Huge Contrasts in Christ
Ephesians 4:17-32
With thanks to Robert Thompson

          By Paul Robison

What does the word “contrast” mean to you?  Look for moment at this slide and you see four boxes, all them are basically variations of the color blue.  We might call them small contrasts.  Now look at the next four boxes, which are made up of two pair of colors that are called contrasting colors.  Blue and orange are opposites, and so are red and green.  We might call these huge contrasts.  In fact, the dictionary says this of a contrast:  "A difference, especially a striking difference, between things being compared."  A researcher did a study in 2006, and he asked young Christians (those who had claimed that they had been saved by Christ) what they thought about living together before marriage, and 60% agreed that is was morally acceptable to do so.  And this same pattern held true for gambling, sexual fantasizing, having abortions, committing adultery, using profanity, using drugs, and endorsing same sex marriages.  Only 40% were saying that these behaviors were sinful.  The director of research made this statement: "The research shows that people’s moral profile is more likely to resemble that of their peer group than it is to take shape around the tenets [or beliefs] of a person’s faith. This research paints a compelling picture that moral values are shifting very quickly and significantly within the Christian community as well as outside of it" (David Kinnaman).  You see, beloved brethren, our neighbors see only small contrasts between our lives and their lives.  So, they think, “Why should we become members of your church?  People in it are living in it in just about the same way as those living around them are!”  We're like the blue boxes, but the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:17-32 is calling us to make some huge contracts.  He wants the members at Ephesus and us to be bold contrasting colors that go against what our culture teaches us.  Look at verse 17: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk [or live] as the rest of the Gentiles walk.”  Paul has admonished us earlier to live worthy of our calling, to live up to our Name's sake.  For the Ephesians, the contrast was between the Christian way of life and their pre-Christian world of unbridled materialist pursuits and unrestrained sexual indulgences. Our culture today considers itself to be post-Christian, as if it has advanced beyond the restraints of a Christian way of thinking and acting.  Curiously, post-Christian American culture has many parallels to pre-Christian Greek culture.  And we are still called to this contrast: 'You must no longer live as the Gentiles do'" (Thompson).  Now Paul gets down to the nitty-gritty of describing what huge contrasts this involves.  So let's look at some of the contrasts between the pagan way of life and the Christian way of life.

There's the contrast between worldliness and holiness.  Look at verses 17-20: "You should not longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness."  "Substitute 'Americans' for 'Gentiles,' and this paragraph could have been [printed in the newspaper] this morning.  It is a graphic description of the society in which we live [being motivated by an unbridled worldliness].  This is the world's system, [and the root problem is that the prince of this world has used such strong propaganda] that our thinking has been corrupted. ...  For Paul, this is the condition of [people] apart from God" (Bullard).  Do you see something of a downward spiral here?  The world's understanding is called darkness.  Then people take God out of the picture, and their darkness now becomes blindness.  "There are no standards of right and wrong, shame is lost, and decency is forgotten" (Bullard).  Their blindness now becomes hardness.  "People are so much at the mercy of their own desires that they do no care whose life they hurt or whose innocence they destroy as long as their [worldly] desires are satisfied" (Bullard).  Their hardness now becomes recklessness.  Worldliness has completely overcome holiness, and Americans end up doing some pretty weird, crazy, and awful actions.  Have you read or heard about any this past week?  Nothing should surprise us anymore because when God is taken out of the picture, people go from darkness, to blindness, to hardness, to recklessness.  Now listen to this question: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).  Worldliness or holiness?  You can't have both!  It should be a huge contrast in our lives!

There's the contrast between Satan and Christ.  Look now at verse 20-21: "But you have no so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus."  Jesus is about holiness, not worldliness.  To learn Christ means that we have  submitted to Him and let Him dominate our lives (Bullard)!  We have finished with all immorality, we have finished with passions that are impure, we have finished with what outrages the souls and bodies of others (Foulkes).  The truth of Christ dominates our minds, and His teachings are causing us to make huge contrasts in our behaviors and conduct!  We have been freed from Satan's captivity, and we no longer chase after our own desires and whims (Bullard).  Instead, we walk step by step and day by day in the footprints and teachings of Jesus, getting to know Him and them more and more—we desire what He desires, we love what He loves, we practice what He practices.  The center of life is no longer Satan and self, but Christ and His church!  The old hymn has it right: "Living for Jesus a life that is true.  Striving to please Him in all that I do.  Yeilding allegiance, glad-hearted and free; this is the pathway of blessing for me" (Chisholm).  Christ or Satan?  Which are you following?

