A New Self that Fits
Graduations mean transitions and new identities.
Graduation means entering a new phase of life and each new phase can be a chance to reinvent yourself. Someone in Jr. High might hope to join a new sport or club in the much larger High School. A high school senior may see college as a chance at new identity because he is free of the labels of the stifling labels of adolescence. He is going someplace where no one knows him. A marginally student might see real, paying work as a chance to buckle down and work hard. These are the transitions and opportunities of graduations.
But the transitions don’t stop. Life is a series of transitions and each one of them can be an opportunity for new resolve. This is good because scripture talks of our growing in Christ as putting on a new identity. It can be good to stop and assess what God is doing in our lives and what he is calling us to in the future.
Today in Ephesians 4:17-32 we look at a new identity that fits you because it is the person you were created to be.
Don’t live like the pagans because their don’t understand who they are and are trapped in a destructive cycle.
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
Paul is in the middle of his letter to the churches in Asia Minor. He is writing to a largely non-Jewish audience of first generation Jesus followers. This letter was to be read out loud to the church. In the first part Paul talks about the beauty of our salvation in Jesus. He teaches us that God chose us before we chose him. He reminds us that we have been adopted into a family, made citizens of a nation and sealed for all time by the Holy Spirit. In the second half of the letter Paul addresses how we are supposed to respond to the great love of God displayed in Christ. We respond by living a life worthy of the calling of God. Then he adds in verse 17, “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking.” This command is an extension of his description on living in response to grace.
We are not to live like the Gentiles This is not an ethnic statement but a theological one; in this context gentiles are those who do not follow Jesus. Their thinking is futile their lives are filled with sensuality, impurity and a continued desire for more. It is easy to fixate on Paul critique of ever increasing sensuality, but his real warning is how the “Gentiles” think. It doesn’t work. What can this mean?
It is unlikely that Paul would say there is no coherent thinking among anyone outside of Jesus. Our own experiences shows us that many irreligious people are brilliant, creative an insightful. Paul’s point it that they are “separated from the life of God.” It is not that they are stupid or lazy, but that for all their ruminations, it does not lead to life in God. This is bad in two ways. First, as Paul says later, we were created to be like God, so thinking like a Gentile will not help you grow spiritually. Second, if you don’t have God all you have left is sensuality and if all you have is sensuality then you need more and more just to feel alive.
God’s plan for us is to find abundant life in him as our creator, redeemer and empowering presence. And to use the physical body he has given us to love others, serve those in need and worship him. Part of the enjoyment of life is the sensual pleasures of the body, food, beauty, sex, music. These are the blessings of life received as a gift of God. But if we have no life of God in us we need to find life in sensuality which changes our relationship to the sensual completely. Instead of receiving these things as a gift, they are treated as a source of life, which they are not and as such become either idolatrous or addictive.
When all you have is the sensual you start to rely on it to make you feel alive and significant which means experiences which once excited you now seem ordinary. In Paul’s words you have “lost all sensitivity” which is why you are filled with greed. The greed here does not mean only wanting more stuff, but wanting more sensuality. It is a hopeless cycle of wanting more of “chasing the high” to use a drug term. It leads to addiction and despair.
Those who have dealt with any kind of addiction know this cycle. The substance or habit that once promised life, now brings death. We are enslaved. The mistake we often make is thinking that addiction is only about drugs or alcohol. This high-seeking addiction can be anything: work, sex, television, gossip, gambling. This is why Paul says their thinking is futile. It does not bring the life that we need; that life can only be found in God.
We have found life in Christ and have to learn not be deceived into looking for life someplace else
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard (about) Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
As Christians, disciples of Jesus, we have learned a different truth. We “learned Christ.” These are the terms that Paul uses in this section. You learned a way of life. You were taught in him the truth of Jesus. But his description culminates in the amazing truth that we were “created to be like God.” Let that truth sit in you for a moment. You were created to be like God. God is creative; God is just; but above all God is love and you were created to like him.
But we don’t feel very much like God do we? In fact we often feel the opposite. We feel like we are ruled by our emotions, often failing and worthy of God’s distain. There is a reason for that embedded in verse 22. We were taught with regard to our old life to put off the old self and to be made new in our minds. We are to put off the old life because it is being corrupted by deceitful desires. Notice that he does not say we are corrupted by desire. It is deceitful desire we need to beware of. Most of the time our desires are just part of our human experience. The problem is that the world culture, our sinful nature and the enemy lie to us about how to meet our desires.
Anyone who has ever tried to change behavior knows that one big part of behavioral change is understanding the lies people tell you. to be financially sound you have to spend less than you make. It seems simple, but if no one tells you that the credit card culture and the consumer culture will eat you alive. The same is true with eating healthy. Not only does the culture twist the way we see ourselves physically but when we want to be healthy it lies to us about healthy food. This goes on and on. If we follow the world it will corrupt our desire for love, companionship, significance into lust, manipulation and ego. If these take hold we do not feel godly. We must help each other spot these deceitful desires and turn away from them knowing they will not lead us to God.
What does God life look like?
The made for God life is about building others not centering on ourselves
In the next paragraph Paul describes the God-life in us. This is not a list of commands to keep to please God. It is a description of how we live when we are re-created by God through Christ. Notice that he tells us in each example what to take off and then what to put on. He also roots each behavior in the truth of the gospel.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Language: It means speaking truthful, helpful language not destruction or lies. Instead of protecting ourselves through lies or manipulating others we use our words to bless others. We do this because we are members of one body.
Passion and anger: The God life means not anger, bitterness or slander, but compassion and forgiveness. We forgive because God in Christ has forgiven us.
Material wealth: our new life means not stealing but working. That seems obvious. But notice further that we are not to find our identity or purpose in our work. We find our life in God and we work to have something to share with those in need.
Who do you want to be?
Look at your behavior. What lies are you listening to?