A Lifestyle Change
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Ephesians 4:17–4:32
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 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. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!-- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
One of my favorite Bible teachers and preachers is Warren Wiersbe. Now eighty-six years old, he still serves as the radio voice of the Back to the Bible broadcasts. I became exposed to his ministry in the 1970s when he was serving as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. Each week a friend would receive in the mail recorded copies of his sermons, which after listening to them, would pass them along for me to hear. I was a relatively new Christian at the time, and it was Wiersbe’s deep regard for the Scriptures that fanned the same passion in my own heart. I can still remember something he said in one of the first of his messages that I heard, a comment that helped bring my head out of the clouds and plant my feet solidly on the ground.
“The Bible,” he said, “was written not merely to be read and studied, but to be read and obeyed.”
Now that may not seem like an earth-shattering thought to you, but before you dismiss it, let me ask you rather pointedly, how much of what you know about the Bible is being lived out in your daily life? It is has pointed out by many that we only believe as much of the Bible as we put into practice.
The Apostle Paul communicated that sentiment in writing the second half of his letter to the Ephesians. Many of those young Christians had come to Christ out of pagan backgrounds and were just beginning to grow in their relationship with the Lord and with one another. It was all so new to them...and so different. Having begun this epistle by expounding upon the rich spiritual heritage that was now theirs by virtue of their faith in Christ, Paul now exhorts them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which (they had) been called” (Ephesians 4:1). And with that challenge, the apostle begins to explain what that looks like. Basically what he tells them is that believers are no longer to live as unbelievers live, but are rather to live renewed lives in Jesus Christ.
The lifestyle of the true Christian is noticeably different from the manner of life that characterizes those without Christ. In making this contrast, Paul reminds his readers of what they “once were” and what they “now are.” He had written a similar exhortation in an earlier letter to believers in Rome, saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
What we find here in Ephesians 4 is Paul’s charge for his readers to adapt to a new lifestyle that matches their position in Christ. To live what Watchman Nee has described as “the normal Christian life.”
Paul will begin by admonishing them in verses 17 through 19 to “no longer” live as they did before coming to Christ. Then he will lay out his argument in verses 20 through 24, that they must lay aside their former manner of life and adopt new patterns of living that reflect their identity. And finally he will make his application in verses 25 through 32, where he will give examples of the types of changes that need to be made.
We will begin with...
The admonition (verses 17-19)
Let’s read verses 17 through 19 again: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, 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. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
The first thing to notice is the contrast between “you” and “they.” Paul is drawing a clear line of demarcation between one lifestyle and another. And the exhortation, “that you no longer walk,” indicates that the contrast is not between the readers and someone else, but between what the readers “once were” and what they have become “in Christ.” Believers are not to behave as unbelievers do, true...but the real admonition here is that these relatively new followers of Christ are to “no longer” live as they did before they knew the Savior.
Just in case they had forgotten—or we might have forgotten—the writer reminds them that unbelievers are characterized in three ways.
The first is “the futility of their minds.” This speaks of their “aimlessness” or “lack of purpose, and please notice that it all begins in “the mind.” Throughout this section we cannot help but observe that the “thought life” is in view. In response to critics, the Christian faith has a requisite intellectual component. In other words, Christians are people who think! After all, it is the act of “repentance”—which means a “change of mind”—that causes “the new birth” to be conceived in the life of the believer.
Secondly, believers are “darkened in their understanding.” Their minds are closed—locked and bolted tight—and they are unable to respond favorably to the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 1:18, they are described this way: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” But we can take heart, my friends, because within that same context we are told that “the (so-called) foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
And then third, unbelievers are said to be “alienated from the life of God.” In other words, they are “estranged” from God...they have no part in Him. And Paul tells us why. It is “because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardness of their heart.” This last phrase is important because it tell us that the “ignorance” of which Paul speaks is not due to their lack of knowledge, but to their willful rejection of the truth. The “hardness” described here refers to a “paralysis” of feeling or cessation of care. This is further described as their having “become callous,” suggesting that the “hardening” was something that had developed over a prolonged period of time. That process eventuated in their having “given themselves up to sensuality” and being “greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
The language is vivid and highly reminiscent of what we find in Romans 1:18-32. What is being described for us here is a lifestyle given over unrestrained sensual pleasure of every sort. Now, lest you think that he is describing only “the worst of the worst” among us, the opening words of Romans 2(:1) tell us that we are all left with “no excuse.” Every last one of us stands guilty before God, and there is no limit to the evil that the unbelieving heart can manufacture.
