Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Text: Eph 4:17-32
Principles of holiness (v17-24)
Practicalities of righteousness (v25-32)
Blessed Sunday Morning to all.
When I was in National Service, I had to deal with 2 interesting incidences.
One was that of a Commissioned Officer who was stripped of his commission. He was charged with conduct unbecoming of an Officer.
Another was that of a private who impersonated an Officer who was caught and was charged.
Both did not act according to the responsibilities given to them.
In our world today, there are expectations of how one should act, think and feel, based on who they are.
There are certain character norms which are expected if you are in a certain position.
So in this sense, I submit that orthopraxy, right living should not be a foreign concept for us.
To live in consistency with our beliefs should not be a novel idea.
Last week, the first reflection question was:
“Give reasons for why the call to “walk worthy of the calling” applies to you as a member of Hermon?”
I hope you were able to give many reasons.
Reasons like God chose us before the foundation of the World. He has predestined us for adoption as sons.
And as children of God, there is one body, one Spirit, one Hope, One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism and one God and Father of all.
Since I’m sure we all believe this is who we are in Christ, then …
Let us not view the implications from chapters 4 to 6 as taking the joy out of our living.
But instead view this like a mirror that reminds us of who we are in Christ, encouraging us to go live for Jesus.
And to encourage us further, let us remember the doxology at the end of chapter, 3. That is our confidence to live it out:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
As we look at today’s text, let us not be discouraged, instead let us be inspired.
The title of today’s sermon is taken from Eph 4:24 – and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
With unity, comes maturity, and so Paul says, maturity involves becoming like Christ in true righteousness and holiness.
Walk in this way, for that is our calling.
Principles of holiness (v17-24)
I think the most famous verses of Ephesians is Eph 2:8-10.
Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
God has prepared good works for us to walk in them. And so everything we will be going through today is basically the details of Eph 2:10.
And since they are what God has prepared beforehand, Paul reaffirms it by saying, ‘Now this I say and testify in the Lord’.
Ephesians 4 is not just Paul’s words, it’s our Lord’s as well.
So we cannot take it merely as suggestions, they are God’s exhortations.
Believers, as we walk in a manner that the Lord expects of us …
Always remember, we have the power of the Risen Christ enabling us to be all that God has purposed.
So here, Paul begins with the negative. This is how you should not walk. Do not walk as the Gentiles.
Chapter 2, Paul said, this is your past life. Eph 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world.
Thus Paul elaborates here as to what it means to follow the course of this world.
Eph 4:18 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. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
According to the late Pastor John Stott, he sees it as a downward spiral of depravation. Darkened in their understanding, then hardness of heart and then reckless towards all kinds of impurity.
How many of us like Japanese food? I’m sure there are many who love sashimi or sushi and would pay good money for it.
Around the world, there are those who would pay up to US$500 per person to eat it off a naked body. This type of cuisine has also come to Singapore.
Nyotaimori, often referred to as “body sushi”, is the Japanese practice of serving sashimi or sushi off the naked body of a woman. Nantaimori is the male equivalent.
Society has moved from indulgence with regards to food itself (paying for the freshness of the food and the skilfulness of the Chef), to now mixing it with sinful sexuality.
Objectifying the human body which is totally against what is intended by God.
Some have felt that Paul’s comments of Gentiles in v18 & 19, have been too unkind, even exaggerated. Yes, not all who are apart from Christ, display such terrible depravity.
Yet, what Scripture is teaching is that in God’s eyes, this is the valid picture of pagans. In general, all lives without Christ are dominated by sin. It is only the extent to which it is depraved.
And what Paul is portraying I believe is the path of the depravity of mankind.
Chapter 2 says, Ephesian believers you were once dead in your trespasses but now have been made alive in Christ Jesus.
Chapter 4 reinforces, do not live like a Gentile.
The difference between a pagan and a believer is to be as different between being dead and alive. Between night and day.
I quote from a pastor whom I feel captures the significance of holiness:
“And, my friends, it is that distinction that is so crucial to our witness in the world, because when the world looks at us and says ‘You are not so different from me’, the effectiveness of our witness is sapped.
Because the claim of our message to produce in us the workings of God’s grace so that we are made to be what God intended us to be originally is undermined, undercut.
And so it is precisely in the church’s response to this exhortation of Jesus and Paul that we have the most effective aspect of our witness-bearing to the world.”
And since Paul was speaking to believers, not unbelievers, may this be a warning for us today. Walk worthy of our calling.
Because God’s grace has touched you, be holy, be set apart.
So how to do that?
