7/18/2021: Message: Darkness Before the Dawn | Scripture: Ephesians 4:17-19 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
As those called as one, new humanity under one Christ as the one household of God, we are to be separate and distinct from the world in our conduct. This starts with having a proper worldview of who God is, who man is, and what he has done for us in his Son. We understand that God is not only holy and merciful, but that man is sinful. It is sin that both separates us from God and stores up for us his righteous anger, and yet, in his mercy, he has withheld the floodgates of his wrath from us for now. Because of this, we need to recognize that our natural desires are warped, first in our hearts and minds and then in our bodies, and we need to stop sinning. This isn’t a call for utter perfection. It’s a requirement for transformation, and we need to be transformed from the inside out. This is the gospel’s effect. When we live in sin, all we desire is more, inordinate sin. But when we want God, we live as those free from the bondage of sin, and both our hearts and our hands, in that order, become satisfied in who he is and in what he’s done for us through Christ.
- According to the sermon, what is the natural man’s disposition? Do you agree with Pastor Stephen’s assessment?
- Briefly summarize for yourself what Ephesians 4:1-16 says. How does Ephesians 4:17-19 connect to the previous sixteen verses and to the book thus far?
- Who is speaking in verses 17-19? What is the significance of these two speakers in giving us this text?
- Can we make a fool out of God? Why or why not?
- In your own words (referring to as much Scripture as possible), what is God’s disposition towards human sin?
- Honest question: how does thinking of God’s disposition towards human sin affect you and how you live?
- Does our natural disposition affect our mind, heart, or body first? Why?
- According to Pastor Stephen, what does sin cheat us out of? How does it cheat us out of this?
- Can a person change their natural disposition on their own?
- As sinners, do we desire to break free of our sin? What do we deserve on account of our natural disposition?
- Three bodily sins are listed as a result of a corrupt mind and heart: licentiousness, uncleanliness, and greed. Explain what each is in your own words (using as many scriptural references as possible).
- Why is greed the climatic sin of the three?
- What do you often look to as your ultimate satisfaction in life/what arrests your attention away from being fully satisfied in God? If you cannot honestly answer God, how might you actively seek to reorient your desires to what you ought to desire?
Full Manuscript – Ephesians 4:17-19
When Candace was pregnant, we got a lot of advice about how to raise our kid. I remember one particular conversation where we got an email from someone who sent us a bunch of articles and pamphlets about positive reinforcement parenting. What is positive reinforcement parenting, you ask? Well, it sounds really nice. I mean who doesn’t want to be more positive in life, but ultimately, the strategy behind this technique is to say “no” as little as possible. In fact, to make this particular method most effective, parents would simply never say “no.” Now, there’s no qualification for the kid. The kid can say no all they want. So, what happens when the kid says, “no,” and the parents also want to say, “no”? Well, the parents have to capitulate to the kid. You don’t say no back, instead you give them another, more attractive offer. In other words, your kid plays you for the fool. You teach your kid to say no to things until they get what they really want.
Now, you might ask, why would a parent do this? Well, the way it was explained to us is that it helps to prevent creating antagonistic relationships between parent and child, and it allows the child to make up his or her own mind. They, hopefully, learn to make good decisions—the kind that make everyone happy. It’s all about helping foster the good in children without punishing the bad. You turn a blind eye when a kid does something terrible, and you congratulate them only when they do what is pleasing and acceptable. The hope is by doing this, you nurture the inherent goodness in your children.
I would hope that most of you don’t even have to look at the Bible to see all the ways that this sounds wrong, but we look at the Bible because we want to know why it’s wrong. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t successful cases of kids coming out of this and being productive human beings in society, but the danger that is greater than letting your kids determine for you what they want is allowing them to develop a worldview that people are inherently good. This may seem like a small thing that has no real consequences, but if you look at our world today and its people wholly unconcerned about their eternal lives—they are this way, because we’ve fed the lie that people are good. Well, I’m telling you now that it’s not true! People aren’t inherently good, and the sooner we understand this and embrace this worldview, the sooner we start doing good in the world. Young adults, youth get this into your minds because it will serve you in how you understand not only the world but how you live in it—people are inherently sinful. We are sinful people.
