New Life in Christ
February 19, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: The Nature of the Church
Topic: English Passage: Ephesians 4:17-32
Last Sunday, after our services here, I had the opportunity to fill in for a pastor-friend of mine whose church meets in Gardena. It’s a smaller, Spanish-speaking church, and I was glad to serve them.
While I was there, I was introduced to a hymn that I had never heard before entitled “Hymn of Promise.” They sang a Spanish version of the song. The original English version starts with verse that says this: “In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
The point of that verse comes through once you get to the final section which says: “In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
We understand that there’s something about our faith and our salvation that is invisible to the human eye right now. But one day, Christ will return for us, and we will be given our glorious bodies, free from all pain and corruption. One day, Christ’s victory will be made known to the entire world. We accept that by faith.
But when we speak about the transformation that Jesus makes in the lives of those who follow Him, we need to make sure we don’t ignore the fact that there must be some change in the here and now. God did not intend our transformation to be absolutely invisible to the rest of the world.
Even though we aren’t what we will be one day, we are still a new creation in Christ, and we are to be moving toward our final destination. One of the biblical words that describes the change that takes place in salvation is repentance. Repentance is a decisive shift in our mind that produces a change in action and behavior.
Matthew 3 describes the ministry of John the Baptist. He called people to repent. They went to be baptized as they confessed their sin. But on one of those days, John noticed that many of the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were coming as well. And rather than respond with joy, John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance... Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Why did John say that to them? He understood that no one could truly come to God without a humble heart confessing sin and turning from it.
Repentance isn’t just something we see in salvation; it’s supposed to be a regular characteristic in the life of a Christian. And so, in giving us a picture of the church, Paul must include a life that has been transformed. This is our focus as we round out our study of Ephesians 4. If we belong to Christ, there will have been a change in the way we approach life, and there needs to be an ongoing commitment as well.
The body of Christ is growing into Christlikeness. We understand that ultimately that growth comes from the Lord, but we also have a responsibility. Look at verse 17 with me. Ephesians 4:17. Through the Apostle Paul, God says to all of us—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.
Walking is a common New Testament image that speaks of our behavior, our conduct, our lifestyle. The reference to Gentiles here is not talking about non-believers. Paul is saying, “Don’t live like them anymore. Stop living life the way you used to.”
Now, if he were talking to unbelievers, this would be a call to repentance, but this is Paul talking to Christians. And as a Christian, we continually need to hear this kind of reminder. The old mindset was one of futility. It was meaningless. It was pointless and empty. It was rooted in lies rather than in the glory of God.
That’s not a harsh way to talk about unbelief; that’s the accurate way to talk about it. That was our life before coming to the grace of God. And verse 18 drives the point ever further. Speaking of unbelievers, Paul says—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.
This is the biblical description of those who do not truly know God. They don’t have new life. They don’t have eternal life. They are dead and blind in their sins. They don’t even have the capacity to truly know God. They might know things about God, but they do not know Him personally. They are cut off.
The lights haven’t come on for them. They are ignorant of the truth, and it’s due to the hardness of their hearts. They don’t want to know.
What is a callous? It’s the thickening and the toughening of your skin. When I lifted weights for high school sports, we were doing Olympic lifts like cleans and jerks. And once the weight starts going up, you start getting blisters. It hurts. But after a week or two, the blisters heal and you get a callous, and then it doesn’t hut anymore.
That’s what’s happens to unbelievers’ hearts. They don’t feel the pain of conviction. They don’t feel the grief of guilt before God because it’s happened for too long. Verse 19 says—They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That was our life before God turned the lights on. Sin didn’t bother us enough to run from it, we continued down that path.
Verse 20—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
What is Paul saying? If you truly know Christ, you can’t live like that anymore. Living in submission to Jesus Christ in incompatible with a life that pursues sin. Something fundamentally changed when you came to Christ. You became a new creation by the grace of God through the truth you heard.
Nobody gets saved just by hearing the words “Jesus loves you.” Nobody comes to faith simply by seeing a Christian perform an act of love. Coming to Christ has to include hearing the truth of Christ. Coming to Christ means, one way or another, you were taught the truth. And the same truth that told you about repentance and salvation in Christ, is the truth you need for sanctification.
I’m assuming we all know that our life is supposed to change if we follow Christ, but how does that happen? God causes the growth, but what is our responsibility? How do we continue to make progress in putting sin to death? What did Jesus teach us?
Paul gives three very simple, but absolutely essential, elements regarding what it means to follow Christ. This will be our outline for today starting in verse 22. What does it mean to follow Christ?
Number 1, it means you need to put off. Put off. Look at verse 22. Christ has taught you—to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.
The imagery Paul uses here is like you’re taking off old clothes. But in this case, it’s not an old jersey you’re going to frame. It’s an old shirt that needs to be thrown away.
In God’s providence, my wife came to me this past week and said, “Luis, what are you going to do with this shirt?” She had just done the laundry and came to the conclusion that the shirt in her hand was too old to keep folding back into my dresser. So, I cut it up into pieces, and they were added to my shoe shining box. I am not wearing that shirt anymore.
Some of you treat your old life of sin like some old shirt you still might wear once in a while. And God is saying to you, get rid of it! Throw that old life away! Don’t hide it somewhere else in case you need it one day. Get rid of it!
Your life of sin is corrupt. It’s deceitful. It will destroy you. Your old life is not supposed to leave behind any souvenirs. Get rid of it!
Some people hear about Christ, and they have this idea that they can continue with their sin as long as they come to church and add some religious duties along the way. That’s not Christianity. Sin is not going to be totally eradicated until Christ comes, but we need to do whatever we can to get rid of it.
In Romans 14, Paul says, “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Don’t make allowances for yourself to pursue your sin. I don’t know what that means specifically for each of you, but don’t ignore what God would have you do. Talk to a brother or sister in the faith about this.
Maybe you have phone numbers stored somewhere that need to be thrown away. Maybe there are specific places that you’re not going to go anymore, or aisles in the grocery store you don’t walk down anymore. Whatever it is, rip it out of your life. Put off the old self. That’s principle number 1; that’s what it means to follow Jesus.
Principle number 2, following Jesus means you need to be renewed. Number 1: put off. Number 2: be renewed. Look at verse 23. Again, this is what Christ teaches, that you are to be renewed in the spirit of your minds. This is step number 2, and it’s so important.
God wants us to understand who He is and what He is like. He wants us to understand the reasoning behind the changes He desires to see in our lives. God wants us to think like He thinks. That’s what it means to be renewed in the spirit of our minds.
To many of you, the idea of renewing your mind should sound familiar because it’s what Paul says in Romans 12. He says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
It's not enough for us to just work harder at not sinning. We need to change the way we think. We needs our minds renewed. And how does that happen? It happens by the word of God. It happens by the truth. It happens as we read and meditate. It happens as we sit under the teaching of God’s word. It happens as we interact with brothers and sisters who are speaking the truth to us in love.
If you stop sinning externally, how long is that going to last if in your heart you still savor it? That’s going to bring unnecessary frustrating in your life. You don’t just want put off the old life externally, you need to do what you can to change the way you think.
The Christian life is not just about developing new habits. It has to include a new way of thinking. In Isaiah 55, God condemns unbelieving Israel when He says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” May people had still held on to some external form of religion, but they did not think like God anymore the way they were supposed to. And that’s why God says to them. “Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts.”
If there is a particular sin you are struggling against, don’t just try harder to stop. Fill your mind with what God’s word says about that. Talk to an older sister or brother in the faith, and let them help you. God wants you to start thinking differently. He wants you to see things the way He sees them. Your mind has been warped by sin and deception. You need the truth of God to work in your heart.
So, again, principle number 1 is Put Off. Principle number 2 is Be Renewed. And now, principle number 3: Put On. Following Jesus means you need to put on. Look at verse 24. This is what Jesus teaches us. We need to to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Step out of the filth of the old life. Train your mind to understand and to value the truth, and then step into your new life. What does that mean? It means you need to take deliberate steps to grow into the likeness of Christ.
It’s not enough to simply have an idea of Christian growth. It’s not enough to simply know what you’re supposed to do. You have to do it.
Imagine if my doctor told me that my blood pressure and my sugar level and my cholesterol and my triglycerides were all dangerously high, and I wanted to address that naturally, without taking any medication, what would I need to do?
Number 1, I’d have to stop eating my normal junk. Number 2, I’d have to get educated about the human body and about nutrition and exercise. And Number 3, I’d have to put that all into practice. All those steps are important.
