Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 17 and we’ll go on from there. The Apostle Paul speaking to his readers in Ephesus:
“….So, I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord that you must no longer live as the gentiles, the ethnics, the people, the tribes, you know, of the world do, in the futility, another word might be vanity, in the vanity, in the futility, the emptiness of the thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God. Why? Because of the ignorance that is in them, and where does that ignorance come from? Due to the hardening of their hearts, having lost all sensitivity they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him, and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus, 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 make new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor for we are all members of one body. In your anger, do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but rather must work doing something useful with his own hands that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Let me read those first two verses of chapter 5, because I believe they are linked in a very powerful way. It says:
“…. Be imitators of God therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…”
We bless the word of the Lord. You know, this call of the Apostle Paul, and by the way, it’s a call to holiness, isn’t that clear? This whole passages is a passionate, well developed, well connected appeal to the believers in Ephesus, and by extension to all of us who are linked to that community in the spirit, to live a life of holiness and of separateness from the ways of the world. We serve a holy God, I mean, the concept of holiness is not understandable except in connection with the holy God, a God who does not participate in evil, who does not participate in anything impure, dark, false, shifting. God is hole and he doesn’t contradict himself, his nature is pure, his nature is love, is justice. His nature does not participate in anything demonic or that debilitates life, or that militates against life or health. He does not participate in corruption, and anything of darkness is not him at all, because he’s light and he’s purity.
And so if we want to have communion with him, the Bible says, if we want to have any kind of nearness, or communication, or access to him, we have to approach him in absolute affinity with what he is. So this is why, the Bible says that we need to be holy as our Father, who is in heaven is holy. Because in order to participate of his essence we must be like his essence.
So the call to holiness for believers comes from the fact that they serve and we serve and have access and communion with a holy God, and we move within his kingdom, so there has to be coherence, there has to be unity and so that’s why…. And also in the sense that we are holiness…. The word holiness, agios, in the Greek is this idea… and in the Hebrew, of separation, setting apart something for a particular usage related to God. So for example the utensils and all of the objects that pertained to the First Tabernacle and then to the permanent temple in Israel, everything was absolutely separate. The only people who could touch any of those instruments were the Levites and the priests who had been consecrated previously and cleansed ritually in every way and dedicated to the service.
And those Levites themselves, I’ve been reading the Book of Numbers lately for excitement lately I’m reading the Book of Numbers, there’s a lot of stuff that can appear boring but there’s a lot of great, great knowledge and teaching there. And, you know, for some reason it had escaped me this idea that the Levites, God when he killed the first born in Egypt, he decided that from then on, everything that was first born was his. He appropriated it, he nationalized all the first born in Israel. And I think that it may be interesting perhaps, I don’t know, does that extend to us Christian maybe? Interesting, I don’t know. It’s something there to ponder upon. But you know, the first fruits, but in life the first born belonged to God and certainly that was applicable to Israel. And what he did, he did a trade off, interestingly enough, he did a trade off with the Levites: for every first born in Israel he was going to bet a Levite to substitute and they counted all the Levites and they counted all the first born in Israel and then there were like 300 left. There were 300 more first born than Levites so they had to make some offerings in order to make up the difference, and then the Levites were totally consecrated to the service of God, and so consecrated to the service of God, then they could touch the things that pertained to the worship and the praise of the Lord.
So, only the Levites could…. And certain Levites could only touch certain parts of the Tabernacle. And, so you get this sense, you know, God is very particular about how people handle the things that are supposed to bring intimacy to him. And guau! What are we? We are the closest thing that can come to God, I mean, and so we have to be like…. And I think Christians in our dwelling on grace, in Protestantism we have lost a lot of this sense or ritual and sacredness and holiness, and fear of the Lord, and all this sense of awe before God, when we draw near with him, when we have communion with him.