The only “way out” of a lifestyle worthy of damnation goes through the cross of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 6(:9-11), after listing a number of deplorable sins that had characterized the past lives of Christians, Paul writes provides these words of relief to those who have been there: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Amen.
So, Paul’s admonition is for believers to “no longer walk” in the manner they once did. Their sins had been covered by the blood of Christ, so don’t look back with envy at what once had been and—in the eyes of the Lord—was no more.
Instead, believers are to adopt a new lifestyle that conforms to their new life in Christ. Beginning in verse 20, Paul lays out for us...
The argument (verses 20-24)
The contrast in this section begins with the exclamatory statement, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” which is followed by the presumptive reminder, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.” Paul is neither doubting nor questioning that these Ephesian Christians had received the truth of the Gospel. Instead, he is reminding them of who they had become “in Christ.” He wants his readers to understand that Jesus Himself is the embodiment of all that He taught...so much so, that His teaching cannot be adequately learned without coming to personally know Him.
Therefore, just as there were characteristics that were true of unbelievers, so there are distinctives that mark off those who are genuine followers of Christ. In the first place, as we have noted, they are recognized by living out the truth that Jesus taught and modeled. In addition to being our sin-bearer, we are reminded in 1 Peter 2:21 that Jesus left for us “an example, so that (we) might follow in his steps.” “Christlikeness,” becoming more and more like the One who saved us, is something toward which every Christian should be striving. Granted, sanctification is a slow process—often painfully slow—but it should be steady and progressive. Others should be able to note your growth in Christ, even when you yourself may not be able to see it.
The second characteristic that is noted of believers is that they have exchanged their former manner of life for a new one. To illustrate how this plays out in our lives, Paul employs the metaphor of “putting off” an old set of clothes and “putting on” new garments. Verses 22 through 24 actually comprise the heart of this entire passage, so let’s allow the apostle to speak for himself. He instructs believers “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Some have likened this to “a change of uniform.” Now, I realize that all “uniforms” are not sports-related, but they are what many of us think of first. When a professional athlete gets traded from one team to another, he effectively removes the uniform of one team and dons the uniform of another. It may feel strange at first for him to be wearing a different colored jersey with a different logo, but with the passing of time the traded player begins to be comfortable and to fit in with his new team. In fact, some even say that being traded to their new team is like “coming home.” God intends for the Christian life to be that way.
It is significant that the exhortations to “put off” (in verse 22) and to “put on” (in verse 24) are aorist infinitives that serve as commands denoting completed action that takes place at a point in time. In other words, the “exchange” of lifestyles is not something that needs to be repeated. A decision has been made to once-and-for-all “put off (the) old self,” which is “corrupt through sinful desires,” and to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” This implies that a radical transformation has occurred. We refer to it as a “conversion,” and God speaks of it as “a new creation. The old has passed away...the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
That being so, then why—in the words of one author—is it taking me so long to be good? Verse 23 provides an all-too-frequently-overlooked answer in the form of a command: “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” “The spirit of your minds” speaks to who Christians really are. And it is there that we locate the third quality which characterizes the believer: they have a renewed mind. Unlike the previous two commands to “put on” and “put off,” what we have here is a present tense infinitive which denotes ongoing or continuous action. Therefore, we might translate verse 23 this way: “Keep being renewed in the spirit of your minds.” What Paul is talking about here is our need for our minds to be constantly cleansed and refreshed in the truth of God. Remember the earlier command we noted from Romans 12(:2): “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” It’s an ongoing process.
So far we have considered Paul’s admonition urging Christians to “no longer” live as they did before coming to the Savior. Instead, as his argument has shown, they are to adopt a new lifestyle that conforms to their new life in Christ. He is now ready to move into...
