Last week, I talked about the fact that just as God gave Jesus new life and raised him from the dead, God has given those of us who are Christians new life as well. In Ephesians chapter 2, we looked at our past, our present and our future. In the past, we were dead in our sins, living the same way that everyone else in the world is living. But now, in the present, God has given us new life through his mercy, grace and love. And, because of that, we have a beautiful future to look forward to as we await the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
But, this morning, I want to discuss the flip side of that. Because we talk about how wonderful it is that God has given us new life, and so now we have forgiveness and peace and joy, and life is great. But, if God has given us new life, that means that he expects us not to live like we did in our old life, and unfortunately, some Christians haven’t gotten that message.
Remember, in Ephesians 2, Paul said you used to act like the world acts, you used to live just like everyone else. Which implies that that’s not the way you should be acting any more. But, as I said, some Christians haven’t yet learned that. In this country, numerous polls over the years have shown that anywhere from one-third to one-half of Americans claim to be Christians. But those same polls indicate that there is no significant difference between the way that professing Christians live and how everyone else lives.
But Paul tells us that there has to be a difference! If we are indeed living a new life, then that means we’re not going to do the same things that the people in the world do, we’re not going to talk like the people in the world, we’re not going to spend our time and our money like the people in the world do. Something has to change. God did not give us new life so we could sit back and say, “Isn’t it wonderful that we have new life?” He gave us new life so that we can live in a new way.
And in Ephesians chapter 4, Paul talks about this in great detail. He starts in verse 17 by saying,
“With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19, NLT)
Paul describes here what sinful people look like. The Gentiles in this passage are the pagans, all those people out there who don’t know God, who aren’t a part of God’s people. But, remember, this isn’t just who they are. This is also who we used to be. As Paul put it back in chapter 2, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world.” (Ephesians 2:1-2, NLT)
And here, Paul describes that life as living in darkness, wandering far from God, having no sense of shame, and living for lustful pleasure, which basically means doing whatever feels good. Being selfish, self-centered, focused on making yourself happy – that’s the old sinful nature.
Then Paul says in verse 20, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20). Or, as God’s Word translation puts it, “that is not what you learned from Christ’s teachings.” (Ephesians 4:20, GW)
Christ taught us that we want to follow him, then we’ve got to be willing to change everything. And Paul is going to tell us the same thing here in this chapter. And the illustration that he uses to make that point is a person taking off their old clothes and putting on some new clothes.
There’s a saying that I’m sure you’ve all heard before — “Clothes make the man.” But what you may not know is that phrase dates back to sometime around the time of Christ. But it was Mark Twain in his spiffy white suits that made that phrase popular – “Clothes make the man.”
Clothing is actually an important Biblical theme from the very beginning! In Genesis chapter 3, in the story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, their very first action after eating the forbidden fruit was to make clothes out of fig leaves.
And then, God’s first act of grace had to do with clothing. In preparation for their life outside the garden, God made Adam and Eve a better set of clothing. Not from those flimsy, scratchy leaves…but animal furs, durable and warm. God sent them out of the garden with clothes that were appropriate for their new situation.
And then, in the book of Leviticus, we read about the clothing that the priests had to wear when they served God – fine white linen. In Zechariah chapter 3, Joshua the high priest, has his filthy clothes removed and God gives him a new set of clean clothes.
And, then in the New Testament, we read Matthew’s account of the Messianic wedding feast in Matthew 22. In that story, Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as a wedding feast for the king’s son. But then, all the expected guests refused to come, so the wedding was opened up to everyone. The king’s servants “went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:10).
And everyone is having a wonderful time at this wedding feast, but then the parable continues: “When the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.’” (Matthew 22:11-12).
What a terrible consequence that came as a result of this man wearing the wrong clothes. But, of course, Jesus’ parable really wasn’t about clothing at all. The point Jesus was trying to make is that it’s not enough to just “get into” the kingdom. Once we get in, it’s important that we put on the right spiritual clothes! We need to dress appropriately. And how we dress affects how we behave.
There’s a documented, psychological trait known as “enclothed cognition.” This principle says that our clothes shape our thoughts and our actions. The idea is that how you dress will affect how people perceive you and it will affect how you perceive yourself. That’s why soldiers in the military have to wear uniforms and it’s why judges wear black robes. So, it’s interesting that, in our text this morning, Paul talks about what we need to wear as Christians.
Because if the idea of “enclothed cognition” holds true in the secular realm, it’s even more true in the spiritual realm. Clothes make the man — or the woman — who belongs to Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about cloth-and-fabric clothing. I’m not talking about suits and ties, and dresses.
