This morning, I would like to introduce you to two fellows. They are actually the same fellow at two different times. These two are our old self and our new self. They think differently and they act differently. Just by looking at them, I hope that you do not want to be one and you want to be the other. As we examine our text today, I hope that you will want even more to be one and not the other.
As Christians we are called to live different lives. Last time we saw that the goal of using our gifts is to help one another grow up in Christ. Today, we want to think about what maturity in Christ looks like.
Let us read the text from Ephesians 4:17-32.
Before we knew Christ, we had a different way of thinking. By the grace of God, we have gotten rid of that way of thinking and have been given a transformed mind controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Who were we?
First of all, those without Christ live "in the futility of their thinking." We had empty headed thinking, we were focused on all the wrong things. We did not realize the way things really were. We tried to find happiness, but sought it in the wrong way.
One example of such futile thinking is the thinking that if a couple lives together before they are married, they will find out if they are compatible or not and have a stronger marriage. That is wrong headed thinking and even secular researchers are now finding out that the divorce rate among those who have lived together previous to marriage is higher than among those who have not. In Christ, we recognize that marriages stay together because of a commitment to love not because of a tested compatibility. Such futile thinking characterized us before we knew Jesus, do we want to go back to that?
People think that they are so wise and clever, but if they do not have minds that have been transformed by Jesus, they are in the dark.
Before we knew Christ we were darkened in our understanding. The lights were out regarding the truth of God. Having only an earthly perspective, we did not realize that every act and thought will be judged by God who is absolutely holy and tolerates no wrongdoing.
We don't always realize that the way we were had less to do with circumstances and more to do with having hard hearts. When Moses was asking Pharaoh to let the people out of Egypt, the Bible records, in some places, that God hardened Pharaoh's heart and in some places that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. When the final destruction came for Pharaoh and his armies, it was not God's fault, but that of Pharaoh, because he had a hard heart towards God. The same is true in regards to all who are without Christ and also of us before we knew Christ. In Romans 1:18 we read, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness," The truth is evident to all people if they only look and yet they do not accept it because they have hearts that are hardened towards God. We were people who had a deep insensitivity to God and refused to know Him and His life giving power. Do we want to harden our hearts once again?
The consequence of hard heartedness is death. Pharaoh and his army ended up in the bottom of the Red Sea because of their hard heartedness and all those who harden their hearts against God will also experience the destruction of death.
Refusing to know God, we had also lost sensitivity to the things of God. When you work with your hands, they often become calloused from use. When they do, they become insensitive at those points where calluses have formed. I have a callous just below my ring. When I touch my hand anywhere, I can feel it, but when I touch my hand where the callous is, I can't feel it. Having deliberately hardened our hearts towards God, we were insensitive to the spiritual truths. Do we want to form calluses on our souls once again by refusing to follow God's leading in our lives?
As a result of these inner aspects of rejecting God, we were easy prey to lives built around sensuality, indulging in every desire and constantly lusting for more. We acted out every desire allowing ourselves to do what we pleased and were morally unclean and filled with greed.
Have you ever wondered how some people can be so evil? The lyrics of some of the songs around today are simply evil. How do people get like that? The process begins with empty thinking, progresses to a deeper darkness which results in hardened hearts and insensitive spirits.
That is what we were before we came to know Christ. But we are not that anymore. A great change has taken place by the grace of God in our lives. Through the change which God has made, we have become sensitive to the things of God. The light has gone one and we have entered into life. Now we live after the pattern of Christ's life. Coming to salvation, we learned that we are now followers of Christ. Therefore, instead of identifying with the former way of thinking, we are called to identify with the new way of thinking pattered after Christ.
He represents the true way. The way things really are. Instead of being blind to the truth of God and the reality which runs this world, we have eyes which are open to God and his way in the world and in our lives.
Satan is a liar and all evil comes from his lies. The way to transformation begins with the truth. That means in order to live a new life, we need to always look at the truth, which is found in God’s Word.
Having focussed on the truth, our attitudes are changed. We are no longer empty headed and hard hearted, we are becoming sensitive to God’s Spirit. Today
we sometimes talk about people having an "attitude." Like when someone comes to breakfast, complains that the toast is too hard, kicks the chair, grumbles that the milk is too warm, we might say that this person has an attitude.
An attitude is a way of looking at life and in Christ, we have a new attitude. It is not a bad attitude, but rather one in which we are open to God and desire what he wants in our life.
