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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Essential Wardrobe Change
Text:Ephesians 4:17-24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-03-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 9:1,4,5                                                                                         

Ps 38:1,8,10                                                                                                   

Reading – Ephesians 4

Ps 36:1,2,3

Sermon – Ephesians 4:17-24

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 55:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, every now and again it’s good to go through all the clothes in your closet and discard whatever you’re not going to wear. There’s the pants that just don’t fit right anymore, and a heap of threadbare socks. There could be a few t-shirts that you’ve had for years, and you wonder why you’ve hung onto them. So you’ve got to be ruthless—to the second hand store it goes, or into the garbage. And now that you have more room, it’s time to go shopping!

Getting rid of our old clothes and putting on the new is actually a powerful metaphor about the need to progress in faith and obedience. In Scripture, we’re called to put off what is old and fraying and to put on what is new and beautiful. For Scripture says that you are what you wear! So we hear the Old Testament say that God is “robed in righteousness,” or that He “clothes his saints with salvation.” In the New Testament too, we hear the call to “Put off anger, wrath, and malice” (Col 3:8), alongside the exhortation, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, and patience” (Col 3:12).

For us, changing our clothes is only a superficial change. You can dress a man up in the finest tailored suit, while underneath he’s still rude and ill-tempered. But when Scripture speaks of “putting off” and “putting on,” it means that there’s a fundamental change. It means renouncing a style of life that is godless and worldly and embracing a different and holy style of life, one that is better in every way.

Don’t hang onto your sin, keeping it in your closet so that you can return to it anytime you like. But put it away from you—forsake evil ways of conduct and make a commitment never to go back. Instead, put on the garments of praise, the robes of righteousness which we have received from Christ. Such is the message of God’s Word in Ephesians 4:17-24, which I preach to you on this theme,

Put off the old way of life, and put on the new:

  1. the ignorance and depravity of the old
  2. the truth and holiness of the new

 

1) the ignorance and depravity of the old: In chapter 4, Paul has been explaining in practical terms how being chosen, redeemed and renewed through Christ changes our life. Look how he started the chapter, “I… beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (v 1). Since then, he has said a lot about our calling as church—how we need to express our unity in Christ through our love for one another and by our willing service. That’s our communal responsibility. Now he unfolds our individual calling, what you and I must do each day, wherever we are.

“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord” (v 17). You can hear that Paul is about to make a solemn declaration. This isn’t merely good advice, some gentle hints about how to be a better Christian. No, he is forceful and direct: “I say this to you, I testify, and I do so ‘in the Lord.’” The apostle reminds us about the source of his authority and wisdom, that it’s from the Lord God himself; so these words carry weight—this is something we need to listen to!

“You should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk” (v 17). Like he does more than once in this letter, Paul refers to our walking: the daily and ordinary path that we follow through life, week after week. That is when the true character of faith is really seen; it’s in the normal duties of our life, our typical interactions with other people, the regular commitments. This is where it becomes really evident if a person is walking worthy of the Lord.

Don’t walk like “the rest of the Gentiles” do—he says it that way because the Ephesian congregation was made up largely of Gentiles. These believers had broken away from a pagan lifestyle where they were worshiping idols and living for themselves. The Ephesians were still Gentiles by birth, but through faith in Christ they’d become very different.

Yet that pagan environment was still very close at hand. The Ephesian church was a tiny island of faith in a vast ocean of depravity. It pounded them, it pressured them—and it still pulled at them mightily. It’s not so different from the time and place where we live; we’re surrounded by many godless enticements of the age, constantly flooded with temptations. And we must not conform, as the Spirit says: “Do not walk as they do.”

To explain why not, the Spirit sets before us a devastating picture of what the godless are like. It’s a harsh and ugly portrait, but it’s so that we understand just how hopeless is a life without Christ—and how dangerous is a life of sin.

First, the Gentiles walk “in the futility of their mind” (v 17). Now, it should be obvious that a person’s mindset is essential. Every day our minds are churning with thoughts; each of us is constantly making plans, setting goals, working out problems, reflecting on events. A mind that enjoys peace and that possesses a measure of wisdom is a great blessing.

