March 14, 2021 | Chad Gilbert
Coach John Wooden is one of the most celebrated coaches in the history of college basketball. Having coached UCLA from 1948-1975, in the strength of his stride, he led his team to 10 national championships over the course of 12 years. Within that period of 12 years, his team also won 88 consecutive games. In one of many books on the life of John Wooden, author Steve Jamison notes the significant role that Coach Wooden’s father played in his life. Upon leaving for college, his father wrote on a small notecard 7 rules for life, a list of 7 rules that had been adapted from a seven-point creed from John H. Clarke, a former Supreme Court justice.
The simplicity of the list was part of the power of the list.
In order, those 7 points are:
- Be true to yourself.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Help others.
- Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day.
- Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings every day.
Those rules' impact is seen on two levels – the first is that the list was from his father. Countless books and lists had been created from which Coach Wooden could have built a guiding list for living a good life, but this list was from his father, and that gave significance to the list otherwise absent in other lists and rules for life. Second, the list is concise – fitting neatly on a back of a notecard. The list was profound but simple, and as such, was easily committed to memory and thus lived. John Wooden, in many ways, built his life on this list. This list was his foundation for living life the way he did.
As we turn to Ephesians, chapter 4, we, the children of God, receive a list from our Father in Heaven, a so concise and powerful list that if lived in the Holy Spirit's power, truly is the good life.
Let me say that I plan to return to Ephesians 4, verses 1-16, in a sermon about servant leadership, but this morning, we will focus on Ephesians 4, verses 17 through chapter 5, verse 5.
Read Ephesians 4:17-5:5
First and foremost, we must see the foundation on which this list is given. Look at Ephesians 4:32 – “just as God also forgave you in Christ” and again in 5:2 “as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us.” That is the foundation for a life of holiness – a life that is good and right and pure and just. A forgiven life is a new life in Christ. Look at verses 17-24.
The description of “Gentiles” is the description of us all, as Paul makes clear in Ephesians 2:3 when he says, “We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thought, we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.”
Why do you think Paul has to remind the believers not once but twice about the former condition they used to live?
I believe it is, in part, because we forget the truth of our former misery of our former condition and remember only the pleasure of our former condition.
Psychologists have spent tens of thousands of hours and hundreds of millions of dollars endeavoring to understand the mind and why people persist in destructive habits. I am not a psychologist or licensed counselor, so I will not reduce the complexity of mental health and addiction to simplistic anecdotes spoken easily from a pulpit. Instead, I will affirm and appreciate what is now an ocean of research and evidence that confirms, not negates, what Paul twice says – that to live enslaved to the desires of the flesh, to live in a darkened understanding, to persist in ignorance, to have a hard, prideful heart, to practice promiscuity and impure actions is misery on top of misery on top of misery.
Every self-help book, the very profession of counseling, the need for psychology and sociology, and psychiatry acknowledges this – we need help. Things are not as they should be. We need to be enlightened in our ways of thinking. We need better lifestyles. Human thriving is hindered. Something is wrong.
But where Paul would lose an audience, just as he lost many audiences in his own day, is in this – identifying the root need in every human heart to be forgiveness from God.
Paul lays it down as the foundation. In chapter 2, Paul says we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).
Today, serious scholars and researchers become so furious with Christians who seem to say to every form of mental illness, every form for abuse and neglect, every form for counseling, psychology, and psychiatry – “you just need Jesus” or “just read the Bible and pray more.”
Brothers and sisters, we often read such anger as opposition to Christ, but I suggest to you today that some of their anger is warranted. We need to train our language in accordance with the Scriptures. The consistent message of God’s Word is this: Salvation from sin is the greatest need of every human being.
We are not saying that people who have a mental illness don’t have a chemical imbalance, that appropriate medicine would not help, or that some conditions are chronic– but we are saying that even if chemical balance is achieved, the correct medications and doses are achieved, or even a cure realized, the greatest need of that person will still be salvation from sin.
We are not saying that people suffering from abuse and neglect don’t need rescue, protection, and counseling – but we are saying even after being rescued, even after finding excellent protection, and even after received world-class counseling, the greatest need of that person will still be salvation from sin.
We are not saying that people with addictions don’t need support, 12-step programs, or at times, inpatient treatment – but we are saying that even if sobriety is experienced, support is given in abundance, and the treatment facility works, the greatest need of that person will still be salvation from sin.
Brothers and sisters, we don’t have to get terminal degrees in social sciences, medical science, or become licensed counselors to hold this true understanding of the greatest need of all humans. At the same time, we should be humble and wise enough to acknowledge that because of our own ignorance in social sciences, medical sciences, and counseling, that we don’t need to dismiss entire disciplines in thoughtless, ignorant ways by saying, “All you need is Jesus.” It sounds like high praise for Jesus, but it is, unfortunately, a tool we use to shut people up and shut people down who are going through things we have never experienced and do not understand. Instead, we can, with integrity, say, “I don’t understand all that you are going through, but I know this personally - our greatest need is Jesus. Can I pray, asking Jesus to give us wisdom and grace for what you are facing?”
Chad, are you saying that if each person in each scenario had found Jesus first, then there would have been no need for anything else?
First of all, the question is speculation, and we are wise not to speculate. Instead, I will share a case study of first-hand experience. To protect her identity, I will call her Sarah. The phone rang one day, and Sarah was on the other end of the line. “Hi, my sister said I should call you because I am in a really bad situation and I don’t know what to do. I am pregnant with twins, but I know I can’t keep them because of everything going on in my life, and I was about to have another abortion, but something stopped me from doing it. I am supposed to have these babies in 3 weeks, and I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?”
Sarah did not know that a family in our church was eager to grow as a family through adoption and that we had been praying about which road to take.
I shared with Sarah that I was so inspired by her courage and willingness to reach out for help and committed to doing all that I could to help. We prayed together, and I set to work on making phone calls.
I contacted the family in the church open to adoption, and they were immediately open to this situation. They and another support family sprang into action to meet this expectant mother, start the legal work needed for an adoption, and walked with this mother all the way into delivery and birth. After birth, Sarah made the unexpected but courageous decision to keep her two girls. Obviously, the families at our church were heart-broken, having prepared their home and hearts to receive two daughters, but this is where the story gets good.
Rather than turning away from Sarah, these two families, and others in the church, wrapped themselves around Sarah and began to do everything needed to care for her as she cared for two baby girls. It was incredible to watch. Sarah had mental health issues, economic challenges, educational barriers, and seriously unhealthy relationship issues with the girl’s father.
But her greatest need was salvation from her sin.
In love, these families and the church arranged for counseling – and shared the Gospel.
In love, these families provided economically and took care of her physical needs – and shared the Gospel.
In love, efforts were made and successfully achieved to connect Sarah with a program to help her get an education, be taught parenting skills, find a good job, and continue to work through multiple challenges that come to single parents – and they shared the Gospel.
Months after the girls were born, Sarah came to the place of realizing her greatest need was salvation from her sin, and for her greatest need, she trusted that God gave His greatest gift – Jesus, who alone could save her. And save her He did!
It was incredible to watch her come to life! There was literally a vitality that was visible in her eyes as she came to experience the love of God for her. She began to grow as a sister in Christ. She began to trust Christ and experience His wisdom, direction, protection, and goodness.
But does that mean she no longer had mental health challenges? No.
Months after her salvation, as the difficulties of being a single parent mounted and an effort of the girl’s father’s parents to gain custody of the girls became intense, Sarah went through a time of deep depression and anxiety. The guilt of previous abortions weighed heavy on her. Some of the initial support for Sarah had waned as the months went by.
Sarah needed medication to help with the deep bouts of depression and anxiety. Does that mean that Jesus failed? Does that mean that Jesus is not enough? No. In fact, Sarah gives the credit to Jesus that she turned to a mental health professional rather than alcohol and drugs, which had been her former way of life. She gives Jesus the credit that she did not commit suicide, which she had been very tempted to do in the past in difficult times. She gives Jesus credit for the very things that some might look at and say – “see, Jesus doesn’t work. See, Jesus isn’t enough. See, Jesus is just a crutch.”
Sarah’s life and countless others reveal and demonstrate that the greatest need of every human being is salvation from sin. But more than that, the cross of Jesus Christ reveals that the greatest need of every human being is salvation from sin because that is why Jesus died. He died to save us. He died to cleanse us. He died that we might live.
