When you know who you are, then you know what to do. In Christ, you are new. No longer are you alienated from God and walking in the futility of a darkened mind. The old is gone; the new has come. Put off the old self and put on the new self. Knowing your new identity in Christ allows you to change how you think, how you act, and what you desire.
17 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. 18 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. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Alright, when you know who you are, then you know what to do. When you know who you are, then you know what to do, and that’s the big idea in our study of Ephesians as we ask the question, who do you think you are? And one of the most encouraging things for me is hearing the stories and the testimonies of people who are coming to understand their identity in Christ and then experiencing the life transformation that ensues.
I got one not too long ago from a young woman. She gave me permission to share her story, and without divulging her name, I wanted to share it with you because I think it, in many ways, encapsulates what I want for you and for people that haven’t even showed up at Mars Hill or met Jesus yet. But be praying for them, hopefully they join us on Easter.
She says this: “I have listened to the first three sermons on identity, and this was a great encouragement to me.” She goes on to say that God saved her when she was seventeen. She became a Christian as a high school young woman.
At the age of twenty-one, she says that she was working for a Christian company with what was supposed to be a Christian boss, and that man sexually assaulted her. And it was a small town, and he denied it and said that she was lying, and that made her life very difficult as a young woman who was not only violated, but then violated again by being lied about. It made her life very hard.
She continues, “The whole thing turned me away from church. Shortly after, I was sexually assaulted again by a guy I met during school. I couldn’t handle it anymore, and I turned to drinking. I became an undercover alcoholic. Then again, about a year later, I was sexually assaulted again by three more guys. I was assaulted by different guys over the course of about three years. Last time it happened was 2012, right before I moved and started attending Mars Hill.” Praise God. We’re glad she’s here with us.
“I saw myself as even more worthless than I already had prior to these things happening. My mother and father chose drugs over me, so I have struggled with worthlessness since a very early age. My identity was found in being sexually assaulted.” It’s an important line. “My identity was found in being sexually assaulted. My identity was found in guys abusing me. I saw myself as a person who guys just used for their pleasures.
“This became my whole identity, and I started to use it to my advantage. Once I knew guys only saw me as an object, I decided that if I needed something from them that I would do it for them. I saw that as normal. I was disgusted with myself, so I had no problem doing this. Each time, I went to more and more alcohol, and I would burn myself nightly just to feel physical pain because the emotional pain was too much.”
And here’s a very key statement: “My identity was a worthless, disgusting, self-burning object, who was an undercover alcoholic.” Young woman in her twenties. You start to think that for the rest of her life, if that’s who she thinks she is, imagine what she’ll do. Imagine what she’ll allow others to do to her. Again, once you know who you are, then you know what to do. If you don’t rightly understand who you are, then what you do will be wrong and what you will allow others to do to you will be wrong.
“Last year, I thought I had gotten over that, and I thought I didn’t view myself this way anymore. A few months ago, I started running into the second guy who assaulted me, and I realized that my identity was still being found in what had happened. The way I had viewed myself all came back once I saw him, and once again, my identity was found in what happened. I started to turn back to alcohol to forget.
“Since I started listening to this sermon series, God is showing me so much about how I still find my identity in being disgusting, worthless, an object, starting to become an alcoholic undercover once again. I literally could not stare at myself in the eyes when I looked in the mirror in the morning because I felt so disgusting and ashamed of who I was.
“But”—here’s the good news—“I am seeing that I am in Christ.” New identity. “I see that I am made alive in Christ. I am a new creature in Christ!” Lots of exclamation points. “I see now that all of the death, shame, and condemnation that I deserved went to Jesus, and all the forgiveness, love, and grace is given to me!” Lots of exclamation points. That’s the good news of the gospel.
“I am loved, blessed, and embraced like Christ is.” Is that true? It is. That’s her identity. “I am seeing that I am free from shame and condemnation. I am starting to see my identity is truly rooted in Christ. It truly amazes me that Christ chose me. In Christ, I am not dirty; I am clean.” Big identity statement. “That is probably one of the most powerful sentences I have ever heard.” When you know who you are, then you know what to do. And when you know who you are, it changes how you live.
Mars Hill, I love you, I’m very glad to teach the Bible, and I want this series to be, for you, not just information but transformation, not just truths for others to hear from you, but truths for you to first believe for yourself.
The big idea today is that “In Christ, I am new.” And so if you’ve got a Bible, go with me to Ephesians 4:17–24, and first we’re going to look at the old you, OK? Bad news before good news, OK? We’re looking at the old you, and if you’re not a Christian, this is just you, OK? And if you’re a Christian, this is the old you, and if you became a Christian fifteen minutes ago, this is the old you sixteen minutes ago, OK?
Here’s what God says through Paul: Ephesians 4:17–19, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.” In the Bible, the Gentiles are the people who don’t know God, don’t obey God, don’t love God. They’re not filled with the Holy Spirit; they’re not in relationship with God. Gentiles, Gentiles.
