What Does a Christian Look Like?
Living in Rebellion or Redemption
We will be continuing our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this evening. Remember where we have been thus far. As we studied Ephesians 1-3 we saw the mighty work of God in redeeming broken people and a broken world. In Chapter 4 we have noted the change that takes place. Chapter’s 1-3 were about God’s action on our behalf and 4-6 will be our response. 4:1 is the key verse here, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”. In other words, live out what God has done on your behalf in saving and redeeming you. Or to put that another way even still—look like a believer.
But, what does a Christian look like? If you were able to analyze a house full of people for a month how could you tell who was a believer and who was not? Ultimately the truth is none of us can tell, that is why it will be God that stands as the Judge of the universe and not us. But the Bible does hint at the reality of people being able to tell whether you are a believer or not by the way you live your life. So, what does a Christian look like?
We know, hopefully, that it has nothing to do with appearance. Yes, Jesus loves people with mullets and combover’s. He even loves people that are still rockin’ 80’s hair. Jesus loves people that could be on the cover of GQ and he loves people that could be on the cover of Revolver. The number of tattoos or the position of your body piercings has little to do with determining whether or not you are a believer. The children’s song is indeed true, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight”. You cannot tell a believer from an unbeliever by the color of their skin or their gender. You cannot tell if a person knows Jesus by their level of attraction. It’s not as if Jesus only loves pretty people or as if he only has a heart for those that have faces only a mother could love, no their faces do not disqualify them from the love of Jesus.
So, analyzing a house full of people we could not tell who was a believer by their appearance, but what about their activities. What if one guy was reading his Bible all week while another guy was listening to his iPod? What if one guy prays three times a day and another girl, rather than praying three times spends hours a day in front of a mirror applying makeup and brushing her hair?
What about visible sins? What if we catch one guy watching a porn flick, one girl that is constantly cursing, a man that’s rude, a woman that flies off the handle in anger, an obvious homosexual man, a flirtatious woman…can we automatically dismiss these people as unbelievers? And what about those people that are very upstanding and good moral people? Can we immediately assume that they are believers?
What does a Christian look like? That is what we will consider tonight from Ephesians 4:17-24.
One of the really neat things about Ephesians is that we can read of their conversion. Now, keep in mind that Ephesians probably is a circular letter, but their environment and conversion will still resemble that of many of their neighboring cities. We can read about their story in Acts 19. After coming to Ephesus Paul found a group of Jewish people that had followed John the Baptist. They quickly came to know Jesus and received the Spirit of God. Then we read a really interesting story in Acts 19:11-20. Apparently there were some Jewish exorcists living in the city. They had heard of what Paul’s ministry and the miracles that accompanied him in the name of Jesus. So, these Jewish exorcists, decided to evoke the name of Jesus. I love this story. When they speak to the demons, the demons respond, “we know Jesus, we recognize Paul, but who are you?” And at this they really laid into these exorcists and the Bible says they fled out of that place “naked and wounded”. This caused quite a bit of a stir and from this many Ephesians came to know Jesus. Their response was to take all of their magical scrolls and burn them in the city. This was a massive bonfire—we know this because someone calculated how much was thrown in the fire. 150 people’s wages for an entire year is the value of that which was burnt. So, this was a massive book burning.
Shortly thereafter a riot ensued in Ephesus. The reason for the right was that many of the men who made idols were ticked off because they were not getting any business. The gospel had so spread and the new believers were forsaking idols to worship Jesus—so these craftsmen came together to put together a plan. It’s worth noting what they feared, “And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship”.
Who is this Artemis? She was worshipped as the great mother goddess. “As mother goddess Artemis possessed fertility and reproductive power that caused the earth to blossom with life of all kinds. She was the goddess of childbirth and a nourishing mother to all. Animals and wildlife were also a part of her domain and under her control.”
