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    Feb 27, 2011

    Rules of Engagement

    Passage: Ephesians 4:17-24

    Preacher: John Repsold

    Series: Ephesians 4-6: Invading Enemy Territory

    Category: Ephesians

    Keywords: rules of engagement, nature, without christ, mind, old self, new nature


    Being a Christian isn't just about changing the uniform. It's about a change of nature. This message looks at what anyone is outside of Christ and the amazing change of nature that happens when we put our faith in Jesus Christ.


    Rules of Engagement, Part 1

    Ephesians 4:17-24

    Series:  Invading Enemy Territory—Ephesians

    February 27, 2011

    INTRO:  What do you think of the term, “rules of war”?  Should there be certain actions that are illegitimate when it comes to war or should warring parties and nations have free reign to fight however they see fit or think is necessary? 

          That phrase “rules of war” strikes me a bit like saying “rules of mutilation” or “civility or murder.”  If we’re making rules, why not outlaw the use of lethal force in war and make it a slap-fest? 

          I think we can all agree with the truism that “war is always hell.”  Perhaps getting nations to agree to certain “rules of war” moves war from the lowest recesses of hell to the ground floor of hell. The “Geneva Convention” of 1949 and subsequent agreements governing international humanitarian law have hopefully helped.  But war will always be one of the most ugly and consistent blots upon human history. 

          One of the Geneva Convention rules of war has to do with the wearing of the enemy’s uniform so as to deceive the enemy.  That kind of deception is “permitted” as long as you are not engaged in active combat at the time.  For instance, you could use the enemy’s uniform to escape from behind enemy lines but not to kill your captors. 

    This issue of being able to identify enemy combatants has been particularly troubling in our country’s ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The “insurgents,” who don’t claim to hold to the Geneva Convention, regularly dress in police or military uniforms of the legitimate government, wade into a crowd of civilians or police and blow themselves up as suicide bombers. 

    It can be even more difficult figuring out who’s the enemy when the enemy wears the everyday clothing of average citizens.  That problem is addressed in Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor, the story of a squad of Navy Seals who all but one, Marcus, ended up getting killed because they let 3 goat-herders go who then went and reported to the Taliban.  He says this of our American rules of engagement:

          “Our rules of engagement in Afghanistan specified that we could not shoot, kill, or injure unarmed civilians.  But what about the unarmed civilian who was a skilled spy for the illegal forces we were trying to remove?  What about an entire secret army, diverse, fragmented, and lethal, creeping through the mountains in Afghanistan pretending to be civilians?  What about those guys?  How about the innocent-looking camel drovers making their way through the mountain passes with enough high explosives strapped to the backs of their beasts to blow up Yankee Stadium?”

          “We were sent to Afghanistan to carry out hugely dangerous missions.  But we were also told that we could not shoot that camel drover before he blew up all of us, because he might be an unarmed civilian just taking his dynamite for a walk.”  [Lone Survivor, p. 167.]

    That’s the problem of fighting a war where you can’t tell a suicidal enemy from a sane tribesman.  That’s the problem with a war where the enemy wears civilian clothes and you wear combat fatigues.  It’s pretty hard to win a war where you can’t tell who is friend and who is foe. 

    The book of Ephesians in the N.T. is a sort of field manual for the spiritual battle the church has been in for about 2,000 years. And the portion we’re in today is a great example of how God has designed the “uniform” his children wear to be distinguishable from those who are still in the service of God’s enemies. It’s not a uniform that makes us all look alike; it’s a lifestyle that makes us all look like Jesus Christ. 

    We’re going to read it today, not on the screen up front, but from your own Bibles…either the ones you have on your I-phones, Blackberries or other electronic devices OR the one you carried to church with you which I trust you are reading at home on a daily basis.  (Make Bibles available for people to borrow today…and encourage people to share with each other.) 

          By the way, how about we ALL get back in the habit of carrying our Bible’s to church?  It’s kind of like students carrying their books to class… or business people their briefcases to work.  The Bible is our food, our flashlight and our battery for life.  Let’s express our gratitude to God for it by taking it everywhere we go, especially to times when we will be studying it. 

    Ephesians 4:17-24

    17 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. 18 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. 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.

