Ephesians 4:20–24 “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
“The genuineness of our knowledge of God is revealed by whether or not we are obeying the truth that we have from his Word.” — David F. Wells
Have you ever noticed how a football coach reacts after one of his players commits a personal foul against the opponent, costing his team 15 precious yards? He doesn’t usually offer a slaphappy bear hug, does he? But for coaches whose objectives transcend merely winning or showing off their temper, such penalties provide important teaching moments. And one of the understandable messages conveyed in these situations goes something like this: “You know better than that. You play for ABC University. We play disciplined football. We are different.”
The grace of God changes us to live distinctly, not carelessly as if we were still lost. After reminding the Ephesians of their former lifestyle as Gentiles, Paul testifies that the believer’s way of life is absolutely incompatible with the conduct of the surrounding heathen culture. Why? Paul explains that the believers must live differently because they have entered into a life-changing experience with Christ in the school of conversion.
|But ye have not so learned Christ;||But it was not in this worldly way that you received instruction from and about Christ,|
|if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:||if you really heard and were instructed by Him (after all, the truth is in Jesus)|
|that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;||(1) that at conversion you laid aside your old self with reference to your former way of life that was thoroughly corrupted by deceitful desires,|
|and be renewed in the spirit of your mind;||(2) and that presently you are being totally renovated in your thinking by God the Spirit,|
|and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.||(3) and that at conversion you also clothed yourself with a new nature that is recreated according to God’s image of righteousness and true holiness.|
Paul uses the metaphor of a classroom to illustrate the way in which an unbeliever is converted. Using the three parallel expressions learned, heard and taught, Paul refers to the basic truths the Ephesians had learned under the apostle’s instruction. His curriculum was about Christ, both His life and work, but it was much more than that. To hear Paul was to hear Jesus. Christ Himself had been communicated to them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26). The Ephesians had not only learned Christ through the simple disseminating of historical facts about His life—they had actually learned Christ! Christ was not only the subject of the message but also the teacher. So what were the lessons that the Ephesians learned with Christ in the school of conversion?
Put off the old man.
First of all, Paul reminds believers that when we “learned Christ,” we put off the old man. What does Paul mean by the old man? Christ’s mission on earth was to undo what Adam had done in the Garden of Eden. Adam’s sin and disobedience affected all of humanity because of his role as the representative head of the human race. Judicially, Adam’s guilt was transferred to mankind (Rom. 5:18), and as a result, his sinful nature was transmitted to all men through procreation (Ps. 51:5). Because of this, each of us is condemned by imputed guilt and controlled by an inherent sinful nature. The old man is everything mankind is in Adam.
This old man is characterized by a life that is continually corrupted by deceitful passions. Human nature is predisposed to self-centeredness, so the only choice an unbeliever can make is to sin. The lusts of the old man continually promise satisfaction through indulgence, but this is all self-deception. In reality, these desires lead to greater enslavement to sin, which corrupts the emotions, conscience, intellect and even physical constitution. The work of Christ is to deliver us from this old man state. The old man was nailed to the cross with Christ. “Our old man is crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6). Christ’s death sets us free from the bondage and power of the old sinful life. “That the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6). Though the remnants of the old man (the flesh) are not eradicated from the body, they no longer have dominating control over our life. Sin’s power has been broken.
Put on the new man.
The second lesson we learn is that God has created new life within us called the new man. This new life is rooted in the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:5). If believers have participated in the death of Christ, then we have surely taken part in His resurrection. What is this new life? It is a restoration of the image of God in the human soul, an image lost by Adam’s disobedience but regained by Christ’s obedience (Rom. 5:19). The inherent qualities of this new man are righteousness (a desire to do what God requires) and holiness (a devotion to know and love God). Therefore, change begins internally through the sanctified desires of the new life.
The Ephesians’ experience in the school of conversion took place at a certain point in time. Every main verb in Ephesians 4:20–24 is in the past tense, with one exception: “And be renewed” (4:23). This renewal is the focus of the next chapter. When did this event occur? As the truth of the Gospel is preached to sinners in the power of the Spirit, who reveals Christ to them, sinners like those in the Ephesian church put off the old life through repentance and put on the new life by receiving Christ through faith. We call this entire experience conversion. In the 1700s, evangelist George Whitfield declared: “Before you or I can have any well-grounded, scriptural hope of being happy in a future state, there must be some great, some notable, and amazing change pass upon our souls.”
As believers we cannot live like Gentiles, because we have entered into a new life with Christ. Our new life brings many changes as a result of putting off our old man and putting on the new man. This experience of change continues throughout our lives, as we are continually renewed in the spirit of our minds. Sanctification is “the process whereby the Spirit of God takes the Word of God and changes us to become like the Son of God” (Jim Berg).
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