Ephesians 4:17-24 “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
“So I tell you this . . .” An apostle is writing these words. One who saw the risen Christ and who was commissioned by him to preach his message. That is the reason he speaks in this way, with the authority of God behind him. There is the Lord’s apostle, and here are you and me, and we are linked by his words, “I tell you this.” We don’t tell him what is truth and error or right and wrong; he tells us.
“So I tell you this . . .” I love that kind of preaching; direct, in my face, confrontational. It grabs me and insists that I pay attention. I don’t want all preaching to be like that. I want it also to be lyrical and winsome and inspirational. I don’t want any preaching to be plucking away at one string. If a preacher keeps saying to me, “I tell you this . . . I tell you this,” then after forty minutes I feel like getting up and saying right back to him, “And I tell you this.” But Paul is here echoing the “Amen, amen” refrain of Jesus, translated in the Authorised Version, “Verily, verily.” In other words, “you’d better prick up your ears and listen to what I say now; all I say is important but these words are hyper important.”
Let me illustrate it like this. When I wave at people I’m not cool. I don’t nonchalantly raise an arm a little and make a slow motion. I wave! I wave my arm vigorously. My daughters would groan from the back-seat of the car at their father’s frantic waving. But I want people to see my waving and that I like them. Paul is waving at us here.
“So I tell you this, and insist on it . . .” So this is getting hot; another note is entering Paul’s introduction. “I want to tell you some things and I insist on its importance and that you pay heed and do something about it.” I insist. “Apres vous, Cecil.” “Non! Apres vous, Claude.” “Non! Apres vous, Cecil.” “Non Claude. Apres vous. Je insiste.” But Paul goes further;
“So I tell you this and insist on it in the Lord.” Paul can’t go far in his speaking or writing without thinking of Jesus. He is always bringing him in. Here he is conscious that what he is about to say he does in union with Christ. I live, and yet not I; Christ liveth in me. I speak, and yet not I; Christ speaketh in me. All the authority of the Saviour who came from heaven for us, who hung naked on the cross for us, who lay in the cool tomb for us, who rose from the dead for us, who is seated at the highest place in heaven for us, who is the ruler of the universe, our King, High Priest and our Judge, gathers behind these words: “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord . . .” What is his concern?
1. CHRISTIANS MUST NOT LIVE LIKE NON-CHRISTIANS.
How simple the point, but how immensely important. “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do” (v.17). Christianity is not a belief system you pick up which has no effect on your living. Here is the Queen of England. “Do you believe that you are an Englishwoman?” “Yes,” she says. Here is the Archbishop of York; “Do you believe that you are an Englishman?” “Yes, of course,” he says. Here is a rapist spending ten years in prison. “Do you believe that you’re an Englishman?” “Yes. Definitely,” he says, and if I go around the jail and interview the rest of the prisoners most of them would give the same answer. They are convicted criminals, many of them having committed the most serious crimes, but they all believe that they are Englishmen. Their faith in this has not changed their living in any way. They have served themselves and served sin, and now they are paying the wages of sin.
Belief in Jesus Christ is not like that. It is not a background conviction which allows anyone to behave just as they choose. If you are a true Christian you have entrusted yourself to the saving power of the Son of God, to his sovereign protection as your king, to his constant instruction as your teacher, and to his cleansing blood as your high priest. He is your Lord and you are his slave. Day by day you live in this relationship with him. If he is not your Lord then neither is he your Saviour. He indwells you. He has given you new life, a new heart, made you a new creation and made everything new – you live in a new world which is his creation, the universe which he has made; you live in a new family in which you love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her; you don’t provoke your children to wrath but you bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. You work at a new job in which you don’t please your boss simply when he is around but when he is not there you serve him as if he were your Lord and Saviour. Your chief end in life is to glorify God and enjoy him. Your faith in the Son of God transforms your whole life. You do not live as you once lived at the time you had no faith in Christ. Faith without such works is dead faith. That is the faith the demons have; they believe in God but use all their energies and initiative in serving wickedness. That is mere historic faith, like believing that in 1066 William the Conqueror defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings, like believing that Winston Churchill was Prime Minister in the 1950s, like believing that you are a Welshman, or an Englishman, or an Irishman or whatever. That is historic faith. I can believe that there was a man named Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin, performed great miracles of healing, died on the cross and rose from the dead, but it make no impact on my life at all. I get on with the real things that turn me on – making money, traveling, wining and dining, having a good time with my family. What is the difference between your life and that of men and women who live for themselves? That is Paul’s concern here, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,” (v.17). There has to be a change because you consider how non-Christians live?
i] Unbelievers live in the futility of their understanding.
