I had the privilege of attending Good News yesterday (after being away last week preaching at a different church) and was blessed to hear another sermon in the series based on the book of Ephesians. Pastor Vasile was home for a day or two before leaving on another trip and he was able to preach on Sunday morning. I would like to share the truths of the message with you here.
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart ; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4)
I. No longer live like pagans (17-19)
In Moldova, the population considers itself Christian. Close to 96% of the population would claim to be Christians so this message seems like it should be for someone else because there are few if no pagans in Moldova, right? Let’s see. God does not just use the word “pagan” (Gentiles), He also gives a description of their lifestyle.
- They have futile minds. The word “futile” literally means “useless”. It does not say incapable or the fact that they are not intelligent. Many people who live like pagans are intelligent people yet their brilliant minds are not used for good, anything useful, helpful. In the context, the usefulness is about spiritual things, the things of God. Unintelligent people can have futile minds just as intelligent people. I look at extremely intelligent scientists who actually believe in and promote the myth of evolution. All of their training, knowledge, and education leads them to believe in something that promotes the inhumanity of human life, something that children understand (the sanctity of human life) until they are corrupted by those who have futile minds.
- They are darkened in their understanding. This is another reference to the things of God. They may live in a Christian nation, yet they know nothing of the ways of God. We do many interviews on the streets when we teach sessions and one of the interviews we ask people basic questions about God and how our society honors Him through major holidays. Many do not know the reason for celebrating Christmas or Easter. They are just holidays for eating and drinking.
- They are ignorant to the ways of God. Christians are to have a personal relationship with God, studying the Scriptures, praying, and serving the people around them. In this Christian nation in which we live, almost no one studies the Bible. The majority of the people cannot pray a simple prayer to God because they have never been taught. When it comes to serving, they want to be served instead of serving others. The basic things of God are a mystery to most. If you mention things like discipleship, holiness, and fearing the Lord, people look at you like you have 2 heads. Again, these are basic teachings about God and most people are ignorant of them.
- They have hard, calloused hearts. The longer you live in ignorance of God, the harder your heart gets until it becomes calloused and even when you hear the things of God, they make no sense to you. People who live and teach the things of God are considered backward by people who do not know God and have calloused hearts. A person with a calloused heart loses all sense of right and wrong. What is wrong all of a sudden becomes right and what is right is wrong. In our culture today, drinking alcohol is honored. It is something that real men do. We even have “Christian” holidays that promote drunkenness. Abortion is legal. We call it inhumane to put a murderer to death but killing a child in the womb is a choice. The worst part of all of this is that they like their ignorance and like the ostrich hiding from reality, they bury their heads in ignorance and continue on like everything is okay. This is also the result of a calloused heart.
- They give themselves over to sensuality and practice every kind of impurity with greediness. True Christians flee from sin, especially the sin of sexual immorality. Pagans, on the other hand, have no problem with sexual immorality. In fact, they are greedy for it. That is why sins such as human trafficking exists, because it is in demand, even in so called Christian nations. People lose all sense of feeling in their calloused hearts and have no problem using and abusing people for their own lusts.
Would these characteristics describe your way of life? Does it matter if you claim to be a Christian yet live like a pagan? What good is faith that does not transform the way that you think, view the world, and live? The Bible calls that kind of faith dead and useless. The demons have that kind of faith.
II. Christ transforms pagans (20-21)
The believers in Ephesus were once pagans yet they learned the truth about life, about God, about reality. They lived in a culture that embraced all the sins that you can imagine. Sex was everywhere and there were no limits. People were bombarded with sexuality. Kids grew up seeing images on pottery. It was openly practiced in public, in private, even in worship. This is the background for the church plant in Ephesus. This is the lifestyle that the church members once lived but they were transformed. How did it happen? Paul came and taught them Jesus Christ through the Holy Scriptures. Here is the key to success that will bring about transformation in a pagan society, even one that claims to be “Christian”. People must dive into the Word of God. If they do not, then they will remain in their ignorance and live like the devil. This is why we must study the Scriptures at all times. The Scriptures enlighten us to the truth. Jesus spoke to this very thing when people began to follow Him.
31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine ; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8)
If we want to be set free from our enslavement to sin then we must believe in Christ, become His disciple (student of His Word and life) so that we can know the Truth (reality as it is from God’s perspective), and then be set free from our crooked way of life. Sin literally means to be crooked, to miss God’s mark and this crookedness all begins in the mind. Did you notice that Paul began the list with a futile mind? It was not by chance. When the mind is set right then the actions will follow. It is like a tree that is set crooked in the very beginning. There is not much of a problem in the beginning yet as time progresses, this crookedness begins to manifest itself and brings about disastrous consequences. Our enslavement to sin is from birth but the terrible manifestations of it do not show themselves until later on. If the problem is not corrected (we are not made right with God) then we get the lifestyle mentioned in the above section. The antidote to the crookedness is the Word of God. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the way has been made for us to be set straight. We must believe and become genuine disciples of Christ. Where do you stand? Are you still growing crookedly or have you been straightened out?
III. Take action daily (22-24)
Initially getting straightened out is just the beginning. We must remain on the path of straightness. Jesus told His disciples to remain in His Word. Paul reminds the Ephesians that they must constantly remove the old sin nature (say no to it over and over again) and put on the new nature by having their minds renewed. How do we have our minds renewed. Paul explains in Romans 12.
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
- fully dedicate yourself to living for the Lord (serving Him by sacrificing you time, efforts, energy etc.)
- do not be led by the philosophies of the day that are here now and gone tomorrow
- renew your mind by the will of God (the Word of God)
- live out what you learn by doing what is good, acceptable, and perfect (the things found in the Word of God)
This is an action that I must take every single day. I remove the old self which means I say NO to sin and temptation moment by moment and YES to obedience. I dedicate myself to serving God by serving others and will be too busy to serve sin. I dedicate much time to searching and studying the Holy Bible. If we have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior then the power of sin has been broken. We still live in a body of sin but now have the ability to say no. To illustrate this idea, there is a story of a hunter who comes upon a grizzly bear unexpectedly. He raises his rifle to shoot and the bear says, “wait, let’s talk, why do you want to shoot me?” The man replies, “I need your fur for some clothes because it is cold. Why do you want to talk?” The bear replies, “I am hungry and I believe that if we sit and come to a compromise then we can both leave with our needs met.” The man lowers the rifle and they sit. A few minutes later the bear arises and leaves with a full belly and the man is dressed in fur (while resting in the belly of the bear). This is what sin and temptation do to us. We must not sit down for a chat. There can be no compromise. When we have the rifle raised we must shoot right away. Flee from sin and temptation moment by moment.
I hope that this lesson has been as helpful to you as it has been for me. May the Lord bless you to make the right decision to live no longer as the pagans do (which we all did at one time, including ME).