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Dressed for Success (2): Take it Off

(Ephesians 4:17-24)

A little girl was being disciplined by her mother for kicking her brother in
the shins and then pulling his hair. “Sally,” said her mother, “why did you
let the Devil make you kick your little brother and pull his hair?” To which
she answered, “The Devil made me kick him, but pulling his hair was my
idea!” Which points up that we are very capable of sinning on our own
without any help at all from the Devil or anyone else. Why is that? Why is
it that we can make heartfelt, binding resolutions, set our face like flint in a
particular direction, adamantly determine that we will never do that again –
only to mess it all up within five minutes? Why is that?

You say, "Well, it's because of the monsters I live with!" Hopefully, you're
joking. But you're on the right track. It's not the monsters we live with, it's
the monster who lives with us, deep inside of us. It's the old, dead, pre-
Christ self. That is the problem. And that's why Paul says, "Put it off. Shed
that old self like a suit of raggedy old clothes. Put on your glorious new
self. That is the way to dress for success.”

The message of Ephesians 4:17-32 is that we are to live like who we are
now in Christ as opposed to who we were before. The outline in verses 22-
24 – Put off. Be renewed. Put on. Put off the old self, meaning its
lifestyle. Be constantly renewing your mind. Put on the new – living
Christlike. Now let's look at those in detail.

I. Put Off the Old Self

Our first point from verse 22 is to put off the old self. Shed it. Unbutton it,
unzip it and get out of it. If you have it on, put it off. Now, to remind us
what that old self is like, Paul gives us a detailed description. He is keen
that we recognize it for what it is, for above all things, it is deceitful – never
showing its true colors – always promising but never delivering. It looks
good in the mirror! That is why it is sometimes difficult to put off. It keeps
holding out the illusion of something wonderful. It looks glamorous. I can
remember an old Little Rascals episode where the gang was riding in a cart
down the street that was being pulled by a goat. And in order to make the
goat go they had a carrot hanging out in front that it kept moving toward
that carrot – constantly reaching but never quite being able to get there.

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Folks, that's the old man in a nutshell. Holding out hope for fulfillment
that can never be met.

The main characteristic of that old lifestyle is found in the middle of verse
18. It was “alienated from the life of God.” To put on the old man is to
live as though God did not exist. Even as a Christian we can do that. Our
ambition can step on everyone and everything. And so, Paul gives us a very
precise and intriguing psychological study in these verses uncovering the
true nature of life lived without God – all aimed at urging us not to go
back. The characteristics of that life form downward spiral – a fascinating
study of life without God. It shows us step by step how people remove
themselves from God’s grace.

A. Deceitful Desires

The progression actually starts in verse 22 where Paul advices us “22) to put
off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is
corrupt through deceitful desires.” Deceitful desires is the starting point.
People insist that they leave God out for rational, carefully considered
reasons. The Bible, on the other hand, consistently maintains that sin starts
in the heart, not in the head. Every man, woman, boy and girl alive daily
violates their own sense of what ought to be. Why? To fulfill some desire
-- to get, to have, to win, to conquer, to possess. Every day. My rules. My
pleasure. My freedom. That’s the old self. The Bible is consistent in its
insistence that the heart leads the head when it comes to how we live.

Deceitful desires. We ran into this word “desires” in Ephesians 2:3. The
ESV translates it “passions” there, but it is the same Greek word. We noted
that the word itself is neutral, neither good nor bad in and of itself -- simply
describing urges or desires common to our human condition. These are
actually gifts of God intended to be used in within His guidelines to bring
joy, satisfaction, security and pleasure. But – also capable of being used in
purely selfish and destructive ways. We noted from Ephesians 2 that it is
the company that “desire” keeps that determines whether it is good or
bad. In Ephesians 2, it is the flesh that rendered desire evil -- another word
for the “old self” that desire is teamed with in Eph 4. The natural desires --
normal, human and intended by God for our great pleasure -- misused and
turned into a god themselves when controlled by the old self.

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When we set neutral “desire” under the control of the old self or the flesh, it
is volatile combination. Kind of like putting any two contestants together
on the Jerry Springer show. All you know for sure is that there are going to
be fireworks. Paul says in Romans 8:7: “For the mind that is set on the
flesh is hostile to God.” The flesh will promise you anything to get you to
put desire under its control. This where deceit and corruption enter the
picture. The desire to give your family a good living is neutral, but the old
self will tell you it’s okay to cheat the other guy to do it because he would
cheat you if he could. Desire turned to corruption. The desire for pleasure
is neutral, but the old self will tell you that a healthy fantasy life fed by
internet images is okay because no one else is affected. Desire turned to
corruption. The desire for sex was invented by God, but the old self will
tell you, it’s foolish to wait or remain faithful to one person; the excitement
is in variety. Desire turned to corruption. The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9,
“9) The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can
understand it?”

The old self will promise the world, but it can not deliver. It is bankrupt. It
deceives and deceives and deceives. And our hearts follow. The old self is
a beautiful gown held together with temporary stitching. As soon as the
pressure comes it falls apart and we find ourselves naked before God.
Promises – but no delivery. Satan’s intent through the old self is to get you
and me to waste our lives. It’s like the sign outside a small town in
Virginia. It read, ‘Annual Strawberry Festival’ but below in small letters,
“On account of the Depression, prunes will be served.’” That’s the old self.
Empty promises. God’s perspective in Galatians 6:7, “ Do not be deceived:
God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
Deceitful desires – desire not under God’s control. A dead end street. Sow
the wind and reap the whirlwind.

B. Hardness of Heart

So deceitful desires are the first step on the staircase to disaster. The next
step is hardness of heart. Look with me beginning in verse 17, “17) Now this
I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles
do, in the futility of their minds. 18) They are darkened in their
understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that
is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Notice that Paul mentions the
futility of the minds of the Gentiles, and we will get to that step. But if you
go to the end of verse 18 that you’ll notice that the reason for their futility
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of mind is their hardness of heart. Mind problems are due to heart
problems. So hardness of heart is the thing that follows deceitful desires.
Another way to say it is giving in to desire leads to a seared conscience.

The Greek word for “hardness” is a grim word. It means petrified – harder
than hard. It was used to describe the calcium that forms in joints leading
eventually to paralysis. It was also used it to describe the bond that forms
where a bone has been broken and then reset. It is common knowledge that
bones do not break again at the place where they have healed, because that
becomes the strongest point on the bone. But with hardening comes loss of
sensitivity. Paul says as much. Notice how verse 18 carries into verse 19.
Their minds are messed up and they deny God in ignorance “due to their
hardness of heart. 19) They have become callous.” So, what Paul is
describing here is a process by which the heart becomes progressively
harder and less sensitive as it yields to deceitful desires.

When I was in the eighth grade, I got tackled in friendly game of football in
a friend’s backyard and in the process of falling to the ground, my left knee
came down hard on the head of the water sprinkler. It tore my jeans and
ripped a huge gash in my knee. Blood was everywhere. Several stitches
put me back together. I was pretty sore for a couple of days, but eventually
everything healed. However, I was left with a long and wide scar on my
knee, and that whole large area on my knee is completely numb. You could
stick pins in it and I would never know the difference. It is calloused. The
calluses on your hands have lost sensitivity. You can no longer feel as you
could at one time. And, of course, that is exactly what continual exposure
to sin does for us. Whereas it hurts to sin at first, gradually there is a loss
of sensitivity, lack of regret, the conscience is seared and guilt is buried.

We have all experienced this. You stole your first cookie. You were
looking over your shoulder for the lightning bolt. When it didn’t happen,
the second time got a lot easier, didn’t it? And before long, you could take
a cookie without even thinking about it. You were experiencing deceitful
desire followed by the hardening of the heart. Soon it seemed wrong not
to take that cookie. In a similar manner, one’s resistance to almost any
selfish desire can be overcome, and we can enter into all manner of sin
with impunity. We become expert at rationalization, transference of
blame, self justification, blaming others or outright denial of sin, but all
the time our heart is becoming harder and harder and our sensitivity to God
is becoming nonexistent. Slowly but surely, our heart has hardened.
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One local charity had never received a donation from the town’s most
successful lawyer. The director called. “Our records show you make
$500,000 a year, yet you haven’t given a penny to charity. Wouldn’t you
like to help the community?” The lawyer replied, “Did your research show
that my mother is ill, with medical bills several times her annual income?”
“Um, no,” mumbled the director. “Or that my brother is blind and
unemployed?” The director began to stammer out an apology. “Or that my
sister’s husband died in an accident,” the lawyer said indignantly, “leaving
her penniless with three kids?” The humiliated director said simply, “I had
no idea.” “So,” said the lawyer, “let that be a lesson to you. If I don’t give
any money to them, why would I give any to you?” That’s a hard heart!
Someone has rightly said, “If you live in a graveyard too long you stop
crying when someone dies.” That’s step two on the road to nowhere – a
heart hardened by repeated response to deceitful desires. Are you seeing
this progression?

