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; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV).
My girls have favorite clothes…clothes that they want to wear all the time. I think if I let them they would never change out of them. Sometimes, that’s a lot of work!
On the bright side, one of the benefits to them constantly wearing their favorite clothes is that is that it makes them easy to spot. I can look out over a crowd of people and see them from behind, because I recognize what they are wearing. Their clothes give them away as being my girls.
In a similar fashion, Paul teaches that how we conduct ourselves and how we respond to others are the clothes of our heart. Just like favorite clothes can make it easy for us to recognize one another, our character should make it clear that we are God’s sons and daughters as clearly if we were wearing clothes that said that is what we are.
In Ephesians 4:1, Paul says that in light of what Christ has done and secured for them, the Ephesians needed to own that fact, and live a life worthy of the calling that they have received. It is important not to miss the tense there—they had received the calling. It was theirs already. Paul isn’t saying that they needed to live a life worthy of their calling in order to earn it, or to keep it, or to increase it. He is saying they needed to live a life worthy of the calling they have received in Christ because they already had it. They should act like who they are, like Whose they are….not who they were. When Paul says in Ephesians 4:22-24 to put off the old self and put on the new self, he is saying: “think of your old life and the life you have in Christ as different sets of clothes. You need to take the old and dirty ones off so that you can wear the clean new clothes that God has given you in Christ.” Christianity is not about what you wear, but just like what you wear is plainly visible, our love for God should be plainly visible to others. It is not just a confession, it is a way of life. The new self shows itself in a way that stands out like a loud pink shirt in a room full of people wearing black! That difference is that the Christian life is marked by righteousness and holiness.
What does it mean to be righteous? Righteousness means living out God’s Law. God’s righteousness is revealed in the Law, the summary of which is the Ten Commandments. A righteous person is a person who lives their life according to that revealed standard.
What does it mean to be holy? The word holy can be used two ways.
We call someone or something holy when God has set that someone or something aside for His use. All Christians are holy because God has chosen us and set us aside to be His people; that makes us holy. This is the meaning of “holy” in 2 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.
We can also use the word holy as a description of moral character. When we say God is holy we are saying that God is perfectly and completely loving, just, good, truthful, gracious, and dependable. In our text, being holy means moral excellence—being morally excellent in our relationship with God and one another.
When we are talking about moral excellence we can look at it in two ways: privately and publically, or in how we conduct ourselves and in how we relate to others. For instance, if you are righteous then you will be just in your relationships. If you are humble that will come out as meekness. In the same way, holiness is shown in relationship as love.
What does that holiness and righteousness look like when it is lived out? In Ephesians 4:25-32, Paul gives five concrete examples in our text of what that life looks like and the reasons why it is important.
In verse 25 he says being righteous and holy means putting off falsehood and speaking truthfully about your neighbor. The reason this is important is because we are members of one body. To lie to or about a fellow Christian is to not recognize the unity and community that we have with one another.
In verses 26-27 he says being righteous and holy means not sinning in your anger so that you don’t give the devil a foothold. Have you ever thought about that? That in holding on to anger you are giving the devil a foothold in your life? Anger itself is not a sin, but it is very easy to sin when you are angry.
In verse 28 he says that being righteous and holy means to stop stealing and work.
So that you have something to share with those in need. We are not only supposed to be honest about how we make our living, but we are to work so that we can be generous and able to help meet the needs of others.
In verse 29 he says that being righteous and holy means: Don’t let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths. The word the NIV translates “unwholesome talk” is translated a bit stronger in the ESV as “corrupting talk.” In the NLT it is translated even more strongly as “foul or abusive language.” The word in the original Greek literally means putrid. I think the NLT wins for the best translation here.
Words are incredibly powerful. Proverbs 18:21 (NIV) says, The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. We need to speak in such a way that we encourage one another and build each other up. When we don’t we not only are sinning against the people we are speaking to, but we are affecting the church’s credibility and witness to those outside of Christ. How many people have left the church or refused to darken the door of a church because of how critical, judgmental, and negative some Christians are! Some people I just want to take aside and tell them, “Why don’t you tell people you’re an atheist and help us in reverse!” We don’t need more people like that around here!