This is what philosopher Thomas Hobbes once had to say about it—that all things being equal, if every man were apportioned the same circumstances in life, all there would be is “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man [would be] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
I know this is a long introduction where Scripture hasn’t been read yet, but you need to know where we start as humans to know where we’re going in Christ. You’ve got to know the sin before you can know the Saviour. And today, we’re talking about sin, and it terrifies me because I know my own life. I know the depths of my sin. I know what my proclivities are. I know my pride. I know my selfishness. And it is because I know these things about not only myself but also of you that this text causes me to tremble. I don’t want to hurt you or scare you, and this text is not a happy one, but it’s a necessary one. The man or woman who is blind to their own sin and to the sin of the world is a fool who does not know they draw nearer and nearer to standing before a God who created all that we see by breathing.
We are to revere this God all our days—we’re to live as those who have comprehended as much as humanly possible what it means for him to hold our lives in the palm of his hands, and this is why Paul writes Ephesians 4:17-19. Read it with me here, TWoL.
So, this I say and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
Our proposition from this text this morning harks back on all that we’ve covered so far in Ephesians. We are a new humanity in Christ—one people, Jew and Gentile, brought together as one body, under one head who is Jesus, to live in one house, which belongs to God. Today, we learn that we, the new humanity in Christ, must be set apart from a pervasively sinful world. And we see this made a command upon us in three ways—there are three requirements in this text:
- The Lord’s Requirement
- The Noetic Requirement
- The Kinetic Requirement
I know these words seem like they’re being used simply to sound consistent, but I’ve chosen them for a specific reason, and all of it begins with the Lord’s Requirement.
1) The Lord’s Requirement
Look with me here at verse 1. The NASB starts with the word “So,” but the word we’ve become accustomed to hearing by Paul when there’s a transition in his thinking is the word “therefore.” And that’s the word he uses here. And what have we learned about “Therefore” statements? We’ve learned that they are inferences based on things that have come before. In this case, he’s talking about verses 1-16.
Allow me to give you a bit of a refresher on verses 1-16. In those verses, there’s a call to walk in a new way as one people, but that doesn’t mean that we all do the same thing. Unity does not mean uniformity. Instead, unity means taking all the differences we have—the diversity of our gifts and backgrounds, and, in particular, the diversity in the way the Holy Spirit works within us, to serve one another. True unity is service, and not just service for service’s sake, but service because we have been served through Christ. Service because God within his own being among the three persons demonstrates what it means to love one another by serving. We love because Christ first loved us. We serve because God in three persons serves himself.
It is because you are united as one people under one Christ in your service, Paul says here in Eph 4:17-19 that I need to warn you. There is something dire that I need to say because you’ve got to understand it’s the difference between temporary, soul-sucking unity and service and Christ-exalting unity and service. I need to tell you something in writing, so that you have it to turn back to time-and-time again, because if you don’t have this, if you forget, you’ll jeopardize everything good about the gospel. You’ll jeopardize not just its sweetness to you, but you’ll jeopardize its sweetness to the world.
And it’s not just me, Paul, that needs to warn you, but it’s God who speaks through me. The word here for “affirm together” is the same word we use for “testify” or “witness”—I witness, I testify to you in the Lord. This is the Lord speaking. It’s been the Lord speaking this whole time, but it’s so imperative that you hear what I’m about to say that I’m going to remind you, again, God has spoken creation into existence. God has spoken new life into you when you were dead in sin and a child of wrath. God now speaks to you as you are building up a new church and a new humanity where there was no church and no true humanity before. God speaks now to give you life and to sustain it.
And he isn’t doing it just so that you might persevere, but he does it so that you do not make him to look the fool. We aren’t children that get to say “no” until we get what we want. No, when God speaks, he does so to make sure we obey, and if we don’t obey, he doesn’t capitulate and give us another option that we like. When we don’t obey, there aren’t any carrots to give out—there’s only the stick. I know I’m mixing metaphors, and I shouldn’t do this. So, let me say it bluntly. God is speaking here, and if you don’t listen, there is hell to pay.
This is how Jonathan Edwards puts it in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” “The wrath of God is like great waters that are [walled up] for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose . . . If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it . . . The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire . . . you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.”
Is this not a terrifying thought? I would hope to say that in your soul, you think it is. However, it is not meant to scare you into despair. Rather, it’s to scare you into the arms of this God who has withheld the flood of his wrath for the soul purpose that you might escape its fury by his side when he finally lets it loose. That is why Paul says here, I testify what I’m about to say as something that the Lord is saying. He’s warning you. He’s telling you that there’s a requirement of you as you pursue unity and serve one another in the house of God.
2) The Noetic Requirement
And what is this command? It is “that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind.” Do you notice that second person plural pronoun there? You? What Paul’s about to describe is something that was true about us. In fact, it may still be true of some of us now. This is why he says, “you walk no longer.” Some of us are still trapped in sin. Some of us still walk either in the pagan ways of the Gentiles or the legalistic way of the Jews. Some of us are still trapped and bound in some way to who we once were and not who we are now in Jesus Christ. And Paul is saying, “stop it!” Stop feeding the lust of the flesh. Stop gossiping behind people’s back. Stop lying to boost your ego. Stop treating people like they’re things. Stop making your ultimate joy something other than God! Stop it!
Why should you stop? Well, Paul says, just look around you. The Gentiles show you just how stupid sinful living is. You can see it with your own eyes. Look at what they’re doing, then look to Jesus, and decide which one you want to follow because you can’t have it both ways. One foot can’t be in heaven and the other in hell.
You see, those who were a part of the Ephesian church that day, they were likely Gentile or Greek-speaking Jews. So, everything around them is pagan. If you recall in Acts 19, while Paul is in Ephesus, Artemis is the pagan god of this city—they have idol sales on the street, they have one of the biggest temples to her at the end of it where all forms of immortality take place, people’s livelihoods depended on the success of her image being displayed all over the place. And Paul says to these Christian Ephesians that this pagan worship, it is futile or vain thinking—don’t follow them. Follow the cross—die to self. Exalt the Christ.
Don’t you find it interesting that there are all these things going on in Ephesus, and the thing that Paul pinpoints as the first temptation isn’t what’s physically problematic. Rather, it’s the futility of their mind. It’s what they pursue with their head, inspired by the state of their heart, that he says is the problem. Head and heart work synergistically. What the heart wants, the head makes every effort to achieve. Guard up your mind is Paul’s imperative here. Guard it ardently and urgently, because if your mind is tricked, then it’s not long before your body is as well.
It’s the mind that articulates or conceptualizes what is happening in the heart. It is the mind the justifies our actions. It is with the mind that we come up with reasons for what we are planning and scheming in our hearts. You see, sin is always carried out for “good reasons.” Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they wanted to be more like God—they wanted to become gods themselves. We are rational creatures, and we invent reasons to convince ourselves that what we’re doing, we deserve it—we ought to have what we shouldn’t have. In other words, we convince ourselves out of what should be—we convince ourselves in our minds of a new reality.
This is what sin does. It cheats us out of reality. We literally and figuratively lose our minds. This is what theologians call the noetic effect of sin. Noetic comes from the Greek word νους, which means mind. Sin doesn’t just affect our bodies, in fact, the effect it has on the body is subsequent to its effect internally. Sin starts on the inside, and it warps us in such a way that we can’t think straight.
As you guys know, the Olympics are nearly upon us, and this year in the women’s weightlifting division, the powers-that-be have allowed a man who identifies as a woman to compete against other women. It’s not right—this guy has repeatedly won in all the state level and national level competitions. Do we expect the Olympics to be any different? And if he loses, you can be sure that they’ll be saying this proves men who identify as women can compete against women and before you know it, the whole “equality for women” movement will just become, truly, all about men. It’s a slippery slope. This is what sin does to the mind. His body may still be intact as a man’s body, but he has tricked himself in his sinful mind into thinking that he’s a girl.
