Your Identity in Christ: A New Creation
17 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. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 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.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 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.
If I were going to guess, I’d say there’s not a single one of us that walked in the door this morning without bringing with us some baggage. And this morning I’m going to the baggage that us humans tend to carry around with us into two fairly simple categories: The first kind of baggage we like to carry around is our feelings of guilt and shame. The second kind of baggage we like to carry around is our pride.
Here’s why I have divided it into those two categories and why I can pretty confidently say that every single one of us is carrying at least one (maybe both of those bags around with us). You remember the story of the prodigal son, yes? It was a parable that Jesus told. I’ll just briefly recap... There were two brothers. The younger brother came to his father and asked for his share of the inheritance. (That’s essentially like saying dad, I’m done with you, I wish you were dead, give me my inheritance so I can leave.) And so his father gave him his share of the inheritance. And the younger son...the prodigal son set out and and just blew through the money that his father had given him. He used it to live life up in extravagant and even in promiscuous ways. When he ran out of money he had to find a job. So he’s working with a pig farmer. And one day he finds himself looking at the pigs food longing to eat it...and that’s when he comes to his senses. He says he would rather be a servant back in his father’s house than be here craving pig slop. So that prodigal son went home. And my question for you… What kind of baggage did that prodigal son carry back home? Exactly. Feelings of guilt and shame.
When the younger brother finally gets home, his father sees him while he’s still a long way off and comes running to meet him and hug him...and he throws him a welcome home party. He slaughtered the fattened calf because his boy had come home. In today’s world that’s the equivalent of no expense being spared. But now, here comes the older brother. He hears the party going on and has no idea what’s going on. He finds his father and his father says, "We’re celebrating because your brother has come home!" What does the older brother do? He gets mad. He gets angry. He starts saying things to his father like, "Now hold on, I have always been faithful to you and done what you ask, I would never ask for my half of the inheritance and run off like your younger son! And here you are throwing him a party? You’ve never thrown me a party!" So… what kind of baggage was the older brother carrying around? Exactly…. Pride.
It’s a brilliant parable by Jesus that really sums up our existence as sinful humans. My guess would be that you can relate to one of the brothers more than the other. But regardless of being able to relate to and identify with one more than the other, I would guess that we could all point to times where we find ourselves acting like both brothers.
So boy if you walked in without any baggage this morning, we should chat after the service because you either (A) are ignoring the 18 wheeler load of baggage you’ve been hauling around or (B) you’ve got it figured out, and I want to know how you do it… Because I admit it, I’m just as human as you are, and I too walked in with baggage this morning.
The reason I bring up our baggage this morning is because the text we have in front of us today is a difficult one for us to read when we approach it with the feelings of guilt or shame or pride that we’ve been carrying around. For those of us who walked in carrying our feelings of guilt and shame, this passage almost just makes us feel worse because here Paul is telling us not to live like those who don’t know Christ and yet here we are still struggling with the same old sins…. For those of us who walked in carrying our pride, this passage probably feels falsely uplifting for us. We read what Paul says and point the finger at ourselves and say YEP! THAT’S ME! I wouldn’t ever dream of living the way Paul is speaking about, and shame on those who do! And so us who walk in carrying our pride are at risk of missing the point entirely, kind of like the older brother.
So let’s read it again and I’ll make a few comments as we go through...
Eph 4:17-24 - 17 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. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 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. [He doesn’t say so right here… but Paul does expand on the concepts of giving oneself over to sensuality and impurity and greed a little later. When he gives those broad categories he later tells us what he’s thinking and it’s really a pretty inclusive list…. He’s got on his mind things like: lying, anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness, gossip, sexual sins as defined by God, coarse joking, greed. Really it’s a pretty inclusive list. So Paul says, "You must not live like those who do not follow God. You must not chase after sin and let your sinful desires control you. Have nothing to do with those things."]
Then Paul goes on...20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 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.
