Summary: Be who you were created to be. We were created to live in the Truth - to be in Christ. As we live in this decaying world, let’s together fix our gaze on our Father. Let’s imitate God and allow Him to transform us to become more like Himself.
In 1962 the "Australian Social Studies" magazine, distributed to school children had as one of its first articles "The Christian Way of Life". To quote from the top of the article: "This is a picture of Christ through whose teachings we began a new age - the Christian era. Two thousand years ago, a little babe was born in a stable at Bethlehem ..." and on it goes. Indeed the first five articles focus on Jesus or contain references to Christianity.
I also have here the 1998 "Get a Life: Your Free Survival Guide" also distributed to school kids. No where is there even a mention of religion, let alone Christianity. Indeed for the purposes of comparison, the first five articles of this magazine focus on getting a job, getting more education, getting more money and keeping it, getting a house, and an article titled "I live therefore I shop". Getting "stuff". To quote one article: "More than ever, young women like you want to have it all. In fact, like most of the guys out there, you’re now demanding, and expecting, that you will have it all!" Because if stuff makes you happy, we need all the stuff we can get our hands on ... don’t we?
Now this is not to say that in 1962 the planet was on a par with the New Jerusalem, but we can see from this small example the philosophical shift of society away from biblical truths to the new religion of consumerism and of self absorption. We haven’t squeezed God to the edges of society, we’ve actually replaced Him.
We have to recognise we’re being engulfed by a society that’s living a lie. A lie that states that you are defined by what you do, that happiness is found in whatever feels right for you, that spiritual bliss is found in any aisle of the spiritual supermarket, that satisfaction is found in the abundance of stuff, and that truth is relative. Friends, the Truth is Jesus.
Paul was writing to a group of Christians in Ephesus who, just like us, were struggling with similar problems. As we can see in verse 19, their decaying culture was one of greed for stuff and of sexual "freedom". As a major trading centre, many different social, spiritual, and religious ideas would have been floating around - there were many beautiful temples dedicated to a wide range of gods. But it was the temple dedicated to Artemis that dominated the city. In fact this temple has been classified as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The people of Ephesus regarded the city’s relationship to Artemis in terms of a divinely directed covenant relationship, and it had strong ties to the practice of magic arts and the occult.
Paul tells this group of Christians there that the Truth is not found in the lie that that their culture was perpetrating. Indeed most of the readers of this letter would have been involved in this sort of lifestyle before they became Christians. They had seen the futility of this way of living. They had recognised that this culture didn’t provide the answers, and had repented of their past lives and followed the one true God. The Truth was not found in stuff or within themselves: it is only found in Jesus. Paul warns his readers not to replace Him with their old habits, the habits of those around them.
Why do we so concern ourselves with material possessions when the Truth is in Jesus?
To live in the Truth is not to just tack on the church thing, just as some Ephesians were adding Jesus to their collection of gods, but it requires a revolution. Paul reminds the Christian church there how they came to be Christians. He tells us in verse 22 to put away your former way of life. In "The Message" Eugene Peterson puts it like this: "Everything - and I do mean everything - connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it!". Paul is not referring to a gentle "Christianisation" here but to a complete removal. You don’t get rid of the problem of a toxic waste dump by laying a fresh layer of dirt: you have to dig up the whole thing and remove it. It is a decisive act.
However it is only when you decide to make this complete break from the past and give God the driver’s seat and allow Him to access all areas of you that He can begin the work of renewing your mind. How can we have this renewing of the mind? Spending more time with God is a good place to start.
Back at High School I used to play in the school footy team. A friend of mine who also played for the team had really smelly feet. Now he thought that if he changed his socks often enough then he would be able to get rid of the smell. But when we went into the change rooms after the match we all knew to stay away from Fletch: there was something toxic about those feet of his.