September 30, 2007 at 5:11 pm (Ephesians)
There was once a rebellious Israelite who thought he would show Israel just what he thought of worshiping this God Jehovah. So what he thought he would do is to marry an absolute pagan, a Midianite, and show her off to the rest of the Israelites while they were weeping because the Lord had plagued the people of Israel. In fact, the sin of the people was idolatry, which is spiritual adultery. In the midst of that this Israelite punk shows up with his Midianite wife, committing the very sin for which all Israel was being punished! But someone saw and got angry. Righteously angry. He picked up a spear and ran in through both the man and his Midianite wife. The Lord richly rewarded Phinehas for being zealous for the cause of the Lord. He was rewarded for being righteously angry.
The Lord Jesus was also righteously angry on more than one occasion. Of course, the most famous is the cleansing of the temple, where all the money-changers had desecrated the entire purpose of what the temple was supposed to do. It was supposed to be a house of prayer, but the money-changers had turned it into a den of thieves. Jesus made a whip and drove them out of the temple. Again, an example of righteous anger. Paul is primarily talking about righteous anger in this verse. That is evident by the fact that sin is to have no part in this anger. Obviously, if there is no sin in this kind of anger, then it is a righteous anger.
As with all emotions, there are two dangers to avoid. One is in thinking that the emotion itself is sinful. But the two examples from Scripture that I have just quoted show us that anger can be rightly placed. The equal and opposite danger, however, is to include too much in the definition of what righteous anger is. We think we are being righteously angry, when as a matter of fact, we are only being selfish. Paul is very careful to guard against both of these dangers. Let’s see how he does that.
Firstly, Paul guards against the danger of thinking that anger is in itself sinful. We have already seen this in the two examples of Phinehas and Jesus Himself. But notice also that Paul commands anger in this context. This is somewhat obscured by the NIV, which says, “In your anger, do not sin.” Almost all other translations say this: “Be angry, yet do not sin.” The form of the verb for being angry is an imperative. That is, it is a command. Paul here commands us to be angry. Surely, we can safely assume that Paul meant that we should be angry in the same way that Phinehas and Jesus were angry. We should be angry at injustice, the taking of God’s name in vain, abortion, euthanasia, racism, oppression, and such things. Most of the time, we do not bother to get very excited about those kinds of things. After all, we think to ourselves, what can we do? Besides, isn’t anger the very worst form of intolerance and narrow-mindedness? I’ve got news for you: the very people who preach tolerance and open-mindedness are about as close-minded about and intolerant of and angry at people who don’t agree with them. It is about time that we got angry about things we should be angry about. Should we not be writing letters to our congressmen about abortion, about the lottery, about gambling, about oppression, about the breaking of the Sabbath? Should we not be voting our conscience? Should we not be involved and informed in politics? Should we not press for godly legislation both in our state and in our country? Don’t just sit back and be angry. That doesn’t accomplish anything. Do something about it!
This leads us to the second error from which Paul carefully guards us. That error is to include too much in the category of “righteous” anger. If you think about those things about which you should be angry, you will recognize that they have something in common: they are not about me! When it comes to my supposed “rights,” I am not to be angry. We need to recognize that we do not deserve any rights. We are sinners in the sight of God, and deserve the punishment of hell forever. But instead of actually giving us that, God has given us something that is completely opposite. Not only are our sins forgiven because of Christ’s blood shed for us, but we have been given the inheritance of everlasting life! How dare we stand up for our rights! It is God who will stand up for us on the Day of Judgment, and we should be content with that.
