The New Life
Topic: Biblical Verse: Ephesians 4:17–5:2
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“Life Together: The New Life”
There’s a classic Tears for Fears song that tells us “Everybody wants to rule the world.” This past week’s Republican presidential debates reminded me of just how true that can be. So great a number of people are seeking the party’s nomination, the field of candidates had to be slotted into two separate debates. Given the time available, the candidates needed to choose their words wisely when answering the questions the moderators posed. If you watched the debates yourself or heard about them in the past couple of days, I suspect you’d agree that some of the candidates did better job of watching their speech than others.
Even running for the highest single position in our government, presidential candidates need to win votes just as they might for any other elected office. A big part of making that happen is saying the right things – and not saying the wrong things. But when people are put on the spot, as the candidates were during the debates, it seemed like some of them couldn’t help but say the wrong things. Others were more composed, taking their time to either choose their words carefully or to remember key pre-scripted phrases that they campaign speechwriters had prepped them on beforehand. Who can blame them? Wouldn’t you like to have someone preparing clever and wise remarks for you to use when you needed them?
Like you and me, presidential candidates sometimes say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. That’s not news to anyone. But did you ever think that you’re making a choice each time that you do?
Sometimes the things you say and do are intentional, that is, you mean to do what you do or say what you say. Clearly, you’re making a choice there. Other times, though, there’ve been things you’ve done or words you’ve said that you didn’t mean to do or say, like those times when you act on instinct or emotion, almost like a reflex. So how can that be a choice?
Sadly, much of the public discourse in our country – including presidential debates and much of the political campaigning that we’ll be seeing over the next year or so – shares much in common with that life which is alienated from God as Paul describes it in Ephesians 4. There’s dishonesty and falsehood (both obvious and subtle), corrupting talk and slander, bitterness and self-interest, wrath and malice and clamor. It won’t be pretty. Same old, same old. We can’t really expect anything different when everybody wants to rule the world. And if it’s bad out there, how much worse is it when those types of attitudes and behaviors show up in our words and actions?
Particularly for Christians, even the unintentional things we do and say are choices. Think about that for a moment. Paul’s talking with us about the actions and attitudes of the old self and our former manner of life. That means his audience of Christians – those in Ephesus and Alexandria alike – must have a new self, a self which lives according to a new standard: a new life. If you have been given faith that looks to the living Son of God, Jesus, as your hope, you are no longer what you once were. When the waters of Baptism washed over you, they drowned your old self, the self who came into life as an enemy of God. That person, the old Adam, could only choose to do or say those things which that advanced its own interest. It really did want to rule the world, because it refused to acknowledge that anyone else was better able to! But that’s not you anymore.
God had given you new life. Now, when you hear those words, “new life,” don’t just gloss over them, even if you’ve hear them put together hundreds of times before. Think about what it means when Paul says that you have a new life in Christ, a new self which is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. You are, as Paul says, being shaped as imitators of God, the God who loved you and me selflessly, so that His Son became “a fragrant offering and sacrifice” up to pay the price for the old Adam’s sin and self-centeredness. The Holy Spirit, who drew you to new life, continually renews your identity in Christ. You are a beloved child of God who has new life in him. That’s who you are today by God’s grace.
The old Adam doesn’t control you – because he’s not you. So don’t try to be him! That’s Paul’s encouragement to people like you and me who have been given new life in Christ. The former manner of life with all its dishonesty and falsehood, corrupting talk and slander, bitterness and self-interest, wrath and malice and clamor, is incompatible with the life that you’ve been given as an adopted as a child of God.
I’d mentioned earlier that even the unintentional things we do and say as Christians are choices. Even living the new life God has given us, we still struggle with temptation. We hear the tempting whispers of the old self and see the shiny things that life away from God promises. When we don’t reject those things out of hand, that’s when we give opportunity to the devil. We chase after his hollow promise that we can rule the world; but that’s a choice we make. Not living in the new life we have in Christ – that’s requires active surrender to the flesh. The unintentional things we say and do, along with our deliberate words and actions, are all choices on our part to chase after that former manner of living. Even though the old Adam was drowned in the waters of baptism, we still tend to spend a lot of time trying to give him CPR.
Part of the reason that we’re spending this summer as a congregation going through Ephesians in our “Life Together” focus is Paul’s concern for everyday Christian living. Here in chapter 4, this letter to the Church shifts to direct and encourage Christ-followers like you and me in the new life which we have as imitators of God. The apostle urges us to live out our identity as a redeemed people because that’s who we are meant to be. The new covenant that we have in Christ is about a restored relationship with God, as He’s already made that happen for you. Through Jesus’ cradle, cross, and empty tomb, we have new life with God. We now live under the reign and rule of God, guided by the Holy Spirit in every day of life. God isn’t looking for you to follow a bunch of checklists of laws and regulations to be right with Him. Rather, the new life that we have in Jesus reflects God’s foundational will for all people: to love, as Christ loved us.
Christianity is a practical faith. As Lutheran Christians, we may be inclined to forget that, almost running away from any talk of good works in life. But here’s the thing: the new life you have in Christ is God’s good work, both for your benefit and for the benefit of the world around you. Reflecting that, Paul’s encouragement in Ephesians today is definitely – and maybe, for us, surprisingly – practical. Living the new life that you have in Jesus, how should you live? Work honestly, so as to have something to share with people in need. Speak truthfully and shun dishonesty in everything that you do, all out of love and respect for your neighbor. Let your words be used to build up and give grace to those who hear you, because people long for grace in their lives in our broken world. Be kind. Be tenderhearted. Be forgiving.
And living in Christ, that’s who you already are.