The Christian's Walk

Ephesians 4:17-24

I have known many people who are afraid to fly.
Some are scared of dying in a plane crash.
Yet the odds are like a thousand to one that a person is more likely to be stomped to death by a horse
than to die in a plane crash.
People also fear the possibility of being murdered in our crime-filled world.
Yet a person is eight times more likely to die while playing a sport them to be shot by a stranger.
Some people are afraid to have surgery – and afraid they will die on the operating table.
Yet we are at greater risk in getting in our car everyday than we are and having surgery.
One in forty thousand died in surgery, but one in four thousand die in car accidents.

Millions of people buy lottery tickets, even though we are three times more likely to be struck by lightning
than to strike it rich in a lottery.
It is ironic that we spend money on extremely long and improbable odds, and lightly ignore
the relatively short odds that concern our health and well-being, such as smoking, or eating-cholesterol foods,
or worrying excessively, or placing ourselves under constant and serious stress.

We don't appreciate what are the big risks and what are the small ones.
Put it another way, when it comes to risks, we are so foolish.

Many people also fear the "risk" of making a total commitment to Jesus.
What if He sends us to some isolated mission field?
Or what if He keeps us here and we mess up our lives with our work and our friends?
What if He takes away everything we enjoy so that our lives become empty and joyless?

Yet, if we take the Bible even halfway seriously, we see that those fears are unfounded.
And even a cursory observation of the things the world looks to for meaning and purpose must cause us
to admit that they don't satisfy.
Both faith and reflection bring us to the same conclusion – it is not dangerous to commit ourselves to Christ,
and yet some are still afraid it will.

Paul calls upon us to break with our past and commit ourselves totally and completely to following Christ.
We are to put off the old self; and put on the new self.

The old self is separated from God.
While it is capable of good, it is incapable of avoiding evil.
It is who we are by nature, and it is who we remain if we do not allow God to intervene.
We are descendents of Adam.
We have inherited his fallen nature.
As a result, we are separated from God.
That is the old self.

When we lay that aside – like taking off an old coat and putting on a new one – we must leave behind
the attitudes, habits, values and actions that we had before we became a Christian.
But the old self doesn't want to be left behind.
So aided and abetted by its devilish master, this deceitful self hangs around the house,
enticing us to try it on again.

This old self –
Promises pleasure, but delivers pain.
Promises satisfaction, but delivers sorrow.
Promises a bright tomorrow, but delivers a blighted future.
Promises good, but delivers bad.
Promises right, but delivers wrong.
Promises the truth, but delivers a lie.

And it destroys – it always destroys.
Sin is like cocaine – it is addictive.
It feels good at the moment, but in the end it destroys.

Think back over this past week.
How did you spend your time?
If you are an average person, you spend it sleeping, working, driving to and from work, eating,
listening to the news or reading the newspaper, watching your favorite television programs,
doing household chores, running errands, driving the children to their activities, shopping,
paying bills and writing checks, going to church – and there are a multitude of other things
that I didn't even mention.

My point in saying all these things is -- where is God in all this?
Does He only enter into the 'going to church' part?

Our time and our minds are bombarded by the people we work with, the music on the radio,
the images on the television.
This constant stream of information, stimulation and occupation takes us
in any number of direct and ways from God.
We row upstream towards Him on Sunday mornings, but the current is so powerful
that often before the day is over we're floating downstream again, away from Him.

I would ask each one of you here today what do you want out of life?
Most Christians would answer this question by saying in some form or other
that they want a meaningful relationship with God.
They want a meaningful relationship with her family and Christian friends,
and they want sense of purpose in what they do with their lives.
The question is are they willing to pay the price to get what they want.

We cannot have those things and still saturate our minds with every distraction this world offers.
We must choose.
Whatever we take into our eyes and our ears feeds on our minds,
which in turn feeds our emotions and our souls.
We are what we think!
If we want to be different, then we must change our mental diet.

We know that we have two natures – a religious nature and an evil nature – and those two
will wage war against each other until we die.
Sometimes, the religious nature will win, and sometimes, the evil nature will win.

Practically and theologically this schizophrenic identity causes big problems.
If we believe that we are half bad, it is easier for us to act bad half of the time – at least.
Ephesians 4:24 is one example of this:
"Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

John MacArthur has said:
"Biblical terminology does not say that a Christian has two different natures.
He has but one nature, the new nature in Christ.
The old self dies and the new self lives – they do not coexist."

