Now if you would take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. You’ll find that on page 978 in the church Bibles; Ephesians chapter 4. We are going to read from verse 17 of Ephesians chapter 4. Before we do that, let’s bow our heads as we pray. Let’s pray together.
Father, You promise Your people saying, ‘Open your mouths and I will fill them.’ The Lord Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled.’ Your Word is pure spiritual milk, it is food for our souls, and we are hungry and thirsty today. Would You speak with clarity and power? Send the Holy Spirit to take the written Word and to nourish us by it and bring us by it to Christ, the living Word. Help us to hear You. Open our ears. Help us to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Open our eyes and do it in the reading and preaching of the Word. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Ephesians 4 at verse 17. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And 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, tenderhearted, forgiven one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His Word.
At Odds With the World
We face, as Christian people, enormous pressure to defect, to turn aside, from the clear path of Christian obedience. The world is constantly enticing us and pushing us and tempting us and pressuring us and shaming and embarrassing us and opposing us if we seek to be faithful to Jesus. Just one example recently; you may have seen this in the news. A Mr. David Wells, he was a volunteer prison minister for thirteen years in Bowling Green, Kentucky amongst juvenile prisoners in a juvenile detention center, and he was fired from his position by the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice. That in itself isn’t particularly remarkable; the grounds of his dismissal though really are because I think they tell us, or they illustrate just how willing our society is becoming to oppose and even to pressure and persecute those who stand where the Bible stands on issues of ethics and Biblical morality and faithfulness to Jesus. He was fired because of his refusal to sign a policy document that the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice has produced requiring, and I’m quoting here from that document, “any employee or volunteer not to imply or tell LGBTQI juveniles that they are sinful.” Here’s a Christian minister being forbidden from saying what the Bible says not just about those who struggle with same-sex attraction or who self-identify as LGBTQI, but all people everywhere, myself included, that you’re a sinner. We’re all sinners in need of a Savior. And so Mr. Wells, for faithfulness to Christ, lost that ministry opportunity.
I think that’s a revealing turn of events, don’t you? It underscores for us, again if we needed it underscored, a phenomenon out in the world that the Bible has always acknowledged and sought to prepare Christians to face, and that is that the world, the rebellious, unbelieving world, requires and expects conformity to its norms. Certainly the world will let us believe whatever we like as long as we keep it to ourselves, but as the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice’s decision reminds us, the world will apply whatever pressure it may to ensure that we do not begin to live out in practice what we say we believe in private, and particularly that we do not seek to encourage anyone else to join us in submission to the Lordship of Christ and obedience to Him in their lives.
And in some ways, navigating that challenge – the pressure faced by Christians to turn aside from obedience and to cave in to the pressure of the world that seeks to conform them to its own patterns of rebellion – in some ways, navigating that challenge, helping Christians face that challenge, is the point of the book of Ephesians chapters 4 all the way through chapter 6. You will remember how Ephesians is put together. The first three chapters are largely theological. They are Paul’s statement of doctrine, of Biblical teaching about the sovereignty of God who chooses to save sinners, about the way that He breaks in upon us in mercy and unites us to Christ, gives us faith, and then connects us to one another and incorporates us into the Church. That’s chapters 1 through 3, the theological section. Then in chapters 4 through 6 Paul is working to connect the dots. Having told us the doctrine, he now helps us see how to live in light of the truth, so we have a more practical section – chapters 4 through 6. If you will remember back in chapter 2 verse 10 Paul said that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” That phrase, “that we should walk in them,” is important because in chapter 4 verse 1 Paul picks it up again – the Christian walk, the way you live. And he says, “Now I’m going to show you what that should look like. We’re going to talk about the Christian’s walk. What are these good works that God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them? And so chapter 4 verse 1 he says, “I want you to walk in a manner that is worthy of the calling that you have received.” And that is the theme of these three chapters, chapters 4 through 6. Paul wants to help us walk worthy, live out our Christian walk in obedience, even though the world is pressuring us and pushing us to turn aside.
But notice as he picks up that theme again here in verse 17 of chapter 4 that he phrases it a little differently. He puts it in negative terms now. Do you see that in verse 17? He says, “Do not walk, you must no longer walk, as the Gentiles do.” He puts it negatively. “Don’t let the parameters and trajectory of your life follow a path set by the world. Don’t let the prevailing moral culture lay down the tracks your life will follow.” That’s what he’s saying. And putting it negatively like that really clues us into the central concern of this section of the chapter. Paul is highlighting for us the difference, the distinctness of an authentically Christian life. He’s setting up a contrast between the world and the church, between a Christian and a non-Christian, between a child of God and a rebel against His rule. He knows there’s enormous pressure bearing down on Christians to conform, to allow themselves to be squeezed back again into the mold of the world with its warped priorities and its distorted convictions. And so he writes here to garrison us against the relentless pressure to capitulate to worldliness.
Not many of us have been called upon to endure the kind of state sponsored opposition that David Wells of Bowling Green, Kentucky recently faced, at least not yet. But if we are Christians at all, the truth is there is not one single day that passes when we do not endure an onslaught of internal temptations and external enticements and social expectations and peer pressure and dismissive assumptions and hostile reactions, all of them calculated to push us from the path, to divert us from the way of faithful obedience to Jesus. Isn’t that the case? Don’t you resonate with that? Hasn’t that been your experience? Every day as a believer in Jesus you open your eyes – temptation hits. You go through the day and there’s pressure, there’s sneering remarks as you seek to be obedient to Jesus. There’s sometimes subtle peer pressure, sometimes overt opposition, all of it calculated to reinforce the idea that to be obedient to Christ is going to cost you. Paul is well aware that’s the challenge before us and so he writes here to help us and equip us to stay faithful and he does it in verses 17 to 24 by building his message around two metaphors, two images. I wonder if you see them in 17 to 24. We’ve already mentioned the first of them. Seventeen to 19 – the way we walk, or more accurately, the way we ought not to walk. And then in 20 to 24 he talks about what we wear. Those are the two metaphors he’s using to teach us how to stand firm – how we walk or ought not to walk, and what we wear.
I. The Way We Walk
Let’s think about the first of those in 17 to 19 – the way we walk. “You must no longer walk,” he says, “as the Gentiles do.” And then he goes on to tell us what that means. First he says, “To live without Jesus Christ, to live like the world, like the Gentiles, is to live with a futile mind and be darkened in understanding.” Verses 17 and 18, “Do not walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding.” That word “futile,” from which the phrase, “futile minds” comes, was used in the Greek version of the Old Testament scriptures to describe empty idols. You are lumps of wood and stone and silver and gold. And what happens to those who worship them? So for example, speaking about Israel’s pursuit of idols, through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 2:5 God says to Israel, “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me and went after worthlessness?” There’s our word, “futility.” They went after empty idols and they became, he says, worthless themselves. They began to resemble the objects of their worship. That’s always true, you know. You become like what you worship. And if what you worship is empty and futile and dark and broken, you will be too, you will be too. They worshiped the creature not the Creator. That’s what Paul says in similar language to the language he uses here in chapter 4 of Ephesians earlier in Romans 1:21. “Although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. They became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
The Spiritual Darkness of the Unbeliever
In G. K. Chesterton’s short story, The Oracle of the Dog, the hero of his short stories, the detective-priest, Father Brown, says this, “The first effects of not believing in God is that you lose your common sense and can’t see things as they are.” The first effect of not believing in God is that you lose your common sense and you can’t see things as they are. That’s exactly what Paul is saying here – futile minds, darkened understanding. When you don’t know Jesus Christ there’s a spiritual darkness and an intellectual futility that blinds you and distorts your perceptions of the world and warps your appreciation of things that really matter. Then Paul says the way Gentiles walk means, verse 18, “to be alienated from the life of God.” That’s how the Ephesians themselves actually once lived. Remember back in chapter 2 and verse 1? “They were dead in trespasses and sins in which they once walked.” They were, chapter 2 and verse 12, “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, without God and without hope in the world.” The old way of life before we were Christians can’t be characterized simply as an intellectual problem. It’s much, much worse. If you don’t know Jesus it’s not just that you don’t have all the facts; it is that you are spiritually dead, alienated from the life of God. You need resurrection.
