“God’s Plan for Your Spiritual Growth”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Ephesians 4.25-28
Ephesians 4. The Flor de la Mar was a Portuguese ship that sank to the bottom of the ocean in November 20th, 1511. It sank after the Portuguese conquered Malacca, which is part of the Malaysian islands. The ship was lost off the coast of Sumatra, an island near western Indonesia.
When it sank that day, it took down with it numerous lives and its precious cargo.
One professional treasure hunter said, “It’s the richest vessel ever lost at sea, with its hold loaded with 200 coffers of precious stones, [and] diamonds from …a half-inch [in] size to the size of a man’s fist.” That’s Robert Marx. He spent $20 million attempting to recover it.
If he spent that much attempting to recover it, guess what its value is? It’s estimated value is $2.6 billion. There is 54,431kg of gold down there.
Now, let’s say you received the map to find this lost treasure. And …. Ah …. You lost it! Aw man! Where did it go! The disappointment you must feel …
If you don’t have a map, you can’t find the treasure. And I know as I tell this, we all have $’s over our eyeballs. But folks, let’s be honest this morning. If we were to gain the whole world … when we die, who will those things be?
In the end then, what really matters? What really matters is what you can take with you to glory. And the only thing you can take with you are soul’s won to Christ, your service for Christ, and your own spiritual growth.
Point: Do you have a plan for this long-term investment strategy? How many of us could right now describe the biblical plan for spiritual growth?
Our passage gives it to us this morning. We also have examples of specific sins and how to get over them. Let’s read Ephesians 4:20-32 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. 26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
This is a foundational passage of Scripture. In this passage we have God’s plan for our spiritual growth.
We need to have God’s truth worked out in our lives. We need to be spiritually illumined by the truth of Scripture to a degree that it changes our behavior. The gospel of Christ and all of the benefits of being a child of God motivate our godly living. God’s truth illumined in our hearts will empower us for godly living.
If we understand … If we truly understand what God has done for us in Christ and the Holy Spirit empowers us to understand this, it will motivate and empower our ability to become like Christ.
Now, after that happens in us, there is an active process that we do to become like Christ. God does the work, but we are active, too.
The process of becoming like Jesus Christ is similar to what happened at salvation.
The process of becoming like Jesus Christ is similar to what happened at salvation. Let me show you that in the passage that we read.
Laying aside the old man is similar to laying aside sins
We saw last time that when you trusted Christ for salvation, you laid aside the old “you.” You laid him aside. Ephesians 4:21 …you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, […what?…you have been taught] Ephesians 4:22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you laid aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,
And we noted that phrase, “you lay aside the old self” is actually a simple past tense in the original language. That is the same past tense in verse 24 that says, “and put on the new self.” That’s past tense, it happened at salvation.
Now, that same concept is true for sanctification. Salvation is a model for sanctification. What happened at salvation is similar to what happens in sanctification. This is what these verses are teaching.
Let me show you the similarity. Look at Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
That word “laying aside” is the same word in verse 22, where it says that we laid aside the old self. But here in verse 25 we are told to lay aside a particular sin.
So in salvation we laid aside the old man. In sanctification, we are to lay aside falsehood.
So my point is that just like in salvation we laid aside the old self, in sanctification we lay aside particular sins.
TRANS: Another point of similarity between salvation and sanctification is not just putting off the old self but also putting on the new self.
Putting off the old you in salvation is like putting off certain sin habits in sanctification. Putting on the new you is like putting on certain godly habits.
Putting on the New Self is like Putting on Godly Habits
Let’s read again Ephesians 4:24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Again, this is what happened at salvation. What happened at salvation? At salvation you put on the new you. You were born again and you put on the new you.
Now, just like that, in sanctification you don’t need to put on the new you anymore. That happened at salvation. In sanctification, you put on godly habits.
Let’s read Ephesians 4:25 once again. Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, [In sanctification, that is what you put off, falsehood. Now, here is what you put on] SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
POINT: See you can see that in salvation you put off the old you. And at the moment of salvation as well, you put on the new “you”. Sanctification is similar to that in that we are growing to be like Christ to put off the habits of that old man and to put on habits of the new man.
And so this morning what I would like to do is drive home this principle of sanctification. We will look at other passages of Scripture along the way.
