Summary: To be a Christian is a process of getting rid of old and sinful habits and behaviour
Ephesians 4: 17-24
“Unlearning and learning”
In my preparation of tonight’s sermon, I came across something saying that in 1962, in the “Australian Social Studies “ magazine, which was distributed to school children, one of the first five articles was titled, “The Christian Way of Life”. The other four articles also focussed on Jesus in some way or another or made reference to Christianity.
26 years later, in 1998, another magazine, called “Get a life: Your free survival Guide” was distributed to school kids. No where in the magazine was there even the mention of religion, let alone Christianity! In fact, all the other articles were about how to get a job, improve you education, making more money and how to keep it, getting a house, etc. Now, I don’t know whether Australia was ever considered in its history as a Christian country, but if it was, then we can clearly see how the mindset of this nation has changed. We can see from this example the philosophical shift of society from biblical truths to the new religion of consumerism and of self-absorption. We’ll have to recognize today that we are engulfed by a society that is living a lie. That lie is telling us that you are known by what you do. That happiness is found in whatever feels right for you. That spiritual bliss is found at any stall on the spiritual market. That satisfaction is found in the abundance of wealth and possessions. And truth? Truth is a relative term, it would say. You see we haven’t squeezed God to the edges of society. No, we’ve actually replaced him! If you think this is not really the case in Australia, then may be you should have a deeper look, because this is the case in many other countries. It certainly is the case in South Africa where I come from.
However, the situation of today is nothing unique. In our passage of tonight Paul is writing to a group of Christians who is struggling with similar problems. Just as their decaying culture was one of greed and sexual “freedom” so is our culture of today polluted by homosexuality and sexual perversion. Just as their culture had different social, spiritual and religious ideas on the menu, so are we served today with different world religions and new age philosophies as alternatives to choose from. So Paul’s message to the Ephesians was to and that brings me to my first point,
1. Depart from Darkness
When we study this passage, we must bear in mind that in the previous passages Paul already said something about their former condition. And also, Paul is not speaking to Jews here. He is speaking to Gentile Christians. And therefore, Paul is also speaking to us. In chapter 2 verse one he says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked…” and then further in verse 4 he tells us that God being rich in mercy had made us alive. And so Paul builds up his appeal to the church in Ephesus, because in his address on the unity of the church in ch. 4:1, and I’m quoting from the NIV Bible he says, “…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”. You see, with the language Paul is using we get the idea that Paul is obviously getting a bit frustrated here, because in tonight’s passage Paul says, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do….” The NASB uses the word “implore” in 4:1 and in our passage the word “affirm”. And so we see he is frustrated with them, because he has obviously noticed that they are not living the way they should! Otherwise he would not have been so persistent about the issue. You see, on the one hand they are a certain kind of people being made alive, but on the other hand they are not living it. And so Paul once again reminds them by saying, you are like that, now live like that. You are made new in Christ, now live like that. Have a look at verse 17 again. Paul says that they should no longer live as the Gentiles do. In other words, Paul is saying that faith in Christ demands a radical change of the believer’s lifestyle! It means, you cannot give lip service to Christ and then carry on the way you used to live. No, Paul’s urgent command to them is to cease living the way they used to live and to live in a way that glorifies God.
So what is this lifestyle of the unbeliever that Paul does not want them to live any longer? What is wrong with the character of the unbeliever that you cannot live like that? The way Paul goes about it in verse 18 is depicting a terrible downward path of evil. And it begins with an obstinate rejection of God’s known truth. It begins by the hardening of the heart. Then follows ignorance, as he says, being “darkened in their understanding”. Their way of thinking becomes futile. Their way of thinking becomes meaningless. An unknown person said, “The life of the unbeliever is bound up in thinking and acting in an arena of ultimate trivia. He consumes himself in the pursuit of goals that are purely selfish, in accumulation of that which is temporary, and in looking for satisfaction in that which is intrinsically deceptive and disappointing.” And let me tell you, ignorance here does not refer to their intelligence. Nor does it refer to what they don’t know. Have you ever been in a discussion with a philosopher? Well they are not stupid. No, it rather refers to the knowledge they do possess and in which they put their trust or base their actions on. And ultimately that leads to destruction when Paul says they would be separated from God. Friends that is the worst fate that can ever come to you and me, to be alienated from God, to be separated from God. That is the judgement of God on anyone who rebels against him. Proverbs very clearly points out, the fool says there is no God. And finally Paul says they then throw everything in, they give up and become reckless. They give themselves up to sensuality. They indulge on all kinds of impurity. Think about it for a moment. How much of that do we see around us, is printed in the news papers everyday?