The application (verses 25-32)
We find it in verses 25 through 32. Here he gives us a series of specific instructions regarding how to “walk in a manner worthy of (their) calling” as followers of Christ. Rather than providing a list of vices to be discarded and another list of virtues to be cultivated, this paragraph counterbalances each negative behavior with a positive one that is to be cultivated. By doing so, we are able to clearly see how some of those specific areas of conduct are to “put off” or removed from us, while new ones are to be “put on” or adopted in their place.
What we find in these verses is by no means an exhaustive inventory, but it is representative of the lifestyle change being advocated by the apostle. Four contrasts are presented for us to consider. He first mentions what is to “put away,” and then immediately provides the contrasting exhortation.
The first of these pairs is found in verse 25: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.” Falsehood is to be replaced by truth. Although Paul doesn’t cite the Old Testament reference, the positive side of this command is taken from Zechariah 8:16, where members of Israel’s post-exilic community are instructed to keep covenant with one another. Thus, in applying those words to the New Covenant community—that is, the Church—he is able to add “for we are members one of another.” As we have seen in recent weeks, Paul is deeply concerned about the unity of the Body of Christ. The sins we commit—in this case, lying—has a deleterious effect of every other part of the Body. So, we are to “put away” all manner of falsehood and deceit, and be truthful and trustworthy in our communication and interaction with one another.
The second contrast is implied in verse 26, where we are urged to replace unrestrained anger with timely reconciliation. The familiar words, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” are generally misunderstood. What our English Bibles do not convey is the fact that Paul uses two different words for “anger.” Regarding the first time the word is used, Paul is not commanding Christians to “be angry” (“οργιζω”) Rather he is giving them permission to express what is sometimes referred to as “righteous indignation” with regard to evil. Sin should anger us, my brothers and sisters, because we understand its damning effects. If we are able to passively sit back and watch the spread of evil in our world without our souls being vexed, something is out of calibration in our spiritual lives. Some things should “anger” us.
But when he writes, “do not let the sun go down on your anger,” the word he uses (“παροργισμοs”)—although coming from the same root—speaks of a resentful form of “anger” that must not be permitted to take root. Therefore, the plea is to “make peace” before the end of the day. Nursing our anger toward one another only provides ammunition for “ the devil” to bring accusation against God’s people. We must give him “no opportunity” to do that, but must seek to resolve our disputes in a Christ-honoring way.
The third contrast is found in verse 28: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands.” The command could have stopped there, but it comes with a purpose: “so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” That last statement may come as a surprise. Why are we, as followers of Christ, to labor? Please notice...not for our own well-being, but “so that (we) may have something to share” with those who are “in need.” The early church practiced this with faithful consistency. They looked out for one another, even when they did not have a lot to give. Sadly today many Christians have regressed to a level of giving as little as they can while sparing no expense to care for themselves. You and I need to be judicious and wise in our stewardship, while remembering Jesus’ words to be laying up “treasures in heaven” (cf. Matthew 6:19-20). So, where is your heart?
Paul proceeds to verse 29 in stating the fourth of his applications: “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.” Briefly, what Paul is telling us here is that we are to replace foul language with words that edify and heal. The word “corrupt” was used elsewhere in reference to “rotten” fruit or “decayed” meat. When some of us came to Christ, one of the first things that needed to be radically transformed was our manner of speech. In writing to the Colossians, Paul told them, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). Our Lord spoke even more directly in Matthew 12:36-37), issuing this warning, “I tell you on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The fifth and final of Paul’s contrastive applications comes out of verses 30 through 32. Here we find the capstone of this entire section, and it contains the most solemn of his statements. It begins with both a charge and a reminder: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The fact that “the Holy Spirit” can be “grieved,” tells us that He is a Person and not simply a “force,” as some have erroneously suggested. Only persons can experience “grief.” And let’s not minimize who this Person is. He is none other than the One who is said in chapter 1, verse 13 to have “sealed” us, by securing for believers all of God’s promised blessings to be fully unveiled on the Last Day. But to our shame, we “grieve” Him.