However, it is not just being angry about the wrong thing against which Paul warns us. Specifically, Paul warns us against being angry for too long a period of time. Paul tells us that we should not let the sun go down on our anger. That is, we should keep short accounts. Now, this applies to all of our relationships. We should never remain angry at someone who has offended us. We should seek to make it right. Even though this principle applies to all our relationships, it seems to me that it applies especially well to marriage. How many times a spouse will hold on to something practically forever. As Chuck Swindoll says, when his wife is offended, she doesn’t get hysterical, she gets historical. How carefully some spouses keep a long and ever lengthening list of wrongs done to them by their spouse! How wrong that is! If you have such a long list, then you need to shorten it. There needs to be reconciliation. You need to commit yourself to forgetting that list. That means not mentioning those sins again. It means not using those sins as a weapon against your spouse. You see, anger is not necessarily the final form of that sin. Anger that lasts for a long period of time is called bitterness. Your spouse has done so many things to you that you just don’t feel like forgiving them. Well, do you want God to feel that way about all the times you have offended Him? God has forgiven you in Christ Jesus, if you will but trust in Him. Why then can you not forgive your spouse? For those of us who do not have such long historical lists, the way to keep that relationship strong is always to keep short accounts. If your spouse offends you, mention that one incident to them as something that made you feel bad. If you have to stay up all night talking about it, that is far, far better than storing away the incident so as to remind your spouse about it later. Siblings, you can practise this principle as well. If your brother or sister has offended you, you can go to him or her and talk about it. Don’t store it up so that your relationship is always one of competition to see who is the better sibling. Sometimes, it seems to me that sibling relationship is simply assumed to be one of abuse. People think that it is simply the natural way to go about things. Competition in doing good is fine, I think, and very difficult to avoid. However, siblings these days think of their brothers and sisters as objects of scorn, ridicule, physical abuse, and any number of other hurtful things. Love your brother and sister. It does not matter how hard they are to get along with. You are still to love your brother and your sister. No ifs, ands, or buts.
So Paul tells us that there is such a thing as righteous anger. However, since it is so easy to cross the line from righteous to unrighteous anger, Paul gives us these boundaries beyond which we cannot go. We should only be angry at for the right amount of time, for the right reason, in due proportion. That is the message for us today from Paul’s command.
September 30, 2007 at 5:05 pm (Matthew)
I have a poem to start us off today. It is by John Rice, from his book Poems That Preach.
I had walked life’s path with an easy tread, I had followed where comfort and pleasure led; And then by chance in a quiet place- I met my Master face to face. With station and rank and wealth for goal, Much thought for body but none for soul, I had entered to win this life’s mad race- When I met my Master face to face. I met Him and knew Him, and blushed to see That His eyes full of sorrow were fixed on me; And I faltered, and fell at His feet that day While my castles vanished and melted away. Melted and vanished; and in their place I saw naught else but my master’s face; And I cried alout: “Oh, make me meet To follow the marks of Thy wounded feet.” My though is now for the souls of men; I have lost my life to find it again, Ever since alone in that holy place My Master and I stood face to face.
What is so sad is that this poem’s beginning is often true of Christians. We sit in our comfortable armchairs and watch the news while Christ’s disciples are being persecuted all over the world. Am I trying to make us feel guilty about having comfortable armchairs to sit in and watch the news? No, it’s a tremendous blessing to have peace in this life, lack of persecution. However, there is a difference between recognizing that our freedom from persecution is a blessing on the one hand, and thinking or saying that such blessings are our rights.
Christ says here that it is sufficient if the disciple or student is like the teacher, or the master. The word “sufficient” implies contentment. In other words, it is sufficient for the disciple if he be like his master. It ought to be enough if we walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus is drawing on the common knowledge of the day as to how disciples followed their rabbi. A student usually chose the rabbi he wanted to be like. Then he would follow that rabbi around and learn from him. Of course, Jesus is a rabbi, although He is a little different, since He was the one who chose His disciples. His disciples did not choose Him. But they did follow Him around wherever He went. What Jesus is getting at here is that disciples want to be like their Master. Furthermore, they generally do look like their Master. I know, for instance, that I teach piano a great deal like my teacher used to teach me. I saw so much that was good to imitate, and so I do imitate him quite a bit. Imitation is one of the main ways we learn. For instance, if you see someone doing some mechanical thing on a tractor that you don’t know how to do, and you want to learn how to do it, you watch that other person do it, and then you try to do it. It is a very hands on learning kind of thing. And that is what is happening here. The disciples follow their Master around and try to imitate Him.
This is true for us as well. We are to be like our Rabbi Jesus. We are to follow in His footsteps. We are also to follow Him into suffering when the need arises. Remember that Jesus is giving us these instructions in the context of talking about suffering and persecution. Jesus has been persecuted, and He knows that His disciples are also going to be persecuted. Fortunately for us, the principle of imitation does not stop with the suffering. We also become like Him in His death, so that we will also be like Him in His glorious resurrection. This becomes gloriously true of us when we come to faith in Christ. Faith means that we follow in Christ’s footsteps. We enter with Him into the pain of Golgotha. We enter with Him into the pain of the cross and death in the tomb. But then our soul comes through the other side into glorious resurrection light. Jesus is always one step ahead of us. For now, Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father. We will one day sit there, too. But Christ has gone there to prepare that place for us.
If the rabbi is misunderstood, then the disciples of the rabbi will be misunderstood as well. Jesus tells us this principle as encouragement: we are not going to experience anything which Jesus hasn’t gotten in a much worse way. You will remember in chapter 9 that after Jesus had finished casting out demons, the Pharisaic miracle inspector came by to pronounce that Jesus had done this deed by the power of the prince of demons. They said, “It is by the power of the prince of demons that he casts out demons.” Apart from being an absurd answer (which Jesus will demonstrate in chapter 12 by noting that if a demon casts out a demon, then the demon has shot himself in the foot. Or at least the kingdom divided against itself will not stand), it is also blasphemy. They blasphemed the Son of Man by saying, in effect, that Jesus was in cahoots with the devil. Satan is the demon that Jesus is talking about when He uses the term “Beelzebul.” The term literally means “ruler over the air.” Satan is called that in Paul’s epistles, too. So, if Jesus is being called Satanic, then we can expect to be called Satanic as well. It is interesting to note what the ancient Roman authors thought of Christians. They called them atheists, since, if they only believed in one God, they must reject all the other gods, and so they must be atheists. They also called Christians cannibals, since they ate the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. There were also rumors of incest, since Christians called each other brothers and sisters, and had “love feasts,” (which were actually only like our potluck dinners).
The fundamental misunderstanding, though, was about the nature of Christ’s kingdom. No one understood at the time that Christ’s kingdom was not of this world. It was a spiritual kingdom. Christ the Messiah did not come to free the Jews from the power of Rome. That was not His intent. His intent was to free humanity from the power of sin and death. But the way He went about doing that meant that He would be misunderstood. To this day, the Jews reject Him because He was crucified on a tree, which means that Jesus was cursed. But Paul already has answered that by saying, “Amen. He became a curse for us. The crucifixion of Jesus was in our place, and was what we deserved.” Paul turns the very point that was a problem for Jews into the greatest selling point of Christianity: Jesus became a curse so that the blessing of eternal life might be ours. That involved persecution and misunderstanding for Jesus. But the end of that process is glorification, the new body, being out of reach of persecution forever. That is true of Jesus, and it is true for us. What we too often want is to have the life of comfort followed by an eternity of comfort. That is not the life that Christ envisions for us.
When Christ says, “how much more,” He is referring to the fact that even our best efforts will be tainted with sin. So, if Jesus the sinless one could be called Beelzebul, then how much more will we, whose efforts are never perfect in this life, be called Satanic. Richard Dawkins calls Christianity Satanic, since it supposedly blinds people to the truth that we are mere animals and that there is no God. It is the same thing that has always happened to Christians. The world is not worthy of true Christians. Fortunately, there is a new heavens and a new earth that is worthy of Christians. Understand that we are only worthy in Christ, not in and of ourselves. But the truth is that the new heavens and the new earth are the answer for us. That is why we can endure hard times now. We have a better land awaiting us. Then, we will indeed meet our Master face to face, as the poem said. Only there will be no shame then. Instead, it will be the greatest joy imaginable. In fact, it will be as beyond our imagination as we will be beyond the reach of persecution.