Her temple in Ephesus is known as one of the seven wonders of the world, and the worshipers of Artemis, “regarded her as supreme among all the gods and goddesses. They honored her as ‘first among thrones’, ‘savior’, ‘Lord’, ‘Queen of the World’, and ‘the heavenly goddess’. All of this talk of idolatry will seem strange to us because we do not live in a culture that necessarily bows to statues or has temples created to worship gods that we hope will help it to rain. Our gods are more subtle. We will consider that in a moment but for now let’s try to get in the mind of a first century pagan Ephesian.
Where does idolatry come from? Well, idolatry comes from rejecting the living God and what he defines as good. The Ephesian’s idolatry is the outgrowth of thousands of years of human rejection of God. As Christopher Wright helps us see, “At the root, then, of all idolatry is human rejection of the Godness of God and the finality of God’s moral authority. The fruit of that basic rebellion is to be seen in many other ways in which idolatry blurs the distinction between God and creation, to the detriment of both.”
God created us to be worshippers. When we reject the living God we will worship something else. This is what is happening in Ephesus with the temple to Artemis. Even if we reject God we still have the same needs that must be met. We still have the same types of desires for beauty and majesty and glory. We reject the beauty, majesty, and glory of God so we try to recreate it with false gods. We still have desires for healthy children, bountiful crops, good wine, etc. So, we construct a god in the hopes that they can do something for us.
Once more I turn to Christopher Wright, “Having alienated ourselves from the living God our Creator, we have a tendency to worship whatever makes us tremble with awe as we feel our tiny insignificance in comparison with the great magnitudes that surround us. We seek to placate and ward off whatever makes us vulnerable and afraid. We then counter our fears by investing inordinate and idolatrous trust in whatever we think will give us the ultimate security we crave. And we struggle to manipulate and persuade whatever we believe will provide all our basic needs and enable us to prosper on the planet.”
We will return to this in a moment but I must say that we have to be careful not to think that these people are stupid. We are just as idolatrous if not more—our idolatry is just prettied up and seems more grounded in truth. Rather than bowing to a little marble statue with the hopes of being blessed we spend all of our time and energy into creating a persona for ourselves in the hopes of being blessed. Rather than going to a temple and worshipping a god to keep him from getting angry and hoping he will cause it to rain we buy health care, spend ridiculous amounts of money on military, we purchase guns, home security systems, self-help books, herbal teas, face creams, the list goes on and on. We too are prone to idolatry.
We learn from Scripture that idolatry has a spiraling effect upon its worshippers. You become like what you worship. In Psalm 115 we read of the foolishness of idolatry. They look like people but they aren’t. And this is what happens with worshippers they become like their idols, “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” We see this downward spiral in full force in Romans 1:18-32. It starts with a refusal to worship the living God, it spirals downward into debased thinking (I mean how messed up do you have to be to worship something you created), it then finds root in your heart you become hardened so that you trade the living God for a lie, and with this you are given up to ridiculous passions and it effects the way that you live. As Romans 1 closes we see the immorality and sin spiraling out of control in such a way that rather than being on a mission to make the glory of God spread to the nations they are on a mission to make sin spread to the nations.
It is in such a context that the gospel reaches Ephesus. With all of their God-hating, Artemis worshipping beliefs the gospel penetrates hearts and people get changed. They stop buying these little magical charms and begin growing in trust of God. This is what ticks off the silversmith that makes his living making idols. The gospel has struck in Ephesus.
Let’s consider now what Paul is saying in our text for this evening. Earlier he exhorted the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of what God has done. Well, what does that look like? It looks like unity as we have seen the last couple of weeks. But it also looks like walking in a changed life. Let’s go back to our opening illustration. If you were watching a house full of people for a month how could you tell who was a believer and who was not?
Let’s look at this with two spirals, because I think this is in essence what Paul is saying here. The first spiral that we will consider is the unbelieving idolatrous spiral. The second spiral that we will consider is the gospel-redeemed spiral. Every one of us at one time or another has been on the first spiral. Only believers are on the second spiral.