And we know that this isn’t going to get any better. Look in verse 18. Paul tells us, the reason why we once were futile in our thinking, and why the world is still futile in its thinking is “because they have been darkened in their understanding.” There is no reception or acceptance of the light. They are completely in the dark. They can’t see what God has done for us by putting his own Son up upon that bloody cross! They can’t see it. The Greek does something funny here that it does only in Ephesians. It’s this construction of the words in such a way that would be unnecessary unless Paul was trying to emphasize something. And what he’s emphasizing is the perpetual state of things. They have been, they are perpetually darkened in their understanding. There is no hope of change for them in themselves. They’re dark externally because their internal darkness is utterly present and humanly immovable. There’s nothing in them that will produce light in and of themselves. This is how strong the vice grip of sin is in our dead selves, and in these Gentiles.
Unless something happens in the heart and in the mind, unless the usefulness and wisdom of God pierces the night of our futility and foolishness, we are that spider hanging over the pit of fire waiting to burn. All that is left is darkness and hopelessness, and this darkness will grow in its effectiveness and persuasiveness as long as we give way to sin.
And not only darkness, but the very life of God itself is ripped from their presence. We speak now, at the very least, of common grace. The fact that you see unbelievers out there walking around and breathing. That is common grace. But one day that common grace will be no more. One day the long-suffering patience of God shall not be long-suffering or patient. On that day, fire will pour from the sky. The stars will be darkened. Gloom will engulf the earth. And that fire shall devour them. You think this land is beautiful now. But like Eden, it will be swallowed up and made a wasteland. No one who stands opposed to God shall escape his judgment.
The futility of the mind gives way to foolishness where people actually and actively walk away from God. And they want this. Paul is saying right here that this isn’t something God is doing to them, as if they don’t want it. They do want it. They are darkened in understanding and walk away from God because of the ignorance that is in them. What’s conveyed here isn’t that they are ignorant because something is hidden from them. No, they are willfully ignorant—God is on full display in creation! But they want no part of him. The condemnation that is coming for those who walk like these Gentiles isn’t the fault of external things acting upon them, forcing them to be foolish. No, it’s something that they possess and force upon themselves.
AND the reason they are ignorant is because they possess a hard heart. Do you follow the logic that Paul uses? Those who are walking in sin have futile minds, and they have futile minds because they don’t comprehend and because they are separated from the life giving God, and they don’t comprehend and don’t have life because they are willfully ignorant, and they are willfully ignorant—they turn their eyes towards evil things, because their hearts want evil things. Heart and head intermingled together and brought into submission under sin. Sin submerges everything the world thinks is good under its influence. “Follow your heart,” they say. “Think for yourself,” they say. “Follow these things and find hell,” says God.
A lot of non-reformed Christians or non-Christians, alike, make a big deal that election implies that God puts people he doesn’t like into hell, but Paul isn’t saying that! Paul’s saying people are putting themselves into hell. Their natural disposition in their hearts is to want the things that anger God. They want to despise him! The universe declares of his glory and his might, but they turn a blind eye towards it so that they can keep doing the things that they want to do. This is the noetic effect of sin: that we once walked in sinful ways because our minds and hearts, they wanted sinful things.
Sin is first and foremost noetic—it’s in the mind and it’s in the heart. It’s the very thing that we will to do, because what we want is not the life of God. No, what we want is the wrath of God. And so, is it not right then at the end, when God has allowed sinners to walk in the hardness of their heart—to do the things that they want to do—is it not right to give them what they want? Is God the unrighteous judge over those who live unrighteously? Paul says not a chance. By no means shall God be made the fool. He’ll give you what you want—an eternity of his standing against you. He’ll let you think that you’ve played him as the fool in this life. But Christian, remember the power he displays for those whom he loves. Now, imagine the power he’ll display for those whom he hates, and don’t be mistaken, God hates sinners.
The Noetic Requirement, then, is to be renewed in your mind. This is what Paul says in Romans 12:2: do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. It is the people of God, the new humanity in Christ that must be set apart from the pervasive sinfulness of the world, because a mind that remains lost in sin is a mind that will be tossed into the hell forever. But a mind that is renewed, is a mind that knows the God who withholds his wrath now so that we might flee to his side and escape the fury.
