7/25/2021: Message: The Dawn of the End of the Age in the True Christ | Scripture: Ephesians 4:20-21 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
The negative imperative of Ephesians 4:17-19 not to sin is met with the positive imperative to know Christ in Ephesians 4:20-21. We, as the body under Christ living as the household of God, are called to do more than avoid negative action (e.g. not sin). In fact, we’re not called to do “good works” at all as the world would use that phrase. Instead, salvation operates in such a way to reorient our affections. What we used to strive after was the sinful, guilty, and polluted nature that we’re born into. But, in Christ, our desires are replaced from making much of ourselves to making much of him who saved us from our sins. Thus, what results isn’t a qualification of “bad” vs. “good” works (though they can, rightly, be called this; cf. James 2). Rather, we see that there are things that reveal a former disposition that leads to death contrasted with a yearning, now, to do the things that bring life. Fleeing sin, and, more importantly, doing good works from an internal desire to do good is an outgrowth of having been called by grace, which we’ve received through the gospel of Christ’s righteousness, penal substitutionary atonement upon a cross, resurrection, and ascension. Thus, we live in a new way because we’ve been called to a new life, and we maintain our holy disposition by looking to the one who gave it to us. Jesus Christ is our ascended Messiah and Lord who was without sin, and in him alone do we place our hope and trust until he comes to take us home.
- According to verse 20 and the sermon, what does it mean when it says that we have not learned Christ in this way? What way is Paul referring to?
- Why didn’t we learn Christ in this way?
- In what way did we learn Christ? How does the first half of verse 21 help us understand the manner in which we learned?
- What is the significance of the order in which we learned (hearing and being taught)?
- Was there really any work involved in our part in the hearing and in the learning? Why/why not?
- Are we ultimately self-determining/in ultimate control of our lives? Why or why not? (IF you’re feeling particularly adventurous, do we truly have free will? Why/why not? [help: it helps to define what you mean by “free” here!])
- What does it mean for sin to have a pervasive (or, as some say, “total”) effect upon our lives (are we as bad as we could possibly be, or does pervasive sin/total depravity mean something else)?
- Who can the effort of our hearing and our being taught ultimately be attributed to (be specific)? Why?
- What is important about Paul’s simple reference to “Jesus” at the end of verse 21? Why is it important that Paul makes this simple reference?
- How does this “Jesus” affect our attitude and effort in life? What does it mean to do good works in light of who Jesus is? What does it mean to do “good works” if we take our eyes and focus off Jesus?
- Do we ever think well of our good works without evaluating our motives and attitudes behind them?
- Recall your own conversion and describe your experience when Christ called you to himself? Did anything change? Did you have new desires in any way? How have those desires in the days, months, or years since increased in a holy pursuit? Or, how have they decreased, and why have they decreased?
- What desires currently prevent you from embracing a new life in Christ? What in your life needs to be put to death (don’t just think of sins of commission but also sins of omission)?
- What desires currently enable you to embrace a new life in Christ? What in your life commends your new life ?
- In what ways do we as gospel-people live as though we have to earn our salvation through works? In what ways are we desirous to spur each other onto true, non-works-based salvation and holiness?
- Do we make a practice of encouraging and correcting each other in love regularly (as those who understand the depth of grace shown to us through Christ)? Why/why not?
- Do we, as a community, live among one another with grace? If no, give examples. If yes, give examples.
In the Dark Knight, the second installment of the Batman Trilogy, written, directed, and produced by the genius of Christopher Nolan, there’s this part of the movie where the Joker is causing immeasurable chaos throughout Gotham. And in one particular scene, he kidnaps a Batman impersonator, and he films him to instill fear among its citizens. One of the ways he does that is by promising to attack important people in Gotham every day until the Batman gives up his identity. Now people are dying, Bruce Wayne is tired and frustrated that he cannot beat the Joker, so he tells Alfred that he’s going to turn himself in, and that he plans thereafter on being with the love of his life instead of continuing on as Batman.
At the press conference where the Batman is supposed to step out and reveal himself, Harvey Dent believing in the necessity of Batman for Gotham’s salvation, takes it upon himself and says he’s the Batman. However, before he makes this false confession, he gives a stirring speech, and this is what he says, “But first, let’s consider the situation, should we give into this terrorist’s demands?” A citizen responds and asks, “You’d rather protect an outlaw vigilante than the lives of citizens?” And Harvey Dent replies, “The Batman is an outlaw, but that’s not why we demand he turn himself in, we’re demanding it because we’re scared. We’ve been happy for the Batman to clean up our streets until now.” One man yells out, “Things are worse than ever!” Harvey responds once more, “Yes, they are, but the night is darkest before the dawn, and I promise you the dawn is coming.”
Brothers and sisters, last week I preached to you about sin. Sin is chaos. Sin is utter rebellion from the commands of God and from God himself as the supreme authority over our lives. He has authority as Creator and sustainer, and we, in our idolatry to make created things our ultimate joy, spurn him and attempt to make him look the fool. But God will not be fooled! Those who trade the dignity of God for the chaos and futility of their own sinful desires, he shall cast into hell! This is the greatest tragedy—it is the worst state of things! But friends, the night is darkest before the dawn, and I promise you the dawn has come. The light has shone in—it has broken in and flooded the world with hope and peace. Today, we still need to talk about sin, but we get to talk about it as it deserves to be talked about. We get to talk about it in light of the King who has vanquished sin and death, and our new Gotham, his kingdom has prevailed. Our message today is about the Dawn in Christ who has come to break the darkness. So, let’s look at our King in his radiant goodness now in Ephesians 4:17-24. 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. BUT you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Last week, we might have summarized our proposition like this: be resolved not to sin. And you see, the problem with that is that it makes it look like the Christian life is exhausting and impossible. On this side of heaven, none of us will ever be without sin. That’s the terrible truth. We who are Christian, we hate sin with every fiber of our being, but no matter how hard we try, and no matter how hard we hate it, we cannot become sinless. So, how can the Bible, which is where our propositions come from—how can our Bible tell us to strive to be sinless, when God knows full well that we can’t be? The answer to that is because we have Christ. So, where our proposition last week was to be resolved not to sin. This week, our proposition is Be Resolved to Know Christ. And we get to know him by observing three things—we are resolved to know Christ:
- By Learning to Walk;
- By Remembering Our Call; and,
- By Fixing Our Eyes on the Truth
1) By Learning to Walk
Look with me at verse 20, “but you did not learn Christ in this way.” Better translated, this verse might read, “but you did not learn about Christ in this way.” These Ephesians were told by Paul and the apostles who this Christ is and what he’s done. And the sentence starts with an adversative. It’s meant to contrast what was said in verses 17-19, and it’s meant to make this contrast referring to a specific way of learning that these Ephesians received.
In what way did they not learn about him? You didn’t learn about Christ through the vanity of your mind. You didn’t learn about Christ through a darkened understanding, you didn’t learn about Christ as strangers, and you definitely did not learn about Christ without the presence and life of God. You didn’t learn about Christ out of ignorance. Most importantly, you didn’t learn about Christ—you didn’t come to believe in him—with hard hearts.
You see, all of that in verses 17-19 reflected the life you lived when you were dead. You walked according to the old life like a criminal stuck in prison with no chance of parole, with no chance of purpose or meaning in life. All you did was vanity. All you did was futility. Your whole person was consumed with the prospect of destruction.
Then the gospel came, and it told you not to walk that way anymore. To be the new covenant people of God and of each other, you have to learn to walk as something new. And this is what verse 20 is saying. You did not learn to walk in and with Christ under the pretense of your old sinful self. No, the way you learned Christ—the way you learned to walk with him and in him is by becoming a new person. And to become new, you had to first die to the old. You had to die to sin.
What does it mean to die to self and to sin? When I say it, it sounds kind of abstract. Does it mean doing good works? Not completely. Does it mean working for salvation? No. Does it mean I have to physically die? Not there’s no physical death . . . yet because, of course, we will all die at some point. But as long as we’re alive, we have to put to death the vanity of our minds and take on new unhardened hearts. I think the secret to dying to sin actually comes in verses 17-19 where we see one common theme: this idea of being satisfied in something or someone other than God. What makes our thoughts so vain and futile? It’s that we put our attention and effort—our satisfaction—onto something that lacks meaning in itself—what makes something vain or futile is not only the fact that such things are temporary, but that they are dependent or contingent on something outside of it for its meaning and continued existence. Things that cannot define themselves are things that are not fully or ultimately in control of themselves.
Just look at ourselves. Humans are at the top of every type of “chain” in the world, and yet, we require one another. We require nutrients outside of us. We require a roof over our heads to protect us from external threats. We need to sleep. We are contingent and dependent beings. We need others and things to continue to exist. We are not in control of our lives. No, we are controlled by our appetites and our desires. Show me a man who thinks he is free to do whatever he wants, and I’ll show you a man who is enslaved to keep that freedom! Nothing on earth is self-determining. Nothing on earth is self-defining. Why are we not entirely free? It is because we will always make decisions based on what we desire—by what satisfies us. We’re defined by what satisfies us, and what satisfies us is always outside of us. There is no one on earth who finds their satisfaction wholly and eternally in themselves.
Why am I saying all this? Because to die to self and sin is not only to stop pursuing the desires and satisfactions that are futile, but to pursue something or someone that is wholly self-satisfied and who is wholly self-satisfying. If sin is pursuing futile things, then it stands to reason that pursuing holiness involves pursuing that which is not futile—that which is self-sufficient. We are insufficient. But there is one who is totally and perfectly sufficient. There is one who is wholly satisfying and satisfied in himself. One who is self-defining by virtue of his own perfection.
This is the manner of what we learned in Christ. We learned to die to sin by desiring someone outside of ourselves who is fully satisfying. This is how we learned to walk in a way that is not futile. Christ came and showed us himself. Christ came to reveal to us the Father of lights who is without end or compromise. Christ sends to us a perfect helper in the Holy Spirit. In other words, Christ has come to bring us to God. In Christ’s coming, he gives us the model of what it means to set our mind not on vain things but on things that are everlasting and ever satisfying. We get God in Jesus. We no longer have to pursue the darkness. We no longer have to be calloused and despondent in our heart. It is no longer hardened by the chafing of things and people that fail us. No, it’s softened, it’s replaced with a receptivity, because God is here, and he has been found faithful to satisfy us with himself. We’re not calloused anymore by unsatisfying things. No by dying to self, by having new desires, we paradoxically find ourselves new. The way we walked before is no longer, and we’re given a new resolution to know the all-satisfying Christ by learning to walk as he walked. To do so is not only to obey God, but to know the infinite character and goodness of God.
And how has he satisfied us in himself? Well, he’s washed us not with obligations to stop doing things BUT he’s given us grace so that we might go on doing better things. It’s not about forcing ourselves to stop, it’s about replacing who we were before with what is new and more wonderful! Our focus is no longer on what we do, but on what’s been done for us. We live in a new light because all that can be done has been done. We are free! Free to do what we were made to do! Free to do what brings us the greatest pleasure and delight. Free to pursue what is lasting and eternally useful! Free to do what we desire, and what is not futile because they are things God desires—your pursuits become for God himself. Verses 17-19 are all about how you’ve pursued things until you were blue in the face, and all that was awaiting you at the end was eternal death. But now, the pursuit is done. And better yet, you did not learn about Christ by pursuing him, you learned about him by his pursuing you. You learned about him through his own grace. And this is our second point:
2) Be Resolved to Know Christ By Remembering Your Call—Your Call through Grace
Look with me at the first half of verse 21: if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him. This point is really quite simple, and it explains what verse 20 means. You know you learned the proper things about Christ based on what you’ve heard and what you’ve been taught. Look at these verbs. What do you notice about them? The thing that they have in common is that they place the hearer and learner in a receptive position. Those who hear and those who receive—action is being done to them. Hearers are being spoken to. Learners are being taught. In other words, those who hear and those who are being taught are passive participants—there’s nothing that you have to pursue. There’s no vanity that your mind has to consider on its own—no what is good, right, and true was brought to you. You didn’t become aware of Christ because you’ve done the right thing. No, knowing Christ is a matter of grace. You heard, and you believed. Then someone came and taught you further truths about Jesus, and your belief grew into greater faithfulness and love.
Now, you may be extremely nitpicky about this, and say, “well, there’s such thing as active listening. Surely, it’s necessary for me to have listened, and it’s necessary for me to have humbled myself in order to be taught. It’s not easy to sit in a classroom and take in a lot of information.” If this is your thinking, then you haven’t been reading the rest of the letter. In fact, you haven’t even been reading the last couple of verses, because this is what verses 17-19 says, “you were in the dark, you were unable to comprehend, you were alienated, you didn’t possess the life of God, you were ignorant, your heart was hard.” The ability to hear or be taught the things of Christ were not only impossible for you, they weren’t even on your radar.
Paul wants to make this abundantly clear for us that we heard about Christ, and we learned about Christ because we were called by grace. Where we deserved destitution, he gave us restitution. Where we ought to have been condemned, we were saved. I don’t want to gloss over this point. There’s so much theology here that’s important for you to know, and Paul’s gone through it over and over in this book, and he’s doing it once more here. He’s making it clear how deep God’s love for us is in saving us from sin.
We talked about it last week where sin, prior to conversion, is pervasive. What does it mean though for sin to be pervasive? Well it means two things. It means that we are steeped in both guilt and pollution. Guilt is our legal standing. We’re guilty before a holy God. There is nothing we can do or confess of ourselves when we stand before him. We are each responsible as children of Adam. Adam failed the cultural mandate given to him by God to fill the earth and subdue it as his representatives to all creation. And, because he sinned instead of obeying, as the head of humanity, the whole earth is covered in the effects of his sin—this includes us from the time of conception. We are conceived into sin. Guilt isn’t about what we’ve done, it’s about who we are as those who come after Adam. Ephesians 1 says this when it calls us children of wrath.