If I take nutrition classes and start eating spinach and oatmeal, that won’t be much help if every day, I’m still eating a dozen donuts and drinking a gallon of Coca-Cola, right? I have to put off the old stuff. I have to get that out of my life. That’s the first step.
As for the second step, if I don’t educate myself on nutrition and exercise, I am not going to understand the decisions I’m supposed to be making. I may even end up hurting myself by trying to do things that could hurt me. I need to renew my mind. I need to understand why bad food is bad and good food is good.
Lastly, I cannot ignore putting the good into practice. I can cut out the junk food, and I can learn all about what is better for my body, but unless I take deliberate steps for exercise and healthy eating, I’m not going to make healthy improvements. I can’t just stop eating. And I can’t just watch YouTube workout videos. I need to do something. That’s the third principle. We need to put on the new man.
Paul reminds us here that the new man is Christ in us. The new man is made in the likeness of God. His holiness, His love, His righteousness now dwells within me by His Spirit. And I need to take deliberate steps to put that into action.
Babies and toddlers don’t just decide one day they want to walk. They work up to that. They crawl. They cruise. They wobble. They take a step or two at first. And then, eventually, they start to do it all on their own. It’s a process.
You’re not going to wake up one morning and magically be holier than yesterday. You have to take deliberate steps. Let me give you some examples of this. This will be very practical, but it’s also going to be biblical because it’s exactly what Paul does at the end of the chapter. He gives specific examples of what it means to put off and then put on.
I’m going to read from verse 25 to the end of the chapters. Here’s what it says—
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
According to the word of God, when does a liar stop being a liar? It’s not when he stops talking. It’s when he starts telling the truth.
When does a thief stop being a thief? It’s not when he stops stealing. It’s when he starts being generous and sharing with others.
Paul takes the opposites of the sins that he lists and turns it to the positive. He replaces the old man with the new man. We replace speaking lies with speaking the truth. Instead of giving in to our anger, we demonstrate self-control and address the issue in a productive way. We replace stealing, with generosity and self-sacrifice. Instead of speech that corrupts and tears down, we say things that build up. Edification is the opposite of corruption.
And instead of the things that produce discord and enmity in our relationships, we pursue the things that heal and strengthen relationships like love and forgiveness.
Like so much of what God’s word teaches us, this is not supposed to be complicated. But because of indwelling or remaining sin, it’s not easy to put into practice. But this is how you grow.
The same truths that brought salvation and spiritual life are the truths that bring sanctification and spiritual growth. This is what repentance looks like. This is your responsibility before the Lord with regard to your spiritual maturity.
Stop living life the way you used to. Stop thinking sin is compatible with Jesus Christ. Stop thinking sin won’t impede, inhibit, and hinder your spiritual maturity. Instead, think about what deliberate steps you can take to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. What can you do to look more like Jesus?
If you want to have bigger biceps, you don’t run marathons, right? If you want to have cardiovascular endurance, you don’t work on your bench press max.
What are some specific areas in your own life that you need to address? What do you need to put off? What do you need to study in God’s word to renew your mind? And What do you need to put on? And if you are really serious about this, talk to a brother or sister about it.
In all that we do, I just want to remind you about an important truth. The gospel of Jesus Christ promises us that our salvation cannot be earned or maintained by our practical holiness. Don’t forget that. For those who have trusted in Jesus Christ, we are accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, death, resurrection, and ascension. You are not earning your way to heaven. You are simply doing your best to showcase, for the glory of God, who He has created you to be in Jesus Christ.
Please don’t hear this message and think, “I need to get my life in order before I can be a Christian.” That’s not the message of Jesus Christ. The message of Jesus Christ is that He died for sinners and was raised from the dead in glory. And one day, Jesus will return to save His own. If you will humble yourself before the glory of the Resurrected King, if you will call out to Him for mercy, He will save you. He will show you mercy.
But know that calling out to Jesus means you’re willing to lay down your old life and surrender to Him. That’s true repentance.
You’re not going to be perfect in this life. The battle for holiness is not going away. But all you’re called to do is take one step as a time, and trust Jesus for the outcome.
If you call out to Jesus, no matter how calloused you might be or how far from God you think you are, He will save you. And there’s a church here ready to help you and walk with you on this journey. The children of God get a new heart, and they are joined to a new family. Come talk to me or to any other member of our church, and we’d be glad to tell you more.
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