     20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

    Is there any way we can possibly describe or illustrate the nature of the dramatic change that has occurred in the life of every person, every sinner, who, by faith in Jesus Christ, has gone from being a combatant in the enemy forces arrayed against God to being a son or daughter of God Almighty himself?  Just try and imagine how difficult if not impossible it would be for anything remotely similar to happen in our world today.  It’s a story that makes Cinderella sound very plausible.  This divine story of redemption that you and I are written into by God is more like…

    • Beauty & The Beast…except the Beast would have to be far worse, far more depraved, evil and treacherous to the  core than the Disney version. 
    • The transformation of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady where she is taken from the streets of London as a poverty-stricken bag lady and transformed into a refined woman of nobility doesn’t come close to the change God works in every one of his children.
    • Take a mountain hardened, goat-herding, US-hating, Taliban-serving, gun-touting, Afghani jihadist, bring him into the White House to live in the family quarters with the President and his daughters and you still aren’t even close to the dramatic nature of the change between life B.C. (Before Christ) for any of us and life A.D. (“in the year of our Lord…Ano Domini).   

    In verses 17-19 Paul simply reminds us what ALL of us either are still like apart from Christ or what every one of us was at one time outside of Christ.  It’s a description that transcends every culture in this world, every century and every personality type.  And it’s not very flattering either.  Yet too often, as Paul alludes to here, too many of God’s kids refuse to “change uniforms”, change armies, change allegiances and exchange lives. 

    Here’s what every one of us was and what every person outside of Christ in this world today is apart from God’s gracious work of regeneration in our lives. 

    Vs. 17—“Living as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking….”

    What did the Greek Gentile world of Paul’s day pride itself on?  The central principle of the Greek world-view was that the best, noblest, and ultimately most worthwhile part of the human beings was the intellect.  In fact, the mind was considered to be the sort of soul or divine element of a person. It was through human reason they thought you could achieve salvation from fleshly powers.  Greeks were, in the ancient world, the greatest thinkers. 

    But God has a different assessment of our supposed intellectual prowess:  “futility”.  The Greek word means literally “that which fails to produce the desired result, that which never succeeds.”  It’s synonymous with “empty.” 

    Our minds and thinking was created to produce the desired result of drawing us close to our Creator.  It was meant to enable us to track with God as much as humanly possible. But in our separated state from God, the one thing so many people look to as the means of receiving spiritual enlightenment is the very thing that fails to produce its created purpose.  

    ILL:  Don’t you love things which fail to produce their desired result?  Don’t you love owning a computer whose hard-drive has been corrupted, which has more viruses than computer programs?  Isn’t it wonderful when the screen locks up…or the program you’re accessing won’t load…or you get error messages every 10 minutes? 

          That’s what has happened to our “hard drive”, our thinking, apart from God’s work in us.  That’s also probably why the Great Commandment calls us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30).  Our thinking, divorced from right relationship with God, will always lead us to futility.  Life will be empty even though our minds may be filled with the most brilliant thoughts of our day. 

    God gives us a 2nd characteristic of people without Christ—Vs. 18--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.

          Paul isn’t saying that people without Christ are stupid.  They may be brilliant in this world’s intellectual pursuits.  But when it comes to spiritual issues they are wandering around in the dark, separated from the life and light of God.  The structure here (perfect participle) indicates that this is a continual condition of spiritual disorientation and darkness. 

    ILL: Have you ever been disoriented?  Felt like you were actually lost in the dark?

    • Experience of blacking out and getting a concussion after taking a jump wrong on Mt. Spokane. 
    • Coming out of a movie theater at night in a strange city not being able to figure out which way to go?

    The real tragedy is, this spiritual disorientation, spiritual blindness is curable! 

    We’ve probably all known people who were blind, right?  Have you ever met a blind person who did not want sight?  Then why is it that spiritually blind people continue to reject by the billions the light and life Jesus offers them?  Paul tells us:  “…because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”

    People choose spiritual ignorance by the billions every single day on earth.  Not everyone wants an education.  Millions of children and young people throw educational opportunities away by the boatload every day.  The reasons may be as diverse as the number of people. 