Necessity of This
Let me encourage us with the necessity of this: Apart from what we’re going to study together this morning, there is no growth in Christ.
Your growth in Christ will happen only as you would submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit concerning what we’re going to talk about this morning.
And so if you are not growing, it is because you are failing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in these areas that we will discuss this morning.
And what is it that you are supposed to cooperate with the Holy Spirit about?
2 Things as stated from this passage.
Put off old man habits
Put on new man habits.
This happens by being renewed in the spirit of your mind. And we’ll discuss each of these this morning.
So put off the habits of the old you. Put on habits of the new you. And you do this by being renewed in the spirit of your mind.
The question is of course, “how do you do that?” We’re going to get to that.
But just understand for right now the motivation for doing this: there is no growth in Christ without this. There is no spiritual growth without this process at work in your life.
Failure of the lost man: Psychotherapy
Of course, the world thinks differently. Human psychology today attempts to mimic true spiritual growth.
The humanistic psychology of the day will tell you how to, say, how to manage your anger. When you get angry they say, stop the conversation, distract yourself relax, count to 10, these kinds of things.
They will tell you to look at the situation and try to figure out what you really want and why you are angry. They will focus on how you need to express what you feel in words. They will tell you to focus on yourself and not on the person you are angry with and they will try to teach you how to handle the situation more effectively.
They say that you need to be careful to listen to the other person and to care about what they are saying.
In other words, the lost also know that sinful anger is not a good thing. And they have their ways of trying to fix it.
But do they actually teach you how to entirely put off sinful anger and not only that, but also to replace it, to put on the opposite? To put on love and compassion? Where once you would be angry, now instead of expressing or feeling any sinful anger towards somebody else, instead now you are loving and compassionate and patient with that person.
Modern psychology can only attempt to box in sinful habits. And once those sinful habits are pressed in and boxed in so much, those sinful habits will only be replaced by other sinful habits.
Because through mere human ability, no man can please God.
In fact, the modern psychological method is a failure. World-famous psychologist, researcher and author Dr. Hans Eysenck (i-sync) has been cited in writings more than any other researcher. He is the author of over 75 books, 1000 articles, and was the director of the Institute of Psychology in London.
One of the books he published is called, “Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire, “ a critical analysis of the teachings of famous psychologist Sigmund Freud.
Eysenck published a paper based on a study of 2000 individuals. And his conclusion is that two out of three “neurotics” will improve within two years whether or not they receive psychotherapy. He wrote that in 1952 and came to the same conclusions in 1980.
My point is that the best lost man can do is nothing to improve the human condition.
Failure of the church
But not only has lost man failed to help the human condition, the church at large today has also failed.
Christianity Today magazine in 2007 published an article entitled, “Willow Creek Repented?” Why the most influential church in America now says “we made a mistake.”
They did a study on their own ministry and other ministries and concluded that they had made a mistake. Their study attempted to figure out which programs and activities in their church were actually helping people become spiritually mature.
Willow Creek spent 30 years and millions and millions of dollars on programs and activities in order to attempt to get more and more people into their buildings. And their findings after a multi-year study was that increasing levels of participation in these activities does not predict whether someone loves God more or loves people more.
This is why Bill Hybles, the pastor of that church, can confess, “We made a mistake.” Instead of programming the church, Hybles says they should have taught believers … “How to become self-feeders.” He says, [quote] “We should’ve … taught people, how to read their Bible between services and how to do spiritual practices more aggressively on their own.”
After all these years, they have been the most influential in the teaching of other churches how to program the church in order to attract more and more attenders. What a responsibility!
And they wrote a book about their findings on why the church does not produce spiritual growth. And I’ll mention a few of those now …
Number one is a lack of Bible engagement. Churches aren’t moving people to read their Bibles outside of church.
There is no spiritual discipleship for new believers.
Churches are more concerned about activity then spiritual growth. That’s a problem.
A failure to understand the church’s role in the believer’s life. Believer’s have not been taught how the church plays a vital role in their life.
Too much of a focus on numbers. If we don’t have more warm bodies in the pews, we’re a decaying church.
Being too content with just attending church. Too many churches the study says are too satisfied to have a large congregation, whose members attend faithfully and who occasionally serve and give donations once in a while. That is not enough, they say.
