Letter to the Ephesians: Commentary, Part 7 :: By Dr. Donald Whitchard

Ephesians, Chapter 4:17-32

The New Life in Christ

Do Not Look Back at Your Past (vv.17-24)

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

The members of the Ephesian fellowship had come out of a life and culture steeped in paganism and devious moral practices. The city of Ephesus was a hotbed of sexual debauchery and prostitution that was a part of the worship of the Greek deity Artemis, whose temple was a center point of every type of perversion and a constant source of temptation for these new believers who had been a part of that lifestyle. Paul was all too aware of this and spent his time encouraging the flock to turn away and forsake the old beliefs and practices. These dear people now belonged to Jesus Christ and were no longer bound to the old life of sin and its grip on their souls. Paul then describes the characteristics of a mind and life steeped in such a background.

Paul writes of the futile and warped thinking of an unregenerate individual. In comparison to someone who has repented of their sins and surrendered their lives to Christ and thus rebukes worldly thinking, the unsaved individual will have a life that is unproductive, void of substance, empty, and vain due to his captivity to the world system and its wickedness. He can have all the world financially and be socially set but lose his soul in the process, as the Lord Jesus taught (Matthew 16:26). Ungodly individuals are also spiritually uninformed, darkened and evil in their understanding, unable and unwilling to comprehend and obey the mandates of God. They live in a world of continual darkness and are callous, insensitive, and apathetic about spiritual things. They do not care about the consequences of their words or deeds.

Paul also describes unregenerate people as being mentally depraved, engaging in every type of sensual and fleshly desires. Any sense of right and wrong is cast aside for what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). This type of behavior is known today as moral relativism and is one of the major reasons that our nation and the world in general is collapsing more rapidly than ever. With this apt description of fallen, sinful humanity perfectly described and exposed, just as he did in the opening section of Romans, Paul now shifts the reader’s attention on how Jesus Christ has made them new individuals, free from the bondage of a wicked and depraved worldview.

The mindset of a genuine follower of Jesus Christ is centered on what the will of the LORD is for them. They are surrendered to His thoughts and direction; a living example of what Paul had written to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:20). Jesus told anyone who wanted to follow Him that they need to understand that once that commitment to Him is settled, He owns them. A true disciple of Christ is both His servant and is to be focused on what the LORD would have them to do without attention drawn to themselves (Luke 14:25-33: Colossians 3:22; 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:8), just as a good employee would be expected to act in the presence of his employer.

The idea of self-importance, self-worth, personal demands, and excuses has no place in the life of a real child of God. The Bible never approves of “ego trips” or that the world around you cannot function without your input alone.

A genuine Christian puts aside his old “self,” that is, the previous worldly attitude and viewpoint with its spiritual corruption. He surrenders his all – mind, body, and soul – to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In turn, He provides us with a new moral and God-centered capability that the most educated and brilliant mind apart from Christ can never achieve (1 Cor. 2:9-16). A “new creation” in Christ, that is, your life after you are redeemed and forgiven is never of your own making. Apart from the intervention of the LORD, there is no way we can ever hope to make ourselves “good” or “right” (Romans 3:10-18, 5:6-11).

When we bow the knee and our hearts to Jesus, He, in turn, begins to mold our new character and life with the result being conformed to His likeness, righteousness, and holy nature. A fully surrendered life is a visible model of true Christianity to the unredeemed and draws us closer to Him.

The Principles of a New Life (vv.25-32)

25 Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another. 26 ‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil. 28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

These verses are self-explanatory and are applications of what a Christ-centered life is supposed to be. We are to be truthful and put away any temptation or reason for telling lies.

This should be obvious, but unfortunately, we fall into such traps and do our best to wiggle out of precarious situations that we either find ourselves in or have placed ourselves there due to our own mistakes and shortsightedness. Our present life should always reflect Christ in us, the hope of glory.

The issue of anger is also addressed. There is a time and place for anger, not temperament or rage that leads to harmful behavior towards oneself or others, but anything or anyone that has brought us to a point of anger needs to be settled at the end of the day, especially in matrimony. Spouses who stay upset at one another and do not take care of what is bothering them that day only allow anger and bitterness to fester. There is no excuse or need to keep our emotions bottled up or to be used as a weapon of manipulation or deceit against one another. Anger can and will be used against us by the devil to ruin our lives and testimony.

We are to honest and upright in our business and to give our employers a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage. Laziness, indifference, an attitude of entitlement, apathy, and self-centeredness have no place whatsoever in the life of any child of God. The place where God has put you to make your living is also a mission field.

Does your character match your proclamation that you are a child of the King? Let your place of employment also be a source of blessing for those less fortunate. The wages you earn can be given as an offering or assistance to someone who needs to know that others care for them, and more importantly, that God cares for them as well. Do not grumble as to why there is poverty and harshness in the world without asking yourself if the LORD has put you in a position to relieve some of what you witness.

Our speech should be wholesome and transformed. We must always control our tongue (James 3:6-8). Foul language should never come from the lips of anyone who follows Jesus Christ. There is no room or excuse in anyone’s life for vulgarity, off-color stories, or smut, whether one is redeemed or not. Your speech may be the key to someone having their eyes opened to new life in Christ. Our speech should be characterized by edification, encouragement, wholesome teaching, and appropriateness. Nothing we say should ever cause grief for the Holy Spirit. Considering the work of redemption and edification that is done by Him, no words of ours should ever displease Him.

We are to put away bitterness (smoldering resentment, brooding grudges, constant spirits of irritability and perpetual animosity), wrath (wild rage, momentary passions), anger (internal smoldering, subtle and deep), and clamor (outbursts that reveal a loss of self-control), slander (ongoing defamation of someone arising from a bitter heart), and malice (avoid and rid oneself of harmful vices). The new man in Christ needs to put away all these harmful and sinful traits and embrace kindness towards one another, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness towards each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven us. Amen.