The fundamental difference between Christian and non-Christian is not a matter of ethics or experience but understanding. Most of our neighbours on our street don’t go to church but they are decent kindly people. The difference between the two of us and them lies in our understanding of what life is all about. I could ask five or six questions and in most of them they’ll come to different conclusions from ourselves.
a] What is prime reality – the really real? Will you say the gods, or the material world, or some phrase like ‘the force’ or ‘the cosmic mind’? Or will you say “Jesus Christ is the truth; he is ultimate reality”?
b] What is the nature of the world around us? Do you see it as something that has always been and self-existent? Is it chaotic or orderly? Matter or spirit? Or do you see it as the result of a Creator God who in the beginning made the heavens and the earth?
c] What is a human being? Is he a highly complex machine? A god? A naked ape? Or someone made in the image and likeness of God?
d] What happens to a person when he dies? Will he be annihilated? Will he be reincarnated? Will he be transformed to a higher state? Will he depart to a shadowy existence on the other side? Will he be judged by God and go to heaven with him or banished from his presence for ever?
e] How do we know what is right and wrong? Do we think it comes from the consensus opinion of the culture we live in? Do we think that we have to follow our own feelings? Is it a matter of human choice alone? Do we think that through the long process of evolution certain contingencies for survival have come down to us? Or do we think that the Creator God has told us how to live in his law?
f] What do we think is man’s chief end? Is it to make a paradise on earth? Is it to have as much fun as you can? Or is it to glorify and enjoy God for ever?
Our understanding as Christians is very different from the understanding of our fellow men, and we pass judgment on them, and we want them to change their minds because they are wrong in their thinking. There is a certain futility in their thinking, Paul says. This is the Bible’s indictment on the whole world. This is part of what it means when it says that all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Everyone without Christ has a certain futility about their minds. This is the great testimony of Solomon who spent years of his life in vanity and pride and then came to see the utter futility of it all. He discovered that the beginning of wisdom is found in fearing God. Let’s look at his description of his experience in Ecclesiastes 2
“I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless. ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?’ I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well – the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done? I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I thought in my heart, ‘The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?’ I said in my heart, ‘This too is meaningless.’ For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!” ( Eccles. 2:1-16).
Here is a man who confesses that he has tried everything the created world has to offer and it cannot satisfy him. It cannot tell him what is ultimate reality, nor what is the nature of external reality, nor what is a human being, nor what happens when a person dies, nor what is right and wrong, nor what is man’s chief end. He is ignorant of all that, and so he tries pleasure and culture, and philosophical pursuits, and eventually discovers the vanity of it all, because the end of everything is the grave. That is the sort of thing Paul is talking about when he refers to the futility of the thinking of non-Christians. They cannot make sense of death.
ii] Unbelievers are darkened in their understanding.
It is a fearful condition, having one’s understanding in a state of darkness. There was an obituary of an American rock music fan in the Times on Thursday (January 13, 2004). I had never heard of him before. His name was Danny Sugarman and he died of lung cancer aged fifty. He represents that vast company of women, but of men especially, who have lived their lives for that kind of music, who play it loudly in their rooms, and get the magazines, and go to the concerts, and take on as much of that lifestyle as they can afford. What a wretched start to growing up. Danny Sugarman was their advocate. As a young man he became obsessed with Jim Morrison and the Doors. Jim Morrison took on this teenage disciple – he was eleven years older than Sugarman. He told him what to live for, what life was all about. The Times describes the late Morrison as “a debauched and Dionysian figure, given to drink and drug binges that would end with him sleeping off his intoxication in a seedy motel or even under the bushes when he was too far gone to make it to the door. He drew the underage Sugarman into this twilight world, smuggling him into low-rent bars and strip clubs on LA’s Sunset Strip, insisting that it was all part of his education. Sugarman proved an all-too-willing pupil in such overindulgence. He was later to write, ‘My personal belief is that Jim Morrison was a god.’ It is no wonder that he was ready to follow his hero’s hedonistic lead with slavish devotion. The result was that he developed a drug addiction with which he was to struggle until 1986.” In other words, for fifteen years after Morrison his ‘god’ had died through his excesses Sugarman was a druggie. Then he tried to help other people not getting into drugs. The title to the book he wrote about Morrison says it all, “No One Here Gets Out Alive.” Then he wrote another biography of the group called Guns N’ Roses and he called that “Appetite for Destruction.”