          But when it comes to spiritual ignorance, there is 1 consistent cause—“hardening” of their hearts.  The word used here carries the idea of being rock hard.  The word was used of a certain type of stone harder than marble. In Greek it was also used to describe the calcifying of your joints as with arthritis.  It’s used of petrifying of wood, of the building up calluses on the skin, of paralysis of muscles and even of blindness to the eyes.   

          We see this kind of thing happening to people all around us every day in the physical sense.  Few if any choose it.  For most it is the result of living in imperfect bodies. 

          But when it happens spiritually, it is the result primarily of each person’s choices to willfully reject God.  The same word is used in Mk. 3 of the hearts of people who wanted to kill Jesus because he had healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath.  They were unwilling to respond to the truth and revelation of God that they already had.  So many people in our culture are guilty of that—failure to respond to the truth they already know about Jesus. 

    ILL:  Every one of us and most of the people around us day by day in America run this danger.  We’ve been exposed to truth about Jesus.  And when we fail to respond, we develop a hardness of heart that blinds us to further truth. 

          Contrast that with what Daniel and I experienced in China about 5 years ago when we taught classrooms of high school students, most of whom had never heard of Jesus Christ.  By the end of the 2 weeks, most of those students had asked, “How can we become followers of Jesus, Christians?” 

    Vs. 19 goes on to tell us that unless this process is interrupted by a life-changing, soul-saving encounter with God through Jesus Christ, this hardness will lead to ultimate self-destruction spiritually and morally.

    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.”

    Is it just happenstance that our culture is totally obsessed with sexual sin?  Paul uses a term here (aselgeia) for “sensuality” that refers to total licentiousness or the absence of all moral restraint, especially in the area of sexual sins.  

          I don’t need to go through the litany of sexual sins that are rotting our nation from within.  But listen to the magnitude of simply one component of our culture’s sensuality--pornography.

    • Every second, Americans spend $428 on pornography, over $13 billion a year.
    • The number of pornographic websites is over 4.2 million (12% of all websites)
    • Over 14,000 hard-core pornography movies are released in the U.S. every year, one every 39 minutes.
    • Approximately 20% of all Internet pornography involves children; it’s a $3 billion annual business.
    • 9 out of 10 youth between the ages of 8 and 16 had viewed pornography on the Internet, in most cases unintentionally.  Think it’s better now with 3/4G service, etc?

    ILL:  An ancient Greek story tells of a Spartan youth who stole a fox from another man.  Unexpectedly he came upon the man from whom he had stolen it.  So to keep his theft from being discovered, the boy stuck the fox inside his clothes and stood without moving a muscle in the presence of his own victim of theft.  Meanwhile, the fox, thoroughly frightened and fearful of suffocation, proceeded to tear into the boy’s vital organs, killing the young man.  Even at the cost of his own life, the guilty youth would not own up to his own failure and sin.  

    Saint Augustine once said, “The punishment of sin is sin.”  That is what Paul is telling us here.  Sin is not only responsible for all death in human experience; it is responsible for the blinding and hardening effect on so many billions of people who refuse to acknowledge their own sinfulness and accept God’s only healing remedy for it in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.

    APP:  That may be where you are today—unwilling to admit to yourself what God already knows:  that you are hopelessly lost in sin and separated from God without surrender of your life to Jesus Christ.  Don’t wait until the fox of sin has destroyed you from inside.  God the Father longs to run to your rescue if you will only cry out in humble repentance for His saving grace in Jesus Christ. 

    APP 2:  And people of God who already know of God’s forgiveness in Christ, this is a solemn reminder that sin is not something we should be fooling around with either.  When God puts his finger on sin in our lives, we have two choices:  either repent and draw nearer to God or reject the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit and move in the direction of a hard heart and a calloused conscience. 

    • Has the Holy Spirit been whispering to you about sin lately?  What are you going to do about it?  Don’t let it harden your heart.  Run from it and run to God in confession and repentance.  By God’s grace, make a commitment to not engage in it any longer.  Share that commitment with another believer who will regularly be transparent with you as well, pray with you and keep asking you about how the battle is going.  (Challenge to “Redemption Groups”)

    Now, look at vs. 20--20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.

    This is a verse students in particular should understand.  Paul uses 3 strong teaching terms.  ALL of them are a point-in-time, past-tense experience.  It’s not something you must do over and over again. It is something you must experience once and then build a new live upon. 

