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How to "Break Out" of a Destructive Cycle, Part 1

Addictions, anger issues, dysfunctional relationships - how do you break out of a destructive cycle? Chip begins a 2-day journey to discover what God’s Word has to say about overcoming behaviors and attitudes that drag you down.

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Once upon a time, there were two small, little green caterpillars. And they crawled up on this little twig, and connected themselves, and spun a little cocoon. And after a fairly short period of time, something happened – actually, magically, supernaturally, amazingly – inside. And metamorphosis occurred, and two little butterflies burst forth.

And one butterfly’s name was Barbara, and the other butterfly’s name was Benny. They had this conversation. If you can imagine with me, the wind is blowing gently, and the leaves are rustling, and their wings are still wet.

And Barbara turns to Benny and says, “Benny! Look at this! This is amazing! Look at the sky! It’s blue, and I’m not sure what those white things are.” And then, she looked down from the limb and, “I think those are flowers!” She was getting very, very excited.

Then, having known him prior, “You’re not a green worm anymore! I mean, you are beautiful!” She goes, “Benny, watch this!” and takes her wings, and steps off, forty-five-degree angle, swooshes down, sniffs a flower, comes back up, lands next to him. “Oh, Benny, you’ve got to try it! It’s great. It’s fantastic. It’s a whole new life! It’s nothing like the old days, when we would crawl around.”

And Benny looked down, and he goes, “It’s a long way down. I’m afraid of heights. I don’t know if these wings are going to work. And besides, what if I die when I get near one of those flowers, something grabs me?”

And they had this conversation back and forth, and Barbara did everything to get Benny just to – “You’re new! You’re different! Take the step!”

Unfortunately, Benny said, “I know I was uglier, but I knew what I was doing when I was crawling.” And he took his wings, and he folded them down, and he laid down on the twig, and he said, “I’m just going to pretend. I know you know and I know I’m a butterfly, but I think I’m just going to go back to the old days.”

Now, I’ve never had a personal conversation with a butterfly, but I can tell you this: God, in nature, has created one of the most amazing pictures – as He does often – to express to you and me the difference, and the miracle, of when He changes our lives. If any man, or if any woman, is in Christ, in relationship, in Christ, it says you’re a new creation. And the old things pass away, and behold – it’s a process – but all things become new.

And I would just ask you, as we get started, and we talk about this miracle of life change, if you just privately had to say which one of those butterflies most represents you, which one would it be? The one where it’s an adventure – there’s risk, you’re flying, you recognize the beauty, and you’re stepping out? Or is it the one that’s like, “You know, I really know I’m in Christ,” but you withdraw, pull back, live in fear?

As we’ve been through Ephesians chapter 4, the apostle Paul, speaking, empowered by the Holy Spirit, wants you to know, and wants me to know, that a new life demands life change.

And you know the research, and you probably have it in your own life, as I’ve had it in mine, in different seasons, where you know some changes need to happen, and you’re not experiencing Him. So, historically, a couple of very negative things have happened with pastors, and teachers, and among Christians, that, when people’s lives aren’t changing, sometimes we try and create some artificial ways to either explain it, or get people to change.

One very dysfunctional way is called “moralism.” And what we do is, we try and just get people to change their external behavior, and we tell them things like, “Your external morality is what makes you right with God.” And it moves away from a relationship with Christ, and a supernatural life, and love, and relationships, and caring, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to a list of rules that people keep. And it ends up in legalism, and restrictions, and completely misses.

Now, when you’re changed from the inside out, your morality will change. But it is not your external attempts to keep moral boundaries that make you right with God.

The absolute opposite extreme is called “antinomianism.” Long word, but you break it up: anti – against; nomianism, or nomos, has the idea of “a law.” And so, some people say, “It’s so hard to…” Your life is not changing. Where sin abounds, grace super abounds! And so, in the history of the Church – in fact, in multiple cults, they just say, “You know what? Don’t worry about changing. When you sin, God just gives you more grace. There’s no condemnation in Christ. He loves you. There is no law. Just do and live any way you want.”

But the apostle Paul would say, “You were called to freedom, brothers, but don’t allow your freedom to be an opportunity for the flesh.”

The Scripture teaches that a new life will produce a new lifestyle. And the apostle Paul, in verses 17 through 24, is going to explain what that looks like, and why. Open it up, if you will, and as you do, and look at your teaching notes, I just want to remind you that these letters were written in a context. Paul just didn’t sit in a library. In fact, he’s in prison when he’s writing this one.

And if you were in downtown Ephesus, there would be the Temple of Diana over here, and there would be a brothel over here, and you could have any kind of sex, any kind of way you could ever want it. It was a wild and crazy place. And it was a core city of the world.

And these people have come to know Jesus, and they have been taken out of the kingdom of darkness, and placed in the kingdom of light, and He lives inside of them. And the goal was, they would be salt and light, and transform the world. And the apostle Paul is going on to say, “Now, your new life demands a new lifestyle.”

And what he’s going to do in verse 17, he’s going to remind them of what their life used to be like. Let’s read the whole passage to get an overview. He says, “So I tell you this, and I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding, and they are separated from the life of God.”

Well, why? “Because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardening of their hearts. As a result, having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality, as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” He’s describing a culture of violence, and sexual immorality, and disregard for people, and slavery, and the dehumanizing of people, and greed that’s just off the charts.

“But you, however, did not come to know Christ that way” – speaking of their conversion. “Surely you have heard of Him and you were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”

And then, he reminds them of what he taught them. “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.”

