In Ephesians 4:1-24, the apostle Paul says this:
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling [with which] ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. [Therefore] he saith,
When he ascended on high, he led [captives] captive,
And gave gifts unto men.
(Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we [will] be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the [trickery] of men, in craftiness [in deceitful scheming]; but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each . . . part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling gave themselves up to [sensuality], to [practice] all uncleanness with greediness. But ye did not so learn Christ; if [it] be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that [is being corrupted in accordance with] the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after [the likeness of] God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
In this passage, Paul begins the more practical part of his letter to the Ephesian Christians, applying the great truths that he has expounded in the first part of it. The great theme that he begins with is the theme of maintaining the church’s unity. First, he gives a general command to the Ephesians to live their daily lives in a way that is consistent with their exalted position in Christ. Then, he explains that the first great responsibility of their walk is to maintain their unity in Christ that has been established by God the Holy Spirit. Next, he explains this unity, what it is, and moves on to give the Ephesians reasons to maintain it. Finally, he explains each of the Ephesians’ responsibility in maintaining it, and describes what its goal and effects are — the growing up of the body of Christ, until every member “attains to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God”.
However, Paul goes on even from there, to the passage that I want to study in this article:
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling gave themselves up to [sensuality], to [practice] all uncleanness with greediness. But ye did not so learn Christ; if [it] be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that [is being corrupted in accordance with] the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after [the likeness of] God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
So, the first thing we must notice about this passage is that Paul says all this because of what has just gone before, since he nearly begins with the word “therefore”. So, what is the basis for what he’s about to say? Well, obviously it’s the whole message of what came before — walking worthily of their calling, and maintaining the unity of the Spirit. In other words, Paul is about to expand on how they are to walk worthily of their calling and maintain the unity of the Spirit.
In this passage, Paul is going to explain 9 things about walking worthily of their calling:
- The Obligation to End their Godlessness (v. 17a)
- The Oblivious Emptiness of their Godlessness (vss. 17b-18)
- The Overpowering Evil of their Godlessness (v. 19)
- The Obvious Antithesis to their Godlessness (vss. 20-21)
- The Off-Putting of their Godlessness (v. 22a)
- The Ongoing Eradication of their Godlessness (v. 22b)
- The Operating Evolution of their Godliness (v. 23)
- The On-Putting of their Godliness (v. 24a)
- The Original Excellence of their Godliness (v. 24b)
He begins, then, with the Ephesians’ obligation to end their godless life:
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk . . .”
We have already seen why Paul uses the word “therefore” here, but what does it mean that he “testifies in the Lord” when he gives this obligation to the Ephesians? Well, the word “testify” means to “bear witness”, so he’s here calling the Lord Jesus Christ as His witness, as he testifies “in the Lord”, or “with the Lord”, that what he’s about to command the Ephesians to do is what the Lord Himself would command them to do. In other words, he’s commanding the Ephesians to do something, not on his own authority, or from his own opinion, but with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And what is the Ephesians’ obligation?
“. . . that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk . . .”
First of all, we see here that the emphatic word in this command is “walk”. So, what does Paul mean by this? Well, think of what you do when you walk — you put one foot in front of the other, and keep on repeating it. In other words, it involves a process that gets repeated when you’re walking. In the same way, daily life, and the habits that are involved with it, involve a repeated process. This is what Paul means by “walk” — daily living that is habitual.
So, what is Paul commanding the Ephesians to do? To no longer live their habitual and daily lives as “the Gentiles also walk”. But who are “the Gentiles”? Well, the usual meaning is “non-Jews”, but Paul must have something else in mind, since the Ephesians themselves are Gentiles. In fact, Paul defines what he means in Ephesians 2:11-12:
“. . . remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
So, what Paul means by “Gentiles” in our passage is not simply “non-Jews” in a physical or ethnic sense, but non-Jews in a spiritual sense. In these two verses, he defines Gentiles as those who are “separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world”. In other words, they have no friendship with Christ, they are alienated from His people, they have no part in the New Covenant, they are hopeless, and they are Godless. This describes anyone who isn’t a Christian, not just those who are non-Jews in the physical sense.
Therefore, Paul is commanding the Ephesians to no longer live like Godless people, as they once did.
But how do the Godless live? First, Paul says that they live in oblivious emptiness:
“. . . in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart . . .”
First, Paul describes their thinking as vain, or empty. The idea behind the Greek word that’s translated “vanity” is “never accomplishing anything”. Some other words that could be used are futility or emptiness. And what are empty? The minds of unbelievers. It’s not that they don’t think about anything — it’s that everything they think about has no ultimate purpose, and never gives them what they need. All their thoughts are ultimately worthless, since they don’t help them to know their Creator and Judge, who alone can provide everything that they need spiritually and eternally.
Second, Paul says that the understanding of unbelievers is darkened. Now, obviously, the word “understanding” doesn’t refer to the mind, since Paul has just used the word “mind”. With this word, he’s referring to their ability to grasp reality and truth. He says that this faculty is “darkened”, or blackened, as if a shadow is cast over it, covering a light that it can’t see. In other words, they are blind to truth, and don’t understand it correctly. In fact, they can’t understand God’s Word spiritually at all, so as to see that it makes sense and accurately teaches what reality is. Thus, they don’t really understand the most important facts about reality.
Third, they are “alienated from the life of God”. The word “alienated” means to be “cut off”, or “forbidden from”. To put it another way, they have no experience whatsoever of the life of God. But what is it? Well, obviously, it doesn’t refer to physical life, since they have that. Rather, it refers to eternal life, or spiritual life. The Lord Jesus Christ defined this perfectly in John 17:3:
“. . . this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.”
Since “the life of God” is the knowledge of God in an experiential and love-based way, it follows logically that the reason unbelievers are alienated from it is “because of the ignorance that is in them”. What are they ignorant of? The life of God. And why are they ignorant of it? Because they are ignorant of God Himself — they don’t know God. Thus, they don’t know His life. Now again, this knowledge isn’t intellectual knowledge of facts about God, but refers to experience of, and love for, God. They are ignorant of Him.
“. . . because of the hardening of their heart . . .”
Here, Paul says that unbelievers’ ignorance of God is due to the fact that their hearts, or souls — including their minds and wills — are hardened. What does this mean? It means that they are unable to embrace the knowledge of God, and make it a part of them, because they have hard hearts.
But we must recognize that Paul doesn’t say “because of the hardness of their heart”, but “because of the hardening of their heart”. What’s the difference? The first is merely a characteristic of their hearts, while the second — what Paul says — is an action done to their hearts, which results in the hardness. And who did the hardening? In this context, Paul emphasizes that it’s they who hardened their hearts. Thus, their ignorance of God in one sense is their own fault.
After describing the oblivious emptiness of unbelievers, he moves on to the overpowering evil that the Ephesians are not to do:
“. . . who being past feeling gave themselves up to [sensuality], to [practice] all uncleanness with greediness.”
So, what’s the result of the emptiness, darkness, alienation, ignorance, and hardness of unbelievers’ minds, understandings, and hearts? First, they are “past feeling”. What does this mean? Obviously, it doesn’t mean that they are past feeling through their sense of touch, but it means that they’re past feeling through their sense of morality. In other words, they no longer feel the weight of their evil — they no longer care about avoiding it.
As a result, they “gave themselves up to [sensuality]”. Since they no longer feel enough guilt and shame about their evil, they “gave themselves” to it. This shows us that they are now controlled by it, and are obsessed with it — they are addicted to it. But what is this evil? First, it’s sensuality. This means being obsessed with pleasing the physical senses and desires. Hence, the “sensual” in “sensuality”.
