Embrace the new you

Maddie was 17 when she started drinking.  

She and friends were curious about what it would be like.

They started partying.

She noticed people seemed more authentic when they were drinking. More open. More honest.

Sure, there were hangovers and hurt feelings sometimes.

But it was fun.

As drinking got boring, her drug use increased.

Maddie was the life of the party. The drugs helped her to feel attractive. She made people laugh.

She felt she belonged with this group of friends.

She always made a party better, and the parties made her feel better about herself.

The parties continued but she met a friend named Sam at the real estate agency where she worked.

Sam was a full-on Christian, but she tried not to hold it against her.

Maddie’s parents had always spoken about how Christians just wanted to suck the joy out of life.

They were rigid on issues of morality and seemed to always think they were better than anyone else. Maddie’s dad called them hypocrites.

But Sam didn’t strike Maddie as a hypocrite. She was honest, real, and authentic.

She didn’t make out like she was better than anyone else.

As the years went on, Maddie became more and more involved in Sam’s life.

She started to see her party friends less, and even started going to Sam’s church. There, she met Jesus and realised Christianity wasn’t what she’d thought at all.

People weren’t perfect, but they had fallen in love with perfect God.

And that made all the difference to Maddie as she realised God alone could give her the love, forgiveness and approval she craved.

About a year into attending church, she gave her life over to Jesus and asked him to help her surrender everything in her life to him.

She would still go to parties but decided to go easier on the alcohol.

Her friends missed the Maddie that used to do wild and crazy things, and Maddie missed the heavy drinking and the highs.

Over the years, Maddie drank less, and friends turned against her, saying she’d betrayed them.

They accused her of judging them. Of replacing them for something better. They made fun of her faith and picked arguments about controversial topics.

They tried to lure her back into the drug lifestyle, and sometimes they succeeded.

But Maddie kept returning to Jesus and has mostly kicked those habits altogether.

She always found a relationship with Jesus to be better than anything the world could offer her.

Not that faith was easy.

But she realised she could still be a Christian and have fun. She just didn’t have to sleep around and get high. That wasn’t who she was anymore.

You might be thinking, OK, that’s not me and it never was. I’ve lived a fairly simple life. No drinking or drugs or sex with multiple partners.

But the reality is that whether we have a darkness-to-light story or not, we experience the battle between darkness and light almost daily.

Because no matter our stage in life, we all want to fit in.

To be liked and accepted. To belong.

And it can be hard to stay focused on living in the light instead of choosing the darkness.

Even if we were brought up Christian.

In this post, we’re looking at Ephesians, a book of the Bible written by the apostle Paul, a close follower of Jesus. It’s a letter to the church made up of Christians living in Ephesus and the wider region of western Asia Minor, which is now known as Turkey.

Even though he was in jail at the time (for telling people about Christ), Paul still wanted to encourage his Christian friends with this letter because he knows life is not easy when you’ve just become a Christian.

In Ephesus some people worshipped a Roman goddess named Diana, and Paul made it his mission to introduce them to God as the one they should worship instead.

God would not let them down, he told them.

He starts the book of Ephesians reminding these new Christians of all the great things God has given them – the great things he’s given us as readers of the Bible today.

Back in Ephesians 2:22 Paul wrote these amazing words to encourage new Christians:

In God you “ are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

What an amazing image.

He also tells them they are God’s handiwork, and he has made us alive in Christ.

Pretty encouraging!

But he says these blessings are not just for us to hold close to our chest. They are to be shared with others.

These blessings help us show others how amazing God is, and the meaning and purpose he gives our lives.

We are made to enjoy him and give him glory and honour.

And this message is for us as much as it was for the people reading Paul’s letter.

We too have a responsibility to share the truth of God with others and allow our friends to experience him for themselves.

But this is easier said than done.

The people Paul is writing to in Ephesus have become Christians, but there are still parts of their old life that come back to haunt them in a sense.

Like Maddie, they’ve been tempted to go back to their old life before they came to faith. Christians back then, and today, feel a pull between their two lives.

But Paul is calling them to keep growing in maturity as Christians rather than keep getting lured back to the old ways.

And actively share God with others.

To adopt their new identity, with God’s help.

Verses 17-19 of this passage talk about issues of the new life versus the old life.

Let’s read it again.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 

18 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. 

19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

Let’s be honest. We can’t go from darkness to light without Jesus.

We can’t move from old to new without his help.

We face temptation.

But perhaps you can’t relate really relate to this old life-new life struggle.

I know I can’t, not really.

I was never the party girl at school or uni.

If anything I was the goody two shoes!

I did experiment a bit with alcohol in year 12, because my friends and I were curious – but it never became a habit and once I met Michael at age 18 he helped me stay focused on God.

Michael and I were both resolutely Christian, and conservative in many ways.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had times when I’ve been curious about what it would be like to live a less Christian life.

I remember my first year of work after finishing uni where I desperately wanted to fit in with the work crowd. I felt like such a grown up, graduating uni, forging my career and making new friends. They would get drunk, and wonder why I didn’t want to do all the crazy things they were into.

Trying to stand out as a person of faith who didn’t need all of that to fit in was tricky.

In this passage, Paul reminds them – and us – that they are Christians now.

They are called to live differently to the others around them – their fellow Gentiles (or non-Jews).

Paul gives quite a strongly worded description of the way these people live. That is, people who don’t know God.

He says their thinking is futile – that is, the things they obsess over are leading nowhere.

He says their understanding is darkened.

They are disconnected from the life that you can find in God.

He says they’ve hardened their hearts against God and are now ignorant.

They aren’t sensitive to dark and light anymore because they don’t have boundaries.

They’ve given themselves over to a self-serving lifestyle.

All the rules about sex and self-control are out the window.

He is describing to his Christian friends the life they used to live.

The direction they were heading before they met Jesus.

It sounds like he’s having a big go at the culture, but in reality the Roman society Paul was speaking into was decadent and vain.

So he wasn’t far off.

Pagan society was aimless, hopeless and reckless, according to historians.

Out of touch with God, many people at the time were losing focus. Losing hope. Losing direction.

And it’s true. Without moral boundaries we are lost.

Even most non-Christians would agree we need rules and order in order to live our best, most productive lives.

I have a friend, I’ll call her Sarah, who did very well at school, and was given the internship of her dreams in a great company in Sydney.

She had a pretty good upbringing, and we have always been close.

But she experienced a marriage breakdown which left her whole world reeling, and her faith in tatters.

She has rejected God and now indulges in a completely different lifestyle, away from him. She’s given herself over to the world. She lives with very few boundaries, at least for now. And I pray she would return to him.

But when the world around you says it’s ok to sleep around. To take drugs. To pursue the next high at all costs, we can head down a dangerous path.

Like a son who hasn’t called his dad in years, we are easily estranged from God. Cut off. Alienated. Some of us might say we don’t know him anymore.

And Paul is warning the church of his day – and us as the readers of the Bible – not to lose touch with God. Not to become alienated. Not to disconnect.

And at the moment, many Christians sadly know what this disconnection feels like.

In 2020, church featured less on people’s calendars due to Covid.

And the ripple effect of not meeting regularly with other Christians is a bleak reality.

Online church doesn’t cut it for most people.

Our faith weakens when we’re not warmed by the fire of church, which keeps us together. Fellowship keeps our eyes fixed on Jesus.

The Bible says not to give up meeting together.

It’s like a family that never sees each other. You can easily lose touch.

So too with God and his church, except it goes even deeper.

If we cut ourselves off from each other we run the risk of cutting ourselves off from God.

And expose ourselves to the ways of the world around us.

And I’m not saying it was an easy decision for people to come back to church in person in 2020. It is complex and there are health risks. But if we’re honest, without church our faith can really struggle.

I know when church was only on YouTube and I spent more of my week physically at work than in church activities, I was more tempted to think the way my workmates think.

To value the things they value.

To downplay the importance of faith and a relationship with Jesus.

And that’s not a headspace I want to be in.

I want to be a Christian who’s fully committed to Jesus.

Not for the sake of holding rigidly onto a set of values I was brought up with.

But because Jesus is where the joy is!

When I open up my Bible I feel the kind of peace the world can’t give.

When I meet up with others who love Jesus I feel like I’m home no matter where I am because they love Jesus too.

When I pray with Michael or friends from church, life starts to make more sense.

It gives me joy like no other.

So Paul goes onto say in verses 20-24 that when we hear about Christ and truly come to know and understand him it’s like putting on a new outfit.

It’s like taking off an old jumper that’s full of holes and replacing it with an amazing new, designer leather jacket. The difference is amazing.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

That old woollen jumper was getting “corrupted” day by way as you exposed it to the elements. It was stretching and unravelling with all the wear and tear.

But when the new jacket landed on your doorstep (thank you eBay) a whole new world opened up.

No more getting cold because of all the holes in your old one.

Now you are warm, protected, and feeling like a new person.

The thing is – sometimes, even though we’ve been given a brand new jacket – a brand new life in Christ – we go back to the old jumper with the holes in it.

Why would we do that when life in Christ is so much better?

The Christian life is harder in some ways, sure.

But it’s so much better! And it leads to eternal life! Life that goes on forever.

A life with Jesus is filled with hope, not holes.

Warmth, not coldness.

Love, not lifelessness. 

Because when you find yourselves in the safe and secure arms of Jesus there is no truly no better place to be.

Then why do we keep being tempted back to that silly old jumper?

There are a number of reasons. Here is one:

We felt accepted in the old life.

Even for me who didn’t have a very dramatic old life as such, the non-Christian life can look appealing and full of love and acceptance.

And in some ways it can be. It felt easy.

Remember Maddie’s group of friends who made her feel like royalty when she drank? She was the life of the party – funny, attractive – she seemed to have it all.

Even though a life following Jesus was so much better, sometimes she missed that feeling of being the centre of attention. Of being voted the most popular.

And let’s face it, we aren’t going to win any popularity contests being a Christian. We might become known as a nice person, but as soon as you tell someone you’re a Christian watch the conversation change awkwardly. It’s not an easy road to take.

But remember: you are royalty in God’s eyes and that’s what matters most.

Sure, in the short term life is hard, but one day in heaven we will see all of the hardness end.

There will be no more crying or tears or pain or illness or sadness

Or adultery or babies dying or friends betraying us.

There will be no drug addiction or parents breaking up or mental illness.

Because Jesus will make all things right.

And that is our hope as Christians.

So what does all this new life stuff and putting on new spiritual clothes mean for us?

Is it just about replacing one life with another life? A better life?

In some ways, it is as simple as that, yes.

But what does this new life look like practically?

What should our lives as Christians look like day by day?

Verses 25 to 28 give some guidance:

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body

Speak truthfully to your Christian friends, verse 25 says. Don’t be a fake friend but an honest and authentic friend. Be real about your struggles, and the friendship will grow.

Verse 26 and 27 talks about managing our anger.

26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

By not sinning when we get angry (note it’s not saying not to get angry – but that when we do get angry we should not act out in sin by doing things like yelling at our child or physically hurting others)

Don’t let the sun go down while you’re angry – in other words, don’t let an argument simmer forever. Talk it through. Get things out in the open with your friend or partner. Anger which isn’t addressed only let’s our old self get the upper hand.

 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Don’t steal, verse 28 says. And this doesn’t just apply to obvious things like shoplifting.

Maybe we are streaming things illegally or nicking bits and pieces from work.

None of this is helpful for the Christian life.

Act with integrity.

Return the trolley you wheeled all the way home.

Give the book or DVD back you borrowed from your friend.

Then Paul encourages us to think of ways we can build people up. Encourage people. Share what you love about Jesus. Talk about your struggles with faith. Our words have purpose.

These are instructions for the new you.

The new identity that God has given you.

We’re called to be different. We are called to build people up rather than tear them down. To give rather than take. To put aside bitterness and embrace love. To pursue kindness and compassion and forgiveness.

Not because you want to be a goody two shoes like me in my high school days.

But because we have been given so much in Christ. Why not pass it on?

If I was given a million dollars and hoarded the whole lot for myself my joy would be only temporary.

After a while I’d probably feel sick knowing I could have used some of the money to help others.

The happiness won’t last.

This is the great deception of the world.

We are sold lies.

We are told to believe that a life of me, me, me will satisfy when it’s really living a life for God and others which brings joy.

And it’s a joy have now, and beyond the grave as we go home to Jesus.

My dear friend.

May you forgive as you’ve been forgiven. Love as you are loved.

Deeply and without reservation.

Life fully present in the life you have been given in Christ.

With the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in you.

May you shed the old jumper, grab the new leather jacket that’s on offer, and step into a new way of life in 2023 with God’s help.

Dear Lord,
Help me to live for you.
Help us all to stay in the light.
To support each other.
And to love you more and more each day.

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