Sermon March 31, 2007 : Ephesians 4:17 Called to live holy


Let’s go quickly to Ephesians, chapter 4, and let’s continue with our study and I’ll just, as a summary, we spent last time in that zone of the understanding, the mind. But let me just read it and then we can get into it quickly. Verse 17, chapter 4, Ephesians.

“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. 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. Having lost all sensitive 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 have 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 deceitful desires to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness….”

I’ll continue in a moment, but let’s just pray here and we’ll continue weaving this thing together. Father, we do commit your word to your spirit, it’s your word, it belongs to you, you lend it to us for a moment that we might dwell in it, we might bathe ourselves in it and submerge ourselves in its truth and its wisdom and Father, we activate the moving of your spirit, your illumination, so that these words wouldn’t be mere human verbalizing, but true impartation of the spirit in our souls, Father, transforming us and searing us and imprinting us with your truth. We want to be transformed, Father. We want to be touched, we want to be challenged and so, Father, we interact with your living word now and we cede this time to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, last Saturday we spent some time just… we got stuck, in a good way, I hope, in this idea of the understanding and the thinking, the mind and the need for the mind to be transformed, the mind as the locus, the central place where everything else emanates from. And as I was saying last time, you know, by mind, it’s clear that the Apostle doesn’t just mean the intellect, the shear reason. He means something more profound, noos in the Greek. He is speaking about probably a bit also of the emotions, you know, the classical world didn’t compartmentalize the human psyche or the human personality the way that we do now with psychology and so on and so forth. They had a different way of breaking things. The Bible speaks of the heart, the Bible speaks of the spirit, of the soul and so on and so forth. Sometimes these things are not very technically divided and every once in a while some things maybe sort of subdivided in different ways.

But, you know, evidently the Apostle was speaking about the need to change oour way of thinking and I tried to make a case that this was no accidental or sort of superficial reference to this thing of the mind. I read from Romans, for example, where it is clear that something happens to the mind when human beings become corrupted. The mind is one of the first things to really become kind of clogged and dysfunctional. You know, the mind is the seat of many of the things that we do and say, and think and feel. It is the motor force of so much, it is the way we frame things, it is the narrative that we follow, it is the perspective that we adopt. We speak sometimes of paradigms, of mental models, of world views and all these things, evidently, is the way that we frame reality, the way that we understand things and the way we understand things is the way that we’re going to act, the way we parse the world so to speak. So much is in the mind and when the mind becomes imperfect, everything else begins to fall apart at the collective level or at the individual level.

So, we saw in Romans as well, that same day, but I’m not going to go back to that. I’m going to resist the temptation to kind of continue re-elaborating and I was saying that we need experiences that bring us to interact with the Holy Spirit, with the fire of the Holy Spirit so that those grouts that are foreign to the true way of thinking and of looking at the world, of looking at reality, can be sort of torn off by the fire of the spirit. They have been welded into our mind when we lived in the corruption of the world out there, before we became believers, and then the Christian life has a process of renewal and of changing the mind, of changing the way we think and the way we compute, and our understanding of what is good, what is bad, what is evil, what is just, what is moral, what is ethical, what is immoral, what is contrary to the heart of God and so need. There needs to be a complete change and so this is why, back in Romans, the Apostle speaks of the renewing of our mind, which as we renew our minds continually, leads the transformation of the human being. But it’s such a crucial element.

So, the Apostle Paul is saying here, hey, guys, believers, I insist that you no longer live as the gentiles in that corrupt mind, that debased mind. It’s a mind, in the meaning of Romans, that has been stamped as imperfect. It’s been rejected. It’s like in the production belt, you know, in quality control, something that is imperfect, it’s branded, it’s taken out. And you know, that’s the idea that Paul sets, you know, he says in Ephesians that their mind became corrupt, it was imperfect, it got a seal of disapproval from God, it became dysfunctional.

And so, it says, as believers you can no longer continue to live in that frame of mind. You got to change that and … the gentiles, the people who don’t know the Lord, they live in a mind that is futile, it doesn’t lead to anything good. We talked about that last time, we see that in our time in so many different ways. And you know, it’s interesting in both here, and in Romans, Paul describes the same process by which the mind becomes corrupted and men become then corrupt in their morals and in their behavior.