Not to get side-tracked but looking at it this way really helps to understand a couple of things. First, have you ever wondered why some lost people seem like better people that some believers? I mean I have known some believers that you know really did love Jesus but man they really act lost some times. And I know some unbelievers that are turned off to the gospel that have better morals and integrity than I do? Why is that? It is that way because the believer was quite a way down the spiral and is by God’s grace moving upwards and becoming more like Jesus. The unbeliever, by God’s common grace, has not spiraled very far down as of yet. Therefore, even though he is lost he might seem to look more like Jesus than a follower of Jesus. So let’s take a look at these spirals.
I. The spiral of rebellion
A. Fighting the Gospel
Paul begins this section of Scripture by encouraging the believers in Ephesus (who are Gentiles) to no longer walk as the Gentiles do (that is unbelieving Gentiles). He then discusses the way of life for the unbeliever—this is what we have called our spiral of rebellion. He has already described this way of living in chapter 2:1-3. There we saw that rebellious man is spiritually dead; enslaved to sinful society, self, and Satan; and under the wrath of God. This way of living is marked by rebellion and a rejection of God. And what happens when we reject God? We go down this unbelieving idolatrous spiral that kills or humanity and eventually will leave us separated from all that is good.
Here in our text we see three ways that Paul describes their fighting of the gospel.
1. Living in the futility of idolatry: Denying Life
The first thing that Paul says is that Gentiles live in the futility of their minds. The word “futile” means empty and is characterized by pointlessness. I love what Peter O’Brien says about the futility that comes from God rejection, “Because it lacks a true relationship with God, Gentile thinking suffers from the consequences of having lost touch with reality and is left fumbling with [silly] [unimportant things] and worthless side issues.” In other words because they have rejected the source of life they are now left groping for anything to give them meaning.
But remember Paul’s point here is not to say look at those crazy unbelievers, laugh at them, pat ourselves on the back for being believers and thank God for saving us. His point is to say do not live like that anymore. So, how might we live in futility? Anytime we too are fumbling with silly unimportant things and worthless side issues we are rejecting the gospel and living lives of idolatry rather than dependence on Christ. What might these be in your life?
2. Living like the lights are out: Denying Truth
The second thing Paul says is that Gentiles are “darkened in their understanding”. They are living as if the lights are out. You know what that is like to be in a place that is darkened. Nothing looks as it really is and you are left feeling around trying to find some light and you are left totally disoriented. This is a perfect description of the mindset of an unbeliever. Whenever we deny truth we have nothing left but a lie. When the gospel comes into our hearts the light comes on. Only through the gospel can we perceive the world the way it really is.
It never ceases to amaze me how believers (self included) can be duped into thinking like the lights are out. It is so easy to revert back to the old way of thinking. In Ephesus they would be tempted to trust in gods like Artemis to help them have healthy babies or good crops. At root though what are they doing? They are trusting in a god of their own creation and with their own set of rules. If I do this then my god will do this. Now we might call our god Yahweh or Jesus, or define Him as the biblical God, but when it does not match up with how the living God has revealed Himself then we too are guilty of bowing to a false god; we just stole the name of the real one and gave it to our fake god.
This is a call then to think of God as He really is and to submit to him and to reality as he defines it instead of reality as we want to define it. This could be an entire sermon on this point. For now I want to sum it up with a question. Do you pattern your life out of the God of the Bible instead of the god of your own making? And let me say this simply—not as a way of gaining favor with God—but as a way of knowing God. If you are not reading your Bibles and giving yourselves to knowing this God then your life will be lived by a reality of your own making and not the truth as it really is in Jesus.
3. Living without God: Denying Lordship
The third thing Paul says is that Gentiles are alienated from the life of God. When we fight against the God of the gospel we ultimately alienate ourselves from the life of God. This is, as we will see in a moment, where this downward spiral causes us to lose our humanity. We were created to be in relationship with God. To be alienated from God is to rip us of our humanity at its deepest point. But in this text Paul is urging believers not to live like Gentiles that are alienated from God. So, how would you live like you were alienated from God? You would live with a god of your own making. More often than not you live as if you yourself are god.
We need to sum this point up but I fear that if you are struggling with having an improper view of God you will miss this point entirely. If you view God as a big mean guy that is consistently looking to judge you then you will hear these points and think “I had better get my act together”. You will hear the first point about not living a wasted life and you will think that means you have to be at church 7 days a week, only listen to Christian music, never read magazine; basically become a super spiritual hermit. You will hear the second point about denying truth and you will give yourself to studying who God is. You will analyze, dissect, study doctrine, read your Bible; you will master Christianity and Christian doctrine. And lastly you will do everything you can to help God be in a relationship with you. Because you live under the assumption that he is mad at you and you need to do something to make him happy you will probably give your life to missions, Bible study, prayer, etc. all of this to make your god happy. That’s not the gospel—that is religion.
B. Losing our Humanity
When we reject God and fight the gospel we inevitably lose our humanity. We see this spiraling downward in the latter part of verse 18 and in verse 19. Why are Gentiles living in futility, darkened in understanding, and alienated from God? They are so, because of ignorance that is in them. This is not a lack of information type of ignorance this is as Peter O’Brien describes, “a failure to be grateful and obedient. It describes one’s total stance, and this includes emotions, will, and action, not just one’s mental response.” This ignorance is stubborn rebellion; when you reject truth the only option is ignorance. And why are they ignorant; why this stubborn rebellion? It is because of their hardness of heart; or as it is further defined in verse 19—“callous”.
Christopher Wright sums this up well when he says, “Since idolatry diminishes the glory of God, and since humans are made in the image of God, it follows that idolatry is also detrimental to the very essence of our humanity…To refuse to glorify God, and even worse, to exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” is to frustrate the purpose of our very existence. Idolatry is radical self-harm. It is also radically, terribly ironic. In trying to be as God…we have ended up less human. The principle affirmed several places in the Bible that you become like the object of your worship is very apparent. If you worship that which is not God, you reduce the image of God in yourself. If you worship that which is not even human, you reduce your humanity still further”.
This same message is what ran the idol makers out of business in Ephesus. Paul, then, is encouraging the Ephesians not to go back to such a God-rejecting way of living because it will rob them of humanity.
C. Dying in Sin
Notice the humanity killing nature of verse 19, “they have given themselves over”. They have exchanged the image of God for sin. They have decided to long for sin rather than love God. And this is where the downward spiral climaxes. Since they have lost all sensitivity to God they are now free to indulge in all types of sin.
If you are in love with sin then not hearing the convicting voice of God might sound like good news to you. But it is not. We see a hint of this at the end of verse 19, notice how it says, “greedy to practice every kind of impurity”. That means that they are constantly lusting for more sin. What does that tell you? I’m sure you have experienced this with sin in your own life. It does not go away after you indulge in it. It keeps coming back for more. That is why drug addicts very seldom start with hardcore things but they start with weed. Eventually it doesn’t get you high so you have to get harder stuff; same thing with alcohol, same thing with sex. But, it is also the same thing with religion and religious experience. We can just as easily make an idol out of that. Certainly sexual immorality is what is mostly being talked about here but it’s not left at that. It’s “every kind of impurity”. If it goes against God then that’s what is practiced.
II. The gospel-redeemed spiral
Now at this point in our text we see that everything changes. “But that is not the way you learned Christ”. In other words living like a Gentile is not how you were taught to live in Jesus. It’s interesting to note that he says, “learned Christ”. Nowhere else in the Bible or really even in any ancient literature are we told to learn a person. This is not the way you got to know Jesus—nor the way that the body of doctrine that teaches us about Christ is. No, it’s different. And here we see the gospel-redeemed spiral.
We have to be really careful at this point that we not divorce this text from everything that has taken place so far in our study of Ephesians. The hearing of the gospel, the teaching of the gospel, the growing in Jesus, everything has happened because of God. So, this gospel-redeemed spiral is not a self-changing spiral. Never divorce this from the gospel. This stems out of the gospel. But what happens when the gospel takes root in your life. How can you tell a believer from an unbeliever?
