Learning and Living Christ
Ephesians 4:17 – 5:2
Learning and Living Christ
Don’t die of ignorance
Back in 1986, what was thought to be a massive AIDS epidemic was gripping the United Kingdom, and it was expected that tens of thousands of people would die from the disease over the next several years. And so, in response to these fears, the British government launched a massive public information campaign, aimed at educating people about AIDS, in order to reduce the death toll. The campaign slogan was “Don’t die of ignorance.”
Don’t die of ignorance.
Don’t live in ignorance (v 17 – 19)
As I looked at this part of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus over the past couple of weeks, I kept thinking that Paul could have employed a similar slogan in his efforts to teach and inform the Ephesians, and to warn them against the dangers of returning to their former way of life, because as you can see, Paul’s plea here, is don’t live in ignorance.
That is, he says, if you’re a Christian, he’s writing to a Christian audience, if you’re a Christian, you can’t keep living the kind of life that you used to live, before you came to know God. That life is a life of ignorance, of not knowing God.
See verse 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
The Ephesian Christians were primarily Gentiles. They weren’t Jews. But they had come to Christ, They’d heard the good news of Jesus, And as we’ve seen in recent weeks, a miraculous change had occurred. They’d been built in to the church by the Spirit of God, They’ve been seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, And so they need to leave behind them, the life they used to live.
And when we see how Paul describes the life of the Gentiles, those around them in Ephesus, and the life that they themselves used to live, it’s fairly easy to see why thinks someone who’s united with Christ can have nothing to do with that kind of life.
And he’s quite insistent! I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord,
This isn’t just Paul’s personal recommendation. “Ah, look guys, I reckon if I were you I’d be getting out of that lifestyle at some point.”
He’s speaking with God’s authority.
And while he goes on in verse 19 to describe something of the life that the Ephesians had previously lived, and that those around them were still in, sensuality, every kind of impurity, greed, those are really the symptoms of the problem, which is this issue of ignorance.
I remember when I was at theological college, we learnt that the Greek word from which we get agnostic, quite a popular label for people today, that word is exactly the same as the Latin word, ignoramus, much less popular today!
Next time your friend tells you they’re an agnostic, I don’t suggest you respond “So you’re an ignoramus?” That’s probably not a loving thing to do, even if it is linguistically correct.
The problem for the Gentiles,
The problem with living the kind of life the Ephesians used to live, is that it was a life of ignorance.
Now, the reason that ignoramus is probably an insult today, is because for us, ignorance tends to imply mental deficiency or something.
But when Paul speaks of ignorance, his meaning is shaped by the Old Testament’s use of knowledge and ignorance.
Knowledge in Old Testament understanding is not just head knowledge, knowing about someone, but being in relationship.
To know God, is to be in relationship with him.
To know God is to willingly submit to his rule,
To know God involves not just my intellect, but my whole being;,
My whole mind,
And therefore my whole life, when all of those things overflow into my actions.
To live in ignorance then, is to live out of relationship with God,
To live in ignorance is to refuse to submit my priorities,
My whole mind, to God.
And while we say, sometimes, don’t we, “ignorance is bliss”, clearly Paul thought otherwise.
The Gentiles were, verse 18, separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts
They are ignorant of God, by choice,
By deliberate action,
Out of relationship with God, because they reject God’s call on their lives.
And the attitude towards God, works itself out in attitude towards life, and others.
And it’s a dark picture isn’t it, of life apart from God,
Of life deliberately apart from God.
Even their thinking, verse 17, is made futile,
Their understanding is darkened.
Paul’s saying to the Ephesian Christians “this is where you were”
Now, I’m quite sure that Paul is not intending to say that every person who is apart from Christ, reflects every aspect of this description.
Paul’s not saying that your friends who don’t know Jesus, have necessarily lost all sensitivity, and given themselves over to sensuality, indulging every kind of impurity.
