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“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do…”
Old habits are hard to break, assuming you want to break them. I read somewhere just recently that it takes 30 days of repetitive behavior for that behavior to become a habit.
Identify something that you want to turn from ‘sporadic’ into ‘regular,’ from ‘forcing yourself to do it’ to ‘without having to think about it,’ and then do it for 30 days and, if the theory is right, it’ll become a habit. Want get into the habit of daily exercise? Force yourself to go to the gym for 30 days and then it should just happen habitually. Want to get up earlier in the morning or go to bed earlier at night? Just do it for 30 days and it’ll become a habit. Want to start a habit of spending time in the Word and daily prayer? Just do it for 30 days.
Frankly, I’m not sure how true the theory actually is. It all sounds a bit too easy and mechanical. “Just doing it” for 30 days is usually a lot harder than it sounds.
But then again, there are some habits that we seem to acquire almost effortlessly. That bowl of ice cream in the evening while watching TV. That cup of coffee that you stop for on the way to work every morning. How hard was it to make that a habit?
And what about the flip side of this? How do you break old habits? How hard was it to break that ice cream or coffee habit? And what about that cocktail after work every day or the porn site you visit or the language you use? How hard was it to break that habit?
On the other hand, how easy was it to fall out of the habit of exercising or praying or coming to church every Sunday? Not hard at all was it?
It’s not a level playing field is it? Seems like it’s tilted against us. It’ HARD to do the good that we want to do and EASY to do the evil that we hate. It’s HARD to break the BAD habits that we want to break but so, so EASY to break the GOOD habits that we want to keep on doing.
This ‘introduction’ about ‘habits’ is just my way of trying to put a finger on that little word, ‘walk.’ To ‘walk’ is not simply an occasional doing but a regular, repeated doing that, despite all temptations to the contrary, we do just because it’s become a part of who we are. It takes a lot of concentrated effort to STOP WALKING one way and START WALKING another.
In the first half of chapter 4, Paul tells his congregation to START “WALKing in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Not occasionally or periodically, but habitually. It’s who they are.
Now, in the second half of this chapter, he tells them to STOP WALKING in a manner UNWORTHY of the calling to which they have been called. “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do…”
They must not only learn new ways to ‘walk,’ but they must also unlearn the old ways that they used to walk. Whereas they had been imitators of the society and culture in which they live, NOW they are to “be imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love as Christ loves us…”
I think that is right here where Paul’s letter to the Ephesians hits right where it needs to hit us. It is just as important for us as it was for them that we both WALK IN NEW WAYS that we ARE NOT in the habit of walking, and STOP WALKING IN OLD WAYS that we ARE in the habit of walking.
Walking by faith in Jesus Christ is not just about adding a few new good habits to our life that improve our personal satisfaction and add a ‘spiritual dimension’ to things. We must also HATE our old ways to the point where we STOP WALKING in them, because they’re contrary to WHO WE ARE.
Paul uses the imagery of getting dressed to describe this two-fold action of the life of faith. When you change clothes, there is a putting off and a putting on. “…PUT OFF your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires… and PUT ON the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
This is baptismal language that Paul is using here. In our baptism, our ‘old self’ that was “corrupt through deceitful desires,” was PUTT OFF of us by drowning. And at the same time, a ‘new self’ “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” was a PUT ON us.
So when Paul ‘begs’ his congregation to “…PUT OFF your old self, … and PUT ON the new self…” he is simply telling us to walk in our baptism. He’s not telling us what we need to do so much as what God has done for us. He has PUT OFF of ‘filthy rags’ and PUT ON the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Now, just be who you are in your baptism.
Paul lists five concrete examples of this putting off and putting on that Christians need to take seriously.
1st – “Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
In the first half of this chapter, Paul begged the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love…” with one another. The temptation is to ‘bend the truth’ or ‘interpret God’s Word’ in such a way that doesn’t offend. Who wants to tell the brother or sister in Christ that what they’re doing is wrong and they need to repent, not only for their own sake but for the sake of the whole body, because after all, “we are members of one another.” Have you thought about what you are doing is not only harmful to you but also harms all of us?
We are to ‘put off’ falsehood and ‘put on’ honesty.
2nd – “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.”
This is not a command that we should be angry, but rather a restriction that we are place on our anger when it arises. The bible makes a pretty clear distinction between ‘righteous anger’ and ‘unrighteous anger.’ In a minute, we’ll hear Paul lump ‘anger’ with ‘bitterness and wrath and clamor and slander’ saying that that must be ‘put away from us.’
But there is also such a thing as ‘righteous anger.’ In Mark’s gospel we read that when the religious leadership tried to prevent Jesus from healing a man on the Sabbath, “he looked around at them WITH ANGER, grieved at their hardness of heart…” (Mark 3:3).
In fact, there’s something wrong about a Christian who doesn’t feel ‘angry’ when he sees abuse and injustice and God’s Word is twisted or ignored and he hears the Lord’s name used in vain. To not be angry when we should be angry is to be apathetic.
But even ‘righteous anger’ must be kept under control. If it’s carried too long it can fester and lead to ‘sin’ and give the devil an opening to turn our love into hatred and vengefulness. “…do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.”
We are to ‘put off’ anger that leads to sin and ‘put on’ anger that does not sin.
3rd – “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
Paul is holding up the 8th commandment, ‘thou shall not steal.’ ‘Stealing’ is the taking something that belongs to someone else for your own gain and to another’s loss.
So the ‘new man’ doesn’t simply ‘stop stealing,’ he ‘does honest work with his own hands’ so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
We are to ‘put off’ stealing that robs our neighbor and ‘put on’ honest work that gives to our neighbor.
4th – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
From the way that we are to use our hands for honest work, Paul moves to the way that we are to use our mouth for wholesome talk. Bringing the tongue under the control of the Holy Spirit is not an easy thing to do. James tells us that the tongue that has more control over the whole body than the whole body has over the tongue.
“The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body…” Man has the ability to tame “every kind of beast and bird, reptile and sea creature… but no human being can tame the tongue.” (James 3:6-8).
Only the Holy Spirit can tame the tongue. What is wild and uncontrollable, has been tamed and brought under the control of Spirit of God. Remembering our baptism where we were given a new tongue, we are to control it and use it for “building up” and not for “tearing down.”
We are to ‘put off’ “corrupting talk” and ‘put on’ “talk that gives grace to those who hear.”
5th – “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Paul lists six, interconnected attitudes that have no place in the Christian life because they are not found in Christ who is our head. If you think about this list, you soon realize that these are precisely the attitudes that drove those who crucified the Lord. ‘Wrath, anger, clamor, slander.’
These are the things that sent our Lord to the cross and this is what our Lord bore in His body on the cross. So, when we ‘put on’ any of these terrible attitudes that Jesus ‘put off’ of us by His suffering and death, it is as though we are reaching into His wounds and taking our sins back from Him and reclaiming them for ourselves.
But when we ‘PUT OFF’ what our Lord had already ‘PUT OFF’ of us, it is as though we are reaching into His wounds and placing our sin in Him where it all belongs. And at the same, taking from His side, His kindness and tenderheartedness and forgiveness and ‘PUTTIN IT ON.’
The best ‘habit’ that we can ever get into is the ‘habit’ of ‘TAKING OFF THE OLD SELF’ by confessing it onto Jesus, and ‘PUTTING ON THE NEW SELF’ by eating His body and drinking His blood. This is where our ‘walk’ with Jesus begins, continues, and never ends.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”