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.
So what will this new life look like? Paul takes that up in the next section of our text. He said, “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” (Ephesians 4:28). It seems that Greek men in particular did not like manual labor. They felt it demeaned them to have to make a living by digging ditches or working in a warehouse. They would rather steal to support themselves. But Paul teaches them and us that this is an old-self-way of thinking—just as the old self today wants us to think nothing of downloading music we haven’t paid for, or taking supplies from work for our own personal use. It doesn’t matter that this is what everyone else does. In fact that shouldn’t surprise us because if they are unbelievers, then they’re old self is still calling the shots. But not so with believers. Sure, this may mean you have to do without, but it also means that your trust is not in your cunning to provide, but in your Lord who loves you and has promised to give you what you need.
Paul continues describing the life of the new self when he wrote: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body… 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:25, 29, 30).
Paul says that those who have put off the old self will use their mouth in positive ways. First, we will not lie about where we’ve been, or what we’ve been up to when asked by our parents. We won’t shade the truth to our advantage when filling out our resumes. When we speak we are to build each other up and not say anything that tears the other down. Such words are not “wholesome.” The meaning of that word in Greek has the idea of something that is rotten—like fish left out in the sun. Think of that next time you’re tempted to cut down a sibling or respond with sarcasm. Remind yourself, “I’m a baptized child of God. I’ve taken off the old self and put on the new. Why would I want such a putrid smell to escape from my lips?”
What’s more, when we lie to each other and tear each other down, we grieve the Holy Spirit. How do you feel when you’ve worked on a project for days, but when you show it to someone you respect, they criticize and nitpick what you’ve done? Aren’t you grieved? Why should the Holy Spirit feel any differently when we seemingly shrug off his work in us and go back to our old-self-ways? If we keep grieving the Holy Spirit, we can drive him away from us. And if we don’t have the Holy Spirit, we can’t have faith in Jesus. And if we don’t have faith in Jesus, we won’t have salvation.
Paul finishes out this section of Ephesians like this: “‘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... 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. 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:26, 27, 31-5:2).
Although you may be blessed to be surrounded with believers who are also striving to live new-self lives, they will, like you, often fall back into old-self ways. They will say things that are hurtful and demeaning. They will take advantage of you. What then? Paul urges us not to let righteous anger, anger over sin, become vengeful anger. That’s why Paul urges us to get rid of all bitterness and rage and to forgive. Failure to do that gives Satan a foothold in our lives and he can spin that anger into other sins just as he did with Cain who didn’t stop at the sin of jealousy, but also committed the sin of murder when he killed his brother Abel.
The new self instead will strive to forgive as God has forgiven us. And no, this won’t be easy to do. It will mean giving up your right to insist on your way, but that’s exactly what Jesus did. He gave himself as a sacrifice to his God for us. Or as another translation puts this verse: “He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that” (Ephesians 5:2 – The Message).
That 80’s commercial had the right idea when it tried to scare people away from drugs. It’s too bad that commercials and movies don’t portray sin as something to avoid. Instead they often celebrate the wild and carefree life-style. But you know better. You have God’s Word and you have been brought to believe it. Not only do you know better, through baptism you’ve been given the strength to live better, to live like your Savior Jesus. Amen.
How does the Apostle Paul describe the mind of an unbeliever in today’s text?
What does Paul say has happened to the mind and life of those who have been brought to faith? How was this illustrated in a tangible way in the early church?
What specific examples does Paul give of how believers will now strive to live? Fill in the blanks.
Believers will no longer ______________ from others.
Believers will no longer ______________ to each other.
Believers will not hold _______________ against each other.
Believers will _____________ just like Christ.
(Not covered in the sermon.) What are ways you can remind yourself daily that you are no longer governed by your old self?