October 15, 2017
Jim Renke is the Regional Minister of the Upper Mississippi Region of the NABC. When he is in town he and Kris often attend our service. I’ve known Jim for years and we enjoy a wonderful friendship. What you may not know is that some years back Jim developed a serious, life threatening heart condition.
After a number of trips to the hospital he learned of a special diet that he and Kris embraced, and it has transformed Jim’s health. So Jim does not eat any kind of animal product, no fish, red meat, chicken, or pork. He does not eat any dairy products or use any oil. He does not eat any nuts, coconut, or avocados. He only eats plant based foods like veggies, fruit, potatoes, rice and beans. He has lost weight and is healthier than he has ever been.
It wasn’t easy at first for Jim to embrace this diet, but the alternative was unacceptable. So he started on a journey and now the diet is life giving. As we look at Eph.4 we are thinking about what it means to know Christ and live a “with-God” life on a daily basis. In these verses Paul tells us that Christians have entered into an ongoing process of Christ-like transformation.
I. TURN AWAY FROM THE “WITHOUT-GOD” LIFE. 4:17-19
The book of Ephesians is written to Gentile Christians. In Eph.4 Paul begins the chapter by urging believers to walk worthy of the calling of Jesus Christ. Part of that calling is to maintain unity in the body of Christ, the church. In v.4-16 Paul expands on the importance of unity. But in v.17 he resumes the topic of walking worthy of our calling. Those who become followers of Christ should no longer live like unbelievers live. Paul goes on to describe the life of the unbeliever.
Paul is not saying that there are some really bad people out there. That is not his point. Nor is Paul suggesting that everyone is as bad as they could possibly be. After all, each of us know unbelievers who are really wonderful people. They seem to be as good as, if not better, than some Christians we know. There are a number of reasons why people are not as bad as they could be. For example: there are laws and penalties that keep our behavior in check. There is societal shame and disapproval that helps to keep us in check. God has given each of us a conscience that causes us to feel guilt and shame. Many today have been raised with some religious teaching or in a religious family and they have embraced Judeo Christian values, even though they may not be Jewish or Christian. Along with this we eventually learn that if we want to get along in this world, we need to help and care for others. Things go better when we are kind to each other. So we are not as bad as we could be.
In these verses Paul is describing a condition of the heart which effects the mind and body and sets a person up for infinite loss in relationship to God and themselves. The problem is that at the center of our being there is hardness of heart towards God. As Paul writes in Rm.1:21, “although they knew God, they did not honor God as God or give thanks to him.” As wonderful as they might be, in the heart of unbelievers there is an unwillingness to acknowledge or surrender to God our Creator and his Son, Jesus Christ. When a person chooses to ignore or reject God things happen in their minds and bodies.
Paul says that their minds are characterized by futility, emptiness. Their understanding is darkened and they live in ignorance of God. They are increasingly alienated from the life of God that he has made available to us in Jesus Christ. I mean, if a person turns away from God who gives life, what are they turning to? They are turning towards death, a “without God life”
Notice what Paul says. He points out that as a result of their hardness of heart, they become callous or insensitive. Callous to what? They become callous to the righteousness and moral goodness of God. They become insensitive to their conscience and the moral laws of God. The result of this callousness is a life of sensuality and impurity. Unbelievers basically worship themselves. When we worship ourselves we find meaning and purpose in the fulfillment of our own desires. Self-fulfillment is what becomes most important.
When we are focused on self-expression and self-satisfaction, that’s what we think about. We think about ourselves and how everything relates to us. And when we think about ourselves, we pursue those things that we think will enhance ourselves or help us feel better about ourselves. Not all of these things are sinful. But in one way or another they will promote ourselves and our sense of pride.
Paul tells us that this way of thinking leads to sensuality and greed. We will practice every kind of impurity that we think we can get away with. With our mind and body we worship ourselves. This is why our society is consumer driven, oversexualized, driven by greed for wealth and power, filled with violence and contempt and racial animosity. It is also why people become addicted to many things and often end up in a pitiful condition. It’s like we are bent on self-destruction. N.T. Wright reminds us that “Idols demand sacrifices.” When we worship ourselves we lose ourselves over to our desires.
We have seen two very powerful examples of this in the past week. Pennsylvania Rep., Tim Murphy resigned last week after a report surfaced that he had asked an extramarital lover to end her pregnancy through abortion. The irony is that Murphy is a Republican and has been an outspoken supporter of pro-life legislation. He co-sponsored a 20-week abortion ban that passed in the House this past Tuesday. He and his wife attend St. Thomas More Catholic Church. The worship of himself and his own desires brought him down.
And then there is the powerful film producer and studio executive, Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has long supported Democrat candidates for president and has been noted as someone who advocates for the fair treatment of women. Weinstein was just fired because of allegations of a long history of sexual assault on many women.
Both of these people maintained a public persona that seemed upright. Yet they are hypocrites. The fulfillment of their own desires brought them down. What fills the mind will eventually be expressed in our bodies. As a person thinks so is he or she.
I don’t know about you, but I am increasingly astounded at the depravity of the human heart that we see openly acted out everywhere. If they think they can get away with it, the nicest people will do just about anything with no remorse. That is grievous, but not unexpected. What is unexpected is when those who have turned to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and life in the kingdom of God live in the same way as unbelievers. What this tells us is that they are allowing themselves to meditate and think upon ungodly things. Turn away from the “with-out God” life. It’s killing you.
II. EMBRACE THE “WITH-GOD” LIFE IN JESUS CHRIST. 4:20-24
One thing is for sure. The “without God” life will never lead one to a “with God” life. Only by turning to Jesus Christ will a person enter into life with God. Turning to Jesus Christ is called conversion. In his commentary on Ephesians, Klyne Snodgrass writes, “Conversion is a renunciation of a self-centered identity in favor of a Christ-defined identity. All that shapes us is given over to Christ, and his mindset of self-giving love becomes our mindset. Conversion is the restructuring of a person’s thinking by the Holy Spirit as the result of a direct encounter with the love of God in the person of Christ.”
When Paul refers to learning Christ, he is not just talking about having knowledge about Jesus. He is talking about knowing Jesus. The truth is found in Jesus. We must have both knowledge about Jesus and knowledge of Jesus. How else can we turn to Him? The wonderful thing about God is that he desires for us to enter into his good life far more than any of us desire it. And so God pursues us by the Holy Spirit seeking to woo us to himself. But what kind of life does a person enter into when they are converted to Christ?
Paul describes this life in v.22-24. Entering into the new life of Christ is like changing one’s clothes. When I am working outside in the dirt I wear old clothes because I know they will get dirty. When I am done working I change my clothes because the dirty clothes are not appropriate for the house or going out. If I keep the dirty clothes on, that dirt will make clean things dirty. There is within me a sense that dirty clothes need to be changed.
When a person embraces life in Christ they literally receive the life of Christ. His life is a righteous life, a moral life, a life filled with truth and love. It is the eternal resurrection life of Jesus given to us. In converting to Christ we are changed inside. We receive a new self. We become a new creation. And our lives become pretty interesting.
What happens when a person with sinful ways of thinking and acting suddenly receives the new life, the new self of Jesus within them? What happens to those old self habits? Well, they don’t just go away. Our sins are forgiven, but the old self desires and thoughts still reside within us.
So in the Christian life, one of the most important areas of focus is our minds. Paul tells us to be renewed in the spirit of our minds. What we think about is very important. In Rm.12:2, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” I believe this is far more important than many think is it. What are you thinking about when your mind is tired? What does your mind default to when it is not preoccupied with work or other activities? Do you engage in worry and fear? Do you engage in doubt and self-pity, thinking about what your life could have been but is not? Do you engage in lust and envy? Do you make plans for how you might indulge a sinful pleasure? Do you push aside guilt and conviction of sin? Do you try to find ways to justify actions that dishonor God in your life? All of these ways of thinking are destructive to the life of Christ in you. All of these ways of thinking will hinder the expression of the new self you have received in Christ.
When we embrace the “with God” life in Christ, we enter into a process, a journey of learning to turn away from old self thinking and old self actions. We must pay attention to our mental thoughts and bodily actions. They reinforce each other. This process is called dying to self.
Now I’ve been a follower of Christ since the age of 5. But only recently did I come to recognize the connection between my thoughts and actions in an area of my life. When I saw the connection I was taken aback. But it helped me realize that Christian maturity requires the renewing of the mind along with changes in behavior. In 2Cor.4:16, Paul writes, "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." It will be difficult for the mind to be transformed if we don't put an end to unhelpful habits that reside in the body. Those habits will influence our mind and vice versa. Since we have the mind of Christ we must change the way we use our bodies. Have you given any thought to this?
In v.24 Paul tells us to put on the new self. And he says that this new self is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Is that not amazing? If you have embraced Christ you have a new identity that is like God himself. So how do we put on this new set of God-like clothes?
We begin with our minds. When our minds are sharp (for me that is in the morning), that is the time to engage your mind in learning about Jesus. This takes effort. What books are you reading? Do you take time for quite reflection on the life of Jesus and God’s word? Do you call out to God in prayer? You cannot be renewed in the spirit of your mind unless you takes steps to direct your mind into the truth of Jesus Christ. And then what can you do when your mind is not sharp, when your mind is tired? Well, you can turn away from sinful, old-self thoughts that crowd in. You can do it. The Holy Spirit wants to help you and will help you, if you want him to.
What Paul is talking about here is reflected in baptism. In baptism the believer is put under the water. This symbolizes their death with Christ to sin. In Christ we die to sin. When the believer comes up out of the water it symbolizes resurrection to new creation life with Christ. Baptism pictures the “with God” life
Charlemagne was born on Apr. 2, 742, and died on Jan. 28 in 814. He was the first recognized emperor in western Europe and he united much of Europe during the Middle Ages. Under his rule, many were baptized into the Catholic Church. Soldiers in his army were also expected to be baptized. But here’s something interesting. When those soldiers were baptized, often in large groups, plunging themselves in a river, they would go under the water but would hold their sword in their sword hand above the water. They didn’t want that hand to be baptized because they knew they would have to use that hand to kill the enemy. It was the unbaptized hand.
Perhaps you have been converted. You have embraced Jesus Christ and were baptized. I wonder. Have you entered into life with Christ with one hand held out of the water so to speak? Is there anything that you are keeping for yourself? Whatever that thing might be is hindering you from being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Not only does it hinder you, but it hurts you. Have you embraced the “with-God” life in Jesus Christ? Amen