Walking in your new identity
February 18th, 2018
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
If God has done so many things for us (Ephesians 1-3), how will this make a difference in our every day lives? Paul continues in this teaching in Ephesians to instruct Christians to walk in unity (Eph. 4:1), walk toward maturity in diversity (Eph. 4:7-16), and in today’s Scripture to walk in our new true identity in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24).
Three Truths About Our Identity as Christians (Ephesians 4:17-24)
I. You have experienced two competing identities if you are a Christian.
If you have decided to follow Christ, you have experienced two ways of being, thinking, and doing.
- Names of identities: “Old self” – living apart from the true God, and “New self”- living as God’s child with His Holy Spirit as a guide. “Put off your old self…and put on the new self.” (Eph. 4:22-24) “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone, the new is here.” (II Cor. 5:17)
- Ways of thinking: 1. “Old self” – confused (Eph. 4:17-19), especially with our moral compass. 2. “New self” – in the process of being renewed (Eph. 4:23,24), yielding ourselves to be transformed, to be more like Christ.
- Behaviors: “Old self” – Logical end of thinking is in constant pursuit and continual cravings for the finite and futile things of the here and now (Eph. 4: 19, 22). “New self” – Knowing we were made for eternity (the infinite, beyond ourselves and the world), we move with God’s help toward righteousness (doing what is right) and holiness (staying away from what is wrong) in our actions.
II. You can only have one true identity.
We can enter both mindsets of the “Old self” and “New self”, but we can only have one true identity. Paul encourages us to recognize that as Christ’s children, our basic identity is our “New self”. As God’s son/daughter, our “Old self” is in a continuing process of being renewed by our turning/surrendering to Jesus and His power to change us throughout our lives into a “New self” (loved, worthy, hopeful, and full of Truth).
III. You are called to think and act from your true identity.
As believers, we must act on our new identity, daily and gently choosing to line up every area of our lives with Jesus Christ (one piece at a time), embracing the guiding and transforming work of His Spirit within us, and behaving toward others with our “New self”. (Eph. 4:24)
Remember, we are not alone. With God’s Word for instruction, the Holy Spirit for guidance & power, and the church community to walk along side us, we really can experience the true life, the true identity, we were created for in Christ.
- Describe the difference between living in the old nature and the new nature according to Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 12:1-2.
- How do you recognize that you are living in the old nature? Why is there confusion?
- What motivates you want to surrender your will, and turn to God for your new identity? Is it to earn God’s approval, or loving Christ because of what He has already done for you?
- Most of us are very familiar with the description of the “Old Self” (unworthy, lost, shameful, condemned, unloved, alone, etc.) What words would you use to describe the “New Self”?
- Is this “New self” identity for real, or just wishful thinking? Have you ever experienced this?
Let me ask you a question: Does anyone know who this is? This is Marcus Allen. Marcus Allen is a guy who was always a great football player. There is no doubt about that. He is the only football player ever to have won the Heisman trophy, the NCAA championship, the NFL MVP award and the Superbowl.
Even in the first 11 years of his career when Marcus Allen played for the team represented by that black jersey and the team that scientists have proven to be the most evil in the NFL, the Oakland Raiders, Marcus Allen was still great. The Raiders are the nemesis of my team, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs and the Raiders hate each other. UNC/Duke? Auburn/Alabama? Those are mere child’s-play compared to a Chief’s/Raiders game! Marcus Allen was a great player when he played for the Raiders.
But at the end of his 11th year in the NFL just when the Raiders had benched him, just when his career seemed washed up, Marcus Allen shocked the entire football world by doing something no one ever thought he would do. He changed identities. He became a Kansas City Chief.
It took a lot of work. He had to change to a different team owner. He had to change his thinking. Kansas City ran a west coast offense which was very different from what the Raiders ran, so he had to think differently. He had to change what he did. He had to change elements of his playing style. He had to change the uniform he wore. But in the end, it was worth it! While he was with the Chiefs, this old running back that everyone thought was washed up broke the 10,000 and 12,000 yard mark for his rushing career, set the NFL record for most career rushing touch downs, beat his old team, the Raider, nine times out of ten. Of course, he never won a superbowl with the Chiefs, because that’s not what we do.
That’s a great story. Now why do I tell you that story? I tell you that, because if you are a Christian, if you have come to believe in Christ, if you follow him, then you have something in common with Marcus Allen! When I say that, I don’t mean you’re a great football player. I mean that like Marcus Allen you have changed identities. Like Marcus Allen, your new identity has provided you with a new owner, and a new way of thinking and new behaviors. Today Paul is going to talk about that. In fact, today Paul is going to tell us to change our uniform!
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4:17-24. We are continuing today in our series in Ephesians 4-5 called “Walk this Way.” Paul spent the first three chapters of Ephesians telling us all about the amazing things that God has done for us in Christ. Now in this portion of the book of Ephesians, he’s telling us how to walk, how we should live our lives in response to what God has done for us. Two weeks ago we saw that we should walk in unity. Last week we talked about walking in the diversity of our gifting. Today, Paul is going to tell us to walk according to our new identity. To put it in Marcus Allen terms, he’s going to tell us to walk according to our new team, to walk like a Chief, and not like a Raider. Paul is going to challenge us today to align everything in our lives with our new identity in Christ.
Today, we are going to look at three facts about your identity as a Christian – three facts that are true of you if you are a Christ-follower of any kind. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian or no matter what your strengths are or what your struggles are, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ these three things are true of you. Let’s read Ephesians 4:17-24. As we come to this passage, Paul has been talking about how to walk. He’s told us to walk in unity. He’s told us to walk in diversity, because that will build up the church and bring it to maturity. Now as we come to today’s passage in light of that call to maturity Paul is going to give us a very strong word.
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
But you did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
– Ephesians 4:17-24
This is a very sobering passage. John Maiden asked me the other day “When you read this passage, does it make you want to get depressed about the nature of mankind?” It’s sobering! This is a deep passage. There is a LOT of truth here! There are many, many things we could dive deeply into in this passage. I about drove myself crazy working on it! I felt like the third grader who entitled his two page essay “The Universe. It’s origin, nature, and destiny!” I felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew!
As I thought about the meaning of this passage and the best way to share that with you, I think the best way to understand it is simply that this passage gives us three truths about our identity as Christians, three truths that help us understand who we are and how we should think and what we should do. The actual truths are very basic. But they are foundational, if we are going to understand the Christian life. So let me give them to you today. The first truth is this. If you are a Christian:
You have experienced two competing identities
This is a complex passage with a lot of theological implications. The whole passage revolves around the idea that we, as Christians, have experienced two different competing identities. If you are a Christian, if you have decided to follow Jesus, then you have experienced two different ways of being and of thinking and of doing.
These two identities run throughout this whole passage. Paul starts the passage with the first identity when he says “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles walk in the futility of their mind,” so that’s the first identity. Then he says “But you did not come to know Christ that way” and that’s the second identity. Our identity in Christ. Then he goes back to the first one when he says “You were taught to put off your old self with its deceitful desires.” Then he goes back to the second identity, when he says “You were taught to put on your new self, created in true righteousness and holiness.” The idea is that there are these two identities that run throughout the passage.
If you are a Christian, you have been exposed to both of these. You are probably more familiar with one of these than the other. If you haven’t been a Christian very long and didn’t grow up in a Christian environment, maybe you haven’t had as much exposure to that second identity, the new self. That’s fine! Or maybe some of you grew up in kind of a Christian bubble. Maybe you grew up in a strong Christian family and went to a Christian school. Maybe you’re like me. It was a worldly, worldly week when we only went to church twice! Had to be there Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. Maybe your upbringing was very Christian! But even if that’s the case, you have still experienced this first identity. You have made choices to sin, to do wrong. You were born with that first identity, and you still experienced that first identity all around you. It is the way the world thinks. So everybody that’s a Christian here today has experienced each of these two identities to some degree in our lives.
Paul tells us a lot in this passage about these two identities, so let’s take a closer look at them. By the way, this will be the most technical part of the sermon so bear with me. Let’s zoom in and look at these identities.
If we look closely at the passage, we’ll see that each of these identities has three parts. Each one has a:
- Way of thinking
It’s very important that we understand that this is more than what you do there is a name-thinking-and behavior. Just like Marcus Allen changed his team name and his way of thinking and his behavior, it’s the same way with these two identities. So let’s look at each of these three aspects one at a time.
- Let’s look at the names of these identities. The name that Paul gives to the first identity is our “Old Self.” In verse 22 Paul says “You were taught to put off your old self.” He also refers to this identity as “Gentile” in verse 17. He said “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their mind.” That’s the same identity, but with a different name. The idea here is this: These are people who live apart from the true God. They might be Atheists. They might worship a different God. They might be agnostic and say “Who knows?” But they do not know. They do not identify with, they do not have life from, the True God. This was our identity before we came to know God through Christ. That’s why Paul calls it the Old Self. So this is the old Self.
- The name Paul gives to the second identity is the “New Self.” In verse 24, he says “You were taught to put on your new self in righteousness and holiness.” This is the new identity that we receive when we place our trust in Christ. When I believe that Jesus is Lord and that he died for my sins and that he rose from the dead, when I ask Jesus to come into my life, I get a new identity.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:17
I become God’s child. He makes me spiritually alive, so that I can commune with him in a special way. The Holy Spirit comes and lives inside of me to be my guide. My identity changes I go from Raider to Chief, from old to new. Those are the two names.
Secondly, there is a way of thinking that goes with each of these identities. Paul talks a LOT in this passage about the way these two identities think. When we read the passage, Paul uses at least a dozen words or phrases that relate to thought. The word that best describes the thinking of the old self is this: Confused. The thinking of the old self is confused. Look at what Paul says:
You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality .
– Ephesians 4:17-19
Wow! Did you see the words Paul used there? Futility of thinking, darkened in their understanding and separated from life because of ignorance, hardness of heart lost all sensitivity. There is one word that best describes the thinking of our old self our thinking outside of Christ and that word is “confused!”
Now if you’re like me I read that and I go “really?” Are we really that bad? Are we really futile in our thinking and darkened in our understanding outside of Christ? I don’t know about you, but I have some unbelieving neighbors on my street. I gotta say “tthey are sharp people!” He works at a manufacturing plant, and she is in the legal profession. They don’t seem to be ignorant or darkened in their understanding at all!
So what is Paul talking about? He’s not saying that they are unintelligent. He’s not saying that they can’t think straight, generally. Rather, he’s talking about morality. He’s talking about our moral compass – our view of God and eternity, and right and wrong, and of why we are on this planet. He’s saying that, because they’ve lost touch with God, their thinking on those things is very confused.
We don’t have time to go into this today, but your view of God totally affects your view of morality. Whatever you believe about God will show up in your view of right and wrong. If you believe that God is righteous, but loving, and if you believe that he forgives sin, that will show up in your ethics. If you believe that God is relational, it will show up in your view of morality.
That’s why, when Paul called us to unity, he starts by showing us that God is unified. Remember he said there is one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father. Now he’s calling us to holiness, and he ends this paragraph by reminding us that God is holy. Our understanding of morality is totally dependant on our view of God. If you don’t believe in God, you are going to be very confused about what’s right, and what’s wrong, and why they are right and wrong.
So not knowing God, those under the old self are confused. One more thing. Notice that the reason they are confused is because of the hardening of their hearts. We don’t have time to go into this, but you need to know that when we reject God’s truth, when we refuse to believe that what he says is true, when we choose to disobey what he’s told us to do, there’s a price. We become hardened to God’s truth. Paul literally says they are calloused. If we refuse to recognize truth long enough, the Bible says we will become unable to recognize the truth. We become hardened, and with that, comes more and more moral confusion.