Perhaps you think they have, but I don’t think that’s Paul’s point,
And if you’re with us today, and you know you’re not a Christian, you know that you are ignorant of God in this way, out of relationship with him, please don’t hear the Bible saying that you are as bad as you can possibly be, or anything like that!
Paul has his mind first of all on the particular circumstances of the Gentiles in Ephesus;, a city famous for its pagan religious practices, temple prostitution, all of that.
But there is no doubt a broader picture on view as well though.
It’s definitely true, that when we see societies, communities, even individuals,
Rejecting God’s call,
Hardening their hearts to God’s revelation of himself,
This is the general pattern that follows.
Not that each one of these things will happen, in sequence, each time, in the life of each individual,
But this is the flavour, if you like, of communities, and individual lives that are opposed to God.
We have people who aren’t Christians join us on Sundays for this very reason;, because they recognise the futility of their thinking, that their worldview and approach to life, has not equipped them, for the realities of life
And on a societal level, well, actually we don’t need to look too far to see this kind of depravity, futility, and darkening of understanding being demonstrated in our own community and nation, do we?
And if it sounds bad, well it is!
And so if you’re wondering, “Ignorant, out of relationship with God, that’s me, am I stuck in this situation forever?”
Or if you’re a Christian person thinking, “I’ve got friends and family who I know are out of relationship with God, hardening their heart to God”,
I think the message here is “Don’t lose heart”
As terrible as this situation is, it need not be permanent.
And the Ephesians are the classic example of this.
You learned Christ (v 20 – 24)
They were very much, this, to the letter.
Ignorant of God,
Hardening their hearts,
Out of relationship with their creator.
But something changed.
They learned Christ.
See verse 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.
The good news of Jesus is what retrieves someone from the darkness and futility of a life out of step with God.
If you ever wondered, “What should we as a church be on about?
What have we got, that is any use, to the world out there?
Or take it from church to individual, just to you,
If you ever look at the world, and conclude, “It is a horrible place!,
It is, lost, darkened, futile.
Numbers of us, I know, are distressed, by the state of our society. If you think what could I possibly do, to make a difference in that?, .
See Paul’s words here.
What is it that brought the Ephesians out of that way of life?
They heard about Christ,
They were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.
What have we got to offer to a messed up world?
Well, really only one thing.
The one thing that makes a difference,
They heard about Christ, And everything changed!
They were freed from corruption and deceitful desires,
They were taught the truth that is in Jesus,
And they were made new,
They were created to be like God verse 24.
The solution to the problems of Ephesian society, is the gospel of Jesus.
The solution to the problem faced by Australian society, is the gospel of Jesus, because the problem is a problem of ignorance, a broken relationship with God,
It’s not primarily a problem of education,
Or even morals, but ignorance, separation and rejection of God.
So what do we as a church have to offer our darkened and futile society?
The truth that is in Jesus.
Why do we think church planting is the smartest use of our energies and resources?
Because our own experience, and the experience around the world, confirms that the best way for people to hear the truth about Jesus is through starting new churches and new congregations.
That is our only interest in church planting.
The Ephesians’ own example to us, is that it’s through hearing about Christ,
Being taught in him,
Submitting to the truth that is in Jesus, that’s how people are rescued from darkness and futility,
That’s how people can be made new.
Do you long for that, for the people you know, who are ignorant, out of relationship with God?
Do you long for that, for the society of which you’re a part?
Then please pray, that God will call into existence lots of new churches, where our friends and family can hear the good news of Jesus,
Pray that we as a church will be able to be a part of that,
Pray that you will have opportunities, to speak the truth that is in Jesus, to people who are far from God.
You’ll notice the heading on the outline is “You learned Christ”, which is actually what Paul writes. In verse 20, he literally says, “that is not the way you learned Christ!”
It seems a strange expression to us, doesn’t it? And perhaps not surprisingly, this this language of learning a person, doesn’t occur anywhere else in the New Testament, or anywhere else, in any writing, anywhere, prior to the New Testament.
See the lengths that Paul goes to, to make sure we don’t miss the fact, that Christian knowledge, is intensely personal knowledge.