He says, “You can’t walk like that anymore.” And what Paul is going to use is this metaphor of walking in chapters 4, 5, and 6. In chapters 1–3, he talked a lot about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done, and in chapters 4, 5, and 6, he talks a lot about how we walk in light of those truths.
When’s the last time you went for a walk? When we go for a walk, it’s amazing how quickly we cover ground. Some of you have been non-Christians for a long time. Some of you were non-Christians for a short time, but you were running toward sin and trouble, and you got far away from the Lord. The people you’re walking with—they reinforce your sin and lifestyle. He says, “When you become a Christian, you can’t walk in that direction anymore.” Things need to change. Now that you’re new, you need to live a new life.
Are you still walking in the path that you used to walk? Same habits, same sin, same beliefs, maybe even same relationships, some of which aren’t really helpful. You’re not strong enough to endure them. You’re going to get yourself in trouble, so dump him. I’ll give you a minute. Alright, OK, there we go. Now that we’ve had some breakups, OK, you can’t walk in that direction anymore, because that’s a direction away from Jesus, away from holiness, away from obedience. It’s a path that leads to death, not life.
So, if you’re a Christian, you’re not supposed to walk like the non-Christians. Your life is supposed to look distinguishable and different. And in our day you may be picked on, made fun of, scorned, ashamed. That’s just the way that it is.
“In the futility of their minds.” Now immediately, some of you are going to think, “I don’t think it’s a big deal.” Because your mind is futile! “Alright, well, I don’t think that, you know, this is such a prob—” Because your mind is futile! “Well, I’ve been studying it; I read a book”—written by a guy whose mind was futile! “I talked to my friends and they said—” Because their mind is futile! This is offensive. I’m not apologizing for that; I’m just pointing it out. This is very offensive. The guy writing this, where is he? Prison. Now you know why, now you know why.
He’s saying, “Their head is broken. Their mind doesn’t work.” See, we’re supposed to think God’s thoughts after him, but if we don’t know God, we’re not connected to God, we’re not filled with the Spirit of God, we don’t have the mind of God, our thinking is futile. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid, just wrong, just wrong.
Now, some of you here—you’re like, “That is very offensive.” Eventually, they’re going to kill him. Now you know why, OK? Because we live in a world that wants to hear, “You’re smart. You’re very insightful. That case you’ve made is airtight. The friends you’ve chosen—all brilliant. And God agrees with you, and he’s here to give you what you want.” And then a guy like Paul shows up and says, “Actually, your mind is not thinking God’s thoughts, and your thoughts are futile.”
He goes on: “They are darkened in their understanding.” When’s the last time you were in the dark? Do you know what you see clearly in the dark? Nothing, nothing. It’s really dark; I don’t see clearly.
If you’re walking away from Jesus, if you’re living as a non-Christian, if you’re not connected to the life of God, your thinking is futile, and your understanding is dark. You say, “Well, I see it like this.” That’s what people in the dark say, but you’re not seeing clearly. Your understanding is darkened.
See, we live in a day where we’ll repackage. Oh, it’s “tolerance,” “diversity,” “pluralism,” “perspectivalism”—all these words, right? Throw an “ism” on the end, so it feels legit, alright? He says, “No, no, no, they’re darkened in their understanding.” Christians and non-Christians should not share the same mind or mindset. Darkened—how many of you—your thinking is dark, the way you see God, yourself, life—it’s dark, it’s depraved, it’s wrong, it’s corrupted?
See, worshiping God is not just our moral activities; it’s our mental activities as well. It’s not just what we do, but it’s how we think. That’s why some of you would say, “I’m a good person,” even though your mind is hostile to God—that you won’t submit your thoughts to God, that you won’t take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
Part of worshiping God is loving him with all your mind. Part of the change that can come in your life is by not being conformed to the pattern of the world but being transformed by the renewing of your mind. Problems of activity start with problems in the mind. You think you’re right. You’re wrong. You think it’s light. It’s dark. You think it’s OK. It’s not. Futile minds, darkened understanding.
What happens, then, is people come together, and they reinforce one another. “Well, it all looks that way to us. That’s what we all think. That’s what we all want to do. We took a vote—we’re the majority—it must be true.” No, no, not if God shows up and says, “It’s dark, and it’s futile, and the whole view of reality is corrupted.”
Why is that? Well, because they’re “alienated from the life of God.” They’ve disconnected themselves from the God who made them, the source of life and light and truth. Alienated—that means that they’re citizens in another kingdom at war against a great King. It means that they’ve wandered away from their homeland; now they’re strangers. Some of you would say, “I am a good person.” I would say, “If you’re living your life alienated, separated from God, that’s the root of all sin. That’s the worst sin of all.”