In essence, a believer whose life does not change is an oxymoron. In other words, it’s incompatible; it’s inconceivable. And yet, the Barna and Gallup research would say that about eight of ten people in America, who verbally profess that Jesus is Lord – that their lives haven’t changed.

We divorce at about the same rate. We lie at about the same rate. Our morality is about the same. We do about the same with our dreams, our money, our relationships. We lie about coming into work about the same as those who are outside of Christ.

And the apostle Paul says, “Wait a second. This isn’t about some intellectual knowledge about God, and you pray a little prayer. A new life demands, creates, a brand-new lifestyle.” But what he’s going to teach them is, “Some of you don’t know how that works. I want to give you grace; I want to give you understanding about how this really works.”

And three very specific truths flow out of this passage. The first truth is the negative but he has to lay it out for them, because there’s a group of people saying, “Hey, you know what? There’s this god, this god, this god, and Jesus. That’s great.”

Paul is saying, “It doesn’t work that way.” You don’t just add Him to the list, and intellectually throw Him into your religious basket. Truth number one is this: As believers, our lives must be progressively – underline the word progressively. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect – progressively characterized by moral purity." As believers, genuine followers, our lives must be progressively characterized by moral purity.

If you have a pen, pull it out, if you will. I want to do a little Bible study with you and I’ve laid out the text in a way where you can see some of the relationships. Notice, verse 17 – he says, “So I tell you and I insist upon, that you must no longer live” – and circle the word live, and write, above it, “walk.” That’s our word. In other words, it’s a process; it’s a journey. “You must not walk as the Gentiles do” – in other words, as unbelievers. And then, he describes, “In the futility of their mind.”

Put an arrow from that, and write the word command. This is a command. He’s commanding them, “You can’t keep living the same way.” This phrase, “In the futility of their minds” – he means “aimlessly, in vanity, purposelessness, with no direction, a life devoid of worth.” It says you’re completely out of sync with God’s purposes for your life. You can’t keep living that way.

The next line, he says, he describes your life before Christ. He says, “They are darkened in their understanding and they are separated from the life of God.” Put an arrow, and write, “their state.” He makes a command, and then he says, “Now, here’s their state before God.” This is their standing, if you will.

And the two phrases there – the first one is “darkened in their understanding.” It literally means your mind is blinded by sin. You, progressively, no longer can hear God’s voice. He’s going to take us through a progression, downward, of what happens when we turn away from God.

And then, beyond that, “excluded from the life of God.” Literally, it means “to be estranged; alienated; completely separate.” And then, in the next line, he tells us the “why.” There’s a command; here’s the present state. These people, their minds have been blinded. They don’t see it; they don’t get it anymore.

And then, he tells why, “Because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardening of their hearts.” The word ignorance, here, is not an intellectual ignorance. This isn’t that they don’t know, intellectually, this is right, and this is wrong. This is a moral ignorance. This is an ignorance where – you know when you do something wrong, and you feel kind of bad about it, and you feel guilty? And you say, “Oh man, I shouldn’t…” and then, you do it again, and you feel a little bit less guilty, and it doesn’t really bother you?

He says, “There’s a progress where you can get where you don’t feel anything, where you can sear your conscience, where you get to the point where, in terms of right or wrong, Who’s to say what’s right or wrong? And, You know what? No one’s going to tell me what to do about anything. If I want it, I’ll take it. And there’s just this total disregard.

And that’s, he says, this ignorance, and the ignorance happens because there is a process, he says, “Due to the hardening of their hearts.” That word “hardening” – we get our word – like a petrified forest. It’s the word petrified. Their hearts get harder and harder and harder and harder. And so, there’s just complete disregard for God.

And then, he says there’s a result. So, you get a command; you get their state. Put a little arrow in the third one – the reason. And then, here’s the result: “Having lost all sensitivity.” Literally, we get our word calloused.

In other words, your soul, your spirit, your heart – layer after layer after layer of turning away from God, and doing what is wrong. You lose all sensitivity, or you’re calloused. “They have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” One commentator writes, “It’s a surrendering of one’s self to all the passions, with gusto, with no regard to whom it may injure or hurt. There is no shame, no remorse, no regret.”

I was away with Theresa, after a little teaching stint recently. And it was rainy, and yicky, and a movie came on. It was not a movie I had ever seen. It was the true story of a woman whose family was taken to Auschwitz, to the concentration camp.

And the way the movie was laid out was, there were these three men interviewing her because they were looking back into history and she wanted to get her license as a doctor to deliver babies in downtown New York City. And she was being interviewed because she came out of the camp, and they were evaluating whether she might be a war crime person because of what happened in those camps. And she was explaining to them her journey there, and how all of her family was killed, and what she was forced to do.

And in it, they showed these snapshots, snapshots of what it was actually like in the concentration camp. And there were little windows of it that were just, like, “Oh, God, that is so evil.”

I picked up the remote, and as I picked it up, then I thought, You know something? This is the condition of the human heart – and I was studying these passages. And I thought, Somehow we get insulated from this. And there is a hardening – there are things that human beings do to one another, when our hearts get hard, and we have total disregard for God; there’s no sense of right or wrong.

Think of what’s happening, all around the globe. In the last century, more people were killed by their rulers – by the Stalins, by the Hitlers, by the Mussolinis – than all the wars of all time, of all history.

The apostle Paul is saying, “In the darkness of people’s hearts, turning away from God,” he said, “you were on a journey toward that kind of life, and that’s what it’s like apart from God.” And so, here’s his point. He says, “It’s inconceivable for a believer’s life not to change.”