Monday, August 13, 2012

Sermon on Ephesians 4:17-5:2, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, "Put on the New Self!"

Sermon Outline:
1.      A contrast between the old way of life (futility, darkened, ignorance, hardness of heart) and the new life that Christ has given. Put off the old self, put on the new self! Two-fold nature as a Christian—internal battle, old patterns and ways—new patterns and ways.
2.      Calls us to be renewed in the Spirit of our mind, put on the new self. Surrender ways of thinking that run contrary to God’s Word. Challenge worldly thinking, and renew your thinking in the Spirit.
3.      God’s design for life will run against the grain of so much of what surrounds us and fills our thinking, but it’s more than worth the “trade-in” to swap out our way of thinking for the renewing way of thinking in the Spirit. God’s Word is more precious than gold, and He won’t lead us astray. No arbitrary, meaningless, or useless commands—but for our best. Contrast turning your mind ON and using it well, with thoughtlessly giving into our compulsive desires and cravings. It takes no thought at all to fall into old ways of sinning and land in troubling consequences. But we’re called to life by the Spirit, and wise thinking. Engaged mind and conscience, thinking about right and wrong, acting honorably and with integrity. To acknowledge the wrong, repent, and be forgiven.
4.      Describes old way of life: giving into sensuality—callous and hard-hearted. A dull and calloused heart doesn’t think or feel, but is insensitive. Like a calloused foot doesn’t feel the sharpness of rocks like a tender foot would. Calloused heart feels no shame, no twinge of guilt or remorse when it’s been hardened by repeated sinning. Giving into sensuality vs. resisting our desires. Why? Kill-joys? Against pleasure and enjoyment of life? No. Seek what is good and pure in the time and way God has given it. Putting our desires in check is not just about saying ‘no’ to everything, but saying ‘no’ now so that we can say ‘yes’ to something better, later. Ex. reserving sexuality for the marriage bed. Ex. teaching our children they can’t have every toy or thing now, but understand the meaning of work and earning. Ex. Olympic athletes giving up things now so that they can win the medal or compete in their events. Straining and depriving the body now for great achievement. Ex. not drinking at high school parties, where people are underage and irresponsible, but being able to enjoy drinking in moderation as a responsible adult. Ex. not buying something on credit, instead of saving and buying debt-free later. Other things, like illegal drugs, should always be resisted at any age, because they’re harmful and sinful.
5.      What’s it like living with the old self still attached, but having the new self, alive and seeking to live after God? Pr. Cwirla compares it to running new software on old hardware.[1] Doesn’t go smoothly! The system hangs up and crashes often because of the incompatibility of flesh and spirit, old man and new man. Repentance is like our “reboot” where we shut down the hardware, and start it up again with the new software, and let it resume normal functioning.
6.      How do our hearts get hardened and calloused? Repeated sinning, ignoring conscience. Desensitizing. Movies, news, even personal experience can desensitize us to violence, illicit behaviors, filthy language—so that the worldly ways don’t faze us. Comfortable with those old shoes. What’s the solution? How do we deal with the fact that our sinful nature crowds into all our thinking and behavior—how we speak to one another: Paul describes one example of an escalating series of behaviors: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor (yelling), slander and malice. Sin crowds into our relationships, our work and integrity, temptation to steal, be lazy or dishonest. Solution is not to “rehabilitate” the old self, or straighten out its behaviors through enforced discipline, but the death of the old self. Spiritual putting to death of the old sin nature by repentance. Christ takes your sinfulness to the cross, and dies your death for you. Strip off the old self like dirty clothing, and take on the new self that God has created in His image for you in Christ.
7.      A lot of Christians worry about their progress, measuring their improvement, “examining their fruit” (or worse—others), questioning whether they are “Christian enough.” Dangerous place of relying on our works for salvation, or thinking they’re the basis for our approval—instead of Jesus Christ alone being the basis for our approval in God’s eyes. We all live with and wrestle with this duty to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.” Or to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” And it can be incredibly deflating when we look at our record of failures. We might feel as though we’ll never “be on track to be a Christian.” But this is a mistaken way of thinking. You’ll never live this life completely free of the dragging influence of your old sin nature. It will dog your steps until you die! But by constantly throwing it off, and returning to the Lord in humility and repentance, we can clothe ourselves again with the new man. Take on the new mind of the Spirit again, and strive for the good.
8.      Return to the Lord for forgiveness, past failures and sins are not counted against you. Rather you walk in the love that God showed you in Christ Jesus. You are filled with His love to overflowing, so that it spills over in your interactions with others. The Good News is that Jesus didn’t just die to give you forgiveness, and the rest is all up to you. Not just a good start on the path, but you carry through to the finish. But “you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).
9.      We’re forgiven and justified (declared innocent by God) 100% by grace, God’s gift to us in Jesus. That’s already done and completed in Jesus’ death on the cross for us. But this verse says Jesus is also our “sanctification.” That means the ongoing-work-in-progress-daily-renewal in the Holy Spirit, where God is accomplishing His holiness in our lives. This is partial and incomplete in this life—gets finished only at our resurrection (as Cwirla says, when we get our “new hardware” that the new self is meant to run on). Christ does not leave that up to us, but is our sanctification, our holiness also. He applies and supplies His grace to us, constantly renewing us in the forgiveness of sins.
10.  In Christ we are given the new life, and what does life look like now? Tennis analogy. Playing with a racquet that can teach me the skills of a pro. The more I use it, the more I take on his abilities. Similar to how taking on the new self in Christ begins to transform us after His image. Grow in His love, shaped by obedience and desire to do His will. Still a struggle, old self and new self won’t walk peaceably together. Painful to put off the old self, but striving to practice what is good, virtuous, and pure. Repent, turn away from those sinful desires to weaken and slow the old nature. Forgiveness, Christian love and fellowship, growth in God’s Word and the Spirit, feeding on the Lord’s body and blood, all enliven and strengthen the new self, so that it becomes dominant in our life.
11.  Rejoice as God’s new life for you takes hold and works through all your work, speech, and actions. Return to Him with your sins, and look to Christ joyfully and confidently in the knowledge of your forgiveness. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Although the Ephesians that Paul wrote to were also Gentiles (non-Jews), in what sense were they now different, that Paul calls on them not to walk any longer as the Gentiles do? Eph. 4:17-21
  2. What is our natural state of being, or our old way of operating, apart from God? Eph. 2:1-3; 2:17-19; 4:17-19; 5:8. How does one become “callous” or “hard of heart”?  What is the impact of continual sinning and rejection of God on one’s conscience? Titus 1:15-16.
  3. How does one “put off [their] old self”? Col. 2:13; 3:3-10. What new life or new self does Christ give us? Describe the contrast between the sinful nature and the new spiritual nature. How are you  “renewed in the spirit of your minds” (4:23)? Romans 12:1-2; Col. 3:10
  4. How does this renewal of our minds, and the putting on of the new self  begin to change our behaviors in regards to speech, anger, work and integrity? What reality do we face with the continued “survival” of our old sinful self? Romans 7.
  5. What is the great comfort in knowing that Jesus’ gift and supply for us was not a “one-time deal” in securing our justification (God’s declaration that we are innocent by the forgiveness that is in Jesus), but that His grace applies (and supplies) our ongoing Christian life in sanctification (making us holy)? Romans 7:25-8:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30. Describe what it means to you that your salvation is by grace alone, from start to finish, and does not depend on your works, but on Jesus Christ. Give thanks!!

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