logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

"Ignorance is NOT Bliss: From Lust-driven to Positive Impact"

Oct.28/18 Eph.4:17-5:2


Occasionally you’ll hear phrases tossed around like “The Good Life” or “The American Dream”. (Is there such a thing as a “Canadian Dream”? The Leafs winning the Stanley Cup?) Often we take “The Good Life” to be something like a house in the suburbs with a full two-car garage, 2.5 children in the house, and a cottage to escape to on summer weekends complete with the obligatory “toys”. Oh, and your feet up on a recliner at the side of the pool with something bubbly and cool to drink in your hand. But do we ever stop and really evaluate whether our ‘dream’ is all that ‘dreamworthy’? One of the steps in the Bait of Satan study recently had us write down our life-dream. Did yours have an expensive price-tag, or could it not be bought in a store?

             An online search for “What is the definition of a good life?” brought up an entry from PsychologyToday. Users of a website were asked to define the "good life." People selected one of four choices – the good life is: experiencing pleasure, avoiding negative experience, seeking self-development, or making contributions to others...[It was found] most people define the good life as developing their personal strengths. The article states, “Research shows that valuing the development of personal strengths and contribution to others...are linked to the well-being people actually experience.”

             I was surprised by that finding. Judging by media, one might have thought more people would choose “experiencing pleasure”. The recent legalization of yet another intoxicating substance - cannabis - would suggest there is demand for escaping reality rather than bettering one’s experience by ‘developing personal strengths’.

             George Whitfield mentioned in his journal that during his first voyage to Georgia, the ship’s cook had a bad drinking problem. When the cook was reproved for that and other sins, he boasted that he would be wicked until the last two years of his life, and THEN he would reform. But Whitefield added that within 6 hours of the time the cook made his boastful statement, he died of an illness related to his drinking.

             In today’s passage from Ephesians, we find a stark contrast between the emptiness of our OLD ways pursuing ‘the good life’ by worldly standards, and the surpassing quality of the NEW life that can be ours through faith in Christ and new birth spiritually.


To begin, in Ephesians 4:17-19 we find the Apostle Paul describing the EMPTINESS of the old way of life, living ‘as the Gentiles do’ i.e.those who do not know God. 4:17-19 “So I tell you this, and 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 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.”

             Let’s trace the inner logic of these statements. The words “because of” and “due to” in v18 both translate the Greek dia meaning ‘on account of’. So at the root is the hardening of their hearts: callous, stubborn. In Mk 3:5 “[Jesus] looked around at them in anger...deeply distressed at their STUBBORN hearts...” (Same word in the original language) At root is the inclination of our heart, what we WANT – our desiring and willing. The commercial shows us something enticing and we say to ourselves, “I’ve gotta have that;” our neighbour drives past with their new truck or tractor, walks by in their new outfit, and we secretly say to ourselves, “I want that!” 4:22 “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...” DESIRES originate in the heart. These are DECEITFUL in that they are tricky, misleading – they don’t deliver on their promises.

             Next, “due to” the hardening of their hearts, comes “the ignorance that is in them”. Paul also refers to them being “darkened in their understanding”, v17 “the futility of their thinking”. The word for “futility” can mean vanity, fruitlessness. Because we want something, our mind gets busy figuring out ways to get it, but it ends up leaving us empty, let down, disappointed. Soon we find ourselves upgrading to a pricier model in hopes of a better experience. Don’t try that in marriage! If you do, you eventually discover it’s not ALL about the other person – you bring your own sabotaging problems with you unless you hunker down and work on your issues.

             The futility of an earthly-focused life is the theme of a whole book of the Old Testament. Ecclesiastes 1:2,14 “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher.‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless...I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.’” You might be left kind of scratching your head after reading Ecclesiastes – without the other books of the Bible it could come across as kind of a downer – but one of its key themes that, if you take God out of the equation and just look at life from an earthly perspective (all that’s done ‘under the sun’), it may seem unfair or pointless. Eccles 3:19 “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other.All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.Everything is meaningless.” Another example, Eccles 6:1f “I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.”