Next … The church is too dependent on its church staff. That’s a problem. People have not been taught how to grow themselves and are too dependent on weekly sermons.
And finally … there is too much of a focus on doing rather than becoming. After 30 years of wrong ministry, they conclude that there is too much of a focus on doing rather than becoming. When there is a top down list of obligations on what to do in the church, the folks in the church become very activity-oriented and lose sight of the real goal: becoming like Jesus.
In other words folks, there is nothing that can replace a focus of prayer, Bible reading and serving one another spiritually.
“Read your Bible pray every day and you’ll grow, grow, grow.” So the church at large has failed God’s calling to encourage God’s people to grow spiritually.
And so the success of this church in God’s sight will be what happens with you in your private times with God. Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?
If I were to ask you, “what is God teaching you?” Would you know what God is working on you about? What sin in your life is God wanting you to put off? What character quality does God want you to put on? And do you know how to accomplish that and yield yourself to God that he might do that? Are you willing to take the time and the effort to do it?
Briefly this morning, let me address three points. The goal of sanctification, the power for sanctification, and the process of sanctification. The goal, power and process of sanctification.
And what is sanctification? Sanctification is the process by which we become more like Jesus Christ.
The Goal of Sanctification
Believe it or not, sanctification is God’s goal for you in everything that goes on in your life.
God’s goal for you in everything that goes on in your life is to make you more like Jesus Christ.
Let’s turn to Romans chapter 8. I like to show you that God’s goal is to make you like Jesus Christ. Romans chapter 8. God’s goal is not your comfort. God’s goal is not that you earn enough money so that you can give it all away. No, part of the gospel is that you become like Jesus Christ.
These are familiar verses but I want you to see the connection. Let’s look at verses 28-30.
Romans 8:28-30 28 And we know that God causes all things [how many things? All things …. God causes all things] to work together for good [what kind of good? There are a lot of things that are good. Well, keep reading …. God causes all things to work together for good] to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose [God causes all things to work together for those kinds of people, the redeemed of Jesus Christ…. What is the good that he is causing all things to work together for? … Well….]. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son [ahhhh, there is the good. God causes all things to work together for good … And the good is so that in the end we are conformed to the image of his son], so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
God is causing all things to work together for my growth in Christ. Are you with God on that?
Now, turn back to Romans 5. Romans 5 teaches us that trials and difficulties in our lives are bringing about this process of sanctification.
Romans chapter 5 let’s read verses 1-5.
Romans 5:1-5 1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this [not only do we hope in the glory of God], but we also exult [we rejoice] in our tribulations, [why do we rejoice in trials? … sounds crazy! … Well, we rejoice in trials keep going because we know] knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
We should rejoice in trials because God is using them to make us more like Christ.
James 1:1-5 gives us this same focus. James one teaches us that we are to be joyful in trials because we know that trials bring about spiritual growth.
James 1:1-5 1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. 2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,[why? Because you know] 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. [In other words, let God have His way in your trial so that you might become mature in Christ.] 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
And so my point this morning here is that God is using everything in your life to make you like Christ. God’s goal for your life in everything is that you become like Christ.
Now assumed in James chapter 1 and Romans chapter 5 and other passages is that you care about your growth in Christ. “Don’t worry about it, brother! Through this trial, you will become more like Jesus Christ! And since you already care about that, you can consider a joy that you’re in a trial!”
God’s goal is that you become like Jesus Christ and it is assumed that you have God’s goal at heart. That you really want to be like Jesus Christ in everything.
And so this is God’s goal for you in everything, your growth in Christ. Make this your goal as well.
TRANS: But you say, “I do care about that like I should, but I get so bogged down and so busy and so tired and so whatever else … and now, I don’t spend the time and I don’t care as much as I know I should about my growth in Christ.”
Well, you need power. You need power for sanctification. So the goal of sanctification first of all this morning is our growth in Christ, to be like Jesus. And secondly this morning now where are going to get the desire and the power for sanctification?
The Power for Sanctification
And I’m trusting that the phrase, “the gospel motivates godliness” is familiar to you by now. As we’ve already seen from Ephesians 4, what happened in salvation is a picture of what happens in sanctification.
You put off the old you in salvation. And you put off the habits of the old you in sanctification.
