Take Off and Put On Back to all sermons

Date: March 27, 2015

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Series: Book of Ephesians

Scripture: Ephesians 4:17–5:2

Tags: forgiveness, sanctification, love, anger, truth, the mind, thoughts, lying, stealing, malice, work

Synopsis: In Ephesians 4:17-5:2, Paul continues his description of what it means to “walk worthy of our calling” as followers of Christ. Using the analogy of a change of wardrobe, he lists five things we are to Take Off and Put On as we seek to glorify Christ.

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I want you to use your imaginations this morning. Imagine that you are a prisoner of war. You have been held captive for over a year. In all that time you have been given no opportunity to bathe or change your clothes. You can imagine the state of your clothing by the end of that time: hanging off of you in smelly rags.

Then one glorious day you are set free. You are taken to a room where you can shower. You are given a bar of soap. You stand for an hour under the pouring hot water, luxuriating in the feeling of being clean again.

As you come out of the shower you are handed a towel to dry off – and then you face a choice. You are offered a clean, fresh change of clothing. And over in the corner lies the pile of old clothes you took off; stinking and lice-infested. Which do you put on?

Foolish question? It should be, shouldn’t it? What a “no-brainer” of a decision that should be. Yet, in a way, it is a decision you and I face every day of our Christian lives – and all too often we make the wrong decision!

By now, you may be wondering what I am talking about! In the second half of Ephesians 4 (4:17-5:2) Paul uses the metaphor of a suit of clothing. The theme really flows through the entire passage, but it is most clearly stated in verse 22-24: to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

And then throughout this text, Paul goes on to describe for us what we are to “take off” that belongs to the “old self” and what we are to “put on” that belongs to the “new self”.

You will recall that we have now entered the second half of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In the first half of the letter, Paul described the believer’s wealth – all the spiritual riches we inherit when we put faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. Then in Ephesians 4:1, Paul transitions to the second half of the letter when he urges us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” So in this second half of the letter, Paul is describing what a “worthy walk” looks like. We started last week by seeing that a worthy walk is a walk of unity with other believers. We also found that a worthy walk is a walk of service to one another in the Body of Christ.

What we will discover in the passage before us this morning is that a worthy walk requires a drastic change in the way we think and act. Or, if we want to use the figurative language of Paul’s metaphor, the believer’s new identity requires a new wardrobe.

The first thing that Paul says we need to change is our minds. We need to change the way we think. Let me read verses 17-24. And as I read it, notice all the references Paul makes to our thoughts and to our minds:

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. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Throughout this passage, Paul is contrasting the way we used to think, the way the “Gentiles” or unbelievers still think, with the new way we ought to think. We are to “take off” the old way of thinking, and put on a new way of thinking: with “renewed minds” think in ways that are now consistent with and worthy of our new identity in Christ.

In actual fact, this is not a new theme for Paul. All the way back in Ephesians 1, in Paul’s first prayer for us as followers of Christ, he prayed “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”

Note the use of thinking words; words related to the mind and knowledge and enlightenment and the eyes of our hearts. We are saints who have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm” and we need to start thinking like that!

It comes up again in Paul’s second prayer in chapter 3 when we prays that we may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge

Once again, these are “thinking words”, words that require the use of our minds. So now Paul wants us to know that one of things we need to do if we want to walk worthy of our calling is that we need to start thinking differently.

When Esther Ruth and I are in the US, we have come to appreciate and rely on a GPS device when we are driving. When we first get into a different car and turn on our GPS, the device reads “acquiring satellite connection”. Once it has done that, we are able to punch in our destination, and it gives us instructions on how to get there. One of the other things it will do from time to time if we get off course, is to say “Recalculating!” as it identifies where we got off course, and tells us how to find our way back.

Our minds are like a GPS device. How we think, what we think about, our evaluations, our conclusions, our assumptions all form a vital part of our character. In fact the Bible goes so far as to say: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” We are what we think. And what is more, our thoughts ultimately determine our actions and our direction of travel. What needs to happen when we become followers of Christ is that we need to tune our minds, our GPS devices, into a new satellite. Paul even says it this way in a parallel passage in Colossians 3:2: Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. We need to connect to a new satellite, a heavenly satellite.

Then we need to allow our minds to “recalculate” our road map and route of travel. In incorporating the truths we have been learning in Ephesians, we must allow the spiritual realities of our riches in Christ and our new identity as members of his kingdom to completely reshape our inner landscape and thought patterns. Things are different! We are different! We are to stop thinking in the old ways, the ways the unbelieving world still thinks. We are to think in new ways. We need to let the “truth that is in Jesus” shape the way we think.