C. Futility of Mind

Continual giving in to deceitful desires eventually leads to hardness of heart


– callousness – insensitivity to sin. Now notice at the end of verse 18, Paul
says that something was "due to their hardness of heart." So, what was it
that was caused by their hardness of heart? The answer is mind blowing.
Look at it starting in verse 17, "Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that
you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18)
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God
because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

“Futility of mind”, “darkened understanding,” “ignorance” -- all caused by


hardness of heart. What an amazing indictment of the intellectual elite of
Paul’s time. A hard heart leads to a foolish mind. Paul is basically saying,
"I know you pride yourself on your wisdom; rejecting God and His
revelation as irrelevant and foolish. I know how you are because I was
there once myself. But God says you reject Him due to a hardened heart
that wants its own way – not because you can disprove Him intellectually.”
The Bible’s perspective is that apart from God, it is not possible to think
straight. There’s no lack of logic and or low IQ. It’s not an intelligence
issue. It’s a starting point issue. They started without God.

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So, why did the Greeks, and why do the wise men of our own society start
without God? That is the question, and the answer is they do not want to
be accountable. Acknowledging God demands accountability. Yes, God is
love. He is love, but, He is also fearsome in His holiness. If I am to be my
own boss, I must be rid of Him. So, let me think without reference to Him.

It’s not hard to see that if I start in the wrong place, no amount of logic will
get me to the right end, right? Suppose that you and I start out to measure
this room. I set my end of the tape measure down right in the middle of the
room and say, “Okay, what does it measure?” What are you going to say?
Will you give me a number? Of course not. You are going to say, “Please
move your end of the tape measure over to the wall. You are not starting in
the right place.” That tape measure didn’t change, but the result will, right?

Suppose I use logic and say, “All shirts are red. I have a shirt. Therefore
my shirt is red.” Anything wrong with the syllogism there? Of course, not.
The logic is perfect. But my shirt is not red. What is the problem? The
problem, of course, is the starting point; the presupposition; the assumption
that all shirts are red. All shirts are not red. Start wrong – end wrong.

Where does man without God start? Douglas Erwin, a paleobiolgoist at the
Smithsonian Institution says this, “One of the rules of science is, no
miracles allowed,” he told the New York Times. “That’s a fundamental
presumption of what we do.” Biologist Barry Palevitz goes on better: “The
supernatural,” he writes, “is automatically off-limits as an explanation of
the natural world.” Now, if that premise is limited to how we do scientific
exploration, we not only accept it, we embrace it.

But, when that same premise is taken outside the realm of science and made
the starting point for everything watch what happens. Here is the
syllogism. Major premise: “The supernatural is automatically off-limits as
an explanation of the natural world. Minor premise: The creation of the
universe, the trajectory of the sun, the color of green plants, the supposed
resurrection of Christ and the origin of life are all parts of the natural world.
Conclusion: Therefore all five of those items are explainable apart from
the supernatural." The logic behind these statements is irrefutable. But --
only two out of the five have to date been explained on the basis of
observable natural processes. What’s the problem?

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Two possibilities. Perhaps we simply don't know everything yet and
explanations for the unexplainable will arrive in due time. The other
possibility is that the main assumption is wrong. It is possible that saying
the supernatural is off-limits as an explanation of the natural world is
equivalent to saying All shirts are red! At best, it is only an assumption.
There is absolutely no proof that the supernatural is “automatically off-
limits as an explanation of the natural world.” As a working assumption
for helping us do science, it is useful. As an accepted fact on which to
base a life-or-death decision about God, it is meaningless. Yet – mankind
in general accepts it. It is futile thinking, Beloved, driven by an
overwhelming subconscious need to avoid accountability.

It’s like this. A certain mental patient was convinced that he was dead, so
he was committed to the care of a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist had the man
read an anatomy book and watch films to show him that dead men do not
bleed. Dead men do not bleed. Then he took him into a room full of
cadavers, where the man saw for himself that dead men do not bleed. “All
right, I’m convinced, dead men don’t bleed,” he said. So, the doctor took a
pin and poked the man, and a tiny drop of blood appeared. “So what do you
conclude,” he asked the man. The patient responded, “Well, what do you
know? Dead men bleed after all!”

Listen -- That perfectly illustrates a wayward mind driven by a deep-seated,


but usually unrecognized need to avoid answering for one’s decisions. A
futile mind driving darkened understanding and ignorance. Wrong starting
point – wrong ending. Futility and ignorance.

D. Greedy Sensuality

Finally, the end of the road in this downward spiral is a total submission to
sensuality. Well, why not? If there is no God, or at least none that I am
answerable to why should I not experience all there is to experience, give
myself totally to the god that is ME. Satisfy that god. Live it up. Have
fun. It’ll all be over soon enough. My rules. My pleasures. My freedom.