So how is it that we are able to grieve the Third Person of the Trinity? Verse 31 answers by pointing to our natural inclination and default tendency to treat one another cruelly. The behaviors he lists describe those which habitually lay just beneath the surface of our “pre-Christ” lives. And from time to time, they erupted, leaving in their wake destruction that divided us from one another. To do that now, as followers of Jesus, would be unthinkable...which is why Paul exhorts, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you with all malice.” Take these behaviors off like a soiled garment...and instead, as verse 32 tells us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Read that again slowly: “As God in Christ forgave you.” Need we any further motivation than this? Here in these few words is the attitude that we are to show one another as fellow members of the Body of Christ. Note especially that we are to be “forgiving one another.” That verb (“χαριζομαι”) means that we are to be continually “giving grace” to each other in the same way that “God in Christ” has granted and continues to “give grace” to us. But this means more than merely following His example. It means that to be sure, but it also means that we open ourselves to God and to His people—being transparent and vulnerable with one another—in order that He may live out His life both in and through us.
But, you say, that sounds awfully “risky.” I may even get hurt. That is true...you may. Every relationship comes with inherent “risk.” The only way to guarantee not being hurt is to not risk at all. Faith is a huge “risk,” is it not? And yet God calls us to “risk” our all with Him.
One of the main lessons—if not the primary one—that we are able to take from this passage is to understand that the Christian life is both personal and relational. The apostle addresses both aspects in this text. Verses 17 through 24 focus on the personal transformation that takes place within us when we respond favorably to our Lord’s call to salvation, and verses 25 through 32 hone in on the prescribed manner in which we are to live together as a body of believers. In both areas the emphasis is upon the change that is taking place within us and among us.
This text, therefore, has significance for us both individually and corporately. Paul began chapter 4 with the challenge for us to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling”...to practice what we profess and to behave like we believe. It is a challenge that will remain ours until the day that our Lord reappears to call us away from this life unto Himself. And everyday we wage war against what we once were in order to press toward what we will yet become.
Fortunately, we have not been left to our own devices to engage in the ongoing march toward sanctification. We have His Word to guide us, but that Word will do us little good apart from investing serious time in it. But even that by itself is insufficient. Remember the quote that I mentioned at the start of this message: “The Bible was written not merely to be read and studied, but to be obeyed.” Or, as another has said, “The issue is not primarily how much we get into the Bible, but rather how much of the Bible is getting into us.
And as this text further reminds us, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who leads us and guides us in the way of Christ. We have to be willing to yield to His control, but when we do He supplies the power that enables us to “put off (the) old self” and to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” living lives that are conformed to His, free of this world’s contamination.
And finally we have one another. The essayist Henry David Thoreau is quoted as having said, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” While that general characterization may be true of those without Christ, it should never legitimately be said of any true follower of Jesus. In his new book entitled Going Public, Bobby Jamieson has written, “Becoming a Christian is not a private act. Personal, yes, but never private.” He is, of course, right. And never is living for Christ a “private” matter either. By adopting a new lifestyle that reflects the new birth through both our individual and corporate identities, we come to realize that we have been called to live in community together as “members of one another.”
So let me add, parenthetically and yet importantly here, that the New Testament paints a very clear picture of what a Christian looks like. Just as there is no salvation apart from genuine repentance and sincere faith, so there is no Christian life apart from baptism and meaningful church membership. According to the biblical model, you simply cannot live for Christ on your own. Far too easily, we are able to delude ourselves into thinking we are “okay” with the Lord when we are not. We simply have too many “blind spots.” We need one another.
Think of it as a system of “checks and balances.” If we hope to maintain spiritual health individually and corporately, then we need the support and encouragement of one another. And as we live together—members of the same Body—you and I are able to show grace to one another because of the even greater grace that has been shown to us by our Lord.
Father, we recognize our ongoing need for grace. Though You have redeemed us through the sacrifice of Your own blood in a once-and-for-all act, we need Your daily cleansing. You have not left us to our own devices, but you have given us the Your inerrant Word to instruct us, Your Holy Spirit to guide us, and Your Church to encourage and admonish us. May we make full use of these grace-gifts, knowing that it is Your love that has prompted their giving and through our exercise of them You are receiving great glory. As we sit quietly before You now, please enable us to see what can only be seen through eyes of faith. Help us to become what we already are in Christ. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray. Amen.