And it is living – Christian living – that Paul turns to address on the foundation that Jesus has saved us from our sins.
Look again in verse 20
Read verses 20-24.
If I had to sum up what Paul is saying here, I would say it this way – “There is an old self to take off, and there is a new self to put on. But you won’t know either without the Word.”
“There is an old self to take off” – “There is a new self to put on” – “But you won’t know either without the Word.”
The old ways here in these next verses are seen in several ways:
Lying – “There is an old self to take off.”
- Lying is common.
- On our phones: “Leaving now” “I’ll be a few minutes late” “Sorry I missed your call.”
- At the office: Rather than saying “I forgot,” we say “I’m working on that right now,” rather than saying, “You are not good at interpersonal relationship skills,” we say, “We’re restructuring.”
- At home: Starting a sentence with “You always…” or “You never..” Telling your kids you will do something you don’t do. Telling your spouse, “I forgot” about that thing they asked for your help with when really you had no intention of doing it. Telling your family, “I’m sorry I’ve got to work late,” when really you don’t want to go home.
- To ourselves: “this is the last time,” “I won’t let this go too far,” “I don’t have a problem and really can quit when I am ready” – or “This is who I’ll always be” “he was right about me, or she was right about me.”
- Lying is serious.
- Revelation 21:8 says, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murders, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
- In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lie to the apostles, and they both fall dead for having lied to the Holy Spirit.
- Speaking about the devil, Jesus says of him in John 8:45, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
- The weight of this is lying is satanic, demonstrating a likeness to Satan and not to Christ.
Chad, you're being a little rough. I mean, why are you coming down on all these smaller things like a text message that is kinda true.
Please hear me – you and I don’t have the luxury of looking at our life any other way as either life or death, light or darkness, true or false. We think we do – but have you not seen the news for the past 4 decades? All these little lies add up to a lying lifestyle that eventually explodes. They add up to a marriage that eventually explodes. They add up to kids that eventually explode. They add up to a job that eventually explodes.
- The opposite of what is called for, which would represent the old self, would be
- Being angry and sinning.
- Examples of this would include violence, slander, hatred, and even murder.
- Being angry and sinning.
- Letting the sun go down on your anger
- People who depend on daylight for a job endeavor to get the job done well before the sunsets because if you are left in the dark to finish up or clean up, mistakes happen, people get hurt, and in many contexts, you are vulnerable to attack.
- That is exactly what we see here: Paul is essentially saying, “Get it done quickly. Don’t wait until the end of the day and possibly get caught in the dark to deal with the situation over which you are angry. If you do, you are likely to give the devil the perfect opportunity to ambush you.”
- There is an old self to put off – “Let the thief no longer steal.”
- Theft is spoken of in the New Testament in the same serious terms that lying is.
- Like lying, we steal in ways we rarely think of:
- We steal productivity from our employer by working on personal plans or having personal conversations for extended periods of time
- We steal the thoughts and work of someone else when we plagiarize another's thoughts and work on a paper we are writing without providing proper footnotes.
- We steal recognition that belongs to someone else and the hard work they do when we accept credit for something we didn’t do
- We steal joy from our family when we punish them with our bad attitude because we didn’t get our way about where we would eat, what we would watch, what we would do that evening, and so on.
- We attempt robbery from God of his glory when we go through this life, not giving credit to God for our existence when we take credit for the creation of a baby in the womb when we credit our minds to the intelligence of our parents rather than the God who made the brain and mind. We are stealing from God every day the credit He rightly deserves, the glory of which He is due.
- There is a new self to put on.
- “Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands so that he has something to share with anyone in need.”
- “But you won’t know either without the Word.”
- The Old Testament is full of examples of this:
- One example is gleaning – a farmer was to work diligently, preparing the soil, planting the seed, dealing with weeds and other pestilences, and then at harvest time, rather than plucking the field trip, God instructed this hard-working farmer to do something for the poor in his community – rather than completely clear his field, he was to leave some of the produce still hanging if some had fallen on the ground, he was to leave it for others to come behind him to pick the field clean. In this way, we see that God has all along been giving his people the same kind, generous standard of living.
- The Old Testament is full of examples of this: