12th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 14 – B)
August 12, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
A piece of advice that is frequently bandied about is “Be yourself.” Is this good advice? Maybe, if that means being true to your principles and morals regardless of what others are doing. If it means not doing things that are wrong just to be accepted, that’s good as well. What if you’re a jerk? What if you’re mean and selfish? Should you be yourself then? No, no you shouldn’t. Whether you should be yourself or not is based on the kind of self you have. When it comes to your faith, your walk as Christians, you are to be yourself, but a different kind of self, a self created by God.
The challenge to being ourselves is that we have two selves and we aren’t always the right one. There is one self, created by God. There’s another that is cut off from God. Paul says about the unbelievers, the ones he calls Gentiles, “In the futility of their minds…They 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.” The unbelievers love their old selves, the wrong selves. They embrace the old self and by doing so reveal their sinful selves. The old, sinful self is greedy and selfish. The old, sinful self thinks only about itself and what it wants. The old self puts self pleasure above everything else and hurts others indiscriminately. The old self loves impurity and immorality. This is what Paul saw all around him. Does this sound at all familiar? What Paul and the Ephesians witnessed in 60 A.D. is what we’re witnessing today. The clothes are different, technology has changed, but the people are the same, the sins are the same, and the old selves are the same.
So, when I say, “Be yourself”, is this the self you want to be? I hope not! Paul says that our old self “belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” The self that’s obsessed with itself isn’t what God wants us to be! You are called, through faith, through your baptism, to be yourself in a new way. You have a new self. Paul writes, “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Whenever the word created is used in the Bible it means something that has been made by God. God has created for you, and in you, a new self, one that’s like Christ. Your new self is holy as Christ is holy. Your new self embraces faithfulness to God. Your new self has love for God and for those around you. As Paul says at the end of our reading, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Your new self wants to imitate God just like children imitate their parents.
This sounds easy, right? Just be your new self and that’s all it takes, right? Well, no, and you know that. Your old self frequently pushes the new self aside to reclaim its position. Your old self regularly rears its ugly head and you end up being the wrong kind of self. We’ve all been there. When this happens, when we let the old self reemerge, all we can do is look to God for forgiveness. As Paul writes how “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is a short sentence, but it carries the power of Heaven. The Father told the Son, “Be yourself”, and He was. Jesus was Himself the way He perfectly obeyed His Father, the way that He perfectly trusted in the Father to give Himself into death. Even though we were trapped by old, sinful selves, Jesus loved us enough to die so that we would be forgiven loving that sinful self and for not fighting it the way we should.
The sacrifice of Jesus though did more than just give you forgiveness, it also gives you the power you need to be your new self. When He died and rose again Jesus had complete and total victory over Sin and Satan, and He gives that victory to you in its totality. He defeated them and now you have as well. You have a new self, a holy self, created by God, who kills off your old self. Through faith, your new self holds your old self under the water of your baptism until he’s dead. Oh, you’re going to have to do this every day, sometimes you’ll have to do it multiple times a day, but you can. Be yourself, the self created by God, because to let the old self run roughshod over you leads to a nasty alternative.
If you enjoy your old self, if you like the ways of the sinful selves around you, you need to take a long hard look into the mirror of God’s Word and repent. The unbelievers of Paul’s days and ours go to Hell where their old selves will be tormented forever. Those who willfully let their old selves live, those who don’t fight against their old selves every day, alienate themselves from God, they’ve darkened their hearts to the God of love and salvation. It doesn’t have to be this way! For when you repent, you will be renewed by the Holy Spirit, created again by God. I love David’s familiar words from Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” This is our prayer when the old self seems so strong, when we can’t seem to get him off our back. Create! Create in me a new self, a forgiven self, and you know, He does!
When someone says, “Be yourself” they’re encouraging you to let others see the real you, and I’m telling you the same thing. Let others see you as God has made you. Over the course of eight verses Paul gives us examples of what this look like. When we are our new selves, we don’t lie. We speak the truth to each other because we’re all part of Christ, this means we build each other up and we encourage one another.
To be yourself means you don’t hold grudges or hold on to bitterness. To be yourself means you put aside the toxic feelings you have towards others. Don’t give the Devil the opportunity to snake his way in and make things worse. We all get angry, and sometimes that anger is justified, but you can’t let the poison of anger or malice make the new self sick.
A new self turns its back on sin. Paul uses the examples of stealing and foul language, but all sins fit here. We don’t tear people down, bully them, belittle them. We don’t lie and gossip about them. We speak in love and kindness. We speak as we want to be spoken to. We don’t lust, covet, hate. We don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, we remember the Sabbath Day, and we don’t create idols for ourselves.
Finally, Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This is the self we show most of all, the forgiving self. We are forgiven and since we know the joy that this forgiveness brings, let us forgive each other. Be yourself, your forgiving self, and let others know the joy that is within you.
As you know, there are times when it is hard to be our new selves. There’s lots of times. In those cases, run to Christ. Paul says that you have heard about Jesus, you were taught in Him, and the truth is in Him. All this is revealed in God’s Word. As you read the Psalms, the promises of God, and the words of Jesus, you’re reminded of the truth that God has created your new self! Paul says that you were sealed for the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit of God. This means that since God created your new self He’s not going to leave you alone! He stands in His Word, He stands with you in your baptismal waters were your self was created and is daily re-created. He stands with you as you pray, sing hymns, worship, receive His Son’s body and blood, and lean on our brothers and sisters in Christ. Be yourself, but you don’t have to be yourself by yourself, for God who created you, will always stand by you.
“Be yourself” isn’t always good advice. But it is today, it is when it comes to your faith and the new self that God created for you. Being yourself used to mean living in sin, but now, you have a new self, a self that is holy and righteous, that hates sin and loves what is good. Be yourself and remember that you are who you are because God has created you that way.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen