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Please turn your attention to our reading from Ephesians today where God, through Paul, encourages us to be continually renewed.
Jesus said to the paralyzed man who was brought to him: Take heart, your sins are forgiven. Get up and walk. And the power of the words of Jesus made it so. The man got up, was able to pick up the stretcher on which they had carried and carry it back home!
If you were this man, how would you feel? Wouldn’t you feel like jumping for joy? Wouldn’t you be falling all over yourself doing everything you could think of to say thank you to Jesus, and still thinking it wasn’t enough? Wouldn’t you be more than willing to do anything Jesus asked you to do?
You and I can identify with this man. We weren’t healed of paralysis, but that’s not all that Jesus did for this man. Before he healed him physically he said, take heart, your sins are forgiven. Before he healed him physically, he took care of his much greater need for healing. He healed his soul. That’s where all of us can identify with this man. We all know what it’s like to be paralyzed spiritually. We were born that way; born unable to get up much less walk on the narrow road that leads to eternal life. We were born dead in trespasses and sins. But our parents brought us to Jesus for healing. They brought us to baptism, they taught us about Jesus, the let us hear Jesus say to us, take heart, your sins are forgiven. Through the power of the Word the Holy Spirit gave us spiritual life. A new man of faith was created in us. And because we still fall into sin we need to hear Jesus say to us over and over again, day in and day out, take heart, your sins are forgiven. “You aren’t going to get the punishment you deserve because I took that punishment on myself, in your place.” Doesn’t that fill you with joy and thankfulness! Because of Jesus, you who were dead in sin, paralyzed by sin, an enemy of God, have been called to life, called God’s friend, called to serve.
Paul begins this fourth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians and to us by encouraging us to live a life worthy of our calling. Or, as he says to the Romans, in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices to God. God did not save us from sin and Satan so that we could sin all we want. He saved us so that we could serve him and our neighbor; so that we would do what he asks in joy and gratitude.
So, Paul says, as far as your former way of life (your life as an unbeliever) is concerned, you were taught to take off the old self, which is corrupted by its deceitful desires. As one who has been forgiven and called to be a child of God and an heir of eternal life, consider yourself dead to sin. Don’t live in your sin any longer. Be renewed continually in the spirit of your mind.
That word, “continually”, is important. It’s there because the verb renewed is a present tense. It’s something we need constantly, in the present. Every time we become conscious of our sin, the sinfulness of our nature or some sin we have committed, or both; we are moved to confess our sin. And every time we confess our sin we need to hear Jesus saying to us, take heart, your sins are forgiven. That’s what renews the spirit of our mind. That’s what fills us again with joy and thanksgiving to God. That’s what motivates us to take off the old self. That’s what enables us to see that what the world offers, and our sinful nature desires is deceitful. What it promises it can’t fulfill. Whatever joy or happiness it gives is only fleeting. It doesn’t last even in this life much less for all eternity.
As those who have been forgiven and called to be children of God and heirs of eternal life we don’t want to be clothed with the filth that is so prevalent in the world, but we want to put on the new self, which has been created to be like God in righteousness and true holiness. We want our new man of faith to be in control. And in order for that to happen our faith needs to be strengthened daily by the power of God’s word. When our new man of faith is not strengthened daily by the power of God’s word he becomes weaker and weaker. Paul reminds us that there is a constant battle being waged inside of us, the new man of faith fighting against the old man of sin. If the new man of faith is not constantly strengthened you know what will happen. He will be defeated more and more and ultimately faith could be lost. But as our new man of faith is constantly strengthened by the Gospel in word and sacrament, our lives produce fruit, our light shines and it becomes evident that we are indeed children of God and heirs of eternal life.
To make sure that we understand what he means, Paul provides us with three practical examples of what it means to take off the old and put on the new. He says, therefore, after you put away lying, let each of you speak truthfully with your neighbor, because we are all members of one body. The devil is the father of lies so when we lie we are speaking his language. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. God’s word is truth. So as children of God and heirs of eternal life we not only put away lying, but we do all we can to speak the truth in love, especially to our fellow Christians. If we do something sinful or hurtful, instead of trying to cover it up or excuse it, we admit it and ask for forgiveness.
Paul says, “Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Do not give the Devil an opportunity. There is such a thing as righteous wrath. When we see something sinful we should be angry. When someone abuses God’s word we should be angry. When people reject God and his word we should be angry. As his children what makes God angry should make us angry. But, unlike God, our anger can quickly turn to hatred, or jealousy, or pride. So Paul says, watch out. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t hold a grudge. Don’t give the Devil an opportunity. That’s what God said to Cain when he was jealous of his brother and angry that his sacrifice was not accepted. He warned him, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. Put off the old self with its deceitful desires. But, unfortunately, he didn’t listen and became the first murderer.
And the most telling example: Let the one who has been stealing steal no longer. Instead, let him work hard doing what is good with his own hands, so that he has something to share with a person who is in need. If you are stealing, Stop! That’s taking off the old self. But even an unbeliever can do that when he realizes it’s not worth the earthly consequences. That’s why Paul says, also put on the new self. What he describes here is someone who has a completely new attitude. The attitude of stealing is, “you have more than you need or deserve, and I don’t have what I want, or think I need, therefore it’s right for me to take some of what you have.” The attitude of the new man is completely different. The attitude of the new man of faith says, “I don’t deserve anything. Everything I have is a gift from God that I can’t take with me. God has chosen to provide for me by giving me the ability to work. Because of all that God has done for me I’m going to do everything I do to the best of my ability. And, since God has promised to always take care of me, I am going to share some of my blessings with others.” Such a person has truly put off the old and put on the new.
Paul has given us some very practical examples of what it means to take off the old and put on the new, but it’s important that we realize that it’s not a matter of just outwardly following an example. It’s ultimately a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of standing before God each day and realizing that we are more helpless than the paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus. We have sinned and we deserve to have God punish us for all eternity for our sins. But instead of condemning us, Jesus says, take heart, your sins are forgiven. I gave up my place in heaven to come to this sin infested world. I kept every law you have broken as your substitute. I endured the punishment you deserve for your sins when I was forsaken by the father. I died for you. But I rose on the third day victorious over sin and death. Take heart, your sins are forgiven. As we hear that good news each day we are filled with joy and gratitude. Our hearts are changed. We are renewed. We recognize the deceitfulness of sin and Satan. We strive to avoid what is sinful and do whatever is pleasing to our heavenly father. We continually take off the old and put on the new until Jesus comes again in glory and destroys our old sinful nature so that we can live before God in righteousness and true holiness for all eternity.