             God has wired us with moral consciousness, a gauge of what’s fair and not fair; Rom 2:15 “[Gentiles] ...show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness...” To look at some of these situations, life seems VERY unfair. But Ecclesiastes also hints that ‘under the sun’ may not be the entire picture. Eccles 3:9ff “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.He has made everything beautiful in its time.He has also SET ETERNITY IN THE HEARTS OF MEN; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” AH! There it is! God “has...set ETERNITY in the hearts of men...” This points toward the New Testament, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as the firstborn, and His coming return and judgment when things will be settled up. This life isn’t all there is: a time for ‘squaring up of accounts’, a day of reckoning, is coming.

             Anyway, this is not a sermon about Ecclesiastes! But when Paul talks about futile thinking, those who leave God out of the equation and just consider things on an earthly level may find themselves trying to sedate themselves to cope with the boredom, the emptiness, the meaninglessness / pointlessness of mortal existence. Eccles 2:20 “So my heart began to DESPAIR over all my toilsome labor under the sun.” If there’s no eternity, what’s to live for? Are we left to just ‘live it up’ and consume as much as our appetites can handle, till we sit around sated and stoned? 1Cor 15:32b (note carefully – Paul’s expressing a different worldview than the one he’s commending!) “If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."”

             Do you know some people for whom that seems to about sum up their attitude toward life? “Live for the weekend?” Maybe they would talk to you about that emptiness or hopelessness if you probed a little bit.

             This emptiness or futility of purpose in life can lead to reliance on or addiction to stimulants to just get through another day. 4:19 “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.” ‘Lost all sensitivity’ – their conscience gives way, their moral compass becomes corrupted, they might surmise – “We’re all just products of time plus chance plus matter so who cares?! Seize the day!” Then comes a GIVING OVER. Paul observes, “They have given themselves over to sensuality” – original term has the sense of “unbridled lust”. They’ve consigned themselves to it, it seems there’s nothing better to live for. No holds are barred, so they indulge in impurity / uncleanness. But it still doesn’t satisfy. So they always want more, a higher high, which takes more thrill-material. End of v19, ‘With a continual lust for more.’ Satisfaction in this life seems an unattainable mirage.


But verses 20-24 offer HOPE in place of this despair. Our minds need not be stuck in ignorance and futile thinking, there is light to shine on our darkened understanding. Vv20-21 “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” Thanks to the Good News, we can KNOW Christ, we can be TAUGHT in Him, there is rich propositional content, TRUTH that we can read and hear and memorize and that can shape our outlook and start to form the foundation of a new worldview.

             Small detail – typically the Apostle Paul refers to “Christ” rather than “Jesus” in his writing: after all, he’d had a personal encounter with the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. The glory of Christ knocked him to the ground and blinded him for a short time. But here he writes, “the truth that is in Jesus” – is he thinking primarily of Jesus’ teachings to His disciples while in His earthly body? Jesus’ teaching, from Sermon on the Mount to is parables of God’s love to the cost of discipleship, should become so familiar to us it oozes out of us. It takes discipline to make time to read the Bible: that’s part of being a ‘disciple’, daily learning the Master’s teachings. I can’t do it for you from the pulpit once a week!

             V22 “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...” NLT “Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.” The verb here “put off” or “throw off” (NLT) means to lay aside, as in putting off clothing or habits. It has to be a conscious action, something you do with determination. The saints of yesteryear talked about “mortification of the flesh”. Jesus taught in Lk 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” A saying “no” to this, the old patterns, so you can say “yes” to Jesus’ new way.

             Eph 4:23 “to be MADE NEW in the attitude of your minds...” NLT “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” You’re always asking, “God, what’s YOUR take on this? How do YOU see this situation? What’s Your word tell me about how to approach this?” Jesus promised this would be a key role of the Holy Spirit, helping us develop ‘the mind of Christ’ (1Cor 2:16). Jn 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

             Note the interplay between mind and heart here. In the ‘old man’, the heart was hardened, desiring the wrong things, which led to darkened understanding and futile thinking. For the Christian though, receiving God’s truth in our minds becomes key to steering the heart to want something better, and choosing different action. Love God with your heart, soul, MIND, and strength (Mt 12:37). What are you filling your mind with these days, giving your attention to?

             4:24 “and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” NLT “Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.” The verb again is like one used with clothing, literally “clothe oneself” afresh with duds that are righteous and holy, God-like. If someone looked at the tag, it might say, “God’s Brand”!

