February 18, 2018 Sermon “Off with the Old, On with the New” - Ephesians 4:17-24
How many of you were here last Sunday? How many of you are here today?
I hope you were able to listen to Tom More’s message last week on Christian maturity. He gave an excellent overview of what maturity in Christ is.
He summarized it by saying that you are maturing in Jesus if you are attached to Him, connected to the body of Christ.
And he asked, “Are you part of the body of Jesus, attached to Him, or are you more of a fan. Is Jesus a guy you go to when you’re in trouble, or do you live in Him”.
Same way you might have friends that you only really connect with when you they have something you need, vs a friend that you are always in direct contact with, talking to every day.
It was an excellent message, and if you missed it or want to review it I encourage you to go to our web page and click on the Livestream link. Then you’ll be able to scroll down and listen.
I wanted to build on Tom’s great introduction to this theme of maturity in Christ by unpacking in a bit more detail the passage that we just had read to us, Ephesians 4:17-24. Let’s do that.
Briefly, I want to identify the problem. The Apostle Paul here is speaking to the church in Ephesus.
In chapter 4 he is telling the church and us that since they are In Christ, since they have placed their faith in the Son of God, they need to live a life worthy of the Lord, worthy of the calling into Christ that we have received.
We need to do this. This isn’t an option for us. It is, rather a trajectory for our lives. It is the way God points for us to go.
It is the way that Jesus goes before us and beckons us. Jesus Himself lived a life worthy of God, and by His Spirit He actually gives us the power to grow toward that being true in us.
Paul is saying this for a reason. God through Paul is calling us to live a life worthy of Jesus.
He’s saying this because it can be said at some level, that entry into the Christian faith can appear easy. It has a low threshold.
It’s not hard, at one level, to become a Christian.
By contrast, in order to become a Jew, as Paul was, a gentile male would need to be circumcised
That was a very high threshold which made it likely that only those who were genuine in their desire to become Jews would do so.
But to become a believer, we see that there is no such requirement. We become followers of Jesus by faith alone. There are no works involved in our salvation.
That’s very basic to true faith in Jesus. We can’t earn our way into a relationship with God. If we try we will fail, because you can’t get to God through works.
The thing blocking us is sin and our sin can only be dealt with through the sacrifice of Jesus, the precious blood of Jesus.
So we become believers through faith alone by the grace of God. That makes it relatively easy to come into the church.
But Paul is making it clear that all authentic believers in Jesus will be changed after coming to Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
Most of that change, that work of making you and me a new creation, most of that work is done sovereignly by the Holy Spirit in us after we place our faith in Jesus alone.
But lo and behold, we have a part to play as well in changing.
And that part has something to do with remembering where we have come from, and being careful to remember that living in Jesus means NOT continuing in our former ways, our former conduct and our former way of thinking.
As we learn to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we realize that this means that God brings transformation to our hearts, to our souls, to our minds and even to the way we use the strength and energy God gives us.
Paul talks about our minds here first. He says: “...you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking”.
What does futile meaning? Pointless, incapable of producing any useful result. It means thought patterns that produce nothing useful. What is an example of a thought pattern or way of thinking that produces nothing useful?
Worrying produces nothing useful. Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said:
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”
Now there’s a study that proves it. This study looked into how many of our imagined calamities never materialize.
In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen.
Lo and behold, it turns out that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.
This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.
And so Jesus says in Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life...”
Worrying takes mental energy and emotional energy.
We waste 85% of the mental and emotional energy that we spend on worrying. God wants us to use our mental and emotional energy on other things.
In Matthew 6:31-34, Jesus says: So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Paul says in our passage today that says that because of wasted thinking, pointless, futile thinking, the Gentiles are darkened in their understanding and separated by their ignorance from the life of God.
You can see why Paul is passionate about encouraging the Ephesians to NOT live as the Gentiles do.
Wasteful thinking, futile, pointless worrying, among other futile ways of thinking, leaves us in ignorance.
We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Rom 12:2).
Jesus renews us as we live and dwell attached to Him, attached to his body. But that often means we have to reject our old ways of thinking and being.
Have you always been a worrier? Jesus wants you, and empowers you by His Holy Spirit, to let go of worry and put our thinking into trusting Him and seeking first His kingdom.
Sometimes we have to actively reject worrying. How do you do that? It’s the same way you control your thoughts in other areas.
Let your dark thoughts bounce. If you’re human you have dark thoughts. Judgmental thoughts. Unkind thoughts. Sexual thoughts that are out of place.
I tell men, if you’re struggling with lust, with looking lustfully at women, do what Job did and make a covenant with your eyes to not look lustfully at a young woman.
"I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman”. Job 31:1
You talk to God, be truthful about the problem, you commit to not looking lustfully at a woman, and then you practice. You practice letting your eyes bounce. You’re not responsible for the first look. You didn’t know if was coming usually. You’re responsible for looking again...so don’t.
Let your eyes bounce. I still to this day talk to myself and say out loud when I’m alone driving or walking down the street: “Let your eyes bounce. Don’t look again”.
And by the grace of God and with practice, with training yourself to control your thoughts, you learn to control your thoughts.
Likewise we can train our brains to recognize worry.
We can learn to recognize worry in its early stages and then turn that worried thought, which in itself as we’ve discussed is entirely useless to us…
We can turn that worried thought into a prayer, even a prayer of praise, and then we end up worrying far, far less.
Let THAT occupy your mind. See how dwelling on God’s goodness changes you.
And then our anxiety comes under control. And then our minds are free to be in the moment.
We’re able to be present to others, to really love others as we listen, as we pay attention to them. There’s no greater gift to give to another person than to be completely present to another person. Undistracted.
That’s what God does for you when you pray. He is limitless so is able to be truly with you as you pray, as you worship, as you live IN Christ.
So we say “no” to futile thinking, and we seek God and we love God with our minds in part by disciplining our minds to reject worry and all kinds of other futile thinking, the pointless use of our mental energies.
“...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.
Paul’s big burden, and the burden of all of us who follow Jesus, is the people who are separated from the life of God.
There is great joy that comes from being in Jesus. There is understanding of spiritual things that doesn’t come to people a part from being in Jesus.
There is in us, as there should and needs to be, a deep prayer, a deep longing in our hearts for our friends and families to discover the life of God that has been so kindly revealed to us in Jesus.
I prayed and longed for years for my family to come to know Jesus.
God answered that prayer for my brother 4 years after I started praying for him. God answered that prayer for my father 31 years after I started praying for him. Others in my family have not yet come to Jesus.
And it weighs on me that they are missing so much of what life has to offer when it is lived, as it’s intended by God to be lived, in Jesus.
But, as my heart was once hardened toward God, some of my family’s hearts are still hard to Him.
As a result they don’t know Jesus, they are ignorant, unknowing of the goodness of God. And each of them, in their own way, struggles terribly and often with great sadness through this life.
Feeling unaccompanied, feeling like they have to manufacture their own meaning, feeling at times despondent and isolated.
We all feel sad from time to time. That’s normal. But from my experience living before I came to Jesus, I can tell you that feeling sad is completely different from being, in reality, separated from the life of God.
But God would not have us live separated. Because He loves us, Jesus wants us to live abundantly, to live with purpose, not wasting precious mental resources struggling with the meaning of life.
If you are here today and you have faith in God, count yourself, as I do, incredibly gifted, fortunate that God gave you and continues to give you faith to believe and trust in Him.
Your life without Him, my life without Him, would be so much poorer.
And there are those like myself in this room who more than likely wouldn’t be alive but for the goodness of God revealing to us the love of God in Jesus.
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 the void of life without God, we naturally look to fill up the emptiness with something. Something that makes us feel something.
And so we all know the short-lived and ultimately damaging experience of indulging in sensual, sexual things outside of God’s intended place for them, which is in marriage on God’s terms as expressed in the Bible.
We really can’t judge those who are doing the crazy crap that we use to do, or that we may even continue to struggle with occasionally.
We need to have compassion.
And we can have compassion and empathy simply because we’ve been there. We’ve done that.
We’ve reaped in our bodies and spirits the consequences for our actions. We know the shame and sorrow and frustration.
But we’ve been forgiven because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and we’re being transformed so we no longer waste our energies on such things. Our finite, limited energy.
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.
So now Paul has laid the groundwork for us to understand where we came from.
He’s also laid the groundwork that really can and should keep us honest and willing to engage with people who are still in the throws of living lives that Paul calls futile and separated from the life of God.
And we can do that without judgment.
Yonge Street Mission is known for this. We serve and love everyone without regard to any distinction. Not race, not religion, not sexual orientation, not anything.
It is possible and preferable for us, church, to engage with, to love and support and seek the best for people without judgment.
We know that are beginning to explore the whole reality of NOT being separated from the life of God. We’re starting to know what it feels like to live free.
And as much as we’re doing that we’re getting a little tiny taste of our future with God in eternity.
The way of life we are beginning to live, that started when we heard about and responded to Jesus, that started when we first placed our trust in Him and in His sacrifice for our sins, that way of life includes putting off our old self.
I don’t know about you but my old self was selfish to the core. My old self was a liar. A thief. An addict. A soul that was totally lost and at sea. Unanchored to anything real.
Heading for a Christless eternity. I was under water struggling for air, totally corrupted by deceitful desires.
But that is old news. That is not the gospel. That is not my life since Jesus came into my life.
My life and your life since Jesus Christ came to take up residence in us is being made new. Every day. God’s mercies are new, fresh every day.
Every day the blood of Christ cleanses us and liberates us and reminds us that we are loved.
Loved so much that a life was given for us. So much that the matchless Son of God gave Himself for us as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins.
You and I are being made new. New in our thinking. Far from the futility that we use to live in, our minds are being shaped and renewed by God’s Word. We are learning daily to put off the old self and put on the new self.
That language suggests the idea that every day we have the choice to put on old, ratty, smelly, moth-eaten garments - clothing, or to put on new or freshly washed garments.
And if we are going to grow and change to be more like Jesus, which is absolutely the best that God has to offer us, we do put on the new garments.
We live according to the new way of life, we live in the new self which was created, intended by God to be like Him in true righteousness and holiness.
That’s truly mind-boggling if you think about it. We really need to learn to think about ourselves much differently if we are really going to believe this.
24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
We have to start thinking about ourselves the way that God thinks about us, about who we are in Christ Jesus.
Do you want to live truly free? Do you want to live in ever increasing joy. Do you want to be like God in righteousness and holiness? Unfettered. Unchained.
This is life in Jesus. This is what we are growing toward, if we are in Jesus, attached to His body.
This can’t happen to those who are fans of Jesus. This won’t happen if Jesus is a guy you go to when you’re in trouble. This happens as we live in him.
So may you and I embrace the newness of life that God offers us in Jesus. May we daily put off the old self, and put on the new self that God has created for us to be. And then watch.
See how God changes us from the inside out. See how His grace flows in and through us to others. And don’t be at all surprise when the healing transformation comes. Amen? Amen.