Out With the Old, In With the New – Ephesians 4:17-32

In the first part of Ephesians 4, Paul talked about life in the body and concludes with the importance of each body part effectively functioning within the body, helping the body to mature and grow into Christ, our head.  In the remainder of this chapter Paul gives us some practical ideas of how to live in community within the body. We need to ‘put off’ the old self, and ‘put on’ the new self.

How Not to Live

So I tell you this, and 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 separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. – Ephesians 4:17-19 NIV

Paul starts off by describing the life of unbelievers and challenges us not to be like them.  He has two primary negatives that he shares in relation to the Gentiles, or unbelievers.  The first has to do with their way of thinking.  It is described as futile, darkened, and ignorant.  I suspect that most unbelievers would take offense at this characterization of their thought processes.  But if God truly does exist and has a purpose for me, would it not be foolish and ignorant for me to consider life apart from him; to exclude him from my thought processes?  It would be to some extent similar to trying to plan a trip to the moon without taking gravity into consideration.  It would result in failure and would induce pity in those who knew better.

The second negative is that they have given themselves over to sensuality.  We oftentimes think of sensuality in terms of loose sexual morals.  But it really goes beyond that. One definition of sensuality is “the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses.”  If you are living in the realm of the physical senses, looking for things that will be pleasing to them, then you are living in sensuality.  If good tasting food, hot cars, quiet and beautiful scenery, music, clothes, beautiful people, etc. are what you are living for, then Paul’s comments in this passage are directed toward you.  We should not live like that.

How You Should Live

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 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. – Ephesians 4:20-24 NIV

Instead, Paul tells us to put off that old person, who is living for self and leaving God out of the equation, and to be made new.  We are to be made new in the attitude of our minds; factoring God into the equation; and recognizing his place in our lives and in the creation.  We are also to put on a new self, created to be like God, living for him in righteousness and holiness, rather than living for self in sensuality.  The new life we are to live deals with both of the negatives that Paul has described concerning unbelievers, being renewed both mentally and in our conduct.

How To Live the New Life

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

The remainder of the chapter gives us some clues as to how to live this new life.  Included in this list are admonitions to:

Speak Truthfully

Speak truthfully to each other within the body.  If we are going to be a body, we need to be able to trust each other.  And lying to each other will shatter that needed trust.  So why are we tempted to lie?  Seems to me it is mostly because I am either trying to hide something I did, or bring harm to someone else.  And neither of those is desirable for developing close personal relationships within the body.

Dealing with Anger

We need to deal appropriately with anger.  Paul does not tell us to avoid anger, but rather to avoid sinning in our anger.  There are times when anger may be an appropriate response to some event or situation.  But we need to be careful how we respond when angry, and we need to deal with anger quickly.  Don’t allow it to fester and build up inside you.

Giving Rather than Taking

Taking from others needs to transform itself into giving to others who are in need.  Stealing is a self first action, while giving is an others first action.  Which is better for life in the body of Christ, or in any other community?

Useful Conversation

Our conversation is another area of concern.  Take the time to listen to yourself.  How often is what you are saying helpful or useful to the ones listening to you?  It seems often that our conversation is ‘talking about’ other people, or something that really has no value.  How much conversation would survive the ‘helpful to others’ filter if we applied it to ourselves?

Obeying the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is actively at work in the life of the believer.  We can follow his direction, which is pleasing.  Or we can choose to do our own thing, which would grieve him.  This is really very similar to a parent and child.  How often does a child disobey and thus grieve their parent; although that does not make them any less loved, or terminate the relationship.  In a similar fashion, when I disobey God it causes disappointment, but does not necessarily remove me from his love.

Personal Dealings with Others

And finally Paul gives us a list of things to avoid in our interactions as well as a sample of more positive approaches.  Bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander all serve to disrupt relationships in the body.  Kindness, compassion and forgiveness serve to build up those relationships.  If what you are doing or feeling hinders the life of the body, then stop it.  Look instead for ways to build up the body of Christ.

Doing What’s Best for the Body

I do not believe that Paul’s list above should be taken legalistically or as a complete set of requirements.  Rather look at it as some general direction that will help us to live as members of the body.  All of these things will help us to live within the body.  But more important than just jumping on these few things is to adopt a new mental attitude and to try and live in a way that would be pleasing to God and helpful to your fellow believers.  Are you willing to subvert your own interests in favor of being a new person in Christ?  Are you willing to do what is best for the body regardless the personal cost?

All Posts In This Series

  • A Brief Introduction to Ephesians: Who and Why - This brief introduction to Ephesians will share some of the ideas of authorship, audience and purpose that many scholars see, as well as my views.
  • Spiritual Blessings – Ephesians 1:3-14 - God has given his spiritual blessings to us in the heavenly realm. And we have these blessing because we are in Christ. Praise God for all he has done.
  • Prayer – Ephesians 1:15-23 - In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul's prayer for the recipients of this letter is for a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they could know God better.
  • From Death Into Life: An Act of Grace – Ephesians 2:1-7 - In my natural state I was spiritually dead, separated from the life of God. But by his grace, I have been made alive, with a life that will never end.
  • Amazing Grace – Ephesians 2:8-10 - Grace. More specifically God's grace. As believers we talk about it a lot, frequently defining it as God's unmerited favor towards us. And indeed it is. It is by God's grace that we are saved, and not by anything we can do (Ephesians 2:8). God's grace has dealt with our sin and we now have a future with him. It is unfortunate however that we often leave it there.
  • Tearing Down Walls – Ephesians 2:11-22 - In Christ it makes no difference whether we are Jew or Gentile. We are all one body in him because of grace. It is by faith in what Jesus did that we come into relationship with God now; not by adherence to the commands and regulations of the law. Because observance of the law as a means to righteousness has been replaced by God's grace, we are all equally able to stand before God, not because of what I have done, but because of what he did.
  • The Mystery of Christ – Ephesians 3:1-13 - And the mystery is not only that the barrier that separated Jews from Gentiles has been eliminated. But also that the need for a priestly intermediary has been removed. All believers now also serve as priests and each have direct access to the throne of God.
  • Rooted and Established In Love – Ephesians 3:14-21 - Paul prays that the Ephesians would be rooted and established in love, a suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.
  • Walking Worthy – Ephesians 4:1-6 - What does walking worthy of our calling mean? In the context of Ephesians 4:1-6, it refers to our role in the body of Christ. Be the best member you can be.
  • Growing a Mature Church – Ephesians 4:11-16 - Christ provides his church with the necessary equippers to that we can be a mature church, fully equipped to do the work he has called us to.
  • Out With the Old, In With the New – Ephesians 4:17-32 - How do I live as an effective member of the body of Christ? It involves personal transformation, putting off the old self, and taking on the new self.
  • Imitators of God – Ephesians 5:1-20 - Don't be like the world around you. Instead, be imitators of God by living a life of love, living as a child of the light, and living with wisdom.
  • Married to Jesus – Ephesians 5:22-33 - One of the images for the church in the New Testament is the Bride of Christ. This image pictures the intimate relationship between Christ and his church.
  • All In the Family – Ephesians 5:21-6:9 - Paul's instructions to first century families contains useful information for families today. It also contains advice for workplace relationships.
  • Spiritual Warfare – Ephesians 6:10-20 - A spiritual battle is raging all around us. So take up the armor God provides so you can stand your ground and be engaged in that spiritual warfare.

Post History

  • May 22, 2012: Original post
  • September 14, 2018: Updated for content and SEO

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