“Old Man Out: New Man In!” – Ephesians 4:17-24

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Faith Bible Church, NY

October 13, 1996

“Old Man Out: New Man In!”

Ephesians 4:17-24

For the last several weeks we have been dealing with the structure and responsibilities Jesus Christ has given to His body, the church. In our study of Ephesians 4 we have learned that the apostles and prophets laid down the foundation by writing down the revelation God had given to them, and that revelation is the Bible, the Old and New Testaments. Christ also gave to the church evangelists and pastor-teachers who proclaim the revelation given to the apostles and prophets and by which people are both brought into God’s family and begin to mature within it.

But as we stressed last week, as important as these offices are, the real work of the church is not done by evangelists and pastor-teachers, but by the people in the pew. I and the other elders are given to the church by God for the purpose of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry.” It takes every believer, everyone who actually a child of God, every person who is part of the body of the Christ, to be using the gift(s) the Holy Spirit has given you if the church is to do what the Lord has sent us to do and become what the Lord has designed us to become. Everyone in the body is important and as Paul says in 1 Cor. 12, it is generally the people that are behind the scenes and not thought of that are most important.

Neither I nor the other elders could possibly do all that should be done by the whole body, and if we could, what then would you do? What would be your purpose of existence? All of us together, using our various gifts in various ways in various ministries move one anther toward the goals of unity of faith, knowledge of Christ and spiritual maturity. All of the body together becomes a stronghold by which the individuals within it will not be easy prey to our adversaries. The spiritually immature, like children will be protected. The weak will be held close with the winds of the storm come that they might not be blown away. Wolves that come in among the flock will be driven away. False teachers will be confronted.

For this to occur, each member must speak the truth in love. It takes both. The truth without love is cold, sharp and hurtful and drives people away. So called “love” without truth leaves people in falsehood and heading for tragedy. True love is always bound by truth and is always looking to build up and edify. It also has compassion and will bear the burdens of other people. When truth and love are both spoken, everyone is built up in the faith with the result being that the body is stronger.

Remember that Paul started this section of his letter back in verse 1 entreating all Christians to walk “in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Paul repeats that appeal in verse 17 demonstrating that it is the only reasonable way to live.

“This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk…”

Paul is saying that in light of all that God has done for you, no longer live the way that you have in the past. God chose you for salvation from the foundation of the world (1:4); He redeemed you through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, forgiven 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). God has taken you who where dead in trespasses and sin and because of His great love has extended to you His grace through Christ Jesus and made you alive in Him. 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).

The change that occurs when a person becomes a true Christian is nothing short of radical. Too often the gospel message that is heard in our land leaves this part out, but it is the heart of the purpose of salvation. God did not send His Son to die on the cross so that you would escape hell, He did it so that your relationship with Him would be reconciled and that you would become a citizen of heaven. You are changed, and radically so. You were a child of the devil, and you are now an adopted child of God (1 Jn 3). You were a slave to sin, now you are to be slave of righteousness (Rom. 6). You were dead in trespasses and sin, now you are alive in Christ (Eph. 2). There is nothing so radical as that. The spiritually dead await physical death and their coming final death, the second death, which will take place at the Great White Throne judgement (Rev. 20). They are the living dead awaiting death. God took us who were in that condition and made us spiritually alive. We await either physical death or the coming of Christ and our transition so that these bodies which encumber us will be put off and we will experience real life.

Here in our text this morning we find not only a good description of this living death but also the reason that people remain in that state. Note again what Paul says in verse 17 and 18. The “Gentiles” here refers to the normal practices (the “walk”) of the gentiles who where steeped in various types of paganism. How did they walk and why? Verse 17-19.

“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.

Futility is that which fails to produce the desired result, that which does not succeed. It became a synonym for “empty,” “vain,” “void of substance.” Futility of mind describes the unbelievers’ pursuit of goals in life that will ultimately result in nothing of significance. Solomon said it best in Ecclesiastes in summarizing the worldly life as, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity… striving after the wind.” All that the world values is only temporary and therefore ultimately of no worth. You cannot take wealth with you, and your children may turn out to be fools who will squander it. Good health and physical fitness can at best only last until you die, positions of power only last until some else usurps you, and fame lasts until you are forgotten with the passing of time. In futility, the gentiles pursue these.