There's the contrast between corruption and transformation.  Look at verse 22: "that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts."  This no superficial change of clothing for which Christ calls.  No, the old man, "all that belongs to the old sinful way of life, the way of the pagans that we saw described previously in verses 17-19, all of that is to be set aside decisively and abandoned" (Foulkes).  And then a totally new wardrobe is to take its place.  Remember when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11:44, what was the first thing that He told others to do?  "Get him out of those graveclothes, and let's get some real garments back on him (now that's a paraphrase of 11:44)!"  You see, Lazarus was to abandon totally those graveclothes, and we are to do the same!  We make this radical change of attire because Jesus taught us a great truth, which is stated in the latter part of this verse: "the old man grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts."  We are heading in one of two directions: if we live according to the worldly lifestyle, we can expect corruption and rottenness, but if we live according to Christ and His teachings, a righteous transformation will take place.  Why is there corruption?  Because that is the nature of sin, and this is why we should hate sin.  Lusts are deceitful in that they promise fulfillment, but, in reality, they only bring further corruption. 
Let's abandon for good our former grave-clothes that only bring rottenness!  Corruption or transformation?  What another huge contrast!

There's the contrast between lust and purity.  Look now at verses 23-24: “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”   
Some historians believe Ephesus was the most sensually-obsessed city in Asia Minor.  Its prominent temple was dedicated to the worship of Artemis, the goddess of sex.  The temple was staffed by thousands of prostitutes and priests, and the local economy was driven by the worship of Artemis. ... Fast-forward two thousand years.  Our modern world has reverted to actual and virtual fulfillment of every kind of sensual desire.  We say, 'Well, I can't help it.  I'm wired this way.'  [There a nice Greek word for that kind of reasoning: "Hogwash!"]  You are made in God's image so that you can choose what's right.  Further, as a believer you can claim the power of Christ over sin and the help of the Holy Spirit not to fulfill those physical desires in any way except as He intended -- in marriage between a man and a woman.  Now it's not just what we do personally, however, where we reinforce and perpetuate pagan values.  In our choices in television, movies, books, and fashion, [are we reinforcing Satan's agenda?  Here is a prime example where stirking differences or huge contrasts can barely be detected in many Chris tians' lives.]  What do you laugh at?  What do you support at the box office? What do you wear?  Do your choices reflect or contrast [our American culture]” (Thompson)?  “In Jesus, we have been made super-sensitive to sin and [should] avoid it at all costs.  Purity of life should be a major concern [for Christians]. ... God wants us to be horrified by sin.  He wants us to be ashamed of our former lifestyles!  But if we continue to read, to listen to, or watch [what our pagan culture serves up as entertainment, then the old rottenness will begin to permeate once again] (Bullard).  Lust or purity?  Let's not think that we can straddle the fence.  Take a stand for purity, and show others that you are a bold contrasting color!

There's the contrast between lies and truth.  Look at verse 25:
Therefore, putting away lying, 'Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,' for we are members of one another.  Here is an area where it's all too easy to slip into those [small contrasts again].  When you hear or speak phrases like this: 'It was only a white lie,' 'What they don't know won't hurt them,' or 'Well, he wasn't under oath,' there's a significant possibility you've bought into [our pagan culture]  (Thompson).  "Lying is to have no part of our life, especially in our relationship with fellow Christians.  [Paul's term here also covers all kinds of lies in our lives.]  The way to kill a lie is by telling the truth.  Wherever, whenever, whatever, tell the truth!  And "tell it in love" as 4:15 exhorts us. ... Notice Paul's motivation for our being truthful: 'for we are members of one another' (Bullard).  Whenever we speak the truth, the Spirit of God works, but whenever we tell a lie, Satan goes to work.  Lying always disrupts unity and destroys trust.  It tears down relationships” (McGraw).  “The body of Christ will never reach maturity, it will never be completely unified until we all discipline ourselves to be honest with one another” (Bullard).  “How can we be such a congregation if we don't rely on one another?  How can we lean on each other for the spiritual encouragement that we need as Christians, if we can’t trust one another because of lies” (Black)?  This is not rocket science!  Lies or truth?  It should be a huge contrast! 

There's the contrast between uncontrolled emotions and controlled emotions.  Verse 26 exhorts: “'Be angry, and do not sin' [which is a psalm that Paul is quoting]; do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”  “Anger is a God-given emotion; thus, anger in itself is not wrong. ... It's what anger often leads us to do that becomes wrong. ... So, in our anger, we should not sin.  We are to keep our emotions under control.  If someone makes you angry, deal with it today.  Do not let accumulate; do not stew in your anger for days on end.  If you do, you will not end up acting right.  Go to that brother or sister when you first become angry; go in love and deal with the cause of the irritation.  If you fail to do this, Paul says that you have given Satan a foothold in your life.  And in time, he will destroy you through your own anger” (Bullard).  Is whatever upsets you worth losing heaven over?  Uncontrolled emotions or controlled emotions?  Do our friends and neighbors see this huge contrast in our lives?  