The Ephesians are to put futile lives behind them, not just because they have learned something about Christ, but because they have entered into relationship with Christ.
To learn Christ is to come to Jesus and have your life transformed as you learn who he is, what he’s done,
It’s to submit to his rule, as you learn who he is,
It’s to be shaped by Christ, as you learn more and more.
It is utterly personal.
Understanding the truth of the gospel message is a personal, relational experience.
Sure there is truth to be learned,
There’s a message to be understood,
But coming to faith in Jesus is not an intellectual exercise, as much as a relational experience that comes about through learning.
It is utterly personal.
You learned Christ,
You were brought into relationship with him,
You’ve been built up into his body,
There in verse 20 is the only time in the whole of this letter, that the name Jesus appears on its own.
There is no divorcing the Christian life,
The Christian experience,
The Christian worldview, from the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth.
He is the one we enter into relationship with.
The man Jesus.
It is utterly personal.
How inappropriate then, for someone who has learned Christ, to live as if they are still ignorant of him.
When I worked with university students, this passage in my Bible had the paragraph heading “rules for holy living”, and I, young and impetuous, scribbled out the words “rules for”, and just left the heading “holy living.”
See, it seemed to me that if these were the rules for holy living, all you needed to do was follow these instructions to the letter, and your life would be holy, you’d be right with God.
But what Paul seems to be at great pains to explain, is the relational aspect of holy living, living, We learned Christ.
We hear the truth that is in Jesus,
We enter into relationship with him,
We submit to his rule as God’s chosen king, the Christ, and so we recognise,
Not straight away,
Not across every area of our life immediately,
But slowly perhaps,
As the Spirit of God does his work within us, we recognise that because of that relationship,
Because of the work that has been done in us, we must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
It is, utterly personal.
And I think that’s intensely more powerful, than simply being given a list of rules to follow.
I see rules, I want to break them. sometimes!
But if I’m in a relationship, well, then, I long to preserve it.
I understand the reason for living in a particular way,
And so Paul explains what living in relationship with Jesus looks like.
Put off, Be renewed, Put on
There’s something to put off,
A renewal that happens to us,
And then something to put on.
Verse 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.
Of course the Ephesians had put off their old self when they came to faith in Jesus. That is, they’d made a break with that old way of life.
That’s the old self, living in ignorance,
Living a life apart from God.
And we already have been given this new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
We don’t create it, it’s given to us,
And just as we daily have to put off our old self, so also we have to keep putting on the new self given to us in order that we might be like God
And between the 2, the putting off and the putting on, Paul says the Christian person is to be made new in the attitude of your minds.
The putting off and the putting on, that’s something we do.
This renewing of our minds, the language is passive. It’s clear that this is something that God does to the believer.
And yet there is an exhortation there, isn’t there? Verse 22, you were taught, to be made new. We are to submit ourselves to God, and allow him to transform us.
And as God renews our minds, our lives change, they’ll reflect God’s righteousness, that is his rightness, and his holiness.
The image of putting off or putting on, like a piece of clothing was quite common in ancient religious discussions.
Paul says put off your old self, like it’s an old piece of clothing that you’re going to get rid of.
The problem though, and we know this,
The problem is that our old clothes are comfortable aren’t they?
We like to keep putting them on again!
I have an old jumper that I refuse to let my wife Kathy throw out!
It fits me well,
I’ve worn it in, in all the right places.
I’m not allowed to wear it out of the house, or in fact anywhere where anyone might see me! But I love to put it on!
I know people who have gone to the op shop, and bought back their old clothes, that their wives have donated to charity!
We love to put on, our old clothes,
And all too often, we love to put on, our old self.
But we need to sop being what we’re not!
Paul says, “You have learned Christ,
You have put off that old self, don’t live in it any more!
Jesus has drawn you out of that, don’t drive to the op-shop so you can buy it back!
Imagine a grown woman who acted like a baby;,
Gooing and gaaing,
It’s wrong! It’s cringeworthy!
