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Recreated in Christ

(Ephesians 4.17-24)

Sermon by Chris Temple

 [Eph 4:17] This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, [18] having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; [19] who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. [20] But you have not so learned Christ, [21] if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: [22] that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, [23] and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, [24] and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

INTRODUCTION:

 When I was a kid back in the early 70’s, I used to watch a lot of TV adventure shows. One of my favorites was the Six-Million Dollar Man. Some of you who are old enough may remember it. It was about a test pilot named Steve Austin who was in a terrible plane crash, and most of his body was crushed and destroyed. He was as near dead as one could be and still be alive.

Yet thanks to the U.S. government, he was recovered off the tarmac and brought to a top secret government lab where the secret science department had been working on creating a new superhuman secret agent. Austin’s dead, mangled parts would be replaced with new, supercharged robotic parts, called bionics, and he would be made better than before. He received two new legs that let him run more than 60 miles per hour, and a new eye that enabled him to see details at a great distance much like a soaring eagle. He also got one new arm (I could never figure out why it was one and not two) that allowed him to perform great feats of strength. (No one was in his class in the javelin after this!) He underwent tremendous rehabilitation and training, and became the new Superman for a new generation of TV viewers. He was the pre-Terminator.

Of course, the bill to the taxpayers was amazing at the time (I guess this was prior to the era of $1000 screwdrivers) as the cost to rebuild him was $6 million. This was the cost to make a dead man new again, and to leave behind his old tattered self.

In the letter to the Christians at Ephesus the Apostle Paul wrote from his prison cell in Rome and addressed the topic of the New Man in Christ.  While he was unable to visit them in person he did write a letter to them encouraging their Christian unity and inspiring them to be one with Christ.

These Ephesian Christians lived in one of the most splendid cities of ancient Rome; a real jewel in the crown of the empire. Ephesus was a rich, booming port town in the province of Asia, and was one of the foremost urban centers in the world at that time. It was a core of paganism, and the temple of Artemus (Diana) located there was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was, like our busiest metropolitan cities today, a city filled with riches, education and religion, yet corrupt to the core with immorality. The Ephesian believers grew up in this corrupt pagan society, yet came to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

Yet like many believers today, who have placed their hope in Christ, and are called out and set apart to be conformed to His image, they remained by necessity in the very culture in which they had been active, immoral participants. But now they had a different Lord, they knew the True God, and were called out to be salt and light to their world. Yet the old ways would continue to call to them: The old drinking buddies would come by and invite them back to the tavern for a just a few beers, or those who were former gamblers were enticed to give it another whirl, just once; and the late night streets were full of many opportunities to acquire company for a cold winter night. The old temptations just seem to never go away.

Paul knew and understood this. Though he came from a different cultural background, the pulls of his pharisaical ways would tug at him as well. In chapter 7 of his letter to the Romans Paul says in verses 19,20 and 24: 

For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

Paul rhetorically asks the question: Who would pick him up and patch him up and free him from his old dead body like the U.S. Government did to Steve Austin? The life of the new Christian is not easy, and the pulls of the old self are always there. Paul exhorts the Ephesians in this passage with three major points that would help them leave the old ways behind and grow to maturity that was available in Christ Jesus.

 I. THE OLD MAN (4:17-19)

 Paul begins in verses 17-19 by reminding the believers of the Walk Of The Old Man. Very often we cannot move forward until we remember where we have been. He encourages them to no longer walk the way the Gentiles walk. Interesting that Paul is telling Gentiles to no longer walk like Gentiles. Well, how were they to walk? How could Gentiles walk any way but in the way of Gentiles? The leopard cannot change its spots can it? No, it can’t, but in Paul’s theology (which is God’s theology) he was making the point that they were no longer Gentiles. Paul uses the word Gentiles not to convey place of national origin or race, but rather as a name for those pagans who did not know the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul tell us again in Romans 10:9-13: 

That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.

  Paul is saying that if you believe in Christ you are no longer a Gentile. Later in Romans 11 Paul tells us that all who are of Israel are not truly Israel. That is, it doesn’t matter where you were born or who your mother was, or if you don’t know who your father is, or you were abandoned as a child; none of the past matters, but all who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus and believe in Him for salvation are the new Israel; His Church, His Bride, His Elect, the Chosen Ones of Ephesians 1:4.

So, how do the Gentiles walk? How does most of the world around us walk, everyday, ignorant of God and his salvation, ignorant of their own sin which separates them from a holy and righteous God?

a. The Gentiles walk in the futility of their mind.

Unregenerate man must base his whole worldview on his own thoughts, on his own ideas, because he has nothing else to go on. He has nothing else to trust except his own thoughts and what the world tells him. Yet his thoughts are futile because they are trapped in sin, unable to know the things of God, because man is totally depraved due to original sin. He is a slave to sin, a slave to his own lusts, his own perceived needs and wants, and he is unable to free himself from that prison cell. Indeed, if the cell door were swung wide open, he would not leave, because he actually enjoys his present condition. Oh yes, someone may moan and groan about their present physical state in the world, and want to get out of their situation, but only in so that they can more conveniently appease their own lusts and appetites. Man is futile in his mind because his God is the God of his own self-interests.

b. The Gentiles walk in Darkened Understanding Of The Things Of God.

The unbeliever cannot comprehend the things of God because the Holy Spirit has not opened his mind to the knowledge of God. That is why we have every kind of religious belief imaginable today. Pantheism, Bhuddism, Islam, Witchcraft, Reincarnation, Scientology, and the list goes on and on concerning the spiritual beliefs of men because man’s understanding is darkened. Man has created God in his own image, and worships idols instead of the Living True God.

c. The Gentiles are Excluded From The Life Of God.

Not knowing the living God and the Eternal Son He sent to die for sinners, the pagan world is excluded from the life-giving relationship with the Great Redeemer. They are dead in their sins, much more dead than the six-million dollar man ever was. He was near death; those who don’t know Christ have no hope of being revived. They are dead in sin, unable to save themselves. While man seeks every scientific and medical way imaginable to increase the length and quality of his life, he is excluded from the only life that really matters in the end: The Life of God. Only God by His grace can bring sinners to Himself. Without knowing the life of God, only a godless eternity in hell awaits.

d. The Gentiles are in Spiritual Ignorance.

They either have purely paganistic, man-created ideas of God, heaven, salvation, or they are totally anti-supernatural and disbelieve in any God at all. The Psalms tells us that the fool in his heart has said there is no God (Ps 14:1). Because lost man is in spiritual ignorance, he places man and nature center-stage in worship: The environment, the planet, the whales, the woodpecker, the manatee, the dust mite, anything and everything must be worshipped and protected, yet year after year we slaughter thousands of unborn children in the womb. Even in man’s depraved state there is a twisted vestigial need to worship, though he does not know the True God who alone deserves worship. So man worships nature and natural things, as spelled out in Romans 1. That is because nature and animal lust and evolution are seen as all truth, and we humans in turn are viewed as merely another species, not specially created in the image of God, and having had our shot at perfection, we blew it, and now its time we stepped aside and let another species takeover. Spiritual ignorance leads to all kinds of ungodly beliefs and actions.

e. The Gentiles are Hard of Heart.

The Greek word used here in verse 18 for hardness literally means “petrifaction”; that process where wood is turned to stone. Hardness of heart is a terrible condition from which there is often no turning back. In Scripture, once an individual’s heart was hardened, God acted to harden it further. This can readily be seen in our day among the many, many God-Haters in our age. In past years, people rejected God because they never heard of Jesus Christ and His Gospel; today many people reject God because they see Him as a Giant Tyrant who only wants to force His ways upon their autonomous free spirit. Who is God, they say, that He should say what is right and wrong? Isn’t it all relative? Where is God’s tolerance? God is seen as the Big Party-Pooper in the sky. No thanks, most say; let me go my way and if there really is a final accounting I’ll party in hell with my friends. They may be in hell with their friends, but it will be no party.

f. The Gentiles are Callous, Impure, and Greedy.

One only needs to turn on the TV to see the truth in this proclamation. What is the focus of most  advertisements? Personal fulfillment ("Just do it") sex and money. These are seen as the great aspirations in life. Shuffle them up, switch them around, and see where they land, but these are The Big Three purposes of life for the world. In fact, if you can manage to “fulfill yourself” by making money by having sex professionally, you’ve hit pay dirt. Recently a network news program had a story on the unfairness in the pornography industry because its artists (that’s what they call them) didn’t have a retirement and medical plan. This is the ultimate sin in society. No late in life benefits for early life debauchery! Paul says here that filthy practices are not a sometimes sin but a total lifestyle preoccupation. We can see this today in the Homosexual Rights movement. Each and every activity in the homosexual community is based on homosexuality; waking, eating, working, sleeping. Their sexual preference is never out of the picture. It is the warp and woof of their existence. And anyone who criticizes this total imbalance of ideas is considered narrow, bigoted and intolerant. So that includes God who has called these things an abomination. Deviancy is put forward as acceptable and normal, and any protest against it is considered therefore deviant.

II. THE PERFECT MAN - CHRIST (20,21)

So why has Paul reminded these Ephesian believers about all of this debauchery and past sinfulness? The picture is pretty bleak, isn’t it? Paul’s point is simply this: He is reminding them of where they were, and how far they have come, yet some have refused to leave some sins behind. He was telling them that it was unnecessary to feel that what they were leaving behind was anything of value. All which was left behind was useless, cancerous, it was death, it was the stink of decay, it was the dead body laying on the tarmac. Why go back there? It stinks! What pull, what attraction, could that have to a newly made creation in Christ?  2Cor 5:17 tells us “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” You are a new creature in Christ; now strive to live like it! And how is the believer made new? By learning of, and having faith in, Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest phrases in the Bible is “But, God.” When spoken by God, it is the tide-turner; the great ricochet, The Great Clock Master turning back the hands on the clock of life. This is all of God acting and none of man. Verse 20 tells us “But you did not learn Christ in this way”. Paul says, you didn’t learn Christ the way you learned Zeus, or Ares, or Apollo, that you can worship a god of your own making and continue in debauchery and sin. No, you learned Christ, and Christ recreated you a new man, your sins forgiven by His atoning sacrifice, and you cannot live as you formerly did. Indeed, if you are in Christ, you will flee from your former lusts and loves. Oh there may be tugs at the old lusts, because we are not perfect until He comes for us again, but you have received a new nature. You are crucified with Christ, and you no longer live, it is Christ who lives in you. Christ has turned the tide of your sinful life, he has calmed the storm of confusion and leads you into a purifying and sanctifying relationship with Him. It is not you, But God! Man always says “But, God” to make excuses for his own behavior; God says “But God” to show that He alone is the Way out of sin and hopelessness.

          Adam said “But God, the woman gave me to eat.” God said, “But the seed of the woman will crush the head of Satan.”

         Moses said, “But God, I do not speak well enough to go to pharaoh.” But God said “I go before you.”

         Samuel said, “But God, these are the best sons of Jesse.” But God said “I do not look on the man, but at his heart”.

         Elijah said, “But God, I am afraid, kill me now!” But God said, “I shall feed you and give you rest.”

         Peter said, “But God I will never deny you.” But God said “Even though you denied me, feed my sheep.”

         Many have said, “But I am too far gone to be saved, God can’t love me.” But God has said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-29).

a. So Paul tells the Ephesians that they did not learn Christ in a paganistic way but in a way that they know Him personally. They learned Him as to become His disciples. To be taught by Him, in His doctrine and teachings, and to be conformed to His image. They are to know Him, personally, and realistically, because He is not a lifeless pagan deity but a living breathing resurrected Savior, who has promised to never leave them nor forsake them. They are bought with a price and no longer belong to themselves.

b. Paul also reminds them that the truth is in Jesus, that indeed, He is truth. Paul rarely used the singular name Jesus, preferring usually Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ. When Paul speaks of Jesus it is always used of the historical truth of Jesus of Nazareth--the God-man who was born of a virgin, died and was buried, and who rose again. As Paul reminds us in 1Cor 15, this is the heart and soul of Christianity, the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and that no man can deny these truths and call himself a Christian. As Jesus said, He is the way, and the truth and the life.

c. Paul says that learning Christ requires hearing Him, His words of truth, His gospel, and His call to repent. It requires being taught by Him in truth of the Spirit, to know the things of God. And it requires that we lay aside our old selves, its inherent sin and corruption and put on the new man. Ephesians 2 :4-6 says: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

  What a great promise is given here! We are told that by God’s rich mercy, because he loved us (and despite that we did not love Him)  while we were dead in our transgressions, He made us alive together with Christ, saved by His unmerited grace, and raised us up out of death and that cold, sealed tomb with Him and we, as believers in Him, are seated presently in heaven with Him! Can you imagine that! While we are still here in the flesh--still here battling traffic, and flues, fleas and cold sores, and the IRS and angry drivers, and crime, and war, and disease and death--we have reserved thrones in heaven, our names engraved on their placards, waiting for us to arrive and take our seat alongside Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord for all eternity! No amount of natural evolution could ever provide that promise from God!

III. THE NEW MAN (22-24)

a. Finally, Paul tells us of the new man. Paul tells us to lay aside our old selves. Put it away he says. The Greek hear literally means to take off that old coat and throw it away. Be rid of it. Why wear old rotten rags when the King of glory has reserved for you a gleaming white robe! Put on the new self which has been recreated in the likeness of God. We read that the flesh is fading away, while at the same time the new man is being brought forth. Like a butterfly emerging from the cocoon the new self is emerging, while the old is fading away.

b. Also we are told to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. Col. 3:10 says, “and [you] have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created [you]”. All renewal must begin at the core, at the soul, and grow to take over our whole being, taking every thought captive, in possession of, Christ who has freed us.

c. Verse 24 says to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Wow. We are told to discard that rotten old coat, the one that seemed warm through habit, and we depended on it in the cold storms of our life, even though it was full of holes and tears and did nothing for our safety and security, and Paul says put on that brand new priceless coat of righteousness, which is a gift from the Father of lights.

d. And The Gift. The gift is Recreation. Not recreation like in a basketball game, but re-creation. Where as formerly you were in darkness, impurity and futility, Christ has recreated you in righteousness, holiness, and truth. Does that mean you will always be righteous, holy, and truthful. No! Remember the old ways are fading away, and the new man is coming forth. But in God’s eyes, on account of Christ’s work on the cross, he looks at Christ covering you, like that new perfect garment, and not the sinner underneath. Put on Christ and he covers all your sins, past and future, forever.

CLOSING:

When I used to watch the six-million dollar man I thought it would be cool to be recreated as something new, something powerful and perfect. As a 14 year-old I only saw the physical aspect of recreation. But when Christ saved me, I realized that there was nothing, nothing greater than being laid hold of by the Savior, and grabbed by the collar, and plucked off the road to hell. What a Savior we have.

If today, you cannot claim this new birth, this shedding of the old man or woman, if you want to shed that filthy old garment and put on clean new righteous garments, but don’t know how, come to Christ, the only one who can cleanse you. You can do nothing to be right with God, but if you hear Him, hear his call to you, come to him, just as you are, and He will save you. He came as a man, so he could bear the sins of men. He taught us peace and truth. And evil men took Him, and hung Him on a Roman cross, yet not in defeat, for it was the Father’s perfect plan. He took our sin, yours mine and all, placed it on His own shoulders, and suffered the penalty of death for us. Yet three days later He arose, victorious over sin and death, and when we place our trust in Him, we arise with him to the heavenly places forever. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Trust Him today.

Let us pray.

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The above sermon was posted on this Web site April 4, 2000.

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