This is like a guy who says, “I walked out on my family, I abandoned my wife and children, but I pay my taxes, and I don’t jaywalk. I live a good life.” No, you have abandoned the loving relationship that you were called to, and your whole life since that decision is separated, which means, whether or not you do good or bad things, the whole of your life is in the direction of that which is wrong. See, when we sin, we turn our back on God, and we live a life alienated from God. And it doesn’t mean you’re not spiritual. Many of you are spiritual. Spirituality is what guilty people do to pretend that they’re not alienated from God.
“Because of the ignorance that is in them.” They don’t know that Jesus is God, they don’t know what he said, they don’t know that he died and rose, they don’t know that hell is coming and that salvation is a gift. They don’t know.
But it’s not that they are just merely victims lacking information. “Due to their hardness of heart.” Their hardness of heart. Do you have a hard heart? When the Bible talks about the heart, it speaks of the heart more than nine hundred times. It’s the seat, the sum, the center of who you are. A heart that’s tender toward God says, “Tell me the truth. I want to change. I want to learn. I want to grow.” A hard heart says, “No!” And it says it like that. “No, it’s not what you want; it’s what I want. It’s not what you think; it’s what I think. It’s not what you see; it’s what I see. You want me to change? While we’re at it, I think you should change. And that’s the heartfelt conversation with God—hardhearted.
You ever met anybody hardhearted? They interpret all data negatively. They always spin it, so that they are innocent and you are guilty. They always turn it to where they are a victim, and you owe them.
And people do this with God. “I’m right. You’re wrong. You’ve failed. I’ve not. You owe me. I disagree. You need to change. Maybe even that Book you wrote—we need to edit that thing because I found some errors in that Book you wrote.” And along comes a parade of teachers and authors and professors and pastors who say, “Well, we have decided that futile minds and darkened understanding leads to a good income stream because there’s a huge market for those with hardness of heart.” It’s the world we live in.
Is your heart hard toward God? Is your heart hard toward God? Are you angry at him? Are you frustrated with him? “They have become callous.” Have you ever become callous? Any of you play guitar or play an instrument? Any of you swing a hammer, you’re a tradesman, tradeswoman, you’re into gardening, you’re a cook, a chef, an artist, you work with your hands a lot?
What happens is, prolonged pressure upon a point over time leads to a callus, and what used to hurt, all of a sudden—it doesn’t hurt anymore because it’s become calloused. “They have become callous.” Say, “You know, when I started doing this, it really bothered me. It doesn’t bother me that much anymore. I used to feel really guilty after I did that, and now maybe God’s OK with it because I don’t feel guilty anymore.”
No, it’s not that God’s OK with it; it’s that you’ve developed a callus. You’ve become dead. I mean, a callus is, as I understand it, oftentimes, literally, just a collection of, essentially, dead skin. Is there a dead spot on your soul to where, “That doesn’t hurt anymore. It doesn’t bother me. I’m not convicted by it. I don’t want to change. I don’t think it’s wrong. Maybe it’s not a big deal, or maybe God doesn’t care.” He does; you’re just calloused. You’re just calloused. You’re not going to change there. You’ll say things like, “That’s the way I am.” It’s not the way you’re supposed to be. “I need to be true to myself.” That’s never a good idea.
“And have given themselves up.” Have you just given up, just given up? You’re like, “You know what? I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. I’m going to think this way. I’m going to justify myself. I’m going to vindicate myself. I’m going to explain myself, excuse myself. I’m just, you know, I’m a victim.” You do this, right? “Oh, I’m a teenager; I’ve just given up.” “I’m in my twenties; I’ve given up.” “I’m in college; I’ve given up.” “We’re newly married. Yeah, we yell at each other. Yeah, but, you know? Well, we just had a kid, and now it’s a hard season, so I’ve just sort of given up.” “Oh, midlife crisis. Oh, I get to give up.”
We give up, and we give in. We give in to all kinds of sin and temptation because we’ve just given up. Is that you? Is that you? If so, you may not even be a Christian. God knows your heart; I don’t. But if you’re reading this list saying, “Wow, this sounds familiar,” he’s talking about non-Christians.
Truth be told, Christians can fall into some of these habits and behaviors, but a Christian is the one who still has a tender heart and says, “I know it’s wrong; I want to change. I’m not right with God, and things are bothering me.” For the non-Christian—they’re callous, like, “It doesn’t really bother me.”
“They’ve given themselves up to”—oh, look at that! What? “Sensuality, greedy to practice impurity.” Oh, oh, oh! See, we’re highly evolved, highly developed. You know, these guys are four back on the evolutionary charts. Sloped heads, right? We’re two thousand years later; we’re so evolved, advanced. We all went to college; we studied sociology, psychology; we got degrees; we got self-help; we got spirituality. We’ve highly evolved. No, we’ve not, because you know where it ends up? They’re naked, greedy, and doing naughty things. Ah-ha, sound familiar? Naked, greedy, doing naughty things.