September 30, 2007 at 4:59 pm (Ephesians)
Lying seems to be a way of life for many people. We lie at the drop of a hat. The book The Day American Told the Truth says that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses. Here is one example: the drunk husband snuck up the stairs quietly. He looked in the bathroom mirror and bandaged the bumps and bruises he’d received in a fight earlier that night. He then proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he’d pulled one over on his wife. When morning came, he opened his eyes and there stood his wife. “You were drunk last night weren’t you!” “No, honey.” “Well, if you weren’t, then who put all the band-aids on the bathroom mirror?” Now, this is a pretty silly example of telling falsehood. The motivation was to get out of trouble. Oftentimes, however, the motivation for telling a lie can be simple convenience. Here is an example of that, told by Chuck Swindoll: “Back in the days when kids raveled on trains to get somewhere with their parents, they didn’t charge for kids that were five or under. And so this six-year-old fellow was told by his mother, as they were carrying their bags to the train, ‘Tell ’em you’re five.’ The little boy frowned and he got on the train and sat down. And the conductor came by and said, ‘How old are you, son?’ And he says, ‘Ah, five.’ So he didn’t pay anything. His mother paid her fare and the conductor left. The conductor came back a couple of hours later just to talk to him- rubbed his hand in the little fellow’s hair and said, ‘Well, how are you gettin’ along?’ The boy answered, ‘Really good.’ The conductor continued their chat by asking, ‘Let’s see, when you gonna be six?’ And the little boy said, ‘About the time I get off this train I’m gonna be six.’”
Lying is an example of the old man, the old life about which Paul has been telling us that we should put it off. We need to put off the old man, and put on the new man. Now, we need to be careful here. Putting off falsehood and putting on the truth is never the way in which we become right with God. Paul is not giving us a two-step process in which we can become the children of God. Rather, he is telling us that we are already the children of God, and that therefore we should act like it. In other words, we don’t do what Paul has commanded us here in order to obtain eternal life. Instead, we have eternal life, and therefore we obey what Paul (and God through Paul!) is saying.
Now, Paul continues to use the language of clothing here. I like the illustration that my friend the Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS used in his sermon on this passage: when we look at a man in uniform, we can tell not only that he is a military man, but we can usually tell what rank he is, and which branch of the service he is in. He is a marked man (in a good sense, of course). So also, we should be marked by our truthtelling. It ought to be obvious to the world that we are Christians because we tell the truth. We don’t tell lies because of convenience; we don’t tell lies because it will get us out of trouble; we don’t tell lies because of the fun of it; and we certainly don’t tell lies to hurt someone else.
That leads us into the reason that Paul gives us for why we should tell the truth. We should tell the truth because we are members of one another. Try this picture on for size: your left eye decides that it would be really convenient if it gave the brain false information about what it is seeing. So, it tells the brain that the cliff is further off than it looks. It isn’t 50 feet away, like the right eye thinks. No, it must be 100 feet away. What would happen if the left eye won the argument in the brain? The body would feel no compunction against going 60 or 70 feet (it thinks), and the whole body plunges off the cliff. Okay, it’s an absurd thing to imagine. And yet it is just as absurd to think that there is no harm done to the rest of the body of Christ when we lie. Sometimes we lie carelessly, or we are careless of the truth. But sometimes we are deliberate in our lie, and we do it in order to hurt someone. This is precisely what Paul forbids. You know, lying is not a small matter. It is one of the Ten Commandments. It is the Ninth Commandment, to be precise. That commandment states that we should not bear false witness against our neighbors.
That brings us to the vitally important point here. Christ was the ultimate Truth-Teller. He always told the truth. In fact, Christ is truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life, as John tells us. The truth is that Christ died on the cross as an atonement for sin. That is, Christ is our Neighbor, and we are members of His body, because Jesus took the guilt of our lies and deception away from us, and onto Himself by being a perfect sacrifice for sin. Christ died. And when He died, the world told the greatest lie ever. They said He was a blasphemer, claiming to be God while not being God. But of course He was God. And Jesus was vindicated when He was raised from the dead. The resurrection is the greatest correction of Satan’s lies that has ever happened. And if you believe not only that Christ is resurrected, but that He was resurrected for you, then you should always be motivated to tell the truth, because the truth will always finally win. Yes, it may hurt you in the meantime to tell the truth. But what is that compared with an eternity of truth vindicated? Should we not see that telling a lie is trading eternal values for a temporary fix? And of course, even in the short run it doesn’t always work. As Mark Twain said, the difference between a person who tells the truth and the person who tells a lie is that the liar’s gotta have a better memory. And, as Mark Twain also said, some people have lots of trouble with those passages of Scripture that they don’t understand, whereas Mark Twain himself always had the most difficulty with the passages of Scripture that he did understand. I think we all know what telling the truth means. We’ve had it drilled into our heads since childhood. But it is so hard to do, isn’t it? That gleaming carrot of convenience and escape, and just plain sinful fun just beckons, doesn’t it? The deception of it all! Wasn’t that part of what happened in the Garden of Eden? Satan told lies. Adam told a lie. Eve told a lie. They all lied. Lies don’t have to be outright falsehoods, you know. Telling a half-truth where the other half is essential to the meaning of the whole is still a lie. A deceptive answer, or a misleading answer is also a lie. If you are wondering whether something you said is a lie, put it to this test: is your answer going to lead someone to an incomplete understanding, or worse yet a wrong one? If it is, then you need to make sure that you don’t tell it.