There is a Dionysian lifestyle, as the Times describes it, and the apostle Paul himself and the early Christians knew all about it. It surrounded them in Ephesus. There were followers of the philosopher Dionysius everywhere saying, “Indulge your every appetite and lust both of the mind and the flesh and find yourself.” There were many older men then as now like Morrison, predators, all too willing to initiate younger men and women into this degrading lifestyle. “It is part of their education” they said.
Paul talks of them being darkened in their understanding. The Times spoke of the ‘twilight world’ in which Morrison and Sugarman. Sugarman didn’t know the living God; he thought Jim Morrison was a god. He didn’t know what the good life was and so he thought indulgence in sex and drugs and rock’n’roll was what it was all about. His understanding was darkened because he refused to believe that the Light of the World had come and had preached the Sermon on the Mount.
It would be to use hundreds of other illustrations of the darkness of men’s understandings, but I don’t need to because you know about them better than I do. They surround us in the civilization in which we live and their pernicious influences are evident everywhere. There is no more basic explanation of the huge problem of sexually transmitted diseases, the single parent families, the horrible abortion statistics, the availability of drugs in every town and school, the massive problem of alcoholism – all of this is due basically to men’s understandings being darkened. Think of the problem of AIDS in Africa. What is the prime cause? Men’s understandings being darkened. That leads to promiscuity, and that leads to AIDS, and that leads to death. It begins with the futility and darkness of the understanding. Then Paul’s diagnosis goes a step further.
iii] Unbelievers are also separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts (v.18).
They have no knowledge nor experience of the life of God. A man called George Whitefield was the son of the proprietor of the Bell Inn in Gloucester. He was a student in Oxford paying his way through college by a part-time job in the students’ dining clubs working on tables. He was very religious, attending meetings, and visiting the prisons and taking food to the poor and sick. He was a member of a students’ society called “The Holy Club” but all his morality and earnestness had not brought him to know God for himself. His whole life was changed when he was given a little book to read entitled. “The Life of God in the Soul of Man” by a young Scottish writer who lived in the previous century, Henry Scougal. The book contradicted all his religion. This is what Whitefield said at the time;
“God showed me that I must be born again, or be damned! I learned that a man may go to church, say his prayers, receive the sacrament, and yet not be a Christian. How did my heart rise and shudder, like a poor man that is afraid to look into his account-books, lest he should find himself a bankrupt. ‘Shall I burn this book? Shall I throw it down? Or shall I search it?’ I did search it; and, holding the book in my hand, thus addressed the God of heaven and earth: ‘Lord, if I am not a Christian, or if I am not a real one, for Jesus Christ’s sake, show me what Christianity is that I may not be damned at last!’ God soon showed me, for in reading a few lines further, that, ‘true religion is a union of the soul with God, and Christ formed within us’, a ray of Divine light was instantaneously darted in upon my soul, and from that moment, but not till then, did I know that I must become a new creature.'”
Whitefield did not know that true religion comes when the life of God enters you by the Holy Spirit in a new birth. The Holy Club with the Wesley brothers in it were also ignorant of this and so they were separated from the life of God. They did not know the power that could remove the hardness from the hearts. They tried self-denial and fasting and prayers and good works; none of it did any good. Their hearts remained hard; their lives were separated from the life of God. Then one day a dead preacher in a book he had written spoke to Whitefield about his need of the life of heaven to enter his own life. Then his ignorance vanished and Whitefield began to read the Bible with understanding, and to cry mightily to God to give him this life, and to take away his hard heart. That is what Paul is talking about here, about being separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in us due to the hardening of our hearts (v.18), but now knowledge has come, and life!