Before Paul gets to the fifth example, he stops and says in verse 30, And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. In doing so he puts a particular emphasis on what follows. One, two, three, and four are important, but this is really important. It is as if to say that what is coming next is especially essential to righteousness and holiness.
Being righteous and holy means: Getting rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. We need to do that so that we can be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave us. It is not possible to be bitter, angry, and malicious, and be kind, compassionate, and forgiving at the same time. To act counter to kindness, compassion, and forgiveness is to act in a way that is especially contrary to how God relates to us; and that grieves the Holy Spirit.
Why are these singled out in this way? I think there are two reasons. First, these get especially to the heart of the kind of love that God wants us to have for one another. God wants us to love one another in the way He loves us and that is a love that is with a love that is full of grace. God’s love for us is kind, compassionate, and forgiving. Since that is how He loves us, that is how He wants us to love one another.
The second reason I think Paul singles these out over the others is that the motivation for being truthful, controlling your anger, working honestly, and being positive with others can be hard to see. The desire to look good, to be accepted, and to be in control can just as easily be the reasons people appear honest as love for God. But it is very hard to be selfishly compassionate. It is impossible to be prideful and forgiving. Acts of grace like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness on the other hand, are very costly. They are sacrificial in nature. They reveal what is in the heart. Therefore, when we readily give those acts of grace to others it is a very good sign that we are learning to live out the divine grace that God has given us.
Being a Christian starts with illumination. It starts with illumination from the Holy Spirit that The Father loves you, that Christ came to redeem you, and that the Spirit has opened your eyes to the reality of sin, and the need for forgiveness; it comes with a conviction and trust that that forgiveness is yours through faith in Christ, and begins growing a love and attraction to God that sees Him as worthy of love for who He is. That divine illumination leads to incarnation, in fact I would go so far as to say it assumes it. God’s love to us in Christ always leads to love for God, and that love for God always leads to incarnation of that love in love for one another.
God’s love naturally leads to the incarnation of His love.
We see this first in the Father’s own love for us. He was not content to simply tell us about His love, nor was He content to show it from afar, but He sent His Son to us, incarnating Him as one of us, so that God could look at us one Person to another and tell us that He loved us, face to face, so that He could show us that He loved us with His own hands and feet. The Father’s love is incarnated in Jesus. He wanted us to know that His love was no passing fad, or light hearted commitment; He wanted us to know that it was an all-out, no-holds-barred, gracious, one-way love that would even go to the cross for us. No matter how badly we might treat Him, no matter how we might fail, He would love us anyway, because His Son settled all the debts we had with the Father’s righteousness.
Jesus was the incarnation of the Father’s love. But He never intended to be the last incarnation of the Father’s love that people would experience. Jesus gave us His Spirit so we could incarnate the love of the Father and Son to others.
We incarnate that love in how we conduct ourselves. How we are to conduct ourselves is outlined in all the do’s and don’t’s of the Law. All the do’s and don’t’s are meant primarily for you to do.
When we hear the do’s and don’t’s…
- Don’t lie.
- Do control your anger.
- Don’t steal.
- Do work.
- Don’t speak “putrid” things.
- Do speak to build others up.
…we have a tendency to simply agree that they are good and wish everyone else would follow them. Now it is true there is a time and place for calling people on the carpet, and it is true that we need trusted truth-tellers to help hold us accountable for how we act. But the focus of these commands is not on the “other,” but on “me.” We need to think primarily of ourselves when we hear these laws. If we don’t, we have missed the point. Your primary concern and where you should be spending the bulk of your time, effort, and energy is on yourself doing these things, not on making sure others do these things.
I love this quote from Maximos the Confessor, one of the Early Church Fathers,
He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins (On Love, no. 55).
God says “be holy as I am holy,” not “make sure others are holy as I am holy.”