Part of our old identity is confusion – confusion about who God is, confusion about what it means to be spiritually alive, and confusion about right and wrong. Now Paul also describes the thinking of the New Self. The best way to summarize that is that it is “being renewed.” Paul says this:
You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
– Ephesians 4:20-24
In verse 23, Paul says “You were taught to be made new in the attitude of your minds.” Literally, “to keep being renewed.” The idea is that this is a continual process where one piece at a time, our thinking is renewed it comes on line with the truth. This is the undoing of the hardness and confusion of the old self. Jesus comes into our life, and one piece at a time, one area at a time, he removes the hardening and untangles the confusion and straightens up our thinking. It’s a beautiful thing to watch this happen!
This week Kelley and I have had the opportunity to talk with some of you, to counsel some of you and to pray with some of you. I’m watching Jesus do this! I’m watching him come into your life and make things new. I’m seeing you think in new ways. I’m seeing some of you serve in ways you’ve never served before. I’m seeing husbands and dads lead their families in new ways, and it’s beautiful! So this is a process of the renewing of our minds.
So thinking is confused in the Old Self, and it is being renewed in the New Self. Lastly, there is behavior that goes with each of these identities. The behavior that goes with the Old Self is what I would call that behavior “Constant Pursuit.” Now, that sounds like some kind of video game, “Constant Pursuit,” but it’s not. What I mean is that the Old Self has a insatiable craving, a constant pursuit, of the things in the here and now. Let me show you what I mean:
Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more
– Ephesians 4:19
Wow! Again, that comes across as pretty negative! What is Paul saying? Is he saying that everyone who is not a Christ-follower lives in this total pursuit of evil and carnage and lust? I don’t think that’s exactly it, but Paul is saying that some people who don’t know God, some “Gentiles,” do live this way. More importantly, he’s saying this is the logical end of the thinking of the Old Self. If you follow it through to its logical end, this is where the thinking of the Old Self will ultimately take you.
You were made for eternity. You were made to worship an infinite God and know him and live for something bigger than yourself. We were all made for that. But if I don’t know God, where is my attention going to go? To the here and now. It will go to finite things, to things of this world:
* To possessions, like money or a big house a fast car the latest iPhone
* To power, to things like status or popularity or being in control
* To experiences, like sexual conquests or my hobbies or big vacations.
That’s where my attention is going to go if God is out of the picture, because that’s all that’s left – the here and now.
But here’s the problem with that: All those things are finite, but I’m not. I’m eternal. I was made for the infinite. There will never be enough of that finite stuff to fill the hole:
* If it’s power, there’s not a position powerful enough to make me feel secure.
* If I live for stuff, there’s not a fast enough car. There’s not a big enough boat.
* There’s not a sexual experience. There’s not a piece of pornography that will satisfy that desire. There’s not.
* If I live for money, there will never be a check big enough to fill the hole.
Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller “How much money does a guy like you need?” He said “Just one dollar more.”
If this is what you live for, there will be a continual craving, an insatiable pursuit. You will literally give yourself to sensuality, to things you can sense.
That’s the behavior of the Old Self. Now Paul gives us the behavior of the New Self. Look at what he says he says
You were taught to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
– Ephesians 4:24
The behavior of the New Self is righteousness. It does what is right and holiness. It stays away from what is wrong. Paul doesn’t go into more detail about this. I won’t either, because he’s going to spend the next several verses showing us in detail exactly how the New Self behaves. If we worship a God that is righteous and Holy, we will think renewed thoughts that are righteous and holy and our behavior will be righteous and holy.
Those are the two identities:
- The Old self has confused thinking about right and wrong, because it is hardened. It leads to a constant craving for more of the here and now.
- The New Self is being renewed in its thinking as it worships God. As its thinking is renewed, its behavior becomes righteous and holy.
If you are a Christian, you are familiar with both of these identities. You’ve been exposed to both of them. You can see them in the world. You can see them in the church. You can see them in your experience, and you can see them in your mind. We’ve been exposed to two competing identities. Let me say the second and third points are much simpler! Point 2 is just this:
You can only have one true identity
We’ve been exposed to both identities. We all know what it is to live, and think, and act out of that old identity. Some of us have lived there extensively, but all of us have ruts in our minds that make us want to harden ourselves to God’s truth or part of God’s truth and live for the possessions, power and experiences of the here and now.
