When Jesus said, The truth will set you free, He meant it. Knowing the truth about Jesus Christ and the gospel message sets us free from our slavery to sin. John wrote what we know as 1 John 1:9, saying that if we confess our sin, God is faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Honesty with ourselves and with our Heavenly Father must be our new lifestyle.
However, we have a problem. We have the old nature to contend with. (Luke 9:23) Jesus said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” NIV
If we are to follow Jesus... If He is to be truly Lord of our lives, we must die every day. The passage we are looking at today will help us understand how taking up our cross daily works. This is important for us to understand if we are to become the mature followers of Christ who will bring honor and glory to Our Lord. Paul wrote to the church...
Eph. 4:17 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, with a continual lust for more.
I have not researched this out, yet, but this is the first time I have noticed the word Gentiles used in this way. In this passage, Paul uses the word, in contrast with those who are not Christians. It is most often used in contrast with those who are not Jews.
Paul describes who we are without Christ. When we are not living in a relationship with God we are dead in our trespasses and sin. We do not have the ablility to follow Our Lord because we have no relationship with Him. Therefore we are (or were) darkened in our understanding. Our hearts were hardened and we did not know how to serve God. We were living lives that were mostly about ourselves. Our old, selfish nature ruled us. We may have been living a life of high standards, but ultimately we were living for ourselves. We may have been what anyone would consider to be good people, but we were cut off from God.
As Paul continues in this letter, he tells us what we are like now that we have come to know Christ. Pick up with verse 20.
20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him 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. NIV
Remember our memory verse? Ephesians 2:8-10: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV
The new creation, this work of regeneration God has performed in us, prepares us to do God's work.
Paul says that we have been taught the truth that is in Jesus. We were taught to put off our old self. This old self is (notice that it is present tense). . . The old self is being corrupted by its deceitful desires. As Jesus taught, we must die daily to this old self. A major characteristic of this old self is its deceitful nature. We lie to ourselves. We lie to others. We lie to God when we are living from this old nature. We deceive ourselves, we deceive others, we even try to deceive God.
Only the truth will set us free from the deceitful nature of the old man. In order to die to this nature we need to understand what it looks like. We need to know how to fight it, to crucify it. It starts with honesty. It starts with confession. It starts with agreeing with God about who we are and what we have done and are doing.
The old man, the old self, may tell us we are not so bad. When the Holy Spirit begins to deal with us about an attitude, or action He wants us to change, the old man will hide, and squirm and try every which way to convince us that what we are doing is not so bad. We must be brutally honest with ourselves. This honesty begins the process of dying to that old nature.
The old nature may try to convince us that we cannot change. And that is partially true. By ourselves we cannot change. We need God's help through the Word and the Spirit to help us see the truth and to overcome the enemy. Being honest with ourselves, with God, and with others is part of walking in the truth of God. Walking in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit requires honesty.
Paul continues in verse 25:
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. NIV
Paul does not deal with all aspects of the old man in this letter. Here he shows us another aspect of the old man that needs to be dealt with as we walk in the Spirit. Anger, in itself is not sin, but it can quickly lead to sin if we do not allow God to help us master it. Anger usually is a result of feeling like someone has injured us in some way. We must not allow our hurt to control us.
Cain, allowed his anger to lead to murder. Jesus taught that we must not allow our anger to go even as far as thinking about hurting other people. The old nature will seek to get even and strike out when it feels someone else has encroached on its territory. The Spirit will rather lead us to forgive and treat others the way we want to be treated. The new nature, the new creation formed in us when we accepted Christ as Lord and Savior leads us to turn the other cheek instead of trying to get even, or trying to protect itself.
Our Lord gave us the greatest example to follow. He was angry and did not sin when He chased the money changers from the temple court. He stood up for what was right, for what would glorify God. He could have gone much further and called down fire from heaven to consume them. When he was betrayed by Peter and Judas, He forgave as was evidenced by his cry from the cross, “Father forgive them.”
Paul tells us we must not allow our anger to control us, but rather we must master it. We must crucify daily our old nature that would lead us, not to follow God, but to do what seems right to us at the time.
Paul continues to give us examples of what it means to put off the old self and put on the new self. Pick up in verse 28:
Eph. 4:28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. NIV
Paul gives us an example of putting off one behavior and putting another in its place. If your life before Christ was one of fulfilling your own desires by taking what belonged to other people, Paul suggests that you turn from this sin born of greed and find some useful activity to perform. However, he suggests we need to go a step further and begin sharing what we earn by the sweat of our brow to meet the needs of others. We need to go from thinking first about ourselves, to thinking about and caring for other people.
Sometimes we are so caught up in meeting our own needs that we can only see what we need. We need to begin replacing that selfish attitude with an attitude that seeks to glorify our Heavenly Father and meets the needs of other people. Does this not lead us to fulfill what Our Lord taught us were the two most important commandments?
How much of your prayer life is about glorifying God and helping others? Do you pray more for your own needs than for the needs of others? You may be listening more to the old nature than to the Spirit of God living in you.
Paul continues with this idea as he says in verse 29...
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. NIV
We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and look at what our conversations promote. Are we building people up more than tearing them down and criticizing them? In our conversations, are we seeking to help other people become stronger in their relationship with God? The old nature will lead us to seek to build ourselves us, to make ourselves look better, by pointing out the faults of others. We deceive ourselves and are not walking in the Spirit when we allow the enemy to take us down these paths.
Back up for a minute to verse 27 where Paul says, “do not give the devil a foothold.” NIV Do you know what the word devil means? It means accuser or slanderer. When we give into the old nature instead of walking in the Spirit, we are joining the accuser. Sometimes the devil accuses us if he thinks that will weaken our resolve to follow God. At other times, being the deceiver that he is, he joins us, or perhaps we join him in accusing others. We are not to give him a foothold in our lives. We are not to listen to his condemnation of us, nor are we to join him in accusing others.
If we are walking in the Spirit, our conversations will be about building others up, not tearing them down. We will be seeking to glorify God in our speech instead of seeking to make ourselves look better to other people.
Continue with verse 30:
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. NIV
When we are allowing our old nature to control our lives, we are grieving the Holy Spirit of God. It is only by God's Holy Spirit that we have been sealed for the day of redemption. The Holy Spirit is God with us. He is the Presence of God in our lives. We must be listening to and following Him as we live each day.
We must put off the old man and put on the new man, who was created, who is being created in us, so that we might do the work that God intends for us to do. When we do not take up our cross daily and do battle with the enemy within, we lose out on the good things God intends for us. God Himself is grieved over the loss to the kingdom of God that our failures bring.
He tells us this, not to condemn us, not to punish us, but to correct us. He points these things out to us, His children, who have accepted His love and forgiveness, who have been born of the Spirit. His goal is to help us become the creatures He first created us to be. Creatures who bring glory to our Creator. Creatures who are learning to listen to the Spirit of God instead of to the flesh, the world, or the devil.
Are you dying daily? Are you taking up your cross each day and fighting the battle for the kingdom of God? Are you walking in the Spirit or living as if God were not in your life? Are you living according to the old nature, or according to the new nature God is seeking to develop in you?
What is God saying to you today? Listen carefully and follow Him.
The Old Versus The New