July 28, 2021
“I was one way, now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was Him.” That has to be my favorite line from the first season of The Chosen, a historical fiction series on the life of Jesus and his followers. And the reason I love that line is that it accurately expresses the change Jesus makes in us when we come to faith in him. “We are simply not the same as we were before.” When I was 25, I met Jesus Christ and he totally changed me. Before meeting Him, my motto for life was, “Live for today, for tomorrow I might die.” I grew up in the midst of the cold war. I remember the nuclear bomb drills we had in elementary school – where we’d go out in the hallway, kneel down and put our heads between our knees, as if that would really save us? However, growing up with that constant threat of nuclear annihilation did something to me and to most of the kids I grew up with. For as soon as we had the chance, we pursued everything our hearts and our flesh desired, for we knew that tomorrow we might die.
We drank, we dropped acid, smoked dope, we drove fast and partied hard. But after pursuing this lifestyle most of my early twenties, it wasn’t too long before this way of living left me empty and searching. On the outside I appeared to have it all together, but on the inside, I was a mess. I was a young man without purpose, without meaning, and without God in the world. But then I met Jesus, and Jesus changed me. I no longer felt empty. The anxiety that led me to live for the weekend vanished. I no longer wondered if there was more to life than living for myself. For when I met Jesus, Jesus didn’t just give me new life, He gave me a whole new way of life, a whole new way of living. He changed me. I was not the same.
Now I tell you this because there are still many today who are pursuing everything their hearts desire, but deep in their hearts they are haunted by that famous U2 lyric, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” They’re looking for life, for meaning, for purpose, but wherever they look satisfaction still escapes them. And one of the reasons they still haven’t found what they are looking for is that they’ve never seen an alternative way of living other than what the world offers them.
But we know, that once we put our faith in Jesus, he doesn’t just give us eternal life, but He gives us a whole new way of life, an alternative way of living – a different kind of life. And when we start living this new kind of life, we show the world what they are looking for: We show them a life where you are accepted with all your flaws. A life where mercy trumps judgment and love covers a multitude of sins. A life where kindness reigns and hatred has no place. It’s a different kind of life, because it’s a life with God.
However, not everyone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ immediately starts living this new kind of life. Why? Because they’ve grown up with their values and habits having been formed over a lifetime by a culture that lives if there is no God. Such was the case with the Ephesian Christians. Their culture was quite similar to ours today: Theirs was a me-first culture obsessed with the sexual promiscuity, materialism, fear and religion. Like many Americans today, they were quite hedonistic. They lived for themselves, their pleasures and their possessions. Yet, all the while they lived in constant fear of the capricious nature of their murderous Greek gods. But now that they had come to faith in Jesus, it was time for them to put away their old way of life and begin living the new way of life God saved them for.
And God wants us to do the same. So, if you have your Bible with you today, let me encourage you to findEphesians 4:17-24, where Paul shows us how God has given us a whole new way to live. And he does that by contrasting the way of life without God compared with our new way of life with Him. So, if you’ve found Ephesians 4, let’s begin by looking at our former way of life:
The Old Way of Life Without God Here Paul gives us three characteristics of a life that falls far short of what God wants for us. Listen to how he describes these: Now this I say and testifying the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Ephesians 4:17-19 Here now are three characteristics of our way of life before Christ:
The old way of life was an empty way of life When Paul says that “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking,” he is basically saying that the guiding philosophy of life behind their culture was devoid of meaning. It had no purpose. It had no substance. It was simply going nowhere. It was a culture built on satisfying the whims of the individual. And so materialism, sexual immorality and violence were an everyday part of life. If you didn’t have what you wanted, you did whatever you could to get it, and often that meant using people to get what you want.
Sound familiar? This is how life works when you follow your own thinking. You become your own authority. You choose what you think is best for you. You do what you want. You create your own best life the best way you know how. This is what is fed us in the media, through movies and in the classroom today. And what is the result? One person put it this way: “The life of an unbeliever is bound up in thinking and acting in an arena of ultimate trivia. He consumes himself in the pursuit of goals that are purely selfish, in the accumulation of that which is temporary, and in looking for satisfaction in that which is intrinsically deceptive and disappointing.”
This is life on the treadmill – always chasing after the latest thing but the result is always the same: It’s a life that goes nowhere. It’s an empty way of life that amounts to nothing. It’s a philosophy of life that is vain and fruitless. That’s how God’s Word describes the old way of life without God.
The old way of life was an ignorant way of life: Paul tells us why their thinking is futile. He says, They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. This is quite a statement. Because their hearts are hardened by sin, people who live without God are ignorant of God’s truth and unable to understand His will or His ways. As a result, they become strangers to God, wanting nothing to do with Him. No longer caring about right or wrong, they throw off all moral restraints, and embrace outrageous and immoral lifestyles.
Again, does this sound familiar? This is precisely what Hollywood promotes and universities exalt. Good is called evil and evil is celebrated as good. This is no surprise to God. He said this would happen in the last days: But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. 2 Timothy 3:1-5
That’s the way of life without God. This sinful way of living closes your mind to God and leaves you with no sense of shame and no fear of God. And those who live this way are convinced their way is the right way, but it’s really a way that leads to destruction. And that is why God wants you to leave it behind. For
The old way of life was a diminished way of life: This is where pursuing an empty way of life leads you. Listen to verse 19, They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. This is what happens when moral restraint is cast off and sin hardens our hearts. Living for self creates in us a callousness. Such callousness kills our compassion. Such callousness makes us apathetic and insensitive about moral or spiritual realities. Such callousness makes us insensitive to pain or grief. As such the person whose heart is hardened by sin cares nothing about what other people think, but only cares about gratifying the cravings of his own warped mind. He or she lives a diminished life and becomes greedy for all kinds of sensuality.
Now some might say that Paul’s assessment of life without God is pretty harsh. But this is not just Paul’s assessment of the dead-end road of a life without God; it’s God’s assessment. Sin is destructive. But I for one, am grateful for this description. Sin isn’t something to toy with. It diminishes your soul. It desensitizes you to what is good and turns you into shallow version of a human. This is why God sent Jesus to rescue you – not just to remove you from the penalty of sin, but to rescue you from the effects of sin. God never intended for us to be turned into an apathetic, unfeeling, self-indulgent people who uses others to satisfy their own lusts. But this is the result of pursuing a way of life that ignores God and lives for self. But the good news is that God loved us so much to keep letting us live in such a way that would lead to our own destruction. That’s why He sent Jesus. Not just to rescue us from judgment of our sin, but to give us a new way to live. So, let’s look at that now:
Our New Way of Life With God And here Paul gives us three descriptions of our new way of life that reveals a lifestyle so different than what is being offered by the world. And the first way is this:
Our life with God is a Jesus way of life: But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, Ephesians 4:20 Now Paul makes a big assumption here. He assumes that when you put your trust in Jesus, not only did you experience forgiveness, but you understood that Christ rescued you from this warped and perverse generation. He assumes you were taught that Jesus is not just your Savior but your Lord. He assumes that you were taught that Jesus is not just your ticket to heaven, but He is so much more – that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life!
Paul assumes here that we who are reading this letter, are willing to surrender all to Him, to learn from Him, and become more and more like Him. He assumes that we have some idea of this alternative way of life He’s calling us to. And He assumes that we want what Jesus wants for us – that we want to learn how to live and love like Him.
So, let me ask you today? Is this true of you? Do you understand that Jesus has not just rescued you from the penalty of sin, but from a way of living that was diminished by sin? You see, the good news found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is that you don’t have to stay the way you were. You don’t have to be defined by your past, you no longer have to live selfish, sinful and destructive ways. The good news found in Jesus, is that the life you’ve been looking for is found in Jesus. The truth is in Jesus!
This is why we want to help every person learn what it means to follow Jesus with others in a Journey Group. His way of life is righteous and true. His way of life is full of humility, meekness, patience and love. His way of life is full of purpose, meaning, joy and hope. You see, the good news is that when God saves you from your old way of life, He doesn’t just leave you the way you were, He changes you with the truth that’s found in Jesus. So here’s the thing: If you don’t want to stay the same; if you want to experience the truth that’s found in Jesus; if you want this new life for of grace, mercy, joy, peace and hope; then you ‘ve got to turn from following the ways of the world, and start following Jesus. That’s what this next characteristic is all about:
Our life with God is a repenting way of life: Here now is where the rubber meets the road. Here now is our responsibility for stepping into the new life. Listen to the command here. This may be the most important step of obedience you can make as a follower of Jesus after putting your trust in Him. Our role is to “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, Ephesians 4:22
This command “put off” speaks of putting away your old self. Like old clothes, you are to shed your identification with your sinful past. You are to discard your old identity characterized by sin and selfishness. You are a new person in Christ, you are a new Creation in Christ, so you need to die to the person that was you before Jesus and put on your new identity in Christ.
What Paul is speaking of here is a lifestyle of continual repentance. For most of you here today, you know what I mean. You came to faith in Christ, but your old self corrupted by sin still wants to lead you and control you. So, this command is in the present tense, meaning that this is something we are to continually do. We are to continually throw out the trash. We don’t go back and wallow in it. We throw it out.
You see, God knows you will be tempted to go back to your old identity. The ways of the world are seductive. And sometimes you will go back to some of your old ways. But it doesn’t take long for you to realize those ways are not for you – they don’t satisfy, they diminish you, and sometimes ruin you. That’s why this command to put off the old self is meant to be repeated throughout your life. We are learning the new way of Christ, and sometimes old habits die hard. But we are to put them to death so we can live the new life. Is God’s spirit telling you to put something to death today? Then do it. And put it behind you. Let it go. And keep letting it go!
Which leads me to the final characteristic seen in this text. We don’t just keep putting of the old self and the old way of doing things. No, that’s just half of the process. The other half is the putting on the new self. And it’s this putting on the new self that makes us so much different than the old. I’ve put it this way in our notes today:
Our life with God is a different way of life: Listen now to how Paul states the second half of the process: and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:23-24
Here’s more good news in this passage. We don’t change ourselves! We can’t change ourselves. But God can and will as we throw out the old and put on the new.
So how does that work? We put on the new by taking in His Word, His Truth. God cannot change you without His Word. He is the source of all truth. So as we immerse ourselves in His truth, He will begin to renew or reprogram how we think. It’s like this. How many of you have ever had a virus infect your computer? The first thing you need to do is download a program to remove the virus. Once the virus is removed, once your operating system is clean, you can reboot your system and it will then run the way it was intended to run, fast and true, without corruption. God’s Word is our new operating system. God’s Word helps us to run the way we are intended to run: fast and true without corruption.
And here’s the result of putting on the new self: God will renew your mind so that you will begin to think and live like Jesus. The more you put on Christ, the more God will renew you into the likeness of Jesus in true righteousness and holiness.
And it’s this last phrase that all of this has been leading to. When I started this message I quoted a line from the Chosen: “I was one way, now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was Him.”
You see, the more we discard our old ways of thinking, our old ways of living that diminished our souls, and the more we put on the mind of Christ and embrace His ways of living – the more we will become like Jesus. We will become different. We will no longer be the same as we once were. For we will live in true righteousness and holiness.
What is true righteousness? Have you ever read the entire sermon on the Mount? The core message of the Sermon on the Mount centers around how we are to live in true righteousness – God’s kingdom righteousness. True righteousness is treating people right – with the love, mercy and grace of God.
What is true holiness? True holiness is the character of new person God is creating us to be. Holiness is the new character of Christ living through us. This is why we are no longer the same person we once were. At the moment when we first repent and believe in Jesus, God puts His holy nature in us, by giving us the Holy Spirit. At that moment we become a new creation in Christ. That’s what makes us different! It’s the new life in you. The Christ in you.
This is the life God saved you for. He saved you to be different. He saved you to put Christ’s nature in you, so He can renew you and make you more and more like Jesus. He saved you to be a vessel in which Christ can live through you in true righteousness and holiness. And when we live our lives with God the way Paul outlines here, then our lives will be different. We will no longer be the way we were but will live completely different. And when we do that, we will show the world, that yes, there really is an alternative way to live – and it’s found in a life with Jesus.
So what is God’s Spirit saying to us today? I hope He is saying this: Christian, live the life God saved you for! Stop playing with sin. Turn away from the empty way of life that leads nowhere and start living your new life with Christ. Put off your old self, and put on the new life God gave you in Christ. Embrace your identity in Christ and let God change you and make you like Him. And then you can say with confidence: I was one way, now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was Him.”