I’ve had the privilege of teaching through the first few chapter of Ephesians over the past months. It has been one of the most formative series’ for me personally that I have ever done. Studying the book of Ephesians in depth has really shaped and formed my theology – and I am convinced that I have only scratched the surface of this great book.
One of the things that I have enjoyed about teaching this book is how absolutely gospel-centered the book is! Today I find myself in Ephesians 4:17-24, which reads:
 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!—  assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,  to 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. (Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV)
At first glance the passage seems to be about behavior and the way that we are supposed to act as followers of Christ. Indeed, this is a portion of what Paul writes about, but as Evangelicals we have often jumped to the list of do’s and don’ts and have missed the gospel in it! The very first thing that Paul says in this passage is that the reason that we disobey God, the reason that we act the way we do… is because our hearts are HARD towards Him. That’s a lot bigger problem than, “I just can’t stop being greedy or sleeping with my girlfriend.” Those are symptoms of the problem, but the problem is a lot deep than the fact that we simply can’t conform morally to the way that God wants us to ACT. The problem is that we don’t really want to. The problem is that we have a hard heart.
Here are a few things that I’ve observed over the years. It’s tiring to try to act a certain way. It’s tiring to try to fight the same sin over and over – and feel like I’m losing every time. It’s crippling to my walk with the Lord. It’s frustrating! I’ve also come to find out that I am fighting on the completely wrong front! I fought the symptoms for so many years. And, to a large extent, I think that the church teaches people to fight the symptoms… “Try harder to: love you wife like Christ loved the church, to stop looking at pornography, to view yourself the way God does, etc…” Our method has been to teach what God wants from us, and then tell people to try really hard to live it. But, the problem is, that hasn’t worked and it never will… because the problem is deeper.
What I love about this passage in Ephesians is that it identifies the real problem for us. We have a hard heart towards God, which leads us to wrong belief about where we find true life, which leads us towards idolatry, which always leads to a moral downward spiral. But, this passage also shows us how to find freedom and hope in the life. The hope that we possess as followers of Christ is that HE will give us a new heart (Jer 31:33, Ez 11:19)! It’s the new covenant that the OT saints saw on the horizon and hoped for with everything that was in them. God is the only one who can change a heart. But it requires us to stop playing church and admit that we need Him. I think for many people that is the greatest hold up. We have to admit our need, and He is faithful to transform our heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Only He can do it, and He is faith to do it.
And so, the way that we fight against sin is by reminding ourselves of the gospel. We preach ourselves the gospel daily. Because sin ONLY loses it’s hold on us as Jesus becomes more attractive. As he captures our affections, we start to live the life that He designed us to live. We cannot will ourselves to that place. The only way we get there is by Jesus becoming more beautiful than anything else.
Oh, that He might capture our hearts!