You were created to become like Christ: Ephesians 4:17-32
When you were young, who
were your heroes? Who did you want to become? Who did you pretend to be? Whose
posters did you have on your bedroom wall? My first recollection was wanting to
be the Lone Ranger. Then it was Scott Tracy of Thunderbirds.
Then it was David McCullum as the Man from UNCLE. Then I finally grew up, and simply wanted to be James Bond. What about pop stars? Who did you idolise? While my mother probably wanted me to grow up to be like Cliff Richard, I wanted to be Paul McCartney of the Beatles. But, strumming a tennis racket and growing my hair long didn’t make me a rock star. In the 1970’s I graduated to the Beach Boys and made myself a full sized surfboard at school.
The problem was it didn’t float… In the 1980’s when Steve Ovette and Sebastian Coe were competing for an Olympic place, I bought myself a tracksuit and went through a jogging phase but it didn’t last more than a fortnight. In the 1990’s when Tiger Wood was winning every golf tournament, I bought myself a new cap and putter to try and improve my game, but it hasn’t worked, yet. Aspiring to be like someone else is natural. Whether it’s a positive or negative role model seems to depend on whether you are a parent or a child.
Let me ask you this one, did your parents ever want you to become like Jesus? Because the amazing truth is that you were created for nothing less. “From the very beginning (of time), God's plan has been to make you like his Son, Jesus. This is your destiny. God announced this intention at creation:
'Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness'" (Genesis 1:26). Like God, our spirits are immortal and will outlast our earthly bodies; Like God we can think, reason and solve problems;
Like God we can give and
receive real love; Like God we know right from wrong. But the image of God has
been marred and distorted by sin and separation from God. That is why Jesus
came. So that through him we might become children of God. Let me be
absolutely clear: [We] … will never become God, or even a god. That prideful
lie is Satan's oldest temptation. Satan deceived Adam and Eve when he promised,
"you shall be as gods." Many religions and philosophies still promote
this old lie that we are divine or can become gods. This desire to be a ‘god’
shows up every time we try to control our circumstances, our future and people
But as creatures, we will never be the Creator. God doesn't want you to become a god; he wants you to become godly -- revealing his values, attitudes and character. In our reading today, God says,
"take on an entirely new way of life --
a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into
your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you" (Ephesians
God's ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character, character development. He wants you to grow up to become the person he created you to be. Becoming like Christ does not mean losing our personality or becoming a mindless clone.
God created your uniqueness, so he doesn't want to destroy it. Christ-likeness is all about transforming your character, not your personality. God wants you to develop the kind of character described in the beatitudes of Matthew 5, the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, and the great chapter on love of 1 Corinthians 13...
Ephesians 4:24 says, “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” So how do we become like God?
Please turn with me to Ephesians 4 and let’s find out:
1. Recognise what we shall be - our future (4:11-16)
In these verses we have a glorious vision of our future.
“so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)
This is God’s intention. This is God’s initiative. He wants us to grow up to become like Christ. Knowing what God intends for us to become, gives meaning and purpose to life now. Yesterday was a very important day for our Church leaders. We met to pray and strategise the next steps we need to take to realise our 2020 Vision. We are a work in progress. We are under construction. Individually and corporately. Check out the e-news this week for some of the priorities the Lord has laid on our heart for the year ahead.
Notice Paul uses here words like “infants” “grow up” “mature” and interestingly the word “work” twice (4:12, 16). What has Church got to do with growing up or with work? If you have had teenagers you will know that maturity only finally comes when they start paying the bills instead of causing the bills.
They grow up when they start work. The same is true in the church. We grow up when we get out to work. Verse 11,
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, [the curates, the children’s pastors, the youth pastors, the student pastors, the Associate and Executive Pastors and the Administrators] to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
So the role of the evangelists, the pastors and teachers and our staff team in Virginia Water is to “equip God’s people for works of service”. Notice who does the ministry - the works of service.