But if you don’t know God, you’re missing something vital. Your view of life is incomplete, and your thoughts are futile. Someone who doesn’t believe in God might have a mind that appears to function very well, but ultimately an unbeliever will be busy with empty things, thing which do not matter and do not endure.

Paul continues describing the godless way of thinking: “their understanding [is] darkened” (v 18). A person can acquire much knowledge, but apart from the fear of the LORD, there’s no light of wisdom. They wonder: What is really true? What is really good? What on earth am I here for? A godless person is in the dark, for he lacks the shining light of God’s Word.

And now for the heart of the problem: an unbeliever is “alienated from the life of God” (v 18). A person is only really alive when they know God through Christ. According to Scripture, to know God means to be in a loyal relationship with him, where we love God and strive to obey him. So if knowing God is the only pathway to life, then not knowing God means being disconnected from the one source of a meaningful existence.

They are “alienated,” the Spirit says. The word implies that they once had life, but no longer. For God created all humans with the ability to rightly know him. We had real life, but we threw it away when we sinned. And the result is death. From a human perspective, it’s a hopeless situation. If you’re disconnected from God, you’re dead. And the dead can’t help themselves.

Let’s be reminded why the Spirit is painting this ugly portrait of unbelief. It’s not so that we become proud, so we look down at our neighbours with contempt, “I’m sure glad I’m not blind and darkened like they are.” Or we gloat, “Those sinners look happy and prosperous now, but just wait ‘til they find out that they’re coming to nothing.” No, the Spirit critiques the ungodly life as a warning to us: “Do not walk as they walk!”

For the fact is, we’re still drawn powerfully toward sin. The godless life has its attractions. What if I could do whatever I wanted? Why shouldn’t I say yes to pleasure when no one is around? Why should I care what an invisible being up in the sky thinks and says? Life without God sounds like freedom. But a godless life is a futile life. It’s no life at all!

An unbeliever is “ignorant,” says verse 18. Now, sometimes we’re ignorant of things, and we know that we’re ignorant. Then we can try to do something about it, fill the gaps of our knowledge. But the ignorance of unbelief is so much worse, for such a person doesn’t even know that he’s ignorant. Unless God intervenes, he’s not ever going to seek God.

The Spirit calls this “blindness of heart” (v 18). The Greek word here is actually more like hardness; it describes something that has become petrified, turned to stone—or something that has been grown over with a thick callus. Without being given the ability to know God, a person will forever be closed to the gospel, for his heart will be impossibly hard.

And now for some real-life consequences. If you don’t really know the Lord, if you’re not walking with Christ, then you will disobey his directions, and you’ll take your pick of temptations. That’s the next element in Paul’s portrait of the Gentile: “who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness” (v 19). Lewdness is another word for wickedness. It’s any kind of offensive conduct, when a person ignores God’s standards of behaviour. They just don’t care, and they do whatever they please.

To such a life, some unbelievers “give themselves over.” They throw off restraint and immerse themselves into the pursuit of pleasure. Now, most people will try to hide their sin, yet they can become so enslaved that they don’t even care who sees them. Think of the drunkard whom you see staggering and collapsing in a public park, bottle in hand. He’s given himself over to sin. Or think about the guy bragging about all his sexual conquests on social media. He’s been given over, and he doesn’t care anymore what people think.

This can sound extreme—certainly not every unbeliever lives like this, and it can seem like a place that we would never go. But notice the progression in our text. From verse 17 to 19, the Spirit describes a gradual descent into evil. It starts with knowing less and less about God and becoming ignorant of his truth; meanwhile the heart is growing hard, and there’s a loss of spiritual sensitivity; until finally, a person is given over to total sinfulness, where they’re willing to do wicked things that once would’ve seemed unthinkable.

This is another warning for us. No person becomes a terrible sinner all at once. But sin develops slowly. Satan can sink his claws into us, one terrible finger at a time, so gradually that we hardly notice, until finally it’s too late. Think of the way it is described in the Form for Excommunication. There the congregation is addressed: “You have seen in what manner our… brother (or sister) has lost the way: how he (or she) began to fall and gradually come to ruin. Learn from this how subtle Satan is in bringing [us] to destruction… Therefore, resist evil from the very beginning.”