             Isn’t this the real purpose of alive spirituality, to kit us out afresh, remake our persons, renovate us from the insides (our attitudes) out (our actions)? What’s God’s purpose for those who believe in Him according to Romans 8:29? “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The Father loved the Son He wanted to produce a whole big family of offspring that in many ways are just like Jesus. Crowds flocked to Jesus during His earthly ministry. He had compassion on the sick, made time for the outcasts, confronted hypocrisy and prejudice. People are yearning for such authenticity and heart.

             A closely parallel passage is Colossians 3:9f – listen for some of the same emphases... “Do not lie to each other, since you have TAKEN OFF your old self with its practices and have PUT ON the new self, which is being RENEWED IN KNOWLEDGE IN THE IMAGE OF its Creator.”

             Christianity is not, at its centre, about performing the right religious rituals. It’s not even primarily about transforming society through good works or radical social justice. The key thing in Christianity is becoming NEW again as a person, being changed radically from your inside out. Jesus tried to explain it to Nicodemus in terms of being “born over again”, “born from above”. Are you willing to let God in that close, to re-make you, turn you upside down? Are you so fed up with the ugliness and failure of your sinful life-patterns and choices that you’re ready for change? You have a fatal serpent-bite that’s going to destroy you unless you get help. Jn 3:3 (in response to Nicodemus commending Him on His miraculous accomplishments) “In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."” Jn 3:14f “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

             At a burning building in New York City’s Harlem, a blind girl was perched on the fourth-floor window. The firemen had become desperate. They couldn’t fit the ladder truck between the buildings, and they couldn’t get her to jump into a net, which she, being blind, couldn’t see. Finally her father arrived and shouted through the bull horn that there was a net and that she was to jump on his command. The girl jumped and was so completely relaxed that she didn’t break a bone or even strain a muscle in the four-story fall. Because she trusted her father completely, when she heard her father’s voice, she did what he said was best, and was saved.

             Some of you have wandered long enough in spiritual blindness, darkened understanding. The fire is getting nearer. It’s time to jump! Your Heavenly Father’s voice is calling...Trust Him. Put off the old self, and put on the new person, created to be like God.


Note the “therefore” at the beginning of v25 (“so” in NLT) – the rest of this sermon won’t make any sense unless you’re willing to put off the old and put on the new, with the help only God can give in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It’s not something we can do on our own by assertive thinking or sheer mental effort. The engine enabling it is more apparent in 4:32-5:2. Hint: watch for the little word ‘as’. 4:32-5:2 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, JUST AS in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, AS dearly loved children 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.”

             What’s the engine, the motor that makes this happen? “Just as in Christ God forgave you.” “As dearly loved children” - God’s new birth ‘from above’ through the Holy Spirit. “Just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us” – when we had been GIVEN OVER to sensuality, Christ intervened and GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR us!

             He becomes our TEMPLATE in 4 areas Paul outlines in 4:25-29 – TRUTH, TEMPER, THIEVING, and TALK. First, TRUTH: 4:25 “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body.” Be truthful, not false, trying to ‘put one over’ or trick or deceive the other person. Why? Because Christians are ‘all members of one body’ – more literally, “belong to each other” – if you’re indeed ‘in Christ’, you have a connection and obligation to that other person. Be false to them is like trying to trick yourself. Let’s be honest, not playing games. Those words Elder Board chair Marc Westra highlighted the other night are music to my ears: Openness, Accountability, Transparency. Some of us have OATs for breakfast, a wholesome start to the day; lets have more OATs in our church life - Openness, Accountability, Transparency. Dealing in the TRUTH.

             Next, TEMPER. 4:26-27 “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Here he’s quoting Psalm 4:4, a ‘permissive imperative’ - NRSV “Be angry but do not sin.” When there’s injustice, when others are treated badly or abused, it stirs God’s wrath and ought to make us upset enough to do something about it. This is not an excuse to go around blowing your stack at every little thing that doesn’t go your way! Note Paul attaches, “do not give the devil a foothold” (literally, a place, to ‘make room for’ - NRSV). Resolve your anger before the sun goes down so you don’t give the enemy an inch. Couples, don’t go to bed angry. Reassure each other you still love each other even if you can’t see eye to eye on a certain subject.

             I was so thankful Thursday night when tempers were kept under control at our Congregational Meeting! It was emotional, but more the emotions of repentance, humility, confession, sorrow for past wrongs. That gives God space to work and help us start over with one another.

             The third T is THIEVING: Eph 4:28 “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” In many countries of the world, corruption is a serious drag on the economy. People have to go to a lot more trouble to guard your property against thieves. It becomes standard to put iron grates on your windows, build a wall around your house and compound, high cement block walls with broken glass all along the top. Then you have to hire a night watchman. Society incurs a high cost due to thievery – resources are siphoned off which could have gone to more productive use.

             The fourth “T” here is TALK. 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The word translated “unwholesome” (NLT ‘foul or abusive’) is literally “rotten, putrefied” – like those tomatoes you left at the bottom of the fridge a few days too long. Yuck! Instead, “Is what I’m about to say going to build up the person I’m talking with?” As in 4:12,16 we referred to last week. Phil C exhorted us Thursday with Proverbs 25:11 “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” 4:29b “...what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” NRSV (more literally) “give grace” to those who hear. When someone has interacted with me, do they feel “graced” by the exchange? Or more like I’ve run them through a paper shredder? Let’s BENEFIT our listeners.

             There’s a whole cluster of qualities in the final verses of this passage that we could group together under the banner of the Holy Spirit. 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” You were sealed – marked. If you’re a Christian, you ought to be a MARKED MAN, a marked woman – people should notice something different about you, the mark of an anointing with God’s very Spirit. Earlier in the book, Eph 1:13 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.Having believed, YOU WERE MARKED IN HIM WITH A SEAL, the promised Holy Spirit...”

             Here in 4:30 Paul commands us not to grieve, make sorrowful, the Holy Spirit. How? Keep reading! Could this have something to do with the answer?? [READ TOGETHER] 4:31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Yup – not much that would make the Holy Spirit stick around there!

             “Bitterness” – as in Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Complaints and unforgiveness and gossip and rumours fuel bitterness and strife – signs that we’re missing out on God’s grace.

             “Brawling” - literally ‘wrangling, outcry’, verbal wrestling matches. Take a deep breath and try a different approach. Bury that hatchet and get on with God’s next step.

             Instead of malice and meanness, we can be MIMICING the Almighty. 5:1 “Be IMITATORS of God” – remember, Jesus is your template! “Just as in Christ”, “as dearly loved children”, “just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us...” The word for “imitators” in the original is mimeomai from which we get “mimic” – who else better to copy that the Lord? And the advantage is, Christ isn’t just our example as if we’re adopting His morals in our own power: we have His Holy Spirit right inside to help re-shape us!


In closing – we were in a deep pit, given over to sensuality, hearts hardened, thinking futile. But because of the truth in Jesus we can put off that old self and put on the new one, created to be like God, capable of imitating God and living as the dearly loved children He made us to be. The Holy Spirit inside leads us into that kind, compassionate, forgiving, Christ-like style of living. We can, 5:2 “...live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That came at great cost to Him – the sacrifice of His whole being – but it is cheap for us: all it takes is faith, receiving Him in trust. Does that seem like TOO GOOD a deal?

             A miner once said to a preacher, "I'd like to be a Christian, but I can't receive what you said tonight." "Why not?" asked the preacher. "Well, I'd give anything to believe that God would forgive my sins, but I can't believe He'll forgive me if I just turn to Him.It’s too cheap.” The preacher looked at him and said, "Have you been working today?" Surprised, the man replied, "Yes, I was down in the pit as usual.Why?" "How did you get out of the pit?" "The way I usually do – I got into the cage and was pulled to the top.” "How much did you pay to come out of the pit?" The miner looked at the preacher in astonishment. “Pay? Of course, I didn't pay anything.” "Well," said the preacher; "weren't you afraid to trust yourself to that cage? Wasn't it too cheap?" “Oh, no," he said; “it was cheap for me, but it cost the company a lot of money to sink that shaft.” Then the implication of what he had just said struck him, and he saw that he could have salvation without money: it had cost the infinite God a great price to rescue lost sinners. Let’s pray.