Why do unbelievers pursue such things? Why don’t they wise up? Because as vs. 18 says, their understanding is darkened. In modern terms, they just don’t get it. Why do you think it is so hard to argue with an unbeliever. It is not a matter of intelligence because many if not most of the most intelligent people alive cannot comprehend spiritual truth. They may even know Greek and Hebrew and spend their lives in the study of theology, but the truths of Scripture just do not become reality to them, so eventually they come up with their own philosophies in the vain effort to try to make sense of life apart from a personal relationship with the God of the universe. Paul describe these in 2 Tim. 3:7 saying they were “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Why are they this way? Because they are, as vs. 18 points out, “excluded from the life of God.” When a person rejects God, then as Rom. 1:21 describes, “they [become] futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart[s] [are] darkened. ” There is an ignorance that develops in them and they become hardened in that belief. They profess to be wise, but they become fools (Rom. 1:22) and as they continue in their rejection of God, He eventually gives them over to a “depraved mind” (1:28).

It starts off from the fact that Satan has “blinded the eyes of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…” (2 Cor. 4:4). The darkness deepens because in their ignorance they do not understand or accept the things of the Spirit of God and instead see them as foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14). Their rejection of God drives them into even greater foolishness and they become hardened. From the word “hardened” here we get our word “porosis” which describes the calcification that is harder than bone that occurs some injuries and sometime in joints which results in them becoming immobile. Here it describes the heart that becomes petrified in sin and paralyzed to spiritual truth, and completely unresponsive to the things of God.

Evolution is a classic case of this. It takes very little intelligence to go out and look at creation and understand that this was no accident, and the deeper you look into real science, the more this conclusion is solidified. Yet, the elite in the educational end of science become more and more dogmatic about evolution being a fact even though it does not properly qualify as a theory, only a hypothesis. Their ideas become more far-fetched all the time while trying to bully and shout down anyone that disagrees.

Modern Psychology is not much different. I have read more than one report that established that fact that people who do not receive “professional” treatment actually have a higher recovery rate that people who do. The fact remains that whenever you reject God and His commands as the basis for your understanding of the world and how it works, you will come to erroneous conclusions. The result is people become enslaved to half-truths, lies and falsehoods. The truth sets a person free, but the truth is not found in the vain philosophies of men, but only in the revelation of God. God’s blessing comes to those who walk in the counsel of the godly, not the ungodly. You will always receive more wisdom and help from those who know the Bible and have walked with God for many years than someone who has not regardless what titles they may have before their name.

The depravity of man without Christ results in a callousness that is both moral and spiritual. They then give themselves over to sensuality and the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (vs. 19). That is, they will do what makes them feel good regardless of God’s actual standards.

This does not mean there are not unbelievers who have high moral codes, but it does mean that since they are not based on the absolutes of God’s Word and a relationship with Him, they will not live according to those standards and so they will spiral downward. Just as the Pharisees, who broke all of God’s laws, were able to reinterpret God’s law so they could believe they were living by them, so these will reinterpret their standards so that they will believe they are good and moral people.

God’s says we should not lie, but they will allow a lie here and there for convenience sake. Stealing is stealing, but certainly that does not include cheating on your income tax, taking home office supplies from your employer or doing personal business on company time. That reminds me of some recent situations Diane and I have run into. One was a medical office that makes a regular practice of charging insurance companies for procedures they do not do, because other wise they would not be paid their “above customary” charges for what they did do. Another was a salesman that offered to sell an item at wholesale, if we would split the tax savings with him. All these people view themselves as highly moral.

More obvious are those that reject even societal standards and give themselves fully over to sensuality with their practices done openly. They make no pretenses, but reveal their impurity and greed brazenly. These are the fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers and swindlers that Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 6. The good news is that there is hope for any of these people because such were some of us before we turned to God and received His grace. The Lord can do the same work in them that He has done in us. They do not have to remain in their blinded, ignorant position.

As Paul says in vs. 20 – “But you did not learn Christ in this way.” The idea here of “learn of Christ” is more literally, “come to know” and being in the aorist tense means it is something that has already taken place.

The description of the gentiles is not to fit the Christian, and if it does, there is something severely wrong that needs to change immediately. It may be continued ignorance, the person has just not been instructed on living the Christian life, or they have yet to be discipled in the sense of being taught to obey “whatsoever He has commanded” (Matt. 28:20). It could also be a stubbornness in sin in which the person has trouble putting aside the habits of the old life. Paul called them “carnal” in 1 Cor. 3:3. They were still like babies who needed to grow up. A third reason is that the person is not a genuine Christian. They have not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, they are not a child of God. That is why Paul gives warnings in several places for us to “examine ourselves to see whether we be in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).

In verse 21 Paul alludes to this same idea. “if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus.” The life of a believer is very different from that of the unbeliever and if your life is not different, then there is a question about your relationship with Christ. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice, and those who belong to Him have heard His call in the truth of the gospel message and have responded. If the individual continues to live as the gentiles described here, then there is a question about whether they have received the truth, and understood and responded to the gospel.

We must remember that the gospel message is not focused on escaping Hell, but rather on being restored to a relationship with our Creator. It is a message of the love of God in paying for our sins so that we would no longer be held in sin’s bondage. Escaping punishment in Hell is a side benefit of our sins being dealt with and forgiven. The reason that God saved us was for the demonstration of His attributes that He might be glorified (Rom. 3; Eph 1:6). God choose us for salvation that we might be “saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40) and “be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29).

When a person becomes a Christian they become a new creature as 2 Cor. 5:17 states it. We are to “no longer live for [ourselves], but for Him who died and rose again on [our] behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15). The true Christian now has the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) whereas before we did not “accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they were foolishness” to us. We could not understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor. 2:14). So what Paul says here in verses 22-24 is not something out of the ordinary, but what should be the normal response of the Christian.

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.

The summary of the Christian life is found in the three infinitives of this passage. We are to 1) lay aside 2) be renewed and 3) put on. These are not commands to be carried out, but rather statements of fact. These are things that have already happened at conversion. Living according to these things is the simple consequence of them having already ha ppened.

We lay aside the “old self” and the former manner of life that we lived before we came to Christ. To “lay aside” means to “strip off” as in the case of taking off filthy clothes. The aorist tense indicates that 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 Colossians 3 Paul as in Eph. 2 Paul uses even 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). Eph. 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).

Do you get the point that salvation brings a radical change. To continue on in living according to our former way of life and not exhibit in some way the radical transformation of salvation either that you have been deceived and are continuing in the corruption inherent in the lusts of the old nature, or that you need to quit putting on your old filthy clothes.

The idea here would be a person who came home all filthy dirty, took a shower and then put on the same dirty clothes. Let’s face it, getting all cleaned up and putting on some 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?

When Christ saved you He also did a work on your mind. He 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). Certainly the continuation of this requires some work on our part just as in “laying aside the old self.” In the same way that 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 junk 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 your old clothes back on regardless of how comfortable used to feel. You’re a new creature and as you grow and mature they just are not going to fit the same. We are not to be “conformed to this world,” but rather “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Rom. 12:2). Christ gave us a new mind and now we have to use it 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).

This is what is behind the idea of “putting on the new self.” The word “new” here does mean 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 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 new Christian is to reflect the character of God. The capacity to do so has been given to us upon salvation but we fight against the principle of sin that remains in these bodies of flesh. That is the 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 Rom. 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, though we practice we are learning to live in holiness and righteousness. Our struggle in this is real, but is one that 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 order for us to live in the body of Christ according to Christ’s design, we need to understand the genuine reality of the transforming nature of salvation. We need to, as Warren Wiersbe describes it, “take off our grave clothes and live!” The rest of Ephesians will be for every Christian to do just this and bring their bodies into obedience to the will of God.

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