Imagine a married man, who acted like a single man,
Ignores his wife,
Goes out on dates with women.
We’d say he needs a slap across the face!
“Stop being what you’re not”, Paul says.
Which means, Christian person,
Don’t dabble with sin.
Stop being what you’re not!
You’re not like the Gentiles,
Far from God,
Out of relationship,
Of futile mind,
So why would you act as if you are?
Put off your old self,
And guard yourself against its deceitful desires.
Guard yourself against the promises that you know cannot be delivered.
Sin and temptation make big promises, do they not?
Here you will find meaning and purpose,
This is the path to satisfaction,
This will fulfil the longing that you have,
Step onto the path to security,
Guard yourself against deceitful desires.
Allow God to renew the attitude of your mind.
Allow the transformation that has already taken place, to seep into every aspect of your life.
Put off the old,
Put on the new.
See it’s not just a matter of one only,
We are not just to avoid sin, but we embrace, Christ-likeness, righteousness and holiness
I don’t just refrain from anger, I put on love,
I treat people as Christ has treated me.
It’s not enough for me simply to curb my frustration at the weaknesses and failings of others,
I also have to put on patience.
Put off, put on,
How to live as your new self (v 25 – 32)
Paul now gives some specifics, and this is where the rubber hits the road, isn’t it?
It’s all very well to say, “put off the old self”, “put on the new self”, “be renewed in your mind”,
But what does it look like?, day to day, in my relationships with others?
Well, Paul gives some absolutely concrete examples.
Maybe you noticed the pattern as we read it through before? It’s not rigid, but you can see his general approach is,
That is, “Don’t do this”, That’s the putting off bit.
Then a positive instruction, “Do this”,
And then the reason, for doing and not doing, the way the renewed mind will think about each particular issue.
We’ll pause on some, and just read through others.
So, the first one, verse 25: Therefore each of you must put off falsehood, that’s the negative, the “putting off of the old self”,
Then the positive, and speak truthfully to your neighbor,
for we are all members of one body, That’s the motivation. That’s how the renewed mind thinks about truthfulness in relationships.
This is why I scribbled out the word “rules” from my paragraph heading.
Paul’s not especially interested in people doing things, following rules, for the sake of it. What he’s interested in, is the changed lives of Christian people becoming more and more evident,
Their minds being renewed, and their behaviour being transformed.
This whole section finishes, chapter 5 verses 1 and 2, not with a rule laid down, but with a motivation held up, Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
There is the ultimate motivation for behaviour.
Not so we can tick off a list of religious do’s and don’ts, but because we have been loved, we also can love.
So back in our first example, Paul doesn’t just say, “don’t tell lies”, because if I can convince myself that I haven’t spoken any falsehood, I’ll think I’ve done everything that matters!
But no, I also need to speak truthfully, literally “the truth”, like what we find is in Jesus, verse 21.
I am to speak the truth that is found in Jesus, within my relationships.
This is a quote from the Old Testament prophet Zechariah where God make a promise to be among his people;
This is what it will be like for God’s covenant community to be established again.
And falsehood and lies, we’re told in Zechariah, God hates!
See it’s not just what I do, but how the Spirit of God at work in me, renewing my mind, allows me to choose behaviour.
I choose to speak the truth, because I understand that I’m joined as one body with the people of God.
God has fulfilled the promise in Zechariah 8 of a new community gathered around himself,
Why would I want to break those bonds of relationship by speaking falsely?
Paul’s instruction about anger is the variation to the pattern. There’s no negative, positive, motivation. And you can see the NIV translators think the second and third sentences are the explanation of the first. In your anger do not sin”:
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
Again, this is a quotation from the Old Testament, this time from Psalm 4. And as some of you discovered in Bible Study Groups this week, Paul literally says “Be angry, and do not sin.” If you have an ESV Bible, you see that translation there.
Anger itself is not a sin.
But Paul knows the danger for Christian people, is to allow anger to lead us into sin.