First it begins by rejecting God, rejecting God’s revelation of himself, rejecting God as he sees himself, and as he wants to be worshipped, as he wants to be conceived, as he wants to be seen in holiness, in purity, in total otherness, that’s what God’s holiness is all about, he’s totally other, he’s not like any of us, he’s completely separate. And men begin by rejecting that purity, that holiness, and they begin to turn God into an image of things. They begin to sort of anthropomorphize God, if you will, to turn him into a projection of themselves.

So, look at the Greek gods, in Greek mythology, Zeus and Apollo and all the different… and Hercules and all these different….. Pantheon of gods. I mean, these gods are sensual, they hate each other’s guts, they cheat on each other, they rape, they violate, they kill, they conspire against each other, they descend upon the earth and fool people and have relationships with men and women and so on and so forth, all kinds of crazy things. I mean, it is the essence of what Paul is speaking about in Romans. They turn God into a projection of the creature, and they debase God because there’s a need in human beings to do that.

You see, when you bring God down to size, your size, then you can handle him, you can manipulate him, you can do what you want with him, you can get away with things, rather than having God manipulate you, in the best sense of the word, and control you. You now control God just like the scripture, people want to control the scripture. So what do we do? We no longer say this scripture judges us and determines our life, and we accept it all or nothing. No, then we turn this thing into a book that is the product of time, of history, of culture, of nationality and once we have turned it into that, we have relativized it, we have turned it into something relative, not absolute. Then we can choose what we want, we choose and pick and then we judge the book. Instead of the book judging us, determining us, framing us, we frame it, we judge it, we decide what was written by God and what wasn’t as higher criticism does.

I mean, so many seminars, that’s what it’s taught. Well, this is of God, but this no. That’s a projection of Judaic superiority or of priestly casts trying to take over and control or that is the product of a lack of psychology in the first century, lack of understanding of our human sexuality, whatever. We judge, you see. And Paul says, the first thing that we do is do that. We bring down those holiness, the greatness of God and we turn him into a creature, a projection of ourselves.

Now, God once that happens is immensely offended and he distances himself from the culture, the individuals that are doing that. So once he distances himself, the life force of God which is what really preserves life, what preserves coherence in the world, it separates, it distances itself, and of course the creature who depends on that grace, on that emanation from the divine being, begins to wither, begins to deteriorate.

Distance from the force that feeds and gives it coherence and wisdom it begins to act weird and to think weird and to feel weird. And God says, ok, that’s what you want to do? Good, then go ahead and do it. And so there’s a distancing of God with all the corruption, the dysfunctionality, the deterioration that takes place inevitably when that happens.

I’m really alluding to Romans, I’m just trying to resist not going there again, because it’s going to take us another whole sermon. You know, so, that’s the next thing. He’s describing all this in a different way here, when he says, ‘they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God…’

You see that separation? God separating himself, distancing himself. “….. because of the ignorance that it’s in them due to the hardening of their hearts, having lost all sensitivity they have given themselves…..”

What happens? Once you begin to distance yourself from God, or God from you, the heart begins to harden, the mind begins to function imperfectly and completely neurotically and you begin to come up with all kinds of gibberish and garbage, morally, ethically. You know, you devise things that have the appearance of lucidity but really they are the product of a depraved mind.

You know, a pathological person can produce amazing things. You know, Van Gogh for example, he comes to my mind for example, Van Gogh was a pathological human being. Actually, interestingly enough he was the son of a pastor, a Lutheran pastor I believe it was. Nothing against Lutherans by the way, they’re great people. But Van Gogh was a genius, he was an artistic genius and he actually, wanted to become a pastor. For a while he tried to be a pastor, but, hey, the guy was not…. Unfortunately, …. And so he wasn’t very successful. He discovered painting late in his life, and I mean, the man was ahead of his time, in color, in textures, in experimentation, in creative painting, creative endeavors, and so on. He was so ahead of his time that people didn’t appreciate it. actually he committed suicide thinking that he was a failure. Now, Van Gogh will….., a little thing, any drawing of Van Gogh will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the point is, this man torn, totally neurotic, I mean his mind distorted his understanding of life, I mean in the end he was totally mad, mad. Ok? And yet he was able to produce amazing works of art that are beautiful to contemplate.