Other traditions have kept a lot of that, the Episcopalian church, the high church, the Catholic, the Orthodox, you know, and we probably what happened with the Reformation in the XVI century and all the rationalism and the modernism that was taking place with the Enlightenment and so on and so forth, and the Renaissance before. We threw away a lot of that stuff, this sense of awe as we draw near to God, as we have communion with him, this need to remain pure and holy. And I think there’s an element of truth in that because we don’t serve a God that you have to come like all shaking and trembling. But I don’t think that God wants us to lose this sense of respect and of a life that draws to God in fear and trembling and respect for his greatness and his awesomeness.
So, all of this was implicated in this thing. You know, if you’re going to draw near to me, if you’re going to use my utensil, they have to be cleansed, they have to be consecrated for one thing alone. That lamp is not going to be used for a Levite to walk to his house and to go to bed with. No, that is only one use: for my worship and to light up my temple, on and on, and on. And God was very particular about that, we are his vessels us. He dwells in us and so there’s this sense that now we are the temple of God and by transference we have to exercise the same kind of cleanliness and if we’re not clean, we have to come to Christ, confess our sins and seek restoration and seek healing and come back into that place of holiness.
And again, it’s not that we live in fear and in a paranoia. That’s the mistake that the Pharisees made. But, yes, we must also not lose sight of the fact that there is that call to holiness. I think these passages must be understood in that light of the holy God that we serve and that God who is so particular about who draws near to him.
And so, you know, this call to holiness is very, very strong and we must not lose sight of that. And many churches today, we don’t like to speak about these things because they sound too old fashioned, and too judgmental and they make us feel uncomfortable and they confront us and so on and many of churches are not about that. And yet, it is the call of God and I’m not here to make you per se feel uncomfortable, but I’m here to share with you in a journey for holiness and in that call of God to holiness and to struggle with whatever it is that is not of God and not to resign ourselves to it and not to yield to it, but to live in that tension of aspiring to be a people who are holy and acceptable to the Lord, and who please this God that we serve.
And so, there’s this somber, this solemn call on the part of the Apostle Paul, “…. So I tell you this, and insist on it…..”, he’s not content to just say you know, I tell you guys, I want to advice you and request that…. No, I tell you this and I insist on it.
You know, you have to insist on holiness. I have to insist on holiness for myself because I know that if I don’t I’ll go astray. We have to be vigilant about it, without be obsessive compulsive, we have to take this call very seriously because any of us will fall, any of us will go astray, unless we are insisting on it and seeing the solemnity of that call to holiness.
“…. In the Lord,…..” so he adds a double there, no? “…. So that you must no longer live as the gentiles do…”
Now, you know, this is all parts of a new direction in Paul’s meditation in the Book of Ephesians. Look back at chapter 4, verse 1, because I think this whole thing is linked to that first introductory sentence in chapter 4. It says:
“…. As a prisoner for the Lord then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received….”
Everything else that flows in the next few chapters and verses emanates from that solemn general call. You remember that he spent three full chapters discussing this grand division of the revelation of God and his plan for salvation. And so he says, you know, you see the greatness of God’s plan, now, live according to that. Don’t live a cheap life when you have such a grand calling, and so live a life that is worthy. Don’t live just like anybody else.
So, he went on from there about the unity that we should live in, making every effort to keep the unity of the body and he speaks about the life of the church and what God has done to provide all these kinds of individuals: Apostles, evangelists and so on, to keep the church healthy.
And it says, to prepare, verse 12 “… God’s people for works of service that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole nature of the fullness of Christ.”
And I think now he begins to sort of tear down, dismount, to break down what he means by that. And so he goes into all kinds of specific ways in which we live out that maturity, we live out that solemn, that high calling. He begins by saying, number one, one of the ways, just compare the life that you have been called to live to the life of the gentiles, the ethnics in the Greek original. You know, the gentiles were all those individuals who did not know God, the true living God, the Hebrew Christian God, and they lived a life out there, ignorant of all these revelations that Christ had brought. They are like wild I would say beasts, but that maybe too strong a word. But you know, children who had never…. They lived in the forest, had never had the benefit of teaching and of illumination so they live out there, ignorant of what God has done or what has dawned on mankind, the calling that the Jews had received, those serving a holy a God and living a life that was pure and so on and so forth. They lived a totally different life. They were like an Amazon tribe living in the deep, deep jungle now knowing that penicillin has been invented and that there are cars and planes traveling above the sky and that there are men going to the moon and all this…. They live out there, they have not had the benefit of the knowledge that Christians now have in Jesus Christ.
And Paul says, “…. You must live any longer like them. You must no longer live….”
Now, what does he say no longer live? Because he’s speaking to people of the Greco Roman world who have converted to Christianity and that’s all they knew. And these are recent believers, so he wants to train them in really the way that they’re supposed to live and that’s one thing that the church must do. When we bring people in from the outside into the holiness of the Kingdom of God, the church has to inform.
That’s why I don’t believe that church can afford in the fear of alienating and making people uncomfortable to forego speaking about passages like this. I think we do God a disservice and we do people a disservice. When people come into the Kingdom of God they must understand that they are entering into something that is radically different and they’re being called to be conformed to a new way of living and a new way of thinking. That’s what we are called.
The Kingdom of God is qualitatively different from anything that we know out there, and when we come in there’s a reconfiguration of our mind, our heart, our emotions, our physical pleasures, everything, our values, our sense or right and wrong, of justice and injustice. We have to go through a course to revamp and reconfigure our way of thinking and our way of judging and our values, everything.
And so the church has this teaching call which we cannot escape. Now, it must be tempered by mercy, as we have said, by love, by flexibility, by a sense of the frailty of human life and our proneness to sin, and we need to be restored and the church has to have space for restoration, for mercy, compassion, love and encouragement and all those things which we have spoken about. But there is that call to live different than the world lives. Now, we cannot escape that.
So, Paul is insisting on this, he says, “.. do not longer live as the gentiles do….” I don’t think he says it with the disdain that Jews used to say about the gentiles. He’s saying it in a different way, but he’s using them as an example.
“…. In the futility….”, in the vanity, in the Greek meaning of the word is this sense of the vanity, the emptiness, the lack of purpose and solidity and the fruit born by that kind of lifestyle and of thinking.
It’s interesting to me that Paul uses these words, thinking and understanding. He’s speaking about the mental life, the life of the mind. And you know, that this is no coincidental concern and focus. We see this time and time again in scripture.
For example if you look at Romans, chapter 12, you know that powerful first two verses of Romans chapter 12. He speaks:
“….Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
You know, the mind is the seat, and by the way, and when Paul speaks of mind I don’t think he’s just speaking of the brain or the rational faculty. I think he’s speaking of that faculty in the human being that is able to conceive grand thoughts, abstract thoughts, thoughts connected to morality and ethics and spirituality and so on and so forth. I think that’s how he broke up the human personality and that’s how the old world spoke about it.
So, you know, when he says mind, he’s not just speaking about the life of the mind, of the intellect. No, he’s speaking about much more, he’s taking a bigger slice of the human personality into that concept. And so, he says, we have to renew our minds. Why? Because the mind is the…. In this scheme the mind is almost like the heart in the Old Testament, it is where the seat of the emotions, the will, the intellect lies. It is the motor force of the human personality. It is where life emanates from and the energies and the decisions that you make that lead to actions, to relationships. And so, he’s going to the source.
“As a man thinketh, so is he”. Have you heard that expression? According to how you perceive reality, how you parse the human situation that’s how you will act, according to your narrative or the world, your internal narrative and your internal conception of the world, and how you see yourself and how you see others, and so on, that’s how you act. And so, it is so important that the first place of renovation and transformation in the Christian be in the mind, in the emotions, in the will, in those unseen areas that then lead to the actions.
Many times the church is so concerned with the actions that we spend time like the Americans in Iraq, or anywhere in the world whatever army it is, we are trying to operate on the externals of the human reality and since we are not able to deal with the heart or addressing the heart culture, religion, sense of honor and shame and all these different things, we have these very superficial people leading the world and trying to do things at the symptomatic level, and that’s what it doesn’t succeed.