And you remember that that’s just like laying aside a filthy shirt and putting it in the garbage because it’s so dirty. In salvation you have taken off that filthy shirt.
And in sanctification, you are cleaning off the dirt that’s left over from that filthy shirt.
Growing in Christ then is a matter of understanding what happened in salvation.
To the degree then that we understand the gospel of Christ and the benefits of the gospel and what happened to us when we received the gospel, and what happens for us in the future because of the gospel … To the degree that we understand these things is the degree to which we will grow in Christ. This is why we’re so focused on understanding the Bible and encouraging ourselves from Scripture and seeking to know the mind of God …. Because as we do we will understand who God is and what he has done for us in Christ and we will see the big picture of our salvation from eternity past into eternity future and will be able to plug our little puny lives into the grand plan of God. And this will then encourage us to grow as we should.
And this is why we have the first three chapters of the book of Ephesians.
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: we get election, adoption, redemption, and inheritance, the sealing of the Holy Spirit …
And as Paul does in Ephesians, we need to pray that we come to comprehend these things.
And when we received this salvation, we’re told in Ephesians that we have been transferred from Satan’s family into God’s family. We were once a child of wrath but now we are a child of God. We were dead in our sins, but God has made us alive in Christ and He even has seated us with Christ so that in the future ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace!
And if you’ve trusted Christ, He has given you repentance and faith … it is a gift from him so that you might be saved.
And from this Paul can exhort us to live godly in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, exhort you to live in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called
And so the motivation and the power behind your desire to grow in Christ must come from your study of Scripture and from what God has done for you and from prayer so that you can understand the things that you’re reading.
And from this you will get the desire you need to grow in Christ.
And so if you do not have time or you do not make the effort, you will not grow in Christ.
TRANS: But make the effort at what exactly? So now the third point the process of sanctification. The goal is to become like Jesus Christ, our power will come from Holy Spirit-empowered knowledge of God’s word, and then the actual process can begin. So thirdly this morning, the process of sanctification.
The Process of Sanctification
Very simply the process of sanctification is to put off the habits of the old you and to put on the habits of the new you.
Put off the Old Man Habits
To grow in Christ, we must first lay aside certain sins in our lives. To lay aside certain sins, first you must identify what those sins are in your life. Identify what the sins are your life that God is working on. What areas in your life are you failing to bring glory to God?
The Bible is profitable for you to instruct you concerning what that is. 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
We need teaching on what sin is and we need to be convicted about that. And so if you have identified certain sins, I would suggest doing a brief Bible study on that sin. You don’t want to dwell too long on the bad habit; that doesn’t change you.
But if you tend to think for example that telling white lies is not that bad, if you did a Bible study on that you would change your mind rather quickly. When you learn especially from the book of Proverbs that God hates the lying tongue … would you like to be found in the pathway of the oncoming train of God’s hatred?
Or when you discover in the book of Revelation that liars do not inherit the kingdom of God. How serious then are our lies?
Once you have seen how serious even the smallest of sins can be that you might struggle with, you must confess that sin. Identify and then confess that sin. You must agree with God about the sinfulness of that sin. And then confess that to God and ask for his cleansing, as 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And confession and repentance belong together. You tell him it is indeed sin and you express to him your desire for change. This is putting off the ways of the old man. Continue that repentance, that turning from sin.
TRANS: But it’s not just turning from sin that will make you more godly. You must also put on the habits of the new you. Put on godly character qualities.
Put on the New Man Habits
And the way you will put on godly thinking and godly character is by studying the Bible.
You can’t just put off the old man and call it good. You can’t just confess your sin without replacing it with a godly habit.
You can’t just preach against pornography, lust, addictions, anger, lying, and other sins … Without also preaching about how to actually grow in those areas. I can preach all day long on how bad covetousness and materialism is, but unless I give you the prescription for how to cure the sickness of soul, you will not be better off.
A goal that I have as a pastor is that you would be able to admonish one another and counsel and encourage one another to grow in these areas. Can you counsel yourself on how to grow in your specific area? After our Thursday series in eschatology is done, we will do weekly studies on how to get over certain sins.
If you have an anger problem, do you know how to replace that with love, compassion, and patience?