We incarnate that love in how we relate to and respond to others. When we are sinned against we are to show grace and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32). When we see someone who has fallen down and is hurting we are to show them mercy and compassion (Luke 10:30-37). When we are mistreated we are to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). When we are called to judge we are to be just not showing partiality or favoritism (Leviticus 19:15).
Together these show a life of love. When we love each other in this way, we are being righteous and holy, we are incarnating God’s love to one another.
Discipleship starts with illumination (loving God) and assumes incarnation (showing that love by loving others).
Who you love and what you love has a huge impact on how you look, how you dress, what you like, and what you don’t. If you don’t believe me just go to a Patriots game. You will see most people are dressed like this:
If you really love the Patriots you take it one step further…
And if your life is about the Patriots you end up going to the game like this:
Who does this person love?
Now, this guy really loves Batman. But we know he is not the Batman. Why? Take out…Batman doesn’t do take out!
Love always moves to incarnation. The Patriots fans and the guy in the Batman costume want you to see them and see what they love. They prove their love by dressing themselves up as who they love. But that is where it stops. The guy wearing Tom Brady’s #12 jersey can dress up like Tom Brady, but he is not trying to be Tom Brady. He is not a quarterback, let alone a professional football player. He just loves Tom Brady and wants you to know it. The guy in the Batman costume has no intention of being Batman, he just wants to look like him; he loves Batman and wants you to know it. Both of these people are not really interested in getting you to love what they love. They just want you to see what they love. In that sense it is a private love. It is really all about them.
Jesus is looking for a much bigger incarnation. He has given His disciples His own Spirit so that they have His heart. If you have taken Jesus as your savior, then you have His Spirit and that means you have His heart. That means you are going to be more and more caring about what He cares about, caring for who He cares for, and having compassion when He would have compassion; it means that what is in His heart is growing in your own.
The incarnation of righteousness and holiness in the Christian should be just as obvious as these. But the Tom Brady fan is going to go home and take off his jersey and put it away until the next game. The guy doing Batman cosplay is going to go home and take off his costume and put it back in his closet (or return it to the store he rented it from) until the next comic convention. The Christian’s incarnation is not something that is put on and taken off. Rather, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV),
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; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Remember, there is a difference between a suit and a costume. A costume is for dressing up as something you are not. A suit is for dressing up as something you are. Batman does not wear a costume. He wears a suit. Righteousness and holiness is not a costume the Christian wears for certain occasions, it is their suit, it is really who they are. Paul says in Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV),
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
We are holy.
We are the Father’s sons and daughters.
We are dearly loved.
And since that is who we are, we should act like who we are.
We are holy because God is holy and He has made us His own in Christ, and that holiness is going to show in loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Christian who does not love his neighbor as himself, shows himself to only be in a costume of Christianity no matter how accurate and detailed the costume may be. Being a follower of Christ is not about outward appearance or performance, but about love.
That is important because I think we are sometimes more concerned about meeting the expectations and opinions of others than we are about incarnating Jesus’ love by loving our neighbor as ourselves. Or to put it another way, one of the common traps that Christians fall into is incarnating religion instead of love.
The reality is that a person can have perfect church attendance, memorize and recite Ephesians, read their Bible every morning, give 20% of their gross income to the church, serve on a committee, never rob, steal or defraud anyone at work, and pray 10 times a day, and be no better off than the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who said, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get (Luke 18:11-12, NIV).
All those things are good things, but they are only window dressing compared to love. What He was missing was love for his neighbor, love for the tax collector who was standing nearby. Not only did he distance himself from him, but he thanked God he was not like him.
He didn’t realize that God did not see it that way. One needed grace as much as the other. And if the Pharisee really did love God, he would have taken notice of the tax collector. He would have gone over to him and prayed with him. He would have put himself out for him, befriended him, and helped him anyway he could. Because he would have seen that tax collector not as a criminal or a traitor, but as a person who he needed to love as he loved himself. Since that was missing, his profession of love and obedience to God was shown to only be a profession. It was only a costume. Window dressing without a window.
God says we have been created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
We do that by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Because love for God always leads to loving others.
Illumination assumes incarnation.