Paul wants us to hand our baggage over to Jesus as we think about these verses today. And we know that because of everything Paul has said in Ephesians up to this point. Over the last few weeks Paul has been working on both those of us who tend carry around feelings of guilt and shame, and those of us who tend to carry around our pride. For those of us who carry around feelings of guilt and shame...Haven’t you found it rather impressive how positively Paul has been speaking to us up to this point? He has used all kinds of imagery to build us up. He’s called us children of God. He’s called us members of his household, blood-bought stones in his temple, and builders of the body of Christ. And as we’ve gone through those uplifting and encouraging identities in Christ, maybe you’ve occasionally found yourself thinking… man, sometimes I really struggle to live like a child of…. Sometimes I really struggle to live like a member of his household. Sometimes I really struggle to be one who builds up my brothers and sisters in Christ with every word that comes out of my mouth. And It’s true. We struggle. But here’s what Paul has been doing so far in Ephesians. He has been addressing our primary identity. In Christ, your primary identity is a child of God. Your primary identity is member of his household. Your primary identity is an encourager and builder of the body of Christ. Formerly our primary identity was that of condemned sinner. But the day you came to faith, all of that changed. Now when God looks at you, he doesn’t even see your identity of sinner, because Christ paid for that sin on the cross. When God looks at you, he sees you for who you are. He sees your primary identity: his child, a member of his household, one who encourages and loves one another.
And for those of us who tend to carry around our pride… once again, Paul has been working on us for the last 3 and ½ chapters….remember everything that Paul has said up to this point. He has made it clear that we played absolutely NO ROLE in gaining the status of child of God or member of his household. We are powerless to change our identity from that of sinner to that of blood-bought child of God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit worked together to make that happen. So how could we ever let it become a source of sinful pride? We had nothing to do with it!
So by the grace of God, let’s set down our feelings of guilt and shame and or pride. Remembering that we, purely by the grace and work of God, are his forgiven and blood bought children, let’s read and think about the last 4 verses again.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.
So here we see it again, Paul is addressing our primary identity. It’s only by the power of our new identities that we can agree with Paul here. You’re right Paul! I don’t want to live that way anymore. I don’t want to be enslaved to any form of sin any longer. And you’re not. You are no longer a slave to sin. Your salvation is complete. You’re a child of God whose inheritance is eternal life in heaven...but, now there is daily work to be done.
Paul goes on (I’m switching translations here because I think this translation has rendered one of the greek verbs a little better….22 As far as your former way of life is concerned, you were taught to take off the old self, which is corrupted by its deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed continually in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new self, which has been created to be like God in righteousness and true holiness. (EHV)
The better rendering of the verb comes in verse 23 there… "to be renewed continually in the spirit (or attitude) of your mind. There is is, Paul gets it. It takes a continual renewing of what he calls the spirit or the attitude of our minds. As humans that are both sinful, and yet also forgiven, we have a constant battle that is going on within us. And that’s why we’re so inclined to run back to our former way of life and dabble in it. We’re almost eager to run back to our sin or pride but it never leaves us feeling the way we hoped it would, and before we know it we’re once again carrying around our baggage. It takes a continual renewing in the grace of God for us to remember our primary identity and hand our feelings of guilt, shame, and pride back over to Jesus.
When you came to faith, you became a new creation. The new self was put on through faith. For many of us that was at different times in our lives. For some of us it was baptism…. Like we got to see with Harper and Paisley today. For others it was later in life… but whenever it was, that new creation is your primary identity. But the work of being continually renewed is not a one and done kind of thing. It is a continual process that by the grace of God takes place day by day, and even hour by hour and minute by minute sometimes.
You know what one of the strengths of Alcoholics Anonymous is? 4 of the steps that they have those in recovery do is regularly have to do with taking a thorough moral inventory of what they have going on in their hearts and minds and of the wrong actions and wrong ways of thinking. The reason it’s so helpful is because if they don’t regularly assess and deal with the things that cause feelings of guilt and shame or overconfidence and pride, those things will inevitably build up and lead them right back to their drug of choice.
And I always think it’s silly when someone looks at an addict and thinks to themselves, "Wow, my life is in much better shape than theirs." Because that’s usually not the case…. The harmful habits of someone who isn’t addicted to a substance just manifest themselves in different ways. How often don’t we neglect to ask God to help us do a moral inventory so that rather than picking up and carrying around our shame or pride, we can just hand it over to him as soon as we become aware of it.
May God help us, to live as the new creations that we are. May he strengthen us to rest in his grace every minute of every day. May he make us aware as soon as we start carrying around our shame and pride so that we might hand it back over to him. Although we will struggle, and sometimes we will live like we’re the younger brother, and at other times we’ll live like we’re the older brother… may God remind us that when we’re speaking about our primary identity, we are neither. We are his child. We are new creations that are being continually renewed by the message of his love and grace found in Scripture. Amen