That’s it, because you know what? Oftentimes it’s not that people don’t know the truth; it’s that they don’t like the truth. That’s the truth. Like, if I told you, “Hey, you’re drunk driving—there’s a cop,” you wouldn’t say, “I don’t believe in him.” You would say, “I don’t like him,” OK? We read this, and some people say, “I don’t like it.”
But see, that sounds sort of rebellious, and so what instead they say is, “Well, I don’t know if I believe that. I have a different ideology. I have a different philosophy. I have a different spirituality. I have a different perspective. I think maybe this is primitive. You know, new psychological insights indicate, new sociological insights indicate, new anthropological insights indicate that this is very negative. This is not very tolerant and diverse. This is very judgmental. This is very critical. This could really hurt someone’s psyche. Imagine what this would do to their self-esteem, God forbid, because we all know that self-esteem is the source of life. Yeah, this is hate speech. This is intolerance. The people who heard this—they were very offended. It’s become a real news story. Some of the professors indicate that this should be outlawed, because in a tolerant, diverse, pluralistic society, these kinds of things are fairly antiquated and offensive.”
So, Paul goes to jail, and he won’t shut up, so they kill him. That did it. And what do you want to do with this? OK, like, it’s sort of offensive, right? Can we just—even if you disagree with everything I’ve said—can we now agree that that . . . it’s fairly offensive? Like, let’s say it’s your mom, OK? “Now 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; they’ve given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” You’d never put that on a birthday card, right? Happy birthday!
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “I don’t see myself like that.” Well, that’s what I’d expect from a “Gentile with a futile mind, darkened understanding, alienated from the life of God, marked by ignorance, hardness of heart, callousness-ness.” Yes, I threw in another “ness-ness” just to emphasize the horror of it all. Some of you say, “I don’t see myself that way,” but you should because God does. Got you.
At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what we think about ourselves. We’re not going to die, stand before a mirror, and give an account with an eternal consequence. We’re going to die and stand before God, and he’s going to render a verdict as to how he sees who we are and what we’ve done or failed to do.
We need to live our lives, friends, coram Deo. That means “in the face of God.” Is this your team? Is this the direction of your life? Is this the way you think? Is this the way you act? Even right now, are you thinking, “Why did I come today? I disagree with this guy”? Feel free to disagree with me. I would say, don’t disagree with Paul. It’s bad news, right? Very negative. “Where’s the hope, Mark? Where’s the happiness? Where’s the joy? Where’s the encouragement?” Well, it’s not in you. It ain’t in you, friend. Nope.
How about we talk about Jesus? How about we do that? OK, new you. Old you, new you. Old you, new you. The old you needs to die, not get self-improved. Alright, the new you is the you in Christ. Ephesians 4:20–24, “But”—but, but, but, but, but! Good news, right? Good news, right? OK, yeah, two of you are fired up. It’s a start. It’s a start. “But—” Alright, you read the whole first part, you’re like, “Hmm.” “But—” OK, OK, hope—here comes the hope. We’re smiling again, yay! OK, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” Now we’re talking about Jesus Christ. Christ means the anointed one of God. It’s about Jesus. He’s—oh, it’s all about Jesus. Old you, apart from Christ. New you, with Christ. It’s amazing, isn’t it?
We live in a world—everybody wants to change. Self-help, self-improvement, self-actualization, self-esteem, magazines, books, trends, talk shows, counseling. You can change things you do; only Jesus can change who you are. You can change things you do; only Jesus can change who you are. And once he changes who you are, that changes what you do.
“Assuming that you have heard the truth about him and were taught in him.” This requires teaching. None of us is born a Christian; none of us is born with an innate knowledge of Jesus, right? You have to learn that. The second member of the Trinity, who created the heavens and the earth, took upon himself human flesh, entered into history through the womb of Mary as the God-man Jesus Christ. He lived without sin, he said he was God, he died on the cross, he substituted himself in our place for our sins. Our death went to him; his life came to us. Three days later, he rose from death, he’s ascended into heaven, he’s ruling and reigning. He’s Lord, God, King, returning to judge the living and the dead and to establish a kingdom that will never end, OK?
You just don’t wake up on a Tuesday and be like, “I thought of that. I thought of that when I was eating oatmeal. I thought, ‘That’s it,’ and I’d never heard that before. I just—the oatmeal—we just figured it out, me and the—” You don’t just figure this out. You don’t just make this up. Somebody’s got to teach you.
So thanks, thanks for letting me teach you, OK? But you need to learn. So friends, what this means is Christianity requires humility to say, “I don’t know, and my speculation won’t help. God’s revelation with instruction—that’ll help.” See, nobody just starts with a good theology or a good Christology. They don’t know who God is, or who God is in Christ. I didn’t. You don’t. Somebody teaches me. People teach you. I have the joy of teaching you. You’ve got to be taught.
Lately, I just sense this is a bunch of rants, and I’m feeling it today. Let me just go with this for a minute. People will come to Mars Hill, they’re like, “Why do you talk for an hour?” Well, because I have a lot to say, and I want you guys to learn something. Like, I figure if you’re going to get up, and brush your teeth, and get in the car, and drive all the way to Mars Hill, and sit there, we may as well learn something. We may as well learn something, because I want you to know who Christ is and who you are in Christ, and then I want that to change your whole life with Christ, and it means it’s going to take a little while. So, thanks for letting me teach.
“Assuming you’ve heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in”—who? “Jesus,” OK? The truth is in Jesus. So, anything that’s not connected to Jesus is not ultimately the total truth. So, parenting, suffering, marriage, dating, sexuality, finances, whatever. The truth about everything and anything is in Jesus. It’s connected to Jesus; it’s all about Jesus. There may be other truths through general revelation and common grace, and you can learn a lot of things, but ultimately, the truth for us is all connected to the person and the work of Jesus.
“To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt.” See, we love it in our day when there’s a corrupt politician, or someone in leadership that’s—“Oh, they’re corrupt!” He says everybody’s corrupt. Some people just don’t make the news. Your way of life is corrupt apart from a new life in Christ.
“Through deceitful desires.” Let’s unpack that. We could spend a month on that. Apart from the Holy Spirit, our desires are deceitful. “Pastor Mark, I really want to date her.” Deceitful desire. “Pastor Mark, I really want to date him.” Deceitful desire. “Pastor Mark, I really want to walk out on my marriage.” Deceitful desire. “Pastor Mark, I really want to click on that website.” Deceitful desire. We have lots of deceitful desires, and they’re deceitful because they lie. They promise something that they can’t deliver.
I’ll give you an example with alcohol. Not all alcohol consumption is a sin; Jesus made wine. But what happens is some people struggle with—we’ll call it alcoholism, right? It’s a deceitful desire that involves alcohol. They really desire it, but it’s deceived them. See, the bottle then says, “Drink me, and I’ll help you relax. Drink me, and I’ll take the edge off. Drink me, and I’ll help you forget. Drink me, and I’ll help you sleep better. Drink me, I’ll put you in a good mood.” Deceitful desires, because the bottle never delivers what it promises, right?
That’s why in Ephesians 5, the very next chapter, he’s going to say, “Don’t get drunk; be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Don’t get drunk and be filled with alcohol; be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only God can meet the deepest desires of the human soul, and only God delivers on his promises. The rest is all deceitful desires.
See, guys, we live in a culture that has insane statements like, “Follow your heart.” See, the Bible would say it this way: “Follow your deceitful desires.” It sounds different, doesn’t it? Right? But if your heart has deceitful desires, and you follow your heart, you’re following deceitful desires. And this is why we live in community, and we have other people speak into our lives, and why children should have parents, and why parents should have pastors, and why pastors should have pastors—that we all need a little counsel, because at times our desires deceive us. It looks right to us, and then someone comes along who has wisdom and says, “Whoa, that’s a deceitful desire. Don’t follow your heart; guard your heart. Don’t do what you want; do what he wants.”
“And to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” Change, repentance, transformation—it starts in the mind with how you think. If you think something is OK and God doesn’t, you need to change your mind. You need to change your mind. It takes a change of mind, and that will start to change your activity. But first, it’s your thought process. How do you think? And some of you, you have a very corrupted thought process. It’s very perverted, it’s very dark, it’s very suspicious, it’s very judgmental. Whatever the case may be, it’s very self-righteous; it’s not holy, or helpful, or healthy.
He says your mind needs to be surrendered to God. Not just your body, but your mind. Do you think God’s thoughts after him? When you and God disagree, do you change your mind? Do you love the Lord your God with your mind? Do you take your thoughts captive to obedience to Christ? Are you transformed by the renewing of your mind? If not, you’re going to have a lifestyle that walks away from Jesus.
“And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God.” There’s your identity. Highlight it, circle it, underline it, memorize it. Those two words, what are they? “New self.” We’re not talking about self-help, self-improvement, self-actualization, where it’s the same old you with some new techniques to try and manage the problems in your life. We’re talking about a totally, completely, thoroughly new you, born again. The Bible uses the language of born again, regeneration, new creation, new person, new man, new life, new self, new you. You’re genuinely new in Christ. Not yet totally new—God’s going to keep working on you, but your identity is as a new person.
This is so radical when this happens in the Bible that sometimes people get new names. Abram becomes Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah, and Cephas becomes Peter, and Saul becomes Paul, and sometimes people just get a new name because they’re just a different person. Alright, it’s like you went to bed, that person died, you woke up, somebody with the same driver’s license is there, but from the inside out you are new and in the process of being made new.