The Bible, in God I see him always going to the root, to the heart and that’s where….. You know, Jesus said in another passage that from the heart sprout all the impulses. You know, he says, don’t worry about whether your hands are clean or not. I mean, don’t take that too seriously, because the Pharisees where concerned about the rituals of the hands, and what you ate, what you didn’t eat and this and that. And Jesus said, hey, guys, that is absolutely immaterial, inconsequential when compared with the importance of the heart.
I think he was using a hyperbole here, he was exaggerating on purpose, because he was so offset by this obsession of the Pharisees with the externals, that he said, hey, don’t concern yourself about the externals, don’t concern yourself about what you eat because that has nothing to do. That’s just eliminated or absorbed into the body, it doesn’t go into the spiritual realm, but from the spirit, from the heart, from the mind emanate all the things that create evil in the world. And so that’s what you have to be concerned about.
I’m not here simply going off on a tangent, I think it is crucial because God also says in another passage, I think it is in Jeremiah, that he will give us a heart of flesh. You know, he will write his law, he was speaking about a future time, I think that time is now in the economy of Christianity where his principles will be written in the heart, in the inner parts. It was no longer a set of commandments written in the exterior, but it was going to be in the heart. And you know, guys, this is what we need to always seek in our Christian walk. It is that life of the interior, that life of the heart. Do not conform yourselves to exterior religious ritualistic Christianity, that has its place, that has its beauty, but I think God designed the Christian life to be lived as an intimate thing.
I’m always asking the Lord, Father, penetrate my heart, penetrate through the wall of my mind and my intellect and my will. This is why tonight I just felt this calling of God for us to just open our skin and let the worship penetrate and have a time of just desperate seeking of the Lord. Because it’s not enough just to worship with our mouths, it’s not enough. And I wish we would all understand this. And I think the church of Jesus Christ needs to insist on this.
We need to feel that somehow we have touched the throne of grace and I’m not talking about mere emotion, I’m talking about something that you feel God, yes, thank you, I finally get it today. I finally had you take away the layer of dust that accumulated over the week and of anxiety and the quotidian superficial way of looking at the world, and I’m back now in touch with eternity. And so now I’m back, yes, Lord thank you.
And you know, we need to do that in our life every day, we need to be renewing and refreshing that sense because that’s where miracles happen, that’s where transformation happens, that’s where growth happens, that’s where the breaking of the will happens. God needs to take a knife and just cut open all kinds of wholes in us, so that his word and his blessing can enter into the deep parts of our soul and our being.
Many congregation, many ministries, we depend just on these superficial experience and we think that just because we did the exterior stuff we have a right. No, there has to be that penetration into the mind, into the will, into the emotions, into the spirit and that’s where God then can write his laws and operate that dimension of sanctification, which means again, making us holy, which is a gradual, continual, never ending kind of thing.
And so, I’m stuck here in that element, that first verse. I thought I didn’t have enough material in general, but you know it’s so powerful the word of God is so good, when it just opens itself up to us that… this element of the thinking and understanding. That’s why the Bible insist so much in it and if you think I’m being…. I’m just taking one….
Go for example to, where else do we see that? Romans, for example, go to Romans, chapter 1, verse 29 and so on around there. He’s speaking again about… and I’ll tie it all together in a moment. This is a powerful text that when you read it connection with other text that we’re reading in Ephesians, chapter 4, illuminates, they illuminate each other mutually, when you read them in context with each other.
And so Paul is setting up also a theology of the sinfulness of human kind here, and interestingly enough, he uses the same kind of analysis, and the same kind of approach. So, for example look at verse 21, it says:
“… for although they knew God they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile –the same ‘the futility’, remember? The futility of the thinking back there in Ephesians chapter 4?- …. Their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened… -it’s the same idea, darkness setting on the mind, on the understanding, on this filter that mankind uses to interpret experience and reality. That filter became darkened and it became contaminated. It’s like a virus entered the computer and so now all kinds of gibberish come out on the screen because the computer is not functioning perfectly coherently. It may spill out a lot of good stuff, but all of a sudden it may come out with a lot of nonsense as well.
