Faithlife
Faithlife

Ephesians 4:17-24 Put off the old to put on the new

Notes & Transcripts

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Put off the old to put on the new

Ephesians 4:17-24

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 4:22-24 NIV


Last week I left you in our holy huddle where I had compared the local church to a football team with Jesus Christ as the team owner. The thrust of last week’s message was that as owner, Jesus has appointed a team of coaches to train, equip and prepare the entire team for works of service that will build up the whole team to be effective in bringing others into a saving and sanctifying relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is the time of year when young boys turn out for football with visions of playing in the game at some position, dreaming of making at least one important play that helps their team win the game. And, because of that vision, none of the boys need an invitation to place themselves under the mentorship of their coaches. The desire alone to be on the team and to play in the game is enough to initiate communication with the coaches, even if it’s only non-verbal communication, that “we want to contribute to the success of our team.”

Two weeks ago the focus was on the importance of the team being unified around the One who brought us on to the team. We heard from the Apostle Paul how important it was that we always bear in mind that it was through God’s mercy and grace that each of us were placed on the team. So, anytime we are tempted to withhold love and forgiveness from another team member, we need to remember on what basis we, ourselves, were made members on the team. It wasn’t because of our own righteousness. It was strictly on the merits of Christ’s righteousness.

Thus Paul opened chapter 4 of Ephesians with these words: Ephesians 4:1-3 (NIV)

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

So, here we are again in our holy huddle, ready to hear Paul’s next instructions. We are a team that has been formed entirely on the basis of God’s redeeming action of giving His Son Jesus Christ to be the substitute sacrifice for our sin. There is no other way to be a member of God’s team.

Christ Himself has demonstrated His love for us in this that while we were still sinners, He died for us. That is the extent to which Christ went to bring us on to His team. Therefore, it should not be a surprise to any one of us that our calling as members of His team is to Be completely humble and gentle; to be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Thus, when we begin to think of ourselves as having the right to not be put upon or offended or that we really are not obligated to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, then we have forgotten on what basis we are even members of this team in the first place.

When we suffer from this memory loss it fosters an independent spirit, which Paul is saying undermines the unity that is ours in Christ. This same independent spirit gives us the right to be offended and to disassociate ourselves from the team that Christ has placed us in.

In the past couple of weeks, hundreds of boys in the Kent area have shown up on the football fields with the hope of being part of a winning football team. All of them soon discover, if they didn’t realize it prior, that team unity and cohesiveness is vital to a winning team. Showing up for practice every time it’s scheduled, working hard on the drills, learning the playbook, doing what the coaches tell them to do – these are just basic to the preparation and training that takes place on every football field where teams are being built to win games.

We have among us many who have coached sports teams and several who continue to do so. You can ask any one of them what it is like when a player develops an independent spirit. I just heard it from Shaquille O'Neal during an interview about what was different about this Olympic basketball team from the previous. He said, “Your question has the answer. It’s the word team. We are a team this time,” he said.

Clearly, Paul is saying that church is a team sport. The body of Christ is a single body whose members are different from each other but are all linked together to make one unit and they function under the leadership of one head, who is Christ.

This is how Paul said it in the last two verses in our study from last week.

Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

In this 4th chapter of Ephesians, Paul has outlined for us a strategy for how a local church family is able to grow and build itself up in love. His strategy calls for a very intentional focus on Jesus Christ, the owner of the team. Therefore, I am urging each of us to recommit ourselves to Christ as our highest and most valued priority. I am challenging everyone of us to take control of our calendars so that our days and our weeks reflect that Jesus Christ truly is our Lord, the Head of His Church.

Paul’s strategy also calls for a very intentional effort to maintain the unity of the team by expressing support and encouragement at every turn and in every situation. It may be like playing cards. You work with the hand you are dealt. Good players don’t just make the best of it, they work to turn it into a winning hand.

It is Christ who has put this team together. As a result, all of us are brothers and sisters called to humbly serve our Lord side by side in worship and evangelism.