For some of you, this explains your life. I was talking to a guy recently. He struggled with addiction for decades. I said, “Well, how’s it going?” He said, “I haven’t done anything in years.” I said, “Why?” He said, “I met Jesus and I don’t want to.” He said, “I just don’t want to.” That’s new.
Grace and I recently celebrated twenty-five years since our first date. We’ve been married for twenty years. I had a guy come up, he’s like, “How do you stay faithful to her for twenty years?” I was like, “I want to.” That helps, right? I want to. Like, I’m a new person. That means that I get to live a new life and that God has given me new desires, and that’s what I want to do. I want to get old with her, and hold her hand, and be her friend.
See, the old Mark—that was not what he was—I was going to say—“probably going to do.” What I mean by that is, that is certainly not what he was going to do, OK? But the new—yeah, yeah, that’s who I am, and that’s what I want to do. But that’s the new self. That’s the new self. Have you experienced that? Have you tasted that?
“After the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Isn’t it amazing he puts righteousness and holiness at the end of the thought? See, religion usually starts there. “You should be righteous! You should be holy!” You’re like, “OK, I feel guilty; I’ll try.” He says, “No, here’s who you were, here’s who you are, here’s what Jesus is doing. And if you think rightly, you’ll walk obediently, and you’ll live holy.” It’s a result of a relationship with Jesus. And he says it’s like changing your clothes. Put off, put on. You see that? Put off, put on.
So, this morning, you got up, took your pajamas off. At least I hope you did, OK? I saw a guy at the airport recently. I saw this little kid in his jammies. I thought, “That’s cute,” and then his dad was in his jammies. I was like . . . I threw up in my mouth. That is not cute, alright? So, let’s assume that you woke up this morning, and you put off your pajamas, and you put on your clothes. We do that every day, and here’s what I want you to do starting tomorrow.
Every day, Mars Hill, as you clothe yourself physically, I want you to remember that Jesus has also clothed you spiritually, OK? This woman’s testimony—she really encapsulates the gospel well when she says, basically, Jesus wore her sin and went to the cross. He took it on and then he clothed her in his righteousness. So, he takes all of her filthy rags and gives her all of his robes of righteousness. That’s the gospel; that’s what Jesus does. And so as Jesus has done that for us spiritually, we need to do that mentally. We need to remember this every day, so that our identity determines our activity.
And this is what we do, right, friends? Like, when there’s a major transition in your life, you change your clothes, right? So, when you graduate from college, let’s say, what do you wear? How can you know who the college graduate is? They’re wearing a ridiculous dress with a hat that doesn’t stay on anyone’s head, OK? And you can say, “Oh, because they were a student, but now they’re an unemployed person with massive debt,” OK? So, their life has changed, OK? And to mark that change, we dress them up, right?
Similarly, let’s say you join the military, right? You walk in in flip-flops, a pair of shorts, long hair, hope, and then that all changes, right? They dress you—oh, shaved head, uniform. Now, you look like someone who is going to walk in a new life. You were a civilian; now you’re a soldier, right? That’s why we don’t see guys running around the battlefield in flip-flops and capri pants, trying to express themselves, right? “I’m an artist,” right? So, the clothing indicates—oh, we see who they are.
Similarly, on your wedding day—right, ladies?—you wear a gown and a thing on your head, OK? A “veil,” I think they call it. I’ve lived forty-two years “veil”-free. I think it’s a veil. And what happens then is you walk in as a single woman, you walk out as a married woman. Literally, the dad walks you down the aisle, and this is the beginning of a whole new life journey, and we mark that with a white dress. You put off. You put on. New identity. Once you know who you are, then you know what to do.
When you wake up tomorrow, as you’re clothing yourself physically, remind yourself of how Jesus Christ, if you are a Christian, has clothed you spiritually. I am not guilty; I’m forgiven. I’m not hated; I’m loved. I’m not far away; I’m brought near. I’m not alienated; I’m reconciled. God is not against me; he’s for me. God’s not angry with me; he loves me. I don’t need to pay God back; Jesus already paid my debt. I don’t need to clean myself up; I need to remember who Jesus is, and what he’s done, and live out of the new identity that he’s given me.
I want you to, every morning, as you clothe yourself physically, remind yourself of how Jesus has clothed you spiritually. And then as you walk out the door, remember, “I’m walking with him as I’m going to work, as I’m going to school. Wherever it is that I am going, this is now my Christian walk. And I’m in my new identity; I’m clothed in the righteousness, and the love, and the friendship of Jesus Christ, and I get to walk in a manner worthy of that relationship.” That’s all of Paul’s language here. And I really, desperately want that for you practically. I want that for you.
Now, some of you are going to struggle with this. There are five kinds of people that are going to hear this. Some of you are loosely religious and you assume, “I’m already good enough. I don’t need this whole, ‘Old me dies, new me rises, take off my old life, put on a new life, come to Christ.’ I’m a pretty good person. This seems like a bit of an overreaction or something for the wicked people seated around me, the people who really need it, those messed up people.”
