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About this series
Yes! You Really CAN Change
What to do When You're Spiritually Stuck
Is a "changed life" really possible? If we're honest, most of us would say no. Maybe you've tried numerous programs that promise big changes, but in reality, they deliver very little results. You long for transformation, but don't know where to begin. There's good news for you! Life change is possible! God created you to grow, to change, to experience intimacy and adventure. In this series, from Ephesians 4, you will learn how true life change can happen to you. You'll be able to identify the barriers that have held you back from receiving God's best and you'll also learn how to break out of a destructive lifestyle so you can become the person you've always longed to be. This fresh approach to spiritual transformation is designed to move you from the frustration of failure to the freedom you have in Christ.More from this series
If any man, or if any woman, is in Christ, in relationship, in Christ, the Bible says, you’re a new creation. And the old things pass away, and behold – it’s a process – but all things become new.
And I would just ask you, as we get started, and we talk about this miracle of life change, the one where it’s an adventure – there’s risk, you’re flying, you recognize the beauty, and you’re stepping out. Or is it the one that’s like, “You know, I really know I’m in Christ,” but you withdraw, pull back, live in fear?
As we’ve been through Ephesians chapter 4, the apostle Paul, speaking, empowered by the Holy Spirit, wants you to know, and wants me to know, that a new life demands life change.
And you know the research, and you probably have it in your own life, as I’ve had it in mine, in different seasons, where you know some changes need to happen, and you’re not experiencing Him. So, historically, a couple of very negative things have happened with pastors, and teachers, and among Christians, that, when people’s lives aren’t changing, sometimes we try and create some artificial ways to either explain it, or get people to change.
One very dysfunctional way is called “moralism.” And what we do is, we try and just get people to change their external behavior, and we tell them things like, “Your external morality is what makes you right with God.” And it moves away from a relationship with Christ, and a supernatural life, and love, and relationships, and caring, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to a list of rules that people keep. And they feel guilty, and – in fact, has anyone – yeah, go ahead and raise your hand. Has anyone, in the last month, had to say, “I’m sorry,” to anyone? I have.
Now, the fact that you’ve had to say, “I’m sorry,” tells you that you can’t even keep your own rules, right? Let alone God’s rules. But moralism is, piling people up with guilt, and telling them, “If you do these four things, or stop doing these seven things, that’s what makes you ‘a good Christian.’” And it ends up in legalism, and restrictions, and completely misses.
Now, when you’re changed from the inside out, your morality will change. But it is not your external attempts to keep moral boundaries that make you right with God.
The absolute opposite extreme is called “antinomianism.” Long word, but you break it up: anti – against; nomianism, or nomos, has the idea of “a law.” And so, some people say, “It’s so hard to…” Your life is not changing. Where sin abounds, grace super abounds! And so, in the history of the Church – in fact, in multiple cults, they just say, “You know what? Don’t worry about changing. When you sin, God just gives you more grace. There’s no condemnation in Christ. He loves you. There is no law. Just do and live any way you want.”
But the apostle Paul would say, “You were called to freedom, brothers, but don’t allow your freedom to be an opportunity for the flesh.” But there’s a whole group of people – it’s a very interesting one – that just say, “You know what? Morality? Sexuality? Immorality? God covers it all. Just…”
The Scripture teaches that a new life will produce a new lifestyle. And the apostle Paul, in verses 17 through 24, is going to explain what that looks like, and why. Open it up, if you will, and as you do, and look at your teaching notes, I just want to remind you that these letters were written in a context. Paul just didn’t sit in a library. In fact, he’s in prison when he’s writing this one.
And if you were in downtown Ephesus, there would be the Temple of Diana over here, and there would be a brothel over here, and you could have any kind of sex, any kind of way you could ever want it. It was a wild and crazy place. And it was a core city of the world.
And these people have come to know Jesus, and they have been taken out of the kingdom of darkness, and placed in the kingdom of light, and He lives inside of them. And the goal was, they would be salt and light, and transform the world. And the apostle Paul is going on to say, “Now, your new life demands a new lifestyle.”
And what he’s going to do in verse 17, he’s going to remind them of what their life used to be like. Let’s read the whole passage to get an overview. He says, “So I tell you this, and I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding, and they are separated from the life of God.”
Well, why? “Because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardening of their hearts. As a result, having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality, as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” He’s describing a culture of violence, and sexual immorality, and disregard for people, and slavery, and the dehumanizing of people, and greed that’s just off the charts.
