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A New Kind of Life pt. 1

A New Kind of Life 1

Ephesians 4:17-24


How many of you are looking forward to all of the chili that’s out in the foyer warming up right now? I tell you, there aren’t many things I like more than a good bowl of chili on a cold winter’s day. Chili comes in lots of different forms though. How many of you like a hot, spicy chili? How many like their chili more on the mild side? How about white chili? How many of you want me to hurry up so we can get to the chili?


Psychologists have found an intriguing way to study what it is that we really like and dislike. It’s called “affective priming.” They print a word over a bouncing dot on a computer screen. If people’s response is positive, they push any key with their left hand; if negative – any key with their right. Too discover our deeper responses, researchers will use subliminal stimulation. They’ll print a negative word (like “fear” or “storm”) subliminally, below your level of awareness. Your intuitive system is so fast it reads those words and responds to them before you are aware. So if they show a negative word subliminally, then a positive word slowly, it takes you longer to move toward a positive response. Tricky people, those psychologists.


Sometimes they will flash a subliminal picture instead of a word. When it is a picture of an African American, the researchers report that “Americans of all ages, classes, and political affiliations react with a flash of negativity.” Including people who report they have no prejudice at all. Mark Noll has written a fascinating little book called The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. He notes that all the wrangling between North and South over the Bible and slavery overlooked one huge difference between slavery in ancient Mesopotamia and slavery in 19th-century America – the latter was race-based, race-soaked, racist. The deepest evil over slavery was not just the economics of it, it was the racism of it. Even northern Christians, who were opposed to slavery as an institution, were much slower to oppose racism. Noll also notes that, over the long haul, Christian theology always tends to have a radicalizing effect on society because of Scripture and one belief: that all human beings come from the same ancestor, that all human beings bear the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).


While thinking about these stories, popular conservative pastor and author John Ortberg said this … “I thought about how Paul said there was a time when the dividing wall of hostility that separated the “us” group from the “them” group came down. I thought about the Azusa Street Revival and how, for a few years, black people and white people defied all polite society and worshiped together, and then when the fervor cooled and things got respectable, they stopped and mirrored the rest of society. I thought of how when God sits in front of his computer – whatever face gets flashed on a screen – the only button he pushes is marked love. Love. Love. I wonder about the church…”[i]


These words confront us again with the reality that what Paul is describing in the book of Ephesians is the NEW HUMANITY that God is forming in the world in Christ. The Azusa Street Revival was an incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles. It was a revival meeting that ran non-stop from 1906-1915 and it served as the birth of the modern Christian Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. His words about that revival really struck a chord with me. That for a while, American Christians in Los Angeles were shaped by Scripture, specifically Ephesians 2:14-15, which we looked at a few months ago: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” But that over time, the fervor cooled, and things got respectable again, and so they stopped and began to mirror the rest of society. And that isn’t the only way in which we mirror society. The divorce rate is about the same among followers of Christ as it is in society at large. So is spouse abuse. And addiction. The church of Jesus Christ is mirroring society. But we aren’t supposed to mirror society. We’re supposed to offer an alternative, healing one. As individuals and as a church, we’re supposed to be living differently than everyone else around us.


In Ephesians 4, Paul describes a new kind of life. But first, he describes the old kind of life. READ EPHESIANS 4:17-24.


Paul makes it very clear that life in Christ really is a new kind of life. “This is say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” Who is Paul writing to here? He’s writing to followers of Jesus in and around the Greek city of Ephesus, right? And these people are? Primarily Gentiles. Non-Jews. Paul came from a worldview that held that there were two kinds of people: Jews, and everyone else. And the Ephesian believers were mostly “everyone else.” Gentiles. But Paul assumes that their fundamental identity has changed. “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.” Technically, were they still Gentiles? Yes. Of course they were. And Roman citizens. But as followers of Jesus, Paul sees them first and foremost as citizens of the kingdom of God.


If I were to give each one of you a piece of paper and ask you to write a paragraph describing yourself, where would you start? We might start with our gender and some physical characteristics. My first sentence would probably be something like “I am a 6’ tall bald man.” But what else would be in there? What you do? Your role in your family? Maybe some of your interests. The fact that you’re an American. And many of us would put, somewhere in the paragraph, that we’re Christians, right? I might say “Imperfect but forgiven and growing child of God.” Or maybe “follower of Jesus.” But is that where I’d go first? Is that how I’d start my paragraph? If I’m honest, probably not. When Paul tells these Gentile followers of Jesus to no longer live as the Gentiles do, he’s telling them, “You are first and foremost something else. Your identity as a Roman citizen, your identity as a non-Jew, is no longer foremost. You are, first and foremost, a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and that trumps everything else.


And Paul uses strong language to get his point about our having and living a new kind of life across. He says “This I say and testify in the Lord.” The word “testify” there doesn’t mean testify as we think about it, as in giving your testimony, or telling your story, kind of like what we do in our “God moments.” It has more the ring of testifying in court, and actually means something more along the lines of “insist.” In fact, the NIV actually translates this phrase as “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord.” This is a direct command.


What he insists on is that we no longer live the old life we knew apart from Christ. And he describes that life as a kind of downward spiral that begins with darkened minds. Look at V. 18. Some translations say “futile thinking.” Others “darkened minds.” In Romans 1:21, Paul says “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” It’s thinking that says “I am in control. I am the master of my own life. It was my planning, my hard work, my effort that allowed me to achieve all of this.” It is the suppression of the Truth. A few verses later in Romans 1, Paul says “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” In using the phrase “darkened mind” or “futile thinking,” Paul isn’t calling those who don’t follow Jesus intellectually dumb. The minds, the intellects, of most who don’t follow Jesus are very capable. Jesus said of himself “I am the truth.” And the more we suppress the truth of God, the less able we become of discerning spiritual reality.


And darkened minds lead to hardened hearts. Look at V. 19. The word translated as “hardness” here originally meant “a stone harder than marble.” Today we might call this a “heart of stone.” If darkness of mind describes an inability to discern God’s truth, hardness of heart describes an obstinate unwillingness to respond to God’s truth. This is an aggressive, intentional unwillingness to open your heart to God.


And that leads to the sinful life, what Paul called “living as the Gentiles do.” From darkness and hardness comes deadness. Calling evil good and good evil. No longer able or willing to allow the light of God to shine. No longer willing or able to hear and respond to the truth. And then we become callous. Look again at V. 19. Psychologists will tell you that the more we are exposed to something, the more deadened we become to whatever it is. We become “nose blind” to the smells of our pets in our house. We no longer hear noises that are common in our environment, even though our hearing works fine. The same thing happens to us morally. We become deadened to that which we are continually exposed. Pornography works that way. Pretty much everyone dealing with an addiction to sex and pornography starts small and feeling guilty about what they are seeing. But the more they look, the more their conscience becomes deadened, and so they look even more, or do even more. It’s a downward spiral.


Now here’s the kicker. This doesn’t always look like a depraved, decrepit lifestyle. There are plenty of really, really good people who don’t follow Jesus. But that isn’t the point. The point of following Jesus isn’t simply to become a better person. It is to recognize that no matter how good I am, no matter how exemplary my life might be, I still fall short of God’s glorious perfection, and that is the standard. There are lots of really good people, but there are no perfect people, inside or outside the church. Instead, there are the living dead and the living alive. And those who are living alive have recognized that no matter how good they might be, they are still in need of forgiveness and grace. And it is then, when we place our faith and trust in Jesus, that God goes to work in our lives, filling us with his Holy Spirit and empowering us to be his people, marked by his grace and goodness. It is then that God begins to transform us from the inside out and the fruit of the spirit, His love, His joy, His peace, His patience, His kindness, His goodness, His faithfulness, His gentleness, and His self-control are born in us and begin to grow. God starts in the places inside of us where no one can see. But his fruit in our lives is evidence that everyone can see! This depressing, dark, downward spiral that Paul describes here in a few verses and in Romans in a few chapters isn’t the way things have to be. Look! Now Paul insists that God has given us a new kind of life. Look at V. 20.


An upward spiral in Christ! It begins with learning Christ. Notice that he doesn’t say “learn about” Christ. He says “that is not the way you learned Christ.” I have often used the example of my relationship with Becky. We’ll celebrate our 20th anniversary this June. Now, imagine that there is a written description, a biography of Becky’s life. I can read that, study it, pass exams on it, even memorize the entire thing and learn a lot about Becky. But that is worlds apart from learning Becky the way I have over the past 22 years of knowing her. Paul isn’t talking about just an intellectual knowing about Christ. He’s talking about a relational knowing. The great Christian philosopher Dallas Willard, who chaired the Department of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, said “The average church-going Christian has a head full of vital truths about God and a body unable to fend off sin.” We know a lot about Christ. But do we know Christ? Have we learned about Christ, or are we learning Christ? And this knowledge isn’t just of his birth, life, death, and resurrection. It is knowledge of his Lordship and reign in the Kingdom of God. It is knowledge of how to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God in this world. That is what Jesus taught when he was on earth. Mark 1:15, Jesus is speaking: “the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” Luke 4:43, again, Jesus is speaking: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” What was the heart and soul of Jesus’ teaching? The kingdom of God.


Now look at V. 21. There’s something you need to know here. The word “about” doesn’t actually appear in the original Greek text of this letter, nor is there any hint of a preposition there. Your Bible should read, literally, “assuming you have heard him …” The truth is, Christ himself is speaking to us through the words of Scripture. At the time Paul wrote this letter, his young protégé Timothy was likely the pastor in Ephesus. And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” In my marriage to Becky, knowledge of Becky has been and will continue to be the subject, a relational knowledge, and Becky is also the teacher. In the same way, in our new life in Christ, relational knowledge with Christ is the subject, and Christ himself, in our experience and through the pages of Scripture, is the teacher.


And Christ is the atmosphere in which we learn Christ. We are taught “in him.” Why? Because the truth is in him. Christ is the subject, Christ is the teacher, and Christ is the atmosphere in which we learn. Thus Christ is the atmosphere in which we live. The prayer of St. Patrick describes this reality of which Paul speaks. In part, it reads


“Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.”


Allow me to close by saying this. There are two opposing errors that we as followers of Christ tend to fall into when it comes to talking about how we should live. One is to view the Christian life as a list of dos and don’ts. Dead legalism. The other is to view Christ’s forgiveness as cheap grace. I’m forgiven, so it doesn’t matter how I live. The truth is, Scripture holds God’s grace and right living in balance. Paul’s letters can often be divided into two parts. The first part of each letter tends to be theology, describing the grace and the goodness of God, seen in Christ’s life, death for our sins, and resurrection, and the forgiveness we have in Christ. In Ephesians, this section is made up of chapters 1-3. And so in 2:8-9 we read “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The second part of each letter is ethical in nature and describes how we live as citizens of the kingdom of God, as God’s new humanity on earth. In Ephesians, this part is made up of chapters 4-6. And so in 4:1 we read “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” and then down in V. 17. “This I say and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.” By grace we have been saved, forgiven, and made citizens of the kingdom of God; not because we deserve it but because God loves us. By grace God is at work in our lives, giving us a new kind of life and getting rid of the old life we lived apart from Christ, bringing out his fruit in our lives. And because of that grace, we can learn Christ, taught by Christ, in the atmosphere of Christ, for he surrounds us as much as the air that we breathe. He really has given us a new kind of life. Jesus didn’t come, live, die, and rise again that we might mirror the world around us. Let us pray.

[i] John Ortberg, “Questioned Your Ancestry Lately?” (12-05-08)