You’re not good enough. God doesn’t see people in terms of good and bad, but perfect and imperfect. Guess which bucket you’re in? Jesus says, “Be perfect.” That’s God’s standard. God sees everyone and Jesus—imperfect, perfect. Simply being religious, moral, decent citizen—that’s not acceptable in God’s sight. The whole first list of people that we looked at under the category of the old you—he’s talking to some people who are loosely religious, moral, law-abiding, tax-paying, decent citizens who are alienated from Christ, futile in their thinking, darkened in their understanding, hardened in their heart, calloused in their soul.
Number two, some of you are going to be secular–religious. You don’t have a religion, but you have a religious zeal for some cause. And your basic assumption is, “The world is in a bad place, but I’m a good person, and I’m here to make a difference. So, I’m going to pick a cause, and I’m going to put it on my bumper sticker, wear a t-shirt, we’re going to have bracelets, and I’m going to champion my cause, our cause, because we’re the good people. We’re here to help, we’re here to save, we’re here to make a difference. We don’t believe in Jesus, but we believe that maybe we’re kind of like him. We’re here to save the day.”
That’s the whole Pacific Northwest, OK? Just to make sure that everyone’s offended, let me just say that it’s not just—because we believe in inclusion; we believe in including everyone in the offense of the gospel, OK?—that this is a whole generation that has walked away from Christian faith but has walked toward self-righteous causes. They would say, “Yes, the world is filled with sin and evil, and it’s a good thing we’re here with our organized group to fix it and make a difference.” It’s self-righteous, it’s haughty, it’s proud, and, just so you know, you’re not the first person to think that. Because the problem isn’t just out there; it’s in here. And the problem’s not just in them, it’s in me. And more than causes, we need Christ.
There are some you who are—you’re not Christian, but you’re very spiritual. And your thing is, “Yes, we do need to change, Mark. We need to evolve into higher states of consciousness.” You’ll say stuff like that. I don’t even know what it means. I went to college.
Then you’re going to be the person who’s—you ever see anybody out butterfly-catching? OK, you’re like that with spiritual trends, OK? “Oh, there’s a new book out on, you know, how to feng shui your house. And you know, the problem is the energy’s all going the wrong direction. That’s why you’re a jerk, because the plant’s where the table’s supposed to be. That’s why you’re a jerk. Swap them—all better, OK?” “Oh, you need to drink decaf.” “Oh, OK.” “Have you tried the açai berries?” “No, I haven’t.” “Yeah, açai berries—they cleanse, detox.” “Breathe deep, drink decaf, listen to tape sounds of running water—your whole life’s going to change.” “Oh, coffee enema, what?” No, OK, we probably should edit that out, but it’s a true thing, so maybe we won’t.
OK, so, but you become—you just chase all these—“Oh, there’s a new book, there’s a new guru. Oh, look, there’s a guy—he’s from an Eastern country, he’s got facial hair, he’s wearing a diaper. He can sit in a position that Pastor Mark could never even conceive of, and it sounds—well, let’s try that.” And it’s—here’s what it is—it’s a marketing gimmick and game to just sell you products that don’t work until you die and go to hell. And that’s in the lotus position with an açai berry, right? Like, so—OK, “his karma and chakra are woefully off.”
Some of you, number four—you’re devoutly religious, and you would say, “Yes, I need to be more self-disciplined. I need to be more self-organized. I need to feel the way to my sin. I need to get more self-ability to govern my life. I need to obey.” And you know what? You say the word “you” a lot, and you don’t say the name of Jesus as much. You don’t say things like, “Jesus, thanks for changing me. Jesus, thanks for clothing me. Jesus, thanks for hearing me. Jesus, could you help me?” It’s like you’re performing for God as if God should be disappointed or impressed with you. That’s not the kind of relationship that the Father has with his kids. He’s there to help them.
Lastly, some of you just have no hope at all. “Mark, look, I’ve tried a lot of things. I’ve tried to fix my life. Look, I just don’t think it’s for me. The things I’ve done, I don’t know how I can undo them. The life I’ve lived—look, you got me. I know it’s foolish. I just need to accept my fate. I’ve made my bed; I’ve got to lie in it. I’ve made my pile; I just need to rub my nose in it.” No, you don’t, you don’t, you don’t.
In fact, here’s what Paul says in Philippians 3, the man who writes this. Philippians 3:5–6, he says, “I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
I don’t know what your identity is coming in here. “I’m a good person. I’m a bad person. I’m a strong person. I’m a weak person. I’m a winner. I’m a loser. I’m desirable. I’m undesirable. I think I’m OK with God. I don’t think God’s OK with me.” You need to first name your current, present identity.
