Our text today is Ephesians 4:17-24. It says,
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.
Last week we did an overview of Ephesians 4:17-24 and then we discussed three observations from Ephesians 4:17 which states, “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.”
The three observations that we discussed were:
God graciously testifies to them through the apostle Paul
Paul testifies that they are not to walk as the Gentiles do
Gentiles act from the futility of their darkened mind
This morning we will continue to look at Ephesians 4:17-24. In this text, we find a church that was struggling to be in the world, but not of it. They were struggling to not be conformed to the world.
The Ephesians were struggling to see the true nature of an unbeliever; so Paul gives them an accurate diagnosis of their condition in Ephesians 4:18-19, “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.”
The Ephesians needed to be reminded of the gospel and to stop being distracted from looking to Christ. Therefore, the apostle Paul said to them in Ephesians 4:20-21, “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...”
The Ephesians needed to be reminded that they were to progress in sanctification. Therefore, Paul says in Ephesians 4:22-24, “...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.”
There are four things will serve as our outline for our sermon today.
The Ephesians struggle is our struggle.
The true nature of a person devoid of the life of God.
The Ephesians needed to look to Christ and remember the gospel.
The Ephesians needed to progress in sanctification.
The Ephesians struggle is also our struggle; and Christ is the only answer.
Some individuals come to Christ and seem to progress rather quickly in sanctification. There are others who come to Christ and their growth would seem to progress much slower. Despite this, every believer can identify with the struggle to grow in sanctification in a world that is full of distractions. This has been the struggle of every believer throughout every generation. Let me give you some examples.
Dr. John Piper speaks of this struggle when he wrote, “I was made to know and enjoy God. I was freed to pursue that knowledge (concerning God) and that joy with all my heart. And then, to my dismay, I discovered that it is not easy...God would have to transform my heart to do what a heart cannot make itself do, namely, want what it ought to want. Only God can make the depraved heart desire God.”
Martin Luther wrote to his friend Melanchthon these words, “I sit here at ease, hardened and unfeeling-alas! Praying little, grieving little for the Church of God, burning rather in the fierce fires of my untamed flesh. It comes to this: I should be afire in the spirit; in reality I am afire in the flesh, with lust, laziness, idleness, sleepiness…I really can stand it no longer. Pray for me, I beg you, for in my seclusion here I am submerged in sins.”
St. Augustine said, “I was astonished that although I now loved God … I did not persist in enjoyment of Him.” Then in the form of a prayer Augustine said, “Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world...as though I had sensed the fragrance of the fare but was not yet able to eat of it.”
Finally, the Apostle Paul spoke of this struggle when he wrote to the Romans saying in Romans 7:21-25, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
All of these men have come to see the wretchedness of their condition and that the only answer is found in Christ. Paul shows us the importance of the Word in our text today when he says, “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...”. (4:20-21)
Augustine and Luther showed us the importance of prayer during such times. Paul emphasizes prayer for our sanctification in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 in the form of a doxology when he prays, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” As if to show us that everyone needs to be helped by prayer Paul says in verse 25, “Brothers, pray for us.”
The Ephesians struggle is also our struggle. Christ is the only answer: so let us continually look to Him in the Word; and let us often be found going to Him in prayer: both for ourselves and for others.
The true nature of a person devoid of the life of God.
In our text today, Paul describes fallen humanity in the most shocking way, “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.” (Ephesians 4:18-19)
These are sobering words but William Tyndale would not have been shocked by these words. He had come to see the futility of the mind that has not been renewed and matured in the Word of God. He said, “Our problem is that the heart with all the powers, and affections and appetites that we have can only sin.”
Paul is describing a deep and pervasive sin problem. The unbeliever walks in the futility of their mind. They don’t have the ability to perceive things correctly, or understand things clearly, or to think about things in a way that will lead them to the Lord.
Every goal, every theory and every idea that they have will not lead them to the proper conclusion.
All of us experience times when we do not understand or know what to think. We all can say with Job, “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive Him; on the left hand when He is working, I do not behold him; He turns to the right hand, but I do not see Him.” (23:8-9)
But even when Job lacked understanding and felt as though he had been alienated from the Lord he did not respond like an unbeliever. Instead he said, “My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandments of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my portion of food.” (23:11-12)
An unbeliever does not respond like Job, they do the opposite. They do not turn to the LORD in prayer or look to His Word. Instead, they turn aside and depart from truth. And as a result, they become darkened in their understanding. They cannot discern between good and evil; light from dark, or holy from the profane. As a result of this their judgment becomes clouded.