Not only are we children of wrath steeped in the guilt of Adam, we are also, because of the effect of Adam’s sin, corrupted and polluted in our actions. We are polluted in such a way that it pervades our whole being, and it makes us morally inept. Every part of our nature from our minds to our hearts commits sin in its conduct. There’s never something that we do that is not stained with sin. Everything is tainted! This was brought to my attention one evening when I was praying with my friends for our meal, and in his prayer, he prayed for forgiveness and help even in our eating because it is impossible for us to eat without sin affecting us in some way. I’d never thought of it this deeply before—we are pervasively stained by sin—not just in the bad things, but in the good things as well—even in our eating.
And we are morally unable to choose to do good without sinful motivations. No one in their nature is motivated to love God. R.C. Sproul puts it this way. You have the natural ability to say yes and no to things. For example, someone puts a gun to your head while you’re at the atm, and he says to you, “give me your money or die.” I mean, you can technically choose to say, “I’ll keep my money.” But I’m pretty sure you desire to live and spend your future money rather than die and never have the opportunity to spend money again. See, you’re technically, naturally able to choose to take the bullet, but your inclinations and your desires pull you in the direction of giving up the money instead of your life. This paints a picture of how sin affects our lives. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t think twice in that situation. You’d literally jump at the gun to give your money away so that you can get away. We do the same for sin. We jump at the opportunity to sin, because what we want to do is sin. We are utterly guilty and pervasively corrupt.
Now, it’s not just theology! Just look at what we wanted on a day-to-day basis before we found Christ. Really think about it! Had Christ not come into your lives—would you have naturally chosen to follow him? Would he have been as sweet to you, if it was something you brought about by your own power? When you pray, do you pray, “Dear God, I praise myself for coming to the realization on my own that you are God, and because of this I am worthy of your favour,” or do you say, “Dear God, I praise you, body and soul, that when I was far from you and wanted nothing to do with you, you saved me by the blood of the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit?”
This is why it’s so important to understand what Paul is saying here in verse 21. You heard about him and you were taught in him—the emphasis isn’t on your ability to hear or your effort to learn—you were deaf before! You were inept before! But when Christ calls us—when we hear him, and when we are taught—what takes place is a reorientation of our entire disposition brought about by grace. Grace changes what we want. We can’t choose to do what is pleasing to God unless God chooses to make us want to do what’s pleasing to God. Does this make sense? We always choose according to our strongest inclination. We always choose that thing that grips our heart. And unless, we are called by the grace of God, we will always choose sin. It is Christ who makes us hear. It is Christ who makes us able to learn. And we have heard about him, and we have been taught about him, because when we heard it was the best news we’d ever received, and when we were taught it was the best lesson, we’ve ever received.
This is the consuming nature of the gospel! In order to beat sin, we need a desire more potent and more wonderful than the most wonderful thing this world has to offer, because nothing in this world can truly satisfy. And this is why God offers us himself in Jesus.
This is the glory of the Christian life. God has come and spoken to us the truth of Jesus in Jesus, so that we might hear him. God has come and given us the Spirit to teach us the truth about Jesus, so that we might grow in our knowledge of him. He comes to give us himself, and to make much of himself, because unless he does, we are totally inept, utterly corrupt, hopelessly guilty. The natural man chooses to pursue futile things, but the spiritual man, the one awakened to the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ, is pursued by what is eternal and good. And he responds by doing eternally good things for an eternally good God because it is what his heart now desires.
We Christians are resolved to know Christ by remembering our call, because it is a call of unmerited favour when we least deserved it. It is a call of grace to know the true Christ.
3) We are resolved to know Christ by fixing our eyes on the truth.
This is that last part of verse 21: “just as truth is in Jesus.” The comparative language here, “just as” is referring to the work of the apostles. Just as the apostles communicated to you who Christ is and taught you what it means to follow him, they derived these truths from Jesus himself.
Nevertheless, this is a strange text not only because it reads a little funny in both the English and Greek, but also because it ends simply with Jesus and not Jesus Christ or Jesus, our Lord. Did you know that the standalone reference to Jesus only happens seventeen times in the Epistles? And the reason why Paul does this is because he wants to make a reference to the historical person of Jesus. Paul isn’t trying to reflect on his messiahship as Christ. He isn’t trying to invoke his authoritative position over our lives as Lord. No, he’s referring to the truth that is in the historical person of Jesus.
It is Christ who did not live according to the vanity of his mind. It is Christ who did not possess a darkened understanding. It is Christ who was never alienated or estranged, and he was never cut off from the life of God. It is Christ who was never ignorant in himself. It is Christ who did not have hardness of heart. It is Christ who never gave into sensuality, uncleanliness, or greed. All of his life, it is Christ who never sinned.
Yet upon that cross, it is Christ who was mocked in vain. It is Christ who experienced utter darkness. It is Christ who was estranged in his humanity from the presence of God. It is Christ whose earthly life was stripped by God himself. It is Christ who was condemned in human ignorance. It is Christ who experienced man’s hardness of heart at an innocent man upon a cross. There, he took our lashes and our brokenness. There he gave us license to pursue holiness. There he cleansed our impurity. There he satisfied our greed for things that can never satisfy.
This historical Jesus is who you have learned about. He is the one who was proclaimed to you in your hearing, and the one whom you have studied in his being taught to you. See how in these two verses, Paul refers to Jesus four times! The main point about all of this is JESUS! This historical Jesus is the one who lived the perfect life and, then, died the sinner’s death.
But this historical Jesus did not only live perfectly, and he not only died for sinners, he rose again three days later triumphant over the grave, the wrath of God, and the sins of the world, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. He came to give eternal life, and life in abundance.
Paul, by referring to the historical Jesus and leaving out his other titles of Christ and Lord makes it essential that we acknowledge him as Christ and Lord. He is the Messiah come to liberate his people from the bondage not of worldly oppressors but of the devil and our own damnable state. He is the Lord come to claim his throne as King and Ruler of the universe. All things are made subject to him. He is the Lord of Glory. For it is Christ who, in his eternal state of exaltation, condescended and humiliated himself by taking on a human nature while hiding the glory of his divine nature. He walked on this earth as one frail and weak in his humanity while, at the same time, upholding the cosmos by his eternal power. He was and is exalted in eternity while, in his humanity, he was mocked and condemned. The eternal Son of God is worthy of praise as divine Creator, the incarnational Son of God is worthy of praise as our perfect Saviour. He is the “Lord of Glory,” as B.B. Warfield put it—he has authority in every dominion as the most supreme and glorious one because of what he has accomplished both in eternity and in time. The glory of God is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ because he is worthy of praise to an incomparable degree, and we are called to fix our eyes on this Jesus—for that is where the truth is—that is where life abounds—that is the manner in which we have learned: to forsake sin and to cling to Christ.
All you have to do is keep your eyes there, and you’ll know that it’s not about fighting a life of sin. It’s about embracing a life—an eternity—of joyful satisfaction. And how hard is it to keep your eyes on something that beckons your attention? When my son wants my attention, all he has to do is look at me. Seriously. I could be 1000 feet deep in thought, and if I catch him from the corner of my eye looking at me, all of my concentration, all my effort, everything I was thinking goes out the window. Looking at him is effortless. Going to him is effortless. Fixing my eyes on him and making him my sole focus of all my actions, until he looks at me again, is effortless.
Christ has come, and his news is great news for us, because he tells us that for those whom he draws near to, he shall make their burden light. He shall pour upon them the water of life in such a way that they will never thirst again. He shall make it so that knowing who he is and trusting in him as our only hope of salvation, as our Lord and our Christ, is effortless.
This doesn’t mean that the Christian life is easy. But what makes it difficult isn’t believing in Jesus. Rather, it’s our sin, it’s the temptation of the world, and it’s the lies of the devil. These things want you to put your hope in this life and its fading pleasures. The more we listen to these things, the more difficult the Christian life becomes, but I am telling you if you fix your eyes on the truth of Christ, if you remember on a regular basis that he is not only the eternal Sovereign of the universe but also the holy one condemned for your sin, then it doesn’t matter what your circumstances in this life are. His joy and salvation with fill your days, and he will give you the resolve to know him as Lord and Christ—the head of his one body under one God as one household.
The dawn of the end of the age has come. Sin has lost its dominion. Jesus has come to destroy it and usher in God’s kingdom. He comes to vanquish the evil of the world. He comes to throw the devil into an eternal pit of fire, and there he shall burn. But you, dear Christian, he has come to ransom you to himself. He has come to usher in a new people whom he loves and who love him. He has come to bring us into his eternal presence, and one day, he shall clothe us with power from on high and with glory that radiates from within. On that day, he shall be our God, and we shall be his people from everlasting to everlasting. On this Jesus, we fix our eyes all the days of our lives. On this Jesus, we give all praise for he is worthy of it as our eternal King and our perfect Saviour.