Sermon – Pentecost 10
August 9th, 2009
Whoever said being a Christian was easy? The truth is there is a great struggle going on inside of every believer in Jesus. There is daily battle between two natures, two men, two selves... each one vying for control of our thoughts, words and deeds.
Paul encourages the Ephesians, and us, in this battle. “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
You see, the Ephesians were not always Christians. Many, perhaps all in that young church had grown up under pagan religion. Paul describes what that life looked like for them as godless gentiles – using strong terms such as “callous, sensual, impure, corrupt, deceitful” and having a “continual lust for more”. Not a pretty picture of the life without and before Christ.
And you were there, once, too, Christians. Maybe it wasn't very long – if you were baptized into the faith as an infant. Maybe most of your life was lived like a pagan from Ephesus. Or maybe you were raised in the faith, and at some point fell away, coming back later. Anyway, it doesn't matter where you've been or what you did, you're a Christian now and past all that impurity and sin, right? Wrong.
The Ephesians had been pagans, and were now Christians. But Paul still tells them to put off their old self and put on the new self. So it's not quite so simple as, “once you're a Christian your problems are over”. The Old Self doesn't go away so easily. In fact, until we die, our old sinful self is a constant weight dragging on us, a constant festering wound, which needs continual tending. Only when this physical flesh dies is our old self no more. Until then, we struggle.
There is the New Self, which scripture also calls the New Man or the New Creation or the New Adam. It's the spiritual reality that even though we sin, we are saints. Even though we are fallen, we are holy. Even though we are broken and dead and hopeless, we are whole and alive and well. In Jesus Christ.
Jesus gave himself up as a fragrant offering to God. Yes the blood and sweat and agony and shame of the cross were pleasing to God – because there his Son's sacrifice made atonement for us and our sins. There Jesus, the Second Adam paid for the sins of the First Adam, and all Adam's children, to make us God's children forever. There, Jesus put away our old selves, nailed our old nature to the cross in his own flesh – and won for us a new self.
It happened there on Calvary. And it comes to us today – through the word. Or as Paul says, “you learned Christ”. The Gospel, the good news, the message of Jesus Christ – it is the power of God for salvation.
The New Self also comes to us through baptism – where elsewhere Paul talks about being buried and raised with Christ in those waters. And Luther says the Old Adam is drowned daily in repentance, as the New Man arises. Baptism means the daily conversion or renovation of the heart – a daily return to our knees in confession and a daily assurance that the waters of forgiveness flow deep and strong in Jesus Christ.
Or we call it the robe of righteousness that is ours in Christ. “Put on Christ” scripture encourages us. Let him and his righteousness cover you, so that God sees only Christ in you, and on you. And so too, the world, when it sees us, may see Christ.
So put off the Old Self. Put on the New. Turn away from, repent of all that is sinful and wicked in your life. Turn toward God in faith, through Christ, by the power of the Spirit. And live the new life he has called you to.
And don't give the Devil an opportunities (as if he needs any). He's already trying to prop up the corpse of our old self, that we must drag around. He'd like to convince us that is who we truly are, and not who God says we are in Christ! He'd like to have us live according to the flesh, not the spirit. He wants to rob us of the assurance and blessings that come from putting on the new self. Not so fast, Satan!
The Christian strives, with the power of the Spirit, to live a life worthy of our calling. In faith, we do what Paul says – we put away anger, malice, falsehood, corrupting talk. That's old self stuff. Instead, by God's grace we speak kindly and are tenderhearted and forgiving, even as Christ forgave us.
The New Self, it's clear, is an imitator of God.
I'm sure you've seen the WWJD bracelets, “What would Jesus do?” And you've probably also heard me and other Lutheran pastors say, We should really be asking what DID Jesus do. And that's still the most important question. But there is a place for imitating Christ, for being Christ-like. There is a place for good works in the life of a Christian.
That place, of course, is after the Gospel. Because of it. We imitate Christ's love because we know it. We imitate his forgiveness because we have received it. We do what Jesus would do, because we have Christ in us, by his Spirit who empowers us. We can't boast about our justification, nor can we boast of our good works. If we do anything good at all, it is God who works in us. But God does work in us – in our New Self.
So put off the old self – repent of your sins daily, and put on the new self – trusting in Christ for forgiveness and strength to be an imitator of God. In his holy name, Amen.