Ephesians 4:17-24

“Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thoughts. They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts. They became callous and gave themselves over to promiscuity for the practice of every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more.

But that is not how you came to know Christ, assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.”

Paul started this part of the letter writing about the necessity of unity in the body of Christ. He now moves on to a call for purity. This section I will be covering today is the doctrinal basis for purity. My next blog post will cover the last part of chapter 4, which will be the practical application of these verses.

Paul starts this section by saying, “Therefore I say this and testify in the Lord…” Paul is telling them that this isn’t just a message from him, it is coming from God. We are to obey it! He then says that they are to no longer live as the Gentiles do. He is not referring to the Gentile believers, but to the atheists or the ones who are worshipping multiple gods. He lists a chain of things that happen; obstinacy, darkness, hardness of hearts, and then recklessness. This parallels what Paul writes in Romans 1:21-32.

Paul starts with their thoughts. He says the world’s thoughts are futile. The word futility in the original Greek means void of purpose or appropriateness. This leads to a darkening of their understanding which alienates them from God. We have this picture of dark and light. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him. If we say we have fellowship with him, and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth” (1 John 1:5-6). I picked this verse because we are seeing lies creeping into the church today. I can understand the world accepting behaviors and practices that are morally wrong (we are told to expect it), but when the church begins to say abortion, living a homosexual lifestyle, sex outside of marriage, etc. are all acceptable behaviors, then we are doing exactly what Paul describes in verses 17 through 19. Ray Stedman wrote this in a sermon over 50 years ago. “Why is moral licentiousness so rampant? Why are our standards so constantly deteriorating? It is because men are futile in their thinking. It is because of this shadowed thinking, this incompleteness, this ignorance from which men operate, even the best of them, even the finest of minds, unredeemed, unregenerated.” Things haven’t changed, all these years later.

Unfortunately, I think many Christians would rather please their fellow man than God. Or they have made God into their own image instead of the other way around. David Guzik writes in his commentary, “There is a constant tendency for Christians to display to the world that we really aren’t so different after all. This is usually a misguided effort to gain the world’s respect or approval. This must be resisted at all costs, because the goal in itself is both undesirable and unachievable.” Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s ways are so much better than ours.

Paul then goes on to say, but that is not how you came to know Christ. He tells them to take off their old selves and put on the new. He contrasts the first part of this passage by using three new verbs; to learn, to hear, and to be taught. These things are not natural to us. We have to actively learn them and Christ is our teacher. So if darkness leads to recklessness, what do we need to do as Christians? These next verses answer that. We take off our old selves and put on our new like clean clothing. We can only do this in Christ.

Let’s look at this in a little more in depth. When we put off our old self, there is still a pull. It’s not like you will never have a desire to do those things again! But they are part of our old self. Jesus put them to death on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We are to put on the new self, like a new set of clothes. Guzik writes, “Even as putting on different clothes will change the way you think about yourself and see yourself, even so, putting on a different conduct will start to change your attitudes. This means that we shouldn’t wait to feel like the new man before we put on the new man.”

Paul says in verses 20 and 21, “But that is not how you came to know Christ, assuming you heard about him and were taught by him.” That is the key to putting on the new self. Christ is our teacher. John Stott writes, “When Jesus Christ is at the heart of the moral instruction being given we may have confidence that it is truly Christian. For truth… is in Jesus. We need to stay rooted in the word of God and we need to stay in prayer. I’m going to wrap up this post with a quote from Charles Spurgeon.

“So if you want to know the Lord Jesus Christ, you must live with him. First he must himself speak to you, and afterwards you must abide in him. He must be the Choice Companion of your morning hours, he must be with you through the day, and with him you must also close the night; and as often as you may wake during the night, you must say, ‘When I awake I am still with Thee.’”

Grace be with you!


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