Habits are tough to break. By very definition, they are things we are accustomed to doing regularly. One of the reasons why they are tough to break is because of how they interact with our brain. In his book, The Power of the Habit Charles Duhigg says, “when a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in the decision making.” They serve as timesavers for our brains.
I think we all experienced the benefits and difficulties with habits. A positive routine of discipline can be a fruitful habit. But a routine of laziness and indulgence can have negative results.
There is nothing more habitual for us than sin. We have had this tendency since day one. We don’t even have to really think about sin. It just comes naturally. The soul, says Augustine, is caved or turned in upon itself. This is our habit. We habitually pursue ourselves rather than God.
The Bible shows us that this is not the way we as Christians should live. Our old habits of sin should not accompany our new habits of grace. This way that is characteristic of our old lives should not be so of our new lives in Christ. Our old habits are to die with our old nature.
New life in Christ transforms how and why we live.
This morning we’ll see this in the latter half of the fourth chapter of the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. Not only does Paul prescribe a particular manner of living (which involves an intolerant rebuke of anything that contradicts it) but also he provides the motivation for this type of living. He gives the what and the why. Walk this way—and or this reason.
We can call these 4 everyday priorities or Christian. Your new life brings a new walk.
New life in Christ transforms how and why we live.
(1) Don’t live like a Pagan (4:17–21)
Many estimate the origin of the word pagan as coming from the early 4th century. It was used by Christians, actually, when describing those who were not part of the church. It was used to describe those who lived not only apart from Christ but also in the service of other gods. It was a term for those who were part of polytheistic religions. So I title this point don’t be a pagan not in trying to use a vague term but rather to import its historic meaning: those who instead of worshiping God through Jesus give themselves to the hearty devotion of other gods, oftentimes through the worship of themselves.
And this is what the Apostle is after here. He is saying that he does not want these professing Christians to live like unbelievers.
Before giving his reasons why he gets everyone’s attention with his tone. Look with me at verse 17.
Remember, to walk is another way of saying live. Don’t walk like a Gentile, is to say, don’t live like an unbeliever. Don’t conduct your life in a manner that reflects someone who does not trust and treasure Jesus.
The gospel comes with ongoing requirements. We aren’t saved by works, but we are saved for them (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Notice the significance and solemnity of this request. He says that he is saying this and testifying in the Lord of its truth. Paul is an apostle, he brings the sign and seal of the Almighty––his words have God’s weight. His source of authority brings a sense of sobriety and solemnity. He means to get your attention. A new life in Christ transforms how and why we live. If you say you’re following Jesus then you can’t live like a pagan.
In one sense we could just end the sermon right here. Straight and to the point, Paul, thank you. It should be convicting to us, as if we were sitting in that Ephesian church, hearing this letter read for the first time. And as it is, the command to not walk like a pagan laid over our lives. One would honestly ask themselves the question that I would encourage you to ask yourself today, “Do I live like a pagan? Is my life characterized by a love for and obedience to Christ?” If not, then I should ask what is going on and then I would need to stop. Immediately!
But ever the pastor and thorough friend, Paul rings this out and helps explain why.
First, he shows us that to walk like a pagan is to walk according to the old order. It’s inconsistent with the new manner of life that we have in Christ. The Gentiles here is a point of contrast to the way of Christ. And then he goes on to say how they walk, in the futility of their minds. This is describing the baseless of their thinking. It’s earthly or worldly thinking. We formerly lived like this (Eph 2:1-3) but have since been converted, made new, and now have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places and received all of the blessings of God in Christ. Whereas the Christian is to have their thoughts calibrated by heaven and the new order that Christ has inaugurated, the pagan, the Gentile, is characterized by a dogged worldliness. It has roots here. And it is, says Paul, futile.
Then he goes on to reinforce this further, and he does so with a number of descriptions that can be broadly bundled together as being alienated from God. He is basically saying, don’t live like a pagan because they are alienated from God. Don’t live in a way that betrays the realities of the gospel.
The first description is that of darkened understanding (v.18)
Secondly, he writes that they are alienated from the life of God.
This is because of the ignorance that is within them.
In summary fashion, Paul concludes that the Gentiles are hard-hearted, unfeeling, sensual, and greedy.
The vivid language here makes his point. A hard heart is an unresponsive heart. It’s like a brick wall. Not inviting. Not open. When it comes to the Word of God people aren’t responsive. And the living is connected to the Word.
The unbeliever is in bondage to sin. The Christian, because of the powerful work of the Spirit, is made new and liberated to obey.
So he says that they have become callous. I’m sure we’ve experienced callouses before. After doing something, usually physical, for a period of time, some toughness develops on our skin. This helps reduce pain or sensitivity. But what Paul is talking about here is not a good thing. He’s saying that the unbeliever’s heart is characterized by the inability to feel shame over sin. Doesn’t it seem that increasingly people have lost the ability to blush over their sin? The only embarrassment comes from not feeling a sense of embarrassment. When we read Romans 1 we see the people plunging down deeper and deeper into depravity.
This leads to increased sensuality. This involves sexuality, of course, but it’s not limited to this.
The descriptors continue with Paul saying that they are greedy to practice every kind of impurity. This is the reflex of the pagan. The unbeliever.