So, the first thing we are to “take off” is our old way of thinking and analyzing and evaluating things. We are to “put on” a renewed mind, refreshed and reprogrammed with the truth that is in Jesus and all the riches that are ours in Christ. That doesn’t happen overnight. It will involve disciplined effort to read and study and memorize and meditate on the truths of Scripture and to pray and to get to know Christ. This will reshape our thought patterns in light of our new identity in Christ. The goal and outcome of this new way of thinking is that we will be clothed with this “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Paul then goes on to elaborate some very specific ways on what this will look like. You may notice that the next verse (v. 25) begins with the word “Therefore”. Remember what I said last week about this being one of the most important words in the Bible when it comes to interpretation. What is about to follow grows out of what Paul has just said about new thinking and putting on the new self. Paul even continues in using the same kind of vocabulary, as he speaks about behaviors and attitudes that need to be “put away”, followed by new behaviors or attitudes that we are to put on in their place.

Let’s read the rest of the verse: Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

The next thing he tells us is to take off lying and put on truth speaking.

This is the next smelly garment we are to lay on the discard pile; lying, falsehood. In Paul’s day there was a great moral looseness. Lying was a way of life. It was assumed that people would lie whenever it was to their advantage. The only shame in lying was if you got caught in a lie.

How different is it today? There are so many reasons people lie. Fear of getting in trouble. Shame. Embarrassment. Pride – a desire to look better than we really are. Financial advantage. The reasons are almost infinite in number. But the Bible tells us to take off lying. It is not consistent with a worthy walk. It is not consistent with our new way of thinking.

Instead, speak the truth. To all men, all the time. Paul uses the general term here of “neighbor”. But the Christian has even a stronger motive in his relationships with other believers. We are members of one another. By the way, this does not justify lying to unbelievers! It just gives an added motive for being transparent and truthful within the community of faith. Be a truth teller!

The third change we are to make is in verse 26-27 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. This one is a little harder to put into simple words, but here’s my attempt: We are to take off angry responses and put on new ways for dealing with anger.

The wording here is interesting. We are not told to stop being angry. Anger is an emotional response over which we have little initial control. What we are told is that we should not allow our anger to provoke us to sin. Anger itself is not sin. It is an emotion we all feel. It is a normal emotion. But it is a very dangerous emotion and one which very quickly leads us to sin when we respond inappropriately and when we do not deal with it in a healthy way.

Paul very quickly adds one strong clue for how we are to manage anger. Do not let it sit and fester. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Deal with it quickly. Verse 27 contains an intriguing warning. “Give no opportunity to the devil.” When we fail to deal with our anger quickly and appropriately, we give the devil an opportunity – and we all know what the devil does with his opportunities. He uses them to trap us into sinful actions and attitudes. Part of walking in a worthy manner will be a new way of dealing with our angry feelings. There is lots more to say on this subject, but we must move on.

The next “take off and put on” is in verse 28: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

Number four: Take off stealing and put on honest work and generosity.

Stealing was also common in Paul’s day. Some people made their living at it. Instead of working, they stole. Now we probably do not have many burglars or purse-snatchers or pick-pockets here this morning. But there are many, less obvious ways to steal; work supplies from the office, time, dishonest expense reimbursements, tax evasion, cheating one’s employer or one’s employees. The list is endless. Instead of looking for ways to cut corners for our own advantage, we ought to be doing honest work – not just to make money for ourselves, but with the motive of having enough left over to enable us to share and to be generous with others. We should stop being “takers” and become “givers”.

The next one is in verse 29: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

This is number five: Take off corrupt talk and put on “grace-full” speech.

The key here is in the word “corrupting”, or as the NIV translates it, “unwholesome”. The word means “rotten” or “decaying”. The word is used in contemporary writings to describe rotting fruit which is not edible. So what kind of speech is Paul talking about? Our first thought might be to think in terms of obscene or crude language, with sexual overtones or innuendos. Paul will certainly condemn that kind of speech – but that is a subject he takes up in chapter 5. What he has in view here is something different. I think we can understand what it is by looking at what he tells us to replace it with. Speech that is “good for building up” and speech that “gives grace to those who hear.”

With that in mind, I think the “corrupt talk” Paul is speaking about is negative speech that attacks another’s character and tears people down. Many sins of the tongue can be listed here: insults, sarcasm, name-calling, gossip, innuendo, snide remarks, humor at other people’s expense. This is what we are to take off. Maybe you’ve met people like this. When they enter the room, it’s like they suck all the air out of it and cast a dark, depressing shadow. After a conversation with such a person, you walk away feeling depressed, negative, critical – the world is a gloomy place. Or, more to the point, maybe you are such a person. Take that smelly, rotten garment off.

In its place we are to put on speech that builds up, fits the occasion and gives grace to those who hear. This isn’t just a “la-de-da, all is right with the world” kind of unrealistic optimism. But it is a kind of speech that gives hope and finds what good there is to find, and looks at this life in the light of faith and the hope given to us by the gospel. It is a way of talking that portrays and extends grace to all who hear.