We are also being changed into a new person who looks like God. We are being changed, by the power of the Spirit of God into a person who like God walks in ethical righteousness and true holiness. Right conduct and pure hearts are the characteristics of the new person.
Praise God that He has opened our eyes to light and life! Often, however, we continue to live in the old way of thinking. We let the world’s way of thinking seep into our minds. The beginning of lives that are maturing in Christ is allowing God to transform our thinking.
But in order to live in light and life also requires a change in our way of living.
The practices of the old self are still within us and we must get rid of what we were. We are called to exercise a violent act of abandonment. Put off what was and lay aside the old way of life. In its place, we are called to put on the new way of life.
Our text is very specific and practical in terms of what exactly that new life means.
We read first of all, "...each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body."
We are called to put off all lying. What is lying? It is a lie to hide the fact that we belong to Jesus. It is a lie to deceive one another.
Now not all unbelievers are liars, but most who have rejected Christ would lie if it was an advantage to them. The question is, "are we any different?" Instead, we are called to speak truth.
The reason for speaking truth is very interesting. It is because we are members of one another. We belong to each other and so if we are lying to each other, we are not being honest with ourselves.
A second thing to put off is unresolved anger. The text does not say that anger in itself is wrong, but when we read it together with 4:31, we recognize that anger is a very dangerous emotion. It is a natural emotion and often an indicator that something is wrong. The Bible even illustrates the anger of God and of Jesus so the emotion of anger is not wrong. The danger is that we do not adequately handle our anger. If we do not acknowledge that we are angry and then deal with that anger, unconfessed anger leads to bitterness and bitterness leads to other sins.
The way to deal with our anger is to quickly recognize that it is there and then either give appropriate expression to it or decide to put it away. Whatever we do, we must not deny our anger, but deal with it. If we do not, there is a warning, "The devil is an opportunist who will gladly take advantage of justifiable anger and develop it into hatred, bitter words, broken fellowship and acts of violence."
Shoplifting and employee theft is a major problem in today's society. My brother-in-law was working in a business which was trying to catch shop lifters and employees who were dipping into the till. The amazing thing is that it is not only poor people who are doing it. Now he is working for a private investigator trying to catch people in insurance fraud.
The old self was willing to steal. Are we? Do we tip the waitress well? Do we pay our taxes? Do we declare all we purchase at the border? Do we use the photocopier honestly?
The Bible says, "put off stealing."
The alternative is useful labour. Notice, not every job is good and so we do need to take the time to evaluate what is useful work.
The purpose of our useful work is also not only for our own benefit, but so that we will have something to share with those in need.
The text says, "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."
The word "unwholesome talk" mean rotten, as in fish or fruit that has decayed. We're not talking about bad breath, but bad language.
There is a difference between swearing and crude language. Swearing is using the Lord's name in vain. Although our society accepts this, it is a very serious sin and violates the third commandment. Not as serious is the issue of crude language. These are the kinds of words which we have decided are dirty, or four letter words. Although not as serious, these are not appropriate for a Christian to use. They do not give evidence of a transformed mouth. Dork, geek, nerd are words which put another person down. These words and words like them are also unwholesome words.
Instead, we are to speak what builds others up according to their needs, not patronizing, not false praise, but words arising out of agape love.
Overall, we must not grieve the Holy Spirit. We have received the Holy Spirit. He is the power and guiding force in our lives. If in our conduct, we do not listen to the voice of the Spirit when he tells us to do and live in a certain way and we refuse to listen, we grieve the Holy Spirit.
In 5:18, we read that instead of grieving the Holy Spirit, we are to be filled with the Spirit. The way to be filled with the Spirit is to maintain an openness to the voice of the Spirit in our lives.
The last two verses contrast a group of related ways of acting which all centre around love. We read, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." All of these character traits relate to the way in which we relate to other people. Getting rid of actions and attitudes which break relationships, we are called to actions and attitudes which build up.
I have to confess that I am not like this. Too often, I am more like this. Its hard to be like this because of latent sinfulness in our hearts and a sinful environment entice us to keep on thinking and acting like this. But this isn't who I want to be, this is who I want to be. Therefore, I am putting off this (throw the old guy away.) and putting on this. That is what the disciple life is all about. Since we are disciples of Jesus it is up to us to put off the old self and put on the new self.
Thankfully, we do not have to do so in our own power, but can do it in the power of God.