What a challenge it is. Do we know any thing about receiving this knowledge, and being delivered from this futility of thinking, and the darkness of our understanding? Do we have life of God? This transfigured life? This risen life? This newness of life? We are not describing it yet, we are simply asking has any such resurrection taken place in us? Paul says, “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” Are we different in point of behaviour as a result of our Christian experience? Is our life, in the broadest and in a yet undefined sense, risen and transformed? Has our heart been softened? Is there elevatedness, divinity and power present? Is there transformation of these dimensions, comparable to that effected in the hard cold dead body of Jesus Christ when the life of God filled that cold sepulchre and he was raised again warm and alive? Is there anything in our lives, not in point of feelings, not in point of our spiritual gifts or religious exercises but in our relationship with God which would tell men that our lives have been touched by the power that made the world, that our hearts have been affected by the power which raised our Lord from the dead? Are our lives different to our Gentile unbelieving neighbours? Are we different from those who constitute the mass, the unregenerate world? And is that transformation such as to argue that in us now there is working the Almightiness of the Lord God? But Paul goes on in his diagnosis with one final damning indictment of the unbelieving man.
iv] Unbelievers give themselves over to every kind of impurity.
Paul says this; “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (v.19). There was once a sense of modesty, of the four year old not taking off her dress and changing with Grandpa in the room. There was once a sensitivity about women drinking at a bar, or smoking in public – can you believe it? There was a sensitivity about bad language on radio and television, or about dirty jokes being told in mixed company, about displays of nakedness, and cursing, and cruel violence, and so on. Not any longer! Once they blushed; not any longer! Now they have forgotten how to. They have lost their sensitivity to sin because they have given themselves over to sensuality. The girls go binge drinking a couple of nights a week if they can afford it. They go out with their gang in order to get drunk. It is now as commonplace as going out for the night. Or again men go to those notorious websites and search for the filth where people indulge in every kind of impurity. We have a generation familiar with the most weird and unnatural acts; they have become dulled to the dirtiness and defilement of it all.
More than that, they have, Paul says, “a continual lust for more” (v,19). So there are all these deviant mores of behaviour, indescribably ugly and cruel, and they indulge in that. Paul saw it around him in the first century and we see it today as the sorry prosecution for paedophilia of men in the highest places in the land goes on and on. “More!” they cry. Never satisfied. “More! I must have more!” They visit another site, and buy another magazine, they are getting drunk the next week, or they are looking for another fix, and it never ends. Slaves to sensuality, they indulge in every kind of impurity.
That is the depressing picture, but utterly contemporary, that our text presents to us today. “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do” (v.17). That is Paul’s plea. How do you respond to it? As you face the temptations of this life, does the way that you emerge declare that we have faced them and overcome them by the power of the Omnipotent Creator? As we undergo whatever life may hold for us of privilege and opportunity, do we have the courage and self-control that would argue that the Lord has held us up with his own strength, and made over to us the resources of his own life? And as we face the obligations of our own Christian position, as we ask the Lord for a knowledge of his will and we identify that will, do we do it so effectively that it might be known that we do it not in our own strength but by the power of him who raised the Lord from the dead?
Paul is raising for us hereon of the great and urgent questions for our day; what is the life, what is the bearing of the Christian Church? Are we light in the world? Are we the salt of the earth? Are we indeed shining in the midst of a crooked and a perverse nation? And do our lives bear testimony, not only to the sincerity of our theological convictions, but to the reality and the nearness and the relevance of the life of God that we proclaim? Our own lives, are they new? Are they different? Are they transformed? Are they pure, self-denying, noble? Are they patient and courageous? Are our lives all these things according to this measure and standard? is it transformation according to the life of God in the soul of man?
2. CHRISTIANS LIVE AS THOSE WHO HAVE COME TO KNOW CHRIST.
Paul then says this, “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (vv.20-24).
A Christian is not a mere religious man, someone who has gone through certain ceremonies like baptism or having the hands of a bishop laid on his head. A Christian is not simply a man who knows Christian teaching. He has come to know Christ! He know that Christ is God and man in one person. He knows that he is our prophet and priest and king. He knows that Christ was in the beginning in glory, and then he humbled himself in incarnational grace to give his life for sinners, and that now he is risen, ascended and exalted. He knows Christ’s life and teaching. He knows where he is now, at the right hand of God. He knows him as his own Saviour, as the great comprehensive answer to his own guilt. He knows he has a mediator with the Father Christ Jesus. And yet with all the knowledge that he has of the Lord Jesus he is not satisfied, and he longs to know him more and more, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering. “Oh that I might know him better,” he sighs.
The Christian so knows Christ as to change his own way of life. It is like courtship for marriage. A man loves a woman very much; she is more refined and purer than he is. He comes from a different rougher background, but since he has met her and fallen in love with her he changes himself to win her, to gain her approval, to make their life together closer and sweeter, to deepen the fellowship and the love. So it is with the Christian. We have come to know the way of life that Christ loves and supports and we go for it. There is a way of life that Christ generously provides his Spirit to strengthen. We hear of it in the preaching of the word; we have been taught the truth that is in Jesus week by week (v.22).
What have you been taught? Two things, one negative and one positive
i] The negative truth you have been taught is this “with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (v.22). Paul refers to what he used to be, an unregenerate man under the dominion of unbelief as ‘my old self.’ That old self was corrupted by desires that promised satisfaction and joy and fulfilment and excitement but the promises deceived him. In fact they brought guilt and pain and shame and frustration. They were deceitful desires, and as long as they had any part in his life they corrupted him and the whole company of Pharisees of whom he was the bright young thing. So Paul says, “Put off that whole way of life.” He is comparing it to a flashy but stinking coat, far too gaudy and sensuous for a holy follower of Jesus to wear. It is a defiling garment. Put it off! In other words, put such clothing far away from you. Don’t give them away to anyone else. Don’t take them to a charity shop where others might take them and be corrupted by them. Take them off and put them away for ever. Put them in the rubbish bin. Watch them go out as refuse. Don’t shed any tears over them. Bid them farewell. Do it every week. Go on doing it all your life. Put off your old self and dispose of it. Don’t explain and don’t condone; don’t nourish, cherish, or tolerate. Don’t think of those pleasurable connections when you wore this garment or wore that garment, and how you won the argument, and you clinched the deal, and you had your photograph taken, and had your way with that man or woman wearing those clothes. Destroy them! Why should you? Because they were part of a former way of life in which you were being corrupted by deceitful desires and you were corrupting others.
Those garments are beautiful. They were expensive and in the best taste. How you enjoyed wearing them and how painful it is to get rid of them, but it has to be done because they are power clothes and the power they exert is not Christ like. They are not the garments of righteousness. That day is gone when you could dress like that. However painful it is you must do it. Better to go to heaven in sackcloth and ashes than to go to heaven in Armani and Dior and mink and silk. Don’t let those parts of your former way of life be a means of tempting you from Christ in your present life. It might be music, it might be food and drink, it might be culture, it might be an automobile, it might be a relationship. Whatever it is you know you cannot ask the blessing of God on it. You know that it is a wonderful thing but it is not something that helps your new life. An eye is a wonderful thing, but if your eye is causing you to stumble pluck it out. A hand is a wonderful thing to have, but if your hand is causing you to stumble then cut it off. The garments of your former way of life, put them off because they will corrupt the new self by their deceitful desires. Paul knows the power of sin, even continuing in his own present Christian life, and he knows that the Christian has no right to behave like a non-Christian.
There are men and women we all know who were once in membership in this congregation, professing faith here and being baptized and married here, but now they have no profession at all. Now there is no mystery to that sadness. It is certainly not because of the sovereignty of God. It happened because they did not do what Paul tells us to do here, “Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (v.22). They did not put to death remaining sin. they thought it would not deceive them. They thought they could go to chat lines on the Internet when their wives were putting the children to bed or when she had gone to bed herself. They thought they would ‘witness’ to someone, at least that is what they told themselves. But they were corrupted by deceitful desires like thousands of other professing Christians, and today they don’t go to church, and they have sold all their books, and their marriage is over, and they are living alone somewhere with a ton of guilt and a hopeless future. I teach you, as I teach myself, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self. That is the negative exhortation, and then there is a positive exhortation.
