-14
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible. this is why it is said: “Wake up. O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Y’all need to get woke! See, even the apostle Paul says it! Now I know you all are thinking, “Whoa, what exactly do you mean by that?” I get it. So, let’s look at how the term “WOKE” has been used throughout history. Wikipedia tells us that:
“Woke is an English adjective meaning “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination” that originated in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism, and has also been used as shorthand for left-wing ideas involving identity politics and social justice….
The phrase stay woke had emerged in AAVE by the 1930s, in some contexts referring to an awareness of the social and political issues affecting African Americans. The phrase was uttered in a recording by Lead Belly and later by Erykah Badu. Following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the phrase was popularized by Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists seeking to raise awareness about police shootings of African Americans. After seeing use on Black Twitter, the term woke became an Internet meme and was increasingly used by white people, often to signal their support for BLM, which some commentators have criticized as cultural appropriation. Mainly associated with the millennial generation, the term spread internationally and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.
The terms woke capitalism and woke-washing have arisen to describe companies who signal support for progressive causes as a substitute for genuine reform. By 2020, parts of the political center and right-wing in several Western countries were using the term woke, often in an ironic way, as an insult for various progressive or leftist movements and ideologies perceived as overzealous, performative, or insincere. In turn, some commentators came to consider it an offensive term with negative associations to those who promote political ideas involving identity and race. By 2021, woke had become used almost exclusively as a pejorative, with most prominent usages of the word taking place in a disparaging context.
So, as you can see, being WOKE used to be a positive thing in the sense that someone has become aware of the effect and impact of racism. They get it. They had an awakening to better understanding and empathy for those suffering from racism. But now, as we come into our recent culture wars, we see the word “WOKE” being used as a negative, disparaging way of describing people or companies that promote progressive ideas. WOKE is used as a manipulative word to signal opposition to people and corporations who may disagree with the political right.
Now that we understand all of this, in what sense are we supposed to be WOKE? Paul tells us to be woke in the letter to the Ephesians. He says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” I want us to look at the theological understanding of which Paul wants us to be woke. It is important that we understand this as a theological term rather than a political hammer to smear the opposition. This is a term that Paul uses to shock us out of an old way of life and into a new way of life.
In the letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul takes chapters 1-3 to explain all that Jesus has done for us. First, Paul summarizes God’s story. Then in chapters 4-6, Paul explains how God’s story should reshape our story.
We will pick up where we left off last week in chapter 4 of the letter to the Ephesians. Paul begins by stating that to be woke to this new way of life, we need to stop acting like unbelievers. Living in Ephesus had to be tough. Temptation was everywhere. Ephesus was a leading city of commerce and culture in the Roman Empire. It was the home of the pagan temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The worship of Diana involved the worst immorality of pagan religion. This influence made Ephesus a wicked place to live. Temple prostitution, crime, immorality, idolatry, and every conceivable form of sin were practiced. Many of the Christians in Ephesus came out of that kind of background. In contrast to this evil background, Paul states, “Don’t live like that any longer!”
He says in Ephesians 4:17-19
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
In this passage, we see that the unbelievers continue to live in the darkness. This involves futile thinking. They think in the moment and have no concept of the bigger picture of what God is trying to accomplish. They think only of themselves with no regard for others. They are ignorant because of the hardening of their hearts. They have no sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading. Instead, they have given themselves over to anything they want, leading to immorality and greed. It appears that the Ephesian church might have been struggling with this, understanding the old way of life in contrast to the new way of life. This is something that every pastor deals with in leading their congregation. We can see this play out with this video called the Honest Pastor.
Paul contrasts the way of the Gentile with the way of a Christ-follower. To be a Christ-follower is to be WOKE to a new way of living. Paul states in Ephesians 4:20-24
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Becoming WOKE is definitely a process in which we learn how to be a Christ-follower. It is a process of unlearning habits of the former way of life and instead, forming habits for a new way of life. We are to put off the old self and put on the new self. We are to be made new by the attitude of our minds. This is a new way of thinking. A new way of being. A new way of looking at life and our purpose in God’s story. As we better understand how we fit into God’s story, we let go of our old way of life and embrace a new way of life, transforming us to be more righteous and holy.