There's the contrast between theft and generosity.  Verse 28 admonishes: "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need."  "If we took a survey, would there be much difference between professing believers and unbelievers in their attitude toward padding expense accounts, falsifying costs to make a profit, blurring the line between what belongs to our employer and what belongs to us, omitting income by overstating deductions on our tax returns, putting funds in the collection? ... The [worldly] rationale is that it's not stealing unless you get caught.  It's a game you play to outwit those who don't deserve your loyalty.  Christians must think [once again: 'Huge contrast!'  Paul states that] "the contrast to stealing is first, working, but ultimately, giving.  Why does God give you more than enough?  Is your answer to that question a pagan one: to let me buy more toys, or the Christian one: to help m
eet others' needs and build up Christ's kingdom" (Thompson)?

There's the contrast between tearing down and building up.  Verse 29 commands: "Let no corrupt word proceed our of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers."  "The fastest way to let the world know that you are not part of the old corruption any longer is to clean up your speech.  This means no four letter words, no rumors, no gossip, no slander, no sarcasm, and no dirty jokes.  Get rid of every negative, foul way that you can use your mouth.  Exchange all that foul language for words that bless, words that encourage and build up others, and words that reflect Christ" (Bullard).  "Put this question on your refrigerator, mirror, or dashboard: 'Will my words today tear down or build up?' Let that question shape how you speak to your spouse, your kids, your co-workers, your neighbors, your friends, and your enemies" (Thompson).  What a striking difference your tongue can make!

There's the contrast between grieving the Spirit and pleasing the Spirit.  Verse 30 states: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."  "The day we were born again, God marked us with a seal that we were His: He gave us His Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14)!  As He dwells within us, we can frustrate Him or bring joy to Him. ... When we dress ourselves in the attitudes and actions of unredeemed people [and our sinful culture], we bring sorrow to the Spirit of God, who has called us to a higher lifestyle.  When we put on our new wardrobe provided by Christ and His holiness, that brings joy to God's Spirit" (Bullard)!  The Holy Spirit weeps at the stench when we return to wearing our old grave-clothes once again!  Has your lifestyle been grieving the Spirit or pleasing the Spirit lately?  Only if the Spirit is pleased will the day of redemption when Christ returns also be a joyous occasion for us as well!  Abandon the old corruption, and keep dressing up with the new transformation!  Make the Spirit smile by showing off your new outfits in Christ daily!

There's the contrast between bitterness and forgiveness.  Verses 31-32 encourage: "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you."  "Our culture's pagan mentality feeds you the line every time you turn around: 'It's all about you.  You have a right to be happy.  You have a right to express yourself and explode!'  Now notice, Paul doesn't say: 'Be a little less bitter, reduce your rage just a hair, only brawl twice a month.'  No, there's to be huge contrast.  Paul challenges us: 'Get rid of the barbs; bitterness has no place in this life of contrasts in Christ!' ... You are to choose to forgive, just as God in Christ has forgiven you" (Thompson).  If this truth does not register, then reread chapter 1-3!  Bitterness or forgiveness?  Jesus can really make a striking difference in our relationships!

There's the contrast between American culture and God.  The first verse of the next chapter sums up: "Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children."  We were sons of disobedience and children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3), but now we are sons of obedience and children of God!  Now that should be such a huge contrast that it's very obvious!  "One characteristic of children around the world is that they always mimic the people they love" (Bullard).  The apostle Peter says it this way: "As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written: 'Be holy for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:14-16)!  
Someone challenges us with these thoughts: “If Christ is characterized by truth, His people should be as well.  This means first of all that we discern truth in God.  He is the source of truth by which we live.  If taken seriously, this should separate us from much of our society, which seeks to live lies.  The entertainment industry creates illusion and perversion and seeks to pass them off as truth.  Our society asserts that immediate pleasure is the goal and denies the reality of death and judgment for our actions.  The lies around us must be identified and challenged.  We, as Christians, need to take the extra step to developing a Biblical mind and a Christian world-view.  Too often we allow our social, political, and educational perspectives to inform and shape our [biblical outlook], rather than seeking to have our perspectives transformed by our [biblical outlook].  “We are so busy, so consumed with our own lives, and our own thoughts, that we have failed to cultivate in ourselves the mind of Christ” (Chapman).  American culture or God?  Who are we really following?

Christianity i
s not a matter of going from 'Light Blue' to 'Dark Blue' on the color chart.  We should be bold contrasting colors when compared to our culture!  "You must no longer live as the Gentiles do!"  Contrast: "A difference, especially a striking difference, between things being compared."  Christ should be making huge differences in our lives: holiness, transformation, purity, truth, controlled emotions, generosity, building up, pleasing the Spirit, forgiveness, imitating God!   We do not  "Go with the flow!"; we "Go with God's Word!"  "You must no longer live as the Americans do!"  Abandon your grave-clothes for good, renew your mind in Christ's school, and start dressing up each day in resurrection style!  Make you life one of huge contrasts!