“But you, however, did not come to know Christ that way” – speaking of their conversion. “Surely you have heard of Him and you were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”
And then, he reminds them of what he taught them. “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; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
In essence – at the very top, you’ll see it – a believer whose life does not change is an oxymoron. In other words, it’s incompatible; it’s inconceivable. And yet, the Barna and Gallup research would say that about eight of ten people in America, who verbally profess that Jesus is Lord – that their lives haven’t changed.
We divorce at about the same rate. We lie at about the same rate. Our morality is about the same. We do about the same with our dreams, our money, our relationships. We lie about coming into work about the same as those who are outside of Christ.
And the apostle Paul says, “Wait a second. This isn’t about some intellectual knowledge about God, and you pray a little prayer. A new life demands, creates, a brand-new lifestyle.” But what he’s going to teach them is, “Some of you don’t know how that works. I want to give you grace; I want to give you understanding about how this really works.”
And three very specific truths flow out of this passage. The first truth is the negative but he has to lay it out for them, because there’s a group of people saying, “Hey, you know what? There’s this god, this god, this god, and Jesus. That’s great.”
I remember being in India, and I was going to speak. And it was a number of years ago, right after the tsunami had been there, eight days earlier. And there was a young Indian man, and I had a chance to share Christ with him. And we talked about ten minutes, and I said, “Well, what do you think?” And he looked at me and he goes, “Jesus is great! I believe in about a thousand other gods. I believe in this one, this one, this one. I’ll add Jesus to the list.”
Paul is saying, “It doesn’t work that way.” You don’t just add Him to the list, and intellectually throw Him into your religious basket. Truth number one is this: As believers, our lives must be progressively – underline the word progressively. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect – progressively characterized by moral purity." As believers, genuine followers, our lives must be progressively characterized by moral purity.
If you have a pen, pull it out, if you will. I want to do a little Bible study with you and I’ve laid out the text in a way where you can see some of the relationships. Notice, verse 17 – he says, “So I tell you and I insist upon, that you must no longer live” – and circle the word live, and write, above it, “walk.” That’s our word. In other words, it’s a process; it’s a journey. “You must not walk as the Gentiles do” – in other words, as unbelievers. And then, he describes, “In the futility of their mind.”
Put an arrow from that, and write the word command. This is a command. He’s commanding them, “You can’t keep living the same way.” This phrase, “In the futility of their minds” – he means “aimlessly, in vanity, purposelessness, with no direction, a life devoid of worth.” It says you’re completely out of sync with God’s purposes for your life. You can’t keep living that way.
The next line, he says, he describes your life before Christ. He says, “They are darkened in their understanding and they are separated from the life of God.” Put an arrow, and write, “their state.” He makes a command, and then he says, “Now, here’s their state before God.” This is their standing, if you will.
And the two phrases there – the first one is “darkened in their understanding.” It literally means your mind is blinded by sin. You, progressively, no longer can hear God’s voice. He’s going to take us through a progression, downward, of what happens when we turn away from God.
And then, beyond that, “excluded from the life of God.” Literally, it means “to be alienated; completely separate.” And then, in the next line, he tells us the “why.” There’s a command; here’s the present state. These people, their minds have been blinded. They don’t see it; they don’t get it anymore.
And then, he tells why, “Because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardening of their hearts.” The word ignorance, here, is not an intellectual ignorance. This isn’t that they don’t know, intellectually, this is right, and this is wrong. This is a moral ignorance. This is an ignorance where – you know when you do something wrong, and you feel kind of bad about it, and you feel guilty? And you say, “Oh man, I shouldn’t…” and then, you do it again, and you feel a little bit less guilty, and it doesn’t really bother you?
He says, “There’s a progress where you can get where you don’t feel anything, where you can sear your conscience, where you get to the point where, in terms of right or wrong, Who’s to say what’s right or wrong? And, You know what? No one’s going to tell me what to do about anything. If I want it, I’ll take it. And there’s just this total disregard.
And that’s, he says, this ignorance, and the ignorance happens because there is a process, he says, “Due to the hardening of their hearts.” That word “hardening” – we get our word – like a petrified forest. It’s the word petrified. Their hearts get harder and harder and harder and harder. And so, there’s just complete disregard for God.
And then, he says there’s a result. So, you get a command; you get their state. Put a little arrow in the third one – the reason. And then, here’s the result: “Having lost all sensitivity.” Literally, we get our word calloused.
