June 7, 2010 David Balzer

Core Value 5: We Value God’s People Growing More Like Jesus: Ephesians 4:17-31

The big news in some circles is that Mary Mackillop has been approved, and will become Australia’s first SAINT in a canonization ceremony in Rome in October this year. She’d already been beatified in 1995. But this is a SECOND step.

Beatification is, and I quote,

The public declaration that a person has lived a heroically holy life, is with God, has the power of intercession with God for us and is a for the faithful

But canonization ramps up the tests. It’s been an exhaustive process, with historians poring over every aspect of her life looking for evidence of sainthood. Double checking there were no scandals hidden, reading diaries, talking to those who knew about her work. Including evidence of two miracles brought about by the power of her prayer. Which apparently they’ve found.

How would YOU go if you life was placed under that sort of spotlight? People all over the world checking your life. Not just looking back over your diaries, and records, but following you around. Watching the hidden camera of your life.

Now maybe you’re sitting here this morning slightly relieved YOUR behaviour as a Christian over the last week hasn’t been watched by the world.

Maybe you’re thinking, boy, if the cameras had caught me on Thursday morning with what I said to the kids, or if they’d been in the back seat and saw how close I got to road rage on Tuesday when that guy cut me off, if the microphone had caught my words the other day on the soccer field… it wouldn’t be so pretty either.

(pause) But are you happy to leave it that way? To say, well, I know God’s got plenty of forgiveness. So I’ll just sin a little more. Shrug your shoulders, and not worry about it?

Sometimes as evangelicals, we emphasise God’s GRACE so much, we forget we’re called to be a HOLY PEOPLE.

God’s forgiveness is a wonderful thing. The greatest thing in the world. But BECAUSE it’s so good, it’s not something we treat LIGHTLY. CHEAPLY.

God’s forgiveness isn’t A LICENSE TO SIN, but an invitation to a wedding. A wedding we’re expected to DRESS UP FOR.

1. Dressing for the Occasion

If you sometimes catch yourself thinking like that – that sin doesn’t really matter, because Jesus has already dealt with it – Then Paul wants you to know you’ve made a TERRIBLY EMBARRASSING MISTAKE. Like that popular recurring nightmare people have – that you turn up to school and you find you’re still in your pyjamas.

You’ve been caught out, not DRESSING FOR THE OCCASION.

You’ve been invited to join God’s holy people. So how about dressing for the occasion?

Luke Tattersall tells the story of turning up to meet friends at THE RITZ in London. Dressed in jeans and running shoes. Looking forward to high tea with some good friends.

He was very politely escorted to the door. See, you’re going to the Ritz because you want to go somewhere with style. And well dressed people. So you’ve got to dress appropriately. Some things just aren’t proper. The doorman said, proper trousers, proper shoes. And a tie.

You’re joining THE PEOPLE OF GOD. So dress for the occasion. That’s what PAUL says. Take off all this stuff that’s so typical of the world. Forget the fact that everybody’s doing it. Because the stuff the world’s doing just isn’t proper for the saints of God.

There’s some UNLEARNING to do. Some attitudes to re-think. Some old habits that die hard. But that need to be challenged. Some bad dress sense that needs to be cleared up.

And maybe if YOU’VE become a Christian, it’s like that for you. Even if you’ve been a Christian for a while. You’ve slipped backwards. Taken on the world’s values and the world’s attitudes. Started thinking and talking and behaving in ways you USED TO. In ways your NEIGHBOURS do.

You’ve slipped that comfortable old dressing-gown back on. It doesn’t suit you, and it’s full of holes, but it’s so COMFORTABLE.

That’s what it’s like when we go back to doing the things we USED to do as non-Christians.

If that’s YOU, then you need to be confronted with the fact that being Christian is about being different.

And so Paul says in Ephesians 4:17, “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”. You need to change.

He says “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.

Their hearts are hard to God. They’re separate from the life God gives. And the lights are off. In the understanding department.

God’s got one plan for life. Lived with him as the centre – the goal, the direction, the partner, the king.

2. Futility

And for non-Christians, God’s not even on the horizon. Living without any thought to why you were made in the first palce. That’s FUTILITY.

And just take a closer look at where that sort of thinking LEADS. Verse 19. Having lost all sensitivity, they’ve given themselves over to so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

More . More alcohol. More money. More luxury. More parties. More . All trying to REPLACE God. Substitute with STUFF what God designed to be satisfied ONLY in a friendship with him. It’s FUTILITY.

And that’s the conclusion King Solomon came to. In Ecclesiastes 2 he describes the results of his life-long scientific experiment – to see whether life under the sun was worth living.