Now it’s one thing to talk about the mind and the heart, but what about the body?
3) The Kinetic Requirement
Recognize, in verse 19, that Paul doesn’t stop with the mind and heart. For he says, “And having become callous, they have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” Paul is describing the consequence of a hard, calloused heart. What happens when you let your heart and your mind run away with the fantasies of the world?
Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were once normal kids. But their parents let them watch and do whatever they wanted. Overtime they grew addicted to violent forms of pornography and movies. On top of that they spent the rest of their time playing extremely violent video games, creating websites talking about their fantasies to kill people, and living in a world that was detached from all reality. It didn’t help that they were outcasts at school because of their antisocial behaviour. Nobody liked them. They were made fun of a lot for their strangeness.
Then one day, they probably had a conversation where Dylan or Eric challenged the other by saying, hey let’s see if we can buy some guns, and let’s see if we can make a bomb. Pretty soon, they were writing journals and hatching up ideas about how to hurt all the people who had ever hurt them. On April 20, 1999, the two of them walked into a school in Columbine, Colorado wearing trench coats and carrying enough weaponry and bomb gear to kill 12 students and 1 teacher. The only reason why more didn’t die is because police were able to deactivate two bombs in the cafeteria as well as two bombs under each of their cars.
Why am I telling you this story? Well, I hope it’s obvious. When noetic effects of sin take their sway over our lives, it doesn’t take long before what is noetic becomes kinetic. This is what Paul says here. Because your hearts are calloused, your body becomes licentious, impure, and motivated by greed for more.
Bauer’s lexicon defines sensuality or licentiousness as a lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable. Dylan and Eric went so far in breaking down the constraints of their mind, that they violated all bounds of what is socially acceptable. And this is what the verse says: they have given THEMSELVES over to it. They did it willingly. Sinners give themselves over to their sins willingly.
Don’t walk any longer as the gentiles walk. Don’t do it! Because it leads to violating all bounds of what is acceptable to God. It leads to impurity in your body. It leads to a greed for more of it, and someday you’ll be standing there, staring down the barrel of your own gun, metaphorical or literal, not knowing how you got there.
This greed is the climax of all three of these sins. Those who continue to practice sin in the mind and in the body—they become jealous of what others have and what they get to do, so they copy them. The greediness underlies the depth to which sinners are willing to go to satisfy their sinful desires. It’s a vicious cycle because sin envelopes us from the inside out—I want sin, so I sin, but I want more sin, so I get bolder and sin bolder, so on, so forth. The whole person is bound as slaves to its will.
You see, sin is never enough. Sin only begets more horrible sin. But the loveliness of the gospel is that God begets God. Sin is never enough. But God is never ending. Sin doesn’t satisfy. But God is unceasingly satisfying. Sin estranges and darkens the mind. But God adopts and brings you into everlasting light.
Oh, that all might taste and see that the Lord is good. Don’t walk in sinfulness anymore. Don’t store up for yourself the wrath of a God who is despised by the world! No, this God has purchased you to himself. He sent his only begotten Son into the world to live the life you could not live, to die on a cross to pay for your sins, and to satisfy his wrath in exchange for his righteousness. He has turned what was once a person entirely enslaved to sin into a new person with a new heart. This God is worthy of being followed. This God is no longer wrathful towards you but has loved you from before the foundation of the world. This God is the God of the gospel, and he has set you apart by the blood of Jesus Christ so that you might not only be saved but that you might live as children in the house of Heaven.
Repent and flee sin. Keep one another accountable. Don’t assume your own neutrality before God—for none are neutral. You are either sinful or you are holy. There is nothing in between. Uplift each other in the gospel because it is a terrible thing for man to fall into the hands of the living, angry God. And if we are intentional in doing this, TCCBC, then ultimately, this message though it is for you, does not condemn you. It does not condemn you, because as we flee sin, we find Jesus who says, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Come to the fountain of life all you who thirst, for Jesus has come, and he comes to give us new life as a new people in the family of God.