In other words, your soul, your spirit, your heart – layer after layer after layer of turning away from God, and doing what is wrong. You lose all sensitivity, or you’re calloused. “They have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” One commentator writes, “It’s a surrendering of one’s self to all the passions, with gusto, with no regard to whom it may injure or hurt. There is no shame, no remorse, no regret.”
I was away with Theresa, after a little teaching stint recently. And it was rainy, and yicky, and a movie came on. It was not a movie I had ever seen. It was the true story of a woman whose family was taken to Auschwitz, to the concentration camp.
And the way the movie was laid out was, there were these three men interviewing her because they were looking back into history and she wanted to get her license as a doctor to deliver babies, to deliver babies in downtown New York City. And she was being interviewed because she came out of the camp, and they were evaluating whether she might be a war crime person because of what happened in those camps. And she was explaining to them her journey there, and how all of her family was killed, and what she was forced to do.
And in it, they showed these snapshots, snapshots of what it was actually like in the concentration camp. And there were little windows of it that were just, like, “Oh, God, that is so evil.”
I picked up the remote, and as I picked it up, then I thought, You know something? This is the condition of the human heart – and I was studying these passages. And I thought, Somehow we get insulated from this. And there is a hardening – there are things that human beings do to one another, when our hearts get hard, and we have total disregard for God; there’s no sense of right or wrong.
And in one scene, this very famous doctor, who was judged for all these war crimes, walked in. He goes, “Is there a doctor here?” And it was the barracks that they had the cut the women’s hair, and they stripped them of all dignity, and did unmentionable things. And it smelled, and they didn’t give them enough food, and if they found out if a woman was pregnant, they shot her, and killed her and the baby immediately.
And so, this – “Is there a doctor in here?” And she was a doctor, and no one moved. And he just walked up to someone – Bam! And just, literally – it was so shocking. “Now, I will kill another one. Is there a doctor in here?” And she stepped forward, and another girl. And they set up a little clinic. And then, this guy did experiments, without anesthesia, on people. I mean, it was…
And it reminded me of the pictures that I saw in Rwanda – people who would go to the market, and stores, and schools, and lived together. And then, the tribal conflict. And pretty soon, they were raiding one another’s homes, and killing men, and women, and children, in the name of, “You’re not in this tribe,” or…
Think of what’s happening, all around the globe. In the last century, more people were killed by their rulers – by the Stalins, by the Hitlers, by the Mussolinis – than all the wars of all time, of all history.
The apostle Paul is saying, “In the darkness of people’s hearts, turning away from God,” he said, “you were on a journey toward that kind of life, and that’s what it’s like apart from God.” And so, here’s his point. He says, “It’s inconceivable for a believer’s life not to change.”
“Be holy,” 1 Peter would write, “even as I am holy.” John, the beloved disciple, would say, “If you say you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar and there is no truth in you. If you say you love God and you don’t keep His commandments, you are a liar and there is no truth in you.” Our vertical relationship with God, through Christ, must get played out in how we treat other people.
And in this church, like in America today, a lot of people’s lives weren’t changing. And so, first of all, he sets the bar. And he says, “Look. Your life not changing, you progressively not allowing God’s Spirit to control your tongue, and your thoughts, and your appetites, so that you progressively become less sinful and more Christlike –” He says, “Moral purity isn’t an option.”
It’s not like a salad bar, like, “You know, I love Jesus, and seven out of the ten commands sound pretty good, but God will grade on the curve.” No, no, no, no. It’s that you walk with Him.
I was in Atlanta, meeting with a young couple. They had listened to something on the radio, and they were excited about it, and had their Bibles, and were telling me how neat this was, and that was. And they had come to this Bible study a couple times, and were sharing a couple things with me. And I said, “Well, where do you live?” And I was expecting her to say, “Well, I live here,” and him to say, “I live here.” They were going to a very fine Bible-teaching church.
And they said, “Well, we live here.” I said, “What do you mean? In the same apartment complex?” “Oh, no, no. We live together.” I said, “Hold it; help me. So, like, you live together like man and wife, but you’re not man and wife?” And so – sometimes I can be blunt. “So you live together, having sex, and you’re not married, is that right?” “Yeah. Yeah, we – we – yeah. I mean, we really love God; we really follow Jesus. We just don’t really think that stuff about no sex before marriage is all that important.”
I said, “You know, there are a lot of Christians that do that with a lot of different passages, but God’s not really happy with that. And here’s the deal. You know why He’s not happy? You’re embarrassing Him, in terms of how you’re living, and can I tell you this? You’re hurting your relationship. Any time God gives commands and rules – He’s not a prude. He actually invented sex, and every other good thing. He wants to give you the best thing, at the right time, in the right way, and you guys are short-circuiting the process.”
