A New Identity

The following message is based on Ephesians 4.17-24 and deals with the change of lifestyle that a Christian encounters by grace through faith.  It was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on Reformation Sunday, October 28, 2012

The United States Marshall Service operates what some of us know as the Witness Protection Program.  In this program, the Marshall Service would go to great lengths to protect valuable witnesses to key federal trials in the United States.  The Marshall Service would do everything from changing the person’s name to granting them a new place to live to giving them a new occupation to even giving the witness stories to tell their families if anyone should ask about their whereabouts.

Become a Christian involves a change in identity, a transformation from being one kind of person to another.  A person undergoes a radical identity change when he becomes a believer.  Everything about their old lifestyle is laid aside and a new manner of living becomes evident.  This is because of a new mindset they are given, as the Holy Spirit works in their lives.  On this Reformation Sunday, let us turn to Ephesians 4:17 and see about Paul’s introduction of “A New Identity.”

ONE CHARACTERISTIC OF AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN FAITH IS THAT WE ARE NOT LONGER TO BE INFLUENCED BY THE WORLD AROUND US.

Notice what Paul says in verse 17: “This I say therefore, 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.”  Walking is a metaphor used to describe a lifestyle.  Paul lists several things here that are characteristic of the Gentile world of his day and are true of unregenerate people today.  As believers, we are not to walk (live and/or think) like this.  It is a constant casting aside of the old sinful nature.  Although we live in the world, we are not of the world.  First, they are known by their ignorance.  This is spiritual ignorance.  It does not have to do with social graces.  It does not imply money or etiquette.  A person can have those things, yet still suffer from being spiritually unaware.

It reminds me of the story of a pastor who minister in New Orleans’s French Quarter.  He made it his habit to walk down the street and speak to shop owners.  On one of his walks, he noticed a man who happened to be wearing a cross around his neck.  When asked why he wore such a piece of jewelry, the man said: “Oh, I just think it looks nice.”  The pastor went on to relate the gospel message to this businessman, much to his disinterest.

A week or so later a, violent hurricane was approaching the area and the pastor took another walk down the same street.  This time, he noticed everyone boarding up their storefronts and apartments.  The store-owner spotted the clergyman and rushed out to him quite nervously, gripping the cross necklace and asked: “Preacher, Preacher, how does this thing work again?”  Unbelievers sometimes don’t understand the gospel message because of a lack of interest and spiritual ignorance.  Some don’t accept the message of the good news because they do not know any better.  The Bible is quite plain in teaching that it takes the Spirit of God to affect a person’s heart and open them up to the things of Christ.  God has to illuminate the mind and the heart to be receptive to these things.

Another thing than characterizes an unregenerate person is their hardness of heart.  Paul lists this as one of the badges of the Gentiles in Verse 18.  What is a hard heart?  It implies that one is so callous to the things of God that they want very little to do with Him.  They are angry at God for not giving them what they feel they are owed.  Some have claimed agnosticism out of default.  These have said that they do not know if there is a god.  But if there is, they believe in a rather small god that only exists to do things for us; never to keep us accountable, or who could create the universe in six days.  And those that are hardened against God are usually hardened against people.  They become antisocial to the point that nothing can make them happy.  They don’t believe in anything except themselves; and even then they have their doubts.

ANOTHER CHARACTERISTIC OF AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN FAITH IS THAT WE ARE CHANGED.

To these things the Christian is encouraged to lay aside the old man; to leave the ignorance and hard- heartedness that can suck the joy and purpose out of life.  Notice what Paul says in verse 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,”

All of us have behavior that we left at the time that Christ came into our lives, if Christ, has in fact, come into our lives.  Some of us still struggle with putting off that old sinful nature and completely laying it aside.  Some of us had behavior before we were saved that could utterly destroy our lives if we dove back in it today.  As born again Christians, we must continually put off the “old man,” that former way of living.  If I came to church wearing an old stinky sweatshirt and jeans that had dirt caked into the fibers, you would say: “Man, go change!  Go get a shower!”  In the nostrils of God, our bad behavior has a stench associated with it.  But thank God that He is able to constantly cleanse us and renew us according to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 13:12 states: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”

A key catalyst to this laying aside of the old and putting on the new is to be renewed in our minds.  Romans 12:2 states: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Some ways in which to be renewed in the spirit of our minds are to expose ourselves to those things which renew us.  Things like prayer, Scripture reading and serving others.  Anything that would encourage us to reflect on what it means to follow Christ.

