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“Off with the Old—On with the New”
Ephesians 4:17-24


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost—August 12, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our message is based on today’s Epistle Reading from the fourth chapter of Ephesians.  In it, the Apostle Paul has some pretty harsh words for sinful humankind: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” 

“Way to go, Paul!  Give it to ‘em good!  Tell it to ‘em like it is!”  But St. Paul is not only talking about “them,” out there; he is also talking about us, in here.  For we too are part of the sinful human race; we too, by nature, are darkened in our understanding, separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in us due to the hardening of our hearts.  We too, by nature, have lost all moral sensitivity; and how often we too have given ourselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  St. Paul is not only talking about “them,” out there; he is also talking about us, in here.

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord:  you must no longer live as the heathen do.”  “You did not come to know Christ that way.”  “In accordance with the truth that is in Jesus . . . [put off] your former way of life . . . put off your old self . . . be made new in the attitude of your minds. . . put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” 

Some commentators see a parallel between the progression of thought in our text and Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  “Put off your old self.”  In ancient times it was customary for the person being baptized to take off his outer clothing before the ceremony.  This symbolized that he was leaving behind his former way of life.  “Be made new.”  In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism we are spiritually “made new.”  As Jesus says, “You must be born again. . . born of water and the Spirit.”  “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  After the baptismal ceremony, the newly baptized Christian would be clothed in a white garment, to symbolize that though his baptism he had been spiritually clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and that from now on he would strive to live a righteous and holy life.  The Ephesian Christians had all just recently been baptized, so St. Paul may be reminding them here of the change their baptisms should bring about in their everyday lives.  As he says at the beginning of this chapter, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” 

Later in Ephesians St. Paul says, “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  Christ loved you and gave himself up for you as an offering and sacrifice to God.  On account of Christ’s sacrifice for you, on account of his life, death and resurrection, your sins are all forgiven.  In God’s sight you are holy and blameless, because the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses you from every sin.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, for through faith in him you have salvation from sin and eternal life.  In the book of Titus, St. Paul describes Holy Baptism as, “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  At your conversion, in your baptism, you were spiritually reborn, born again as a child of God.  You were spiritually “made new,” renewed by the Holy Spirit.

But the struggle goes on, the daily struggle within you between your old sinful self and your new spiritual self.  Even the great Apostle St. Paul had this struggle in himself, in his life.  He talks about it in Romans:  “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  Though we are spiritually born again through faith in Christ, yet as long as we live in this world our old sinful self still clings to us.  But, as Martin Luther says in the Large Catechism, “this corruption must daily decrease.”  Every day, the struggle goes in within you, the struggle between your old sinful self and your new spiritual self.  Only with the help of the Holy Spirit will you win this struggle, only with the help of the Holy Spirit will the corruption within you daily decrease, only with the help of the Holy Spirit will you grow, not in wickedness and evil, but instead grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus promised, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”  The Holy Spirit came on you with power from on high when you were converted to faith in Christ.  The Holy Spirit comes on you with power from on high through your baptism, by which you were born again by water and the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes on you with power from on high when you read and study the Holy Scriptures, which are given by inspiration of God, and are profitable for teaching and training in righteousness, so that you may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  The Holy Spirit comes on you with power from on high in the breaking of bread at the Lord’s Supper, strengthening and preserving you steadfast in the true faith.

By the power of the Spirit working in you, in your everyday life, you will “[put off] your former way of life;” you will “put off your old self;” you will “be made new in the attitude of your minds;” you will “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  As St. Peter says, “You have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans chose to do . . .”  And as St. Paul says in Romans, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

“Set your mind on things above,” St. Paul says in Colossians, “not on earthly things. . . Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:  sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed . . . You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these . . .”  “Therefore,” St. James says, “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent . . .”  “Count yourselves dead to sin,” St. Paul says in Romans, “but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you follow its evil desires. . . offer yourselves to God . . . clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

The Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God and the Sacraments, will give you power from on high to fight the good fight of faith, the daily struggle within you between your old sinful self and your new spiritual self.  “So I say, live by the Spirit,” St. Paul says in Galatians, “and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit [desires] what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other . . . The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and depravity; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, anger, selfishness, quarreling, divisions and envy; drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live in this way will have no part in the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. . . Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us follow [the way of] the Spirit.”

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord:  you must no longer live as the heathen do.”  “You did not come to know Christ that way.”  “In accordance with the truth that is in Jesus . . . [put off] your former way of life . . . put off your old self . . . be made new in the attitude of your minds. . . put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

“Off with the Old—On with the New”

Amen.

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