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Faith Bible Church, NY
October 20, 1996
Living in the New Life
Turn to Ephesians 4. Paul has been explaining the practical ramifications of the doctrine he presented in the first three chapters. God chose you for salvation from the foundation of the world (1:4); He redeemed you through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, forgave you of your sins and adopted you as His children (1:5,7); He has lavished upon you the riches of His grace and given you an inheritance with Christ in heaven (1:11). You who where dead in trespasses and sin were made alive by God because of His great love extended to by His grace through Christ Jesus. The barriers between you and God and between you and all other believers has been broken (Ch. 2), and you have been made part of the body of Christ (4:1-16).
Because these things are true there is a unity that exists between those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God also gave to each believer a spiritual gift or gifts by which to serve Him. He also gave to the church especially gifted individuals to equip the church for its work. The apostles and prophets laid down the foundation in the Scriptures, which are the record of God’s revelation to us. Evangelists and Pastor-teachers then use the Scriptures to equip all the saints so that the whole body can grow and mature.
Starting in verse 17 Paul once again calls all true Christians to live according to their calling and no longer lived as they did before. 17 “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 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; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus.”
When a person becomes a Christian they become a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) and is to “no longer live for (ourselves), but for Him who died and rose again on (our) behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15). Prior to salvation we did not accept or understand spiritual things, but the true Christian now has the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:14-16). So what Paul says here is not something out of the ordinary, but what should be the Christian’s normal response. We are to no longer live the way we used to, but instead, live according to our new nature as Paul says vs 22-24
22 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, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
A summary of the Christian life is found in the three infinitives of this passage. We are: 1) to lay aside; 2) to be renewed and 3) to put on. These are not commands to be carried out, but rather statements of fact. These things happened at conversion, so living according to them should be normal for the believer.
We lay aside the “old self” which is the former manner of life. To “lay aside” means to “strip off” as in taking off filthy clothes. The aorist tense indicates Paul is referring to what happened when you came to Christ. Your filthy garments of sin were taken off and you were clothed with the righteousness of Christ. In Col. 3 Paul uses more graphic terms to describe our salvation. “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (vs. 3), “you laid aside the old self” (vs. 9), “you have been raised up” (vs. 1), “you have put on the new self” (vs. 9). Ephesians 2 sums it up that you were dead in your trespasses, but God made you alive together with Christ.
Romans 6 brings out the same point. “we…died to sin” (v. 2), we “have been baptized into Christ Jesus” (v. 3), we “have been buried with Him…into death (v. 4), “we have become united with Him in …His death (v. 5), “our old self was crucified with Him” (v. 6), that “our body of sin might be done away with” (v. 6), “he who as died” (v. 7), “we have died with Christ” (v 8).
Salvation brings a radical change, so to continue living our former way of life demonstrates that either you are deceived and are continuing in the corruption inherent in the lusts of the old nature because you have no new nature, or that you need to quit putting on your old filthy clothes.
You would not come came home all filthy and dirty, take a shower and then put on the same dirty clothes! Getting all cleaned up and putting on aftershave or perfume is not going to make a bit of difference if you put on the same old smelly, dirty clothes. In the same way, if you have been made alive in Christ, why put on those old grave clothes and go back to hanging out at the cemetery? You were made alive, do you really want to get back into that coffin with all the decay inside it?
Your mind was also affected when you were saved. God took away the blindness and gave you the Holy Spirit so that you might understand His word (1 John 2:27). You were given a moral capacity that those without Christ cannot have regardless of their intelligence (1 Cor. 2). Now there is still some work on our part, but the change has come. Just as you were sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11) and are being sanctified (1 Thess. 5:23) your mind has been renewed (Eph. 4:23 and is being renewed by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
To use a computer analogy, you have a new operating system, but you still have to get the old stuff off the hard drive. You delete the old programs and install the new ones. Or to use another analogy, you have been given a new, holy wardrobe. Don’t put back on the old graveclothes. You’re a new creature and the old clothes are not going to fit the same. Your conscience will make you uncomfortable in them. Do not to be “conformed to this world,” but be “transformed rather by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Use the new mind Christ gave you and fill it with His word and learn how to put it into practice. We are to be about the business of “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:15).
The idea of “putting on the new self” is not “new” in the sense of repaired or re-manufactured, but new as in a different species or character. Verse 24 tells us that our new self is in the likeness of God and created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. The NIV actually translates this a little better saying, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” with the emphasis being that it is actual righteousness and holiness as opposed to being self deceived as is the old self (vs. 22).
Righteousness deals with our relationships with other people while holiness refers to our relationship with God. In both areas the Christian is to reflect the character of God. The capacity to do so has been given to us upon salvation though we fight against the principle of sin that remains in these bodies of flesh. That is conflict Paul describes in Romans 6 and 7. We are new creatures, but we must not let “sin reign in (our) mortal bodies” (6:12), we must not “go on presenting the members of (our) bodies to sin” (6:13). Our fight against sin is real and will continue throughout our earthly life. We will cry out like Paul does in Romans 7 and 8, finding that with our minds, our new self, we are striving to do God’s perfect will, yet still finding that the old sinful habits of our flesh and sinful ways of thinking keeps us from living as we ought, so we cry out longing for the redemption of our bodies as well (Rm. 8:23).
We are new creatures in Christ Jesus and made by Him holy and righteous in our position before God, and by practice we are learning to live in holiness and righteousness. Our struggle exists because God has placed a new nature within us. If there is no struggle, there is no new nature. At times we may become weary in the battle, but the Holy Spirit is present to empower us to continue on. We long for the final redemption of our bodies when our position will be matched by our practice and we will be like Christ (1 John 3:2).
In verses 25-32 Paul gives five very practical examples of what it means to walk as a new creature in Christ. New creatures should behave as such. The apostle John put it bluntly in 1 John 2:4, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth his not in him.” It should be normal that Christianity brings about a radical change in the individual.
FROM LYING TO TRUTH
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.
Lying is common to mankind. In many ways it has become the mark of our society. One commentator I read even suggested that we have become so dependent on lying – with lies built on top of more lies, that if everyone in our society started to tell the truth our way of life would collapse. I don’t know if that would happen, but it sure sounds good to me. It’s an election year, imagine if the candidates told us the truth? Imagine buying products without a lot of fine print to read?
Lying includes telling direct falsehoods, as well as mixing truth with error, exaggeration, cheating in school and on taxes, making promises and breaking them, flattery and sham excuses. It is also telling only part of the truth with the intent to deceive. The Bible states that those who are characterized by lying “will be thrown into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). They are marked by being children of the devil, who is the father of all liars (John 8:44).
This does not mean that true Christians never lie, but it does mean that lying is not part of their daily life, it does not define their character and they are genuinely repentant when they do lie. Christians are to “lay aside falsehood,” for it is part of the “old self.”
Christians are to be marked by “speaking the truth, each one with His neighbor.” A quote from Zech. 8:16. We are members of each other, so lying would hurt not only other people but ourselves too. Consider the consequences if your various body parts lied to each other. Your foot said it was hot when it was freezing and you developed frost bite. Your hand said it was cool when it was actually hot and so it got burned. Your eyes said the road was straight when it was actually crooked so you drove off it. Such is the damage when believers lie to each other. We need each other, we depend on each other, we must tell the truth to each other.
One caution to add here is that this does not mean that you are required to tell everything you think and feel. We will see in a few minutes in verse 29 that we have other considerations before we speak. Neither does this include telling people off, nor dumping our emotional thoughts and feelings on others. It simply means that what we say is unqualified truth. The body is built up by speaking the truth in love.
FROM UNRIGHTEOUS ANGER TO RIGHTEOUS ANGER
26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.
A popular but erroneous belief is that Christians should never get angry. Here we find the opposite is true. There are times that Christians should be angry, but that anger is to be qualified and limited. We are not to sin in our anger and we are to deal with it quickly lest we give the devil an opportunity to lead us into temptation.
The anger spoken of here is the same as in Psalm 97:10 and Proverbs 8:13, where the righteous are told to “hate evil,” or Psalm 69:9 which was demonstrated by Jesus Christ when He drove out the merchants and money changers from the temple because they had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves (Matt. 21:13).
This righteous anger is not a momentary, boiling over rage, but a deep-seated, determined and settled conviction. In other words, righteous anger is not a fiery flashing temper, but the hot coals of indignation. James 1:20 says the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. It is based on selfishness and is undisciplined. It seeks to vindicate itself and its quest is revenge. Righteous anger is based in the holiness of God and the love of others. It is sacrificial in nature and leaves revenge in God’s hand (Rom. 12:19).
This is the anger we feel when we see great injustices done, like a child physically abused by an adult, a sleazy character who entices girls into prostitution or a defenseless village massacred by an evil force. It rises when we have the sense that a great evil has been done. It is the anger we should feel when God’s name is taken in vain and His character defamed.
Paul’s command here further defines this anger by its restrictions. Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the emotion move you into violating God’s standards yourself. It is right to be angry over abortion clinics and the evil that goes on within them, but it sin to respond in any way that does not reflect godliness – that includes not only shooting and bombing, but ungracious speech as well!
In addition we are not to let the “sun go down on our anger.” Anger that is not dealt with quickly turns to bitterness. That gives the devil an opportunity to feed that anger with evil self-pity, pride, vengeance and any other type of selfish sin.
FROM STEALING TO SHARING
28 Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.
Stealing not only includes the obvious crimes of robbery, embezzlement or shoplifting, but the more “acceptable forms” as well, like taking small items from work., doing personal business on company time or just wasting company time in general. There are many ways to steal, and they are limited only by the imagination of man. Those who know Jesus Christ are characterized by theft, no matter what the form.