But they don’t stop at being controlled by sensuality. This leads them to “practice all uncleanness with greediness”. The emphasis is on the word “all”. They gave themselves over to sensuality so they could practice every form of uncleanness, or impurity. That is, they now practice every kind of impure behavior, especially impure sexual behavior. At that time, this included sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and pedophilia, as it does today. But “impurity” isn’t limited to sexual sins, since it refers to anything that’s impure, or unclean. Not only that, Paul says that they practice every kind of impurity “with greediness”. That is, they have an insatiable desire to commit more sin, or are greedy for it.
After explaining to the Ephesians the oblivious emptiness and overpowering evil of their past, Paul moves on to the obvious antithesis to it:
“But ye did not so learn Christ; if [it] be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus . . .”
Since it’s not enough that the Ephesians understand the emptiness and evil of their former lives, now Paul calls them to remember how they learned about the way they are living.
First, he tells them that their learning of Christ is completely opposed to the unbelieving lifestyle:
“But ye did not so learn Christ . . .”
Clearly, we are struck here by the unusual way in which Paul is speaking. He doesn’t say “but ye did not so learn about Christ”, but “ye did not so learn Christ“. What does he mean by this?
Well, first, we must think about why he uses the title “Christ”. The title is translated from the Greek word christos, which literally means “anointed one”. It’s an allusion to the many instances in the Old Testament to the prophets, priests, and kings who were “anointed”, or covered with oil, so as to show that they were being set apart for God’s special use. As Christ, Jesus is the New Covenant Prophet, High Priest, and King, as well as the Savior, of His people.
Thus, when Paul says that the Ephesians “learned Christ”, he means that they came to know, trust in, and understand Jesus as their Prophet, High Priest, King, and Savior. As Prophet, He is the Source of truth. As High Priest, He is the One who offered up Himself as a bloody sacrifice to God to satisfy His wrath and justice on the behalf of His people. As King, He rose from the dead to be given all authority in heaven and on earth, and to reign over the universe. As Savior, He’s the only One who has the right to save people from God’s wrath and their sins. It’s in these ways that the Ephesians “learned Christ”.
Secondly, Paul explains how the Ephesians learned Christ:
“. . . if [it] be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus . . .”
The “if” here would be better translated “since”, since Paul’s not calling into question whether or not the Ephesians heard and were taught in Jesus, but simply reminding them that they were.
First, Paul says that they “heard him”. This doesn’t mean that they audibly heard Jesus speaking to them, but that they heard one of His representatives, speaking on His behalf, speaking to them, and that they understood and believed that Jesus was speaking through that representative. This doesn’t merely mean that they heard the gospel, but that they believed it as well. As Jesus Himself puts it in John 10:27:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me . . .”
In fact, Paul has already spoken of Jesus speaking to the Ephesians in Ephesians 2:17:
“. . . he came and preached peace to you that were far off . . .”
What is the peace that Paul is talking about? Peace with God through Christ dying for our sins and rising from the dead.
Second, Paul says that the Ephesians “were taught in” Christ. Not only did they hear His voice in the good news of the gospel, but they were also taught to be a certain way as a result. Paul will explain what that way is in the next verse, but for now he says that they were taught “in” Christ, or taught because they were spiritually united to Christ through faith in the gospel that they heard. Because they were put into Christ, all that is true of His humanness became true of them spiritually, so being taught to be like Him necessarily followed becoming united to Him in spirit.
Finally, Paul ends this antithesis to empty and evil living by emphasizing that what the Ephesians learned, heard, and were taught was truth because “truth is in Jesus”. Now, why does Paul move from using the title “Christ” to the name “Jesus”? Because here he’s emphasizing that what Jesus, as Jesus of Nazareth, taught while on earth, is the basis for all New Testament truth, and that His perfect life on earth is the embodiment of that truth. This is the truth that the Ephesians believe, and ought to embody as well.
So, what were the Ephesians taught when they learned and heard Christ when they became Christians? First, the off-putting of their Godlessness:
“. . . ye did not so learn Christ . . . and were taught in him . . . that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man . . .”
The words “put away” would be better translated “lay aside” or “put off”, since Paul is picturing taking off clothes with his Greek. So, what were the Ephesians taught to take off?
First, they were taught to take off “the old man”. The Greek word translated “man” is anthropos, which simply means “human being”. But why does Paul call this person the old person? Because he’s referring to the person that the Ephesians were before they were Christians. Paul gave another description of this old man in Ephesians 2:1-3:
“And ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath . . .”
This is the old man that the Ephesians were taught to take off of themselves. But Paul doesn’t say that they were taught to take him himself off of themselves, but “concerning [their] former manner of life”. In other words, it wasn’t their responsibility to take off the old man by themselves, since they couldn’t do it — they were the old man! Rather, the only thing they could do, since they were no longer the old person, was to take off their manner of life. In other words, they were to stop living as if they were the old person still.
So, what were they taught to stop doing?
- walking according to the course of the world
- living in the lusts of their flesh
- fulfilling the desires of their flesh and minds
- thinking worthlessly
- failing to understand reality
- failing to know God lovingly
- hardening their hearts
- giving themselves to sensuality
- practicing uncleanness with greediness
After reminding the Ephesians that they were taught to take off their old way of life, he gives them another reason to continue to do so — the ongoing eradication of it:
“. . . the old man, that [is being corrupted in accordance with] the lusts of deceit . . .”
Not only is the old person whom they once were separated from them as a result of taking him off, but he is “being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit”. The word “corrupted” literally means to “spoil” or “shrivel”, and pictures something wasting away, and becoming more useless than it already is. In the same way, the old person that the Ephesians once were is still becoming more and more corrupted. That is, wherever this old human nature exists, it always tends to get worse.
But why? Paul says “after [or in accordance with] the lusts of deceit”. The word “lusts” literally means strong, urgent, desire, so Paul is referring to the strong, urgent, desires of the old human nature. However, it’s not just those desires in general, but specifically the lusts “of deceit”. What does this mean? The word “of” serves the purpose modifying “lusts”, so that it could be translated “lusts that bring deceit”. And what is “deceit”? It is falsehood, or error — false information which is used to deceive. So, Paul is saying that the increasing corruption of the old person is in accordance with, or as a result of , the deceitful and strong desires of the old, evil, human nature. That is, its deceitful and evil lusts lead to further corruption.
So, Paul reminds the Ephesians that they were taught to take off their old selves’ way of life, in part because he is being corrupted. But they were also taught to do something constructive. First, they were taught to submit to the operating evolution of godliness:
“. . . and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind . . .”
After just saying that their old selves were basically being destroyed, Paul now says that they were taught in order to be made new. This isn’t something that they did, but something that the Holy Spirit did to them.
So, what is it? Well, first it’s a renewal. The word renewal is very simple to understand. It has 2 parts — re- and -newal. Literally, it means to “be made new again”.
But what does Paul say was renewed? “The spirit of [their] mind”. What does Paul mean by this, since it’s clear that he doesn’t just mean that their minds were renewed? Well, first we must remember what he means by “mind”. It is that immaterial, or spiritual, part of a person that thinks, understands, believes, and knows things. In other words, it really is the heart of the person. But what is the spirit of the mind? Well, it can’t refer to another immaterial part of a person, since every person is only one in essence.
It might help to think about the way that “spirit” is used in Scripture. The word “spirit” is translated from the Greek word, pneuma, which could also be literally translated “wind”, “air”, or “breath”. It’s also used in the New Testament to refer to God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. Often in Scripture, the word “spirit” is used to refer to an animating power which gives life, such as when God blew spirit into the nostrils of Adam, and he became a living being. Also, in many places in the Bible, the Spirit of God is said in some way or another to give life, such as when Jesus said “it is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing” in John. Given all these common usages of the word “spirit”, it’s right to see Paul’s use of the word in our passage as referring to an animating, or empowering, principle, which governs the mind. To put it another way, when Paul says “the spirit of your mind”, he’s referring to the direction, or disposition, of the Ephesians’ minds.