          Paul starts with a strong contrast when he says, “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.”  We haven’t come to know Jesus Christ by losing sensitivity to God but by gaining salvation through Jesus Christ. 

          First, Jesus is the subject that God is intent on teaching us.  Vs. 20 talks about us coming “to know Christ.”  It really means “to learn Christ.”  Not just learn about Christ.  Anybody can do that.  But only people who actually embrace Christ by faith “learn Christ.”  This new “uniform” we’ve been issued in the army of God is Christ himself.  The old one was sin and self.  This new life is all about when we “came to know” Jesus Christ.

          Second, Jesus is not only the subject but the teacher.  Vs. 21—“ Surely you heard of him…”  Actually the word “of” is not in the original.  The correct rendering should be, “Surely, you heard HIM….”  Again, it was a point-in-time, happened- in-the-past experience.  That’s just what Jesus said would happen with his own sheep:  Jn. 10:16—“My sheep hear my voice….”  If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve heard his voice as your Teacher…and you’ll certainly keep hearing it too.

          Third, Jesus is the atmosphere or classroom itself.  Vs. 21—“Surely you heard (of) him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”  If we have any hope of escaping the kind of hard-heartedness and spiritual blindness Paul was just talking about, it will only happen as we decide to step into that classroom of Jesus himself.  We won’t find that liberating experience in any other “classroom”—not in human philosophy, not in religion, not in the sciences, not in Eastern meditation, not in nature.  Jesus is the only place we’ll find freedom and new life. 

    Jesus is the Subject we have learned about, the Teacher we have learned from and the Classroom/School we have learned in.

    So what is next?  Something rather surprising.  In the English, it sounds like there are several things we are TO DO, right?  Vss. 22-23--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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

          But look carefully.  Is all that past tense OR present tense?  Is it something we’ve already been taught, or is it something we are being taught? 

    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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

    Surprisingly, Paul is telling us that this is already something that happened to us when we experienced Christ in salvation.  There are 3 infinitives used here that are simply describing what happened.  They sound like imperatives if you’re not careful.  But they are NOT commands for us to keep striving to do.  They are realities that came to us when we decided to follow the new Commander-In-Chief.

    1. 1.       We did, in fact, put off the old self.  Actually, Christ did it for us when he died.  Paul said in Gal. 2:20 that we as believers in Jesus “…have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  The “old me” is dead.  It’s power and dominance in my life ended when the life of Jesus started in me through my new spiritual birth.
    2. 2.      We were, in fact, made new in the attitude of our minds when we became children of God by faith in Jesus.  That doesn’t mean all our thinking got aligned immediately with Jesus as it should be.  But it does mean we were given a new capacity to think, a new way of thinking, a “new mind” in Christ.  What we could not understand before about spiritual realities and truth we now have a capacity to grasp. 1 Cor. 2:12-14 says this, 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 

                Just this last week in our Alpha group we got to talking about the amazing difference it makes when you step across that threshold of faith and personally put your faith in Jesus.  Stuff that didn’t make any sense to you now is clear as can be. The Word of God that was nothing but confusing words now is alive, fresh and transforming in your life.

                That’s what Paul is talking about:  God equips us with a new way of thinking when we come to Christ. 

    1. 3.      Lastly, we were taught through salvation one more absolutely transforming reality:  22” You were taught…to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  This is the new allegiance to the new army and the new Commander-in-Chief of which we are a part.

                It is a whole new way of living, of marching, of fighting, of winning.  We ARE now people “created to be like God” in 2 ways:  1.) “in true righteousness” which refers to how we are to live with others around us, and 2.) “true holiness” which refers to how we are to relate to God. 

                When this passage says we were “created to be like God” it literally means we were “created according to what God is.”  Adam and Eve were created like that…but they LOST that when they sinned.  They took on sinful human nature from there on out. 

                But Jesus does just the reverse for us when we experience the “new birth” and are “born again” in the Holy Spirit.  The CORE of who we are becomes, not a “sinner” but a “saint.”  Sure, we don’t always live that saint-ness out every moment.  But that is who we ARE from then on.  That is why you will never find Paul (or God, for that matter), calling Christians “sinners”; we’re always referred to as “saints” in the N.T. 

