"New Nature, Finer Fruit"
June 25, 2006 Eph.4:22-5:2,8-10
Today's outdoor service in a garden setting presents an opportunity to bless our Maker for the beauty of His handiwork we see around us - blue skies, green grass and shrubbery, punctuated by thousands of different shades of colour in flower blooms and variegated leaves. What a mighty, imaginative, creative God we serve! How marvellous, complicated, and delicate are the biochemical cycles and ecosystem interactions which could be explored even in just one small corner of a beautiful garden such as this! It's so incredible that we should be gifted with eyes to behold the panorama, skin to feel the breeze and soak up the warmth of the sunshine, a capacity to smell the gentle fragrances wafting through the air, and arms and legs and lungs to run and jump and fall on our backs overwhelmed by ever-changing cloud shapes overhead, or (shortly) to splash and dive in cool refreshing water. Even just to have the awareness or consciousness of how much we're enjoying it. Praise God for His glory, in which the whole earth is awash!
But the Lord created us as more than just body and soul; He has given us a spirit, too, regenerating us through His Holy Spirit when we are 'born anew' through trusting Jesus' name is what it means - "Saviour" (1Thess 5:23; Jn 3:3,5). We celebrate the creation of nature outdoors, around us; but even more, the NEW NATURE He creates inside us. Eph 4:23-24 tells us "to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." Col 3(10) says believers "have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator". This fundamental change or revolution inside people is central to Christianity; Paul explained that it's not outward works or legalistic rituals such as circumcision that mean anything - "what counts is a new creation"; and, "If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (Gal 6:15; 2Cor 5:17)
This garden (of the Uyls') lies along the beaten path for Yvonne and me when we take our evening walks. What changes we witness as the seasons pass! In winter, everything is leafless, grey, frozen and bare. But as the weeks go by, spring and summer come, the earth becomes carpeted once more with green, tulips and forget-me-nots jump forth, the lilies proclaim life has once again triumphed over the powers of decay. It's quite a transformation. But the Bible's trying to tell us God's waiting to work an even more amazing miracle in our lives, when He awakens faith and we become planted and rooted in Him. The stony coldness of the sinful self can be completely replaced by something better - His nature within us. Through the prophet Ezekiel (11:19; 18:31) God said, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh...Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?"
This morning with our Ephesians text we'll consider 5 nature-related dimensions of this new "heart" and "spirit" God's bringing about inside us: colour, temperature, tenderness, aroma, and fruit.
(1) What's the COLOUR of your life? I don't mean your skin colour, but the real you. What's your colour - more precisely, what are you doing with the light?
When we walk past here in the winter, and it's cold and snow's all over the ground and branches, the predominant colour is what? (White) If it's mostly white, how much light is being absorbed? (Not much) That's the case when it's winter, and everything's relatively dead and inactive. So, what's the predominant colour when you look around now? (Green) Why is it green - not orange or red or blue or white? [This will take a little more appreciation for high school physics and the electromagnetic spectrum!] (A: living plants absorb red and blue parts of the light spectrum to make food, leaving just the green to bounce back out.) How much light would be absorbed by a white leaf? How much food would it make? (Not much) So, it's like the white snow and white leaf reject the light, they don't take it in or have anything to do with it; while the living leaf takes a good deal of the light in, excites its chlorophyll, generates hydro inside the cell and makes food to sustain other earthly life-forms.
Spiritually speaking, the colour of our life depends on whether we receive or reject God's light. Ephesians 4:17-18 says Gentiles live "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..." NLT, "they are hopelessly confused; their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds..." No light, no life. But 5:8 talks about the difference Jesus makes: "You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord..." This comes about because of 4:21, "You heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the TRUTH that is in Jesus." God's truth brings light in our lives. Jesus is the truth, He testified before Pilate that He came to bring truth into the world; "everyone on the side of truth listens to Me." (Jn 18:37)
The light of the gospel cuts through the darkness and confusion that mixed up our lives before; Jesus gives us an absolute point of reference. To recognize God involves worship, bowing to Someone you perceive as having the greatest possible value. That inserts runway-markers and traffic lights in what before was a directionless chaos of relativism. Paul says in 4:19 that pagans have "lost all sensitivity", 'they don't care anymore about right and wrong' (NLT). As far as they're concerned, there are no eternal boundary markers, just competing and fleeting myriad shades of grey. But we're created and designed for more than that. 5:13f, "But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible." NLT: 'When the light shines on them, it becomes clear how evil these things are.' Suddenly life has meaning, there IS right and wrong, good and evil; there is a goal for which Creation was designed. Your own personal suffering and circumstances matter in the grand scheme of things. Seeing the light by acknowledging the truth of Jesus puts colour in our lives.
(2) What's the TEMPERATURE of your life? (2X) Are you 'hot' for God?
