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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
Where do you get the power to change? Dan came up to me the very first time I ever publically taught through Ephesians 4:1 through 6, which we covered last week. I literally got done, and a guy walks up to me – he was a young, zealous guy, played for a local college basketball team, and we’d gotten to know one another. And he was living the life. His life was dramatically changing.
And I literally got done, and he caught me, just as I was going around the corner. And he stops, and he goes, “Stop.” So, I did. And he opens his Bible, and he opens it up right here, to Romans chapter 6. He goes, “Listen to this.” He says, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed this form of teaching in which you were entrusted. You’ve been set free from sin and have become a slave to righteousness.”
And this big, 6’4” guard looked at me, and he goes, “That’s not true. It doesn’t work.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, a lot has changed in my life, but there are some areas” – and he was very specific. He said, “I can’t change. I’m supposed to be transformed, and I can’t. What’s wrong with me?”
We had a little discussion, and, literally – this is one of those bizarre experiences. I leave that, walk on around, get a cup of coffee between the services, and a young mom that I had gotten to know pretty well, who came from a horrendous background – drug, alcohol addictions, fractured relationships, difficult home life, had come to Christ, amazing transformation the last couple years. And she walks up to me with an open Bible, Romans chapter 6. I’m thinking, There’s something going on here. And she goes to a different verse.
She goes, “Look, look right here, verse 22. It says, ‘But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap is holiness, and it results in eternal life.’”
And she goes, “This isn’t working.” I’m thinking, I guess I really had a bad day on this one. And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” She goes, “Well, I’m not on alcohol, God has really changed my life, but I smoke dope every day. Every, single day.
And I’m concerned about my four-year-old daughter. And I have tried to quit, and I’ve prayed to quit, and I want to quit, and I can’t quit. Where do you get the power to change?”
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Listen to the apostle Paul. Interestingly, in the very next chapter, after chapter 6, he says, “For I desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not good, the evil that I don’t want to do, this I keep on doing.”
He’s basically saying, “I want to do what’s right. I find myself not doing it. And the very thing I don’t want to do, I find myself doing that.” Anybody in this room having that struggle at all? Yeah, same here.
Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the book of Ephesians, this is what God has done for you. Chapter 4 opens up, and this is the practice: “I urge you, therefore,” Paul says, “as a prisoner of the Lord, to walk in a manner worthy of your new life.” And then, he said, “The way you walk in this new life, the way that your belief and behavior tell the same story, is the cocoon, if you will, of community.” He says, “Be humble and gentle and patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the body in the bond of peace.” And then, he gives us the reason, and he went through those amazing high things: There’s one God, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
And so, just by way of review – and then, I thought I would just, sort of, poke at you, and poke at me. I thought, since I wasn’t completely humble, and gentle, and patient, and bearing with other people this week, I thought I would put down the opposite of those. And if I’m not humble, it means I’m proud, and selfish. And if I’m not gentle, it means I’m demanding, and harsh. If I’m not patient, it means I’m impatient, and angry. If I don’t bear with people, it means I’m critical of them, especially those who live inside my house, and judgmental. And if I’m not making every effort, I’m kind of slothful, and, actually, I disengage, instead of being connected to people.
Is there anybody, other than me, who had some of the experiences on the right side of that column? Yeah. Now, listen. Here’s what I want you to understand. Christ comes into our lives. His game plan is to turn us from a green caterpillar, and be metamorphosized – Remember? The walk is a process – into the transformation of a beautiful butterfly, in terms of our character and likeness of Christ.
But listen to what the apostle Paul goes on to say. He says, “Now, if I do what I do not want to do” – he identifies the problem – “it’s no longer I who do it, but it’s sin living in me that does it. What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And then, he gives us the answer: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
And so, the question is, “How did Jesus conquer sin, and how does that work, practically, in everyday life?” The apostle Paul says it’s going to be a struggle. In Romans chapter 6, he’s going to give us some truth – we’ll look at it a little bit later – about what is actually true of this. But how do you overcome the struggle with sin? What did I say to those two people? What did the conversation go like?
And just before we go too far, let me give you a private moment that you don’t have to share with anyone. If there is an area in your life that you would say, real honestly, you really want to change, you have the desire to change, you know God wants it to change, but you feel stuck, what’s it with you? Is it a critical attitude? Is it your addiction to work, or media? Is it some addiction? Is it…? You fill that in.
Because here’s what I want you to get: This isn’t theoretical. God has given us all the power we need to change, but until we understand what happened to Jesus – are you ready for this? – from the time on Friday night, when He died, to the time on Sunday morning, when He rose from the dead – if you don’t understand what He did, you’ll never understand how to access the power to change.