Hence, Paul is telling the Ephesians that they were taught in order that the governing principle, or direction, of their minds would be made new, so that they would no longer have futile minds, but useful and fruitful minds that were enlightened, connected to the life of God, acknowledging God, and embracing the gospel.
As a result of this renewal, Paul goes on, the Ephesians were taught to bring about the on-putting of godliness:
“. . . and put on the new man . . .”
Since they had taken off the old person that they once were by leaving their former lifestyles, and since they had had the spirit of their minds renewed, they were taught to put on the new man, or the man that they now were. In fact, just as Paul’s statement that they had taken off the old man by taking off his way of life indicated a once and for all change, so does this one. When they believed the gospel, they did in fact put on the new man, since they had become him.
How do I know that? One reason is that Paul ends this passage by describing the original excellence of this new person:
“. . . that after [the likeness of] God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
The reason I said that one way to know that the Ephesians already put on the new man was this statement was because Paul here says that this new man “hath been created”. That is, he exists now, and that is what the Ephesians are — new people.
There are three descriptions of this new person in this statement. First, he has been created “after the likeness of God”. Literally, Paul said that he was created “after God”, but clearly what he meant was that this new man was made in God’s likeness, or image. That is, this new person is like God in His moral character.
And how has this new person been created in God’s likeness? First, “in righteousness”. The word “righteousness” could also be translated “lawfulness” or “justice”, and refers to conformity to Christ’s law for His people, which is to imitate Him and God the Father through love for Them and people. Second, the new person is described as having been created in holiness. The word “holiness” literally means “the character of being set apart”. It could also be called “separateness”, and in this context refers to the new person being set apart for God’s special use, and also being separated from the old, sinful humanity of unbelievers. With “righteousness”, Paul notes the goodness and purity of the new person, and with “holiness”, he describes the utter devotion to God and difference from the rest of humanity that the new person possesses.
Finally, the new person has “been created in righteousness and holiness of truth”. The words “of truth” refer to both the righteousness and holiness, and are in contrast to the “deceit” of “the lusts of deceit”. What Paul is saying is that this righteousness and holiness are in accordance with the truth of God’s Word, and are true, or real, rather than deceitful, as the lusts of the old person are. These qualities can’t deceive anyone, since they are real, and they are real, since they are in accordance with truth.
So, have you stopped living as most people live, as Christ commanded you to?
Is your thinking futile, vain, and useless?
Are you darkened in your understanding of God’s Word?
Are you alienated from the spiritual life of God?
Are you ignorant of God?
Are you unwilling to believe God’s Word?
Are you callous and have an inactive conscience?
Have you given yourself to sensuality?
Are you practicing uncleanness with greediness?
If any of these things are true of you, then you are an enemy of God, and you need to change your mind and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for God’s forgiveness. God sent His divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to punish Him on a cross of death for our crimes against Him, to raise Him from the dead, and to take Him into heaven as the King of the universe. He’s now commanding you to change your mind and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, His death for our sins, and His resurrection, as the only terms of peace with Him, and the only grounds of His forgiveness, because He is going to send Christ again to earth to judge people like you for all that they’ve thought, said, and did, and to torment them for eternity for their crimes against Him. I beg you on behalf of Christ to change your mind and trust in Christ, His death, and resurrection for your peace with God.
If none of these things are true of you, but the exact opposite is true, then:
- you have learned Christ
- you have heard Him
- you have been taught in Him to take off the old self with your previous lifestyle — which means that you have
- you have been renewed in the spirit of your mind, and are to continue to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”
- you have put on the new self, who has been created in God’s likeness, in true righteousness and holiness — you have put on God’s righteous and holy likeness
- keep taking off the remaining aspects of your old self and lifestyle, keep having your mind renewed, and keep putting on more righteousness and holiness