There is a difference
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min., Ph.D.
Eph 4:17-32; Read vv. 29-32
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Has anyone noticed that we are living during a time when the discernable difference between the church world and the secular world is razor thin—if there is any difference at all? Back in the day we thought we could externally quantify holiness, we believed we could see the difference between the church and the world by the length of the women’s hair, the length of the women’s dress, and the lack of makeup or jewelry. We knew we were a peculiar people because we dressed peculiar. But what we found was that while the externals could be altered, changed, and modified, those things alone were rarely an accurate reflection of what was going on the heart of the person. And there’s the rub, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.
In response to the failure of the externals to fundamentally change the internals, the church seems to have swung to the opposite extreme where now there are those who teach that there is no difference at all between the world and the church except for the fact that we claim to believe in Jesus. Other than that one thing, there is nothing that separates us from the world. Other than that one thing, they argue, there is no difference and we all just need to embrace ourselves, be true to ourselves, and forget about those things called holiness and godliness. According to them, these are unattainable concepts that serve only frustrate us frail and fallen humans.
Well, I stand here today to tell you without equivocation that there IS a difference between a true believer and the world. We have not been called be born again, to be changed, and transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation. The Word of God says, “Come out from among them and be ye separate.” We have been “called out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” The Word of God tells us that there is a difference. We have been called to embrace God and to be true to Him. We have been called to conform to the image of His Son. We have been called to be light in a dark world, a voice of reason in a world of insanity, and a moral example in a world that seems to revel in immorality.
There is supposed to be a difference between the believer and the world, but too often that difference is no longer evident. Too often the church is talking like the world, walking like the world, doing what the world does, going where the world goes, treating one another like the world treats its own, and failing to be salt and light to those who need the church to provide a stark alternative to the emptiness and vanity of life without God.
Look at your text. First look at verses 17 through 19.
FIRST PAUL TELLS US, “DON’T BE WHAT YOU WERE”
In verse 17 he writes “that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles [pagans] walk.” The phrase “no longer” implies that this is exactly the way the Ephesians Christians used to walk. Paul is telling them, “Don’t be what you were.” What were we? We were dead in trespasses and sins. Our understanding was darkened by sin. We were alienated from God. We were blind to the condition of our own sinful heart. We were past feeling guilt or condemnation for our sins and our moral failures. We were given to lewdness, sexual immorality, uncleanness, and greediness.
Some people act like God hadn’t done anything for them, but not me. I know the ditch from which I was dug. If you could see where Jesus brought me from, to where I am today, then you would know the reason why I praise His name. I tell people all the time that God has far exceeded my expectations for my life. In fact, as Paul writes, God has done exceedingly, abundantly, above all that I could ask or think according to the power of God working in me.
Some people may look at me and say, “You ain’t all that!” I have to agree. I ain’t all that, but I’m a long, long way from where I was when He found me and wrapped His arms around me. The song said:
He lifted me out, of the deep miry clay,
He planted my feet, on the heavenly way.
I'll tell it where e'er I go,
For I want the whole world to know,
I’m glad that He loved me so,
That he lifted me out!
Oh there is a difference! He put a new song in my heart. He gave me hope and light and life, where darkness once had been. Don’t tell me there’s not a difference. I know where He brought me from and where I’m headed, and I’m in a new world since the Lord saved me.
What does Paul say in our text? Does he say “Just embrace who you are and just be true to yourself”? I don’t think so. Paul says, don’t walk like that. Don’t be what you were. Don’t embrace that former lifestyle. Don’t be like the world. Don’t become a reflection of the carnal and worldly values that you once embraced.
Please understand that God didn’t create us like that. Those characteristics are the result of sin and the sin nature that we inherited from Adam. God created us in His image and likeness, but that image was marred and distorted by sin. Jesus came, lived and died, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father as our intercessor so that by faith in God’s grace we could be redeemed, regenerated, restored, recreated, and reconciled to Him. Look at verses 20 though 24.
SECOND PAUL SAYS, “BE WHAT YOU WERE CREATED TO BE”
So if we are not to be who we are, then who are we to be? We are to be who we were created to be. I’m talking the original creation and the recreation in Christ. Who we were, is not who we are in Christ. In Christ we have put off the former conduct. The old man that we were was enslaved to lust and sin and immorality of all kinds. The old man or woman that we were before Jesus came into our lives was focused on pleasure and self-gratification. The old man that we were had no regard for God or our fellow man.
That’s not who God wants us to be. Instead, God wants us to be who we were created to be. God wants to restore in us His image and likeness so that our lives are a true reflection of His grace in our face.
To do this however, we cannot simply embrace who we are. Instead, we have to embrace what God desires for us to be. We have to embrace His will, His plans and purposes, and His Word for our life. It means that we have to change the way we think by being renewed in our mind. Paul says that we must “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
The phrase “put on” is the same Greek word one would use for changing clothes. There is to be a noticeable, discernable, undeniable difference between what we were and who we are created to be. And that difference is to be just as stark as changing out of old, torn, filthy, stinking clothes, taking a shower, and then putting on the best suite of clothes that one can imagine putting on. The difference is to be as striking as changing out of dirty overalls and into a tux.
Who designs these new clothes, or this new man? Paul said that it is created according to God. He is the designer. What does it look like? Paul said “true righteousness and holiness.”
Oh yes, there is a difference. Isaiah 61:3 tells us that God is giving us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Oh yes! There is a difference. How does this difference manifest in the recreation of God within us?
Look at verses 25 through 32.
PAUL SAYS, “BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER”
Notice throughout this passage that Paul is draws a sharp contrasts between what was and what should be. You used to lie, but now speak truth to one another. You used to allow your anger to lead you in to sinful actions and emotions, but now you are to make amends before the sun goes down. Some of you used to steal; now you are no longer to steal, but to work with your own hands so that you can bless others. You used to let coarse language fall from your lips, but now your words edify and impart grace.
Right in the heart of this passage Paul writes (in verse 30), “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Do you see that? Is this verse out of place here? Is it just inserted by Paul without regard to the context in which it is located, and with no regard to the flow of the argument that he is making here? I don’t think so.
Instead, Paul is intentionally telling us that when we are rude to one another, when we allow our words to be cutting rather than edifying, when our words wound rather than heal, and when our words are permeated with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice, it grieves the Holy Spirit.
When we yield to the Holy Spirit, as they did on the Day of Pentecost, we will speak of the wonderful works of God, and not speak disrespectfully about or to one another. When the Holy Spirit has control, praise and healing words, words of encouragement and edification come from our mouth and fall from our lips, and we bless God and man. But when the flesh is in control our words wound and hurt one another and this grieves the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a gentleman who appeared in the form of a dove at the baptism of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is a comforter and the source of peace and love. The Holy Spirit is grieved and hindered when we fail to exhibit the love and care for one another that God looks for in our lives.
I believe that one of the biggest hindrances to revival in the church, to the move of God that we so desire, and to the anointing of the Spirit that we long for, is not the world around us, but it is the attitude within us. The Spirit is grieved by how we are carelessly talk to one another, how we treat one another, and how we talk about one another. The Holy Spirit is grieved when we, who are the church and who have been sealed unto the day of redemption, when we sound like, look like, and treat one another no differently that the world treats us.
There is supposed to be a difference. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, because you love one another.” Paul said to do good to all men, but especially those of the household of faith. There is supposed to be a difference between us and the world.
We need to think about this. When we talk about a brother or sister in the church with words of bitterness, wrath, anger, and malice, it is as though we are stabbing the Holy Spirit in the heart. Then we wonder why the Spirit isn’t moving in our life or in our church. When we talk with anger and malice in our home to our spouse or our children, it grieves the Spirit and hinders us from the spiritual breakthroughs that we want and need so desperately. The Spirit is looking for the difference in us so that He can move, bless, anoint and gift His church. But as long as our attitudes and our interactions with others is no different from the world, the we grieve the Holy Spirit and rob ourselves and the local church of the anointing that God desires to pour through us.
Often when we talk about revival in the church we talk about prayer and fasting, or we talk about praise and worship, or the Word of God, but it occurred to me as I studied this text this week, that perhaps just as important as prayer and fasting, and just as important as praise and worship, is the difference that God is looking for in us.
The thing that may be hindering the healing power of the Spirit, and hindering the power of the Spirit to break the yoke of bondage, and preventing us from the dynamic and unfettered outpouring the Spirit that we long for, may be how we talk to one another, may be our attitudes, and may be the fact that too often we are too much like the very world we are trying reach. Two men in the quicksand cannot save one another. Somebody needs to be different. Somebody needs to be standing on the Solid Rock.
Are you ready for revival in your own life and home? It may begin when we learn to speak healing words rather than wounding words. It may begin when we put off the old man and put on the new. It may begin when we refuse to let the sun go down on our wrath. It may begin when we embrace the difference and learn to be the person that God has restored us to be by faith in His grace, which was displayed like a billboard on an old rugged cross.
They key to it all may be the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart. I’m not talking about self-centered naming and claiming, but I’m talking about how our words glorify God and how our words affect others. When we get these two things right, the rest will follow. Let’s pray.