They have lost any sensitivity to feel any conviction and they are greedy for practicing sin. There really is very little discrimination over what type of impurity. It doesn’t matter. Equal opportunity sinning. As Romans 1 says, inventors of evil.
Paul is saying don’t walk like a pagan, don’t live like a Gentile because it’s characteristic of a life of alienation. And you as a Christian, don’t live like this. You aren’t alienated but near.
The first breath of new life is a denouncement of citizenship in the old order. Each successive breath is to support this initiate cry.
Then there is another reason.
Because it contradicts the gospel.
You see in verses 20-21 this rapid-fire language, like a parent reviewing their lessons with their children. Notice the progression here: there is a hearing, teaching, and learning.
We learn Christ.
What does it mean to learn Christ?
To learn Christ is to learn of why he came, what he did, and what it means.
To bring the gospel in here as a compelling reason for why they should not live this way is to show the importance and relevance of the gospel to our lives. Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection must shape how we live.
Imagine a situation where a man’s brother was murdered in brutal fashion in his field. At the time of the murder, the knife was not found. But in the course of time, the brother found it in close proximity to the attack. Now, what if the brother picked up the weapon, cleaned it off, and then put it in his toolbox to use? Can you imagine this man who loved his brother using the weapons of his death as a regular tool of life? Of course not. The weapon is a monument of depravity and wickedness. It screams at him whenever he looks at it. There’s no way he could ever find it useful.
So too, brothers and sisters, must we think of the deeds of the flesh. They are the weapons that crucified Christ. Our sin. Our worldliness.
You can deny the gospel with how you live as much as what you profess to believe. We can’t walk in this way.
Because it’s based upon the old way of life, the old order (17)
Because it’s a life characterized by alienation (18-19)
Because it contradicts the gospel (20-21)
(2) Put off and Put On (4:22–24)
I want you to imagine for a second, someone coming home from working all day. But it’s not an office job that this guy has but instead, he works on a farm. Specifically a dairy and pig farm. Imagine he comes in the end of the day with his work boots on covered with mud, his overalls soiled, his hands filthy, and not to mention the smell that accompanies him. Imagine that he just walks in the house, dressed as he was with the pigs and cows, and just reclines on the couch. How would his wife respond? Take off those clothes. Put some clean clothes on. Get your mind right.
And this is what Paul is saying here.
We see in verse 22, put off your old self
Then in verse 24, put on the new self
And sandwiched in between is this in verse 23, be renewed in the spirit of your minds
Think of the old self as the filthy clothes that accompany the workday. They are the vices, the worldly habits of depravity. Paul says, put those off. In another place, he says, put them to death. Kill them. These manifestations of sin and depravity must be dealt with a holy intolerance.
Why? (See verse 22)
Because they belong to the old you.
Because it's corrupted through deceitful desires. The old self is warped and inclined in itself with wrong desires and lusts. Paul is saying, put it off. Put it to death. (Illustration of pet snake who killed its owner)
How do you know what and how to do this? Well, we see in verse 23, we are renewed in our minds. This is where the battle takes place.
In the 21st Century, the mind is a neglected territory. Too often we look past the mind (what we think) to focus on the heart (what we feel and love). But the heart is actually led by the mind and therefore, the heart is only changed by the mind being renewed.
In another place, Paul says that we are not to be conformed to this world’s manner of thinking but rather we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
Our minds are never neutral. They are always being shaped. They are always being conformed.
The question is, what are they being conformed to? Who is shaping them? How are they being shaped?
This is part of what it means to live as a Christian. Our new life in Christ transforms how and why we live. A new life means a new walk.
And so we put on. We are to put on the virtues of this new life in Christ.
And, again, Paul shows us that this is not just a list of things to do but an overarching framework established. He not only tells us how to live but why. We are to put on these virtues, these acts consistent with what God has called you to be, because this is how God has remade you. It’s who he has made you to be.
If you are looking for a list of what to put on it’s basically everything the Bible tells you to do. If you’re looking for something a bit more concise, it’s to remove yourself as the center of the universe and put God there. And as you do, make your decisions, live in accordance with what he says and for the reason that God says.
And this is what he gives us in the next several verses (and throughout a lot of Ephesians). We are given some practical examples ow what this new life should look like.
So far, we’ve seen the exhortation to not live like a pagan and the practical counsel to put off and put on. Now, we see the priority to press the gospel into everyday life.
(3) Press the gospel into every day (4:25–32)
A. “Therefore” instructs us in the practicality and urgency of applying the gospel.
B. There are five examples of where how we must apply the gospel in the everyday, nitty-gritty of life.
Deal with your anger promptly and properly, lest you leave a house key for Satan. (v.26-27)
Don’t steal, but work hard and honestly, so you can share with those in need. (v.28)
Instead of being careless, consider how to say what is most appropriate and life-giving to others. (v.29)
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. (v.30)
Forsake the fleshly reflex that pivots on self and instead dispense grace that reflects what you’ve received from God in Christ. (vv.30-31)
(4) Remember and Reflect Jesus (5:1–2)
A. We are to imitate our Heavenly Father, as beloved children
B. We do this by reflecting Jesus
C. We do this by remembering the gospel
Note the practicality of the gospel.
Why do you think it’s so difficult to reflect Christ?
Do you find yourself looking at how Christ lived as your model?