That is why we make no
apology for expecting everyone who considers themselves a member of Christ
Church to give a minimum of one hour a week in service. Why? Because this is
how we grow up to maturity. If you want to know whether you are an adolescent
Christian or a maturing Christian let me ask you, do you equate church with
work or with play? With work or with rest?
Do you see church as a recreational pursuit, a hobby or a club?
If you want to be mature, think career more than club. Think exercise rather than entertainment. Because from the perspective of eternity, what you do in and through the Church is infinitely more significant than what you might do for your secular employer.
On Sundaysd and mid-week, we are shaping one another’s eternity.
“For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)
That is why our 2020 Vision is so important. It sets out in a series of biblically inspired affirmations – the kind of church we intend, by God’s grace to become. Are you in or out?
How do we become like Jesus? First, by recognising what we were created for - growing up. “to become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) Recognise what we shall be - our future. The second thing we need to do to become like Jesus is:
2. Repudiate what we once were - our past (4:17-19)
“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. 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. 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.” (Ephesians 4:17-19)
Notice the imperative language in verse 17. “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” Remember what life was like before you trusted in Christ?
Before you received Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?
You may not put it in such stark terms as here, but God does.
And if you don’t yet regard yourself as a Christ follower - maybe you don’t think you need Jesus this bad yet, then listen to how God describes your condition. Notice the words God uses to describe our condition without Jesus. “futility” “darkened” “separated” “ignorance” “hardening” “lost all sensitivity” “sensuality” “indulgence” “impurity” “lust”. When ‘I’ am on the throne of my life – God says I am ignorant, insensitive, indulgent, impure, immoral. I don’t know how to break it more gently. You may see yourself as a good person. I won’t argue with that.
God’s image is in everyone of us and his creation is good.
God is not saying I’m as bad as I could be, just that I’m never going to be as good as I should be. I’ve yet to meet someone who disagreed with that. That is why God says “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” (Ephesians 4:17). 1st Century Ephesus was little different to 21st Century Britain. See what happens when you substitute “British” for “Gentiles” “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the British do.”
“Probably the most obvious example is found in the entertainment media, which offers itself as the mirror of ourselves. [“Big brother” and its derivations is just the latest example but there are many more. Why are Coronation Street, Emmerdale and East Enders so popular? Most of what is offered in films and on TV is inane, time consuming weirdness. To buy our time we are offered insipid humour, bizarre talk shows, and endless titillation. Little is instructive in a positive way… “you must no longer live as the British do.” Most people going to the cinema are aged 12-24, a crucial age when they are being shaped morally and spiritually. What are they presented with? Far too much overt sex, promiscuity, sexual deviancy and violence, especially to women. “you must no longer live as the British do.” Wilson Mizner reportedly said, “Hollywood is a sewer with service from the Ritz-Carlton.” Forty years ago - when films were relatively innocuous – I remember debates in Church on whether Christians should attend. Now that they are even more explicit, isn’t it interesting so few are even asking the question?
Yesterday there were massive
demonstrations in Jerusalem. 120,000 ultra-orthodox European Jews protested. What
about? They were demanding their children be educated separately.
They were refusing to let their girls share classrooms with other orthodox Jewish pupils who had televisions at home. While we may think that is a little extreme, perhaps we could learn to use the buttons on the TV control more often. “you must no longer live as the British do.” Materialism is another curse that dominates our culture. While most of the world does not have enough to eat, we want what we do not need. We gauge success by the accumulation of possessions - positive and useful in themselves, but heavy baggage and terrible masters. The more we give in to desires, the more controlling they become. Desires are not bad in themselves. They are God-given assistants, but they need a Lord. Give them one.” “you must no longer live as the British do.” The Bible warns,
"Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out.... Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you" (Romans 12:2 Message).
On a daily basis, we must make a counter-culture decision to become more like Jesus. Otherwise, other forces like your peers, parents, co-workers and culture will mould you into their image.
If you want to become like God - First - recognise your future - what we will be. Second - repudiate your past - where we have come from - without hope, without meaning, without purpose, without Jesus. Finally - if you want to become like God,
3. Reckon what we are becoming - our present (4:20-30)
“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. … (Ephesians 4:20-21)
”Becoming like Christ is neither instant nor automatic. The more time we consciously spend with him, the more we become like him.
In Acts 4 notice the effect the Apostles had on the Jewish leaders.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”(Acts 4:13)
They took note of what? They had been with Jesus. That is what happens when you have been with Jesus. People notice.
This is what God intends. "This
will continue until we are ... mature, just as Christ is, and we will be
completely like him" (Ephesians 4:13 CEV). We do not need training courses
We don’t even have to think about doing evangelism.
Spend regular time with Jesus and people will notice.
In this passage the imagery
shifts to the school - for that is where we are today - in school - and we remain
in school as long as we live. Twice Paul uses the phrase “were taught” (4:21
The Church is literally a school - which is why our bible study groups are so essential if we want to grow to become like Christ.
If the focus in these verses is on the school, what is our curriculum? Who is our teacher? How are we taught? The answer to all three is Jesus.
1. Jesus is our curriculum “come to know Christ” (4:20). The RSV translates this as “learn Christ”. We become like God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no other way. He is our curriculum.
2. Jesus is our teacher “heard of him” (4:21). This should more accurately simply read “heard him”. Paul assumes that through the voice of their teachers they literally heard Christ.
3. Jesus is our model “taught in him… the truth that is in Jesus” (4:21). Paul changes from the title ‘Christ’ to ‘Jesus’ seems deliberate, because the historical Jesus is our model - he embodies the truth he teaches. So Jesus is our curriculum, our teacher and our model. The Bible is clear, as we shall see next week that it is the function of the Holy Spirit who makes us like Christ.
So you are a work in progress. Your spiritual transformation in developing the character of Jesus will take the rest of your life, and even then it won't be completed. It will only be finished when you get to heaven or when Jesus returns, what verse 30 calls “the day of redemption”. In verses 22-24, Paul summarises our three responsibilities as we work toward that goal, that day.
3.1 Repent – turn away from the old ways (4:22)
“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.” (Ephesians 4:22)
We must daily turn away from old ways. The Message translates verse 22 even more dramatically,
“Everything… connected with that old way of life has to go. Its rotten through and through. Get rid of it.” (Ephesians 4:22 Message)
Repent – turn away from the old ways
2. Rethink - see things from God’s perspective (4:23)
“to be made new in the attitude of your minds.” (Ephesians 4:23)
3. Renew - put on the character of Christ (4:24)
“and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24)
And knowing we are busy people, God spells out the application in language that is crystal clear. If you want to be like God this week, here is your assignment. Lets say it out loud to one another.
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:25-32)
Is that clear? The question is, how much time are you going to invest this week to completing your assignment? I don’t want to embarrass anyone with a gender sensitive illustration, but how long did you take to decide what you were going to wear this morning? To do your teeth? Your hair? Your make up? There’s the foundation, the anti-wrinkle cream, the mascara, the lip stick, the deodorant, the moisturizer, the perfume, and maybe some I’ve mssed. Don’t get me wrong, you are worth it.
I’m not suggesting you change your lifestyle. I’m just suggesting we think about the amount of time we spend to put on what we are going to have to take off a few hours later. Compare that with the amount of time we give to put on what will last for eternity - the character of Christ - in our devotions, our bible reading, prayer life, service on Sunday. Lets covenant to take more time to put on the new self - in the conscious decisions we take about what we think, what we do and what we say. Because you’re worth it. God thinks you are worth it. Jesus thought you were worth it so much he was prepared to die to make you a child of God.
If you want to become like God -
1. Recognise your future - what we will be,
2. Repudiate your past - where we have come from
3. Reckon what we are becoming in and through Jesus
“Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper: He wants to make us like himself before he takes us to heaven. This is our greatest privilege, this is our immediate responsibility, and this is our ultimate destiny.” Lets pray.
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan, 2002) pp. 171-173.
 Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary, Ephesians, (Zondervan , 1996) pp243-244.
 John Stott, The Message of Ephesians (IVP, 1979), pp179-180
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan, 2002) pp. 176-178.