The alternative to stealing is working, and by that labor we are to provide for ourselves and those who have legitimate need. We are responsible for ourselves to “work with our own hands” and provide for those dependent on us, and if we do not, we deny the faith and are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8). Those who refuse to work are not to even be given anything to eat (2 Thess. 3:10-11). Those who have legitimate need, such as widows and orphans without means of support, or those physically incapable of providing for themselves are to be assisted out of the charity that should be in the heart of every Christian. This is one of the reasons we labor.
FROM UNWHOLESOME WORDS TO WHOLESOME
29 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, that it may give grace to those who hear.
The word unwholesome refers to that which is corrupt or foul, like rotten vegetables and spoiled food. Foul language from out of the mouth of a Christian is contradictory to the new life in Christ that is within him. There is no excuse for profanity, vulgarity or off-color joking. As Paul adds in Col. 3:8 we are to “put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech.”
Jesus said that what comes out of the mouth is a reflection of what is in the heart (Matt. 12:34), so it is no wonder that non-Christians speak in that manner. The only cure for it the change the Holy Spirit brings to the heart and mind to fill them with that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). The Christian’s speech is to be guided by the three characteristics mentioned here: Edifying, appropriate and gracious.
1) We speak only “such a word as is good for edification.” Our concern is building one another up in Christ. This includes encouragement, appreciation, motivation and at times correction. It is always the truth spoken with genuine love. Ask yourself before you speak if what you say will genuinely help will build the other person’s faith and help him become more Christ-like.
2) We also speak “according to the need of the moment.” In other words, we speak appropriately and the appropriate time. This takes discernment, wisdom and at times, patience. Prov. 25:11 says, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Prov. 15:23 adds, “A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word!”
Even good things in the wrong setting are unwholesome. I still remember a young man that crassly told a family grieving over the death of the mother that they should celebrate since she was now in heaven. While it was true that she was with the Lord and in a much better place, his words and manner were inappropriate and brought no comfort.
3) We speak in order to give grace to those who hear. To use my example, gracious words to a grieving family acknowledges their grief, empathizes with them and then gently turns them to our hope in being with loved one in heaven around Christ’s throne.
We need to be more concerned for how what we say will affect the other person than simply getting something off our chest, or what’s more often the case, emptying our minds. This includes when confronting sinners. How did Jesus speak to those involved in evil practices? He presented God’s grace and offered hope of forgiveness.
FROM VICE TO VIRTUE
The final characteristic change in the Christian is going from vice to virtue. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
If you skip verse 30 for the moment and look at verses 31 and 32, you will see that there is quite a contrast between those who truly live for Christ and those who do not. When we do not live as we ought sin rises up in us and grow just as in the nonbelieiver. The selfishness that’s a part of all sin leads to bitterness, wrath and anger, and these lead to the outward display of them, clamor and slander.
Bitterness is a spirit of irritability that keeps a person in perpetual animosity, in a smoldering grudge. Wrath is the wild rage of the passion of the moment while anger is more internal and more subtle, a deep feeling. The outcome of these are clamor, slander and malice. Clamor is an outward sign of wrath expressed in the loss of control in public outbursts. Slander grows out of bitterness and is the defamation of those considered your enemies. Malice is the general term for the evil that is at the root of all vices. The Christian must put all these things away from him and instead put on the virtues listed in verse 32.
Be kind to one another instead of bitter. Gentle rather than irritable. Amiable instead of full of animosity. We are to be tender-hearted instead of wrathful. We have compassion for others rather than hate, the fruit of which is forgiveness for others because of the forgiveness we have received from Christ.
If you as Christian continue to live as if you were not and exhibit the kinds of things Paul has mentioned here then you will grieve the Holy Spirit. (An as a quick aside, this is a strong argument for the personality of the Holy Spirit, as emotion, the ability to grieve, is an attribute of personhood. A force cannot be grieved, so we maintain the personality of the Holy Spirit).
Tragically these vices too often are found in believers, which is why Paul’s grammar here is actually a command to “stop grieving” the Holy Spirit. All sin is painful to God, but sin in His children breaks His heart. We stop grieving the Holy Spirit when we live according to our calling in Jesus Christ, a calling to which the Holy Spirit has sealed us to the day of redemption.
We speak the truth in love rather than lie.
We have righteous anger, but we control it and do not let it lead us into sin.
We work hard seeking to provide for ourselves and others out of the charity of our heart rather than steal.
We guard our mouths and keep them clean from unwholesome, rotten words. Instead we seek to build up others with appropriate, gracious words.
We put off the vices of bitterness, wrath and anger which lead to clamor, slander and malice and instead put on the virtues of kindness, tender-hearts and forgiveness.
In doing these things we please the Lord rather that grieve the Holy Spirit. In doing these things we live according to our calling; in harmony with being the new creatures God has made us when He saved us; in agreement with the new life we have in Jesus Christ.
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