Because of this truth, I unashamedly am challenging New Heights to an even higher view of the local church than we may presently hold. For I believe the Scriptures tell us that it is through the local body of Christ where our love for Christ is given the best opportunity to develop and be employed. It is in the context of a local assembly of believers where our faith is best lived out, not in isolation from the world, but in its most effective impact on the world.

For I am convinced that faithful, obedient, loving Christians, who are committed to the mission of a local church that is faithfully serving Christ, have the greatest potential for impacting the unbelieving world that surrounds them. And thus, I hope to persuade you through the truth of Ephesians 4 and through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the truth to your life, that there is not one thing that you would want to commit yourself to more than to Christ, to His Church and to His work in the world. And Paul is giving us a strategy to make that happen right here at New Heights Christian Church.

I invite you to stand with me as we read together the text for today. We are reading from:

Ephesians 4:17-24 (NIV)

17 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, with a continual lust for more.

20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of Him 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.

You may be seated. -- Here’s how I would summarize verses 1-24 at this point. Firstly, our team has gathered and we have all affirmed that we are committed to team unity. We recognize that we are members of the team because we have been forgiven much and thus we are all prepared to extend much forgiveness.

Secondly, we understand that Jesus Christ is the head of our team, that He has assigned some of our members to serve as His coaching staff to equip and prepare our team for works of service. We also recognize that each of us is uniquely fitted for this team and are committed to do our part to make our team successful.

Thirdly, from the text we now look at, we also recognize that our past still tries to pull us back into its grip and beckons us to return to the lifestyle we left behind. Thus, it is important that we are committed to take full advantage of being members of a united body of believers, making certain that we are keeping our focus on living in Christ and that we are in a healthy relationship with our coaches and the fellow members of our team.

Just how important is this?

When a child hears dad say, “I’m telling you, don’t do that again. I insist on it. Don’t even think about it,” what level of importance would you assign to dad’s instruction? Not very important? Mildly important? Or, very important?

I suppose the tone of voice does play a role in how we would respond. But, it would be hard to suggest that dad’s instructions are anything less than very important.

Now listen to Paul. Ephesians 4:17-24 (NIV)

17 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.

Not only is Paul’s instruction firm and clear, but he also gives rationale for his urgent instruction. First, Paul attaches the authority of the Lordship of Christ to his instruction. That raises the degree of importance immediately to the top. Second, Paul says that the lifestyle of Gentiles is a futile way to live. It is a waste. It is like chasing shadows, like blowing bubbles. It is like giving one’s life to empty goals that leave no benefit to anyone.

I get the impression that these good friends of Paul are on the verge of being snookered by the false promises and deceptive schemes of their godless culture.

I would like to give you an assignment. Listen carefully to the promises that are being made by our culture. Listen carefully and write them down. Listen, as well, to the arguments to justify behavior that is contrary to the truth of God’s word.

In many cases, the promises being made have little substance or they require you to sell your soul.

Since our recent series of sermons on the Sabbath principle, I’ve been amazed at how often I am hearing about the negative effects of living such busy lives and packing our schedules insanely full. Dangling in front of us is the promise that if we do all this stuff, if we have our kids on this or that select, elite team, there will be a pot of gold waiting for them at the end of the rainbow, or at the very least, a college scholarship.

Friends, just because we live in a culture that is like the Gentiles of Rome doesn’t mean we have to live like them. If filling our schedules so full means we have little to no time to be alone with Jesus in God’s Word, or time to read the Bible with our children, or gather in fellowship with a small group of Christians to listen together to the voice of God, or faithfully worship with our church family, then frankly, we are sinning by the management of our calendars.

Paul says that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. And, he tells us why their thinking is futile.

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, with a continual lust for more.

Bottom line, a Gentile by Paul’s definition had a hardened heart. As a result of that hardened heart, (1) he was darkened in his understanding, (2) he was separated from the life of God and (3) he was unrestrained in moral attitudes and behaviors. Those are the consequences of a hardened heart.

How does one get a hardened heart? Now, Paul actually uses two words that speak of a hardening. The first refers to the body’s natural response to a broken bone. It rebuilds that spot stronger than it was before the break so that it is less apt to be broken in that spot again. But, that’s not what you want to have happen to your heart. Our proverbial hearts are intended to remain tender because they are the source of our affections.

