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Grow Up!

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GROW UP! “put off your old self . . . put on the new self” Eph. 4:22-24 In spite of the very many years that have now passed by, I can still vividly remember the day when I really began to grow up. It happened at a bus stop, at the bottom of Uxbridge High Street just near the old Odeon cinema, as I pushed my heavy suitcase into the boot of a large north-bound coach, kissed mum goodbye, climbed aboard and took my seat, and then waved through the window as we drew away. As a newly recruited undergraduate, I was on my way to take up lodgings in Kings Norton, in the suburbs of Birmingham and was soon to find out that despite the rumours to the contrary here in the rather smug and self-absorbed south-east, there was indeed life, of a sort, “north of Watford”. It was an alien life though, where plimsolls, the forerunners of the now ubiquitous trainers, for some reason were known as “pumps”; where old ladies had a random tendency to hug you warmly for no apparent reason and refer to you as “me-duck”, and, in those more innocent days, young factory girls on the way to work would hold hands, and skip together down the street loudly singing pop songs. But without mobile phones, Skype, or social networks, contact with family from wilderness locations like the remote English Midlands, was confined to handwritten letters, which were pretty much guaranteed to be significantly out of date before arrival. Or, alternatively, to a trip to the nearest red phone box where you would stand outside in a queue in the wind, rain or snow, waiting forlornly, and increasingly irritatedly, for your chance to battle with buttons “A” and “B” before shouting repeated phrases down the line and then seeking to decode the staccato responses received from your loved ones. The result was that to all intents and purposes contact with family and friends while away from home pursuing your education was severely limited, so that you either gave up and went home, or you grew up and got on with it and soon found out that there were actually some blessings and benefits from your newly acquired independence. And at root, growing up does involve this process of moving from dependence on others to independence. From relying on mum and dad, to organising and taking responsibility for your own life. And, in terms of our Christian lives, a similar process is also required. We need to grow up and form an independent personal relationship with God for ourselves and not just continue to be supported and protected by others. Now I’d ask you NOT to throw things at me , but I think a case could be made, that many western Christians like ourselves, untested by the real persecution that our counterparts in many other countries have to face, may well have more of a tendency to give up rather than to grow up, choosing to remain big babies sustained by the pastoral care of others rather than becoming responsible Christian adults. And isn’t that just the kind of thing that the author of Hebrews was alluding to when he wrote: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food;” (Hebrews 5:12, NRSV) So this morning then I want us to listen to one of Paul’s challenging statements to the Ephesian church, a statement that wasn’t, but might well have been, prefixed by that phrase heard frequently from the lips of exasperated parents or schoolteachers witnessing the foolish behaviour of their children or charges, “Grow up!” You might find it helpful to have Ephesians 4:22-24 open in front of you as we look together at Paul’s illuminating message. Separated as we are by the centuries, it can sometimes be difficult for us to really hear for ourselves, the strength and the power of what God wants us to hear from His Word and that is certainly true of our passage this morning because we don’t know Paul personally, and we weren’t there when the church elders read out his latest letter at meetings especially convened to hear what he had to say. So a useful trick is to put your own name in front of the scripture and read as though Paul were speaking directly to you. So this is what we read: BARRY: 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. Ephesians 4:22–24 (NIV84). Now rather than provide a meticulous exegesis of these verses this morning, which would probably be beyond me anyway, I’d just like us to consider some fairly random but hopefully useful thoughts of my own and being the naturally contrary person that I am, I want us to begin at the end rather than the beginning. So verse 24 of our passage tells us to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Did you get that? This wonderful verse is reminding us of the mind blowing truth that as born-again Christians, our new redeemed self has been made to be “like God” and to display not a fake, or a watered down version, but “TRUE righteousness and holiness”. So just ask yourself once again this morning, “Do I really believe God’s Word?” And if your answer is “yes”, then God is telling us here, in no uncertain terms, that in Christ we have the inherent ability to demonstrate His righteousness and holiness. Wow! But look now at verse 22. “ You were taught, (says Paul) with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;” Paul is here reminding the Ephesians, and now, of course us, as 21st Century Lane End disciples, of part of the content of what we might now call a “Foundation Course for new Christians” and this is interesting in its own right, since it indicates that Paul clearly felt that such foundational teaching is very important for all who come to faith in Christ. Now, just as an aside, though I have no real evidence to support my case, I just wonder whether Paul’s understanding of the spiritual growth principles outlined in our passage this morning reflect his own personal experience and revelation gained perhaps in those three years in Arabia after his conversion and before his 15 day visit to see Peter and James, Jesus’ brother, in Jerusalem, around AD37. But whatever the truth, not many of us, I think, would want, or dare, to challenge either Paul’s authority in this matter, or the wisdom of his teaching. His central and fearless role as perhaps the pre-eminent Apostle in keeping the fledgling church on track in the face of many who seemed to be leading it astray, is an overwhelming endorsement of his credentials in this matter. And, certainly, without such guided teaching, new Christians will plainly struggle unnecessarily with the basics of our faith. But with it, spiritual growth will be enhanced and recipients will be blessed, nurtured and equipped to mature in their faith. They will be equipped to “GROW UP” spiritually. But perhaps most interestingly, the fact that Paul says of the Ephesians “You were “TAUGHT”, “. . . to put off your old self”, indicates that this passage is really making clear that there is something here that it’s the responsibility of the church to TEACH; and, something that each of us as Christians really must LEARN. Namely, that we MUST “put off” our “old self” and “put on” our “new self”. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall receiving any such teaching after I became a Christian. So could this passage actually be exposing a critical weakness in the teaching received by those who now come to Christ? Because I think that many of us may have been left to discover these things for ourselves, and so we may or may not have done so. And we may have uncovered here a reason why we may not fully be the people we are meant to be as Christians. A reason, if you like, why we may perhaps have failed to grow up as Christians as we should. But why is Paul counselling us in verse 22, quote, “with regard to your former way of life (that is, to how you lived before you became a Christian) to put off your old self”. Why does he say this? Well he writes: 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; So Paul is emphasising here that we must learn to put off our old self because it is continually corrupting us with desires that are DECEITFUL. That is, not only is our old self inherently unhelpful to our walk as Christians, but it is also continually making things worse for us because the desires that spring from and are sourced in our old self are “deceitful desires”. Our unregenerate desires may seem to offer us an attractive PROMISE, a desirable OUTCOME, a RETURN that will be satisfying, fulfilling and rewarding, but in reality their promise, outcome and return are in fact a deceit, a lie. They are not “as advertised”, and they undermine and negate what the new self is intended, equipped and EMPOWERED to deliver in us, namely “God-likeness” which is “true righteousness and holiness”. So fail to act on this then, and we will find that the deceitful desires of our old self, will actually prevent us from putting on the new self, and so will bring us only spiritual stagnation and loss, and deny us the joy, fulfilment and potential future reward, from serving God fruitfully. Earlier in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he has already reminded them of what their old self is really like. He writes in Ephesians 2:1–3 (ESV) — And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Now, if you are anything like me, and recognise in yourself not only Paul’s diagnosis here, but also have to admit to a shamefully poor success rate in this whole area, then you will be screaming out on the inside, “Yes, but HOW! How do I get to rip off the old man and super-glue on the new man. HOW!” --- So here, I think is the critical point of what I want to share this morning. If we are to do as verse 24 tells us and “put ON the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”, then we will need to somehow follow the direction given to us by Paul in verse 23 which is both clear and precise, telling us to “be made new in the attitude of your minds;” The secret then, to putting on this new self, Paul is saying, lies in a new attitude of mind. Someone has wisely said that we are what we think. And that we will inevitably tend to act and move in the direction of what we put into our minds and what we allow our minds to focus on. So putting on the new self involves starting to think differently, because by doing so we will inevitably begin to be different and therefore to do differently. If we are not what we want to be; if we are not living out of our NEW self; then we need to begin to think differently because thinking differently will cause us to “be made new in the attitude of our minds.” Spiritual transformation begins in us as we work to renew our thinking, which of course, is what Paul shares with the church in Rome, declaring in that familiar verse: Romans 12:2 (NIV84) “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Interestingly, in his letter to the Colossians Paul gives us a pointer to the key arenas for change in this process. In Colossians 3:2 (ESV) he says: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”. Indicating the critical need to adjust our spiritual focus. Taking it off our problems, issues and failures and learning more and