So if you have an anger problem, first you identify the problem and confess it and regularly repent of it. And then, do a short Bible study on the sin itself. And then you need to a long term study the opposite of that sin. You need to study patience, compassion, and love. You need to see how God is patient and loving and kind. You need to behold His glory in that area in His Word in order to grow.
And you need to pray that you would have those character qualities. You need to put Bible verses on 3 x 5 cards and take them around with you to study and meditate while you’re shopping or in the truck or other places.
TRANS: This is choosing to put on the godly habits of the new you that glorify God. This is choosing to actually put effort into becoming more godly.
By Being Renewed in Your Minds
And while you are exerting this effort of repenting of sin and confessing that sin…. And as you are trying to put on the new man by studying those character qualities, you need to be praying that God would renew your mind.
This is being renewed in your minds. This is something that God does. This is you being controlled by God’s Spirit. This is God illuminating your mind … this is His work, this being renewed in the Spirit of your mind, but you must ask God for it and cooperate with Him on it.
Let’s turn over to Romans 12. Paul just gave the gospel in chapters 1-11. And then in chapter 12, Paul gives the applications for godly living based on the power and motivation of the gospel. And right out of the gate after giving the power and motivation for godly living he commands us to be renewed in our minds.
Romans 12:1-2 1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [how? How do you become transformed … ] by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
You need spiritual growth and transformation in your life. That is going to happen when God renews your mind. To renew something means to restore its original condition.
ILL: It would be kind of like restoring a ‘67 Chevy Camaro. If you’ve got an old rusty Chevy Camaro or a Ford Mustang … hey … I’m not wanting to get into the Chevy versus Ford wars here … But if you’re wanting to restore an old vehicle like that, you’re wanting to restore it to its original condition. You find the parts and attempt to put it back to factory condition.
You want to make it new again. God is wanting to do that with us. He wants to restore his own image in us. He wants to restore man as he was before the Fall of man in the garden.
God will renew our minds as we pray and as the word of Christ richly dwells within us. We need God’s word to be in us.
Until you learn to think God’s thoughts, you will not grow in Christ.
So you must prayerfully meditate on the word of God. You must purposefully set your mind to think over the words of Scripture. You must think about specific Bible passages on purpose. You must learn to think through passages of Scripture.
And even if it takes just one verse per week, whatever it takes, be purposely thinking on Scripture. You would be better off to ponder over one verse of Scripture in a week rather than blindly running your eyes across black words on a white page and giving no thought to what you’re reading.
You must meditate on Scripture. To meditate on Scripture, you can ask yourself 2 questions.
Number one what does the passage say? Get your pen out and write down what the passage is saying. Try to understand what the words mean and pray for illumination.
Number two, what does the passage mean? This is where you attempt to apply it. Am I supposed to respond in some way? Is there a command I am supposed to obey?
And very importantly pray before you read and study the Bible. And get your pen out and expect to receive something from God.
To grow in Christ takes, number one to lay aside sinful habits. This takes confession of sin and repenting of that sin and telling God about that. You may need to study that particular sin in Scripture to be motivated too lay it aside.
But, number two you must put on the new man. Here, you study the Bible on the opposite of that sin. If it’s anger, you need to study patience, love and compassion. You need to see in Scripture how God is patient and loving compassionate.
And thirdly it takes God renewing you in your mind. This is God’s work. You must pray for it; that’s your work.
2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
It’s as you behold the glories of the Lord that you will be changed into that same image. In order to change to be like Christ, you must fill your mind with the glories of the Lord as found in his word.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Ephesians 4.25-28
Now, this is God’s plan for making you more like Jesus Christ. You will not become more like Christ if I as a pastor am only constantly telling you what is wrong.
You will not become more like Christ only through my preaching, believe it or not! You will become more like Christ if you put in the work. You must do this actively. You must know how God is working in your life to make you more like Christ these days. Becoming like Christ is a lifelong project: make it your project to become like Jesus Christ. It is already God’s goal in your life for everything.
And so, we’ve found the missing treasure map! Life is only so long. Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And there aren’t many things that God requires of you. Are you sold out on giving your life over to his causes for your life? Will you give yourself to living godly in Christ Jesus? What effort will you put in tomorrow to living like Christ? What sin is it that God is pressing you on? What is it that should replace that? Give yourself to Christ and grow.
556 Only one life.
Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth