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Read Ephesians 4:17-24

When I was a sophomore in high school, I received a special invitation to serve at a formal banquet. Serving at the banquet was an honor, but it meant that I had to have a tuxedo. My parents looked into renting a tuxedo and they realized that in a few months time I would have to rent one again for wedding party. They also knew that I certainly could use it during my junior and senior year for photos and proms and there would undoubtedly be other banquets and events, so they did the practical thing and just bought a tuxedo rather than spending five times as much to continually rent. (And that made sense in those days because tuxedos were rather standard and did not come in the variety of styles that they do today. The only other version we had was the sky blue one with the big ruffles on the shirt).

I look back and observe how ridiculous it seems for a backwoods kid from Brentwood to own a tuxedo. Renting is one thing, but owning a tuxedo tested me. For my parents it was simply a financial decision – they just smiled over the money that had saved. But it pressed me to ask, “What does it take to wear a tuxedo? What kind of person wears a tuxedo?”

I wanted to get it right. I was not a natural candidate for high fashion. Every day I wore grass stained jeans, dirty sneakers, and T-shirts. I rode my motorcycle down to the cattle pond and got mud all over my shoes pestering frogs with fireworks. But I wanted to get it right because every time I put on the tuxedo I thought I was James Bond. I really wanted to be as classy as the tuxedo implied.

I wanted to get it right. So, I learned how to wear the tuxedo properly. I learned to tie my own tie and how to put in the cuff-links and how to shine my shoes. Some of my friends would show up in their rented tuxes and some of them wore tube socks and sneakers; which made sense because they would play basketball in their tuxedos when they got bored with the banquet. Even their cummerbunds were upside down, but I didn’t say anything – I wanted to get it right but I didn’t want to get beat up. Besides, this wasn’t about being a snob or self-righteous. I just felt that if I had my own tuxedo, then I needed to learn how to really have the sort of class that the tuxedo implied. And I may have even picked up some good manners a long the way. All that, just because of a change of clothes ...

In Ephesians 4, Paul uses the imagery of a change of clothes to describe the change in God’s people from a former way of life to new life in Christ. His point is that God’s people have put off the dirty, mismatched, ill-fitting clothing of the old life and are now clothed in the tailor-made, polished clothing of the new life. We have been clothed in the likeness of God.

Let me ask you two questions to think about for a moment:
1. As Christians, does it make any difference how we behave?
2. As Christians, why should we behave any certain way?

Let’s deal with these in reverse order, for I am convinced that the answer to the second addresses the first ...

2) Why should we behave a certain way? It is not to “get into heaven” or “to get rewarded.” That is backwards thinking. God who is rich in mercy has saved us. When we were dead in our sins we made us alive in Christ. He created us in Christ Jesus to do good things – things that he planned for long ago. He has given us peace with others and blessed us with gifts. So, now that we have already been shown mercy and grace and we are called to live up to it. If we don’t live up to it then we are squandering and despising the new life that God has called us to. (How much sense would it make if my parents had bought me the tuxedo and I went to the fine banquets in my gym clothes that had been in the locker for two weeks?)

1) Now when you think about it like that above, we begin to see that the way we live and behave really does matter. We are called to be the people God always intended for us to be. We were not created and called to be and to live like people who are dead in sin waiting to be rescued and losing hope. Those who aren’t aware of God’s calling to a new life (those whom Paul calls Gentiles – not because of ethnicity, but because of ethics) are living without hope because they don’t know the truth about God and themselves. Even more tragic are those who have hardened their hearts or blinded themselves to reality. Those who aren’t aware of the life God has called them to have nothing more to live for than their own greed and lust.

The point of this is not to make us feel self-righteous. Not at all! Paul was reminding the Ephesian Christians that that was their way of life before they learned a better from Christ. That is not only the way we should regard every person, but also the way we should examine our own lives. What are the habits and behaviors of “the old life” or the “corrupt culture” that we need to strip off like dirty, tattered clothing? After all, the goal here is self-examination, not self-righteousness.

In contrast to the pointless life without God’s calling, the new life in Christ is characterized by behavior and manners that conform to the calling and gracious salvation that God is accomplishing in our lives. As you will notice, we are called to be honest, truthful, self-controlled, thoughtful, and forgiving. To preach and teach these things is to describe the manners and morals that are a part of being clothed in Christ.

This is how we should hear the preaching and teaching of these Scriptures. If you think I am grilling you, toe-stomping, or complaining about the sorry state of morals these days, then you haven’t heard correctly.
If you think I am saying something that someone else really needs to hear, then you haven’t heard correctly.
If you think I am saying something with you specifically in mind but in an indirect way through the preaching, then you haven’t heard correctly.

But if you hear a call to a way of life that is new, Christ-like, mature, you are hearing correctly If you hear counsel and direction for a way of behavior that would not only be good for you but would be good for all of us as we strive to live it out, you are hearing correctly.

I have a vision for this congregation that we will all live out the meaning of our baptism.

I have a vision that we will be a people of holy manners who are dressed up in Christ and are pleased to grow up together in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

I really believe this is possible and I believe we can do this because it is described as real in the Word of God.

Because I believe it, I preach it. Shall we help one another to live it?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 6 May 2007

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