Any of us can think that we’re standing firm. When we first commit a serious sin, there’s a sense of fear, even disgust. We feel a deep remorse for what we’ve done. But feeling bad about sin is not the same as hating our sin or putting sin far away from us. And if confuse regret with repentance, we’ll almost certainly do it again. Because when the bad feeling is forgotten, the attraction of sin remains, for you haven’t taken steps to remove the temptation.

What if you take your favourite craving and combine it with a lack of prayer, a lack of devotional time in Scripture, and an isolation from other godly people? The descent into sin becomes even harder to stop. The importance of this sin to our life increases, and there can come a time when we give ourselves over, doing the most shameful things with hardly any feeling at all.

This gets worked out, says verse 19, in “all uncleanness with greediness.” Now, the word “uncleanness” or “impurity” is often used to describe sexual sin. When we commit adultery in our thoughts or in our actions, we cause ourselves to become impure. But that’s not the only impurity meant; see how the Spirit refers to “all uncleanness.” In actual fact, all sin makes us unclean in the sight of God, and all sin can stick to us like the filthiest stain.

Another outworking of ignorance is “greediness” (v 19). Here too, we shouldn’t only think about the kind of sin where a person is greedy for money. Instead, this is about whenever you desire more than you have: you want more power, more praise, more fun, more love. So much of our sin is rooted in the vicious circle of greed: we want something, we get it, but now we want some more. Sin is a bottomless pit of desire, insatiable and endless.

This great danger is why we must change our clothes: “Put it off,” says the Spirit, “the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (v 22). It’s essential that we learn to put sin far from us. Don’t leave your favourite sins nearby so that you can try them on again, but get rid of it. Resist evil from the beginning.

Don’t tolerate the spirit of envy living in your heart, or let bitterness against people take root. Don’t explain away your lack of prayer this past week, but repent. Don’t minimize a little dishonesty in your business. Don’t accept the occasional drunkenness when you’re with your friends. Don’t look at porn, even if you reckon that it’s not hurting anyone. Don’t allow yourself to be critical or proud. Put it away—put it to death.

We have to do this, because of how sin can fool us. See how Paul warns against “deceitful lusts.” The temptations we meet, the idols that we create—these things all make promises. They offer joy and gain and pleasure, but in the end these lusts are deceitful. They can never make us truly happy, so they have to lie in order to draw us in. That’s what sin has always been like, even when Satan lied in order to trap our first parents.

Beloved, even if you have the Holy Spirit and you possess his gift of wisdom, you’re still able to be deceived. Even if Christ has given you new clothes, you still want to hang onto the old ones. So we need to hear and obey the calling of our text: “Stop loving your sin. Put off the old way of life. Don’t accept anything that’s not pleasing to the Lord. And put on your new clothes!”

 

2) the truth and holiness of the new: A good teacher always reminds his students about what they’ve learned—and that’s what Paul does for the Ephesians. They know Christ! See how he puts it in verse 20: they haven’t simply learned about Christ—they have learned Christ. Knowing the gospel means getting personally acquainted with the Son of God! Learning Christ means that we welcome him as Saviour and let ourselves be shaped by his teaching.

Paul puts it as a challenge to the Ephesians: “…if indeed you have heard him and have been taught by him” (v 21). “If you have heard,” he says—not that there’s any doubt about it, but he calls on them (and us) to reflect: “You’ve heard the gospel, haven’t you? You listened to the preaching of Christ, right? You know about his holy promises and obligations. So now what?” His truth must transform us.

Indeed, when we know Christ, it is Christ who should come to dominate our minds and direct our thinking. Instead of having futile thoughts about worldly things and empty pursuits, our thoughts are lifted up to him. We’re no longer in the dark, but now we can walk in the full light of the Lord. We have been taught, “as the truth is in Jesus” (v 21).

In him we know the truth, says Paul—the truth about what? We know the truth about God, who He is and what He has done. We know the truth about ourselves, our deep weakness but also our rich potential as children of God. We know the truth about this world and its deceitful lusts, and we know about life, and our future. In Christ we start to see things as they really are.