                That’s also why we will never be happy or satisfied walking in sin any more.  That explains why you can be happier engaging in sin as a pagan while you will be continually bothered and even more miserable engaging in that same sin as a follower of Jesus.  You’re NEW!  The “real you” was “created to be like God.”  As such, the more like God we are in our thinking and actions, the more fulfilled we will be.  Conversely, the more we are like godless people in our living and thinking, the less we will be enjoying life right now. 

    That is truly amazing!  If you are a child of God here today through faith in Jesus Christ, the deepest you…the “new creature in Christ” that you are now…was created to be like God, not like the godless, sinful, self-indulging people of this world.  The real you will find the deepest fulfillment in living out righteousness (right living) towards people and holiness (right being) towards God. 

    ILL:  Remember the fairy tale Beauty & the Beast?  In this famous story, it is the kind, loving and generous character of Beauty that enables her to look beyond the outward ugliness of the Beast and finally love him enough to pledge her life to him in marriage. With that pledge of love, the spell is broken which had bound him in the body of the hideous Beast.  

          It’s a wonderful story of the power of love and goodness to look beyond the ugly exterior of the Beast to fall in love with the Prince who is within.  Don’t we all wish we had that kind of goodness of character to be people who see others, not for what they may or may not look like on the outside, but for what they are or can be on the inside.  That would make for a wonderful world.

    But the story of new life in Jesus Christ is even better.  We are the Beast, but a Beast of far uglier proportions than any fairy tale could conjure up.  There is no moral attractiveness of heart, not spiritual goodness of soul, no inner greatness of spirit that could move even the kindest of Beauties to fall in love with us.  Within and without our lives are scarred and disfigured by the sinfulness we have inherited and the sins we have chosen.  Having been created beautiful, we have made ourselves brute beasts enslaved to our own selfishness and evils and ghoulish in our spiritual rebellion. 

    But our story is unlike even the grandest of fairy tales.  For to the disgusting human depravity of time came the most glorious Beauty of all eternity.  He left the incomprehensible splendor of Heaven to come to live…and die… among the unfathomable evil of  this rebellious race. 

    Rather than receive His undeserved love with unbounded gratitude, we stripped him naked, spit all our venomous hatred in his face, and beat him bloody with every unimaginable evil of our hearts.  We joined all the forces of hell in doing what no human being should ever have done to them.  But we did it to the Beauty of the Universe.  We killed the only One who could possibly deliver us from the beastly spell of our own making. 

          And then, when this divine fairy-tale-turned-celestial-nightmare was all but over, the Beauty we had spurned, tortured, vilified, rejected and crucified leaned down through time and kissed every one of us in divine love.

    It was a kiss that changed us forever.  It was a kiss that brought a new, living heart to each of us, a heart that for the first time filled our lives from the inside with the kind of love that had to come from outside.  The greatest Beauty of all time kissed the most revolting ugliness of our rebellious hearts…and “THE curse” was broken. 

    The beauty of holiness replaced the ugliness of sin.  In the place of mourning came dancing.  In the mirror of ashes came beauty.  The greatest Beauty of all eternity set us free from the most horrendous nightmare of all time…and made us His treasured Bride forever. 

    Moved by the Holy Spirit, this is essentially what Paul wrote:

    “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the [godless rebels you once were], in the futility of [your rebellious] thinking. 18 [You were so] darkened in [your] understanding and [so completely] separated from the [beautiful] life of God because of the [evil and willful] ignorance that [was] in [you] due to the [persistent] hardening of [your self-centered] hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity [to God’s goodness, you had] given [your]selves over to [self-destructive passions]…so as to [immerse yourselves] in every kind of [self-defeating] impurity, with a continual lust for more.

                    [But] you, [privileged and favored people of God, you] did not come to know Christ[the Lover of your souls by that way]. [In a moment in time, His divine kiss of love gave you a new heart and made you a eternally new person; YOU were changed.] 22 [He showed you how to take off that dark, decaying old self which was spiritually repulsive; He gave you His understanding and way of thinking; and  He tailored for you a completely new nature, fashioned after His stunning beauty in real righteousness towards people and genuine holiness towards God.]