A. Fighting of sin
Rather than fighting against the gospel and embracing sin the believer will embrace the gospel and fight sin. I am convinced that there are two main differences between a believer and unbeliever. 1) The believer is a relationship with Jesus in such a way that everything he has is ours and all of our weakness is conquered by his strength. 2) Because of the work of Christ the believer is in a process of battling sin and growing in holiness. The unbeliever does not have a relationship with Jesus and is in a process of battling God and growing in sin (if you can call it growth). The difference between a believer and unbeliever is not the presence or absence of sin. The difference between a believer and unbeliever is the attitude towards sin. The believer is engaged in an everyday battle with sin. Christ has conquered its damning effects and He has conquered its ultimate power. That’s the already; us fully living that out is the not yet. We will spend more time with what “putting off sin” and later “putting on the new self” looks like so we will only look at the principal at this point.
B. Growing in the Gospel
Rather than destroying our humanity we are in the process of returning to who God has created us to be. Look in the Garden of Eden and that is partially where God is taking you. Here in our text it says “renewed in the spirit of your minds”. This “spirit of our minds” is the innermost being. We saw much this same thing in 3:16 where it was called our “inner being”. I will spare you the grammar lesson—but the way that this sentence is structured helps us to see that it is a process. This “being renewed” is not something that is complete it is something that we are in the process of. I take this to mean growing in grace, growing in the gospel, moving up the spiral, moving towards God more, changing from the inside out, growing in holiness and righteousness, looking more like Jesus and less like the world, being fully redeemed by God. This then too is the difference between a believer and unbeliever. The believer is growing. If five years from now you look back on where you were in your relationship with Jesus and you aren’t growing in holiness and in your knowledge of Jesus and in grace and in the gospel, then something is radically wrong. Christians grow.
C. Growing in godliness
We could term this holiness, righteousness, or a whole host of other words. What this text is saying when it talks about putting on the new self is being more like Jesus. This then is the destination of the believer. We are recreated by God and we are being modeled by His character. Again, this “new self” is something we will look at in detail in the coming weeks. I only wanted to show you the principal in this text that will serve us for the coming weeks as we look at the specifics. What does it mean to grow in godliness? Well it means to look more like Jesus. What that means specifically we will be looking at in the coming weeks.
So, what are we to take from all of this? I want to close this with a few points of application.
1) This side of redemption we will continue to struggle with idolatry. We will find ourselves at time drifting back towards the God-rejecting idolatrous spiral. Again I turn to Christopher Wright talking about our need to forsake the idols we cling to, “We invest so much of ourselves in our gods, spend so much on them and blend our identity and significance with theirs that it simply will not do for us to have them unmasked, mocked, or toppled. And yet, of course, topple they must before the living God. For that is the destiny of all human effort that is not for the glory of God or offered to be redeemed by him.” Brothers and sister we must forsake our idols and turn to the living God.
2) This is also a warning to arrogant professors. Those that are claiming to trust in God but not fighting sin, not growing in grace, not growing in holiness. There are many that are on the spiral of idolatry that think they are on the spiral of gospel redemption just because they’ve created a false god and they are doing all of the steps that their false god requires. The gospel does not give you freedom to sin nor does it enslave you to the law. The gospel gives freedom for obedience and breaks the guilt, shame, and condemnation from sinning against God.
3) Looking at the Christian life as a process is an encouragement to struggling believers. Perhaps my favorite quote is by Richard Sibbes, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us”. How freeing it is to know that God knows full well that redemption is a process. How freeing it is to know that he remembers our frame. How freeing it is to know that my acceptance by God is through the work of Jesus Christ and not my own. Because of Christ’s work and His mercy I will be redeemed, some day. Someday I will commit my last sin. How refreshing.
4) Lastly, the entire Christian life is one of sweet repentance. Tim Keller gives for us the difference between religious repentance and gospel repentance. Religious repentance is selfish (it only hopes to save from consequences), self-righteous (it tries to pay for sin by personal atonement), and bitter to the end. It is bitter because in religion our only hope is to live a good enough life for God to bless us. Therefore every instance of sin and repentance is traumatic, unnatural, and horribly threatening. This is not so with gospel repentance. Gospel repentance is motivated out of love for God, it rests solely on the work of Christ and His righteousness, and because of that our repentance is not so traumatic. In fact, as Keller says, “the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you.”