Sunday, October 15, 2023

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity - Eph 4:22-28


Trinity 19

                                                                                      Eph 4:22-28



          Living as a Christian is an ongoing struggle.  It is because of what God has done for us in Christ, and because of what we continue to be.  Our salvation is certain and sure because of Christ.  The Spirit has given us new life through baptism, and we now live as those who are in Christ.  Yet the remnants of sin are still there – the old Adam is still present.  And so, our life as Christians is one of an ongoing struggle against sin. 

          Because this is the case, we continue in the need to hear the call to live in ways that are true to God’s will.  We need the exhortation of God’s Word that urges us to live as what God has made us to be.  Until we die, this is a word that we will always need.

          St Paul does this all the time in his letters.  Often, the latter portion of his letters has a concentration of this kind of language.  The apostle continually exhorts and encourages his readers to live in ways that are produced by Christ.  He warns them about the sin that is present in their lives.  He believes Jesus makes a difference not only in the salvation he provides, but also in the life that he causes. 

          Our text this morning is a classic example of this.  In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle deals with the obvious fact that they are Gentiles.  The vast majority of them were not Jewish.  They did not descend from Abraham. Instead, the Ephesians were Gentiles who were not part of God’s people.

          As Paul talks about their situation before Christ, the first thing he comments on is the sinful condition in which the Ephesians existed.  He says in chapter two, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”  They were spiritually dead.  Yet this deadness did not mean they did nothing. Quite the opposite!  Because they were spiritually dead, they were walking in sin. They were living in ways that violated God’s will.

          This was bad enough. But then there was more bad news.  Because they were Gentiles, they did not have access to God.  This could only be found in Israel.  It was only true for those who descended from Abraham and had been included in the covenant.  Paul says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands--

remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

          Walking in the way of sin the Ephesians had no hope and were without God.  The same thing can be said of you.  Paul says that the life of walking in sin was true of all of us.  He says that “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” and so “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

          The sin of Adam infected us all.  We were by nature those who deserved God’s wrath. Sin was in us from the moment of conception.  Your parents never had to teach you to be angry or jealous. It was just there - inside you – ready to come out. 

          And then, you are also Gentiles.  You don’t descend from Abraham. You forefathers were never part of Israel.  Instead, you descend from the hordes that were continually coming out of the steppes of Eurasia as they moved west.  Wave after wave inundated Europe as they settled in those lands – each one displacing the one before.

          Paul provides a hopeless description.  And it would be hopeless if the answer depended on us.  However, the apostle goes on to say, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

          God was rich in mercy and he showed great love toward us.  He acted in grace – his undeserved loving favor.  He sent his Son into the world as the sacrifice for sin.  What we were unable to do, God did for us through Jesus.  God condemned our sin in Christ.  Then he raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.  He defeated death and began the resurrection life that will be ours when Christ returns on the Last Day.

          God has given us forgiveness in Christ.  And the surprise is that this includes those of us who are Gentiles as well.  Paul says in this letter, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  In Christ God has united Jew and Gentile to be one people – the people of God. Paul tells about Christ: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

          This is what God has done for all people who have been called to faith.  Baptized into Christ we share in this blessing together.  But God’s salvation means that there is now a change in the way we live.  Just before our text Paul says, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

          Those words describe our world.  The world is alienated from the life of God.  It says that true happiness is to be found in things. And so it engages in the never ending quest to have more and to have better stuff.   

The world has become callous and has given itself up to sensuality.  Sex is used in every setting outside of where it is supposed to be – in marriage.  Couples live together and break the Sixth Commandment without giving it a thought.  They do so because fornication is normal for the world.  And it’s not just unbelievers who do this.  People who call themselves Christians live together outside marriage as they choose to live in a state of unrepentant sin.

This is how the world around us lives.  We constantly face the pressure to fit in.  We regularly have this other way of living presented as a temptation before us.  Yet Paul introduces our text by saying, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!--assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.” 

This way of living is not how we have learned Christ.  Instead, Paul says in our text: “Put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.”  We put off the old man by confessing our sin and repenting.  We admit that we have sinned and return to our baptism in faith, because there we find forgiveness.

          Yet forgiveness is not meant to leave us in the same place. Paul says that we need, “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  As we return to our baptism in faith we put on the new man.  Paul told the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

          The Spirit has given us new life in baptism.  We draw upon this source of life through faith – through trust in what God has done through water and the Word.  In this way we put on the new man who has been created in true righteousness and holiness.  The Spirit provides the ability to walk in God’s ways.  He renews the spirit of our minds so that we can live as the new man in the world.

          What does this look like?  Paul provides us with several examples in our text.  He says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”  We do not lie, but instead we speak the truth.  We do this with all people, but especially with our fellow Christians because we are members of one another. We share in one Lord, one faith and one baptism.  Through baptism we have been joined together as the body of Christ.  We have been united in Christ and so we do not lie to one another.

          Paul adds, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”  The old man wants to hang onto anger.  In a way, we almost like being wronged because it gives us justification to be angry.

          But the anger of man never works the righteousness of God.  Our anger is only a source of sin.  Instead of being angry, the new man forgives.  He forgives because God has forgiven us in Christ. Paul says at the end of this chapter, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

          Paul says that we are not to let the sun go down on our anger. This means that we do not let anger fester.  We forgive, we ask for forgiveness, and are reconciled. The apostle warns that to do otherwise is to give opportunity to the devil.  He wants you to remain angry because then sin is at work in your life.  But as we put on the new man, instead we forgive with forgiveness God has given to us in Christ.

          Finally, Paul says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”  The new man does not steal.  He does not take what belongs to others.  Rather than taking the focus of our life shifts to how we can help others.  We become Christ to our neighbor as we share what God has given to us.

          Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has given you forgiveness and salvation.  At the same time, the old man is still present.  He wants you to continue in sin.  For this reason we need to hear God’s Word that directs how we are to live. 

This is a word that returns us to the forgiveness that we have received in baptism. The water of baptism does more than just provide forgiveness. It is also the source of the Spirit’s continuing work in our life.  In repentance we put off the old man.  Through the Spirit received in baptism we put on the new man as we speak the truth, forgive, and help our neighbor.














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