Take another, Nietzsche. Nietzsche in the end, one of the greater philosophers of all times and a deep, profound thinker, a poet, an exquisite crafter of words and concepts, died totally mad, and a lot of the stuff that he wrote, he was mad when he wrote it. And yet his philosophy provokes the highest respect from critics and people to understand philosophical thinking. And he is admirable. I have read some of his stuff, and you know, in itself is admirable but these things are produced by mad minds.

So, you see, you don’t have to be completely lucid to produce great things. And this is true also at the collective level, at the massive, universal, worldly level, modern mankind can produce great things. It can send planes into the air, ships into outer space, it can craft great works of art and philosophy and logic and all kinds of things, but the Bible says, ‘the mind is warped, the reasoning.’

Now, look at some of the products though, and we don’t have time again, you know, critic the art, critic the morals, look at Hollywood, look at all the things they’re produced, I mean, things that distorted. Look at Massachusetts and I say with this with love, with deep love and pain in my heart for many things. But, you know, look at the things that we are calling good. Look at the things that we are calling normal. Look at the things that we are making for general consumption. Look how we are computing, so you see, and this is the hardening of the heart. It is the losing of all sensitivity.

This morning I was exercising, I was with my daughter Abbey in Pennsylvania and I was in a hotel and she was some place else with her friends and she had spent the night at the university, and they had a screen in the exercise in which she had this treadmill and there was no sound, but you know, there was a picture going on, and you know, the craziness I was…. I mean the stuff that was there, I mean, it wasn’t pervert in the sense of being obscene, but it was absolutely like… in this movie that is going, it’s being produced massively. And this is thing about losing the sensitivity.

You know, as man furthers himself away from God he becomes more and more insensitive. The things that would provoke blushing and scandal, now they do not bother him any more. He can watch these things, he can practice these things. The perversity that you see in some newspapers in this local area, for example, and all kinds of stuff, is just truly mind boggling and yet it doesn’t bother people. They think actually it’s natural and they don’t do more because it’s not politically correct at this time, strategic time, but go back several months before a couple of years, and you will see what really is behind and what goes on.

You see, the more you abandon yourself to sensuality, the more you become enmeshed in it, the more hardened you become, the more insensitive you become.

And so it says: “….having lost all sensitivity they have given themselves over….”

You know, that expression of having given themselves over is repeated in different passages of the scripture, it is this thing of just going with abandon, submerging yourself in. I mean, becoming obsessively and compulsively engaged in certain types of behavior and this is exactly what you see many times in the whole pornographic industry, and the whole world of homosexuality and you know, whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual, lust and sensuality is the same thing. When you sort of plunge into it, you become controlled and possessed by it. You live for it and you need ever larger dosis of stimulus to get the same amount of sensation until you sort of become an addict, you become controlled by it.

And the Bible uses those terms. Look at Romans, chapter 1 and you’ll see that very clearly. So this is like a diagnosis of what man without God becomes. When you see that image, Paul says, but you must be different. You have to renew yourselves. Yes, you may have been that, you may live in that world, you may have practiced those things but you cannot as believers live that way at all. You must no longer…. You see, evidently some of these people that he’s writing to practice that, he says:

“…. You must no longer live as the gentiles do having experienced that kind of deterioration….”

That is the essence of the message here: that as believers we are called to live holy lives, lives that are different from the world. Lives that are morally, ethically pure. We got to be consistent. We cannot continue criticizing the world out there and living as they do. There’s so much hypocrisy, compartmentalization, inconsistence in our lives. The church needs to look at itself and we have to try as much as possible to live lives that are different from the world, that have that purity about it. So, that’s what he’s saying over there. And then he says:

“.,…. You, however, have not come to know Christ that way….”

That’s exactly what is meant there.

“… surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is Jesus. You were taught with regards to your former way of life –always referring to the former way of life- to put off your old self….”

You know, what Paul is speaking about is such a transformation, it is such a big change, what is supposed to take place in our lives, from what is in the world and what is in the Kingdom of God. It’s like taking off your clothes, your old clothes, your old self, that deformed self and mind, you got to take it off, like taking off dirty clothes when you were running in the gym, or sweaty clothes. You just take them off. Take off that old nature, that old way thinking, that old way of being and acting, take it out.

“….Put off your old self, this is an expression that Paul uses several times in the Bible, the old self, … which is being corrupted by deceitful desires…”

Notice the present tense, that self is continually being corrupted so you got to enter into a fight with it, and it a fight, it is a dynamic thing, it doesn’t happen over night, it doesn’t happen absolutely and definitively. You will be struggling with that continually but in one sense you got to take it off. I mean that’s the aim, that’s the goal and that’s what you are completely committed to do.

But it is a process also, look at Romans, chapter 8 and you’ll see, that which I want to do, I don’t do; that what I don’t want to do, I end up doing. So there’s one element, there’s one dimension, take it off and replace it with something new, but at the same time there’s also that element, you know, you’re going to be struggling with this thing, but you cannot afford to just settle down into it, and sort of say, hey, that’s the way I am, that’s the way I was built, that’s what happened to me in the past, I can’t do anything about it. No, you are at war with that style of life.

“….Put if off, that old self and be made new in the attitude of your minds….”

Again, see? You got to replace the old mind, the old way of thinking, the old values. Yeah, that’s no problem, that’s ok, it’s right and so on. Change that attitude, that way of thinking and put on the new self. Just as you take things off, put new things on.

“…… created to be like God…..”

You see, that nature, the God-like nature is what we are supposed to recover. We lost it, we became more animalized, more earthly, more biological, more carnal, more oriented towards the flesh and the Bible says, No, now you’ve got to become more God-like, be holy like God is holy. That is the call of scripture. He is our aim, he is our model, he is our goal and we seek him, he’s the norm and we are to become more and more like him.

“… be like God in true righteousness and holiness…..” If you look at chapter 5, verse 1, it says:

“… be imitators of God, therefore….”

It is that whole thing. We are to imitate God, we are to put on the Godly nature. This whole chapters 4, 5 and 6 is what I would call about the Godly nature. Now, what you have there is the theoretical call, so to speak, from verses 17 through 24. It is, you know, that call, holiness, let go of the old, put on the new, develop your minds, renew your minds, change your way of thinking, change your habits, change your moral norms, become more like him, put on the new self.

Now, here is the sort of the behavioral manifestation of that, in very specific terms. And by the way, it’s not exhausted. This is just some examples, Paul uses that there are all kinds of lists in the New Testament of these sort of advice, down to earth, homely advice, regarding how we’re supposed to behave. I mean, I don’t think he was just flowing in the spirit and writing them down, not necessarily in a systematic sort of way, but just to give us a sense of what it is, just to give us a representation of how it is that we are supposed to behave in that Godly way.

It says, for example, “…. Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor….”

That’s the first thing, lying, you know, in the old way of doing things people lie all the time, we lie to each other, we manipulate each other, we try to sort of get the best of each other, we cannot trust each other because you never know who’s going to stick it to you. It’s the world that you see out there, you know, in the corporate world, the world of money and so on and so forth and so movies made around that. And Paul says, one of the things, speak truth. It’s not just speaking truth, I think it’s being true and living truthfully, living in the truth and we must practice this vis a vis each other and see ourselves…. It’s interesting he says, “….because we are all members of one body….”

He may have been speaking to the church but I think he’s speaking much more than that. I think you need to see other people as part of a community. When you break community, then you can fool people, you can cheat on people and you can manipulate people, because you don’t care. He doesn’t belong to me, I mean, he’s just a stranger, he’s out there. The first thing you need to do in order to oppress people is dehumanize them. That’s what you do for example with slaves, you turn them into half human beings, or no human beings at all, no soul, etc, so then you could oppress them, you could kill them and slave them, whatever.

