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Would you pray with me? Father, send your Spirit now to transform our hearts, that our minds might be renewed by the truth that is found in Christ, that we might overflow with love for you, and for each other, that we might be sent out into the world to do your will. Amen.
Before I get too far along, I just want to take a moment to say thank you. This is my last official acts as your summer seminarian. I’m still playing through what exactly it means that I preach, and then I’m gone. I don’t know what the implications of that exactly are. But I’m excited; this time has been formative for me. It’s been formed for my family. We’ve been the recipients of your generosity and it’s been a blessing to minister with you, and through you, and to you as a church. So, thank you for these last few weeks. They were too short, but I trust that the Lord has blessed and honored our time together.
We’re continuing today in our series in the book of Ephesians, and we’re going to be in chapter 4 so if you want to open up your Bibles, we’re in chapter 4, we’re going to be beginning at the 17th verse. But there’s going to be a little bit of background ahead of time.
We’ve been in Ephesians for a season now, and we started chapter 4 two weeks ago. And I’m going to take just a moment, if you will, at the beginning to have a little bit of a refresh as to where we’ve gone. I know we’ve got a baptism today and that means there’s a chance there are folks who are with us who haven’t been through this series. So we’re going to take just a moment to do a little bit of a refresh because at the beginning of chapter 4, right at the very first verse, we see that Paul makes a shift in the book of Ephesians.
“I, therefore a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
You’ll see if you flip through the last chapters, 4-6 of Ephesians, that idea of walking comes up again and again and again. And so in the first half of Ephesians, Paul is, we can say, talking the talk–he’s explaining to these Gentiles–who now find themselves included in the family of God–he’s explaining to them who God is, and he’s explaining who he is, as the disciple appointed to go and preach and teach to the Gentiles, and he’s explaining this mystery that has been revealed in Christ. What does it mean that the Gentiles have been included? That they are full members of the family? In 3:6, Paul writes that the Gentiles “have become partakers of the promise in Christ.”
2 Principles Of The Unity Found In Christ
So this is news to them; this is a new revelation. This hasn’t happened in this way before–this is the result of what Christ has done. Paul then uses the second half of the book of Ephesians to explain how to walk the walk. So that’s what we get into beginning with chapter 4: he’s saying “you partakers of the promise in Christ, this is how you live out this new truth that you find yourself in every day, day by day. This is how you live what was just revealed.”
So beginning in chapter 4 in the first 16 verses, what Shay has preached on over these past two weeks, Paul lays out a couple guiding principles to guide the external actions of the Gentiles, and these guiding principles explain what it means to be in the family of God which flows out of the unity that we find in Christ.
First Principle: Unified Through Christ To The God Above All Other Gods
The first principle that he lays out is this: he says, “You Gentiles, you partakers of the promise, you have been unified through Christ to God.” And his point is that this isn’t just any god, this is the God, this is the God above all other gods, this is the one who created all things and who sustains all things. That’s the emphasis. And we see that in verses 4-6.
“There is one body and one spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
You can’t say the words one and all more times in a single sentence than that right? His emphasis is clear. I remember from grammar school, repetition is important, right? There’s clear repetition here. Paul is focusing our attention on the One God who is above all other things, the one faith that we share, and the fact that this God is above all else–He is the God.
Second Principle: Unified Through Christ To Each Other
The second principle that Paul explains in the first 16 verses of chapter 4 is that you Gentiles, you partakers of the promise, are unified through Christ to each other.
Now, he makes a very important distinction, a very important clarification. What he says is that the unity that we have in Christ is not uniformity–there’s a very big difference between unity and uniformity. So unity in Christ doesn’t mean we all look the same. And it doesn’t mean that we’re all doing the same thing. And it doesn’t mean that if you’re different than me, then you need to conform to my needs, right? In verses 6 and 11, Paul emphasizes the differences, that we have that diversity that exists within the body of Christ, and we’ve been given different amounts of grace, that we’ve been given different abilities, that we are different people, and that we have differences that make us up. And yet we are unified, and we are unified to each other through our shared purpose. So that is the second principle that Paul lays out. And we see that in verse 12, that purpose which has been assigned to us is for “the building up of the body of Christ” as “the purpose to which we have been unified.” And the result is in verse 15, “that we may grow up”–that was the theme of last week’s sermon–“that we may grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head.”
See, what Paul is laying out for us in these first 16 verses of chapter 4 is that Christ is the source and the lynchpin of our faith. He is the source and the lynchpin of our unity. Each one of us is utterly unique, and each one of us has been placed in utterly unique circumstances; yet, in our diversity, there is a unity of purpose that we would all pull in the same direction towards growth and maturity in Christ.
One of my favorite memories from this sumer is going down to see the dragonboat races which took place just a few weeks ago. And my guess is that if you were on that dragonboat team, you have special insight into how important it is to have every person in the right seat and pulling the same direction, right? If you’re familiar with dragonboats and what they look like, if you have somebody not in the right place, and not coordinated with the team, there’s no way that you’re going to go the direction that you need to go. That is what Paul has for us as the introduction of chapter 4. So the first half of chapter 4 reveals his focus for the rest of the book.