He goes on to say that "The Christian is a single new person, a totally new creation, not a spiritual schizophrenic.
It is the filthy coat of remaining humanness in which the new creation dwells but continues
to hinder and contaminate his living.
He is no longer the old man corrupted, but is now the new man created in righteousness and holiness,
awaiting full salvation (Romans 13:11) when he dies and is given a new body."

So, when Satan's deadly suggestions tempt our susceptible flesh, our true, righteous 'self' can say,
"No, that isn't me. That is the power of darkness trying to deceive me in order to destroy me.
I don't have to serve sin any longer, and I choose not to
."
When we say that, we are strengthened not to sin.

This new self also throws up certain inner barriers to keep us away from sin.
It is called our conscience.
When we attempted to do something we shouldn't, we encounter an internal barrier.
If we knock it down and then leap to the next level of involvement, we will encounter another barrier.
If we continue doing this, it becomes easier and easier to break down the barriers,
until finally, our lives are likely to be damaged or we are enslaved by the desires of the flesh.

Think about the dating process.
A boy and a girl (or a man and a woman) began dating.
First, they hold hands.
That is one barrier down.
On the next date, they kiss.
Another barrier down.
A few days later, they find themselves alone in the car, and become more physically involved.

Realizing they have gone too far, they decide they will only hold hands and kiss occasionally.
Yet rarely are couples able to return to a less intense level when the barriers of physical intimacy
have been broken down.
Once you break down one barrier, it becomes easier to break down the next one and the next one.

The same thing happens with alcohol.
The kid begins drinking beer with his buddies while at school.
In college he parties more heavily – going from beer to the hard stuff.
Then, somewhere in his twenties, he realizes that he has become dependent on alcohol.
He has a drinking problem!
He decides he will stop altogether.
Unfortunately, it is not that easy – all the barriers are down.

If we see ourselves as two-headed monsters, both good and bad, it is easier to justify choosing bad alternatives.
When we see ourselves as righteous spiritual beings, however temporarily housed in bodies
that feel the pull to sin, it is easier to say, "This pull is not from within me.
This pull to sin is coming from without – from the power of sin in my flesh – from the efforts
of the powers of darkness to pander to my fallen body."
It is easier to say no.

To do this, we must see ourselves as God sees us – as those who have been spiritually reborn
– created in the image of God, in holiness and righteousness – despite being temporarily housed
in our sin-racked earth suits.
Then we must cooperate with Him in the process of conforming our outer lifestyles to our inner holiness in Christ.

So, Paul says… "Put off the old self and put on the new.
This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk,
in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God,
because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;
and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality,
for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him,
just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life,
you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,
that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self,
which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."

(Ephesians 4:17-24)

There is a wayward walk.

Advertising promises us "the good life".
If we drink that beverage or drive their car or live in that house or use that investment company,
we will enjoy the good life – and, by implication, be happy and fulfilled.

Brainwashed into believing that the good life is something that can be bought,
we have more gadgets, more toys and more diversions.
Yet we have more trouble with anxiety, with fear and boredom.

The problem is – we worship the wrong god.
Bacchus is the god of wine and pleasure.
Venus is the goddess of love.
Athena is the goddess of wisdom.
Although the names have changed, the gods themselves haven't.
We still worship them today.

In addition we have added Self – the god of individualism.

William E.Henley expresses this in his poem:
"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll;
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul."

That sounds noble and profound – but it is utter nonsense.
When we attempt to captain the ship of the soul, we soon sail into dangerous waters.
Before long, we smash to pieces on the rocks of our darkened understanding and our moral corruption.

In his chilling novel, "Lord of the Flies," William Golding tells the story of a group of young schoolboys,
after a plane crash, on a deserted island.
Isolated, without the restraints of adults, culture or civilization, the boys gradually turn into a pack of wild animals,
reverting to primitive tribalism and ritual murder.
The few boys who resist this moral and social disintegration are hunted down by the others.
One is knocked over a cliff.
In a cruel and heartless scene, Ralph, the leader of the 'good boys', is chased through
the underbrush towards the seashore.

Terrified, certain of his impending death, Ralph breaks onto the beach and falls at the feet
of a naval officer from a rescue ship.
As the hunting pack breaks out of the brush on the beach, spears ready in frenzied pursuit of their kill,
they are brought up short at the sight of the naval officers.
The boys drop their crude weapons, and the wild, primitive tribe once again becomes a group
of frightened, bewildered schoolchildren.

Reacting to all he has been through, Ralph breaks into tears for the first time.
"With filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose he wept for the end of innocence,
the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy."

