A few years ago, I remember listening to a sermon by John Piper. I am not sure of the sermon title or even what text he was preaching on, but one line has stuck with me to this day:
"Jesus not only died for your justification but for your sanctification."
It was such a simple sentence, and yet such a profound thought that, for whatever reason, had never connected with me.
For the longest time, I had thought of my salvation as Jesus' doing, but my sanctification as coming by my own effort (and maybe a little bit of help from the Holy Spirit). I soon began to see the centrality of the work of Christ everywhere in Scripture, especially when it came to our spiritual growth. The "Gospel-centered" movement, as it has been called, had reached my head and heart, changing the way I saw what it meant to "put on the new self."
One of the verses that stuck out to me when I saw this shift was 2 Corinthians 3:18: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." In other words, we aren't changed as we preach Law to ourselves. We aren't changed as we beat our chests and "try harder." We are changed as we look at the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ. We stare at Christ to become like Him. And all the while, it is His Spirit doing the work within us.
We see that same concept in Ephesians 4:17-32. Paul has just given some of the deepest theological truths of our salvation in the first part of Ephesians. Now, he begins to show the Ephesian church how the Gospel shapes their daily lives. He begins to show them (and us) how holiness and righteousness are things to be pursued, not after the Gospel works in our hearts, but as the Gospel works in our hearts.
Paul doesn't move away from the work of Christ as he talks about practical holiness, but rather presses into His work. Look, for example, at verse 20: "But that is not the way you learned Christ!" The antithesis of sinful behavior is not the Law, it is Christ. The Law reveals the sin within us, but it is Christ that changes our desires.
This becomes even more apparent as Paul continues. In verse 30, he tells them not to "grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Not only does he state that our sin actually grieves God, much like a parent is grieved when their children rebel and treat each other wrongly, but he also brings it back to the Gospel. He reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the One who has sealed us for the day when Christ resurrects us and brings us to be with Him. What a great motivation that is to "put off the old self" and to "put on the new self"!
Paul wraps this section up with a Gospel reminder in verse 32: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Paul again goes back to the Gospel, not the Law, as the ground for the kind of righteousness and holiness that he expounded in this passage. We can live in holiness, be truthful in our speech, run from sin in our anger, put away corrupting talk, give grace-filled words, etc. all because of the work that Christ has done for us! He died for the times when we fail to obey these commands and He died to put His Spirit in us so that we would have the blood-bought ability to say "no" to sin and say "yes" to the good commands of God.
The way we live, including the way we treat our fellow brothers and sisters-in-Christ, is directly connected to our view of the Gospel. May we continue to look to Jesus, reminding ourselves that He has already made us new, and then may we walk in the newness of life that He has purchased for us. This is truly what it means to "put on the new self."
Sermon Series: Ephesians: Church Alive In Christ