The 13th Sunday After Pentecost August 18, 2013
382, 402, 430, 605
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the love of God, which not one of us deserves, nonetheless be multiplied to you; and may God grant you to know the peace which comes in trusting Jesus Christ to be your Savior from sin and Hell. Amen.
Sensitivity Training—the very words cause spontaneous groans and eye rolling in most folk, but I wonder if sensitivity training isn’t actually becoming more and more important in our day. The question is just who needs to be protected, or in other words, what sort of “sensitivity” we need to gain or renew.
We’ll make the point this way: What sorts of characters are routinely glamorized by Hollywood and which are routinely mocked or vilified? Think back to your favorite movies. Who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys”?
The folks that are routinely pictured in a positive—albeit sometimes misunderstood—light are outlaws, homosexuals, prostitutes, transvestites, rock stars, feminists, permissive parents, animal rights activists, abortion supporters, religious leaders of any denomination other than Christian, and pretty much anything with the word “green” attached to it.
Which characters, on the other hand, are routinely pictured in a negative light? True, practicing Christians, strong fathers, stay-at-home moms, pastors, anyone who is opposed to a woman’s “right” to kill her baby, hunters—who kill animals that are evidently more valuable than babies—and any and all parents who actually discipline their children.
In short, the world in which we find ourselves is obsessed with turning virtue into vice and vice into virtue. To that end we could all use some sensitivity training from time to time, but this is, obviously, a much different kind than that of which the world routinely speaks. The key is the source. You and I don’t want mankind’s fickle sensitivities forced on us. We want God’s sensitivity training.
Our text today does just that. It offers sensitivity training from our Creator God. The text for today’s training is a section of that magnificent fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Here ends the holy Word of God. May God the Holy Spirit give you the grace to know and accept these words for what they truly are—God’s words. God’s Word also offers this promise: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and treasure it!” (Luke 11:28). So also we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord, Your Word is truth!” Amen.
Those folks that currently seem bent on dramatically and radically changing our cherished American culture seem to have forgotten the tried and true maxim that the American people prefer to sip on their perversion, rather than gulp it down and see how it settles. The champions of revolutionary change have their foot mashed down on the “change” accelerator and a growing number of Americans are responding with a full-blown double-footed stomp on the brake pedal. It remains to be seen whether we will skid to a halt or sail right over the cliff that looms ever larger in the windshield of our future.
Satan has known for some time—since Adam, in fact—that radical change alarms us, disturbs us, puts us on guard and on edge. Gradual change doesn’t seem to bother us nearly as much. There is no end to the examples that prove this, but television is perhaps the best. What ordinary parent thirty years ago wouldn’t have jumped up and shut off the television set at the first hint of foul language or inappropriate behavior between men and women. Now many of these same parents rent videos for their children that couldn’t even have been televised 30 years ago. We accept these changes because they have been gradual, which somehow makes them seem less sinful.
Make no mistake, nothing today is less sinful than it was 30 years ago. The problem is that our Christian sensitivity is vanishing. Satan has been gradually turning up the heat on us, and we just seem to accept it as necessary and harmless. Why don’t we flee for our lives? Why don’t we publicly object? How long until we are boiled alive?
While it may be easy to point out the problem, the solution is a bit more difficult. We really can’t jump out of the “steaming pot” since we would have to leave the world. The entire human race is sinfully corrupt. There is nowhere to hide, not if we want to carry out Jesus’ Great Commission to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel…” (Matthew 28:19f). We cannot run and hide if we hope to reach out to the lost and condemned.
The solution is difficult, but our text has the only answer: Increase your Christian sensitivity by clearing the perversion from your life, and by replacing it in your heart with the Word of God.
There is no doubt that we have been dulled by the world around us. The foul language and impropriety that used to shock us no longer does. We accept the images of graphic, gratuitous violence, pornography, and crude humor as an inevitable and even necessary part of life. That’s like saying that it is necessary to hit every rut and pothole in the road if you want to get somewhere—as if there is no way to steer around most of them. Our text steps us through exactly how this is done. It begins, “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles do.” [v.17]
Somehow, somewhere, for some reason, we have come to the conclusion that we must more or less live exactly as the unbelievers do, and then justify it all on the basis of the Great Commission. We rent most of the same videos, watch the same television shows, read the same books, subscribe to the same magazines, listen to the same music, etc., etc. We make it so hard on ourselves by doing more or less exactly what they are doing, and yet we expect that it will somehow not affect us as it affects them.
Know well something about sin: It is the ultimate drug. Sin seems to satisfy the cravings of our sinful old Adam, but it never does. It leads always and only to a lust for more. And like most drugs, the “little sins” almost always lead to more horrible sins and greater addiction. Why do you think God in our text said of those controlled by sin: “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” [v.19 ESV] Sin is a taskmaster, a slaver, and you are its merchandise of choice. Rent out your basement apartment to sin, and it will inevitably take over the whole house. Sin will always control you.
The world asks, “Don’t Christians sin, as do those who do not believe?” Of course, Christians sin. The difference, in the words of our text, is that the unbelievers “have given themselves up to sensuality…” They have long ago quit the battle, if ever there was a battle, and they have lost their last faint glimmer of sensitivity. They have so wounded their consciences that there is nothing left but scar tissue. The result now is that almost nothing seems wrong. If it feels good, do it—which, by the way, is the same way a cow, a pig, or a dog approaches life.
But haven’t we already said that it is impossible for us to avoid all of these temptations? We cannot, after all, leave the world. Indeed we are supposed to be “lights” shining in this dark world. The answer lies beginning with verse 22 of our text: “… 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.” [vv.22-24 ESV]
Though the world lives by: “If it feels good, do it,” God in His Word tells us what does and does not please Him.Living according to what pleases our God, instead of what pleases our flesh, will never seem good and right to that old Adam in us. In fact it can seem like a downright unnatural way to live.
Know that the Old Adam in us—that sinful side we will all have until death or Judgment Day—is nothing but a brute beast. Like any farm animal, it will do whatever feels best to it. How then would you like to entrust your eternal future to a cow or a pig? Ridiculous? That is exactly the sort of thing we are doing when we allow ourselves to be ruled by our natural, brutish desires. By nature we have no more sense than any donkey, and yet the world brays, “It’s only natural! It’s only natural!” What more can we expect from a world that believes its ancestors were apes?
Our text talks about “putting off your old self” with its evil desires and “being 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.” Obviously we don’t do this to earn Heaven. Heaven was already earned for us when Christ Jesus lived a perfect life and then died for our sins on the cross. Indeed, whoever believes in Jesus already has the full forgiveness of sins.
Those who have been brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ daily desire to “put on the new man.” It is that new man that then joyfully engages in a daily, hourly, minute by minute battle against the evil that both surrounds us and lives within us. Understand that the power and ability we are talking about is not produced by man, it is given to man. We are not the source, God is. That’s why, for example, neglecting Bible reading is so damaging. It is in visiting with our God in His Word that His power is given to us. Paul once put it this way in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” That’s also why skipping our devotions and prayers is the spiritual equivalent of not eating. To feed your soul only on Sunday morning is to leave it weak and vulnerable. To skip a Sunday or two…you get the picture.
We cannot leave the world and we cannot fix the world. We can, however, most certainly cut away more of the rot than we have up until this point. We cannot keep from getting spattered by the mud of this world from time to time, but we can keep from wallowing in it. Using that timeless guide that never changes—the Bible—we can slowly regain and maintain the Christian sensitivity God wants in us.
We return then to the opening verses of our text: This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. [vv.17-19]
So is this really all just about behavior modification? In other words, if we just learn to be better, more moral people, all will be well? Not at all. Christianity is not all about correcting behavior. Corrected behavior is a fruit of the Christian faith. The Law always demonstrates our failure, and that ongoing failure teaches us of our desperate need for rescue—a rescue that we ourselves can in no way provide. Faith alone in Jesus Christ saves, not how well we lead our lives or the level of piety we can achieve. It is also true that allowing sin to remain and fester in our hearts invariably deteriorates faith. If left unchecked, sin will eventually strangle and destroy the life that God has created in us.
How do weak, sinful human beings prevent such things from happening to us? How do we frail, fallible, inconsistent creatures accomplish anything so good? We don’t. God does, and He does so through that Bread of Life that is His Word. That’s why it is so important to begin each day not just with prayer but with the reading or study of God’s Word. That’s why it is such a beneficial act to feast on the Word at public worship services and Bible studies. Those are the sorts of things that God has given us that “put on the new man.”
The very heart of Christian “sensitivity training” is not what man can or must do, it is all about what God has done and will continue to do in and for us. True sensitivity training is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is the simple truth that carries us from death to life. In other words, God’s is the only power that can accomplish anything good in and through us. That’s exactly why our text does not speak of a “debt of love” or “a sacred obligation that we need to fulfill.” It speaks rather of “being renewed in the spirit of your mind.” [v.23] That renewal, that sensitivity training, is always and only provided for us and in us by the Giver of all good gifts, and those gifts are poured out to us through His Word.
God grant then that we avail ourselves regularly of the power that is His, and that He longs to make ours. Amen.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.