I’m talking about how we have been clothed with Christ, how we have put on Christ’s righteousness and holiness and character. That’s what we need to be wearing, not just to church, but everywhere we go, every single day of the week. And so, this morning, we’re going to talk about the need for Christians to take off our old clothes and put on some new clothes.
Beginning in Ephesians 4, verse 17, Paul writes: “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 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.” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV)
Paul says to put off the old, and put on the new. We need to take a look at what we’re wearing. God wants us to throw out that old way of life, because it doesn’t go with who you are now in Christ. There’s a new look that is much more suitable for you, that expresses who you really are right now. So, clothe yourself with these garments. Wear these new clothes that go with the new you.
But before we can put on our new clothes, we’ve got to take off the old clothes. Suppose you go into a department store to look for a new shirt and pair of pants. You find some you like and take them into one of those little changing rooms. But you don’t go in there and put the new shirt and pants on over your old shirt and pants. You’ve got to take off the old clothes before you put on the new clothes. That’s true spiritually as well. You’ve got to take off the old before you can put on the new.
So, what is it that we need to take off? Basically, it’s everything that belongs to our old sinful way of living. And Paul doesn’t leave it in vague generalities. He gets very specific.
“Do not continue living like those who do not believe…You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before…But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy.
“So you must stop telling lies. Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body.
“When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day…
“Those who are stealing must stop stealing and start working. They should earn an honest living for themselves. Then they will have something to share with those who are poor.
“When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need — words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you…
“Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil. Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:26-32, NCV)
Let’s take a closer look at four things that Paul says we all need to take off and four things that we need to put on.
1. Take off falsehood, put on honesty
“You must stop telling lies. Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body.”(Ephesians 4:25, NCV)
Paul says that lying was a normal part of the way that you used to live before you became a Christian. It’s the normal way that unbelievers around us live. There is something deep within our nature that draws us to deception. Evidence suggests that most people learn to lie at a very early age. Starting at about the age of three, children will lie to avoid getting into trouble. Just ask a child, “Did you take that cookie I told you not to touch?” and see what happens.
David was exaggerating a bit, but he wasn’t far off the mark when he said in Psalm 58:3 (NCV), “From birth, evil people turn away from God; they wander off and tell lies as soon as they are born.”
I would suggest that lying may well be the most common sin in the world. But Paul says that lying has no place in the life of a Christian. We need to take it off, we need to get rid of it, we need to throw it away. And then we need to put on the new clothing of truthfulness.
Now, there are a lot of reasons why we should tell the truth. First and foremost, because we have been re-created in the image of God, and our God is a God of truth.
But it’s interesting the reason that Paul gives here. Paul says to “Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body.” We need to always tell the truth, but we especially need to be honest with our brothers and sisters in Christ because we are connected, we’re part of the same body.
Proverbs 10:10 says, “Someone who holds back the truth causes trouble.” (GN). When you lie, you inevitably cause trouble. You cause resentment, you cause mistrust, you cause anger. Those of us who are Christians must be known as a people of truth.
In a poll a few years ago, people were asked this question: “What is the most important characteristic or attribute that a friend can have?” Ninety-four percent of the people interviewed said, “The one quality we would want in a friend above anything else is honesty.”
That’s how we all want to be treated and that’s how we as Christians need to treat others.
2. Take off anger, put on forgiveness
“When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day…“Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil. Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:26,31-32)
Now I understand that it’s possible to be angry and not sin, to have what the Bible calls a righteous anger. But when Paul says not to let the “sun go down on your anger”, he’s saying that we shouldnever allow our anger to smolder and grow into bitterness. Because to be angry like that is to give Satan a foothold on your heart.
Paul says that anger was part of the way that you used to live before you became a Christian. It’s part of the way that the unbelievers around us live. There is something deep within our nature that draws us to anger. One preacher, John Perkins, recently said, “this generation is the first to turn hate into an asset.” And I would agree. There just seems to be so much anger and hatred in the world right now.
There are even businesses – we’ve got one here in Spring Lake — where you can go to release your pent-up anger by smashing things like printers or TV’s, or dishes and plates. And, for some of you, that may sound like a lot of fun. But smashing things is not the way to deal with anger. And, unfortunately, it’s usually the people in our lives that we end up smashing when we get angry.
Paul says that kind of anger has no place in the life of a Christian. We need to take it off, get rid of it, throw it away. And then we need to put the clothing of forgiveness and grace.
People who have been made new in Christ don’t have smoldering resentment, they don’t hold grudges toward others. They take off and get rid of that wrath and anger. They don’t lose their temper and express rage when they don’t get their way. They don’t shout or have public outbursts of anger and lose control.
