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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Repentance and Replacement
Text:Ephesians 4:25 - 5:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 85:1,2                                                                                         

Ps 4:2,3                                                                                                          

Reading – Ephesians 4:17 - 5:7

Ps 103:4,5,7

Sermon – Ephesians 4:25 - 5:1

Hy 63:1,2,6

Ps 34:5,6,7

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

Brothers and sisters, there’s a key part of repentance that we often forget. It’s called replacement. Say you’ve resolved that you want to stop sinning in a certain way—no more gossip, no more pointless movies, no more devotion time skipped because you’re too tired. This is a good resolve, but it needs more. For we also need to think about our replacement strategy. What will take the place of this sin? How will we actually do better? True repentance means replacing our sin with something holy.

In chapter 4, Paul talks about the wardrobe change that’s essential for all who believe in Christ. Put off the old nature, and put on the new! Instead of wearing what is old and tattered and unclean, we must put on the new and beautiful, even the righteousness and holiness of Christ. But it’s good to get more specific. That’s what Paul does in our text: he has described the change from the old man to the new man, and now he works out the results of this in our daily behaviour.

Notice how our text begins with the connecting-word “therefore.” This makes us look in the rear-view mirror to remind us where we’ve been. You have learned Christ, you’ve been renewed in the spirit of your mind, you’ve been made righteous and holy—and now this change gets applied, in six different areas: truthfulness, anger, work, language, kindness, and love. These are like the individual items of clothing that are going to swapped out, the dirty socks and shirts and pants: put off lying, put on truth; put off anger, put on a spirit of peace; put off malice, and replace it with grace and mercy.

You can see that Paul is focusing here on our relations with other people. If we have new life in Christ, it’ll be seen in the daily interactions with those whom God has placed around us, neighbours and fellow church members and co-workers and classmates. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

Nurture your new lifestyle in Christ Jesus:

          1) imitating the kindness of God

          2) replacing evil works with good


1) imitating the kindness of God: We’re going to begin our text towards the end, with the exhortation in verse 32, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

It’s probably on purpose that the Spirit ends the section with this particular instruction. For maybe someone could’ve listened to chapter 4 up to this point, and still felt pretty good about himself: “I’m no longer in the darkness of false religion. I’m rarely given over to wicked indulgence. I hardly ever lie, nor do I get really angry at my neighbor. I don’t steal and I’m not a person with a lot of malice in my heart.”

But then comes that challenging command: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” It’s challenging, because we might refrain from all sorts of wicked things, but the core question is this: Do we really act in love? Are we positively kind and concretely compassionate? Verse 32 and the first verse of chapter 5 are really the climax of Paul’s instruction. Here’s a real and powerful way that we can show our new lifestyle in Christ.

“Be kind.” Kids, you’ve probably heard that many times, like in your home, or at school: “Be kind.” It’s a command for adults too. What does it mean? Kindness is thinking about other people as much as you think about yourself. It’s being concerned with their sorrows and being happy with their joys. A person who is kind has learned not to look inward all the time, but to look outward to others.

It’s revealing that in Scripture this is an attribute ascribed many times to God himself. We even see it here in Ephesians, like in 2:7, “[God showed] the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Despite the ugliness and offense of our sins, God demonstrates that He is concerned for us, that He is full of grace and mercy. And as a thankful response to his merciful kindness, we must put on kindness toward others. That’s our motive: “Be kind, like God has been kind to you!”

“Be kind… tenderhearted” (4:32). The word translated “tenderhearted” describes a love that arises from deep inside us—literally, from our bowels. It’s not superficial, but genuine. Again, in Scripture the same word is used to speak about God’s unbounded mercy to sinners. If we have received his mercy, we should have a “tender heart” toward each other: beloved, let us be patient with the weaknesses of our friends, be sympathetic to those at church who are struggling, and be ready to show a compassionate response.

And then this: “[Forgive] one another” (4:32). Now the Spirit is pushing us to the limit, for this is where we often run stuck in our relations. Forgive. Who can do it? Say you’ve been wronged. You’ve been hurt. Someone has stolen your dignity, your happiness. Now you’re just supposed to forgive? In the complex relations of life, even among brothers and sisters in the church, real forgiveness can be so hard to offer.

Or perhaps you think that you’re completely grudge-free. Maybe you think you’re totally at peace with other people. You might need to think again. Probably everyone carries with him old hurts and past pains. Consider how we can all remember those bad things that were done to us as children, as teens, and even as adults. Along the way, there have been people who have offended us, and slighted us, and disappointed us.

Maybe they used to be your friends; maybe it was a parent who wounded you, or a spouse, or your classmates; maybe it was the elders who did you wrong. Whenever we come into contact with other sinful humans like ourselves, at once there is the potential that we’ll hurt and be hurt, that we’ll sin and be sinned against.

And looking back, can you that say you have forgiven—everything, and everyone? It’s actually not an easy thing to know. For when does an old memory become a bitter grudge? When does a disagreement between two people become a sinful conflict? What does it mean to truly forgive? And can we actually do it, and let go, and carry on?

Just when we’re about to give up on forgiving, the Spirit reminds us how it’s possible: “Forgive, even as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32). You need to consider the greatest-ever display of forgiveness: God’s forgiveness of sinners through Jesus his Son!

Remember the story of his grace: A long time ago, God decided to make two beautiful creatures, a man and a woman, in his own likeness. He wanted our first parents to have life and to enjoy blessed communion with him as Maker. To them He gave everything: wisdom, strength, position, honour, and a glorious future. But what did God’s image-bearers do? They said, “God, you might’ve made me, but this is my life. I prefer freedom, and I want a life on my own terms, lived by my own rules.”

After such a shameful rebellion, what did God do? Strike them down instantly? Or watch these ingrates slowly rot in hell? Start over in angry frustration? No, in his amazing grace, God forgave. Even when we first sinned so terribly, inviting only his condemnation, God showed boundless kindness and compassion. He pardoned our transgression.

No, He couldn’t pretend that nothing had happened—the damage was done, and his justice was crying out. But instead of sending sinners to eternal fire, God sent Christ. And “Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice for God” (Eph 5:2). God’s beloved Son died, so that God’s beloved creatures can live. Because of this majestic compassion, this life-changing forgiveness, we sinners may be, as Paul says, adopted in God’s grace as “dear children” (Eph 5:1).

And the Father’s mercy for his children is ever-new! For if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll see how desperately we need his forgiveness each day. We could read the latter parts of Ephesians 4 in self-examination, and every one of us would walk away condemned: Greediness. Sexual impurity. Deceit. Anger. Laziness. Pride. Bitterness. Rage. Slander and corrupt speech. The old nature is still there, hanging on.

Yet sinners can celebrate how for the sake of Christ, there is full forgiveness. God casts our wickedness into the deepest part of the sea. He puts it behind his back, and He remembers it no more. God removes our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west.

God forgives us, says the Spirit, which means that we must also forgive! “Forgive, even as God in Christ forgave you.” In Scripture these two activities are always closely linked—you might say they are inseparably linked. Just think of the Lord’s Prayer: “Father, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The mercy which God has poured out on us must overflow in yet more mercy: forgiveness for our husband or wife, for our friends, for other church members, forgiveness even for our enemies.

Now, sometimes when we’re called to forgive, we have conditions that need to be met before anything can happen. “He has to come to me first.” “She has to apologize.” “He has to prove that he won’t do it again.” There is much that we could say about this. In general, I would say that it’s important—it’s Biblical—that a person repents before we say that we forgive them. To forgive someone who hasn’t repented can hinder them from really seeing what they’ve done wrong, and they might simply carry on in their sin.

Rather than say more about that, I think it’s more to the point to emphasize our willingness to forgive—that we have a spirit of mercy for others. Consider God’s willingness. What if God had waited for us to come to him? What if we first needed to fully grasp what we had done wrong, before He would show grace? We would be forever lost, unforgiven. But God looked for us, and He showed mercy, even without receiving a single request to do so.

And when He forgives, God no longer lets our sin get in the way. Forgiveness means that our relationship with him isn’t hampered by any evil thing we’ve done, or by any good work that we’ve neglected. He considers our sins gone, entirely, because Christ’s work was so complete. Once and for all, He took them away.

God’s complete forgiveness in Jesus Christ is the model and it is the motivation for when we forgive one another. We shouldn’t let anything hinder our communion with others, as much as that depends on us. Having a spirit of mercy means we’re willing to reach out, willing to try again. It means we don’t demand that they first suffer before we consider forgiving.

And then forgiving means we don’t let the relationship be burdened by what they’ve done. We don’t keep bringing it up, dusting off those painful memories, but we strive to leave it behind. This is hard. We can do this only when we fix our eyes more and more on the perfect model of God’s love. Beloved, He teaches us that we are forgiven, and that He wants us to be forgiving.

If all this wasn’t challenging enough, the Spirit adds a final exhortation: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children” (5:1). Imitate God! This is what the Spirit has been saying all along: God is kind, so you must be kind. God is tenderhearted, so you must be tenderhearted. God forgives, so you must forgive. Imitate his style of life.

And notice again how the Spirit refers to us: “dear children” (5:1). Don’t we expect children to imitate their parents, to copy both the good and bad qualities? Well, if you are dear children of God the Father, adopted through his grace in Christ, then you must become like him. Be like your Father! What a life-changing command this would be if we gave more attention to putting it into practice: Be imitators of God, as dear children!


2) replacing evil works with good: It’s time to return to the beginning of our text. We’ve seen what should be the guiding principle of our life—imitating God our Father—now let’s see some more ways in which this gets worked out.

First, let’s notice that most of the commands at the end of chapter 4 are structured in the same way. Paul states his command negatively, then he puts it positively, and then he gives the reason. Take verse 25 for example, “Put away lying”—that’s the negative rule. “Let each of you speak truth with his neighbour”—that’s the positive. And then the reason we should: “for we are members of one another.”

“Put away lying”—this command repeats the image of a clothing change. We have to discard our lying ways: “Take it off,” for lying is the devil’s work. Now, there’s more than one kind of lying. You can lie by making up a story to deceive your parents or your spouse. But you can also lie by not telling the whole truth about what happened. We lie too, when we project an image of ourselves that is almost perfect: no sin, no struggle, no sadness.

Instead, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour” (4:25) God is the God of truth, and He delights in those who speak his truth. And for what reason? “We are members of one another.” If we will be truly unified as Christ’s body, then we need to be truthful. In our conversations together, tell the truth about sin, about God’s wisdom, about how someone can help. For we are members of one another.

The next verse: “Be angry, and do not sin” (4:26). It’s striking how the Spirit puts this command; He says quite literally, “Be angry!” This reveals the truth that a person’s anger is not necessarily sinful. We can have an anger that is for the right cause, even an anger that is required when God’s Word is being twisted or broken.

Trouble is, our anger can so easily erupt in sinful ways. This is why the Spirit immediately adds, “Be angry, and do not sin.” It’s probably rare that we have anger with the right motives or loving thoughts. Our anger quickly becomes impure, perhaps because of our wounded pride, or our impatience, or resentments that we’re holding onto.

Anger has to be controlled, and anger should also be dealt with, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (4:26). How often does the sun go down? At the end of every day. This requires us to address our anger quickly. If you lost your temper on someone, apologize before too long. Or if the issue behind the anger is still there, deal with it. The longer we postpone mending a quarrel, the less likely we are to try fix it. So if you were wrong, pray to God for the grace to admit it. And even if you were right, pray for the grace to be forgiving and restoring.