Paul gives an everyday example. Changing our clothes. 3 steps he says we can do:
Firstly put off your old self, next be renewed in the spirt of your mind and finally put on the new self.
This change of wardrobe is not just on the outside, its not just superficial.
It’s the old self he wants us to change and a new self he wants us to put on – created in the image of God, in righteousness and holiness.
It’s a make-over from the inside, out!
May I submit 3 principles we can observe here :
Firstly, to put off and to put on, they are deliberate actions. This is our responsibility to deliberately turn away from what we were before God’s grace and what we are now in Christ.
It’s a released prisoner who walks out of jail and deliberately chooses not to walk into the arms of his former gang members. Instead he looks for those from Prison Fellowship Singapore.
Putting off is good, but its only one part of the equation, the bible says, you need to also put on.
And so, that too is a deliberate act to move in the right direction.
If you are married and struggling with pornography, it’s not good enough to put safeguards on your mobile phones or laptops.
You must be seeking accountability partners, you must invest in deepening your relationship with your spouse.
True repentance for a believer, is not just turning away from sin, but a deliberate move towards Christ-likeness as well.
Secondly, importantly we see that our minds must be the ones renewed.
For young children, they move from ‘Look’ to ‘Act’. As parents our responsibility is to help them cultivate the ‘Think’ which is needed in between.
So maturing is when we Look – Think – Act.
It’s the same with our spiritual maturity. Between putting off and putting on, there must be the renewal in the spirit of our minds.
And that is explained in v20-21.
Eph 4:20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.
To renew our minds is to learn Christ through the Gospels, to be taught by Christ in the whole of Scripture and to be in a personal relationship with Christ.
In our highly sexualized society, even a relationship counsellor acknowledges the significance of the mind,
“The mind is the most important sex organ. If the mind is too preoccupied with hurt, anger or resentment it won’t have space to consider desire, passion or love making with their partner. The body will reflect the mind’s unhappiness.” PsychologyMatters.Asia
At catechism, I share with all participants the acronym S.O.A.P. This was a good advice which I received many years ago.
If you want to walk with Jesus all the way, the way to do it is to SOAP yourself everyday.
Since we do clean ourselves every day from physical dirt, we should also do it spiritually. Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer.
When you SOAP yourselves daily, you are learning Christ, you are being taught by Him and you are building your spiritual roots deep into Him.
A final principle. When Paul uses the pronoun ‘You’ or ‘Yours’, it is in the plural. He is referring to the Ephesian believers as a group, not as individuals.
As one body, we are to disciple one another, so that together we grow and build the body up in love.
So to put off our old self, to be renewed in our minds and to put on our new self, these 3 activities are to be done in the faith community.
Why, because we all have our blind spots. Old clothes are very comfortable.
They are so comfortable that it becomes part of us, it’s our second nature, we become unaware of them.
Thus this putting off, often times requires the intervention of our siblings-in-Christ. They can see what we refuse to admit.
Sometimes too, we desire to change but due to our limited experience, we don’t know practically how to.
Here’s where those who have gone before us can help give us good advice.
As we meet in our 3-2-1 groups, someone can share – this is how I’ve put on the new self in this particular situation. And then you may realize, thank you Lord, here is something I too can do.
In summary, holiness means that there must be a moral transformation that comes with becoming a Christian. This means that we are to be walking differently from the world around us.
Paul is not saying ‘Be good, and you will earn your salvation.’
Instead Scripture teaches that as believers accept the grace of Jesus Christ, there will be a moral response to that.
When you and I are in the right fellowship with God, it will set us apart from the world around us.
Practicalities of righteousness (v25-32)
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. What does it mean to live in true righteousness? What does it mean to act in the way that God requires?
We are going into the practical aspects of Christian living. Again before we dive in, let me just echo an important condition by a pastor:
“yes, there are do’s and don’ts in the Christian life, but the do’s and the don’ts are the consequence of God’s grace at work in us, not the cause of God’s grace at work in us. They are the result of God’s work of grace in us, not the thing that achieves the grace of God in us.”
As we go into the various practical areas of righteousness, may I share one observation.
We will notice that there are 3 parts to each action.
Firstly, there is description of what we should not do. Next there is an explanation of what we should do instead.
And finally there is the motivation as to why we should continue to do what is right in God’s sight.
I pray that we will focus on the motivation.
A repeat of the same principle in the same chapter, shows that this is an important point for Paul to bring across.
Integrity and truthfulness builds trusts. And trust is essential for the body of Christ to function.