And having learned the truth, we need to “put off the old man,” as we read in verse 22. The “old man” refers to our old nature, the former style of life. The old man is ugly, because he is ignorant, darkened, and blind—given over to wickedness, impurity and greediness. And the old man was us! We used to live that way, but in Christ there’s been a total makeover. We had been entirely guilty, but now we are wholly righteous through faith in Christ. Each and every one of our past sins—all their shame and filth—it’s all been cleared away by the grace of God’s forgiveness, and even our nature has been made new.

So we must put off the old, and put on the new. This doesn’t mean we keep repeating the event of coming to faith, that we have be reborn, again and again. But now we must live out the implications of our new life. Christ has broken us away from the old, so it’s time to move on. The kingdom of Satan is ready for demolition, so we must not go there anymore.

And we must “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (v 23). The word “renew” is dramatic. Sometimes we use “renew” simply to mean that something is refreshed: after a good sleep, a hearty meal, a quick shower, we feel renewed. But this renewing has the sense of restoring youth, turning back the clock, completely rejuvenating our spirit. Like Paul says somewhere else, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” In his mercy, God performs this miracle of regeneration.

Notice again how the Spirit’s focus is on our thinking: we are renewed “in the spirit of our mind.” Earlier He dissected the mind of an unbeliever, showing the hardening and wickedness that results from not knowing the Lord. Now He shows how God gives an entirely new way of thinking. For if your mind has been renewed, your life is fundamentally different.

A person with a renewed mind no longer wants to dwell on worthless things but he devotes his thoughts to what is holy. With a transformed mind, we want to think about whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely. This is what we read. This is what we watch and listen to. This is what we talk about with our friends: the things that are above.

And that new mind is the engine of our conduct. The two are inseparably connected: if your mind is renewed, then you will “put on the new man” (v 24). Through Christ, there’s a change in us from the old man to the new man—it’s a change as noticeable as a change of clothes.

It’s like when the kids come home from school just after gym class, and their clothes are sweaty and smelly and grass-stained; they disappear into their room for two minutes, and when they emerge they’re like new people: a clean shirt, comfortable shorts, and fresh socks. Such is the change that is worked by God’s Spirit. He works so that we can put off what is filthy, what is old, what is oppressive—and put on the new and holy.

God isn’t only the author of this mighty work, He’s also its pattern, for our new nature is “created according to God” (v 24). For this remodelling project, the template and standard is the LORD. After being made in his image in the beginning, and letting this image be corrupted by sin, we’re now being remade in his likeness.

We are created according to God “in true righteousness and holiness” (v 24). Contained in those two terms is a world of meaning. Remade in “righteousness” means firstly that we now share in the righteousness of Christ. As He is righteous, we are righteous—formerly depraved, we are fully acceptable in the sight of God. And now a righteous person wants to live in the righteous way: we seek to serve God according to his Word.

And if we are remade in “holiness,” we’ve become holy in Christ and through his Spirit. We have been set apart for God, his special possession that He’ll never give up. And a holy person seeks to live in holiness: when we are separated from all pollution of sin and devoted to worship and neighbour love.

Put off wickedness, uncleanness, greediness—and put on righteousness and holiness. It’s a dramatic change of clothing, a radical change of our thinking and doing. And it has to happen! You can’t be a child of God without undergoing this alteration. If a person’s life is not marked by righteousness and holiness, at least in some measure, then there really is no evidence of re-creation. That should concern us, and that should move us to fervent prayer. But if see the beginnings of the new spirit, the new person, then we know that God is graciously at work.

And if God is at work, He calls us to a wardrobe change: putting off, and putting on. It’s not quick and momentary, but it has to be continual. We’re not done with this after one or two good years of Christian living, but it’s the work of a lifetime. Strive to put your habitual sins and regular temptations far from you, and do not give Satan a foothold. Be warned about the gradual descent into sin, and strive to cut off sin before it begins to take root. And if sin has taken root in your life, give your full attention to killing it before it kills you.

But it’s more than that—if you’ve stopped sinning, then you have to do something else, and that’s replace it with righteousness and holiness. Put on a Christ-like character and grow into him. See those places in your life and faith where you can still progress. Learn how to serve, how to pray, how to be content. Deepen your knowledge of Christ, and grow in your knowledge of his truth. Put off the old way of life, and put on the new!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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