Our thinking can go into both mindsets. We can choose if we want to think that old way. We can harden ourselves to God’s truth and become confused about right and wrong in a particular area. We can choose to think in the new way. We can listen to God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s people and change the way we think about something. We can go into both mindsets. This is a process It’s not that all of our thinking is renewed overnight it happens one piece at a time.
We can enter both mindsets, BUT we can only have one true identity. When it comes to your true identity, you are either a Christian or you’re not. There’s really no middle ground. That’s why 2 Corinthians says “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation the old has passed away the new has come.”
It’s like my truck. Someone else might get behind the wheel on occasion – Mike Lanio or Josh or Obbie might drive my truck! But ultimately, there’s only one pinkslip, one title, to that truck. There’s only one pinkslip to your life. If you’ve trusted in Christ, He owns you! Sorry if you didn’t know that! Maybe you just trusted Christ to get a little help with your marriage or to help overcome an addiction. You didn’t know what you were getting into, but He owns you!
You can only have one true identity. That’s why Paul tells his readers “I tell you this and insist on it in the Lord. That you no longer walk as the Gentiles walk!” Here’s the thing. His readers were gentiles. They were not Jewish! They were born as Gentile. They ate Gentile food. They lived in a Gentile country. But the break in identity is so complete that Paul is calling for a different identity with a different walk. This would be like Paul saying “Perry Creek, you must no longer walk as Americans. You must no longer walk as Tarheels.” You can only have one true identity. You’re either in or you’re out. If you’re a Christian, THAT is your true identity. It trumps everything else.
So Fact (1) You’ve experienced two identities, and Fact (2) You can only have one true identity
You are called to think and act from your TRUE identity
In this passage, Paul’s basic message is – line it up! Line it up! Know your identity and line up your thinking and doing with it! If someone is an unbeliever, we shouldn’t expect them to live like a Christian! Christians, we don’t need to get onto people for saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” If they’re not believers, they’re just acting out of their identity. But if you’re a believer, Paul says you should think and live like a believer. Did you hear what he says here? He says “I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord that you must no longer live like the Gentiles live!” He tells us we are to take off our Old Self and put on, act out of, think in accordance with, our New Self. The original words Paul used related to taking off or putting on a garment.
It’s a great illustration, because we learn people’s identity from the garments they wear. A surgeon dresses differently from a soldier who dresses differently from a prisoner. Bob Howard is an ER trauma surgeon. If I need surgery, I don’t want Bob walking in in an orange jumpsuit! I want him to wear sterile stuff and look and act like a surgeon!
That’s what Paul is saying. Know your identity and play the part!! To do otherwise would be like Marcus Allen signing up with the Chiefs but playing like an Oakland Raider. I guess he could do that. He could run the plays from the raiders offense. He could run toward the Raiders end zone when he gets the ball. He could wear their uniform. All of that might feel familiar, even comfortable, for him. But it wouldn’t make any sense, because his basic identity has changed. And so has ours – new owner, new way of thinking, new behavior. Our lives have to change. They have to be Christian. Not because someone is pressuring us to look a certain way, not because we want to judge other people, they have to change because our identity has changed for the better.
If that sounds overwhelming to you, if you are newer to Christianity, or maybe you’re coming back to the faith you had as a child and all this sounds overwhelming, let me just remind you of a couple of things:
- This is a process. It’s a process. This is not about you ratcheting up your willpower and changing everything in your life all at once. Rather, this is Jesus gently moving into your life one area at a time and making things new. If you follow him, if you walk with him, He’ll show you what to work on and when you should work on it. This is a process.
- You’re not alone. You have God’s Word to instruct you. You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you to give you guidance and strength, if you just ask him to do that. And you have us. That’s what the church is for. That’s what we are here for at Perry Creek. We gather here and in our small groups as people who need the gospel desperately and who are being transformed by the gospel. Week in and week out. You’re not alone.
If you are a Christian, three things are true of you:
- You’ve been exposed to two identities.
- You have one true identity and that is in Christ.
- Now let’s live out of that identity.