But that’s one of those easy ones for those out there, but I think all of us have a few things where we say, “We know we’re supposed to pay our taxes, right? But the government is wasting so much money. And, we know that we’re supposed to put good things in our mind, but when you’re tired. And we know that our bodies are the temple of God but…” Right?
See, we baptize certain sins, or we all struggle with them so much; we just pretend we don’t. Right? Paul is saying a new life demands a new lifestyle, and that moral purity is, first and foremost, one of the things that distinguishes us.
And then, he gives the reason why. Why is that so important? The second truth is, an immoral lifestyle is inconceivable for us, as believers, for two reasons. In other words – look in verse 20. He says, “You, however, didn’t come to know.” That’s in a punctiliar time.
He’s talking about your conversion. He goes, “That was before. That’s for people who aren’t in Christ. But you, you didn’t come to know Christ in that way.”
“Surely you heard of Him” – speaking of when you heard the gospel, and understood that Christ died for you, in your place, paid for your sin, and rose from the dead – “and you were taught in Him.” That word has the idea of the fellowship, and the connection, and the community, and what God’s doing in your life, and doing life with people, and the progress.
And then, “According to” – notice – “the truth that is in Jesus.” This little phrase, “in Jesus,” put this way, is here, only in the New Testament. It’s a reference to the historical Jesus, the Jesus that lived, and walked, and taught, the Jesus that said to the woman, “Go, and sin no more,” the Jesus that said, “Has anyone seen Me sin?” See, Jesus was holy, and pure, and He said, “Follow Me, and I will make you like Me. Your life will be transformed.”
And so, here are the two reasons why it’s inconceivable for us to live immoral lives. Number one, it contradicts who we are. It contradicts who you really are. You are not a green worm, caterpillar, anymore! You’re a butterfly! You’re a new person. You’re not a slave to sin. You’re a son; you’re a daughter. You’ve been redeemed. You’re loved; you’re precious. His Spirit lives within you. You have a Father who has created all that there is. He’s got a plan for you. You’re brand new! Your life – you need to fly, not crawl.
See, here’s the issue, and here’s how moralism plays its way out: Most of us think that the issue of sin is a behavioral problem, and it’s not. The behavior is the symptom. The issue of sin is a relational problem.
See, when people are asking questions like, “Well, how far can I go?” or, “Should I do this or not?” and, “It’s kind of gray,” and, “Is this right or is this wrong?” and you know what’s right already – the focus is on these external behaviors, instead of, “Wait a second, there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. What does it look like to draw closer to God? And what are the things that put a barrier?”
For those of you who are married, you’ve been down this road. Something happens in your relationship, and you’ve hurt them, or you neglected them, or you forgot something, or you blew up in anger, or you have a history of something, and you’ve done it again. And then, you walk in the house – it happens with roommates, as well – and there’s this funky stuff in the air. And you know there’s a problem.
And you can say something like, “I’m sorry.” And the funkiness in the air doesn’t go away, does it? “You know, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” Focus on behavior – “I’ll try not to do that again.” And if it’s one like that, if it’s, “I’ll try not to do that again. I’ll try not to do that again,” and you keep on doing it, what do you get? There’s just this distance.
But when you see violations in a relationship as, I hurt that person, there’s a breech. Our love is broken down. There’s not a connection. There’s that weird thing in the air. Until you sit down, and look them in the eye – and, often, with a few tears in your eye – and say, “You know something? I told you I wouldn’t do this. I did it again. I am sorry. I blew it. Will you forgive me? I’m really, really sorry.” And when there’s a confession that’s followed by a reconnection of the relationship, then what happens?
See, the issue of sin – it’s like, well, just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you’re not going to sin anymore. It just means that your sins have been forgiven, and it means the power has been broken. You don’t have to sin anymore.
But when you sin, what it does is, it separates you in your fellowship with your heavenly Father. And so, the issue isn’t about just these external behaviors. And so, there are lots of people, “I’m going to start doing that,” or, “I’m going to stop doing that. I try hard, try hard, try hard, fail. Try hard, try hard, try hard, fail.” It’s not until your mind gets renewed, and you realize, I’m breaking God’s heart. I’m a son; I’m a daughter.
And that’s why a lot of people, you don’t feel His presence. The reason you don’t want to read the Bible, or you can’t pray for more than a few seconds before your mind wanders everywhere – it’s because of unresolved issues.