Renewed Growth with Ephesians 4

Renewed: Putting Away our Old Self

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rain. It gives water to renew for growth. It is an awesome gift from God. And everyone living in the Pennsylvania area knows about the rain we’ve been having this week.

It’s been easy to grumble a bit or get depressed with so much rain. But today we see the results of that rain. The sun has come out and we see a renewed growth of life in both nature and ourselves.

The garden and flowerbeds at my home have been thriving (like one of our home’s flowerbeds in my picture above). And we, too, are growing daily in God’s word.

Each morning before I do anything, I spend time in God’s word to help renew my soul. The word of God is like water with every bit of nutrient included, everything I need for spiritual and mental growth and mediation.

Most importantly, I do this before I look at any screen so that I can focus on his message to me without distractions. We have to be open to hearing his message without distraction, and without the truth being hidden.

Paul wrote about this in Ephesians. I’m amazed at Paul’s boldness. His clarity to renew our selves is right there. I am also amazed at our current society’s willingness to shed either tiny parts of Ephesians or even whole chapters. Especially the part where we renew our way of life and speak truth in love.

Truth in Love

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

There has been a lot of talk of love in the past few days. A lauded sermon delivered in London at the royal wedding spoke of love. In our service this morning, that sermon was brought up in our pastor’s sermon. I have been hearing much of love.

Is the gospel just about love?

The most common phrase is “speaking in love.” There is some truth to this. But it also ‘misses the mark’ because it neglects to mention the word truth.

Something Paul stresses in Ephesians is that, as the body of Christ, we are to take up the whole armor of God (chapter 6). Truth, is part of that armor.

Love by itself can be overused. And when used as the only part of the gospel, it can even weaken the gospel. Or worse, pervert the gospel because we all have a different idea of what exactly it is when we say “love.”

Most would agree that not much is wrong with a couple who love each other. As long as they are happy, we are told.

But what if instead of two, it is three who ‘love’ each other? Or four? As long as they are happy? And you can obviously see where this starts a very easy slippery slope. Or does age matter when they love each other?

Okay, what about instead of looking at our love for each other we look at God’s loves for us. Does God love us? Yes. Of course he does.

But I’ve heard from many that we should be “true to ourselves because God made us who we are.” God loves us just as we are, they say. What if someone is “true to himself” by loving money too much? Or saying God made him love women so much he has multiple affairs?

The “as long as they are happy” argument doesn’t match Paul’s point in Ephesians. As Paul wrote to Timothy and again in his letter to the Romans, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Put Off Your Old Self

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alientated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

What we so easily see in scripture is that God is teaching us that we are not to be “who we are.” In truth, he is telling us the opposite! He’s telling us we must abandon our old self.

Our hearts are darkened. We have sinful desires and want nothing more than to rebel against God. But the gift he gives those who are adopted into his family, is a gift of a new spirit.

We are renewed.

Through Jesus’ death on the cross and by defeating death, the penalty of our sins has been paid for. He has purchased us and he owns us. He has washed us and cleansed us. We no longer have sinful hearts but new hearts.

This is such an amazing gift because it frees us from that sinful past and allows us to have a relationship with God.

He gives us that renewal. He changes who we once were. I cannot recall once where Jesus told someone to keep being who they were. His consistent message was to go and sin no more.

And the love that Paul mentions is NOT one of ‘live and let live.’ He tells those in Ephesus not to just mind their own business and go on their own spiritual journey.

Paul goes out of his way to tell them to teach the truth. You know, with words. He tells them to do it lovingly, but to teach others to turn from their sin.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)

Yes, it may be hard to say hard things to those we love. But in truth, it is more loving to tell those close to us that they are hurting themselves and driving a wedge of sin between themselves and God.

We can only have one master, as scripture says, and cannot worship two gods. If we love our old sins and our old ways, we do not love God.

Consequences for Not Turning From Our Old Self

As I mentioned earlier, it is in vogue for the love of God to be preached. Many are even teaching that the God of wrath was just the old testament and we must ‘unhitch’ ourselves from the old testament. We are told God is love. They say God loves us for who we are. But read Paul’s very next chapter to see if this is true:

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:3-11)

Yes, Paul is blunt. There are indeed consequences for not turning back from our old ways. Like Lot’s wife who turned back to see her old life one more time and suffered death for it, we too must not turn back to desire our old self.

But the good news is that bit at the end. Paul says we were in darkness, and no longer walk in darkness. We can turn from sin and be a light instead.

John mentions this as well. John goes so far as to say that if we go on sinning, and do not turn from our sin, we are not children of God:

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10).

In John’s gospel, he records the words of Jesus:

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.(John 15:6)

Yes, there are consequences for our sins.

If we love our sins more than God, and we continue to sin, we show we do not truly love God. We show that we are not one of his flock, and he will cast us into the burning fires of hell. Let that sink in.

Consequence one: He says point blank that sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God. Consequence two: these sinners will be gathered and cast into the fire.

But there is good news! He is willing to take that upon himself for us.

His Solution for Us

If we are truly adopted into the body of Christ we are truly Christians. If this is true, we will not continue sinning, but turn from our sins so that we can see his truth.

We will crave his word. We will sing his praises all day and see his love in scripture. We will have God’s word on our mind at all times. We will love to study his word, read his word, and tell others of his word.

I’ve found that the more time I spend in God’s word, the more time I want to spend there. More time meditating on what he is telling us. More time in solitude with him.

It is such a beautiful moment to spend that time reading the very words of my Creator and the Maker of the Universe.

And by doing this, we become saturated in his thinking. We become a light to the world in ways you can never imagine. You’ll grow in your love for God and grow in understanding of his true love.

At the same time, you’ll be doing works through the Holy Spirit to help grow his kingdom here on earth.

So we can be renewed and grow in his love. In truth.

Hi. I'm Scott Sullivan, a slave of Christ, author, AI programmer, and animator. I spend my time split between the countryside of Lancaster, Pa, and Northern Italy, near Cinque Terre and La Spezia.

In addition to improving lives through data analytics with my BS in Computer Science, I also published, Searching For Me, my first memoir, about my adoption, search for my biological family, and how it affected my faith.