The renewal of nature called 'Spring' is associated with birds returning from the south and making their nests. Flowers bloom and spread their pollen. Fred and Wilma, our frogs-in-residence in our goldfish pond, start making amorous noises and soon the pond is filled with hundreds of tiny tadpoles. The renewal of physical nature goes along with a relentless drive toward reproduction. When the mare is 'in heat', there's just one thing she wants: the stallion. Temperature in that sense reflects our consuming drive.
Not sexually but spiritually speaking, what's the temperature of your life? Are you 'hot' for things that provide only passing pleasure, or are you driven and drawn by Kingdom goals? This earthly life and society offer many counterfeits. 4:19, "they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." NLT, 'Their lives are filled with all kinds of impurity and greed.' 5:5, Paul says quite pointedly, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-- such a man is an idolater-- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." NLT elaborates: 'For a greedy person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world.'
The focus of our worship is what we're 'hot' for. Whatever gives us our jollies, turns our crank, the 'default' direction in which we turn our attention when we have some free time - that's what raises our temperature. For some people, it's obvious - drinking or drugs or sex; for others, it's more subtle - maybe climbing the corporate ladder or having the finest house in the neighbourhood or the latest fashions. The Spirit through Scripture warns that greed is idolatry and capable of excluding us from God's kingdom as is lust or drunkenness. If we're 'hot' for the wrong things in this life, the counterfeits that don't lastingly satisfy, we'll burn in hell in the next.
There's an alternative, though: being 'hot' for God. Losing our life for Jesus and the gospel. 5:10 and 17 advise us, "Find out what pleases the Lord...do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." It's not supposed to be about what I want but what God wants - He knows what and can supply what truly satisfies, as we follow Him.
(3) Colour; temperature; next, how TENDER is your life? Is it responsive and absorptive, or resistant and rebellious?
Were I to take a pitchfork and try to shove it into the soil in the middle of winter, I might break off a tine - when the ground's frozen, it can be hard as rock. But now, after the renewal of nature in springtime, the warming of sunshine and softening of the rains, it's much easier to put in a fork, for the showers to penetrate, the roots to make their way towards other nutrients. The soil, instead of resisting, becomes receptive, a supportive and nourishing medium for growth.
Similarly, our lives can either be run independently through stubborn self-will, or we can be tenderized by Heaven's living water and thus relax, ready to mediate God's goodness and mercy as we have received it. (I'm not talking about being wimpy, a push-over or door-mat that is co-dependent with bullying; there is a healthy 'toughness' or degree of resilience.But too often we go too far and wall off our hearts out of fear others will hurt us or take advantage of us.There is a 'tenderness' that can be open and available to others within the limits of God's overarching protection.) Eph 4:18 says unbelievers are "separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts;" they have "lost all sensitivity..." NLT, 'their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against Him.' See the resistance there? "Not Your way, God, but MY way..."
And what's the result when we put our walls up and others (even with legitimate requests) start making demands of us? We get peeved, and push back. 4:26f, "In your anger do not sin...and do not give the devil a foothold." The apostle's implying there's something spiritually dangerous about anger: it opens a trap door by which the Enemy can sneak in and take over more ground. We're defending ourselves and resisting at the drawbridge, but all the while we're being invaded behind our back. NLT, 'for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil.' 4:31, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behaviour." Do you or your family members find you flying off the handle often? It's probably time to allow God to do a little poking around at your heart-issues.
Instead, 5:2 says, "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us..." Jesus didn't defend Himself; He took our punishment on Himself unjustly, without deserving it at all. He took the hit that should have been ours; He absorbed the pain, shame, and death that was due and owing on our account. 4:32 (NLT), "be kind to each other, TENDERhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."
Even the Old Testament recognized the tender, compassionate, absorptive quality of God's grace. Like the old blotting paper before the ballpoint pen was invented. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he prayed, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions...Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity." (Ps 51:1,9) Jesus soaked up our guilt, so we can be tender to others in turn.
(4) What's the aroma of your life? What do you 'smell' like? (No, I'm not concerned like the commercials with whether your antiperspirant leaves annoying white marks!) When Yvonne and I walk by here, sometimes there's a pungent perfume of lilacs in the air, or we might smell a fragrance of roses. However, on just a few days should we venture alongside of and downwind from the sewage treatment plant, there's a smell of quite a different sort! In the same way, our lives have a pleasant aroma or a stench, attracting others or driving them away.
4:22 says the 'old self' "is being corrupted by its deceitful desires..." The Greek verb is a strengthened form of one meaning 'to waste'. NLT translates this, "throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception." 4:29, "do not let any unwholesome tak come out of your mouths"; NLT, 'don't use foul or abusive language.'
