Stopping for Directions

These are my sermon notes from August 12th… As always, these are speaking notes, so be gracious in regards to grammar and such…

About 13 years ago, I read a news article about an elderly couple in New Jersey who had made a wrong turn down the block from their home and had traveled over 800 miles before they were able to get home. The article said that they had stopped and gotten gasoline twice, but hadn’t eaten or slept in the two day misadventure. The article made a point of explaining that the 86 year old husband refused to stop and ask for directions.  In fact, it was only when they were involved in an accident that they finally figured out where they were and how to get home.

Guys, let’s be honest for a minute shall we… We’d never do that would we?

Actually, quite often we do… Sometimes in our driving our cars, but more often in guiding our lives… especially in the spiritual realm.

Today’s Scripture passage comes from the book of  Ephesians, starting in chapter 4, verse 22 and going on into chapter 5, verse 2.  And in this passage, the Apostle Paul addresses those of us who are already Christians… already accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and our God.  And Paul gives us directions on how NOT to get lost, in our spiritual journey to our Father in Heaven.

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Ephesians 4:22 – 5:2 (NIV)
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About the same time as I read that article, I needed to go to Pittsburgh to visit one of my parishioners who had been transferred to a hospital there. I was new in the ministry and, then as now, I hated driving in Pittsburgh. The person I got my directions from did two things for me before I went.  She gave me the route numbers with actual instructions, but she also gave me some of the landmarks I should be looking for: A particular bridge, the Three Rivers Stadium, and such.  By having both the landmarks AND the routes, I could follow the directions, and be assured that I was on the right road as I traveled.

Paul does the same thing for us in this passage. He gives us the basic spiritual landmarks that we need to be passing AND then he gives us detailed instructions to actually follow. For the landmarks on this journey as Christians, let’s look at verses 22, 23, & 24 again:

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.

Paul gives three specific directions we need to follow, turn by turn as we travel this journey of faith…  And remember, he’s not saying this is how you get on the road leading to Heaven, we know that’s only by accepting Jesus into your heart. That’s how you get ON the road.  Paul says that once you are on that road (and have Jesus in your heart) these are the three things you’re going to need to follow if you’re going to STAY on the right road.

What are they?

–Put Off the Old Man (or the Old You)

–Be Renewed In Your Spirit

–Put On The New Man (or the New You)

The analogy he uses of putting off and putting on implies someone who is dirty and smelly deliberately choosing to change their clothes.  They must first put of their older clothes, then be cleaned up completely, and then deliberately choose to put on new clothes.

It doesn’t do any good to be cleaned up without taking off the old clothes first. It doesn’t do any good to put on new clothes without taking off the old clothes first or without getting cleaned up. There is a logical, indisputable sequence of events that has to happen.

Same here in the spiritual realm…  We are saved from sin and, in God’s eyes at that moment we are as pure and clean as His Son Jesus Christ.  But we still sin. We still fall. We get our spiritual clothes dirty.  We’re on the right road but sometimes we make a wrong turn.

To keep us on the right road, or get us back to the right road, takes a putting off of the old ways.  A deliberate choice that no matter how many times we fall (and we will fall, we will sin), no matter how many times we fall, we will return to the right road.  And Paul says you start to do that by putting off the old ways.  But you have to then “be renewed in your mind.” The text actually says here: “be made new in the attitude of your minds.” In Romans 12:2 Paul worded it like this: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The idea Paul tries to explain here, is that the battle against temptation, against sin, is largely fought and won in our minds, in the very heart of our being.  Jesus said “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” He also spoke of the treasures we lay up in our hearts.

Trust me, if you have an Old Man or the Old You nature that is struggling with temptation over sex outside your marriage, then you need to do more than just say “I will not be unfaithful to my spouse.”  You need to renew your mind and not allow it to be filled with the pornographic thoughts from magazines, books, novels, or even certain television shows and movies. You must allow the renewing of your mind along with putting away the old ways.

Any area of temptation, according to Paul, works the same way.  Put off the old ways, but then renew your minds.

A little later in chapter 5, Paul speaks to husbands about loving their wives the way Christ loves the church, and there’s this neat little phrase about how Christ does that. Listen again to Ephesians 5:25-27:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;  That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Did you catch that in there about how Christ will get us to become the glorious church with no wrinkles or spots or blemishes?  It said he’ll sanctify us (that means make us holy just like he is), he’ll sanctify and cleanse us WITH THE WASHING OF WATER BY THE WORD.

We are told that we need to “renew our minds”.  Later Paul explains that Jesus Christ Himself wants to do that for us and that it will happen as we allow Him to wash our minds out with the water of His holy Word.  No wonder the early church required new converts to memorize entire books of Scripture! Because, according to this, as we put Scripture in, Jesus washes and renews our minds.

Folks, that’s why we have more than worship in our churches! We also have educational events, not to worship God but to learn about him and fill our hearts and minds with His Word! THAT’S how we get “renewed minds” and “renewed hearts!”

The third specific direction Paul gives us for our journey of faith is for us to put on the New Man or the New You.

And the verses that follow give the examples…

Therefore…

25 each of you must put off falsehood  — speak truthfully…

26 “In anger do not sin” — Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer —  but must  work

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths —  but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs…

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice  — 32 Be kind and compassionate… forgiving…

And finally the HOW do you do those things…

We pick up the specifics of How in verses 1 & 2 of chapter 5…

5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children

2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

We do NOT want to be like that New Jersey couple… just continuing on in the wrong way because it looks ok and we don’t want to ask for directions.

Paul gives us the directions on how to stay on the right road…

–Put Off the Old Man (or the Old You)

–Be Renewed In Your Spirit

–Put On the New Man (or the New You)

AND HE throws three landmarks in as well…

Back in verse 27 was the first one…

27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

There are many times we’re doing fine, but then we let our eye or ear or mind or mouth let the devil get a foothold into our lives… Paul says WATCH OUT you’re about to take an exit when you should stay on the road!

Verse 30 has the second landmark…

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…

God Almighty, through His Holy Spirit will try to lead and guide you by speaking to you… in your heart and in your mind… bringing back the truths of Scripture that you have read and learned. When we sin, we actually GRIEVE the Holy Spirit… we make God sad! WATCH OUT! That’s not an exit you want to take off of the road!

And then the third one is in 5:1…

5:1 Be imitators of God… and live a life of love…

In everything we do, everything we say, God Himself is our example. When you don’t know what to do, WATCH OUT… that is a moment where you are in danger of taking an exit off the road. Rather, in those moments of decision, look to God. If you want to know God’s ways, look to the way Jesus lived his life on earth. And when all else fails, if you’re still not sure of how to be an imitator of God, then let LOVE for God and LOVE for others be the way you make decisions in your life. Live a life of love.

The directions are clear and specific. The landmarks are plain if you’re watching for them. Now the question I suppose is “WILL we follow directions?”

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