Here was his experiment. up the level of pleasure, and see what happens. Here’s what he says.

(Eccl 2:1-11 NIV)  I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” … {2} “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” {3} I tried cheering myself with wine, …. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. {4} I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. {5} I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. … I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. {8} I amassed silver and gold for myself, …. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man. {9} I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. …{10} I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. …. {11} 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.

Meaningless. Futility.

One of my favourite Far Side cartoons shows a wonderful definition of FUTILITY. (show overhead)

Trying to push through the door to happiness and satisfaction and purpose and fullness. Which is what God’s designed life to BE. But pushing the door THE WRONG WAY. FUTILITY.

And Paul’s saying, “That’s what you USED to be doing. But NOW you’ve seen the big picture – the “pull” sign. And you’re entering into the door – the RIGHT WAY.

It’s the right DOOR. Happiness and fulfillment and purpose. Just, you USED TO be trying to get in the wrong way. USED to think it was about heading towards your OWN glory. But NOW you realise it’s all about heading towards GOD’S glory.

So I tell you this, says Paul, and I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.

Don’t go back. It’s time to start living like the people of God. It’s time to start living like people of the light. It’s time to take off your old life… and put on something new.

And that’s what you were taught, he says, when you came to Jesus. Weren’t you? That the gospel doesn’t just offer forgiveness from sins and an excuse for more sinning. But a whole new start.

Surely, he says, verse 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, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be life God in true righteousness and holiness.

It’s so easy TO SAY, but every Christian will tell you, the reality seems SO DIFFERENT. It’s SO HARD to get those dirty old clothes OFF. And it seems to take SO LONG to put the NEW ONES on.

You think you’ve left a particular sin behind, but then it sneaks up on you, and you get dragged in again. It might be lust, or gossip, or bitterness and unforgiveness, or covetousness, or jealousy, or a quick temper. All sorts of grubby old dressing gowns we keep getting drawn back to.

And the sort of behaviour and attitudes we SHOULD have. They seem to take SO LONG to put on. Generosity, patience, encouraging speech, prayerfulness, service, acceptance, LOVE. Things we should have mastered long ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much progress.

And yet, Paul EXPECTS it. COMMANDS it. You (AND ME) – we’ve been created to BE LIKE GOD IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS.

So PUT OFF, and PUT ON.

4. Being Different – It’s All In The Mind

And for Paul, the key seems to be in OUR THINKING. Attitudes and ways of thinking. For Paul, being different – it’s ALL IN THE MIND.

Without a BASIC REORIENTATION of our wills and desires, without a renewed MIND, a re-direction from serving SELF to serving Jesus, any change in BEHAVIOUR is just WINDOW DRESSING.

Nothing more than a temporary turning over a new leaf. A new Year’s resolution that will last a week, or maybe a month, or a year, if you’re really lucky. A “re-arranging of the deckchairs” while the Titanic plows its way towards the iceberg.

Look at how often Paul mentions things to do with thinking, attitudes, and the mind.

V17 Futility of THEIR THINKING.

V18 Darkened in THEIR UNDERSTANDING. And IGNORANCE.

V20. On the other hand, you did not come TO KNOW Christ that way

V21 You were TAUGHT

V22 TAUGHT again

V22 Your old self is being corrupted BY ITS SINFUL DESIRES.

V23. Be made new IN THE ATTITUDE OF YOUR MINDS.

Putting on the NEW re only comes with a RENEWED MIND, which only GOD can do.

So ask him to GIVE you that. To renew your mind. Give you A DESIRE to do his will. A DESIRE to study his word, or meet with his people. Ask him to REMOVE your DESIRE for OTHER things – materialism, acceptance by others, lust. Ask him to give you a LONGING for HIS things. For patience and humility and love and peace and kindness and purity. And longing for HIM.

Pray, along with Paul in Ch 3, that God would SHOW you how high and wide a deep is the love that God has for you in Christ.

That your life would be so full of GOD that there would no longer be the desire to replace him with the EMPTY things that USED to tempt you.

Pray that you would be able to see the FUTILITY of the way the world works. Understand its short-sightedness, its poverty, its selfishness and emptiness.

Pray that God would give you THE FAITH to TRUST HIS PROMISES. Faith in God’s promises is the key to your obedience and godliness TODAY.

His promises to give you PEACE. Promises to work all things for your good. Promises to meet your needs. Promises that his Holy Spirit will equip you for standing up for him, and building holiness into your life.

Promises of your inheritance and hope. Promises that your future is secure because your past is forgotten.

Understanding THOSE things is renewing your mind. That’s where the UNDRESSING/ and the DRESSING begins.

4. Taking off the old and being clothed in the new – the Process in Practice (4:25-5:2)

(pause) Look at how the process works out in practice. In the next two paragraphs Paul lists some things TO TAKE OFF. Some undressing to do.

And then gives the corresponding things TO PUT ON- – to be CLOTHED IN. And often there’s AN ATTITUDE that goes with this process.

V25. Put off falsehood. Give up lies.

Then PUT ON TRUTH. Speak truthfully to his neighbour.

Then change your thinking. You’re MEMBERS OF ONE BODY. You’re CONNECTED. Don’t treat each other as ENEMIES, because you’re BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

Or v26. Put off the sort of sin that flows from anger. Deal with it before the day is over, because that’s just how RESENTMENT builds. And Satan loves that sort of lack of communication among God’s people, or between husband and wife.

Then Verse 28. Get rid of stealing. And do something useful instead. Put on productive work – don’t expect others to support you. The ATTITUDE needs to be SERVING each other, not BEING served. And when the ATTITUDE changes, then stealing will stop. Counting on the generosity of others, while you do nothing – that will stop too.

V29. Put off unwholesome talk. And put on instead HELPFUL words – what actually BUILDS PEOPLE UP. Words make a DIFFERENCE.

As men, working hard at building people up doesn’t come ly. At men’s convention, we were challenged about how hard we work at complimenting our WIVES. And how easily we take them for granted. The passage we were looking at was a chapter of Song of Solomon where the guy fills verse after verse with wonderful imaginative, descriptive compliments for his beloved. (Not that I’m suggesting we complement someone because they have a nose like the tower of Lebanon, or hair like sheep coming down Mt Gilead).

Be thoughtful and considerate in using words. A complement is no harder to say PHYSICALLY than a criticism. The WORDS are just as easy to PRONOUNCE. But you’d think it was like speaking SWAHILI the difficulty most of us had in offering compliments and encouragements!

(pause) And v31. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger and brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Put all of those things OFF. The colour and style doesn’t suit you at all. It’s SO last season.

And replace it with what? V32. Put on Kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

And the summary of the whole NEW CLOTHES. Ch 5 verse 1. Be imitators of God, therefore, as DEARLY LOVED CHILDREN, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

That’s WHO YOU ARE. God’s KIDS. Shouldn’t you be able to see the FAMILY RESEMBLANCE?

Like Father, like Son. Like father, like DAUGHTER.

You’re to be DIFFERENT. NO LONGER LIVE LIKE THAT.

I mean, you’re not a contender for SAINTHOOD. Like Mary Mackillop. But you’re on display. So I wonder, at the level of ambitions? On the level of materialism? On the level of what you do with your money? On the level of your language in the workplace? On the level of gossip? On the level of honesty? Are you DIFFERENT? Or not?

If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to CONVICT you?

Or us as a church? Is that the case at Western Blacktown? Do we VALUE God’s people growing more like Jesus? How do we ENCOURAGE that?

How do we make it part of our culture? Is the character of this group SIGNIFICANTLY different from the Rotary Group, or the Soccer Club, or the Dog –trainers Club?

Do we STAND OUT?

Perhaps the Ephesian church WASN’T like that. I mean, it’s almost an odd thought. Paul’s writing this letter to a church full of people who need to be TOLD not to lie to each other. Seems he’s writing to a church where if you put your handbag down on the floor, the person in the row behind’s likely to nick it. A church where they actually need to be TOLD to cut out swearing at each other. Where they haven’t figured out they need to be different to the world they’ve come out of.

Church shouldn’t BE like that. Someone was telling me not so long ago about the day they first visited Western Blacktown. During the break, his 7 yr old son came up to him with eyes like saucers, holding a handful of $20 notes. “Dad I found a letter box over there FULL OF MONEY. I really LIKE this church.”

When Dad explained that the letter box was about GIVING money, not TAKING it, the boy was disappointed. But he eventually got over it.

That was just kids. But imagine if people were KNOWLINGLY doing that. Church SHOULDN’T be a place where you worry about your purse, or what happens with your collection money. We need to be DIFFERENT. Not futile in our thinking. Putting off the old. Putting on the new. Created to BE LIKE GOD.

It’s a difference that’s got to start from the inside? Are you actually being made new in the attitude of your minds? Remembering you’ve been re-created to be like God in true righteousness. And holiness?

Time to put off the old self. And put on the new. Time to DRESS for the OCCASION. That’s VALUING God’s forgiveness. And it’s why, At WBPC, we VALUE God’s people growing more like Jesus.

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