The darkness of the human heart is like a sinister cloud that can spread from horizon to horizon
in the human soul, blocking out the sun.
Paul describes that darkness as the wayward walk of those who do not follow the Lord,
"Therefore, he exhorts believers to 'walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk." (Ephesians 4:17)

There is no doubt about it – the Gentiles in Ephesus were sinful.
Ephesus was a leading city of commerce and culture in the Roman Empire,
a key city in the central Mediterranean, and a seat of proconsular power
from which the whole province of Asia could be influenced.

It was also a stronghold of pagan religion.
It was the home of the temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Worship of Diana was a pagan cult associated with fertility rituals, orgiastic rites and religious prostitution.
Its influence made Ephesus a wicked place.
And since many of the Christians in the church at Ephesus came out of that evil background,
Paul uses it as a contrast to the Christian walk.

Paul says, "Don't live like that any longer."
He says, "It is futile, their understanding is darkened.
Because of their ignorance in the hardness of their hearts, they are excluded from the life of God.
Having become callous, they have devoted themselves to sensuality and the greedy practice
of every kind of impurity
." (4:17-19, a paraphrase)

The mind set against God leads nowhere.
Almost 3000 years ago, Solomon – the epitome of wisdom – said that he had pursued everything
the world offered such as fame, fortune, accomplishment, pleasure… everything.
Nothing satisfied.
It was all vanity – empty, purposeless, futile.
The mind set against God is spiritually and morally bankrupt.

I read about a bumper sticker that said, "He who dies with the most toys wins."
Yet you will never hear of anyone on his deathbed calling for his toys to comfort him.
You won't hear anyone saying, "I'm dying bring me my computer, my cell phone, my PhD degree,
my golf clubs, my sports car – now I can die in peace
."

There are many parallels between the sins of the efficient society and the shadow
that's drifting across our own nation.
Spiritual and moral restraints are being cast off with horrifying consequences:
homosexuality, AIDS, drugs, abortion, pornography and crime.

In education, in the legal and penal system, in government we are reaping the consequences of such…
We have a collapsing economy.
We have a crisis in education.
We have an epidemic in crime across our nation.

And even in the face of this, many in the culture want to rid our country of every vestige of religious influence.
They have turned their backs on God to walk in their own futility of mind and their darkened understanding.

In the beginning our nation function on Judaeo-Christian principles.
Then in the 1960s, God was proclaimed dead and the revolution was born.
The rise of drugs, crime, economic problems, government corruption sexual disease and loss of the work ethic
can be traced back to that fundamental change in our national morality.
Today – it is even worse.

Like many in our nation, the Ephesians had turned their backs on God.
As a result, their hearts were darkened by sin in their lives became morally corrupted,
devoted to sensuality and every kind of impurity.
They were dead in their trespasses and sins.
That's why God hates sin… because it destroys His creation.

Paul is saying, "Don't live that way.
Please don't live that way.
That is the old way.
Christ is the new way.
The old way is self-destructive.
The new way is self-sustaining.
Make the break.
Now that you are in Christ, you can no longer be who you were
."

Many people seem to think that sin is like a cream cake.
Those gooey little goodies might not be good for us, but eaten in moderation they won't hurt us either.
Well here's the bad news – sin is not like a cream cake.
Sin is like cocaine.
It doesn't take much to get hooked, and once you do – it will destroy you.

But the good news is that you don't have to stay hooked in the darkness of sin.
You don't have to be lost… you can be saved.
You don't have to walk in darkness – you can walk in the light.
You don't have to be confused – you can know the truth.
You don't have to be consumed by doubt – you can be filled with faith.
You don't have to drown in despair – you can be rescued by hope in Christ.
You don't have to live in fear and hate – you can live in love.

God is not only willing to lead us out of the darkness, He is eager to do so.
He will lift us to higher ground and a lighted pathway and in green pastures – no matter how long
or how deep we have been in sin.

Has something you love been taken from you?
Have you lost your job?
Have you lost your sense of purpose?
Are you having difficulty replacing some broken barriers?
Are you afraid to take the risk – that is to make the full commitment to God?
Is that old self still hanging around – trying to get your attention?
Have you allowed yourself to fall back into some of your old ways?

God specializes in taking broken lives and making them whole.
God specializes in taking aimless lives and giving them direction.
God specializes in taking meaningless lives and giving them purpose.
God specializes in taking hateful lives and filling them with love.
God specializes in taking sad lives and giving them joy.
God specializes in taking harried lives and giving them peace.

As we walk the Christian walk in the light of the love of Christ,
what people see on the outside begins to look more like the transformed self on the inside.

Sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White