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Ephesians (2010)

Old Man, New Man

Ephesians 4:17-32

Lesson audio

The Great Myth

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

(Ephesians 4:17-19 NASB)

 

Genesis Model

It is instructive at this point for us to recall the original sin:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

(Genesis 3:1-7 NASB)

 

Most of us would look at this and say that sex was the root cause of the problem; after all, Eve was naked. In fact it is not so. Let's take a look at the reality:

·         First, Satan's appeal is to the mind. Unlike generations of Freudians who assume that sex must be behind it all, Satan is not so stupid. If you want to tempt someone, you begin in the mind. Even sexually, one must remember that the biggest sex organ in the human body is the brain.

·         It starts with an appeal to what sounds like common sense. Somehow or other, God got it wrong. Oh, perhaps the Bible only says that because it's a cultural thing from whatever century in which was written. Or perhaps you misunderstood him. Or perhaps you don't know what he really said in the first place.

·         Next, evil is enlightening. The advantage to having a romantic affair with another woman is that you will know what another woman is like. Think of the experiences you've missed; think what a man of the world you would be if you had only followed your gonads.

·         Then, there is a call to action. Having seduced the thought, the body is given permission to proceed.

·         In all this, remember that Satan is the father of lies.[1]

The Gentle Slope

CS Lewis, in his insightful work The Screwtape Letters, has his devil Screwtape put it this way:

"The safest road to Hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

Ignorance is not bliss; it's ignorance. But because the mind is the starting point of all things spiritual, ignorance is the starting point of exclusion from God. Satan does his best work by keeping things out of your mind, not putting them in there.

Let's take a look at a word: harden. The word in the Greek is "porosis." It's the word from which we get our word "osteoporosis". The process is a gradual one; bones to become fragile overnight. The same is true in matters spiritual. Things go gradually from good to bad, if you just let them. A contemporary example is abortion. When we first began to hear about abortion, we were told that it would only be used in cases of rape or incest. It was something extreme; it was a necessary evil. Over the years it has become more and more necessary, and therefore less and less evil. We now abort more than 1 million babies a year in the United States alone — and no one seems to care.

Lust Is Never Satisfied

it is the genius of the English language that words have more than one meaning. In particular, we often assign a physical meaning to word and then use it in a metaphorical sense. An example of such a word is "callous." It originally meant one of those built-up points of skin where you had become hardened and lost all sensitivity. It means the same spiritually.

Curiously, the human being reacts to spiritual callousness by trying to penetrate it with more and more exotic experiences. We quickly become immune to yesterday's thrill. So we increase the level of the thrill. Lust is never completely satisfied.

The New Self

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

(Ephesians 4:20-24 NASB)

 

The Balance Beam Principle

It is a simple principle: if you get rid of some old spiritual habit, you must replace it with a new one. You must balance old and new. Similarly if you change the inward man, you must also change the outward man. You must balance inward and outward. If you don't, you are unbalanced, you are not stable. This is one of the reasons why people often fail to reform their habits of lust — in any area. They try to suppress their longings, but they don't replace them with something else. Or, they try to change their thinking but not their actions. You have only to point this out to see how failure-prone it is.

Three Step Process

To make changes in the spiritual world, you must take it in three steps:

·         You must put off the old self. This is fairly obvious — at least that you have to do it sometime. What might not be obvious is that you have to do it first. This explains why simply going after some aspect of righteousness without cleansing your self first is simply not going to work.

·         Having done that, you must now renew the mind. You need to get you thinking straight; you might even need a plan. The important thing is to note that you must have a clear idea, mentally, of what the right thing to do might happen to be. If you have no direction as to what is right, it's difficult to get there from what is wrong.

·         Then you must put on the new self. The rule for this is simple: the imitation of Christ.

The Imitation of Christ

Paul tells us here that we must be genuinely like Christ. Incidentally, this points out the importance of the incarnation. If Christ had not come to us as a man, imitating God would be rather difficult, and we face objections at every step. It's a little tough to be omnipotent. But Christ in his life certainly did not display omnipotence in going to the cross. So we have a man we can imitate, and we had his thoughts and instructions from which to learn. Just what is it that we are supposed to learn?