Because what is true in all the New Testament teaching is that what is ever true of Jesus, when you are united to Him by faith, you are co-crucified and co-resurrected. And so, whatever is true of Him becomes true of us.
And the Christian life isn’t trying hard to live like Jesus, or achieve some morality. The Christian life is a relationship with God the Father, through the work of the cross, as the Spirit enters your life, and you live this new life. Remember? “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, in this human body I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And this new life I live” – how do we live it? – “by faith in the Son of God” – out of what? – “who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
Now, verses 7 through 10 of Ephesians 4 will explain how it happens: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” You might circle the little phrase “grace given.” It means “an endowment.” It’s not the same word as a spiritual gift; it’s the idea of a sacred trust, or an endowment, a treasure that’s being given to you.
“And therefore,” it says – he reaches back and quotes Psalm 68:18. He makes some small modifications, but he says, “When He” – speaking of Jesus – “ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” Underline “He gave gifts to men,” because, right after this, he’s going to explain the gifts. And we’ll talk about the gifts, and how spiritual gifts really interact to help us be conformed to the image of Christ.
And then, now he explains: “Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens” – and here’s a purpose clause – “so that He might fill all things.”
Now, I don’t know about you, I didn’t grow up reading the Bible. I never opened the New Testament until I was eighteen. As a brand-new Christian, the big, thick part, the Old Testament – I didn’t touch that for about a year. I couldn’t understand it. But even when I started reading through the New Testament two or three times, and then I began reading through the Bible, I remember reading this the first time reading this, and thinking, I bet this is really important. But I don’t have a clue what they are saying. What’s it mean, “He ascended,” “He descended,” “lower parts of the earth,” “captives”? Does any of that make sense to you?
Now, for some of you it may. But here’s what I want you to get: It tells us Jesus’ identity, and it tells us what He did on our behalf, in such a way that if you get it, like the Ephesians got it, it’ll help you understand how to grasp the power to really change.
These key words, “He led captive a host of captives” – right above that, I want you to write, Victorious Savior. These key words are going to tell us Jesus’ identity, and what He actually did. The next key phrase is “lower parts of the earth.” Above that, write the words, Righteous Judge. The last phrase is “that He might fill all things.” Above that write, Lord of lords, and King of kings. And what you’re going to see is, the apostle Paul will take some different pieces, and pull them all together, and he’s going to describe for you and me what Jesus accomplished. And whatever He accomplished that’s true of Him, becomes true of us.
Phrase number one: “He led captive a host of captives.” This imagery is from the Old Testament, but was still true in the Roman world. Here’s the picture: You go to battle against your foes – maybe they were in a large city. You surround the city; you build ramparts. You may cut off the water, cut off the food. It may take months, or even years, in some of those battles.
And then, you defeat your enemy. And once you defeat your enemy, in those days, you would often deport them to other places. And when you would defeat your enemy, you would come back to your hometown, and celebrate the victory. Often, the general or the king would be on a white horse. Behind him would be all of his army, often in their best battle array.
Behind them would be the captives that are described here. And they would chain them – three, five, seven across – and they would be stripped to the waist, or, sometimes – it gets a little graphic – they would strip them naked. And then, behind them would be what are called “the spoils.” There might be all the cattle, all the donkeys, all the gold, all the silver, all the jewelries. So, this is a procession, or a train.
And so, imagine this general coming back into his hometown, people cheering. He’s on a white horse. He’s demonstrating, “We’ve won the victory. Here is who won the victory: the soldiers. Behind them, here’s our humiliated, defeated foe. And behind them – the evidence of the great victory – are the spoils: gold, silver, animals.”
And so, the people would cheer, the military would get much of the spoils, but then, the spoils, or the gifts, as an evidence of the victory, would be given to some of the people in the town. So, if I was a lady cheering, I might get a cow. Or I might get a bracelet. And so, I would get these gifts, but these gifts are an indication of a victory that’s been won, and a foe that has been defeated.
And Paul uses this imagery of Jesus as the victorious victor over sin, over death, and over Satan. And he’s going to talk, in a minute, about the captives – who He’s overcome – and what He’s done in giving us gifts, or spiritual gifts, as the evidence of that victory.
The next key word is, “He is the righteous Judge.” It says, “The lower parts of the earth.” Now, if you’re familiar with the New Testament – and some are, and some aren’t – let me encourage you, later today, to just read Luke chapter 16, beginning at about verse 19. And Jesus tells a parable, and the story of the parable is pretty simple, but it gives us a picture of the Jewish view of what happened to people when they died in the Old Testament economy.
And He tells the story of a righteous beggar named Lazarus, and a wicked man who was absolutely selfish and uncaring. They both die, and they go into Sheol, the place of the dead, and there are two compartments. There’s paradise, the abode of the righteous; and then there’s Hades, or hell, which is the abode of the wicked.
And so, you have this picture of Lazarus in Abraham’s Bosom, in Paradise. And this wicked man looks, and there’s a great chasm, and he asks, “I’m tortured with this. Please tell them to bring some water for me.” And he says, “There’s no way that you can go from one place to the other. It’s fixed.” And he says, “Well, then tell my five brothers.” And the response is, “Even if someone was raised from the dead, your brothers wouldn’t believe. They have Moses and prophets.”
But the picture I want you to get is, there’s this reality of a Jewish ultimate picture of what was going on when people died. The lower parts of the earth, then – here’s what happens. When Jesus went into the lower parts of the earth, He made a proclamation, and an announcement. He proclaimed, “A victory has been won,” to the abode of the wicked. And then, He proclaimed the Good News that the Savior, the Messiah is going to – do what? “All that you hope for, and all the animal sacrifices, all that you believed of God, all the promises of God – they’re finished. It’s been won. The Messiah has come.”
Follow along, if you will. Hades – this is what it says in 1 Peter 3:18 and 19, “For Christ died once for sin, the righteous for the unrighteous” – why? “to bring us to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.”
Important: The word preached, here, is not the same word, we’ll see in just a minute. This is a word for a pronouncement of judgment.
The lower parts of paradise – 1 Peter 4:6, “For this reason the gospel was preached” – different word – “even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men with regard to the body, but live according to God with regard to the Spirit.”
Now, let me ask you to do something, if you will. Open your Bibles to John chapter 5. Some of you are looking at me like, “This is really weird.” Okay. I get that. What I want you to do is open to John chapter 5, and I want you to listen to what Jesus said would happen.
He’s preaching in John chapter 5, beginning at verse 24. Now, listen to what He says. He is giving this tremendous offer. He says, “Truly, truly” – or, “I tell you the truth” – “whoever hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me” – notice the tense of the verb – “has eternal life.” And the result of this present possession of eternal life, when you believe or trust in Christ, is, “he will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth” – notice what He says – “a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”
Notice what Jesus’ role is: “For the Father has life in Himself, and so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to” – what? “to judge because He is the Son of Man.” Notice the very next line, verse 28: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and will come out – and those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
And the apostle Paul is saying, in this little picture here, when He went into the lower parts of the earth, Jesus was, first, the victorious victor over sin, and death, and Satan. Second, He went into the lower parts of the earth, and He condemned and gave judgment on the wicked, and then told those who had been trusting in Him, “It’s over. Your faith has been fulfilled.”
Finally, this last unique phrase: “That He might fill all things.” And the idea of “fill,” here, is the idea that Jesus is taking back all territory. He is the Lord of lords, and the King of kings. There’s victory over sin; there’s victory over death. There’s victory over Satan.
Remember when He’s tempted by the devil? And the devil said to Him, “If you will bow down before me, I will give you these kingdoms.” Apparently, in God’s economy, he had responsibility over a certain reign upon the earth, because of sin. And Jesus avoided that temptation.
But now, what He does – Colossians 2 says He destroyed the works of the devil, and He is now proclaiming. He fills all things. He’s the Ruler. He’s the Lord. He’s the King of kings, now, in real time. It’s a defeated foe. You can look death in the eyes, because its sting is gone. Sin’s power? Broken. Sin’s penalty? Gone.
In fact, we pick this up in Revelation chapter 5. Follow along, and listen carefully for the very end. “They sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God and every tribe and every language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’
“And then I looked and I heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. And they encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. And in a loud voice they said: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever!’”
We’ve taken some very remote pieces, and a couple hard passages, and the very words of Jesus, and we have understood, what it means that He ascended, that He also descended, and that now, He is the ruler, the King, the Lord of lords; He’s a victorious Savior. And everything that happened, with regard to Him, of conquering sin and death and Satan, is now true of you.
And at the very bottom, just so there’s not confusion, what you need to understand is, all saints, or all believers – we all get saved the same way.
If you were an Old Testament saint, you believed, by faith, that the sacrifices each year, on the Day of Atonement, were putting you in hold. And one day, a Savior would come, and your sins will be completely forgiven and dealt with. So, they were looking forward to Christ.
We now, as New Testament believers, or saints – we look back on what Christ has done. But all believers, Old or New Testament – we all are saved on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross, by grace, through faith.