So, when you distance yourself from people, say, hey, that’s not flesh of my flesh. That’s not part of my body, I don’t care, I mean, they’re just one human being, I can cheat on them. But when you see them as part of a community and your neighbor and you are part of their life and they are part of you, it’s much harder to do that. It says, look at people, they’re part of a larger community, you are inserted in their life and they in you, so take care of them, speak truth to them. It’s important to see people that way, that tenderness of Jesus Christ. You know, they are God’s children and therefore we cannot do anything to them, manipulate, oppress or exploit them. We are all members of one body.

“…. In your anger do not sin…”

So, you have lying, then you have anger. How much killing, how much maiming, how much war is caused by anger? A lot of what’s happening in Iraq, for example, anger. You kill the hundred of my Sunni brothers and sisters, well I’m going to kill 200 of your Shiites. You took some land away from me, I’m going to make sure that I’ll make your life absolutely miserable. “…. In your anger do not sin…” So much has been said, there’s anger that is good, anger that is righteous anger, anger at injustice, anger that is like the anger of Wilberforce for example, against the slave trade and his indignation. And I think there’s also anger sometimes when you see somebody trying to do something brazenly unjust, whether to you or to somebody else. Jesus got angry. God gets angry.

It says, if you get angry, do not sin. In another passage it says, be angry but do not sin. We will get angry, but, anger can reach a point where it goes past the borders and the frontiers of legitimate anger and it becomes hatred, it becomes explosive, you lose control of your mouth, you lose control of your actions and you’re just simply getting the stuff out. You can’t hit somebody, so you hit them verbally and now you’re sinning, now you’re being aggressive, now you’re being violent.

It says, be angry but keep anger within control, keep it within moral lmitis and do not let it turn into something that is animal-like and destructive.

“…do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry….”

That’s sort of an illustration. It says, if you’re going to be angry, the Bible speaks a lot about anger that turns into bitterness, anger that settles and hardens and then it’s so hard to extricate yourself from it. It’s so hard to scrape it off your soul, it sort of meshes with your sensibility and then it becomes a permanent feature, it festers and it contaminates your inner being and it turns into resentment and vengeance and it makes your insides smell bad, it contaminates your sleep, your thinking habits, and it turns to do that brooding, festering, low boiling kind of anger that is totally destructive, that becomes systemic. That’s why it says, don’t let it stay. You know, the best way to get rid of anger is don’t let it stay too long, just like temptation.

Once temptation comes to your mind, you let it linger there, you kind of look at it, delight in it, you kind of take it like and object, from different sides and consider and fantasize what it would be like this, this and that. It becomes engrained. The first you do is just let go of it, push it out, get it out, think of something else, commit your mind to the Lord, rebuke that thought, don’t let it settle.

I think it was Billy Graham who said I cannot prevent birds from flying over my head, but I can prevent them from settling on my head. And it’s like that. Anger, yes, I mean, in marriage, in friendship, but what you have to do is get that thing, clean it up as soon as possible so that it doesn’t settle down. It’s like snow, if it falls you can scrape it right away very easily, right? Those of you who have to scrape…. Yes or no? Fanny is smiling here, she knows what I’m talking about. But once people step on it and three or four, six hours have gone by, that thing gets stuck into the crevices of the sidewalk and it’s very hard to get it out.

It’s the same way. These dark emotions, the best thing it to just deal with them as soon as possible, process them, use principle, don’t let them get a hold of you, don’t let them take root and continue. So in marriage in friendship, in relationships at work, in the church, it’s all the same thing. Get it out quickly, keep that thing flowing, before you settle into it, deal with it and it’ll be softer and easier to take care of.

“… do not let the sun go down…”

It’s a metaphor “….. while you are still angry….” Some of us have taken too hard and say, ok, it’s going to be 12pm pretty soon, you know, I think it’s just an illustration of don’t let this thing fester, don’t let it stay too long.