And Paul goes on to say our persistence in that condition, of mental futility and intellectual darkness and spiritual death, rests on ignorance arises from our hard hearts. When the Pharisees plotted to murder Jesus, Mark chapter 3 and verse 5, we are told it was because of their hardness of heart. They stubbornly rejected Christ and His message. The futile-mindedness, the intellectual darkness, the spiritual death Paul describes here rests on profound ignorance of the truth. But it’s not an excusable ignorance; it is culpable ignorance. That’s what Paul is telling us. We ought to know but our hard hearts reject the truth we can plainly see. The truth about God is manifest in the things that are made so that we are without excuse but instead of honoring Him as God we suppress the truth in unrighteousness and exchange the truth of God for a lie.
A Warning for the Church
And the final fruit of that terrible intellectual and spiritual condition? Look at verse 19. What will it do to you to live like this? “They have become calloused and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Doesn’t that sound terribly like a description of our society right now? Calloused, hard hearts, impervious to the truth, given up to sensuality, craving impurity, craving it, greedy for it, a culture weeping over a dead lion, unflinching over the gruesome trade at Planned Parenthood, defining our identity entirely by our sexual preferences, and celebrating in public what is shameful even to name in private. But as we recognize that, as we see in our culture the mirror of Paul’s description, we’re not supposed to respond with a sort of self-righteous, “Aren’t I glad I’m better than they?” kind of attitude. No, actually this is a warning and it’s not a warning for the world; it’s a warning for the Church. Paul is writing to the believers in Ephesus, verse 17, saying, “Do not live like this!” He knows however mature you may be in your Christian life, however far on you’ve gone, you are not beyond falling back into the old ways. Isn’t it easy, isn’t it? Really easy to fall back into the old ways.
This is a warning and it’s meant to waken up in our hearts horror at the possibility that we may slip back into this dark hole and a life that looks like this, but more than that, it may even be designed to awaken conviction of sin in your heart because the truth is, what Paul’s been describing already finds its mirror image in your life right now. You have been walking the way the Gentiles do, haven’t you, some of you? You thought your porn problem was hidden. It’s not hidden. God sees you. You thought when you were flirting online with someone who is not your spouse that it’s gone unnoticed. It’s not unnoticed. God sees you. He knows you. You thought sleeping with your fiancée; you know your parents practice a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Everyone else is doing it. It doesn’t matter. It matters. God sees you and He abhors your rebellion against Him. There’s a warning here. Do you hear it? Can you hear it? God is warning you. Do not walk as the Gentiles walk or else, maybe slowly at first, maybe you don’t even notice it happening in your heart, but calluses will begin to grow around your heart and you will find yourself one day indifferent to the Gospel, impervious to every appeal, unyielding. And you will be far away from Jesus, pursuing the indulgence of your lusts, cut off from His people, making shipwreck of your faith, facing the eternal danger and destruction of your soul. There’s a warning here. Are you listening?
II. What To Wear
How we walk or ought not to walk, but there’s more than just a warning, mercifully. There’s help that we might learn to be obedient and walk in faithfulness to the call of Christ. Look at verses 20 to 24. First how not to walk; secondly what to wear – how we dress. I’m not a fan of, you know, these TV make-over shows. I’m sure you’ve seen them or parts of them. You know what I’m talking about. They hold a certain fascination, however, for many, and I think part of it maybe is it appeals to our sense of voyeurism. You know, we like to scrutinize other people’s lives. Maybe there’s a part of us that responds to the idea peddled in these make-over shows that no matter what you think about yourself right now, you too could be beautiful one day. They offer transformation. That’s what makes them compelling viewing for many people – transformation; a whole new you. But of course no matter how profound the transformation, it’s always only ever superficial, isn’t it? New hair and make-up, a new outfit or two can’t touch your heart.