I want to take a moment to explain: the reason that I’ve spent this amount of time on this long introduction is because it would be very easy to look at the rest of the book of Ephesians, to just pick up your Bible and flip to something from 4:25 all the way through to the end of chapter 6, to read what Paul is saying and to think that Paul is pointing towards behavior modification, or to think that he has focused on the external action.
Just in the end of our passage, verses 25-32, depending on how you break it down, Paul has roughly 10 different expectations for those who find their truth in Christ. He’s got a lot to say, a lot of do’s and a lot of don’ts. But his focus is not on the external action. We see in these first 16 verses that His focus is not external, but it is internal. He’s talking to the heart of the Gentiles. He’s talking about motivation, why we do what we do, why we are called to follow these do’s and these don’ts he’s about to get into.
The Cycle Of Separation From God
So why do we do these things? He says, because you Gentiles, you partakers of the promise, your heart has been renewed. That is why you are to act in this way. So as we get to our passage, that is the point that Paul is making in verses 17-19, when he describes how the Gentiles are to live. He says, the Gentiles who don’t know Christ, they’re living with an un-renewed heart, and that means that they are living in the darkness of the futile mind.
Paul takes a moment to describe in these verses, in very practical terms, how a life that is separated from God works. There’s a cycle that he points to, and if you look at verse 18, you sort of have to go to the end and work your way backwards. But if you go to the end of verse 18, we see Paul lay out this cycle.
He says at the end of 18 that the Gentiles unrenewed heart is caused by the hardness of their heart, he says, it’s “due to their hardness of heart.” And then if you back up just a little bit, he says their hardness of heart causes an ignorance in their mind–he says, there’s “an ignorance that is in them.” So hardness of heart and ignorance of mind he then calls “alienation from God.” These are the two things that cause us to be separated from the spiritual reality of who God is and what he’s done on our behalf. And so the result is that our intellect, our truth, our ability to think is darkened. We have a lessened version of what the truth actually is. It’s a limited version of truth. And how do we know that? Paul points to the behavior of those Gentiles who don’t know Christ. In verse 19, he says, look at their behavior.
“They have become callous, and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
Paul is saying here that the darkened intellect that doesn’t know the spiritual reality of who God is, is incapable of knowing God. And it’s because of this that the Gentiles gave themselves over to what’s left: to sensuality and to impurity. That’s all they have. That’s all they could perceive.
So the implication that Paul is making here is that a life lived in ignorance of the spiritual realities of God is one lacking in ability. It’s lacking its ability to reach and to grow into its true depth and fullness. It’s because of an unnatural corruption that there has become a loss of natural ability. It’s like the cut flower,right–even as that flower blooms, it dies. It dies, because it has been cut off from its source of life. So even as it flourishes and displays its beauty, it is dying. That is the life according to the futile mind.
The Futile Mind At Work Today
There are some examples in our time today of the futile mind at work.
- It’s a futile mind that says that I am the center of the universe, and that my right to express myself trumps your right to tell me not to. That is an expression of the futile mind.
- It’s a futile mind that says that if I can accumulate enough things, then I will be truly happy.
- It’s a futile mind that says that my self worth is dependent on your opinion of me.
Friends, these are the products of a futile mind. It’s a futile mind that looks outward onto the problems of the world–and there are many–and says, the problem is out there, it’s not in this room, and it’s certainly not in me. That’s the product of the futile mind that can’t connect what’s happening in the world to what’s happened in the heart.
These are the expressions of the mind operating on a lesser truth. Now, what Paul is describing here, you know and I know, is not unique to the Gentiles. It is alive and well today. It is the universal condition of the human heart that we are all born into.
Romans 1 goes into greater detail about this, and unfortunately, we don’t have the time to really dive into it now, but the key verse verses in Romans 1 are verses 19 and 20. Paul writes there, “what can be known about God is plain to all people, because God has shown it to them. So they are without excuse.”
A Change Of Heart
Friends, God has made Himself known to us, and and we have chosen a different path. We’ve chosen a lesser truth due to our hardness of heart that’s led us down a path towards futility in our mind.
But the audience that Paul is addressing here has chosen a different path. Something has changed, that’s why he’s writing to them. So what is it? What is that thing that has changed in these Gentile believers? Verses 20-24 tell us.
He addresses how the truth found in Jesus has brought about a very practical change in the lives of these Gentiles that he is speaking to, and that change is a conversion of the heart.
Paul describes this as a three-fold process. He says, very simply, put off the old corrupt self, which prefers impurity to purity. He says that in verse 22. Then in verse 23 he says, allow God to renew your mind, reorient you from the old to the new. That’s verse 23. Then in verse 24 he says put on the new, created in the truth of Jesus.
I’ve got to tell you, Paul makes it sound pretty easy, doesn’t he? He makes it sound as if it’s as easy as changing your clothes. Part of my discipline this summer has been to get up and run every morning, maybe you did some work outside in the yard in 100% humidity, and by the time you’re done, you’re sweaty, right? You’re covered in dirt, you are gross, and your first thought is, I have to get cleaned up. So you go inside, you peel off those old dirty, sweaty clothes, you hop in the shower, you’re clean, and then you get out and you put on these new clothes. Maybe you even said these words: I’m a new man. Right? We felt that. We know that. Paul makes it sound like conversion is as easy as changing our clothes. He describes three actions in two movements: put off, be renewed, and put on. The movements that he described are away from one truth–I’m stinky–and towards a new and better truth–I’m clean.