“…. And do not give the devil a foothold…”

In other words, you know, anger for example, many people have been lead to kill or to do very, very devilish things by giving time to anger and letting it settle. I think that’s the connection there. Whatever it is, the enemy all he needs is just a little thing to begin to do huge mischief in your life and you know, with the devil you cannot play around. All he wants is for you to look at him, give him one nice look and give him about…. He’s a great salesman. Let him give two sentences and he’s got you. The thing with the devil is just….

Jesus dealt cuttingly with Satan, you know, if you do this, I’m going to do that. No, Satan, the Bible says, this and that. If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you. No, you will only serve the Lord, boom, boom. It was a cutting kind of,…. You do not dialogue with the devil. I’ve been involved for example in deliverance sessions and you know, demons try to distract you, they try to get into conversations with you. They want you to give them the time of day to start talking with them, to wrap you and to snare you. I’ve learnt you have to be extremely careful with that. You just have to…. it’s business-like: here we’re just for business. You’ve got to get out of that body and that’s it. The Word says it and so on and so forth. And it’s like that, “… do not give the devil a foothold..”

I will finish just now. “…..He who has been stealing, steal no longer… “

Honesty, some of the commentaries speak about the fact that it’s a common thing in Ephesus particularly, it was a port city and apparently there was a lot of stealing in the port and also a lot of stealing in some of the stores and so on and so forth, so you know, people were used to this and so, there was this idea, do not steal.

And it’s interesting, it says, “…..instead of that work with your hands that you may have something to share with those in need…..”

Isn’t that interesting? You know, why should we work? Why should we live honest lives? You know, it’s not just to make money, money, money and to become wealthier and to accumulate more and more. It’s that you may have to share with others, that’s a weird way of looking at it, really. It puts the whole modern ethos upside down. I’m not going to make money just to have a big house, many cars and a big bank account. It is to share with others, to be generous, to share my life.

And as we said before, that kind of generosity is the source of emotional health, ironically, of great prosperity as well. When you give in the Lord, when you give in the name of Lord, not in a crazy disciplined sort of way, but really you live out of an ethos of generosity and grace and you give, you share everything with others. You give to the Kingdom of God, you give to those in need and the blessings are just immense.

So, instead of stealing which is the essence of me, you do the opposite, you work, you toil for the kingdom and to bless others and for the glory of God. So, you know, what a difference between living like the world lives, everything is me, carnal, sensual, self gratifying, I’m the center, the creature is the center; now you put things towards God and towards your fellow man. You do not oppress or steal, or lie, because he’s a part of me. I put myself now and I see him or her in me and I see myself in them. So, instead of the me and the selfish orientation, it’s the we, it’s the collective and it’s also in that direction. So, really the expansion goes vertically and horizontally, and you are no longer the center. Things are not coming from up to you and from the sides to you. No, it’s the other way around, from you to God, from you to others, community, service, consideration of others, that’s the ethos of God-like creature. That’s what we are being called to do. Amen.

So, let’s just stand. Father, we embrace that ethos, we embrace that call, that holiness, Lord, that God-like nature, that tenderness, that generosity of spirit. Father, that angelic way of being and of seeing and of computing and conjugating the world, we embrace it tonight, Father. I want to be like that. I know my brothers and sisters want to be like that.

Father, help us in our marriages, in friendship, in our relationships at church, in ministry, at work. Father, we rebuke the tendency to look at ourselves and to seek our gain, our interest. Lord, you take such good care of us, why should we be so concerned about me, if you have said that you will take care of our smallest needs? So, Father, right now we choose to orient ourselves to you and to our brothers and sisters, to our fellow man.

We want to be channels of your blessing, and first of all we bless you of course, Father. We give you all the honor and all the glory. Be glorified. Be glorified, Father. May this community be an example of that. Father, may the church in New England be an example of that loving, gentle, generous, forgiving, spiritually governed attitude. Lord, that sees in you its center and sees in others the object of our actions, in the good sense of the word, for their blessing, Father. Make us agents of blessing, make us angelic beings, divine beings, Lord, with the nature of God restored in us and we will give you the honor and the glory. We want to be instruments of you, Jesus, and the values of your kingdom. Amen. Amen.