Paul then gives us 5 things that we must change as we live into being a Christ-follower. The first thing he deals with is what is coming out of our mouths. Are we using our words to lie or be people of truth? He states in Ephesians 4:25
25 Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
Truth needs to be a central characteristic of a Christ-follower. Unfortunately, we live in a day where so much falsehood is put out there, and it is so easy to get caught up in things like fake news, alternative facts, and blatant lies. It has become a key characteristic of our culture over the past several years. Many online webpages and news sources have found how to get viewers by keeping their audience in a perpetual state of fear and anger. It is a corrosive and cancerous way of being. Instead, we find our truth in what Christ has done for us. We find our truth in how we are invited into God’s Story instead of the ugly and hateful narratives that permeate our culture. If you are caught up in false narratives and fake news, you’ve gotten off course.
The next thing Paul contrasts is how we deal with anger. Do you have constructive anger or destructive anger? Paul says in Ephesians 4:26-27
26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
We cannot allow anger to seep in and become the main characteristic of who we are. It can have a harsh and destructive effect on us. Based on what I see some people posting on the internet, I can tell you that some are living in a perpetual state of anger: anger at the government, anger at scientists, anger at the church, and anger at the schools. This is not healthy, nor is it Christ-like. Is anger always wrong? No, of course not. When we see the injustice being done to people all around the world, it ought to break our hearts and stir up righteous anger in us. But the difference here is that this should lead us to do what we can to bring God’s love and healing to situations of injustice and hate. First, there is an anger that leads us to do what is right for the sake of others. Then there is an anger that becomes a cancer to our soul, eating us from the inside out, hurting and destroying our relationships with others.
The third thing Paul addresses are the contrast between theft and work. He states in Ephesians 4:28
28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
It is interesting to note why he says we should work. It is so that we can help others who are in need! We are not supposed to figure out how to cheat, lie and steal, but instead, have a solid work ethic where we are taking care of ourselves and others. Honest work is a godly value where you learn how to take care of your needs and help other people in need. When we are blessed through honest work, we can meet our needs and help others.
Fourth, Paul contrasts bad language with good language. He says in Ephesians 4:29
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
What comes out of our mouths ought to benefit others. It should build people up, challenge, inspire and uplift people. This would include what we post online as well as what we speak with our mouths. We live in a new information age where we can put out a lot of words both verbally and online. There have even been examples in recent news of pastors who have created virtual fake online personas in which they can post and say things that would shock their congregation if they knew this was their pastor. What we say, what we type, and what we post reflect our true identity, even if you are hiding behind a false identity online.
And then lastly, Paul shows us that we need to let go of the old way of life and embrace the Holy Spirit’s transformation into a new way of life. He says in Ephesians 4:30-32
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Our actions and attitudes need to reflect the Holy Spirit’s transformation of our life. We let go of what would grieve the Spirit, and we take on things like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness towards others. We are to build each other up and not tear each other down. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Why then would we think anything less would help to attract people to our church? We need to be people of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. When we act like this, people will be drawn to our faith. This will be the evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in your life and transforming you to be more like Jesus.
As I was growing up in the evangelical church, a big question that we always had was, “How do I know for sure that I am saved?” However, the more I have grown in the faith and studied Scripture, I believe that the biggest evidence of salvation is recognizing how the Holy Spirit is changing you and transforming you to be more like Jesus. So, take a good hard look at yourself. Are you still asleep, living out the old way of life? Or are you WOKE to the reality of the Holy Spirit making you more like Jesus each and every day?
Our faith should influence our behavior. We should be transformed through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just behavior modification, though, but a new way of thinking and living. Being WOKE to the reality of the Spirit in our lives.
Are you allowing the Spirit of God to work within you, or are you holding out on the Spirit? We can push him off or invite him in to change us to be more like Jesus.
The OLD way of life produces disunity, disfunction, fracturing, and broken relationships.
The NEW way of life produces unity, love, harmony, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
Which are you?