What’s the reason we need to put away our anger? We don’t want to “give place to the devil” (4:27). Satan jumps on any opportunity we give him. And so many times, Satan has used anger and arguments to tear churches apart, and to ruin marriages, and wreck families. Beloved, let us realize that the devil can do much harm if we don’t deal with our anger promptly—an unresolved feud gives him an open door. So don’t invite the devil in, but keep him out by making peace and forgiving freely.

Verse 28 is another example of how evil works must be replaced by good. “Let him who stole steal no longer.” It’s possible that this was a problem for the Ephesians, for petty theft was widespread among the lower classes and slaves. You could pilfer something from your master, steal some food in the marketplace, or be dishonest in business. But no longer. God forbids stealing, because it is totally inconsistent with our new life in Christ.

What’s the positive alternative to stealing? “Rather let him labour, working with his hands what is good” (4:28). The Spirit commands us to work for our money by an honest living. The original Greek word describes the kind of work that is strenuous, even exhausting. Even if you’re not a tradesperson working with your hands, our daily work can be very hard—it can be full of strain and challenge—yet work is good, and it is God’s will for us.

And here is a worthwhile reason for faithful work: “that he may have something to give him who has need” (4:28). This idea went against first century culture completely, just as it contradicts our own. Today you work hard so that you can earn a heap of money to spend on yourself or to attain independence. But the child of God should work hard so that we can be generous with the needy. Listen to the challenge in this text: Earn, so that you can give it away! Giving should become the motive for our getting.

Paul next considers our speaking: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” (4:29). Every day we talk a lot, and there’s definitely a kind of talking that is corrupt—or literally, “rotten.” Do you ever have unwholesome conversations, when you’re just talking about other people’s shortcomings and sins? Or when you’re using language that is vulgar? Telling obscene stories? Or swearing? Or do you ever send cruel messages online about other people?

Words are powerful, for evil or for good. Once more, the Spirit points us to the holy alternative: “[Speak] what is good for necessary edification.” To edify someone is to build them up by our words. We can’t say, “At least I’m not swearing, not cursing or gossiping.” Instead, we should be seeking to encourage the people around us, speaking words that “impart grace to the hearers.” Beloved, what a profound possibility for our words: we can share God’s love with others, even give them a little taste of grace! Speak what is good and gracious!

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (4:30). When we speak corrupt words, or when we are given over to anger, or when we steal, we grieve the Spirit. Compare it to when a child acts against the guidance of her parents—they told her not to, but she does it anyway. This is hurtful and it grieves them. In the same way, to go against the Holy Spirit grieves him. The Spirit is the guide and director of our life, and He desires that we walk in his way.

What’s the reason? “By [the Spirit] you were sealed for the day of redemption.” In Ephesians 1 we learn that “[we] are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (v 13). Like a seal on an official letter, the Spirit is the undeniable mark of God’s claim on us. Having the Spirit indicates that a person really and truly belongs to God.

And the Spirit cares very much for the lives that He seals. Lying and stealing, nastiness and bitterness, are the kind of things that distress the Spirit, exactly because He is the Holy Spirit: a holy person needs a holy dwelling-place! The Spirit is always there, affixed to our hearts—and being sealed by the Spirit calls us to live like God’s children.

In verse 31, Paul commands us to take off each of the filthy garments of hatred: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” These are the kind of things which destroy life in the home, and in the church, and in the world. When we surrender to our sinful anger, when we hold onto resentment, when we speak evil of others, when we’re mean-spirited toward them, we’re not living like the new people we have become in Christ. No, then we’re just going back to the old ways, the ways that lead to death.

“Put these things away from you!” the Lord says. “Don’t give the devil a place. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.” Instead, avoid these evil works, and replace them with good. Let’s repeat the next verses, for they give us the fitting alternative—the best possible replacement: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. And be imitators of God, as dear children.”  Amen.

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

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