more to fix it on spiritual realities. On who we are now in Christ, on the life-changing power of faith in God’s Word and on the Holy Spirit who now indwells us. In Colossians 3:5 he says: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Indicating the critical need to tackle and destroy, to “take out”, all those things that seek to displace Jesus from His rightful central place in our lives. We are not to put up with them, and allow them to somehow co-exist with our new life, but we are to exterminate them, eradicate them. He is saying “Don’t tolerate these things, put them to death, KILL THEM”. In Colossians 3:12–14 he says: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” So here we see that we need to consistently work at developing all aspects of Christ like attitudes and behaviour. We need then to keep our focus firmly on the promise God has given that we can be transformed into his likeness and reject the tendency to be undermined by the negative thoughts that our inevitable failures and the painfully slow pace of our improvement tend to bring us. We need to steadfastly encourage and remind ourselves as Matthew 19:26 confirms that "with God all things are possible”, and as Paul tells the Roman church in Romans 4:17 that God "calls things that are not as though they were", so we must do the same. We must barge aside all tendencies to be discouraged and to give up and instead, as Hebrews 12:1 urges, we must: "throw off everything that hinders", and in the words of Philippians 3:14 "press on toward the goal to win the prize” for which God has called us. Now at this point, I suggest we need to pause and just think this through a little more. The Christian life begins doesn’t it, as we “take a step of faith”, believing that because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and His subsequent victorious resurrection, we can come into a brand new life. We are saved, born again, and receive new life, not because of our merit, but because of FAITH in what Jesus has done for us. The Christian life begins not based on our worth, our goodness or our personal works of righteousness. So why, if we are not saved on the basis of our personal worthiness, would we imagine that once saved we are now to live our Christian lives on the basis of our self-generated merit? That simply does not make any sense. Like our salvation, growing up as a Christian is about faith not works. Remember, verse 24 in our passage says: “put on the new self, CREATED to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” The new self is not manufactured by us, by our good works; it is not earned by our effort; it is CREATED by God and PUT ON by us. And indeed the ONLY works of ours that have any merit at all are those commissioned by God as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 (NIV84) For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. So growing up as a Christian is not about being saved by grace through faith, but then earning merit by our own good works. That would be an invidious form of legalism and we know that Paul was unafraid to tackle even Peter over just such an attempt to introduce double standards into the fabric of the gospel. We know therefore that there is no way Paul can be telling us in our text passage today that we must put off the old self and put on the new self through a regime of colossal self-effort. So he is NOT telling us that now we are Christians we are to make the needed changes to our lives by personal effort. Primarily, “growing up” as a born again Christian is not about effort it is about our faith relationship with the Saviour. We put on the new self by developing and applying our faith relationship with Jesus. It is about lining up our beliefs and our lives with what God’s Word tells us. Whether we are seeking to put off our old self or put on the new self, we should be seeking to respond with faith to what the Word of God tells us. And because our new self is created by God, as we apply our faith to believe what God’s Word says about it, we will inevitably see the transformation working out in our lives. So finally, and very briefly, I want to suggest that there are fundamentally three key operators in this two-fold “putting off” and “putting on” experience. First, we must PRIORITISE drawing closer and closer to our Saviour. We must ACT to develop our personal relationship with Jesus by giving time to being in His presence. Our focus must become, not our prayers and petitions, or even reading the Word to develop our knowledge, vital as these things are. Our focus must be on WORSHIPPING Him and actively seeking His presence. Second, we need to develop our faith in God’s Word so that the transformative power of BELIEVING what God says, grows in us and enhances our Christian life. And then thirdly, we must cultivate our understanding of the truth that the Holy Spirit now actually indwells us and learn as Paul says in Galatians 5:16 to “live by the Spirit,” because then we “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” These are the seed-bed that will inevitably provide a harvest of spiritual blessing and revelation in our lives and enable us to GROW-UP, put off our deceitful “old self” and enjoy the fruits of our God created “new self”. To end, listen to one of Paul’s prayers which, while written like our text, for the Ephesians, is certainly meant for us too and is very much a prayer we should pray for ourselves and for one another. He says: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14–19, NIV84)
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