We know that in relationships a frequently broken heart usually results in negative consequences. How can I love again? How can I trust again when I have been betrayed so often?

But, what Paul is speaking of regarding hardened hearts is what we do to our own center of affection. By disobedience we do damage to our hearts. That damage should send a loud alarm saying, “don’t do that again.” But, when we repeat that disobedience and re-damage our heart, it begins to harden and it becomes easier to disobey again – and again.

In verse 19, Paul says these Gentiles have become callous. NIV says, lost all sensitivity. How does a heart become calloused? From repetition! But, what is a person repeating? It must be a disobedient act. Repeated disobedience hardens a person’s heart.

So, Paul uses two words to express how our hearts lose sensitivity to the desires of God, harden and callous. Frequent disobedience hardens the heart and we begin to not even recognize that we are disobeying our Lord.

To add insult to our vulnerable hearts, there are a growing number of so-called theologians who are giving people a so-called biblical rationale for why it’s o.k. to disobey God’s Word. In essence, many are saying we have been duped by traditional understandings. But now with more brilliant minds, things that once were labeled sinful are now to be encouraged if you are comfortable with them.

That is simply more evidence that the hearts of our cultural leaders are increasingly being hardened to the righteousness of God. Thus, we must take Paul’s warning seriously.

19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

To paraphrase H.D.M. Spence-Jones, “Deception is an agent of evil. It dresses itself up with lustful beauty, portraying itself as harmless. But really, it is viciously ruinous. Its real character is concealed. It comes to us as a minister of pleasure but as it leaves we see its true nature: a tyrant of destruction. The same deception dresses up the lust for power and the lust for money. But, they are are simply the offspring of the deception of evil and they must always be shunned.[1]

This is the past we have left behind that still tries to pull us back into its grip. It beckons us to return to the lifestyle we once embraced. It tries to re-whet our appetite for the sins of our youth. But only blindness and ignorance will keep us from seeing and knowing that to go back is to bring destruction on our lives and those around us.

Thus, Paul makes his urgent appeal.

20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of Him 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.

Notice the role of teaching and instruction in Paul’s appeal. How did you come to know Christ? By hearing of Him and by being taught in Him. It is no coincidence that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God. He brings a new set of instructions, a new operating system to our lives. He brings those instructions to us both by His relationship with us and by teaching us His truth.

Notice again the phrase: Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him. Isn’t that an interesting statement – taught in Him. That’s different that simply being taught about Christ. This is not just intellectual knowledge that Paul is speaking of. This is the knowledge of Christ that comes with being in intimate relationship with Christ.

Here is where our analogy of the football team begins to break down. Rarely would the owner of a football team have such an intimate role in the lives of his players and coaches. Certainly none would sacrifice themselves for their team members, at least not with the effect of providing eternal salvation as Christ does.

Also, in the game of football, the energy of the players is to be applied to learning the game and improving their skills, not on building a strong relationship with the owner as of first importance.

But, for Christ’s team, the team He calls His body, relationship with Him is the very most important thing. Everything about life in the body of Christ is about our relationship with Christ. We must never, never forget this.

This has huge implications for us in ministry. You see, the primary task of all ministries of the church is to get people connected to the source of life. It is out of that relationship that springs all other works of service. To divorce Christ from ministry is like cutting the fuel line to an automobile engine, throwing the circuit breaker on the elect oven, turning the lights off in a dark room, losing the front wheel on a bicycle, running out of ink for your printer at 11:30 PM on April 15th when your printing your first copy of your IRS tax forms. Well, you get the idea.

Our ministries are fueled by, empowered by, kept going by our relationship with Christ. He is the message of our ministry, the method of our ministry and the sustenance for our ministry. He is the truth, the way and the life. Is it any wonder that Paul reminds us that we have put off our old self in order to put on our new self that we may live in the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ?

Again, Paul emphasizes the role of teaching in this process of putting off of the old and putting on the new. A major ministry of the local church is its teaching ministry. The primary text for our teaching ministry the Bible. Here is what Paul tells us we will learn through a church’s Bible teaching ministry:

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.

