Sermon Notes • May 16

Ephesians 4:17-24

In Ephesians 4:24 Paul wrote, “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Literally Paul was reminding the Christians in Ephesus that while they lived in a pagan world with standards and practices radically different than those of a Christian, they must maintain their Christian lifestyle. I’ve heard stories of Christians who declare they have never been challenged in their faith by those they go to school with or work with because they never let on they are a Christian. Too often Christians have one testimony on Sunday and another during the week. It is generally not a case of denying one’s faith but of letting the sinful lifestyle of the world dictate how we live instead of seeking to live as God has directed.

Paul introduced this half of Ephesians, according to 4:1, with, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In verses 17-24 Paul elaborated on that concept, presenting another description of what it means to live worthy of their life in Jesus.

Paul understood the pressures the Christians in Ephesus were under, so he encouraged them to put on or literally wear their faith in a way that it stood out in a way that pleased God and offered a testimony to the world around them. Read Ephesians 4:17.

Not only was Paul insisting they live out what that new relationship with God meant, but he implied that the command to be different comes from God Himself. That being the case, it is essential that we listen to and heed his challenge.

By way of explanation, when Paul used the term “Gentiles” in “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do” he was using a term that the early church used that today we would use “non-Christian” in place of. In the early church the term was used to depict those who were not a part of the family of God via faith in Jesus. Paul was saying, “I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the non-Christian world does.” 

How did/does the Gentile/non-Christian world live? In verses 17-19 Paul described the sinful factors that controlled their behavior. Paul described the unsaved mind as being controlled by our sinful nature and therefore, controlled by “futility of their thinking,” “darkened understanding,” having “hardened hearts,” and “having lost all sensitivity.” Read Ephesians 4:19. It is not a pretty picture of non-Christian thinking and acting but it is God’s picture of those outside of His saving and transforming faith. 

Here in Ephesians Paul described the life of everyone who has not experienced a personal relationship with Jesus. What is interesting is that in Romans 1 Paul presented the same detailed description of one outside of Jesus and there he expanded on it. Romans 1:18 describes the non-Christian as those, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” In Ephesians 4:18 Paul described them as those who “are darkened in their understanding.”  Romans 1:21 describes non-Christians as those whose, “thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In Ephesians 4:17 Paul wrote of their, “futility of their thinking.” Because of the refusal to acknowledge God and allow Him to transform them, Paul wrote in Romans 1:24, 26 and 28, “God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.” That compares to Ephesians 4: 18 where Paul wrote that they are, “separated from the life of God.” Then in Romans 1:24 and 26 Paul wrote that because of their refusal to acknowledge God “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts.” Here in Ephesians 4:19 Paul wrote, “They have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”

Paul was not suggesting that every non-Christian lives a lifestyle that can be compared to that of a Hitler or mass murderer, but he was saying that unregenerated individuals all have the same components that are not only present but to one degree or another control the individual. 

If you get the daily news, you constantly get reports of crimes that cause us to ask what can be done. Society is out of control. Some suggest the answer lies in more legislation or stronger gun laws. Others in better education or all we need is training in diversity. God’s answer to our sin driven society is Jesus who alone can transform the inner being so sin no longer controls them. God’s Word presents two options and only two. We can live like the Gentiles, that is those who are ultimately controlled by their sinful nature or we can invite Jesus to be our Savior and begin the process of transformation that will find its completeness in a heaven where there is no sin or temptation to sin.

Paul’s description of the mind and motivation of non-Christians not only explains why sin is so rampant, but it explains why Christians cannot convince non-Christians of the wrongness of many of their actions. Their depraved minds, controlled by Satan, cannot think otherwise. That is why Christians cannot explain to non-Christians that God has a standard for both morality and marriage and any other practice is sin. Man’s sinful minds simply cannot compute that. Non-Christians don’t hear us because Satan has closed their minds and blinded their hearts to what God has to say. The only way to change the behavior of a society that ignores God is to present Jesus to them as a Savior who not only forgives sin but transforms them into the likeness of Jesus.

Paul’s purpose in writing this to both the Romans and Ephesians was to remind us of what their lives were like before being transformed via faith in Jesus. Paul went on to contrast that to what they should be now in Jesus. Read Ephesians 4:20-21.  

Here is where it gets personal for Christians. Paul wrote that the lifestyle of a Christian is to be different from that of a non-Christian. Paul noted that the standard for a believer is that which Jesus both taught and modeled. Read Ephesians 4:22-23. Paul reminded the Christians in Ephesus, and through them us, that God has a different standard that we are to follow.

The question that raises is, “Why, if we have been transformed through our salvation, do we struggle with living the old life to the degree that Paul tells us we have to work at putting off that old nature?” The answer to that is clear. The moment we accepted Jesus as Savior we were forgiven of our sins and promised the blessing of spending eternity with God in His home in new and glorified bodies. The reality is, however, that we do not yet have those bodies or the full transformation that will one day be ours. We still live in bodies that retain some of that old sinful nature. Depending on the degree we have grown in our walk with Jesus that old nature may still influence a major part of our decision-making process. 

You and I are a strange mixture of what we were and what we will be. Initially after our acceptance of Jesus the influence of the old nature is strong. The goal is to grow in our walk with God as we spend time in the Word, spend time in prayer and spend time in fellowship with Jesus which includes worship. Regardless, however, of how much we grow, there will not be a time this side of getting our new bodies that we will not have to be on guard against the tendency to slip back into the old live. When we do that, we will find ourselves accepting the philosophy of a sinful world or feeling the need or desire to act like we did before we made Jesus our Savior.

The challenge is to evaluate our thinking, our attitude, and our behavior by the new standard of being a child of God. It’s a personal challenge because Satan is going to attack us from different directions depending on our strengths and weaknesses. Because he will attack, we are challenged to, as Paul put it, “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds.”  That is a challenge God wants us to take seriously because in seeking to live as He wants us to, we find blessing and joy.