When Emily and Meredith were home visiting at Easter, someone bought some mushrooms upon a relative's recommendation that this variety was particularly healthy. Well, those mushrooms sat in saran-wrapped seclusion in our frig crisper for a couple of months. This week I took them out and smelled them - not good! And the juice looked even worse. They still didn't smell good even after I fried some. What should have been helpful ended up in the compost because the rot and decomposition had set in.
In 4:29 Paul advises that our speech ought to be "helpful for building others up...that it may benefit those who listen"; and in 5:4, "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." There are words of grace - and words that grate. Instead, 5:2 says God was pleased when Jesus in love gave Himself for us "as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (NLT) 'that sacrifice was like sweet perfume to Him.'
You are a walking, living message for God, whether or not you actually say anything. People will either be attracted to God through you as by a sweet perfume, or repelled by the stink of selfish uncaring. We are "the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing": either the smell of death, or the fragrance of life (2Cor 2:15f). Let people sense in you the rosey scent of Jesus' love and goodness.
(5) Finally, where's the FRUIT in your life? The thrust and drive of physical nature is to reproduce its kind, to bear fruit for the next generation before each short season of growth is over and winter returns. Likewise, our heavenly Father is growing and pruning us as vines to bear fruit, 'much fruit' (Jn 15:1-8).
What results from the old way of life as Paul describes it? 5:11f, "Have nothing to do with the FRUIT-less deeds of darkness...for it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret." 5:18, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery." (Who talks about getting 'debauched' anymore?!) NLT puts this more clearly, "Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life." John Regier talks of personal experience meeting a doctor who had been making many thousands of dollars a year, but who was brought to poverty because he couldn't stay away from the bottle.
Note by contrast the outcomes of the new nature in 4:24: "Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." Next verse, we will "put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour"; 29, "what is helpful for building others up according to their needs..." 5:19, as we let the Holy Spirit fill us and control us we will pour out spiritual songs, 'making music to the Lord in your hearts', always giving thanks for everything. The direction of our life won't be so much to take in as to give out, there will be an overflow others can't help but be affected by. 4:28, the person who once stole will "work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." Imitating God means living a life of love, just as Christ loved us (5:1f). With the help of sunlight, plants turn carbon dioxide and water into food. Living as children of light, Paul says in 5:9, the FRUIT of the light will consist in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. 'This light within you produces only what is good and right and true.'(NLT) Now that's the kind of person that's a pleasure to be around!
Our heart determines our outflow. Jesus taught, "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good,...for a tree is recognized by its fruit...For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." (Mt 12:33-35) Our life MUST bear fruit, and will, either good or evil. Only God's new nature produces good fruit.
A Winning Example
When Summer comes, winter activities must come to an end - even NHL hockey. This past week saw the final game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs - unfortunately Canada will have to wait another year for a Canadian team to bring home the cup! But there were nonetheless several Canadian lads on the champion Carolina Hurricanes. Assistant Captain Glen Wesley, for instance, is a native of Red Deer, Alberta. (You may recall the cameras showed several shots of his wife and children watching theee game The commentators noted that Wesley would be particularly keen to win the Stanley Cup, having played some 480 games in 18 NHL seasons without yet being on a winning team. Wesley left home at 15 to play junior hockey for a Portland team. In 1987 he was drafted by the Boston Bruins and made the NHL All-Rookie team. He was traded to the Hartford Whalers for the huge price of 3 first-round draft picks. But then something besides hockey captured his heart. He recalls, "I became a Christian while playing in Hartford.My wife (Barb) had just lost her mom and...started going to church again. We had two young kids at the time, and I felt an emptiness in my heart.I had to look in the mirror and see how I wanted to be a better husband, a better father. I needed to make some changes, so I accepted Christ as my Saviour." In the off-season, Wesley is a popular speaker, sharing the love and hope he's found in Christ with others. He says, "I give [people] an opportunity to look at themselves and see what life is all about, knowing that we're here on earth but this is temporary. Heaven is eternity. I know that puts things in perspective for me." Remember we talked about how the truth is in Jesus and that helps us look differently at matters of right and wrong? (4:19,21) We also talked about the fruit of our behaviour, following the example of Christ (5:2,8). As assistant captain on the team, Wesley says, "I try to lead by example; I know a lot of people are watching me." You may have noticed when Ron McLean was interviewing various players minutes after winning the Cup, Glen Wesley was one of them, and he used the word "blessed" to describe how he felt - thus subtly giving glory to God. He may be used to the ice, but he's certainly 'hot' for the Lord! While winning the playoffs must cap an outstanding career for Glen Wesley, it's his relationship with Jesus that he values most of all. A few weeks before the finals he said, "I know one day I will get to [hold] the Lord's Cup, if not the Stanley." (LivingLight News) Let's pray.