This kind of speech actually grows out of a deeper heart reality. We find this elaborated in verse 31-32: 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

This passage gets at the heart of the matter and the underlying attitudes which give birth to “corrupt speech.” I would summarize this one: Take off malice and put on love. We are back to the residue of anger when it is not managed properly; it metastasizes like an aggressive cancer into bitterness, wrath, divisiveness, mistrust, factions and all the ugliness known to the human race. Take that all off. Put it away. Drop it on the smelly discard pile of old clothing that was a part of the old self.

In its place, put on kindness. Be tenderhearted and gentle. Forgive one another. After all, we have experienced God’s forgiveness in Christ. Now extend that same forgiveness to one another.

It is important to note that between the reference to corrupt and negative speech and the references to the malice and bitterness that underlies it, there is an interesting reference to the Holy Spirit in verse 30: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

You may recall that all the way back in Ephesians 1, we were told that when we hear the gospel and believe in Christ for our salvation, we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance. (Eph. 1:13-14) As followers of Christ, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He lives in us. When we continue in the ways of the old self, with bitterness and malice and a critical spirit, reflected in corrupt talk, we grieve the Holy Spirit. We make him sad. We wound him.

The Holy Spirit who indwells us desires to transform us into instruments of God’s grace, demonstrating Christ’s character in the world. When we resist his transforming ministry and persist in the old ways, we are opposing work of the Spirit of Christ within us. We are like a child who has been playing in the mud who resists being placed in the bath that has been prepared for him. And then, when he’s been scrubbed clean, he fights against the clean clothing his mother is trying to put on him – determined to put his muddy things back on instead. Listen to the sweet, transforming voice of the Spirit as he speaks to you. Don’t grieve him with your continued rebellion.

Finally, Paul gives us one more “therefore” to wrap up this section on personal relationships. It is really a summary of all that he has been saying. It is found in the first two verse of chapter 5. Remember, there were no chapter or verse divisions in the original manuscripts: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

This is the ultimate description of a “worthy walk”. Be imitators of God and walk in love, as Christ loved us. This is a high and holy calling. We are children of God. We have been adopted into God’s family. Children are to take on the family characteristics; to become like their father. God is our Father. We are to imitate him as beloved children. And that means walking in love. That is our calling. That is what it means to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.

I have thrown a lot onto the table this morning. There is much here to absorb and to meditate on. This is one of those passages that is well worth memorizing. But I want to add a word of caution. Maybe you have seen one of those shows or commercials on TV when a stunt man performs some absurdly difficult maneuver and there is a warning added: “Don’t try this at home!” It is a trick or maneuver that requires some special equipment or training. For the average person to try it would be to invite serious injury.

Here is my warning about a passage like this. “Don’t try this alone!” You may not injure yourself, but you will surely fail. What is described here is supernatural living. We cannot attain it by human will power or discipline alone. It will require the power of the indwelling Spirit of God to transform you from the inside out and enable you to live this way. That is why it is so important to link Ephesians 1-3 and our understanding of all that God has done for us to Ephesians 4-6 and all that God wants to do in us. Soak in the realities of Ephesians 1-3 first. And then ask the Holy Spirit to help you to learn to walk in new ways, consistent with your new wealth and your new identity. You’ve had the bath of regeneration. Now ask the Spirit’s help to put on the new wardrobe.

This walk is radically different. It will be like a toddler learning to walk. It may involve a lot of falling and getting up again until you start to gain some stability on your new legs. Or maybe a better analogy is an adult who has suffered a serious injury and has to learn to walk all over again, training new nerves and muscles and acquiring new strategies for maintaining one’s balance. It will feel strange and unnatural at first. Falls will happen. Just keep getting back up until, by God’s grace and help, you are walking strong like a beloved child of your heavenly Father.

There is a great prayer to help us in this process. It jumped out at me as I was reading in my devotions yesterday morning in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. It is a prayer we can pray for ourselves as well as for one another in the family of God.

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,

And notice what is at stake and what will be the outcome as God answers our prayers:

12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1. Read Ephesians 4:17-5:2 together.
  2. Pick out all the references you can find to the mind, mental activity and knowledge. Why are our minds and our thoughts so important to our spiritual growth and spiritual lives?
  3. Using the metaphor of changing clothes and a new wardrobe, what are the things we are to take off and what are we to put on?
  4. Once you have identified a list, discuss each one in turn with contemporary examples of what the old behavior looks like, and what should take its place.
  5. Which aspects of a “worthy walk” do you find the most challenging and why?
  6. Why do you think Pastor Cam included the warning, “Don’t try this on your own?” What is the Holy Spirit’s role in transforming us – and how have you experienced his working in your life? (see Eph. 4:30)
  7. Close your discussion time by praying 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 together.