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THE NEW MAN – Ephesians 4:17-24

There is more rejoicing in Heaven over a new creation than over a new year in the old creation!

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, with a continual lust for more.

You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of Him 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 4:17-24

The distinctiveness of the Church of Christ, in the writings of Paul, does not lie in how it differs from denominations. There were no denominations. The distinctiveness of the Church was in how it differed from the Gentile world around it. At times, he also points out how the Church differed from the Jews – but here he found much affinity. With the Gentiles, he found mostly difference.

Here, near the middle of the epistle that many say has as its theme the Church, Paul passionately urges all followers of Jesus to put off their old way of living – like the Gentiles – “and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (vv. 17 & 24).

This, he says, is “in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus” (v.21). How is it that our insistence on “truth” so seldom reaches to truth about personally practicing “true righteousness and holiness” – unless we think this is the truth about the acts of worship, how the church is organized, and the steps to salvation?

For Paul, “the truth that is in Jesus” had to do with the things that made the early Christians distinctive in a Gentile culture.

Some Perspective on How We Got Where We Are

There was a time when most people in this country accepted a generally Christian world-view. The churches all shared this world-view and a common morality. As a result, each sect sought to distinguish itself by doctrines and practices peculiar to itself. Barton W. Stone, the Campbell’s (Thomas and Alexander), as well as a number of others, began their work by calling all the sects to their common heritage and understanding of what serving our Lord is all about. They called for a truce in the battle for distinctions among themselves to simply walk in “the truth that is in Jesus.”

Even then, there was plenty of “Gentile-like behavior” in the culture. There were many with no church background (except what was “in the cultural atmosphere). These provided an ample field for evangelism – had the churches been willing to lay down their swords of opposition to each other to turn them into plows to prepare soil for the sowing of the seed of the Kingdom among those not yet in service to the King.

While many accepted this invitation, many more did not accept it. As time went by, even the devotees of Campbell and Stone began to wield their swords against the churches they had first approached as brethren with a plea for unity in their battle against a common foe. Perhaps inevitably ere a century had passed, the swords were also turned against other members of the Campbell-Stone movement to keep that movement pure, at least in the minds of those wielding the swords.

Paul’s Program for Change

Today, our cultural situation is different. The Spirit of the Age is definitely not Christian. The Culture of our nation is increasingly Pagan. That is, our nation is much more like the culture of ancient Greece and Rome than the culture of ancient Jerusalem and Judea. Paul’s plea in Ephesians is much more significant for our situation today than it was two centuries ago, though his plea has always been right for the times.

He gives a three-step program for change:

  1. Put off the old self or the old man. This is the one you lived in when you still were in your former way of life. This is the way the Gentiles live, being corrupted by their evil lusts and desires.
  2. Be made new in your heart, your attitude, and your mind. Find a new way of thinking in keeping with “the truth that is in Jesus.” This is what Paul called “the renewing of your minds” in Romans 12:2.
  3. Put on the new self or the new man – the man created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. This man differs from the old man in almost every particular.

This part of Ephesians begins by describing the way the Gentiles live. This is also a three-fold description of what we must put off.

  1. They live “in the futility of their thinking” (v. 17). In Romans 1:21-22 he had said of them, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile….” Futility of thinking simply means their thinking was empty and purposeless. They had little for which to live. There was no hope in their lives, for their thinking was leading them down a dead end.
  2. “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” (v. 18). Though our age claims enlightenment, it also is dark in understanding the truth that is in Jesus.
  3. Even casual observation confirms that our age, like the Pagan world, has “given itself over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (v. 19). Sensuality, of course, is a highly developed “me-ism” that puts selfish pleasures on the throne. Many Americans live as a co-worker I had more than 50 years ago said, “I live for pay-day and Saturday night!” Few would be as crude in saying it; many live exactly that way. This sensuality can be sexual – but can be any pleasure that depends on our physical senses.

Three things – purposeless & futile lives, darkness of understanding, and lust – characterized the Pagan world. These same three things characterize our world – and this is why we must change from the old man, shaped by the world around us, to the new man whom God is creating by His Spirit.

Over the next several verses, Paul addresses that change. In the next four posts of this series, we will consider how what he says will help us to become that new man.

NEXT: Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 4:25-32

PREVIOUS: Worthy of Your Calling – Ephesians 4:1-16


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