2013-02-03 The Foundation for Christian Holiness: A New Creation and a New Mind | Ephesians 4:20-24
We were told last week that Christians are called to live together not only in unity, but also in purity. We saw also that the reason we see and hear so many stories about seemingly good people – teachers, coaches, board members, politicians, husbands and wives – who fall into immorality of one kind or another is that this is all part of the sinful world system handed down to us from Adam. Most people are alienated from God because of their hardness of heart and thus are constantly falling into immorality – and often getting caught doing so – as a natural consequence of their sin. There is a dominating power in sin that prevents fallen man from doing anything except sin. They know the right thing to do, but don’t have the power to do it.
We saw finally that by the grace of God, believers in Christ have been rescued from the dominating power of sin in their lives. They are no longer enslaved to sin but are freed not to sin. They not only know the right thing to do, they also have the ability to do it, yet not perfectly until Christ comes again. This is the world in which we are called to live in purity, not an easy thing to do.
In today’s passage we are told what Christ has done to enable us to to live pure lives in this broken world. We are told that the foundation for pure living for the Christian is a new creation and a new mind granted to us in the new birth, which enables us both to listen differently and to live differently. We are not yet told what we should do to live differently – that will come next week – we are told merely what has been done to us by Christ that enables us to listen and live differently.
This may be exciting for some of you as it was for me. As I said last week, living pure lives together as a Christian community – to me – seems more difficult even than living unified lives. So I’m seeking to understand what should motivate me to pure living, why should I do the right thing? Last week we saw briefly that part of our motivation is to emulate Christ – to live as he lived in response to what he’s done for us. This week we see that part of our motivation to do the right thing is the empowerment of Christ. It tells me that because of what Christ has done, I’m capable of doing it, I’ve been enabled to do it in his strength. This passage tells us that we are enabled both to listen differently and to live differently because of what Christ has done for us.
Ephesians 4:20-24 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!– 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
First, we are enabled to LISTEN differently because of what Christ has done for us.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!– 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,
There are three extraordinary verbs in these two verses. You learned Christ, you heard him and you were taught in him.
You learned Christ. – The first verb, “you learned Christ, is extraordinary because it’s the idea of learning a person, not mere facts, history or doctrines about a person. It is like Jesus’ words in John 17:3, “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Christians have entered into a personal relationship with Jesus the living Lord. He is not merely a dead person in history, or a distant deity, but a living person who by virtue of his resurrection has enabled us to know him personally.
As we read earlier, Jesus said in Mat 11:29-30 Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
The picture here is walking side by side with Christ yoked together like two oxen. You are in the yoke with him but he has carried the weight of the load, not you. By coming to him and walking in his yoke with him you learned the person of Christ who said, in John 14.6, “I am the way the truth and the life.”
You heard him. Not only have we learned Christ, we have also heard him. The point of this second verb is that we have heard him speak not merely heard of him. We have heard him speak both by reading the Scriptures and by listening to the faithful preaching of the Gospel. We have not heard the words of a mere dead man, but rather the words of him who is risen from the dead and has ascended to heaven to prepare a place for us. He has spoken words of truth to us that have changed us forever.
You were taught in him. The third verb is “you were taught in him.” It means you were taught in him not merely taught by him. It means that Jesus was the atmosphere or the presence, the context or the community, within which this teaching took place. Some have called it the school of Christ who himself is the truth.
Why were Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection and Pentecost willing and able to do sacrifice their lives to bring the gospel to their generation? It was because they knew Christ as a person. It was because they had heard him speak with them. It was because they had spent time in his presence.
What motivates us to live as Jesus lived, as his disciples lived? It is because we are enabled to know him personally by his Spirit, we are enabled to hear his voice through his written word and the preaching of his word, and we are taught in presence.
How can we stomach moral instruction? Who wants to be told what to do and what not to do? No one! Especially by someone who is not living what he is teaches. That was the beef Jesus had with the Pharisees. They were not living up to all the laws they were imposing on the people.
But Christ has given us the inner to desire to know and to listen to and to be taught in him. When Christ is the subject the object and the environment of the moral instruction we can be confident that it is truly Christian, since truth is in Jesus. It is not mere moral instruction – right and wrong – it is right and wrong as embodied in Christ and spoken by Christ as taught in the environment of Christ the person who himself is “the way the truth and the life.” Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “follow these rules.” He said, “follow me.” Living a pure life is not merely following a moral code, but following the person of Christ who is the truth.
Illustration: I knew there was something different about the Christian students I met at UNC Chapel Hill through my high school friend and tennis partner, Alf Abel. He knew I had attended church back home, so he introduced me to his Christian roommate Mark. But what he didn’t know was that I was far from God at the moment. However, over the past few months God had enabled me to see what a mess I was making of my life and how I was hurting others in the process. So I was open to a change, but didn’t know where to look. What a gift I received – to be surrounded by a whole community of Christian students my own age who were living for Christ and a church that faithfully taught the truth that is in Jesus. I was enabled to listen differently because of what Christ had done for me, and if you’re a Christian you have too.
Believers are not only enabled to listen differently, they are also enabled to LIVE differently because of what Christ has done. Verses 20-24 answer two questions that tell us how we are enabled to live differently: 1) WHEN does this putting off and putting on take place; and, 2) WHAT have we as believers been taught?
First, we are enabled to live differently by remembering WHEN this putting off and putting on takes place? Christians learned to put on the new nature and take off the old nature at conversion, not sometime later. Our passage reads,
22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires… 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
This translation doesn’t make this truth crystal clear, but there is a parallel passage in Colossians in which the verbs indicate that the Colossian Christians put on and took off something at the time of their conversion: Col 3.9 says, “Do not lie to one another seeing that you have put off the old nature… and have put on the new nature.” If we translate the verbs in the Ephesians passage the same way – you have put off, you have put on – they are not new commands but old ones which Paul gave to the Ephesians at their conversion and is now preparing to remind them. One of the clearer translations of these verses in short is “What you learned – was to fling off the old nature and put on the new nature.”
Illustration: Paul is speaking to them as as your mother or father might say to you by way of reminder, “Remember how I taught you when you were a child that when you come into the garage or the back porch with a dirty smelly sweatshirt you should take it off and put on a fresh clean one?” When does your parent remind you of this? Today when you walk into their garage with a smelly, dirty shirt, just before saying, “Keep doing what you learned back then.” That’s what Paul will do in next week’s passage. He will remind them to continue doing what they learned at the time of their conversion.
So how does knowing when you initially learned this help you to live differently? It helps to know that this is not something new you are just learning; it is something you have already learned at conversion. In repentance you threw off the old way of life, and by faith you accepted the new way of life. So when you are reminded later to continue to do this, it’s no big deal. Like your parent reminding you to take off the dirty sweatshirt and put on the clean one. You’re not starting all over learning something new. You’re just being reminded of something you already know. Knowing that you learned to put off the old man and put on the new man at your conversion, makes living a pure life easier. You’ve already begun to do so at your conversion in repentance and faith so you’re just continuing to do what you’ve already begun.
Now, second we are enabled to live differently not only by knowing when we put off the old and put on the new at conversion, but also by remembering WHAT we have been taught at conversion.
The lesson you learned at conversion or re-creation was the rejection of your former self and the acceptance of the new self. In repentance you rejected your former manner of life, and in faith you accepted/received/assumed the new self.
There is a parallel with the previous passage here: The old was corrupt, in the process of degenerating – the new has been freshly created after the likeness of God. The old was dominated by lusts or uncontrolled passions – the new has been created in righteousness and holiness. The lusts of the old are deceitful – the righteousness of the new is true. Corruption and creation, passion and holiness, deceit and truth are set in opposition to one another, indicating their total incompatibility. You learned at conversion to reject the old and to receive the new self.
We see this same contrast between the old and the new in Galatians 5:16-17 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Illustration: What you learned at conversion is that old life in sin is incompatible with the new life in Christ. The old life in the world is incompatible with the new life in the kingdom of God. Like what you learned as a child – that the dirty smelly sweatshirt you wear outside is incompatible with the fresh clean sweatshirt you wear in the house. You learned to take off the old and put on the new. Because of the new creation in Christ, you have received a new mind.
And not only have we received a new mind, but our minds are BEING RENEWED daily as we see in verse 23, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds. The work of Christ which began in our experience at conversion continues daily to renew our minds, a continuous inward renewal of our outlook, As in 2 Cor 4.16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
As we seek to live lives of purity in community with one another in a fallen world, we do so not in our own strength but by the empowerment of Christ through his life, death and resurrection on our behalf. In the new creation he has given us a new heart and a new mind that is continuing to be renewed daily – he has already enabled us in repentance and faith to turn away from the old life and put on the new.
So when we hear the challenge next week to put away falsehood and put on truth, to be angry but not sin, to no longer steal but rather labor, to put away corrupting talk but speak only words that build up, we should remember that at conversion – in repentance and faith – we have already learned to do so, and Christ is merely continuing the process to the praise of his glory.