If you look, Paul is using make-over language we might say. Do you see that in verse 22 and again in verse 24? Make-over language; a new you! Verse 22, “Put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” Verse 24, “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Take off the old garments; dress yourself in the new. But the make-over that Paul has in mind is through and through. The clothes he wants us to put off aren’t superficial. It’s the old self he wants us to change and a new self he wants us to put on – created in the image of God, in righteousness and holiness. It’s a make-over from the inside, out! A wholly, new, you. We are not to walk as the Gentiles walk and to put off our old self that belongs to that former manner of life and put on the new self that reflects the moral character of the Lord Jesus.
Our Need for the Word
How are we going to do it? How do you do this? Look at verse 20. He says to the Ephesians, “You have not so learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him as the truth is in Jesus.” Do you see the teaching language that Paul uses there? “You have not so learned Christ. You have heard about Him. You were taught in Him the truth as it is in Jesus.” He’s saying the ministry of the Word in your life is the principle means God has appointed to teach you to stay on the tracks that He has laid down for your life and not get diverted by the pressures of the world into walking the way the Gentiles do. The ministry of the Word of God read and preached and prayed and sung Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day is the means God will use to equip you to put your old self off every day and to put your new self on so that you begin to look like Jesus in the way that you live. You see the same emphasis in verse 23, don’t you? Between the call to put off your old self and the call to put on your new self, Paul says we need to be “renewed in the spirit of our minds.” We are, as he puts it in Romans 12:2, “not to be conformed any longer to the pattern of the world but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Put another way, your spiritual diet will determine your spiritual health. If you eat garbage all the time, you will begin to live and act and be garbage. Are you much in the Word? Do you love the means of grace? If you can’t fight temptation you need to ask yourself, “Have I been neglecting the Scriptures? Could the reason my resistance is so feeble when temptation begins to assail me, could it be that I have been neglecting the Scriptures?” If you cave to the pressure to live like the world even though you profess to follow Jesus, is it because you have been at best occasional in sitting under the preaching of the Word in church every Lord’s Day? Those who look most like Christ are people whose lives are most saturated with Bible. That’s Paul’s point. We must learn Christ. We must hear of Christ. We must be taught of Him the truth as it is in Jesus. Our minds must be renewed.
And did you notice that Paul doesn’t say that the Ephesians merely learned about Christ from the teaching ministry under which they had been sitting? Look at verse 21 again. They have learned about Him. They’ve heard about Him; they were taught in Him. But what effect has the ministry of the Word had upon them? Not just they learned facts, data, about Jesus. Rather, verse 20, they learned Christ himself. They learned Christ. They came to know Christ. That’s the secret power of the Bible, of the Word of God, to bring change into your life. This old, thick book – what will it do to you if you let it have its way? It will take you face to face with Christ Himself and no one, no one who met Him is able to be the same. You will be changed forever. Neglect the Book, you neglect the way in which your Savior comes to you and change you and make you like Him. Neglect the Book and you expose your life to danger, to danger! You are vulnerable to spiritual attack. Be in the Book; here your Master Himself comes to you for the good of your soul. That’s what we need. More than anything we need Christ. The pressure to capitulate to the old ways can be enormous but you don’t have to walk as the Gentiles walk; you don’t have to live the old ways. You can put off the old self and put on the new self. You can be like Jesus more and more and Christ Himself will make it happen if you’ll give yourself to being in the one place He promises to meet you. Be much in the Word.
And so may the Lord bless to you the ministry of His Word even here this morning. Let us pray together.
Our Father, we bow before You and we confess our neglect, my own neglect, of Your Word. Help us to hunger and thirst for Christ and be driven by our appetite for more of Jesus to the place where He’s promised to be found. Help us to be much in the Word that we may learn to put off our old selves and to put on our new selves and be renewed in the spirit of our minds and face down all the opposition and pressure of the world and live instead for the honor of the name of our Savior and Master and King, the Lord Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.