ii] The positive truth you are being taught is this; “Be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (v.24). The Christian is a new in the attitude of his mind. He looks at Jesus Christ with a new attitude. He sees him as his Lord and God. He looks at himself in a totally different way. he makes no excuses for his sins; he confesses them to God and forsakes them. He looks at his fellow men in a different way. He looks at the older women as mothers and younger women as sisters. His whole mind is totally new, and he has put on a new self. He is joined to Christ. He stands with Christ. His new self lives, moves and has its being in the life of Christ. That is the position of the ordinary Christian believer who is a new self. The most backward believer, the youngest child in Christian experience, what is he but a new self, and Paul’s whole emphasis here is this: I am going to tell you positively how someone should live who is a new self. You are someone who has the life of God in his soul. You are someone who knows Christ. You have been taught in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. That is not the privilege of the eminent believer, but there is no child of God, there is no man or woman born again but there is a man or woman that has this special place, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (v.24). The Adamic image before the fall is being restored in every single Christian. That is why they are new selves because they face the trials of the present time recreated to this end, to be like God; they face the wiles of the devil created to be like God; they face their obligations knowing they are created be like God. Not ‘like Jesus’ but ‘like God’ himself, as holy as God, as loving as God, as pure as God, hating sin as God hates it, loving righteousness as the righteous God loves it. Those are Paul’s words here to the entire congregation in Ephesus, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (v. 24). That is our destination; that is our inevitable and irrevocable destination because God has committed himself inexorably to that end for every one of his people.
It is time we realised what is our true dignity, to realise what it is to have the life of God in our own lives. It is time we worked out what the Lord has done in us. We are transformed people, transformed by the re-creative power of Almighty God, and so we are new people, new selves. Are we living according to this kind of teaching? Are we living new, living transformed, living righteous, living holy lives? Are we living according to our status and living according to our powerful resources?
How often are we new selves? All the time. This is our permanent status. When we are attacked by the devil, when we are riddled with doubts, when our faith is weak, when our lives are in some kind of declension that does not lessen the obligation, and it is one of the things that ought to stand over us as a kind of constant rebuke, what are we doing as new selves in Christ fast bound for eternal likeness to Almighty God, doing in this kind of compromise?
You will remember the incident in the early life of Spurgeon. He was five years old, living with his grandfather James, pastor of an Independent church in Stambourne. Pastor James was very concerned about the conduct of one of his church members called Tom Roads. He was not putting off his old self and not putting on his new self and he was being corrupted and was not taking the counsel of his pastor. The old man was heartbroken about his backsliding member and his grief affected the child Charles Spurgeon and he decided he would do something about it. So off he went into Stambourne looking for the man, and he found him sitting outside a pub drinking a pint of beer. Charles walked right up to hi, pointed at him with his finger and said to him, “What doest thou here Elijah? Sitting with the ungodly, and you a member of a church, and breaking your pastor’s heart. I’m ashamed of you. I wouldn’t break my pastor’s heart I’m sure,” and then he walked away. Tom Roads was deeply convicted. He didn’t finish his beer; he got up and hurried off to a lonely spot and cast himself down before the Lord, confessing his sin and begging for forgiveness. What are you, a new self in Christ, doing behaving as you are? What are you, a regenerate man, doing in this position? Where is the true righteousness and holiness of a man who knows that soon that is all he is going to know. He that has that hope in him purifies himself as God is pure.
We have the whole thing reduced to glorious simplicity for us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” You see the state of mind of these people. They are hungering and thirsting; they are parched; they are famished and absolutely starving. They are absolutely desperate. They are in a state of destitution and they know that there is something they need for their survival, something they must have at all costs. And what is it? They are hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
Now is that the new garment I have put one? Not the garment of gifts, not the experience of blessedness, but I am putting on every day of my life the garments of true righteousness and holiness, the garments of conformity to the image of the Son of God, because I am no longer living as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. I am no longer separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in me due to the hardening of my heart. I am no longer giving myself over to sensuality so that I indulge myself in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. I have come to know Christ; I have heard of him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. I have put off my old self and I have been made new in the attitude of my mind. I have put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. That is the Christian.
16th January 2005 GEOFF THOMAS