They are alienated from the life of God. Their souls and spirits are estranged from the Lord and they are without hope in this world.
Therefore, they begin to act out of ignorance. They walk in a manner that is progressively more sinful. They do what is right in their own eyes and their consciences will not assume any liability, shame, guilt or condemnation. Their heart becomes callous, indifferent, passive and apathetic, and dis-interested in the things that reflect true righteousness and holiness. Their thoughts, reasoning, understandings, will, judgments and affections are fundamentally effected by this condition.
Therefore, they are given over to sensuality and every form of licentiousness. They are ready to engage in all sorts of selfish pleasure even if it harms others. They cast off all restraints and give into great excesses. They are greedy to do evil. They desire to do it more and more.
My thoughts consider 2 Samuel 13 and the story contained there about Amnon. He was deceitful and malicious towards his half-sister Tamar. His conscience was so wicked that he became one of the ‘most outrageous fools in Israel’ at her expense. His actions resulted in Tamar living out her days as ‘a desolate woman, in her brother Absolam’s house’ (20). Amnon was driven by his lusts and selfish pleasures.
Now that we have seen the wretched condition of sinful men we can only come to one conclusion: we cannot save ourselves and we need a Savior. Let me again let William Tyndale as he states the problem and the solution. He says, “Our problem is that the heart with all the powers, and affections and appetites that we have we can only sin. The only solution to this is the Spirit who loosens the heart from love of self to the freedom of loving God.”
The Ephesians need to look to Christ and remember the gospel.
Yesterday Mindy was cleaning the windows. She was on the outside working when I first saw her. I watched as she did that chore for a bit. She never saw me looking at her through the window. I was kind of glad because I am sure that I would have scared her. She could not see me through the glass because she was focused on the little bit of dirt she was trying to remove. In our sanctification we can do this all too easily. We can focus in on the sin and neglect Christ. We cannot progress in Spirit led sanctification until Christ has our attention so that we receive the grace to become more like Him.
Dr. Michael Reeves says, “Those who are tender-hearted...do not simply desire ‘salvation’; they desire the Lord of salvation Himself. Only then, when a person is brought to love the Lord with heart-felt sincerity, will they truly begin to hate their sin. When we see just how beautiful, pure, and desirable a soft heart is then we will begin to mourn our hard-heartedness and see what a wretched thing a hard heart is.”
Paul begins in verse 20 to call these Christians back to Christ. Many people need to be reminded to look to Christ:
Like Peter, there are many who are distracted by the storm.
Like the Corinthians, there are many who are following eloquent men rather than Christ.
Like those who attended Harod’s feast, there are many who are mesmerized by the fame of another, by the performance given or by the beauty of a person.
Like the Galatians, many have been persuaded to look away from Christ and are found to be following a different gospel.
We should not be surprised if the LORD sends someone to emphatically say, “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...” (v.20-21)
Paul had spent three years ministering in Ephesus so he was not having to assume that they were taught about Christ. He did not have to wonder if they had heard the gospel or not. Paul was their minister and he knew that he had preached Christ to them. I have always said that the churches that Paul started were the most fortunate because they received the gospel and Paul knew how to bring them back when they were straying from it.
To the Galatians Paul said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one…For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” (Galatians 1:6-7, 11)
To the Corinthians Paul said, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know noting among you except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2)
Paul also knew that the gospel comes to people by the Lord Himself through the effectual call of the gospel by the Holy Spirit. This is seen in the way that the New American Standard Version and the New King James Version translates Ephesians 4:21, “...if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus...”.
The Ephesians needed to progress in sanctification
The command in Ephesians 4:23, ‘to be renewed in the spirit of your minds’, is in the present tense. This indicates that a Christian needs to repeatedly, continually, and constantly renew their minds and to put on the new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. The unbeliever becomes more and more sinful because of the futility of their minds; but a Christian is to become more Christlike.
Paul has come to us in this passage with apostolic authority saying that we are to put off the old self, to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to put on the new self.
I suppose that there is a chance that you may leave here today full of zeal and ambition to give this a shot. But will you try to do this without prayer? Will you leave here more focused upon yourself than upon Christ?
We need to look to Christ and pray because we struggle to take things off. I have had many sprained ankles in my life. Every time it becomes harder and harder for me to take the brace off. I begin to think that I need the support that it offers.
We need to look and pray because we hate to put things on. When I was young I remember the fights that were had over drivers being told that they need to wear a seat belts. Not too long ago someone tried to convince me that we still should not be wearing them. We hate to take things off; and we hate to put things on.
Before we take communion let me end by sharing two verses to encourage you in your sanctification.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”
2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”