Dietrich Bonheoffer was a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor that suffered imprisonment during WW II in Germany.  He started a seminary where the first two hours of every day was spent with students and faculty participating in spiritual exercise.  That in turn produced discipline and renewal that gave them stamina to persevere during the most difficult of times.

Today is Reformation Sunday.  This Protestant movement of the 16th century was a recovery of the authority of the Bible in all aspects of faith.  The five solas teach us that Christianity is a series of five “onlys.”  These are sola scriptura, which defined the Bible as the church’s only authority; sola gratia, which taught that one is saved by grace alone; sola fide, which said that faith is the only means by which one can be brought into relationship with God; solus Christus, which taught that Christ alone is the head of the church and the one in whom we must trust.  And Soli Deo Gloria- which said that we exist for the glory of God alone.

As the Reformation came and went, there is the ongoing need to pass on our faith to the next generation.  One thing that strikes me as odd about today’s culture is a do-it-yourself mentality to most anything.  People cannot pick and choose what they believe in and what they disregard.  The new self that God grants one who comes to Him newly, is a complete package, one that is created in the “righteousness and holiness of truth.”   The term “god,” means many things to many people.  While spirituality is popular, the church is losing many every day.  There is critical importance for dads, especially to take up the spiritual banner for your family.  We are to teach “these things” to our children, “when we lie down, when we rise up, when we walk by the way,” as Deuteronomy 6 teaches.  This may take the form of family devotions, Bible reading, praying for your family.  Over the past 24 hours, have I done something spiritual with my family?  James and Katie have taken special vows to promote the spiritual maturity of their family.  Our passage has to do with maturity, spiritual maturity.  Dads, it is your job to disciple your family!  Moms, if your husbands won’t do it, you do it!  May God help you.

When we speak of laying aside the old things and putting on the new self, what does that mean for us?  What do you and I need to lay aside?  What do we need to put on?  A few actions are listed in verses 25 and following.  Note Paul’s list.  Things like lying (verse 25) are replaced with truthfulness; anger is replaced with peace (verse 26), stealing (of all kinds, verse 28) is replaced with work, vulgarity (verse 29) is replaced with encouragement; and bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice (verse 31) are replaced with kindness.  The wonderful thing about the gospel is that God is able to transform us through the power of His Holy Spirit.  We cannot do it on our own, nor does God expect us to.  God enables us as we avail ourselves to Him!

This weekend I attended a ministry workshop in Ohio.  The theme was on conflict, sponsored by Peacemaker ministries.  I was reminded how little I realized there was about peacemaking.  One of the things that the leader pointed out is that what we aren’t willing to cast aside, those barriers of peace, can become an idol.  We feel entitled to the anger, resentment, and slander because of what has been done to us.  That doesn’t make it right.  Such things are obstacles to personal and relational peace.  We must cast them aside.

This morning, we have studied Ephesians 4 and Paul’s instruction on the before and after of Christian transformation, “A New Identity.”  Some may say, that just isn’t practical.  That cannot happen.  To that I would disagree.  It happens every day and it can happen to you.  It is a mindset that brings about a new behavior that has God written all over it from beginning to end.

One of the people that this happened to is Brian Welch.  Dena Ross of Beliefnet.com writes: “On the outside, things seemed great for guitarist Brian Welch. He was a member of one of the most popular heavy metal bands of the ’90s, Korn.  He had lots of money, and he was partying with some of the biggest names in the music industry. But behind the fame, Grammy Awards, and Billboard hits, Welch was battling many demons–an addiction to crystal meth, depression, and what he described as evil of a spiritual kind. It was only after hitting rock bottom that he found what he believed was missing in his life–God.

Welch became a Christian, quit drugs, and dedicated his life to his faith and his young daughter, Jennea. And then he did the unthinkable–he left one of the most successful bands in music history.  Describing his departure, he said: ‘I really felt God helped me have the courage to quit. I wasn’t happy with Korn for the last few years because my heart was with my (child). She was with her nanny most of the time at home. I was always worried about her and wondering if she felt she was unloved because her mother left her [when she was a baby], and I was never home. It was just a constant battle.

But when I gave my life to God, I felt like He gave me the courage to say no to my rock-star dream, to say no to my own desires, and to look at her and say, “Yes, I’m going to be home, and I’m going to take care of you. It’s about you now.”  So, it wasn’t that hard. People think, “What about all that money and fame?” Well, I had that for 10 years, and it wasn’t making me satisfied. It was cool and everything, but it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It was like freedom when I quit Korn.’  Some might say that is a miracle- that God would change someone that dramatic.  The truth is that God does that every day.  He is able to grant that freedom to all who come to Him in sincerity and truth.

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