·         First, we have righteousness. Some translations refer to this as "true righteousness." The idea is that this is not hypocrisy, or legalism, or a vain attempt at perfection. Rather, it means that we set the heart right and pursue righteousness. You know you're not going to be completely and truly righteous in this life; you're a sinner. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't head in the right direction.

·         Next, there is holiness. The root idea of holiness is that you are set apart. If you're trying to become the new man, this is very important. We are creatures of habit; we like the buddy around the same people we've always been around. We like to do it in the same places. We want to be "one of the boys." We must mentally get rid of this idea; we don't want to be "one of the boys;" we want to be holy, set apart. So yes, we're different.

·         Finally there is the truth. Truth is many things, one of which is a habit. Getting in the habit of being the truth takes some time. It starts with telling the truth, but you have to move on being truthful and then being truth itself. You know people who are living a lie. Be someone who is living the truth.

No Opportunity

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

(Ephesians 4:25-32 NASB)

Don't Give the Devil an Opportunity

Do you know why you paint metal? It's to prevent rust, to be sure, but it's how you prevent rust that I'm driving at. Paint prevents rust by keeping out water; therefore, if there's a crack in the paint the paint fails. The same thing happens in spiritual life; if your armor has no cracks in it, the devil can't get in. How do we do this?

·         First, you start by getting rid of falsehood. As we said before, you have to replace it with something else. Interestingly, it's not just a matter of speaking the truth. It's a matter of speaking the truth in love. If you will, the truth is the metal, the love is the paint. By speaking the truth in love, as opposed to being belovedly blunt spoken, we prevent the virtue of telling the truth from inviting the sin of anger.

·         Speaking of anger, Paul obviously knows where going to get angry. But let's do a little damage control here, people. Get over the anger quickly; patch things up as fast as you can. Why does Paul tell us not to let the sun go down? It's because will lie on our beds brooding over the insult or grievance. It gets much worse if you have time to think about it.

Paul tells us the reason for this: we are one body. If the metal is to remain one piece and not rust apart, we have to keep that paint on securely. The object is keeping the church together.

Don't Grieve the Holy Spirit

Paul now begins with a practical problem. Some of the people in Ephesus, it seems, have been making their livings as professional thieves. This is not as far-fetched as it seems. We don't call the bank robbers, we call them self-service income redistribution specialists — right? Paul makes it clear that this is not acceptable for a Christian. But just as before, this evil must be replaced with something good — the labor of the hands. There's a purpose in that. It is not sufficient just to earn your own keep. You are part of the church; the church is a giving organization; you need to give. Do you see how the good replaces the evil?

Similarly, we are to watch our words. Some of us are under the misapprehension that we are to speak the truth, and all the truth. This is not so; we must consider the purpose of our words. Paul gives us three tests:

·         First, is it wholesome? Is it the kind of thing a Christian should say? If one of your fellow Christians has been caught making a pornographic movie, you go around detailing the movie scene by scene?

·         Next, does it edify the church? Does it in struck others correctly and build up the church, or does it tend to tear the church down?

·         Finally, does it give grace to those who hear? Is it a word that is forgiving; is it a word that encourages others to love? Do people leave your presence more gracious than when they came?

You see, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Therefore we are members of one body, and we need to remember that.

But Do Be

Paul leaves us with three things which are positive replacements:

·         He tells us we are to be kind. The word in the Greek can also be translated "gracious" or sometimes "useful." That's an interesting combination; it implies that kindness is useful, not just a nice to have social complement. It is an essential for the Christian.

·         He tells us we are to be tender-hearted. This word is also translated "sympathetic." We need to be people who can listen to the worries and difficulties of others, returning both sympathy and Christian aid in such circumstances.

·         Finally, we are to be forgiving — because Christ forgave us.

I hope you see that this is been a very practical lesson. There is not much of abstract theology in all of this, just the daily struggle to become more and more like Christ.


[1] see John 8:44-45.

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