17th Sunday after Pentecost September 16, 2018
284, 761 (Worship Supplement 2000 - alt. TLH 372), 371, 301
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
“You hypocrites!” These are the stinging words which Jesus, on more than one occasion, directed toward the Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the law. A hypocrite is literally an actor, someone who puts on a costume. The Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers were putting on a show of piety and fellowship with God. They went to great lengths to make sure everyone could see how pious and godly they were. And they were, at least in one respect, successful, because to the people of Jesus’ day they were viewed as the godliest people. Since He is true God, Jesus could see past the costume of religiosity and to their very hearts. What He saw was that though they made bold confessions with their mouths and loud impressions by their actions, their hearts were far from God.
Deep down, every Christian has a fear of being a hypocrite. We have that fear because, while we confess to be followers of Jesus, sin is still present within us. We often feel as though we are just playing a part, that our attempts to present ourselves as Christians is just a put on.
The fact of the matter is that the life of the Christian is a “put on.” No, not in a way that we are just pretending to be righteous and godly, but in the sense that the righteousness that covers us belongs to another—to Jesus Christ. Thus: THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS A “PUT ON”
The Word of God which we will consider for this meditation is found written in Ephesians 4:17-29:
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. Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (ESV)
When we look at our own hearts and lives, we have to admit that there appears to be some hypocrisy in all of us. We come to church and pray and sing praises to God, but later in the week, these same tongues end up speaking harshly and stretching the truth to make us appear better before others. We bow our heads in prayer before our meals, thanking God for the blessings He has given us, but pride in our accomplishments can rear its ugly head within us at a moment’s notice. We sit and listen to God’s Word, acknowledging it to be true in all that it says, but then in our day to day living we often find ourselves tempted to do the opposite of what God’s Word says, and we fall to many of those temptations. When we fall to those temptations, our conscience then flares up and accuses us of being hypocrites—that our relationship with God is just a put on.
That term, “put on” is an interesting one. It’s an expression that comes from ancient Greek theater. A person “puts on” a costume and make-up and plays the part of another person. Of course, he isn’t really that other person; when the show is over, the actor is himself again. That’s exactly how we feel when we compare our lives to our confession. On the outside we go to great lengths to look like children of God, but on the inside we often feel like we are just deceiving ourselves and others.
Yet, in our text, Paul encourages us to “put on” the new man. How are we to understand that? Is our life to be a charade? Are we simply to claim that we are different, but not actually be different than the world? Notice that while much of what Paul talks about in our text does have to do with the way we behave, there is also much about the way we are inwardly. Paul is not encouraging us to ̴play the part” of being new, but to become completely new—inside and out. What he is saying is that we aren’t supposed to be just playing the part of being children of God, but that we actually are children of God.
You will notice that in verses 22-24 there is a string of what may appear to be commands: that you put off…and be renewed…and that you put on. In the Greek, these phrases are not commands, but statements of fact. That changes the whole meaning of these verses, doesn’t it? Instead of the Christian life being about how well I live and how well I keep from sinning and how faithful I am to do good, the Christian life is actually about the righteousness of Christ being credited to us and that is an accomplished fact. It is, as Paul writes at the end of verse 21, the truth which is in Jesus.
It is in this respect that the Christian life is the ultimate put on because it’s not about putting on a good show by outward works and piety, but it’s about being purified in our hearts, from which will flow pious and good works. But the heart is the primary matter. That’s what the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t understand. They thought as long as they said a few prayers, showed up at the synagogue services and paid their tithes, then everything must be good between them and God. That thinking is what resulted in Jesus calling them hypocrites and white washed tombs—clean on the outside, but unclean and dead on the inside.
We should take that lesson to heart and listen to what Paul is telling us here in our text. To be clean on the inside requires Christ filling our hearts with His peace, a peace that was purchased when He shed His blood on the cross for us and not one that we just pretend exists. It’s not a costume, but it is Christ supplying us with that righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, which is not a righteousness we can manufacture. Unless Christ’s righteousness is the object of your faith, you too can be nothing more than a white washed tomb, a fa�ade, an actor. But when Christ dwells in your heart by faith you have the ultimate put on because Christ is within you assuring you that your sins, though they be many, are forgiven.
The result of putting on this new man Paul mentions in our text. He writes about speaking the truth with one another, not being angry to sin, not harboring grudges, not taking from our neighbor what is his. This is a short list, but Paul could have gone on to mention refraining from sexual impurity, being kind and compassionate to our fellow human beings, being humble in our dealings with one another, being faithful in our service to God, being faithful spouses and faithful parents and faithful children. And we could go on, but the point is that when we put on the new man, when we put on Christ, it’s not just a matter of an inner change and it’s not just a matter of an outer change, but it is a complete change—from a selfish and depraved way of thinking and acting to a godly way of thinking and acting.
But in the end, our attempts to be righteous in all our conduct will fall short. We will do something, think something, and say something that is inconsistent with our Christian faith. To deny this is the truest form of hypocrisy. We are sinners, and sinners sin, which is the very reason we need a Savior to begin with. As long as we are sinners, we will always need Jesus’ righteousness to be the garment we put on. We will never, this side of heaven, be able to claim to be truly righteous in ourselves. The grace of God is seen in that Jesus’ righteousness continues to cover us day by day even as His death on the cross is sufficient to provide us with forgiveness day by day.
So, don’t be afraid to let your life be a put on. No, I don’t mean go and just act like a Christian on the outside. Rather, let your life be the ultimate put on, the one where Christ’s righteousness covers you and in which His power works in you and through you. The world will still accuse you of being a fake and fraud. Because you have been corrupted by sin, you yourself will find inconsistencies between your confession and your life. That’s not an excuse, it’s a simple fact. Yet, when Christ dwells in your heart by faith, you will not only do those things that are pleasing to God, you will continue to possess that righteousness which others will not be able to see—the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us. AMEN!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, 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.