Summary: Paul describes the horrible effects of sin and urges us to live according to our new self.
Have any of you seen this ad from the 80’s produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America? An actor held up an egg and said, “This is your brain.” He then cracked the egg into a hot frying pan where the egg sizzled, bubbled, and turned brown at the edges before the actor continued, “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” There were other ads meant to shock people into thinking twice about dabbling with drugs. The thought of course was that if people could visualize the terrible effect drugs had on their brain, body, and life, they would stay away from them.
Today in our text the Apostle Paul paints a similar picture about sin. He speaks about sin’s shocking effects so that we would want to avoid sinning. Let’s give Paul our attention as he reveals to us a God’s-eye view of an unbeliever’s mind. What Paul shares should make us eager to not only treasure the gift of faith and forgiveness, but also earnestly strive to live as God wants us to live.
Paul begins our text like this: “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” (Ephesians 4:17-19). Working with information that he received from God himself, Paul tells us that the mind of an unbeliever is “futile in its thinking, darkened, and ignorant.” Of course that’s not what the average unbeliever thinks. If anything, he feels rather enlightened that he doesn’t believe all the “religious” stuff that we do. His god is science and whatever his mind and body tells him to do. But isn’t that exactly what Satan suggested to Adam and Eve? He said it was foolish for them to believe God. Instead they would be much more enlightened if they did what they wanted to do. And if that meant eating the so-called forbidden fruit, they should go for it.
Instead of falling for Satan’s lie again, take to heart what Paul is saying here—that without God we’re like the driver of a car who begins his morning commute without first bothering to scrape the frost off his windshield. Have you ever made that mistake? Perhaps you were in a hurry and when you first got into the car the frost on the windshield didn’t seem to be too bad. After all, you could faintly make out your driveway. But when you turned on to the road you quickly realized that you had made a poor decision. As the streetlights shone down on your frosted windshield, it made it impossible to see a thing in front of you! Engaging the windshield wiper fluid works for a second before the liquid freezes on to your windshield leaving you ignorant again of what is in front of you on the road.
That’s how life without God and his Word is like. It ought to scare us to be in such a position because without God’s Word, we can’t know what dangers are in our way. We can’t know that there really is an evil spirit called Satan who wants us to share his fate of an eternity in hell. Instead we’ll buy into a recent campaign by atheists who snickered: “There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy life!”
But without God and his Word, you can’t properly enjoy life. Instead you’ll end up doing what is bad for you—like the kid who is left at home alone and figures he can have Cheetos and pop for supper because there’s no one there to make him eat his vegetables. In the same way the mind without God thinks that life would really be better if you could regularly give your boss a piece of your mind, or sleep with a different person every night. But Paul goes on to write, “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” (Ephesians 4:20-23).
When we were brought to faith in Jesus there was a renewal that took place. Our old self—that part of us governed by sin—was stripped from us like a dirty diaper. In its place we were given the “new self, created to be like God in righteousness and holiness.” The early church highlighted this spiritual truth in a tangible way at baptism. They required their baptismal candidates to disrobe before stepping into the baptismal waters. After the sacrament, they were given a clean white gown to wear. Being baptized meant not only being totally forgiven of one’s sins, it also meant being totally committed to a new kind of life. And what Paul is teaching us this morning is that this new life is so much better than the old life because God wants to get us back to how things once were for Adam and Eve before the fall into sin.