The Eleventh in a Series of Sermons on Ephesians
If we were to ask Paul what the Christian life should look like, I am convinced that the Apostle would direct us to the life of Jesus. I say this because Paul does this very thing in 1 Corinthians 11:1, when he tells the Corinthians to be imitators of Christ. But Paul also does this in Ephesians 5. Now, in saying that Paul would point us to the life of Jesus as an example for Christians to follow, I don’t mean that Paul expects us to cast out demons, walk on water, or heal the sick with but a single command. But from what Paul does say about Jesus–who is the very embodiment of the holiness and righteousness of God–it is clear that Jesus’ life is the model for us in terms of love, humility and forgiveness. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul tells us that the Christian life is much more than merely “doing what Jesus did.” “Doing what Jesus did” only makes sense after we believe those things Jesus and the apostles taught us about the depths of our sin and the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Once we understand that we were chosen by God in Christ before the foundation of the world, and once we understand that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, only then can we understand how the life of Jesus can serve as an example to us which we are to imitate. What does the Christian life look like? It should look a great deal like that life which Jesus lived.
We are in the midst of a series on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We now make our way into Ephesians 5. While I divided chapter 4 into three sections (so that we could spend sufficient time on Paul’s discussion of the Christian life), it immediately becomes clear in chapter five that Paul is continuing to flesh out a number of the points made in chapter four. It is important to recall that Ephesians was a circular letter which Paul intended to be read aloud in its entirety in the churches. So there is a sense in which we do this letter a great injustice when we preach through it such short snippets (as we have been doing). The alternative would be an eight hour sermon–something which neither you nor I would be able to endure. So please keep in mind that as we go through this series that all of the points Paul is making are very closely interconnected, which is why I ask that you read through the entire book several times during this series, so that we don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.
As we saw last time, Paul uses the metaphor of a change in clothing to make his point that a fundamental change in our thinking and doing occurs when we come to faith in Christ. When God makes us alive with Christ, the old self is made new. Because the old self is now the new self, the Christian is to make a concerted effort to “take off the old self” with its sinful desires (indwelling sin), and “put on the new self” which is created in the image of Christ. While in one sense our sanctification is already complete (Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to us through faith, so that God already regards us as “holy”), in another sense our sanctification is a life-long process. This life-long process of sanctification (which results from our justification) is what Paul is discussing in this section of Ephesians.
Paul has told us that the old self is characterized by falsehood, anger, theft, laziness and corrupting speech. The new self is characterized by truth-telling, a desire to resolve conflict and live in peace, hard work, and will speak words of grace and blessing. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the pattern for this. Just as Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead (that event into which we are baptized) so too, we are to die to sin and be raised to newness of life. Just as we strip off our dirty clothing, take a shower and put on clean clothes, so too, the Christian life is one of continuously striping off the old self and putting on the new–a theme which Paul continues to unpack in Ephesians 5.
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