And this is what you have in man today. You have an amazing capacity to do all kinds of very interesting things on the scientific, technological realm, but at the same time gibberish comes out in the moral, spiritual realm and the realm of values and everything that deals with the human reality and relationships, and all kinds of things. So man is like this drunken, like this autistic savant who is capable of doing some amazingly, astounding calculations, but one whole part of his brain is gone and so he is really also extremely unable to do a whole lot of things that are important for us to stay in life.
So, that’s the way man’s mind is right now. You know, he can see a lot of great things but there’s also another side which is completely infantile and leads to anxiety, depression, suicide, family breakdown, youth who are disoriented and unable to function, all kinds of neurosis that are proliferating in society, war, poverty, in the midst of huge abundance, huge unhappiness and disfunctionality, both at the national level, at the micro level of the family and individual, but also at the world level. The futility of their thinking: everything that we do is futile. The United Nations, all the money that is thrown at the educational system, for example, here in Massachusetts, futile. All the money, the billions and billions of dollars thrown at the Middle East, futile. The effort to bring peace, futile. The efforts to rid the Third World of its immense poverty and corruption, futile, because the thinking has been clouded, because they did not see God as fit to be worshiped.
“Although they claim to be wise, they became fools”, Romans 1:22, and exchanged the glory of the immoral God, that holy God, that perfect God, that pure God to look like mortal man and birds and animals, and reptiles, that holy God… you see, man has now turned God according to his image, rather than man being turned into the image of God, we have turned God into our image of a creature and of a dweller of time and space, and of nature. And so, that has really offset God and so therefore:
“…..God gave them over in the sinful desires of the hearts to sexual impurity for degrading of their bodies to one another.” They exchanged the truth of God for lie and worshiping self created things, rather than the Creator.
And so, look at verse 28, this is a powerful verse: “…Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, they gave it up.” They decided that their knowledge was so much more superior to the knowledge of God.
“He gave them over…” I mean, it’s interesting that expression of giving themselves over, you know, in the chapter that we’re reading in Ephesians, chapters 4, it says, “… they have given themselves over to sensuality…” Here it says that God gave them over. They gave themselves over because God gave them over too, they just threw themselves into shameful lusts, and God gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done. It is the mind, you see, it is the heart and this is the first place that we must ask God to heal us and to touch us and to sanctify us. And this is where the church needs to play a very important role in promoting the holiness of the church and we need…. It’s not enough just to teach people about these things, it’s not enough for me to verbalize the call to holiness and so on. This has to be accompanied by fire and by personal experience of the presence of the Lord for that teaching to penetrate and to stick.
Let me give you thank you, yes, come on in, guys. Let me give you an example of that, I’ll wrap up now this thing here. When you’re going to weld two pieces of metal together and fuse them, you don’t just take the two pieces of metals and say ok, guys, stick, and you don’t push them against each other, you take fire, you weld them, you melt the surfaces that are going to come together and you apply fire to them and you break their hardness for a moment and you bring them together and they’re able to fuse and then, when they get cold again, now they’re stuck together. And that’s why I think that in the call to holiness of the church, you know, the call to holiness needs to take place in an environment where the spirit has been called, where deep worship has taken place, where people have been softened by the nearness of the spirit of God, where there’s this sense of this super natural presence of the Holy Spirit, people’s hearts are tender and porous and penetrable to the word of God, and in that context we can send the word into the depths, that’s why it is so important to take time, you see. Because otherwise it is like throwing beautiful seed into a hardened soil, the seed just bounces off and it rests and it doesn’t do anything, it cannot interact with the soil.