That’s the process that Paul describes.
Now in verse 21, we see that this truth that is found in Jesus, which seems as easy as changing our clothes, and which is the product of a light of the mind that has been renewed, is conversion of the heart.
The truth is that conversion of the heart is as easy as changing our clothes, when we put our trust in Christ to do the work for us. Friends, it’s not up to us to change our own heart, because Christ has already taken that on for himself. See, there are three products of the futile mind and the untransformed heart: guilt, shame, and death. What happened on the cross is that Jesus Christ took those things on himself: he took your shame, he took your guilt, and he took your death; and in exchange, he gave you something that doesn’t belong to you, but has been freely given to you. He gave you life. He gave you righteousness, which can be claimed through him.
See, friends, it’s our truth, the truth of the futile mind that leads to death. That is the truth apart from Christ, yet it is God’s truth through Christ and through the cross that we can have life, life that procedes after death. And this isn’t just a life that is to come. This isn’t just the life that we will attain to. This is the life that exists now, in today, here in this room, and in this city.
Verse 24 says that “we are created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” The beauty of the cross is that it’s not delayed, it’s happened. It is now, and that life that is promised exists in your heart today. See, because of the cross, the cycle has been reversed. Instead of an untransformed heart leading to an unrenewed mind and a darkened understanding and debased action–instead, because of Christ, our hearts are transformed, our minds are renewed, and our action becomes the action of new life: righteous living.
Now, I might be new at this as a seminarian, but I’m not so new as to think that in this room, there exists no doubt. That in this room, there exists no one who questions the truth that is found in Christ.
I know you that there are people here who don’t yet understand this greater truth that has been given to us. And so I want you to take a moment, if that’s you, if there’s doubt that exists in your heart today. Take a moment and consider the narrative of your life.
What truth do you hold to?
What power does it have?
Can it change your heart?
Can it do more than just change actions, to change behaviors–can it actually transform your very motivation?
Does the truth that you have produce a real and a lasting and fulfilling hope, and joy, and love, no matter the circumstances? Does it have that power?
Friends, if not, I would ask that you would consider Christ. Consider his truth, which was won for you.
We’re just in a few moments going to witness a baptism, and the symbolism of that baptism is profound and it correlates very well with this idea of conversion, because the waters of death are going to be sprinkled over this child so that he may come up in the new life of Christ, living into the truth that we have, the better hope that is found in Christ.
Now, as I conclude, if you do know Christ, if you are walking with him, if you understand the truth that has been won for you on the cross: Paul has some very specific instructions for you beginning in verse 25, and they continue through the rest of the book. They’re all oriented around practically living into this truth that’s found in Christ.
Now you’re going to have the rest of this series to really dive into these things, to dive into these do’s and don’ts. So I want to take just a moment and we can see in verse 31, there’s a summary of what Paul is speaking.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
He says, avoid what puts down and embrace what builds up. Avoid what puts down: avoid divisive talk and devices behavior, and embrace that which builds up into the fullness of Christ, yourself, and those around you.
Conversion Is Not A One Time Event
We also see a rally cry in verse 32 as Paul writes, “forgive one another, as Christ forgave you.”
This rally cry is that we are to imitate Christ in our daily lives. This is our heart’s response to the grace that we have received through forgiveness on the cross. So my encouragement to you, as I leave your presence and I go back to the bitter cold of Pittsburgh and I leave you here, walking daily in the life of Christ, individually and collectively as a body–my encouragement to you, the partakers of the promise in Christ, is that even in the most mundane details of life, that you would live into the fullness of your conversion.
That is my encouragement to you. Recognize when you wake up in the morning, and you’re grumbling because your alarm has gone off, recognize the truth of the blessing of a new day. When you go to work, and the same frustrations pop up again, day in and day out, and there seems to be no solution to them, recognize the truth of the grace that these problems are fleeting. They will never overwhelm. They will never overcome the truth of Christ. When you’re dealing with turmoil in your own family, recognize the unity that God has created in you, in bringing you together into one family.
See, friends, our conversion is not just a one time event. Our conversion is expressed every day, even in the most mundane details of daily life.
Conversion Is Not Just Passive
Now, there’s a second facts about our conversion that I want to leave you with: it’s not just passive.
Certainly, it starts with God. God does a work in your life, right? All we can do is to respond to the truth has been revealed to us in Christ. That is the beginning. But it’s not the end. God has invited each one of us to participate with him in the coming of his kingdom and the renewing of your mind. That is an active choice that we get to make. You are being invited to participate, and it is through that participation that we can obtain our common purpose, that we can fulfill our calling to be built up into him who is the head. So as I leave you, that is my farewell message: that you would continue what you already have begun, to walk in love as Christ loved us and to be built up into one body, into the fullness of the truth that’s found in Christ. Amen.