Our passage this morning is Ephesians 4, verses 17-32, as Paul continues to describe what it means for us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which [we] have been called” (4:1). As we discussed at the beginning of this “application” part of Paul’s letter, the “so what” of the Gospel foundation that he laid in Chapters 1-3, Paul gets more and more specific and personal as his exhortation continues. Here, Paul gets personal, though still using plural pronouns, about what it means to be transformed, and to be being transformed, by “the renewing of our minds” as we grow, together, into Christ. Though we could separate this passage into two, addressing what appears as a second paragraph in verses 25-32 another week, I believe that it all fits together, with these verses in the middle as a “hinge” around which Paul’s exhortation turns, verses 20-24:
· 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.
Here are three key exhortations, written in the infinitive verb tense, but having the weight of imperatives. This is what we must do: Put off the old self; Be renewed in our minds; and Put on the new self. As we look at the passage, verses 17-19 describe what that “old self” was like, verses 20-21 and 24 describe what it means to “be renewed in your mind,” and verses 25-32 give several specific examples of what that “putting off” and “putting on” looks like.
As we think on what Paul has written here, it’s application is not limited to the primarily Gentile (rather than Jewish) believers in Ephesus, nor is it limited to those who have recently come to faith, but this applies (should apply!) to all believers. What Paul is writing about is our SANCTIFICATION. In the New Testament, SANCTIFICATION is written about in two senses. The writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 10, verse 10, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” while at the same time, he writes in verse 14, that “by a single offering He [Christ Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” We have been sanctified, in that, when we come to faith in Christ, we are declared by God to be holy and righteous in His sight. It is an “alien righteousness,” in that it is really Christ’s righteousness transferred to our account. We are “justified” and declared to be holy and righteous in God’s sight because we are covered in Christ. We should also be being sanctified, “grow[ing] up in every way into Him Who is the Head, into Christ” as Paul has written in verses 15-16. That is the end goal of our life in Christ, that we become more and more “Christ-like” day by day, as we “are being transformed into the same image” (2 Cor 3:18), as we are being “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Rom 8:29). The final step of our SANCTIFICATION is our GLORIFICATION, when we either pass from this life to be in the presence of God or we wait until Christ’s coming again, when we will be taken to be with Him. We won’t reach sinless perfection on earth, but we are to be working towards it, by the help of Holy Spirit Who indwells us.
In one sense, we can think of this as a process: Put off the old self; Be renewed in our minds; Put on the new self. If you sit down and consider your manner of life, or your attitude in a specific area of life, thinking of sanctification in terms of this three-step process might be helpful. In another sense it is not a three-step process, but it must begin with being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” which can only happen by the power of Holy Spirit working in us. Think of the mind of the lost person as Paul describes that person in verses 17-19.
· 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.
This is first and foremost a condition of the mind – of the attitude of the heart – and Paul’s description tells us that there is nothing that we could have done to rescue ourselves. For those who are not of Christ, their thinking is “futile.” Their understanding is “darkened.” They are “ignorant.” Their hearts are “hard,” and indeed “calloused.” They have “given themselves up.” We could say with Paul that they are/we were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:1-2). This is willful disobedience to the character of God which is revealed to all in the very creation, as Paul writes in Romans 1:18-32, where he also writes about the progressive hardening, the development of “callouses” on the heart as the result of repeated exposure to the “pleasures” of sin. “Greedy to practice every kind of impurity” corresponds to “inventors of evil” in Romans 1:30. Just as in Romans 1, Paul here describes a “death spiral,” as God “gives them over” to the depravity of the mind. Wrong thinking results in evil behaviour which leads to deeper levels of wrong thinking and evil behaviour. It is this pattern of wrong thinking at the heart which needs Holy Spirit’s intervention.
So we are urged to “put off the old self” and to “put on the new self.” What is required is the “renewing of the spirit of the mind,” which Paul describes in verses 20-21 and 24. “Assuming you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus” is a more a reminder of what Paul’s readers have learned than an assumption, or a question as to whether or not they have actually learned. And what they learned was … not “about Christ” … but they have “learned Christ” Himself. As Paul was teaching in the previous section, they, together, just like we, together, “are to grow up in every way into Him Who is the Head, into Christ.” In verse 24 Paul writes, again as reminder rather than new teaching, that we were “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” – a reminder that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”(Genesis 1:27), and that in Christ Jesus, we “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), “clothed in” the “white robes” (Rev 4:4; 7:9; 13; 11:3; 15:6; 18:16; 19:13) of Christ’s own “righteousness and holiness.”
In verses 25 to 32 Paul gives six specific examples of “putting off the old self” and “putting on the new self” made possible by being “renewed in the spirit of your minds.” Almost in the centre of the list, however, we read in verse 30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” This verse is different than the examples of putting off and putting on that precede and follow it. It sits as a centre piece. If we fail to examine our hearts, to be “renewed” in our thinking, if we continue in the sinful patterns of thought and behaviour of the examples that Paul has given and so much more, then we will “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” Who indwells us. We can “grieve” God: He Who has saved us by His grace; He Who came, suffered and died in our place that we could be reconciled to God; can be “grieved” with us, saddened by our continuing disobedience, our continuation in sin, when by the indwelling of Holy Spirit, we do know better.
We will talk of the examples that Paul gives, but are there others? Is there some habitual sin that you continue to harbour in your heart, that you are not willing to give up? Are you “grieving Holy Spirit” today?
To more easily download or print these notes, please click the link below for a PDF version.
Pastor’s Notes PDF April 2nd, 2017