For a right anger at sin itself,
At injustice, to become tainted by selfishness, self-righteousness, pride or greed.
So the 2 sub points are to help us guard against sin.
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.
He’s saying, “the renewed mind that God gives us, allows us to deal with our anger promptly.”
If we need reconciliation, we should seek it.
Paul seems to think that the longer we hold onto our anger, and dwell on it, the more likely we are to sin,
To turn our perhaps righteous anger at sin and injustice maybe, into sinful anger at other people,
And to allow the devil the opportunity to lead us into even further sin.
Do not give the devil a foothold
Anger can so easily be a foot in the door, for Satan.
Even legitimate, righteous anger, if not dealt with promptly,
If we nurse it and nurture it,
Share it with others,
It can oh so easily lead to ungodly thoughts,
To unkind words,
To the magnification or imagining of other injustices.
It is very easy to tolerate the sin of unrighteous anger.
How would you respond if a Christian friend knew you were angry, and could see your anger leading you into sin,
If they warned you,
If they asked you, please do not give the devil a foothold?
I imagine that many of us are so tolerant of our own anger, that that kind of response from a Christian friend would surprise us,
And ironically, it might even make us angry.
Stealing, we’re back into the pattern, verse 28, Anyone who has been stealing must, steal no longer,
but must work, doing something useful with their own hands,
Motivation:, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Unwholesome talk, verse 29, again, the benefit of others, is the motivation that shapes our behaviour, both what we do, and what we don’t do.
Don’t 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
I remember my Year 12 chemistry teacher, telling us that he had been teaching his 2 year old son, before he opened his mouth to say something about his older sister, or someone, to ask himself the question “Is it good?”
“Is it good?”
Perhaps he was expecting that us year 12s should be able to manage the same evaluation process as his 2 year old!
But Paul definitely thinks we can. And we’re not just thinking rude words, swear words, so if we think “I don’t have a potty mouth”, then this doesn’t apply to me!
The careless word,
The snide comment,
The put down,
As well as, the dirty joke,
The unwholesome comments about the opposite sex.
Is it good?
What can I say, that will build others up?
That’s the question that the Spirit of God, renewing our mind, allows us to ask.
And when we tear others down with our speech,
When our words destroy the unity of the body of Christ that the Spirit brings, not surprisingly, the Spirit is grieved.
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
Notice, personal emotion, ascribed to the Spirit of God.
The Spirit is a person, not an it.
The Spirit is not a force like in Star Wars,
The Spirit is a person who is distressed when we, by our words, destroy the unity that he brings to the church.
When your words tear others down, God is distressed.
When I speak words that deceive or harm, God is grieved.
In my words I can commit a wrong against God.
There, for the Christian person, is a strong motivation to guard our tongues very carefully, isn’t it?
And Paul rounds out his list, 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.
And here’s the motivation that the renewed mind gives us;, our own experience of forgiveness, allows us to be compassionate and forgiving.
Then there’s that ultimate motivation, be who you are, a dearly loved child, with the best example imaginable, to follow,
The example that you know, because you learned Christ.
When I used to run youth ministry, we had a segment in our Friday night youth program we called “Aroma.” The name came from something Paul says to the Christians in Corinth about being the aroma of Christ in the world.
The idea was that the kids would share how their Christian life and witness had either been well received by those around them, or had led to opposition from friends and family.
2 things stick out in my mind, from those times.
One is the sight of 16 year old boys, jumping up and down, just busting to share, and yelling “I’ve got an Aroma! I’ve got an Aroma!”
That leaves an image!
But I think more than anything, I’m struck by the number of times, the experience these kids shared, was the utter amazement of friends and family, classmates, teachers, at the kind of lives these Christian young people were leading.
Their building up language,
Their gentleness and compassion,
Their forgiveness, stood out in stark contrast to the lives of so many around them.
What a great testimony, to the work of God in the lives of young people, putting off their old self,
Being renewed in their minds,
Putting on the new self, created to be like God.
I’m going to pray, that that might be true of us, as well.