Welcome to the last presentation of our New Year, New You series. We have been zeroing in on four strategic new things that make for a better year, a better life, and ultimately a better you. We have looked at the new heart, new mind, new walk, and today, the Christian’s new wardrobe. A whole new set of clothes. Dressing for spiritual success.
Open your Bible to Ephesians chapter 4. These past two Sundays have been drawn from Ephesians, and next week we begin a new teaching series going through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. “Pound for pound,” it has been said, “Ephesians may be the most influential document in history” (Snodgrass). The book of Ephesians covers God, identity, and everything between. Ephesians takes us soaring up into vivid heavenly realities, and then it takes us broad into eminently practical everyday stuff. Today comes from one of the now what passages in Ephesians.
Once you’ve received the new heart from Jesus, you’re pursuing a renewed mind from God’s Word, and you’re walking out the new walk with Jesus, what does the Lord now say about our new wardrobe? That’s addressed in Ephesians chapter 4:17-32. If you’re taking notes, Paul begins by saying…
Welcome to the new you!
Central to our understanding of the Christian life is that it involves a profound change of the kind only God can work in a person’s life. To become a Christian is to welcome God changing you at the deepest level. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he describes the new you in a variety of ways. In chapter 1 and verse 1, he speaks of Christians as “God’s holy people,” as “the faithful.” In verse 5 he says Christians have ben adopted through Jesus Christ. In verse 13 he speaks of us being “included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” He goes on to explain that “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” Jesus describes the same thing in John chapter 3 as being “born again” or “born from above.” 1 Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”
Each of those images is describing the same thing—that becoming a Christian involves a deep, radical change done by God, within you. In Christ, you become a new creation. It is in light of that deep, powerful change in the Christian’s identity that Paul begins. Follow along in Ephesians 4:17ff.
“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. 18 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. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” Ephesians 4:17-19
“You must no longer live as the Gentiles do” is the same Greek word we talked about last week, literally no longer walk like you used to walk. Verses 17-19 likely described the actual lifestyles of members of the church who first received this letter. This is a snapshot of how they used to live.
Tying this whole series together, here’s the point: when you receive the new heart that Jesus came to give, you then gladly, gratefully offer yourself each day to the Lord for the renewing of your mind. You begin walking in new ways. And Paul is about to remind us of the Christian’s new wardrobe.
Paul starts the transition to the Christian’s new wardrobe by contrasting our old ways with what it looks like in practical terms to follow Jesus in everyday experience. It all flows from the wonder of having been re-created in Christ, the new you work of regeneration the Holy Spirit has done in you. In light of that, Paul continues…
It’s time to clean out the closet.
Verses 20-24 Paul contrasts our previous ways with the new you ways we’re now called to walk. It starts with cleaning out the closet. Verse 20:
“That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
I want to be crystal clear about something here. The motivator and model for Christians to clean out the closet is not a heartless set of dos and don’ts. Paul takes pains to anchor practical Christianity in Christ, not morality on its own. We heard about Christ. We were taught in Christ. And the truth is in Jesus. So Christ is the focus of Christian faith. Christ himself is the teacher of the Christian faith. And in Christ we discover the truth of the Christian faith. Christianity is a living faith, in a living Lord, who we are in a living relationship with. It is in this light that we find the courage and conviction and motivation to clean out the closet.
When it comes to what we used to “wear,” we are urged to clean out the closet. Dump a bunch of the old “clothes” at God’s Goodwill. Take out trash bags filled with what you used to wear. Clear the clutter.
Put off the old self, and put on the new self. Start dressing like the new you God says you are. That brings us to the second major shift in this passage. Welcome to the new you as you come to Christ. And next…
Welcome to your new wardrobe!
Everything Paul is about to urge is the practical outworking of what God has already done in the Christian. He had already made you a new person in Christ, all those synonyms for salvation that we started with: to trust in Jesus means to be born again, adopted, given new birth, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and more. John Stott explains it this way:
“It is because we have already put off our old nature, in that decisive act of repentance called conversion, that we can logically be commanded to put away all these practices which belong to that old, rejected life.”
[Source: God’s New Society, John R.W. Stott]
Maybe you hear this and ask, “When did I put off my old nature, my old self?” Answer: when you first repented and trusted in Christ. Jesus called it “counting the cost.” Never once did Jesus present the idea that becoming a Christian is easy or natural. His message is that becoming a Christian is better than mere religion, and it is eminently worth it. Through the work of Jesus, God brings you into a living relationship with him.
Tony Merida and his wife spent more than a month in Ukraine walking through the final steps to adopt four girls. When the last papers were signed and everything was legally done to complete the adoption, the Meridas went to the orphanage eager to show the girls how much they loved them, in as practical a way as they could think of. So here’s where they started: with new clothes.
For that month, the girls had been wearing what Tony describes as “the same smelly clothes and the same worn-out shoes every day since we arrived.” So as soon as the Meridas got permission to bring the girls home, they headed to the orphanage. With the help of a translator, Tony said, “Girls, we’re going home.” One of them, Victoria, asked, “Forever?” To which Tony replied, “Yes, forever.”
The girls then received a new set of clothes. They went to the bathroom and changed, leaving behind what they had been wearing. That true story gives us a picture of what God did when you first counted the cost and trusted in Christ: they took off their old garments, and put on new clothes from their adoptive parents, who did everything necessary for them to become adopted. New clothes, to reflect their new identity. Their new home. Their newfound security. A whole new family.
Even so here, Paul reminds 1st-century Christians that they knew what it meant when they had put on a white robe and went through the waters of baptism, renouncing their previous life as they committed to following Jesus.
Now the focus shifts to the very practical. Put off the old wardrobe and put on the new? Okay, in what ways? What does it look like in everyday experience? Paul says, “I’m glad you asked.” First, he says…
Pitch the lying; put on truth.
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”
Here’s a command anchored in the second greatest commandment according to Jesus, the command to love your neighbor as yourself. Only it goes deeper here. You are not only to love your neighbor, but in the church, among fellow Christians, there’s an even richer connection. We are now family. We are like interconnected, interdependent parts of the human body. What I do (or don’t) affects you, and what you do (or don’t) affects me, and that’s true throughout the whole church—both this local congregation and your impact on Christians all over the place.
Proverbs in several places says God hates seeing when we lie. Jesus made clear that Satan is a liar, and the father of all lies (John 8:44). God tells only the truth. We are called to the same.
Pitch the lying, and put on truth. Because we’re connected. Lies hurt real people. Lies damage and destroy relationships. That matters deeply. Next…
Pitch the fits; put on self-control.
“‘In your anger do not sin’ [Psalm 4:4]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
There’s a time and place to get good and angry. Jesus did. God does. Stephen did—and got killed for it. Paul got good and angry when he rebuked Peter to his face for waffling on the practice of hanging out with people who weren’t practicing Jews (Peter who was given a special revelation from God that he should accept anyone who wants to hear about Jesus). Nehemiah got furious with the people of his day for intermarrying with complete pagans, after that kind of stuff had led to the destruction of Israel and exile of its people in the first place! The prophets, led by the Holy Spirit, vent God’s anger at flagrant evil among his people. So what does this verse mean?
When anger arises, do your best to control it, and do whatever you can to resolve and restore what prompted it. Geoff Holsclaw says it this way: good anger seeks connection (the repair of relations or overcoming of barriers to relationship), while sinful anger seeks disconnection (the destruction of the other person, and therefore damage to or the destruction of the relationship. So anger isn’t the problem. It’s how you use it, how it’s directed.
The command is to no longer wield anger or yield to anger. Instead, “wear” anger in a new way—less Gollum, more Gandolf. Both Gollum and Gandolf expressed anger in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Gollum let anger control and consume him, while Gandolf let anger ignite and inspire him to courageous sacrifice. Less Gollum, more Gandolf. Pitch the fits; put on self-control.
Pitch the pinching; put on your work gloves & give back.
Pinching is the British way of saying stealing. Verse 28 Paul says…
“Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
Where you used to put on the gloves of a pickpocket or freeloader, the command is to put on a set of work gloves to provide for yourself AND to give back, give away money, where you used to steal. Historians tell us that stealing was typical in 1st-century Asia Minor, where Ephesus was located. The norm was to steal. The command to Christians, then, is be abnormal. Work to provide and to give. That’s what the new you should do.
Or as 18th-century Christian leader John Wesley used to say, “Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.” Even better is this saying of his, my favorite:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
― John Wesley
That’s quote has already been posted on the yChurch FB page this weekend if you want to share it.
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
Essential to that is honest work for honest pay, and becoming a giver instead of a taker.
Pitch the crassness; put on conversation that uplifts.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
The word for unwholesome here is literally rotten. It was used to describe rotten fruit and rotten fish. This is pulling out the Gladware food container from the back of the bottom shelf in your fridge and opening it to discover a moldy science experiment that once was your dinner. It’s rotten, so throw it out. Pitch it.
Jesus warns that we will give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word we’ve spoken. 4th-century Christian leader Augustine hung a sign in his home’s dining room that read,
“Whoever speaks evil of an absent man or woman is not welcome at this table.”
[Source: Exalting Jesus in Ephesians, Tony Merida, p 114]
Where we may have previously been marked by rotten ways of talking to and about others, the command is to use only carefully-considered speech. It’s the old Mom saying: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. But then it goes further: actively choose to say things that will strengthen, encourage, build up other people according to what they need, not you. He’s not talking about flattery, which is all about making yourself look better to the other person. He’s talking about truly caring enough to look for words that truly reinforce the best in someone else.
And again Paul comes back to the why (w-h-y, not the YMCA). Why direct your talk in ways that intentionally bless the other person? Because the Holy Spirit is now in you. The third person of the Trinity is grieved by rotten speech. So before you engage your vocal chords, engage your mind with this question: Will what I’m on the verge of saying grieve or please the Holy Spirit? Pitch the crassness; put on conversation that uplifts.
Pitch the nastiness; put on Christlikeness.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
No more verbal and emotional Mixed Martial Arts within the church. Leave it in the past where it belongs. Nastiness among Christians drives God-only-knows how many people away from Christ and away from fellowship with other Christians. Evil divisiveness is a horrible stain on church history that continues today. It is not to be so among us. That’s the ratty old garments of the past.
In their place, we are commanded to put on kindness, compassion, and forgiveness toward one another. Be kind. Be compassionate. And forgive the next person who hurts you, just like Jesus forgave you your offenses. There’s the bar. Whatever Jesus can forgive, I must forgive. Whoever Jesus can be compassionate toward, I must act compassionately toward. Whoever Jesus can show kindness to, I must show genuine kindness to.
Why this would need to be said is mind-blowing. It is so basic, so elementary. But from time to time we have to come back to it. Everything Paul lays out here are reminders that 1st-century Christians already knew and had already heard. But they needed to hear it again.
Maybe there are one or two or five of these that you need to hear again. Maybe the Holy Spirit is piercing your conscience over some of the ratty old clothes you’ve been putting back on. That’s why he led Paul to write this.
Is there someone you’ve been bitter toward?
Is there someone you need to forgive?
Revisit the fierce love that God has demonstrated toward you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He did everything necessary for you to become a new you: he wants to give you the new heart, a renewed and daily renewing mind, he calls you and me to a new walk, and he commands us to put on a whole new wardrobe. At the very heart of it all is love—the love we see in Jesus. So pitch the nastiness; in its place put on Christlikeness.
Just a few years ago one of the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance was restored to its original splendor and returned to its home in Florence. The Madonna del Cardellino was painted by Raphael in 1505 for the wedding of a friend. What a wedding gift!
It portrays Mary, with two children who are playing with a bird. The children symbolize John the Baptist and his young cousin Jesus. The bird that feeds among thorns is interpreted as representing Christ’s future suffering.
Forty years after this masterpiece was created, an earthquake shattered it into several pieces. Another artist tried to patch it together. He painted over the original in an effort to conceal the breaks and make it look whole again.
More recently, fifty people took ten years to restore the painting to its original beauty. The cracks are gone. The grime is gone. The veneers and patches have been stripped off, and the finished product displays the beauty of the original reds, and blues, and golds. The original was amazing, and the restoration restores and showcases the beauty.
This is what God has already done for you if you trust in Jesus. Maybe you feel the grime of one of these old ways gumming you up, obscuring the image of God shining from you.
Maybe you’ve tried to patch over some of the stuff we’re called to pitch, and today you realize the veneers aren’t addressing the deeper issue.
The good news is that Jesus has the power to make all things new. God’s command to us is to put on the miracle of what he has put in you.