The Apostle Paul carries on with his practical discourse on how the believers in Ephesus should live and walk in Christ. His letter to the church of Ephesus was not simply to be read but put into practice. In other words, one of the reasons the Bible was written so that we could learn to obey God and not simply to study God. Paul laid a wonderful foundation of study in Eph 1 – 3, but he is now interested in putting our faith into action. How does he do this? He uses the word to walk or live to emphasize we are not to practically put our faith into action. Eight times in Eph 4 – 6, Paul uses “therefore” (NKJV – Eph 4:1, 17, 25; 5:1, 7, 14, 17, 25) to remind them what Christ has done for them. Therefore… the believers ought to live in ways that honour God. James tells us we are to be doers of the word not merely those who hear the word (James 1:22).
Live not as Gentiles
There are times in our Christian walk where we must NOT do certain things, the Holy Bible and the Holy Spirit affirm this to us. Paul’s second therefore starts with a negative attached to it, “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” (Eph 4:17). Christ had set the believers in Ephesus free from their past ways of sinful living (Eph 2:1-3). Now Paul insists, implores and testifies to them there is a wrong way of living and a right way of living. One of Paul’s emphasis here is thinking or understanding. Christians are to live and think differently than unsaved people. Their minds are to be controlled and directed by God and not to be futile or aimless. Futile thinking carries with it darkened understanding, separation from God, ignorance, loss of shame and sensitivity, extreme immorality, and reckless sexual sins. The pagan temples of worship were hot beds for this kind of empty thinking and immoral lifestyle. Paul exhorts the church of Ephesus to no longer engage in the negative existence of the Gentile world.
Put off – Put on…
Salvation begins grace and faith IN CHRIST, and moves forward with repentance, which is a change of mind and heart. The whole outlook of a person changes when he trusts in Christ, including his values, goals, and understanding of life. This is what Paul addresses next. He reminds the church – “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. (speaking of Gentile thinking) 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus” (Eph 4:20-21). Disciples or learners of Jesus are taught truth, both Biblical and historical, which affects their thinking. In other words, we take on the mind of Christ and become like Jesus in our thoughts, emotions, and our actions.
Paul uses put-off and put-on to instruct the people with regards to repentance and renewal. This reminds me of the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11; the grave clothes would have to be removed and new clothes given to Lazarus.
“To put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” is a picture of grave clothes being set aside. This putting off is our responsibility as believers, this is the work of repentance, intentionally setting aside our old way of thinking and living. We must put off the corruption of our former life which is dead and decaying… We are to be made new in the attitude of your minds; this is renewal, to be reestablished like-new in an improved way. The word for attitude is “pneuma” or spirit in the Greek language. It is the Spirit of God that transforms how we think in relation to the Word of God that is active in our life. “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom 12:5-6). As the Spirit takes control of our minds, because we are willing, we put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
This put-off and put-on has been described this way. We put off our grave clothes and put on our grace clothes. Putting off and putting on is a description of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as seen in Rom 5 – 8. As Christians we have not only changed our minds but have new citizenship in heaven.
Therefore, put off…
This brings us to Paul’s third therefore. In this passage of Scripture Paul brings the believers to an application. He is not like some preachers who speak of God’s grace while missing the practical responsibility of the people. He desires us to fully understand our salvation IN CHRIST as well as how to live it out. To experience our freedom in Christ only in spirit and not in practice is heresy.
Paul begins with another put off message, but it is directed towards five areas of sin.
1. “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour” (Eph 4:25) – do not lie to one another. There are different ways to lie to people. We tell half-truths or exaggerated truths. We change the facts. We intentionally deceive. We must remember that Satan is called the father of lies (John 8:44). The reason we are not to lie is that we are members of the same body. In other words, lying to others damages my own relationship to the body of Christ.
2. “In your anger do not sin” (Eph 4:26-27). Anger is an emotion caused by something that upsets us. In itself, anger is not a sin, because even God can be angry. However, anger unchecked or unresolved leads to sin in various forms. We explode in anger and hurt people. We simmer in anger and scare people. The key is to deal with anger in the moment and not let it carry over to another day. Make amends with people. Forgive one another. If we don’t Satan robs us of our freedom or takes away our confidence.
3. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer…” Stealing is the 8th of the Ten Commandments; stealing is never to be a part of our Christian walk. Stealing was a problem in Paul’s day among the slaves who were not always treated well. They would steal to get ahead in life, so to speak. Paul tells them to work and to work so that they can help those in need. We must be careful not to steal in our modern society. Steal from employees, from the government or even our neighbours. We are not to be like Satan who was a sneaky and dirty thief (John 10:10).
4. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” … Corrupt speech is a problem in the Body of Christ. Have you ever encountered a person with bad breath? That is the word used here in Greek – unwholesome, bad, worthless or rotten words have no place in the church; put them off. “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift” (Message). Our words must be graceful and help in building up others according to their needs. We must remember that our words come out of our hearts. So, let’s make sure our hearts of full of love and kindness and forgiveness. Bad speech grieves the Holy Spirit.
5. “Get rid of all bitterness” … Bitterness refers to an established hostility that poisons the whole inner man; unresolved hostilities lead to bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander and every form of malice. Remember that Jesus broke down the wall of hostility in order that we can live in peace with one another. We must put off bitterness before it poisons the entire body. We must put off bitterness because it saddens the Holy Spirit. Holding onto grudges or unresolved issues robs us of our freedom in Christ. We must empty our backpacks of bitterness and learn to forgive and enjoy freedom.
Therefore, put on…
Our Christian walk is more than repentance or putting off our old nature. After the Apostle Paul clearly speaks of certain sins that the believers in Ephesus were to put off, he ends this section with several attributes to put on. He speaks of being “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph 4:32). True Christianity is not simply managing our sins and temptations, it is the putting on of the life of Jesus Christ, it is transformation that begins with on the inside because of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. So, we must clothe ourselves with kindness and compassion and forgiveness towards each other as a result of being forgiven ourselves.
This is the same idea as when Jesus speaks of a demon being expelled from a person. If the demon comes back and finds the house swept, clean and in order but not filled they come back with even greater vengeance (Luke 11:24-26). In other words, as we put off sinful behaviour we must put on righteousness; putting off must always be followed by putting on…
Keeping in mind our theme of “freedom in Christ”, Paul reminds the church of Ephesus to not live in their old patterns of living, or not as Gentiles. He exhorts them to be true to the foundations of faith as in Eph 1 – 3, by putting off the sin and putting on Jesus. This is how their freedom would be experienced. The putting off of sin is not performance-based Christianity, it is not to be done in their effort, but it is the result of what Jesus has done for them. Because of the forgiveness of Jesus, the church of Ephesus could walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel and no longer live in their old Gentile ways but could live with their minds renewed and put on their new self. They were no longer sinners but saints, who were “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).
Here are several key questions to answer with regards to this morning’s message?
· What kind of thoughts come through my mind on a daily basis?
· What are some areas of my life that I need to put off?
· What should I be clothing myself with in relation to my thoughts, emotions and actions?