It appears that it is appropriate that a certain amount of our teaching should be spent on strengthening our defense against the encroachment of our former way of life. Deceitful desires are still lurking in the shadows. They are concealed but are capable of being discovered by wisdom and discernment. This is a proper role of the teaching ministry of the church, to help members of the body to not be deceived.

The next category of instruction that is appropriate for a church’s teaching ministry is to assist the members of the body to be made new in the attitude or spirit of their minds.

I’m reminded of: Colossians 3:16 (NIV) 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

We must not forget that the whole context of chapter 4 is our relationship within the body of Christ. Paul was written a game plan for how we are to function within Christ’s body. It is God’s word that is going to be used by God’s Holy Spirit to bring renewal in our minds. And, that is an appropriate role for every member of the body of Christ it fulfill – that of encouraging other members of the body using God’s word.

The third category of instruction that is appropriate for a church’s teaching ministry is to come alongside each member to assist in the putting on of the new self with new thoughts filling our minds from God’s Word, with new choices that will lead to behavior that is more Christ-like, with new attitudes that will reflect the gracious and merciful heart of Christ.

It is important that we are committed to take full advantage of being members of a united body of believers, making certain that we are keeping our focus on living in Christ and that we are in a healthy relationship with our coaches and fellow members of our team.

To close, I’m going to ask you 2 questions which for some of you may make you uncomfortable. And I don’t do this because I want to make you uncomfortable. I do this because I really want you to be experiencing God’s best.

You have to judge for yourself if God has placed me in the position of pastor/teacher. I believe He has and I am humbled every time I step into this pulpit to speak God’s word. I am always open to correction. God’s word is the that authority I am accountable to. And when the Bible speaks a clear word and calls us to obedience, I am obligated to tell it like it is.

So far in this 4th chapter of Ephesians, we have been urged to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. That calling includes being patient with one another and being committed to maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

I’m going to ask you this question: (1) Are you committed to maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in this local portion of the larger body of Christ?

In the middle of the chapter, Paul describes the purpose of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. They are to equip the saints for the works of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Now very practically speaking, I need to know if we’ve got a deal here or not.

In the 40 years that I have been involved in the carpet business, I often had potential customers who would talk with me about my installing carpet for them. Some would go so far as having me measure the house and show them samples and receive the bid. But, for some reason, they decided to go elsewhere or just not do it. But, most of my potential customers would tell me, “we’ve got a deal.” And I would go to work and after not too long a time, they would have new carpet installed in their homes.

But, if I am going to be honest with you, when it comes to my role and the role of our elders and teachers here at New Heights, I’m not sure if we have deal.

Is it O.K. for me to talk this way? I’m not meaning to offend. I just want to know with whom we’ve got a deal.

It’s O.K. if you want to just come to worship on Sunday morning. Hopefully, our weekly worship will encourage you and spur you on in your walk with Christ.

But, for those of you who really want to enjoy the broader benefits of Church as God intends, this text we’re looking at calls us to much more than just an hour and 15 minutes together on Sunday morning. My assignment from God that is shared with the elders and the teachers in our church is to equip the saints for works of service. And honestly, that can’t be done in an hour of worship once a week.

And, Paul says something terribly profound in verse 16, that with the equipping comes the responsibility of every member of the body to function properly or do his or her part in order to make the body grow and build itself up in love. That sure sounds to me like the striking of a deal between the saints and the pastor-teachers.

So, I have a proposal to make. If you indicate to us, that is the elders of this church, that you want to be equipped for works of service so that New Heights Christian Church will be built up and that after being equipped you will do your part so that New Heights is built up in love, we, the elders, will meet with you personally or in small groups to design a course that is mutually agreeable so the equipping can begin and the building up can happen. So, what I need to know from you is, (2) do we have a deal?

I’m going to play a song and during that song I would like for you to seriously ponder these two questions. Then, if God is prompting you to respond, I would ask that you sign your names on the slips of paper provided.

Let’s all now wait on the Lord to speak to our hearts.

[Oh, I want to know You more, by Steve Green.]


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[1]The Pulpit Commentary: Ephesians. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (152). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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