Tuesday of Easter 4 – Ephesians 4:17-32

| April 24, 2016 | 0 Comments More

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fightingEphesians 4:17-32

The drama of good vs. evil grips us because it hits so close to home.  Some of the most compelling myths today – things like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings – grab us precisely because they dramatize the battle between good and evil.

But the most dramatic version of the battle between good and evil is not lived out in a galaxy far, far away or in an age that is long, long ago: it is lived out in each of us every day.  It is a battle to which God has called you this day and of which St. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:17-32.

“This I say, therefore,” Paul says in verse 17.  Did I miss something?  What did he just say?  What he just said was Ephesians 1:1 – 4:16.  He said that God has adopted us and made us His children; that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; that we have a high calling to be like Christ as stewards of His mysteries; and that we are to walk worthy of our high calling, the calling of salvation.

Therefore, because of all that Paul has just said, we are to do 2 things.  There are 2 steps in participating in God’s mystery:

First, put off the old man, the sin nature, and defeat evil in your life (verse 22).

Second, put on the new man, Jesus Christ and His righteousness, and multiply good in your life (verse 24).

There is true evil and real sin in the world.  Often, we see it most in ourselves.  This evil is related to what Paul calls the Old Man, the sinful nature and sinful deeds that we do.  This Old Man that Paul talks about is the way that the Gentiles without Christ lived in Paul’s time, and it is the way all of us live without God in our lives.  The Old Man lives in the futility of his mind (verse 17), has its understanding darkened and has blindness of heart (verse 18), is alienated from the life of God (verse 18), and is given over to lasciviousness, uncleanness, and greediness  (verse 19).

This is what we were and would continue to be without the righteousness of Jesus Christ in our lives.  And it is this – a life apart from God, a life lived our own way – that we must get rid of and put off.

The evil of sin and the Old Man requires courageous and vigorous action to slay it, though.  And it is not possible to simply put off the Old Man, to get rid of sin: you must also put on the New Man.  In fact they must happen together, for the good displaces the evil.  Trying to take off the Old Man without putting on the New Man is a little like downing a bottle of antibiotic pills all at one time without ever eating any yogurt or probiotics.  You might temporarily get rid of the bad bacteria, but there are no good ones to replace the bad ones.  If taken this way, the bad bacteria will be back and all you’d have to show for it would be a massive case of diarrhea.

If you think Christianity is another 12-step program to help yourself get over sin, or if you think the Bible is another self-help book – the do-it-yourself way to get right with God – then you’re in for the shock of your life!

It is only by putting on Christ and His righteousness and His Spirit and His life that we can hope to put off sin and put on righteousness.  When you put on the New Man, you become one with the New Man, and He lives in and through you.  Behold, you are a new creature!  God expects to radically transform each of us so that we look more and more like His Son.  Our transformation may not be as rapid or as dramatic as that from Saul of Tarsus to St. Paul – and God doesn’t intend it to be so.  But God does expect and has equipped each of you, over the course of your life, to experience a transformation of your character as great as Paul’s.  In terms of spiritual development, St. Paul may have been a hare, and most of us are tortoises.  But the truth is that even St. Paul knew the Law and something of the Messiah before his conversion, and he spent many years learning the new life in Christ from the apostles.

Sometimes we have a casual attitude toward this process of sanctification, of putting on Jesus Christ the New Man.  Suppose you had been invited to an evening dinner with the President, but earlier that day you decided to catch up on some chores.   You planted your garden and mowed the lawn and changed the oil in your car.  Wouldn’t you take off your dirty, smelly clothes and put on your best suit or dress?

In the same way, you are to put off the Old Man of sin and put on the New Man, which is Jesus Christ and His righteousness – before you can go and meet with God.

To me, it’s exciting that by doing something as simple as turning from my sin and doing what is right, by doing the very thing that I deeply desire to do, that I can: be holy as God is holy; participate in His eternal plan; become a new creature and become like my Lord and Savior; and can actually please my God.

In each of you, the most gripping and incredible drama is being played out.  Your body, mind, and soul are the places where the cosmic battle between good and evil is being fought.  The battle is not out there in a galaxy far, far away or back in Middle Earth.  And you are not permitted to be a spectator: you are the actor, or, more accurately, Christ in you.

But how can you practically put on the New Man?  Of course, we all know the traditional and good answers of worshiping in the Church, reading the Bible, and praying.  But Paul’s remedy is to practice acting righteously.  The other things are all necessary, but when it comes down to it, we must go out and act righteously, like Jesus Christ.

Paul gives 3 examples, though the specific prescription for you may be different. In each example, Paul gives us one sin we must put off and one righteous action we must put on.

In verses 25 and 29-30 Paul says, in essence: “Don’t use your mouth for evil, but use it for good.”  The tongue, James says, is a restless evil: be on your guard against it.  It might seem as if lies, or a little gossip, or the complaining about life that we all do is no big deal.  But God puts the sins of the tongue right up there with all of the other ones we tend to think about more

There’s a simple test for use of your mouth: does it glorify God and does it edify your neighbor?  If your mouth is grumbling or lying or hurting, then maybe it’s time to shut your mouth.

A second example of putting on the New Man, Paul says, is to not lose your temper, but to ensure that your anger is righteous (verses 26-27).  The truth is that most anger is selfish, and most of it is over small things.  Most anger, by far, does not work the righteousness of God.

Paul’s third example of how to put on the New Man is that you should not steal but should instead work and give to others (verse 28).  It goes without saying that we shouldn’t steal, and I’m willing to bet that not a single one of you snatched a purse or bumped off a 7-11 this past week.  (Of course, there are a lot of you I don’t know very well!)

So maybe we can all safely skip over this commandment.  But, how many of us have worked and saved, not just for ourselves, but so that we may give to those who are more needy?  How many of us see our wealth as all belonging to God and actively think about how He might want us to use His money?  (And by the way – it’s not just money that can be stolen.)

In Malachi 3:8, Malachi asks: “Will a man rob God?  Yet you have robbed me.  But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed you?’  In tithes and offerings.”

Much more could be said about all of these ways of taking off the Old Man, but these are meant to remind us of how prevalent sin is and how many opportunities we have each day to obey and to grow.  The point of each is that we should seek to take off ourselves and our way of doing things and put on Jesus Christ who is the New Man.

Put on Jesus Christ: every bit of Him, on every bit of who you are.  He wants you – heart, mouth, and hand.  The right use of your anger is representative of your heart; not lying but speaking truth is representative of your mouth; and not stealing but working and giving is representative of your hands.

Put on the New Man: put on Jesus Christ every morning.

Prayer:  I humbly ask you, Lord, that being dead unto sin and living unto righteousness, and being buried with Christ in His death, that You may crucify the Old Man in me and utterly destroy the whole body of sin.  As You have made me a partaker of the death of Your Son, may You also make me a partaker of His resurrection and the New Man; so that finally, with Your holy Church, I may be an inheritor of Your everlasting kingdom.  Amen.

Resolution and Point for Meditation:  I resolve to practice taking off the Old Man and putting on the New Man Jesus Christ by choosing one thing God is asking me to do.  I resolve to pick one behavior God is asking me to give up and to choose one thing He is asking me to do instead.  In doing this, I will seek to remember that this is one way that I can put on Jesus Christ every day. 

© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson

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Category: Give Us This Day

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