This message is a defining message for me. It is one of the most vulnerable ones I have preached.
Ephesians 4-17-32 (Mp3 File for download)
Well, it has been a while since we began this book, so I want to bring you up to speed quickly. The book of Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Ephesus. He writes this in two big sections, the first is a theological reminder of who we are in Christ. He wanted to solidify our identity in Christ before he told us in the second section how that is to be walked out in our daily lives. I cannot say enough how important it is for each of us to be grounded in the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ, that we are not people who are on a path of self improvement. We are not even bad people who God is making good. We were DEAD people whom God has made alive through the power of Jesus Christ. I cant tell you how important it is for each and every one of us to remember that truth every day. If you find yourself struggling with people’s opinions of you, and trying to meet their expectations of you, catering to their desires? If so, it is probably because you are finding your identity in their view of you. If you are constantly looking down on others and judging them for their actions and criticizing their mistakes, you are probably finding your identity in your perceived goodness, and forgetting that you were dead. If you find yourself burdened by guilt over your mistakes, either past or present, and you feel like you can never please God, you also are finding your identity in your works. If someone critiques something you have done, and you are personally hurt by it, you may have your identity wrapped up in the things you produce. If you look around at the accomplishments or possessions of others, and feel jealous or less of a person, then your identity is wrapped up in your accomplishments and possessions. It was a pervasive issue in the days of Paul, and it is pervasive now.
Losing our grounding in our identity is a slow process most of the time, it is not a one time decision. It happens through many small decisions to seek affirmation and happiness somewhere outside of God’s affirmation. Remembering who you are in Christ is likewise a daly gathering of small decisions to trust Christ’s view of you more than people’s view of you. It is a gradual process of remembering the gospel and clinging to it each and every day.
Right now, I want to confess something to you. I have come to a realization in the past few weeks that I was slipping from finding my identity in Christ. When I first came to be the pastor of this church it was fairly clear that God was working to bring me here. It seemed for a while that I could do no wrong. I was affirmed as the permanent pastor almost a year ago with a unanimous vote. As I talk to other pastors, that is fairly unheard of. Well, I will confess, it is very easy to find your identity in being a well loved, well received pastor. And I think I did to some extent. I began to sink into the trap of wrapping my identity, and my worth into what you all were saying about me and my family. Well, that works very well when people are saying nice things about you, and praising you. But what happens when people begin to complain, or criticize, or say things behind your back, misunderstand you or your family? Well, when your identity is founded in what they say and those things are negative, your view of yourself is negative. I must confess to you that my identity has been shaken in the past number of months. I have made decisions based on what people might think, and who might complain. I have been nervous about decisions I felt were right because of fear of criticism, and I have caved to pressure to conform to the loudest voices. Living life like that is miserable, and being a pastor like that is very miserable. I have found that no matter who you are, if you don’t hold to Christ the end result is the same, you lose the center of who you are in Christ, and begin to make decisions based on how you think people will respond to you, then you become a people pleaser, essentially worshipping those around you because their opinion of you is more important than God’s. All because you forgot who you are in Christ. Well, I can say, not all of that has happened to me, but a lot of that has. And I know enough of you to know that I am not the only one who has been down that road. SO, this message is important for all of us today. I need to hear this, as much as you do, and I believe you need to hear this as much as I do. I am here to say to you that my identity is not based on what people say about me, it is based on what God has said over me in Christ, and that is that I am His child, and I am bought with a price, and I have no fear of condemnation, and the only person I need to please this morning, or any day is Him, and if I am doing that, I can rest easy.
Now lets see why the text is so important for you and me today.
Lets read Ephesians 4:17-32
This text, as I mentioned is Paul telling us ways by which we walk as people who are in Christ. He has moved from reminding us who we are, and now is continuing to tell us what it means to live like we are who we are. He is pointing us back to verse one of this chapter.
He first tells us to no longer walk like the Gentiles do. Now he is saying this to people who are Gentiles by descent. They used to walk like he is describing, just as most of us did, and maybe some of us still do. He is telling them an important truth about the basis of walking like a Christian. He first contrasts that to how the Gentiles walk, saying that they sin because they are callous and have given themselves up to sensuality. They practice those things because they have hard hearts, which has led to their ignorance in them, which has led to alienation from God. You see the progression? notice where it starts. It begins in their hearts. It is important for us to remember that sin always begins in the heart, therefore, obedience, and holiness must also begin in the heart. You cannot make your heart soft through outward conformity. There must be a heart that first of all longs for the Holiness of God, before you can pursue it with your actions.
Paul then tells us as Christians we are to do two things. Put off our old self, and put on our new self.
Now, that seems easy to say, but it only takes a brief reading of Romans 7 to be cautioned and comforted that even Paul struggled with his flesh when he said, “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”
So don’t for a minute think that this putting off and putting on is easy, but as we read here, it must be done. Not only for our personal souls, but also for the body as a whole.
So, what do we put off? Well, Paul gives us several patterns of the old self, and corresponding virtues of the new self. Let’s look at these as pairs, because they do correspond to one another.
Falsehood< Speaking truth to his neighbor. The heart to deceive, is replaced with the heart to share truth. “Im doing Great!”<“life is heard right now, will you pray for me?”
Sin resulting from anger. < dealing with anger in a timely fashion. Now it is very important to note that anger is not a sin, anger is an emotion. God gets angry, and he is sinless. Jesus got angry, and He was sinless. But, anger is dangerous, because anger, either unrestrained, or unresolved, is an opportunity for satan to get a foothold in your heart. That is why it says not to let the sun go down on your anger. He is saying here that anger is something that you don’t want to go unaddressed. And here is a principle for us that is born out all over scripture. If you are offended by another christian, and you are angry, deal with it right then! Do not wait, do not let it fester, it only makes it worse. And here, paul says it is sin to let your anger go unresolved.
Stealing<Laboring at honest work with his hands so that he can share. So, the opposite of stealing is not working, but sharing. The heart of selfishness is replaced with the heart of generosity.
Corrupting talk<Grace filled talk. Of all the sins listed in this passage, this is probably the one that has the ability to ruin a church more than any other. Corrupting talk here can be defined as talk that tears down. No one here is exempt from this one. we have all done this. it is in our nature to put others down, to criticize, and speak even well intended corruption to and about other people. The heart to tear others down is replaced by a heart to encourage others. I love the fact that he references giving grace to those who hear, because when we speak encouragement to one another, the most encouraging thing you can remind a Christian of is grace…
Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice< Kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness.
Now, I want to try to do something here to explain something to you. What I want us to understand is that as a body, we are all helping each other to remember our identity. I would argue that all of these sinful actions is tied to where we are finding our identity, and they are so foundational because they have the ability to either help someone, or hurt them in their being in Christ.
Falsehood– keeping up appearances for others, may hinder them from being honest about themselves.
Selfishness– forgetting that God will sustain us, and robbing other who may be the recipient of God’s provision through us.
Unchecked anger– forgetting that God’s righteous anger towards you was absorbed by Christ, and you should seek opportunities to show His forgiveness to others.
Corrupting talk– most often is motivated by a desire to puff ourselves up, in the process we tear others down, and can cause them to doubt who they are in Christ. Bitterness… all contribute to stirring up trouble and are a progression from bitterness, they result from us thinking we have the right to be bitter because we forget that our sins were what cause Christ to be nailed to that tree, and if we can be forgiven, it is utterly ridiculous for us to hold other’s sins against them. Also, if you are withholding grace from someone, you are a contributor to their remembering their identity in Christ. If you show them tenderness, and compassion, you help them remember who they are in Christ.
So, how do we take off, and put on? Let me suggest two things: repentance, and faith…