Only problem is, what satisfies today, doesn’t satisfy tomorrow. Ever
notice that? That’s part of the deceitfulness of desire. It always wants just
one more. I remember the first dollar I ever owned. I sat on my bed in our
little farm home and thought I had arrived. But it wasn’t long before I
wanted another. Hadn’t arrived at all. Ask any rich man. What do you
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want? Answer: Just a little bit more. Remember the first time you ever
held hands with some boyfriend or girlfriend? You were on fire inside,
right? The gods of desire were satiated. It couldn’t get any better than this!
But soon, holding hands was old hat, wasn’t it? You wanted more. Why
can a magazine like Playboy stay in business year after year? Why
wouldn’t one or two issues suffice? Why not? – because there’s a secret
that a darkened mind will never learn. The secret is that the satisfaction of
the flesh is always – always – always -- only momentary. It never lasts.
Always seeking – never finding. That’s what Paul is saying in verse 20, “19)
They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality,
greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” What drives greed? It is never
satisfied. Never.

The Ephesians lived in a city known for debauchery and sexual immorality.
Perhaps the most lascivious city in Asia Minor. The Temple of Artemis was
the center of much wickedness. Its rituals and practices were but extensions
of man's vilest and most perverted sins. Artemis was served by thousands of
Temple prostitutes, eunuchs, singers, dancers, priests and priestesses. Men
paid there for sexual favors as a normal part of life and as a means of
achieving favor with Artemis. Women regularly granted favors to further
the chances of their prayers being answered. This was the old reality for
these new believers. And they frequently passed by places where they had
once caroused. They ran into friends with whom they once indulged in
debauchery. They faced continual temptations to revert to the old ways.
Paul says, "Put off the old self." Don’t go back!

Our society is no better. Magazines, movies and television shows are


carefully calculated to appeal to our lascivious natures. Pornography has
moved from the sleazy adult theaters of the ghetto to the living room
through the Internet and cable television. It has been mainstreamed for the
middle-class as our society has "given themselves up to sensuality, greedy
to practice every kind of impurity." And we want more! Professor David
A. J. Richard of New York University Law School, who advocates freedom
for hard-core pornography, argues that “pornography can be seen as the
unique medium of sexuality, a ‘pornotopia’ – a view of sensual delight in
the erotic celebration of the body, a concept of easy freedom with no
consequences, a fantasy of timeless repetitive indulgence.” Pornotopia? It
sounds like a new section of Disneyland. Autopia . . . Fantasyland . . .
Pornotopia. God says, Put if off. Strip down.

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Folks, God is not a killjoy. I love Paul’s words in I Timothy 6:17 that God,
“richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” All he asks is that our
sensuality take a disciplined backseat to a more pressing desire to know,
please, and serve our loving Father. Our greediness should be turned
toward Him rather than towards ourselves.

Conclusion

All right. We’ve spiraled to the end. I started with deceitful desires under
the control of the old self when I put him on. Yielding led to a
progressively harder heart. My heart hates the idea of accountability, so I
learn to rationalize my actions, defend, justify and embrace them in my
futile mind. Soon, my emotions are affected as well. They don’t work
anymore. They are calloused. I become absolutely convinced that as long
as it doesn’t hurt anyone it is okay. If my boss doesn’t know, it is okay. If
my wife doesn’t know, it is okay. I feel no pain and no regret. This is me
when I put on the old man and live pre-Christ. This is life without God.

And why do people want life without God? So they can do what they
want. Aldous Huxley, was the atheist author most famous for his work,
Brave New World published in 1932. Huxley was unique, though, in that
he was honest enough to admit that it was his heart, not his head, that
determined his beliefs: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have
meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without
difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. . . . For myself, as,
no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of
meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation
we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and
economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We
objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”

My rules. My pleasure. My freedom. But in the end there is no freedom,


for a life devoted to self and sensuality will never be satisfied but will
always require more and more and more. We’re like the goat ever-
stretching for the carrot, but never quite getting it. That is why God said
through Ezekiel in Ezek 36: “26) And I will give you a new heart, and a new
spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your
flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27) And I will put my Spirit within you,
and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Is
that good or what? The solution to a hard, calloused, unfeeling,
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rationalizing heart of stone? The only possible solution – a heart
transplant. We need a new heart. We’ve ruined the one we had. It was
harder than stone.

But as Christians, we’ve already got that responsive, warm, supple new
heart, so why would we ever want to live in that old lifestyle again? First
step in dressing for success – put off the old self. Refuse the old way.
Don’t go back. Let’s pray.

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