And if we act that way when we get upset, relationships are destroyed and the church suffers. When unbelievers see Christians acting like that, then they’ll just assume that we’re like everyone else in the world and they won’t listen to anything we have to say.
But instead, Paul says we’re to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” And all of this is rooted in what God has done for us, “as God in Christ forgave you.” That’s the way God has treated us, so that’s the way we need to treat each other. God gave us what we don’t deserve, so we should give others what they don’t deserve. We must be a people of grace.
3. Take off stealing, put on sharing
“Those who are stealing must stop stealing and start working. They should earn an honest living for themselves. Then they will have something to share with those who are poor.” (Ephesians 4:28)
Paul says that stealing was part of the way that you used to live before you became a Christian. It’s how unbelievers around us live. Sueanne and I were listening to a radio show about a week ago, and one of the hosts was a young girl who admitted without any remorse at all, “When I shop, I go through the self check-out line. That way, I can get red and yellow peppers and punch them in as green peppers because green peppers are cheaper. And I’ll get sweet potatoes and punch them in as regular potatoes.” Sueanne and I were flabbergasted that she would admit that on the radio. Not only that, but she was proud of it. Her justification was this, “They charge too much for that stuff.”
Is that what our culture has come to? That we feel free to take something that’s not ours, shoplift something that wasn’t purchased, or keep something that we didn’t earn.
But it’s nothing new. In a sense, the very first sin of eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was a theft, because Adam and Eve took something that God told them wasn’t theirs to have.
We all have something inside of us that’s fascinated with the concept of getting something for nothing. That’s how just about everybody thinks. But God’s instruction for his people has always been clear: “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15).
Paul says that that theft has no place in the life of a Christian. We need to take it off, get rid of it, throw it away. And then we need to put on the clothing of giving to others. This is one time when I think we’re happy just to take off the old clothes, but we don’t want to put on the new clothes. Most Christians, I think, would agree, “Stealing is bad. And so, I don’t steal.”
But Paul doesn’t just say to take off the old clothes. He says to put on the new clothes. If you take off the old clothes but you don’t put on the new clothes, that’s just leaves you naked. So, get some clothes on. And here’s what Paul says we need to put on – “They should earn an honest living for themselves. Then they will have something to share with those who are poor.”
People who have been made new by Christ are people who share rather than steal. God gives us new life so that we can be a generous people. And so, our desire to have a job and get a paycheck is not just to provide for ourselves but also to help others.
Our job isn’t just about increasing our standard of living. And this is where we need to undo some of what our culture has taught us. America says, “If you make more, you should have more.” God says, “If you make more, you should give more.”
We should work in order to “share with anyone in need.” And there’s always someone in need. Do those of us who are Christians view our work as a God-given means for meeting the needs of others? We need to take off stealing, but more than that, we need to put on sharing. And then, lastly…
4. Take off harmful words, put on words of encouragement
“When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need — words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you…” (Ephesians 4:29)
Paul says that speaking harmful words was part of the way that you used to live before you became a Christian. It’s how the unbelievers around you live. Everybody wants to cut everybody else down with the words that they speak. Words of anger, words of hatred, words of profanity and vulgarity. Not just in what we say, but in what we write or maybe what we post on Facebook or Twitter.
Paul says that that that kind of language has no place in the life of a Christian. We need to take it off, get rid of it, throw it away. And then we need to put on the clothing of speaking words of encouragement. Most of us were taught growing up, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” So, we feel pretty good if we don’t bad-mouth somebody.
But that’s only taking off the old clothing. Once again, if you take off the old clothes but don’t put on the new clothes, that’s just leaves you naked. Paul says, “There’s always something good that you can say. Something that will encourage and build others up.”
Maybe, as we’ve looked over this list here in Ephesians 4, you see something that you need to get rid of. Maybe you need to stop telling lies. Or maybe you need to stop stealing. Or you need to stop saying harmful things, stop gossiping, stop shouting, stop being angry. Or maybe there’s something you need to stop that’s not on that list.
Or maybe you’ve stopped all those bad things, but you’ve never started doing the good things. You don’t steal, but you don’t share with anybody who is in need either. You don’t bad-mouth anybody, but you don’t encourage anybody either. It’s time to not only take off the old clothes. It’s time to put on the new clothes.
While this change is a lifelong process of renewal, we should all be able to see the distinct difference between the old person that you once were and the new person that you are right now in Christ. We should all be able to relate to the old preacher who said, “I ain’t what I want to be and I ain’t what I’m gonna be, but praise God, I ain’t what I used to be!”
“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 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.” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV)