Sermons

Escaping Your Prison

Sun, Aug 30, 2020
Teacher: Mark Hull
Duration:25 mins 13 secs

Message text

Escaping Your Prison
Ephesians 4:17 – 32

Back in the 14th century, in the region we now call Belgium, there was a duke by the name of Raynald III. Raynald had a nickname – Crassus. Crassus means fat, and he was fat because he really liked to eat. He liked to EAT ... a lot! In the course of time, he had a violent quarrel with his younger brother Edward which resulted in Edward leading a revolt against him. Edward took Raynald prisoner and took him back to Nieuwkerk Castle where he had a special room built around him. He promised his brother he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.
Now, for NORMAL SIZE people, that wouldn’t have been a problem. There were several windows and a door of normal size, and none of them were locked or barred. The problem for Raynald was his size. In order to leave the room he had to lose some weight. But Edward knew his brother’s weakness and he made sure trays of delicious food were delivered to his room each day. Thus, instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter. When Edward was accused of cruelty, he readily replied: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave ... when he so wills.”
Being delivered from evil depends on not being led into temptation. No trial or temptation is neutral. They're ordeals that either strengthen or weaken, depending on how they're handled. Christ teaches us to pray to be delivered from not only evil, but also from what carries us there (Jam. 1:14). Temptation isn't sin, but sin can't thrive without temptation. Or in Raynald's case, his fight wasn't in how to get through the door, but in how to get around the food.
Raynald stayed in that room for 10 years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined that he died within a year. He died a prisoner to his own appetite.
As I read this tragic story, I was struck by several truths:

FIRST: Satan takes us prisoner by capitalizing on our desires, weaknesses and tastes. He doesn’t need to create those things in us, he just takes advantage of our appetites. And then he sets out to do his best to see to it that we stay sated with the pleasures of sin.

SECOND: Raynald had a choice – he could only eat as much as was truly necessary, he could have exercised in his cell, and he could have walked through the cell door after losing enough weight. But Raynald was too fond of his sweets and tasty delights – thereby becoming his own warden, held in a prison only by his own weaknesses. The same is true for us – Satan can’t keep us in the prison. It is our choice – to continue to smother ourselves and indulge in our passions and sin, or to leave the prison behind.

THIRD: We think that the things we long for in our human nature are what will make us happy – that if we have enough of something, then we will be free at long last, not realizing (or at least not admitting to ourselves) that we are only perpetuating our imprisonment. Freedom awaits us outside the imprisonment of our desires. What would you rather have: freedom or another piece of cheesecake?

Jesus tells us:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.
This morning we read a warning from Paul to new Christians in Ephesus where he urged them: Don’t die a prisoner to your appetites.

Ephesians 4:17-20 17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as [a]the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 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;
19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20 But you have not so learned Christ,

Now, that’s not the way they “learned Christ” BUT that’s how they grew up. They once walked as the Gentiles did because they were Gentiles, and they lived in Ephesus.

Ephesus was a thriving seaport, proudly referred to as the “Treasure House of Asia.” And it was highly prized by the Romans. They had invested a huge amount of money in building the city up and it was a center of the area, that the Roman Governor would often go there to hold legal proceedings.
But it wasn’t a very nice city. It was home to the Temple of Diana/Artemis - the goddess of fertility. Her temple was a huge structure that could accommodate over 24,000 people and is reckoned as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But because Artemis was the goddess of fertility, the worship there included the burning of incense and the playing of flute music and the whole atmosphere which was designed to arouse the worshipers into an emotional frenzy and engage in shameless sexual behavior (we’ll leave it at that).

Ephesus was also a city of criminals. The tradition in Ephesus, that if any criminal reached the Temple of Diana they were granted asylum for their crimes. They couldn’t be punished, so that’s where criminals ended up living.
So, Ephesus was an extremely popular city, but also an extremely im-moral city. And that’s where these Ephesian Christians grew up and that’s where they lived. As you might imagine... it would be a very difficult to live a Christian life there. The temptation to do evil things existed on every street corner, and the Ephesians lived RIGHT THERE in the midst of some pretty nasty stuff.
The question arose, how could Christians avoid getting dragged back into their old lifestyles?
How could Christians avoid becoming imprisoned in their appetites?
These are the same questions we face in our present world.

Well, one way would be to get bad folks to stop doing their bad stuff. I mean if we could just convince people to stop listening to vile lyrics in their music, or stop going to inappropriate movies; or convince them to stop sleeping with their girlfriends/boyfriends, or committing adultery/ treating women like sex objects; or if we could convince them to stop cursing, and saying (or writing) mean or hateful things... I mean, if we could just DO THAT.
Then being a Christian would be so much easier, don’t you think?
But Paul tells us that’s not going to be real successful.
Ephesians 4:18-19 tells us “(The Gentiles) are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
These folks have lived like this for so long if you’d asked them to stop, they’re gonna be like... WHY? They’re alienated from God. There’s a hardness and callousness in them. They’re so imprisoned by their lifestyles that Paul says they’ve “given themselves up to sensuality etc.” They’ve gotten to the point where they ask – What’s the point? It’s so hard to stop doing it... why bother?
Someone once stated that The Seven Deadly Sins (pride/lust/greed/ etc) are not evil acts, but rather universal human compulsions that can be troubling and highly enjoyable.”
In other words, many have accepted their cage of “compulsions” and accepted the idea that “I’M NOT GETTING OUT OF HERE!”

By contrast, the reason that WE (Christians) don’t buy into that is that is Jesus has promised to FREE us from the things (like this) that have made us ashamed. The pagan world isn’t gonna change just because we say they should.

Another way to escape the prison of sin would be to practice Social Distancing. Go live in a corner, lock yourself up in a monastery, or go and live in cave somewhere. That’s what people did back in the Middle Ages.
But Paul tells us... that’s just NOT practical.
In I Corinthians 5:9-10 he states 9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to [a]keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
There’s no avoiding the fact that we live in a fallen world, and that’s where we’re gonna stay until Jesus comes again.

So if I can’t convince the bad folk to change their bad ways, and if I can’t practice effective social distancing by living in a cave somewhere, how can I avoid being imprisoned by MY appetites, just like everybody else?
Well this what Paul says we should do –
Ephesians 4:22 tells us 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,

In other words: determine not to live by your appetites. Decide YOU are not going to live like a pagan. That’s what repentance is all about. Repentance is the decision to turn around and leave the old lifestyle. This is such an abiding teaching that a lot of people measure their spirituality that way and say “Look at what I DON’T DO! I don't smoke, and I don't chew, and I don't go with girls who do.”
But if that’s your only way of measuring your Christianity, you’ve missed something. It’s not enough to STOP bad stuff. It’s not enough to TAKE OFF the dirty deeds of sin.

ILLUS: Let’s say you’ve been out in the garden, digging in the dirt, pulling weeds and sweating up a storm. You get all done, and you realize you that are supposed to go out to eat with friends that night. So what do you do? You go inside, take off your dirty clothes and take a shower. Once you towel off... are you ready to go out and eat??? I hope not. You’re naked! They arrest people for going around in public that way. So, what do you have to do? Well, you have to PUT ON clean clothes.
It’s not enough to take off your dirty clothes and take a bath. You have to put on clean garments! And in the same way, it’s not enough to TAKE OFF the sins of the past, you have to replace those sinful behaviors with something else. You have to put on clean deeds and clean thoughts and clean words.
Ephesians 4:24 says “PUT ON the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

And, just to help us out, Paul gives us some examples. In Ephesians 4:25, for example, he writes: “Therefore, having PUT AWAY falsehood, let each one of you SPEAK THE TRUTH with his neighbor....”
What am I taking off? “Lying!!!” What am I putting on? “Truth Telling!”
Do you remember my telling you Ephesus was a home for criminals? There were probably a good number of ex-thieves in the church there, and I suspect they were tempted to go back to their life of crime. And what Paul telling them to take off – stealing!
And what are these thieves supposed to put on? Get a job!

Now, this is interesting – Paul doesn’t stop by telling them to get a job. He tells them WHY they should get a job. They should get a job so they have something to share with others.
This goes to the heart of changing a thief’s motivation – he used to steal because “what’s yours is mine, and I can take it.” But now, he is to think of his money (which he earns in a job) as something to give to others. His money is now the money he can give away.

And lastly – Ephesians 4:29-32 “Let NO CORRUPTING TALK come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for BUILDING UP, as fits the occasion, that it MAY GIVE GRACE TO THOSE WHO HEAR. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be PUT AWAY from you, along with all malice. BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
What am I supposed to TAKE OFF? Corrupt talk! Vulgar words! Curse words! Profanity!
And what am I supposed to PUT ON in their place? Words that build others up and make people feel good.
But that’s not all. Profane language isn’t all about using curse words. You can have corrupt language that doesn’t have a single curse word in it. You can have unwholesome talk that isn’t filled with profanity. In fact, there’s a CORRUPT talk that grieves God’s Spirit Who is inside of you!!!
These are words filled with bitterness, hatred, and slander of other people. And God says... get rid of that!!! Do not tear others down by what you say. God despises that kind of language!!!!
But why? Why would God hate that of language? Well, because God knows you and I... and He knows enough about us that He could say all kinds of nasty things about us. He knows things He could say about you that YOU don’t want others to find out about.
But He doesn’t. He won’t repeat those words about your past because, in Christ HE forgave you and me! IN CHRIST... all our shameful behavior been erased.
Since that is true, it’s inappropriate for us to gratefully accept HIM forgiving us... and then us turning around and NOT forgiving others of their behavior.

CLOSE: Now in the midst of the conversation about TAKING OFF sinful deeds and PUTTING ON good deeds, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re NOT doing all this because we’re nice people. We may think we are... but that’s not possible. Isaiah 64:6 tells us “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before God
In other words, we won’t be able to stand before God at the judgement and say “Hey, look at how nice I’ve dressed myself! Aren’t I pretty?” Oh no! This isn’t about dressing up in OUR righteous deeds. It’s about dressing up Christ’s righteousness.
In Revelation 3:18 Jesus said “I counsel you to buy from me ... white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen...”
It’s Jesus who clothes in pure garments. It’s HIS blood and His forgiveness that covers the nakedness of our sins. In fact, that’s how we come to salvation. When we’re baptized in Christ, Paul says “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have PUT ON Christ.” Galatians 3:27

Sermon Contributor: Jeff Strite

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