In the 9th commandment we are told – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
Earlier in v21, Scripture teaches that the truth is in Jesus. So to speak the truth would include us speaking the gospel to each other.
And since Jesus is the Head of the body and we are all members of his body, it becomes the logical thing to do.
And we already know that when we speak Christ into each other’s lives, the body will grow in maturity.
That’s our motivation is it not? Because we function as One Body, we are inter-dependent.
Because we are inter-dependent, when we speak Christ to each other, we will all be strengthen, we all will be built up, we all will be maturing.
Truth builds, falsehood tears down.
Paul recognizes that there is a place for righteous anger. The Scriptures do record Jesus being rightfully angry at the merchants in the temple.
Maybe for many of us, we need this reminder that we should have righteous anger.
We are so immune to the evils of the world that we are not angry at injustice, too tolerant at abuses and not aroused at oppression.
But this is to be seen more as a warning because, even in our best anger, honestly, we are not righteous.
More likely, it’s because we have been caught in an embarrassing situation or we have not received the recognition that we felt we deserved, that is the root cause of our anger.
And we know, our anger is not righteous, because we tend to harbour it for long, turning it into bitterness and resentment.
And this is where it is dangerous. It gives the devil a foothold. Ask any rock climber, a foothold is all that is needed to move forward.
Divisions within the church will poison fellowship and ruin our witness for Christ. And the devil will take every opportunity to frustrate the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
Do not steal another man’s wife, do not steal another woman’s intellectual property, do not steal from the organization you work for.
But what is the motivation for honest hard work?
Scripture says so that you may have something to share with anyone in need.
Can this be our motivation why we work hard at our jobs in the market place?
If we have this mentality, it elevates work. Work is no more burdensome.
Work is instead a means of ministry. I work so that I can earn enough to share with those in need.
Choose your words carefully. Do not use them to tear others down, instead use it to build others up.
Interestingly Scripture says ‘as it fits the occasion’. That means it’s not just nice and pleasant words.
We need to use our God given wisdom to know what should be said at that point in time. What would actually edify our hearers.
And amazingly, God will use our well-chosen words to be grace to them.
Enabling words of grace that strengthens them to say no to unrighteousness.
Comforting words of grace to assure others that we can still face our tomorrows.
Encouraging words of grace to support them persevering in their walk with Jesus.
Some commentators see this as linked to the previous verse on edifying speech because of the connector word ‘And’.
Others feels this is a summary motivation of all the practical acts of righteousness.
What Ephesians has taught us is that the Spirit seals believers as God’s ownership and is the guarantee of our inheritance.
It is the Spirit who makes us alive so that we can respond to God’s grace.
It is the Spirit who dwells in the body of Christ and manifest the presence of God in the church.
And through this indwelling, strengthens the inner being of all believers with the power to live in righteousness and holiness.
We grieve the Spirit when we take His work in our lives for granted.
In the immediate context of speech, James 3:9 confronts us, we cannot with the same mouth, bless God and curse people made in God’s image.
To broaden the picture, Mt 12 says,
Mt 12:34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
It seems the tongue is a microcosm of the man. What he utters comes from deep inside the heart.
So because of what the Holy Spirit has done and continues to do, may He be our motivation to walk worthy of our calling.
Scripture commands, ‘put off’ bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice and ‘put on’ tender-heartedness and be forgiving.
May I repeat what I said last week. Our faith is personal but not private. And thus such instructs are necessary.
For when we believe, God puts us into His body. We become part of His local church.
What is your motive for your actions? If they are self-centred then the old self will be evident. If it is other-centred, then the new self will show.
Again Paul gives us the motivation to be others-centred. He invites us to stand together at the foot of the Cross.
To remember the body of Christ broken for us. To remember the blood of Christ shed for us.
And as we view the cross, Paul wants us to remember
Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
Forgiven sinners forgive.
As we conclude, let me share about Mincaye of Ecuador who went home to glory on Tuesday 28 April at the age of over 88.
He is famous for being one of the warriors who attacked and killed Jim Elliot and 4 other American missionaries in 1956.
Mincaye subsequent converted to Christianity but not before Elizabeth Elliot and other widows moved in to stay in his village with their families.
These missionaries and their families walked worthily of God’s calling upon their lives.
And as a result, Mincaye became an evangelist throughout Ecuador for Jesus and even toured the world telling the story of how the missionaries changed him and his tribe
As I mentioned at the beginning, I pray that we will not be discouraged but instead be inspired from God’s word.
May Scripture renew our minds, so that we can grasps the heights of God’s plans for us.
Dear family of Hermon, may we spur one another to walk worthily of our calling. Amen.