2016-01-31 Off with the Old, On with the New

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          January 31, 2016

“Off with the Old, On with the New”

Text: Ephesians 4:17-24

We continue today in this ethical section of Ephesians.  That is, we see what we are to do—and how we are to act—in view of what we know and believe (Ephesians 1:1-3:21).  Let’s review quickly what we heard in the previous two messages.  Two weeks ago, we learned that we are to strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Last week, we learned that we are to display this unity through diverse spiritual gifts and functions.  Now we begin a long section about proper Christian conduct.  In weeks to come, God willing, we shall see this in highly specific terms, but today we see it in more general terms.  Our text today calls us, by God’s powerful grace, to put off the old nature and to put on the new nature.  Let’s examine this more closely in the light of God’s Word—now read in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

A single command controls the whole of Ephesians 4:17-19, namely, walk not as the Gentiles do.[1]  The implication for an Ephesian believer, almost assuredly a Gentile-background believer, would have been unmistakable, to wit, “Do not walk as you once did.”  The lesson is identical for us who are in Christ today—and, if we be not in Christ today, this is how we still walk.  We who wear Christ’s Name—and we who would embrace Him in saving faith this hour—must flee what we were.  Before, we suffered from darkened understanding.  This darkening comes immediately from the prince of darkness, Satan himself, and it manifests itself in two ways: both the inability to see divine light and the preference for the darkness over the light (see John 3:19-21).  Before, we were alienated from life of God—and this due to ignorance: ignorance of Him, His things, His ways, and His people.  Before, we displayed hardness (or callousness) of heart.  This is a willful hardening of the heart against God and His righteous commands, but, uncorrected over time, this can result in God’s judicial hardening of the human heart—a grave state indeed.  Before, if the case proceed far enough, we gave ourselves to debauched behavior: sensuality and every impurity (especially sexual sin) and greed (for possessions or for impure behavior).  This is the natural inclination of us all, due to Adam’s fall, and it is the usual trajectory of those incorrigibly hardened against God.  This we, the people in Christ Jesus, are to flee.

For we did not so learn Christ; neither did the Ephesian Christians ca. A. D. 62.  Paul’s remark assuming that they were taught and learned in Jesus, Who is Truth incarnate, is a rhetorical remark.  Of course they were taught thus.  Paul ministered in Ephesus for three years, and—though he be absent five years from Ephesus at the time of this letter–yet faithful men (the Ephesians elders, e. g., cf. Acts 20:17-38) continued to impart the Christian deposit to the Ephesians.  We, like they, taught in Jesus and learning of Him, now must by His grace do two things.  First, we must put off the old nature.  This is what we were before by nature—and that inescapably apart from Christ.  For an excellent statement of what we were by nature, note what the Spirit through Paul would have us jettison:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever is earthly is you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these things the wrath of God is coming.  In these too you once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:5-10).

 

This list of evil deeds, each and in the aggregate, are inflamed by the world (which, being hostile to God, urges us to every practice odious to Him), the flesh (that vestigial part of the redeemed that yet rebels against God), and the devil (that degenerate creature behind the whole).  All of this, by the powerful grace of God, we are to put off—and that in favor of something much better.

Second, we are to put on the new nature (Colossians iii.12-17).  This is what we, s redeemed folk in Christ Jesus, are now by grace.  We are called to holiness before God, and an excellent guide to this is the first four of the Ten Commandments—the so-called First Table.  Here we read, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” “Thou shalt not make unto Me any graven image,” “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain,” and, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  We are called also righteousness before God in the presence of Church and world, and our guide to this is the later six of the Ten Commandments—the so-called Second Table.  Here we read, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” and, “Thou shalt not covet.”  These we must pursue, and as we pursue God by pursuing these, we put on the new nature.  Hear again a relevant citation from the Spirit, through Paul, to the Colossian Christians:

“Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:12-17).

 

The new nature, reflected in these attitudes and behaviors, indeed is excellent wear for the maturing, growing Christian.

It is a tragedy of the American church today that, in terms of Godly morality, we don’t look much different than the pagan culture around us.  This is a different trouble from troubles of fifty to one hundred years ago.  Then, especially in the conservative churches, the trouble was legalism.  The standard for moral behavior proclaimed from pulpit and lectern then often was more restrictive than Scripture’s standard.  The situation is quite different today.  Now, we struggle against antinomianism—which perverts the Gospel of God’s grace into an excuse for licentious behavior.  Many an ill-informed evangelical thinks (and often practices) today, “I’m saved; I can behave any way I please.”  Happily, this section of Ephesians is a powerful corrective to our permissive American culture—and to our too-permissive Christian culture.

We are to reflect our Lord in holiness toward Him, and we are to reflect our Lord in righteousness before Him toward others.  Therefore, let us each and all remember the Lord’s command through James, “Resist ye the tempter, and He will flee” (James 4:7).  Let us also remember the Spirit’s exhortation through Paul to the Roman Christians, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).  Beloved in Jesus Christ, let us, then, by God’s grace, put off the old nature and put on the new nature.

AMEN.

[1] Ephesians 4:17-19 constitutes a single paragraph in the Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament, 26th Edition (hereinafter referred to as NA26.).  Ephesians 4:20-24 it itself a single paragraph in NA26.

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