Paul does that. Jewish family, good boy, great school, knew Hebrew, circumcised on the eighth day, great family bloodlines, very zealous, very committed, tithed 10 percent—checked all the boxes. “My identity was great, moral, devout, accomplished, religious person.” What’s your identity?
Now, this will shock some of you. After he meets Jesus, after he gets a new mind, he sees things differently. After he gets a new heart, after he gets new desires and a new power through the person of the Holy Spirit, here’s what he says. Chapter 3, verse 8 of Philippians, he says, “And all of this I consider rubbish.” Some will translate it trash; some will translate it dung. Next time you take the trash out, remember, identity apart from Christ . . . boom. Next time you’re out for a walk, and somebody’s dog left a pile, and it’s graphic, identity apart from Christ, identity apart from Christ. You could say, “Oh, well, look how nicely stacked the pile is. Their pile is bigger than the other pile. That’s the biggest pile I’ve ever seen.” Identity apart from Christ—that’s what Paul is saying.
We’re all trying to create an identity, and then defend an identity. Old you, new you. Who you were apart from Christ; who you are in Christ, right? Take the old identity off. Say, “You know what? I’m not like that anymore.” Put the new identity on. “OK, this is who I am in Jesus now.” And the identity is Christ, not you, amen? You can’t make him love you any more; you can’t make him love you any less. You can’t be any more forgiven than totally forgiven. You can’t be any newer than made thoroughly new.
I want you to, number one, receive that. Have you met Jesus and been born again? Are you new? Number two, I want you to understand your new identity, so that, unlike this young woman, you don’t spend years as a Christian without knowing your identity. And then, number three, I want you walk in it, alright? Start making very, very, very, very, very practical decisions: what you eat, what you drink, where you live, what you wear, who you date, who you marry, how you raise your kids, how you spend your money, what you watch, what websites you click. All of that, right—that’s all part of the walk.
Some of you would say, “Man, I’ve walked so far away from Jesus.” Here’s the good news: if you stop and turn around, you will find that he’s been following you the entire time. He’s not far away. He’s not far away. So, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to call you to respond. We respond. See, God initiates; we respond. God changes us, so we change how we act. God changes our minds, so we change how we think. God changes our desires, so we change what we long for.
Alright, we’re going to respond now. So, God has given us Christ and a new identity, and we respond. We respond with giving, we respond with Communion, we respond with singing. And so as the financial stewards are coming forward to collect our tithes and offerings, let me say, if you’re new, let us know who you are. Put the visitor card in, so we could follow up with you.
And as they are collecting the offering, let me explain to you the biggest weekend of the year. It’s coming. What is it? It’s Easter! The day we celebrate the victorious resurrection of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. For us at Mars Hill, this is it. This is the big day. We’re praying for twenty thousand people, forty-two services, fourteen locations, four states, live simulcast all connected together, one big epic church family. And what we show is the difference that Jesus makes, and we show that through baptism.
As people are baptized, they’re saying, “Jesus was alive. He died for my sin, he rose to give me new life, and I’m publicly identifying myself with him.” So, be praying for family, friends, neighbors, coworkers to come to church with you. Invite them; pray that they would meet Jesus. And if you’ve never been baptized, go ahead and sign up, so we can baptize you. And I want to show you what it’s going to look like, so you can get excited, OK?
[Music] “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” “Take heart. Get up; Jesus is calling you.” “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [Music]
Well, you could clap for that. It’s going to be great. We’re praying for a big Sunday, so be praying for us all of Easter weekend. And what we’re going to do now is we’re going to partake of Communion. This is where we remember the broken body, shed blood of Jesus, right? That in Christ we are made new. And as you partake, if you are a Christian or become one today, you’re publicly identifying yourself with Jesus. And I want you to look, as others partake of Communion, at all the people who’ve received a new life and a new identity in Christ, and how personally Jesus has loved so many. And then we’re going to sing because we have much to celebrate. We have someone to celebrate. Some of you say, “I don’t sing.” Well, that was the old you. The new you is a vocalist, so please stand, and I’ll pray.
Father God, thank you so much for an opportunity to go through the great book of Ephesians together. God, we know that because it’s a timeless word, it’s always a timely word. And God, in our day, when, from social media, to the clothes we wear, to the car we drive, to the way we present ourselves, we are all about identity formation and preservation, thank you for the great, timeless, helpful, practical, biblical truth, that there’s simply the old and the new and that with Christ we have become a new person. Lord Jesus, help us to remember that and to walk in that practically and daily. And God, I pray that for my friends. And Lord Jesus, I thank you for the young woman who was bold enough to even share her testimony, that she was a Christian for years and didn’t know that and didn’t walk in that. And I pray particularly today, Lord God, for those like her. They are a Christian, but they don’t know who they are, and so they don’t know what to do. Holy Spirit, help us to never forget who we are. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Note: This sermon has been edited for readability.