So, my people, this is why we need to take time to pray, to worship God, to cry. It’s not gratuitous seeking of emotion, no, it’s because we need to open the inside of the mind. You know, the mind is so closed, we have been so penetrated by the thinking of the world, even Christians, and many times the church hasn’t done a good job trying to change the way Christians see the world and judge truth and righteousness and justice. I see a lot of believers who have not been taught appropriately how to judge what is good and what is bad. They come with all sorts of secular constructs from the outside and they merely transport them into Christianese and their minds have not been broken, their spirits have not been humbled.
You know, there is a loving moment of conflict that the mother church exercises with its children when they come in to the kingdom, and any church that is not willing to go through that struggle, that loving struggle of holding the child who’s having a tantrum, and you say, ‘I’m not going to let you go until you stop, I’m stronger than you. When you get tired I’ll let you go.’ The church has to do that many times in order for the truth of God to penetrate into the inner being in order to start conforming the mind to the way that God sees the world, the way scripture sees the world.
And so, that’s where deep worship, prayer, that’s where you can also cooperate in having your own time with God and asking, ‘God, break down my resistance, break down my mind. My mind is crazy, Lord, my computer has been invaded by a virus and I need you, Holy Spirit to come and change my way of thinking. Break me, oh Lord, crucify me, purify me, examine me, break me in my inner parts, Lord, because I want your truth to penetrate in me. I cannot do it, the pastor cannot do it by simply preaching at me. It has to be your Holy Spirit penetrating my mind, my mind is gone. Father, I need your healing. I need your sanctifying word in my life because my understanding has been darkened by the world and I cannot conform to the world. I need to renew myself. I need to live like a living sacrifice. I need to be acceptable to you, Lord, so here I am. Purify me, crucify me, transform me, penetrate me, change me, cleanse my mind, bring a different program into my life, change my will, change my way of computing life, Lord, so that then I can live a holy life, then I can turn that new understanding into action, into relationships, into decisions, but first start my heart, my mind.
You see, ultimately the process of transformation in the Christian walk is a mystery. It is not the pastor who does it. It is not the teacher who does it. It is the Holy Spirit changing your mind, transforming the structures of your mind and your thinking. It’s a mysterious thing, it’s a spiritual transaction. We can only like a midwife encourage you, inform you, how to breathe, but the pushing and the struggle and the production has to be done by you and by something mysterious inside of you, some force of the spirit that is doing it with you, and the church can only aid that process, but you have to participate in it. Every time you come in the church to worship or in your own times of worship, ask the Holy Spirit to break you, to make you tender and to speak to you and to open your heart with the keys of the spirit.
You see where I’m leading to? Have I made some sense to you? That the beginning of the process of holiness: my mind, my sight, my understanding, my will, my emotions. Purify them, oh Lord.
And so let’s pray to the Lord right now if you want to stand for a moment. Father, I have declared that it is a mysterious process and that only you can do it. Father I am so content in handing that privilege over to you. I need to be operated upon by your spirit myself, begin with me, Lord. Change me, oh Lord, change me. Change us, sanctify us.
Father, we would not run away from that call to holiness. Father, with do ask for forgiveness for the fact that we have not lived according to the height of our calling, to the amazing complexity of what you have done in the universe to prepare this creation for the transformation of the children of God, for the redemption of the world. We have not lived according to the sublime nature of what you have done, and so we are here, first of all, Lord to say ‘forgive us’ and to embrace that call tonight and to say, ‘Father, we are helpless. We cannot do it ourselves, we need you to do it. Cleanse my mind, cleanse my will, cleanse my emotions, take away the pain. Heal the wounds, heal the deformations of experience, Father, now in the name of Jesus.
We want to be living sacrifices to you, we want to be pure vessels that can contain your holy, holy anointing in the name of Jesus. Father, we pray for a church that is consecrated to you, a church that would not run away from the call to holiness, Father. We want a church that is pleasing on to you. We want to be pleasing on to you, Father. Forgive the stubbornness of our mind, Lord, right now Jesus and have mercy on us, Lord, and cleanse us and lead us into intimacy with you, Father. Come, Holy Spirit of God. do your work. Just stay a moment in that place of prayer.