We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. It’s all about getting a FRESH start in the new year. So far, we have gotten a FRESH perspective – that God is not for the “righteous,” but for sinners; and we have learned about the personal FRESH start that God offers to us in baptism.
But…how does all of this affect YOUR day to day life?
It’s kind of like becoming a vegan. Once you get a Vegan Life tattoo, you don’t just go to Burger King for a Triple Whopper.
Or if you are diagnosed with Gluten Intolerance, it’s not wise to bemoan the diagnosis with a package of saltine crackers.
Or even if you declare yourself a Duke fan and you attend the Duke basketball game in full Duke blue, it would be unwise to stand up and cheer when a baby blue Tarheel slam dunks the basketball.
Once you have been given a FRESH start, it necessitates that you live in a FRESH way.
Today we are going to dive into God’s Word to learn more about what a FRESH lifestyle looks like. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Ephesian Issue
The lesson for today comes from the book of Ephesians. It’s a letter written by a pastor to church in Ephesus. And there are two main reasons that he writes the letter:
(1) Young Church.
This church in Ephesus was not that old. The majority of the people that belong to that church were fairly young in their faith, too.
This isn’t necessarily bad. Usually when people are young in their faith, they are filled with enthusiasm and excitement for their Savior and for the FRESH start that He has given them.
But one of the challenges when you are a young-in-faith Christian is that you don’t have very deep roots in the faith.
Like a young plant that hasn’t had a long time to grow deep roots, young in faith Christians haven’t had a long time to grow roots.
Paul’s letter was written, in part, to deepen their roots and grow their faith.
(2) Ungodly Culture.
The second reason for the letter goes hand in hand. Ephesus was not exactly a place well-known for worshipping the true God.
It wasn’t a place that taught that Messiah.
It wasn’t a place that was blessed with a temple or filled with Old Testament readers.
It was a city that developed a good portion of its economic capital from false god worship.
There were temples devoted to false gods.
Priests paid to man those temples to false gods.
Maintenance men paid to fix the toilets at those temples devoted to false gods.
In fact, in Acts 19 describes a marketplace that was dedicated to buying little handmade false gods for you to take home and worship. Can you imagine? I picture storefronts with names like: “Idols ‘R Us”, “JC Idols,” and “Build-a-Bear: False God Edition.”
One of the most famous false gods to worship in Ephesus was a god called Artemis.
Artemis was not a god like the LORD.
Artemis didn’t have so many rules.
Artemis didn’t care if you were drunk when you worshipped her.
She didn’t care if you chose to worship her by sleeping with people you aren’t married to.
In fact, she encouraged you to come to special room in the temple where lots of people slept with other people they weren’t married to – all in the name of Artemis!
The new church in Ephesus was young in their faith.
Paul’s concern was that many of them would claim to be followers of Jesus, but then follow the same, regular old, sinful, Ephesian way of life.
As a result, Paul writes his letter:
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. (v.17)
“Gentile” is a word that usually means not Jewish.
But here it’s focus isn’t on the genealogical code of the Ephesian people.
But on their lifestyle – as a people far apart from the true God.
Paul wants them, the people who are close to God, to stop living like the people who are far apart from God.
Three reasons the Ephesian way of life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be:
(1) Darkened in Understanding.
The picture is of a two people. A guy who is blindfolded and in darkness and a guy who isn’t blindfolded and can see. The guy who can see has no problem maneuvering as he goes about life. He can see things, so avoid obstacles and walks around bumps in the road. But the guy who is blindfolded has troubles. He bumps into walls. He stumbles on steps. He steps on Friendly, the neighborhood cat!
It would not make a lot of sense for the guy who doesn’t have the blindfold on to say: “I wish I was wearing a blindfold. Then, I could bump into things, trip over obstacles and be viciously attacked by Friendly, the neighborhood cat.”
Yet – that’s exactly what the Ephesians believers were doing.
They were the ones in the light. They knew what the truth was. They knew what pleased God.
But they were being tempted to live like the people with the blindfolds on!
“Man, I wish that I was drunk more. It’d be fun to ruin the few friendships I have left by screaming obscenities at people.”
“I’m so jealous of Bob. I wish I had the intimacy issues that he has thanks to playing the field and sleeping with a different girl each night.”
“Family is alright, but I think I need to be more like others at work to focus more on money, money, money, money, money…”
This is foolish. If you are in the light but walk around with your eyes closed – don’t be surprised when you leave a relational mess everywhere you go.
(2) Lost Sensitivity.
Paul writes, “having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity and they are full of greed.” (v.18)
Does this ever happen to you? You’re looking for a late-night snack and you grab the bag of chips up in the cupboard. You figure. “I’ll just have one.” You sit down. Turn on Netflix. And place one chip into your mouth.
You start searching through the “Because You Watched The Office” section of Netflix and have switched to putting two chips into your mouth.
You settle on your show and suddenly your find yourself, almost subconsciously, throwing in 5 or 6 chips at the same time.
Before you know it, you’re doing that thing where you just grab a pile with your hands, toss your head back and drop it into your open mouth.
You’ve lost all sensitivity.
It’s the same thing with sin. Something might seem morally repugnant to you: I hate looking at porn.
Then, you make that one concession: “I feel really, really bad. Granted, it was only a lingerie ad and I kinda have to look at it because it’s a pop-up ad. But it wasn’t right.”
Then, another concession: “Well, it’s only nudity. I suppose it’s not good for me, but it could be worse.”
And before you know it– “Yep. I watch porn. What’s the big deal?”
Staying on the path to an ungodly way of life leads to losing all sensitivity.
Like a friend of mine. I remember this back in college. Things were kind of going downhill for him. He took some of us aside and was in tears. He said, “I am struggling with the party lifestyle. I get wasted. I get high. I sleep around. It’s horrifying.
But…that’s not the reason I am concerned.
That’s not the reason I am horrified.
The reason I feel horrified…?
It’s because I don’t feel horrified.
Living a sinful lifestyle will lessen your sensitivity to sin. Be careful.
(3) Separated from the Life of God.
One final reason: “They are separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (v.18) And I think, really, this manifests itself in two ways.
They feel dead inside. They can’t shake sin. They can’t shake shame. They can’t shake this feeling that they are directly responsible for messing up their own lives. They are apart from God. Apart from the “life” that has forgiveness and stuck with the dead weight of their sins.
If you are a believer, this is multiplied.
Because the devil comes along and takes full advantage:
“You’re a believer…but you do that stuff. Hmmm… Are you sure?”
“You’re a God lover, why do you love that sinful thing so much? Maybe…God doesn’t love you.”
“You’re supposed to be his child? You’re acting like his enemy. You MUST be his enemy.”
If you continue in your sinful lifestyle, you will continue to deal with this dead inside feeling; and miss out on the joy of forgiveness!
But this is about more than feeling dead inside.
Do you remember John 3:16? It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
That’s nice. That’s encouraging. That’s good news.
But…have you ever read John 3:18? “But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he does not believe in the name of God’s Son.”
Condemned? That’s a reference to death.
Here’s Paul’s point: Are you, as a believer headed towards heaven, really jealous of the unbelieving way that leads to hell?
Do you believe it’s a better way from life?
If so, do you believe you are still a believer if you believe that life apart from Jesus is better?
Here’s the truth.
Living your life apart from God, threatens living eternal life apart from God.
This is a warning.
A warning Paul wrote.
A warning the Holy Spirit preserved.
A warning that God is speaking to your heart today.
Take heed. Because “That is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” (v.20-21)
II. Zacchaeus – a Case Study
Zacchaeus grabbed the lowest hanging branch of the sycamore fig tree and pulled himself up. He positioned his feet in the crook of the rather large branch, steadied himself with his left hand and while trying to catch his breath, he looked over the crowd to the speaking 300 some odd feet away.
Zacchaeus had always wanted to see him. He had heard Jesus promoting a new perspective on God. The promise that God loved even scum of the earth, tax collecting sinners like himself and sent the Savior for scum of the earth tax collecting sinners like himself.
It gave Zacchaeus hope. Because Zacchaeus lived a lifestyle without a lot of hope.
He had gotten into the tax collecting business for the money.
And the money led to greed.
The greed to deception.
Deception to stealing from his neighbors.
And the stealing from his neighbors…to not having many friends.
He got drunk.
He paid for women.
He paid for the illegal drugs for that table over there if only…they’d hang out with him.
It wasn’t real friendship.
It wasn’t a good way to life.
It left him alone, guilt and ashamed.
That’s why he had to be in the back – he was too sinful to be near a teacher like Jesus.
And he had to be in a sycamore fig tree because he was too short to see over anyone.
But from up in that branch…he could see just fine.
And he could see just fine…as Jesus spoke.
He could see just fine…as Jesus ended his sermon.
He could see just fine…as Jesus walked…directly…towards…him.
And Zacchaeus thought: “Surely! He’s going to call me out! Surely. He’s going to point out to the crowd a modern-day example of sin and filth – which is exactly what I am.”
But Jesus said something different: “Zacchaeus. Come down right now. I’m going to your house today.” (Lk. 19:5)
And Zacchaeus moved down from that tree faster than any house cat.
He was excited that Jesus wanted to be with Him.
He took him home to his house.
He listened as Jesus spoke about forgiveness.
He heard as Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Savior for scum of the earth, tax collecting sinners like himself.
And Zacchaeus believed Jesus.
And then! Zacchaeus said something that is altogether incredible:
“Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (v.9)
Do you see it?
Zacchaeus didn’t need his money-based life when he had the promise of the eternal things.
Zacchaeus didn’t need to fill his life with greed when he was filled with the love of Jesus.
Zacchaeus didn’t need things and stuff when he had the one thing needful.
Zacchaeus didn’t need sin that condemns when he had the Savior who saves.
Neither do you.
You have the One.
You have your Savior.
You have absolutely, full and complete forgiveness with Jesus Christ.
You don’t need your former way of life.
You don’t need your sin.
You don’t need the stuff that the world apart from Christ chases after.
You have the eternal, constant, all-powerful, undeserved love of Christ Jesus.
Here’s what God’s Word is telling you:
Jesus gave up everything to be with you. Give up your sinful lifestyle to be with Him.
Just like Jesus said about Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Literally!
Jesus, who is salvation, came to Zacchaeus’ house. What else did he need?
And that same Jesus, has come to your house, by faith. What else do you need?
III. WHAT NOW?
And so…the WHAT NOW? It comes from the next part of Ephesians four. Verse by verse. A three-step encouragement to find a new way of living.
1) Put Off Your Old Self
Paul 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.” (v.22)
A few years back I had this black shirt that I bought off the clearance rack of TJ MAXX (Because I only buy off the clearance rack at TJ Maxx) and I bought this on my own, without Julianna present. Anyway, I thought it was cool. It was a long-sleeved black, nice shirt that had charcoal stripes running lengthwise, and a subtle hint of flashiness when the light hit it the right way.
Julianna thought that the light should never hit it and it should remain in the closet.
Understand. This is the gist of what God is telling you.
Take off your old way of life.
Take off the addiction.
Take off the greed.
Take off the lust.
Take off the rage.
Take off the bitterness, gossip, and pride.
It doesn’t look good on you.
And…more importantly…it’s not who you are!
Take a moment. Think about a sin that you struggle with. Think of a sin that you like to wear.
I want you to identify that sin and this week, like right now and take steps to take off that old, sinful lifestyle!
Which might sound intimidating.
It might sound hard.
That’s why we need to remember the second point:
2) Be made NEW in your Minds
Paul continues, “You were taught…to be made new in the attitude of your minds…” (v.23) Look carefully at that verb. It’s passive. It doesn’t say, “Make your attitude new.” That’s really hard to do. Theologically, it’s impossible to do. If your mind is one of sin and the former way of life, it won’t be able to make itself new and develop a new way of life that’s actually new.
Instead, it’ll just be:
“I should stop gossiping.” And then, “Man, aren’t I awesome at not gossiping?”
From a lifestyle of gossip to a lifestyle of pride – aka – from a lifestyle of sin to a lifestyle of sin.
We need Jesus.
We need to BE MADE NEW.
We are made new in God’s Word.
We are truly made new through repeated, repetitive, persistent and consistent time in God’s Word.
It’s like moving down to Raleigh after living many years up North in Wisconsin. And now that I have been here 8 years --- I’ve noticed something about my vocabulary. I say things that I didn’t used to say.
I say things like:
and “Bless your heart.”
Time around people who said things like that has led me to be made new in my mind and speak things like that.
It’s the same with God’s way of living.
Time in God’s Word… Repeated, repetitive, persistent and consistent time in God’s Word will make our minds new.
Repeated, repetitive, persistent and consistent time watching that TV-Mature Netflix series? It won’t make you new. It’ll keep you in your old lifestyle.
But time in God’s Word?
It makes your minds new.
Because it reminds you of who you are.
This all leads to the final big point from Ephesians:
3) Put on the New Self
Specifically, Ephesians says: “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (v.24)
Because as the alarm goes off in the wee hours of the morning and you’re trying to figure out what outfit would look good and which pair of novelty socks you should wear today:
Don’t forget your watch.
Don’t forget your wedding ring.
And don’t forget to put on Jesus’ love.
Clothe yourself with the fact that you are forgiven.
Put on the socks that say you are SAVED.
Put on the T-shirt that says God’s child.
Put on the hat with the phrase HEALED FROM SIN visible on the brim!
Put on the NEW self and live as the NEW self the rest of the day.
That’s a NEW way of living.
That’s a FRESH way of living.
That’s the way of living that God has called you to. Amen.