Sermon on Ephesians 4:17-24
Text: 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. 18 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. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Thus, the world’s history got its start. During those first six days, God created everything, from the smallest subatomic particle to the far reaches of space. At the end of that sixth day of creation, this assessment is given of God’s creation: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” When God finished creating the world, it was perfect. The first human beings were perfect. Yet, we also know that this prefect creation was ruined by the fall into sin. The world in which we live is no longer perfect. We see evidences of this every time there is an earthquake or famine. Not only was the world ruined. Humanity lost its perfection, as well. However, God says this of his creation in Revelation 21:5, “I am making everything new!” There will come a time when the world is recreated and it will again be perfect. This will happen at the end of time, after Jesus comes again on Judgment Day. However, we do not have to wait for the end of time to see this recreation. It happens every time a person is brought to faith. This morning, Paul reminds us of this fact: YOU ARE A NEW CREATION 1. Made Holy 2. To Live Holy.
We have been made holy. This is not the state in which we come into this world. We come into the world ruined by sin. Adam and Eve’s sin has been passed down to us. We are born outside of the kingdom of God. Before we drew our first breath, we were already condemned. David says as much in Psalm 51, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Elsewhere we are described in our natural state as being blind, dead, and an enemy of God. We note also that God will not allow any unclean thing into his presence. He is holy. The only way that a person can be in the presence of God is if they are holy. Since we are not, we would have spent our eternity in hell.
Yet, we have been made holy. It is certainly not of our own doing. Can a blind person see a gift that is in front of him? Can a dead person do anything at all? Of course not! The same is true of us by nature. We cannot make ourselves holy. We have to be made holy. How does this occur? It occurred, as Paul says, “when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” This is not just a hearing of a story that is interesting. This is a hearing that comes by faith. Through the faith that the Holy Spirit creates in our hearts, we hear about Christ. We hear that he came to this earth to perfectly fulfill the will of his Father. His life was holy. He never committed a single sin. Jesus then went to the cross where he sacrificed that holy life for us. He took our sins upon himself and paid for every one of them. In exchange for our sinfulness, he gave us his holiness. The payment for our sins was completed on the cross and announced when he rose from the dead. When you and I were brought to believe in Jesus, we were made holy. When God sees us, he does not see sin. He only sees perfection, the perfection given to us by Jesus. We can truly say that we are holy, not in and of ourselves, but because we have been made holy. God describes it for us in Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” We are holy. We are clean.
Imagine, if you will, that a mother has spent a long time cleaning the kitchen floor. It is sparkling, not a speck of dirt to be found. Can you imagine how upset she would be if her children came in from outside and tracked mud across that clean floor? Can you imagine that she would track mud across that floor? Of course not! That would be utterly foolish! Yet, you and I are in a constant struggle to live holy, even though we are made holy. That is because we still have the old self, as Paul calls it. This is the sinful nature with which we are born. Let’s take a few moments and look at that sinful nature.
This is how it is described in verses 18&19, “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, and they are full of greed.” The sinful nature cares nothing for what God wants. As a matter of fact, it wants exactly what God does not want. God says to be kind and forgiving. My sinful nature wants to be selfish and vengeful. God tells me to be content with what he has given me. My sinful nature is never content, no matter how much I have. God tells me that all of my words are to glorify him. My sinful nature uses words to hurt others, to lie, to talk and joke about things that are not proper.
Paul speaks of losing “all sensitivity.” We develop calluses on our skin, when we ignore skin sensitiveness and perhaps even blisters. We continue to apply pressure until a callus is formed. The same is true of our sinful nature. It ignores the commands of God. At first, there may be some sensitivity to what God says. The conscience continues to be beaten down and what once bothered does not do so any longer.
Perhaps the most descriptive part is when Paul says, “they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” The sinful nature is never satisfied with the sins that are committed. What once gave a thrill does not do so any longer. The sinful nature looks for more ways and new ways to satisfy itself. However, the pursuit of satisfaction is never completed. It is like a drug addict trying to find a new high, after the old drugs no longer do the trick. This is the sinful nature that still resides in each of us.
The reason that we want to be well aware of our sinful nature is the fact that it has these “deceitful desires.” It is constantly trying to trick us. It tries to get us to justify a sin by saying that it couldn’t be helped. When we see others acting a certain way, our sinful nature tells us that we don’t want to stick out. Our sinful nature tries to fool us into thinking that we will find pleasure or apparent gain, if we do that sin. It tells us half truths. The most dangerous half truth that our sinful nature tells us is that, ‘God will overlook sin, because Jesus has paid for all of the sins of the world. So, it is OK to sin.’ The truth is that God does not overlook sin for any reason. Yet, this is a half-truth that the sinful nature would have us believe.
It is important for us to know about our sinful nature, because it is directly opposed to the life that we want to live as people who have been made holy. Paul describes it this way in verses 22-24, “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.” We want to put off the sinful nature and put on the new self. We want to avoid sin and live in a way that is pleasing to God. The reason that we do so is not to earn God’s favor or secure our spot in heaven. That was already done for us through the work of Jesus Christ. Rather, we do these things because we want to thank God for making us holy. We want to thank him for the forgiveness of sins and the surety of eternal life. If someone gave you an expensive gift, surely you would want to thank them. If you knew that something pleased them, you would do it. If that is the case with earthly things that are here today and gone tomorrow, how much more in response to this gift of holiness that God has given to us!
To be sure, this is a constant struggle. The sinful nature is cunning. It is so easy to think that we can just play with it for a little while, and it won’t affect us. However, it will affect us. Former United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold once made this observation, “You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.”
This is all part of our wanting to live a holy life. It means that we look at the areas of our lives when we have allowed our sinful nature to influence us. It means that we look for those weed beds that we have allowed to remain and, at times, have tried to cultivate. When we see these areas, we come to God in repentance. We acknowledge that what we have done is wrong. Having been assured that those sins have also been forgiven, we then do all that we can to uproot those weed beds. Instead, we do all that we can to have our lives to be beautiful gardens that are full of the fruits of faith. We live in a way that glorifies God. We live holy lives. We are strengthened in our ability to do this through God’s means of grace. When we read and hear God’s Word, we are strengthened for the task. When we receive the Lord’s Supper, our faiths are strengthened so that we can live a life that glorifies God. We live holy lives. We live as the new creation that we are.
As Christians, we want to live holy lives. It is a struggle because of our sinful nature. Yet, with God’s help, we are able to do so. As we grow in our faith, we live more and more as God would have us live. Maybe a way to illustrate this is to look at what happens to a forest that has been destroyed by fire. Over the course of time, you begin to see little plants starting to sprout and grow. After a while, little trees begin to grow. These little trees grow into bigger trees. Eventually, you are not even able to tell that there was once this raging fire that had destroyed everything. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over time. As we grow in our Christian faith, we will continue to produce those things that please God. Sometimes, the progress might not seem that significant. Sometimes, with God’s grace, we are able to do larger things. However, watered and fed by God, we continue to grow. This growth will not be complete until we are completely free from the effects of the sinful nature in us. That will happen in the glories of heaven. Yet, we do not lose hope. We continue to grow because we have been made holy through the work of Jesus Christ. We have a purpose in life and that is to live holy lives to thank him for all that he has done for us. We can be sure of our status before God because of what he has done for us. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” We are a new creation. Amen.
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