Of course, the perennial question arises at this point: what if a Nazi came to your door asking you to tell them where you hid those Jews. Would you tell them? Firstly, we usually raise that question in order to justify lies that are close, but not quite. If you ever get into that situation, let me know. I doubt that anyone here listening to this sermon has ever experienced such a situation. Secondly, to answer the question, I am not sure what the answer is. Rahab definitely told a lie to hide the two spies from Israel. She is commended for her faith, although not necessarily for her action. Others think that God would have protected the spies even had she told the truth. Godly men differ, and I am not sure where I am on this issue. Ask me again in a while. But, as I said, this is usually a theoretical issue that is used as a foot wedged in the door, so that we can use that example and extend it to other situations (opening the door wider!) where such a lie is definitely not the right course of action. For right now, know that the truth is what God wants us to tell. Another helpful thing to remember when you are tempted is the Golden Rule: would you want that person to whom you are about to lie; would you want that person to lie to you in turn? Look at yourself in the mirror, which hopefully has no bandaids on it, and ask yourself this question: am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind? Am I loving my neighbor as myself? The answer is always that we do not. The answer after that is Christ Jesus, the way, the Truth, and the life. Amen.
September 28, 2007 at 11:59 am (Books (reviews and recommendations))
Hello, world. I’m back to the blog. This post is the toast I made for my brother Adrian’s wedding, which took place on Saturday, September 22, which, by the way, is Bilbo Baggins’s birthday (and Frodo’s). That is a notable fact for someone whose blog has “Baggins” in the title. This is supposed to be mostly light-hearted and funny. Whether you find it so is entirely up to you.
My name is Mr. Emma. My wife’s name is Mrs. Emma. That’s Mr. and Mrs. Successful Emma Wodehouse to you. Yes, that’s right. I am taking full credit for these two wonderful people getting hitched.
It’s customary at these kinds of roasts (I means toasts) to put the groom on a spit and sear him to a nut-brown discomfort (which is what Ambrose Bierce would call “exhorting”). To do this with Adrian would be relatively easy, especially in the realm of fashion. But, I’m not going to do that…….Except to mention this one thing: although Adrian feels more affinity to Darcy than to any of the other characters in Pride and Prejudice, I am going to make the case that he is more like Mr. Bennet than he thinks he is. (put on turquoise sweatpants, black t-shirt, and red and black plaid flannel shirt with shirt-sleeves rolled up and worn untucked with many pens and pencils in the shirt pocket). Mr. Bennet dislikes descriptions of finery. “No lace, I beg of you, Mrs. Bennet.” Well, I think Adrian has taken the lack of lace to a whole new level. What do you think? (parades as in a fashion show). Of course, Susan may have something to say if Adrian were to continue his college fashions into the marriage state.
Speaking of the contrast between before marriage and after marriage, it is important here to mention that grooms usually think to themselves, “She’ll never change.” Whereas she’s usually looking in her mind’s eye at herself, the altar in the sanctuary, and the groom, and thinks to herself, “I’ll alta(e)r him.” Of course, both are woefully, erroneously, wrongfully, indubitably, insensibly, and ridiculously misinformed. He will never change, except for the change from before being married to after being married. Once he’s married, that’s it. However, with regard to the bride, with a good dose of what John Calvin would call “good luck,” she’ll grow even more beautiful, not less.
Here are some examples of how Adrian will change instantaneously. Instead of dressing himself in rather disastrous combinations that are of atomic proportions, if he’s wise, he’ll simply let Susan choose with what he will be adorned. Instead of eating three bags of M and M’s per day, he will masticate something a tad more healthy, such as Godiva chocolates. Instead of looking at all his nephews and nieces and wishing they were his own children, he will be busy manufacturing his own nursery.
It is also customary at toasts to include only playful satire, and nothing of substance. Marriage is undoubtedly a serious venture, however, and so some more serious thoughts are appropriate. Being Adrian’s older brother by some thirteen whole minutes (which in terms of an insect’s life is old enough to be Adrian’s grandfather), I do feel qualified to make some serious comments, specifically about Adrian’s good qualities, especially those qualities that I have appreciated over the years, being Adrian’s confidante, and knowing practically everything there is to know about him. Adrian is a very truthful person. He is very conscientious about details. And that last statement is about as true as saying that water is powerfully wet stuff, ain’t it? Adrian, of course, is not only capable of losing the forest for the trees, but is also capable of losing the tree because of the ant crawling around in the bark. So we hope that Susan takes it upon herself to balance Adrian in this respect: that she sees the big picture. Adrian is very caring, socially outgoing, and anti-cultural where such culture is unbiblical. Adrian will never be swayed by culture into doing something wrong. So, Susan, while we both know that Adrian is getting the better of this deal, it is not quite so imbalanced as it would be in many marriages. And that is not saying that you are any less worthy. Rather, it is saying that you are getting what will be a very good husband….by God’s grace, of course.
So, we have no doubt of Adrian and his Rapunzel doing well together. They are both so agreeable that nothing ever need be resolved on (all things being resolved already), so productive that the Republican party will need a separate trip just to lobby their state (I mean family), and so frugal that they will never exceed their income. And so, I give you a toast: the Prince and his Rapunzel!
September 16, 2007 at 2:33 pm (Sermons)
Forget about my sermons. Go listen to this one. Best of all, you can see it in full video with amazingly good reproduction of sound and video.
September 15, 2007 at 11:05 am (Uncategorized)
My apologies for posting so many sermons all in one day. I got rather behind. I realize this will mean less exposure for each sermon. So be it. I am going on vacation starting Monday to go to my brother’s wedding in Atlanta. Posting might be a tad sparse, although I will have some internet access.
September 15, 2007 at 11:00 am (Ephesians)
Sir Isaac Newton was a very brilliant scientist who lived from 1643 to 1728. Among his many contributions to science were his laws of motion. The first law of motion states that an object at rest will stay at rest unless some outside force acts upon it to change it. In other words, a ball will go nowhere unless someone picks it up and throws it. This is Newton’s first law of motion. It is an excellent analogy to what happens in the spiritual realm. A soul at rest in its depravity and sinfulness (spiritual death) will stay in that state of depravity unless some outside force acts upon it. If, however, that outside force does act upon it, that soul will become alive and will live and move in the presence of God.
Last week, we saw how we were, what we were like before our conversion to Christianity. There was hardness of heart, darkness of mind, alienation from God, and a givenness to sin. Paul now contrasts what we were with what we are now. He says, “But you have not learned Christ in this way.” What fellowship does light have with darkness? What fellowship does a hard heart have with a living heart that is tuned to the heart of God? What fellowship does adoption have with alienation? And what fellowship does the Holy Spirit have with a person given over to sin? These are the questions of our text.
Verse 20 is unusual, in that we are said to have learned Christ. The NIV says “know Christ,” but a more literal translation would say “learn Christ.” Normally, we learn some thing about someone, or we learn some kind of knowledge, or we learn how to do something. Here, however, we are said to learn a person, Christ Jesus. This learning of Christ Jesus is in direct contrast to the style of living that is opposed to Christ, that dark, unenlightened, alienated-from-God existence that we used to have. If we have learned Christ, then things are different.
The NIV translates verse 21 well. Paul does not mean to instill doubt in the minds of the believers in Ephesus as to whether they had actually heard the truth. They heard the truth about Jesus, that He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended into heaven. That truth about Jesus has the most profound consequences for our lives.
Notice the close connection between learning about the truth of Jesus, and learning about the truth of the necessity of putting off the former life. If Christ is crucified and resurrection and ascended into heaven, and we have that new life in Christ, particularly the Holy Spirit, then we need a change of clothes, and a change of life.
Paul tells us to put off our old way of life. This metaphor is that of putting of old worn-out useless clothes, and putting on instead clothes that fit, that are useful, and that are beautiful. That is the metaphor that Paul uses here. The old way of life is like a worn-out garment that will not keep out the wrath of God from a person. Literally, Paul calls the old way of life “the old man,” or “the earlier man.” Paul uses this language quite a bit in his letters. The old man is that naturally evil, depraved sin nature that we have by virtue of being descended from Adam. It is closely connected to the old age of the world. The old age and the old man go together.
But now, something different has happened. There is a new age, brought in by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. All things are being made new, starting with the human heart. That is the new man. The new man and the new age go together. Of course, we are not using the term “new age” to refer to “New Age Philosophy,” which is basically pagan mysticism. Rather, we are using the term as the Bible does, which refers to the new age that Jesus’ resurrection has ushered in. The spiritual world of fallen human sinners is changing one life at a time. That is part of the new age.
This new age is characterised by a renewed mind in the believer. That is what verse 23 says. A lot of people think that our minds, and what we think are somehow neutral. As we saw last week, that is not so. In our natural state, our minds are darkened. Nothing is neutral. In the new age, a believer’s mind is renewed to do what it was always intended to do: think about God, giving praise, honor, and glory to God. That is what the renewed mind is supposed to do. That is what we can now do by the power of the Holy Spirit residing in us. That is putting on the new man, as we put on the new clothes of Christ’s righteousness, our inner man is being renewed. We have been newly created, as it were. We are new creatures, created in righteousness, and holiness, as Paul says in verse 24.
So here is the question: have you put on that new man? Have you been renewed in the spirit of your mind? Have you put off the old man?
Now remember, these things happen in two ways. The first way is a definite, one-time occurrence, where we become believers. That is our conversion. It is darkness to light, death to life, old man to new man. However, there is more to it than just that. There is also the struggle in the Christian life. Yes, we have put off the old man and put on the new man. But, in another sense, we are still putting off the old man, and putting on the new man. The second sense in which we do this is a continual process throughout our lifetimes by which we become more and more holy. Is that happening to you? Are you becoming more holy or less holy? Do you enjoy the things of God more over time or less? This is a vitally important issue for Christians. We do not need an apple to fall on our heads, as Newton did, to understand this law of spiritual motion. The old man acts like gravity, trying to drag us down. The Spirit acts like a trampoline, trying to keep us in the air, in motion, constantly going in one direction. These two forces in our lives are opposite. Fortunately for the believer, they are not equal. You know, Newton’s third law of motion says that for every motion, there is an equal and opposite motion. If you were in space, and pushed against someone else who was exactly the same weight you were, then you would both move. You would move in opposite directions. However, it does NOT work like that in the spiritual life. The Holy Spirit is more powerful than our old man, our old way of life. The Holy Spirit’s motion in our lives causes the old man to move. And that should be an encouragement for us. We were taught Jesus Christ. We have the new man, if we but trust in Jesus. We have been made new. We have the perfect righteousness of Christ. And we are being renewed so that our own righteousness is becoming greater and greater.
Therefore, we should be what we are. We have seen this before in Ephesians. We were dead in sins and transgressions, but now we have been made alive. Therefore we should live as people who are alive and not dead. The world will tell us that living as Christians is dull, boring, and pretty much dead. The reality is that the world is wrong, and that a life enslaved to sin is real death and slavery. We often hear about how bad slavery was in the Civil War. But as bad as the descriptions are, and as bad as it often was, that is nothing compared to the slavery that we have under sin. That is the very worst kind of slavery there is. And countless people are enslaved to it. But what is even sadder is that they do not acknowledge that they are enslaved. They do not even see it. They are blind to their own blindness. But we have been enlightened not because we are so bright, or so worthy, but because God decided to exercise His grace and change us. Therefore we ought to live as people of the light, and not as people of the darkness.