THE CHRISTIAN WALK MUST BE RADICALLY DIFFERENT —
– THAN THE UNSAVED
– THAN OUR OLD SELF
Andrew Lincoln: In terms of its structure and sequence this pericope has two parts—the exhortation not to live like the Gentiles (vv 17–19) and a more positive counterpart setting out the type of life that is in accord with the Christian tradition (vv 21–24). Each part can be further divided into two subsections. The basic exhortation, no longer to live as the Gentiles, is expressed in a formulation indicating the importance, urgency, and authority the writer attaches to his exhortation (v 17ab). This is followed by an extended negative depiction of Gentile thinking and conduct, in which the writer, in characteristic fashion, strings together participial clauses, prepositional phrases, and a relative clause (vv 17c–19). Distinctively Christian thinking and conduct is first encouraged by contrast and in terms of tradition—“But that is not the way you learned Christ”—where Christ stands for the Christian tradition in which the readers were taught (vv 20, 21). That tradition in its ethical aspects is then spelled out through the use of three infinitives, the first again emphasizing the difference from the readers’ previous way of life and involving putting off the old person, the second and third finally expressing the writer’s positive expectations and involving being renewed and putting on the new person characterized by righteousness and holiness (vv 22–24).
Stephen Fowl: Now in 4:17–24 Paul emphasizes the importance of walking in a way that avoids various practices conventionally associated (at least by Jews) with Gentiles. In this respect walking in a manner worthy of their calling will require the Ephesians to live in a way that clearly distinguishes them from their pagan Gentile neighbors. Verses 17–19 in particular describe the non-Christian Gentiles’ fundamental and comprehensive alienation from God in a manner that recalls 2:1–5. Here in 4:17–19, however, Paul focuses on the behaviors that flow from such an alienated position. From this description Paul in vv. 20–24 proceeds to articulate the importance of being renewed in Christ, putting off the old person and putting on the new.
Clinton Arnold: Living Out the New Identity in Christ (4:17–24)
- Exhortation to Live Differently than Non-Christians (4:17)
- Description of the Condition and Lifestyle of Non-Christian Gentiles (4:18–19)
- The New Identity in Christ and Exhortation to the New Lifestyle (4:20–24)
Christians are called to live their daily lives in a way that is sharply differentiated from the world around them and from the lifestyle that characterized their pre-Christian past. Paul wants the Ephesians’ lives to be determined by their relationship with Jesus Christ and the new identity they have in him. This will involve allowing the Holy Spirit to change their way of thinking and to bring their lifestyles into conformity with their new identity.
Frank Thielman: The movement into these practical matters is slow. In an opening section, Paul first lays a theological foundation by reminding his readers again of their conversion (4:17–24; cf. 2:1–10, 11–22). Here, however, the focus is not on what God has done for them, as in 2:1–10, or on their unity with each other across ethnic lines, as in 2:11–22, but on the practical, day-to-day ramifications of their movement from futility, darkness, estrangement from God, dullness, and despair to the experience of constant spiritual renewal and re-creation in the image of God (4:24; cf. 2:10, 15).
This opening section (4:17–24) can be divided into two parts. First, Paul exhorts his readers no longer to “walk” in the way that used to characterize their lives as unbelieving Gentiles, and then he provides a motivation for this exhortation by describing in bleak terms the existence of those who continue to live this way (4:17–19; cf. 2:1–3). Second, he reminds his readers of the traditional ethical instruction that he assumes they received after they believed the gospel (4:20–24). He describes the change in behavior that their conversion has entailed with a metaphor for conversion in use in ancient philosophical and religious circles, a metaphor of taking off one set of clothing and replacing it with a new set. He couples this imagery with a second metaphor, which speaks of the change from existence as an old human being to existence as a new human being. At the end of the section, he identifies “the new human being” his readers have become as “created after the pattern of God” (ὁ καινὸς ἄνθρωπος ὁ κατὰ θεὸν κτισθείς, ho kainos anthrōpos ho kata theon ktistheis; 4:24), an allusion to Gen. 1:26. . .
Summary: In 4:17–24, Paul says that the lives of his readers should reflect the dramatic transformation that has taken place in them at their conversion. They should no longer live in a way that speaks of the confusion, demonic control, and despair that characterize those who are estranged from the life God provides. They should instead live in ways that show their thinking is continually being renewed spiritually and that reveal their re-creation in the image of a God who is righteous and holy.
I. (:17-19) WALK DIFFERENTLY FROM THE UNSAVED
“This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord”
Importance of this issue:
Paul and the Lord are on the same page on this important issue.
Klyne Snodgrass: The Greek word translated “I … insist on it” (v. 17) is literally “I testify” or “I declare.” In contexts like this it has the connotation “urge” (cf. 1 Thess. 2:12). Paul expresses his appeal to his readers with increasing strength as the letter progresses. “In the Lord” adds authority to his appeal and virtually suggests his teaching comes from the Lord. The letter reaches a climax here. Paul’s readers cannot go further without making an ethical decision. Here the die is cast. The rest of the letter will only take care of details.
Paul asks his Gentile readers not to live like Gentiles!
A. General Proposition of Prohibition
“walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk”
Andrew Lincoln: The picture of the Gentiles style of life is painted in the blackest colors. The writer is not interested in a balanced analysis that would point out positive features of Gentile life, nor is his purpose to enable his readers to feel superior. Instead he wants to provide decisive reasons why they should be distinctively Christian, and the more drastic the contrast, the more effective is his exhortation likely to be.
R. C. Sproul: Having really attained a mature understanding of the things of God, then, a believer is not going to live like the Gentiles, who are ignorant of the things of God and who don’t have God in their thinking. Their thinking is not informed by divine revelation and they don’t have the perspective of eternity that is given to Christians in the word of God. The pagan mind is never theocentric (God-centered); the Christian mind must be theocentric. God must be at the center, informing the understanding and shaping opinions about everything.
B. Specific Characteristics of the Unsaved to Avoid
- Intellectual Bankruptcy
“in the futility of their mind”
the message of futility in the Book of Ecclesiastes
Klyne Snodgrass: The word translated “futility” (mataiotes) expresses meaninglessness, uselessness, worthlessness, or emptiness. The majority of the occurrences of this word in the LXX are in Ecclesiastes to express the meaninglessness of life. In the New Testament the word occurs elsewhere only in Romans 8:20 (NIV, “frustration”) and 2 Peter 2:18 (“empty”). As M. Barth expressed dramatically, “With one single word Paul describes the majority of the inhabitants of the Greco-Roman empire … as aiming with silly methods at a meaningless goal.”
Four elements in verse 18 trace the problem back to its source.
- The Gentile way of life is meaningless because the Gentiles have no light to give them life and guidance. They are intellectually blacked out. In the ancient world light was a universal symbol for understanding. In Judaism (cf. 36:9) and the New Testament light is used of life-giving relation with God (cf. Eph. 1:18; 5:8–14).
- Darkness engulfs the Gentile mind because they are “separated from the life” God gives, who is the source of the light.
- The Gentiles are separated from God because of deliberate “ignorance,” which has taken up residence in their souls.
- The Gentiles are ignorant because of their hardness of heart. The heart is the source of all loyalties. In this case, hardness of heart has prevented all loyalty to God. In sum, hearts made insensitive to God have set off a chain reaction that turned out the light and led to meaninglessness.
Grant Osborne: The term mataiotēs means “meaningless” or “empty,” devoid of anything worthwhile and entirely the product of a vain mind. If we apply this to our own situation, we can see that the American way of narcissistic hedonism has no redeeming value whatsoever and is a complete waste. The end product is vacuity, a complete absence of any true satisfaction, and a lifestyle that can never produce anything of benefit. The only viable Christian reaction is a refusal to participate in such errant thinking and actions. Our mindset determines our actions, so if our thinking is empty our lives will be as well.
“being darkened in their understanding”
- Spiritual Death
“excluded from the life of God” — talk about being left out!
Andrew Lincoln: “The life of God is that life which answers to the nature of God and which he communicates to his children” (Westcott, 66). “Separated from the life of God” is, of course, equivalent to the earlier description of the readers’ former condition as “dead” (2:1, 5) and “without God” (2:12). Loss of light can now be seen to amount to the same thing as loss of life (cf. also John 1:4; 8:12).
a. Due to Mind Deficiencies
“because of the ignorance that is in them”
Points backwards to the point already made
b. Due to Heart Deficiencies
“because of the hardness of their heart”
Points forward to the next point
It is more of a moral and heart issue than it is an intellectual issue.
Andrew Lincoln: At the center of their thinking, feeling, and volition, they have hardened themselves to God and to the knowledge of him that was available to them.
- Calloused Conscience
“and they having become callous”
Grant Osborne: They have lost all sensitivity (4:19). Ignorance leads to hardness, which in turn leads to callousness, the inability to feel pain—here it refers to the inability to feel shame or guilt in the presence of abiding evil. Repetition anchors a practice in one’s muscle memory. Great athletes have the touch because they have practiced moves thousands of times. In a similar way, when we sin repeatedly the muscle of our mind learns to practice evil with a sense of impunity. That is the definition of a psychopath: one who feels no remorse for their terrible evils. In a sense we can become psychopathic sinners. First Peter 4:4 says it well: the world expects us to “join them in their reckless, wild living” (literally, “to plunge with them into a flood of wild sin”). This pictures us jumping into a Niagara Falls of sin with them. Such an action would be injudicious beyond all measure, but we willingly do the equivalent when we have completely lost our moral compass.
- Fleshly Sensuality
“have given themselves over to sensuality”
a. Manifold Impurity
“for the practice of every kind of impurity”
Clinton Arnold: This self-indulgence manifests itself in the accomplishment of all kinds of impure (ἀκαθαρσία) actions. This term has a long history of usage in the OT, where it is used to describe anything that is ritually unclean. It is used extensively in the LXX of Leviticus to refer to the various items deemed unclean, such as dead bodies, a variety of different animals (pigs, reptiles, etc.), and menstrual blood. It is parallel to the word “common” (κοινός), which is used of anything that is ceremonially impure. These ritual laws are no longer valid under the new covenant. Jesus revealed that the real problem lies in the hearts of individuals and that what comes out of the heart is what defiles people (Matt 12:34; Mark 7:20). Thus, Paul speaks of the lusts of the heart as leading to impurity (Rom 1:24). Impurity is also one of the fruits of the evil inclination, that is, the flesh (Gal 5:19; see also Col 3:5). Impurity is the opposite of the holiness that God seeks in the lives of people (1 Thess 4:7).
b. Majoring in Greed
Not just indulging in impurity, but never satisfied and always craving more.
Or talking about greed in a more general sense in terms of craving for money and material possessions.
Klyne Snodgrass: The word translated “continual lust” (pleonexia) means literally “the desire to have more.” Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 equate greed and idolatry, a theme that is implicit here in 4:17–19. These verses reflect a Jewish understanding of idolatry as the root of all sin, and greed as the sin encompassing all sins (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 15:5–6). Impure activity is rooted in greedy desire. This word joined with “deceitful desires” in verse 22 and the “hardening of … hearts” in verse 18 make a strong accusation about the self-centered character of sin.
Harold Hoehner: In reviewing these two verses a series of causes and effects becomes apparent. The scenario could be reconstructed by reversing the direction of the statements. The hardness of their hearts toward God caused their ignorance. Their ignorance concerning God and his will caused them to be alienated from the life of God. Their alienation caused their minds to be darkened, and their darkened minds caused them to walk in the futility of mind. It must be remembered that this series of causes and effects has a Gentile frame of reference. Its system is diametrically opposed to those who are believers. It is understandable why Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers not to walk as Gentiles do.
S. Lewis Johnson: Putting on the New Man
Now when we turn to verse 17 through verse 24, having looked at the unity and the diversity that exists in the body of Christ, it may surprise some of us to see how the Apostle lays stress upon the intellectual factor that is involved in the Christian life. In fact, the intellectual factor is the thing that the Apostle stresses here as he details the Christian life. Now we, as I’ve been saying so often through the years, have tended to listen too much to people who tell us that the intellectual factor is unimportant in Christianity. Now let me read verses 17 through 24 in which the Apostle begins to speak about the details of the Christian life, and I just want you to pay attention to the intellectual factors that the Apostle mentions and see what you think, what emphasis you think the Apostle places on the mind in the Christian life. . .
So, the Apostle has looked at this with the intellectual factor in mind. Man is morally obtuse, he’s blinded, he has spiritual ignorance as a result of that. He’s alienated from God, he walks in the vanity of his mind. His mind is darkened. His heart is stubborn towards God. To use the terms of theology: man is totally depraved. That’s what total depravity means. . .
When we say that man is totally depraved, we mean that all of their faculties are touched by sin: their mind, their wills, their emotions. Those features that make up their faculties, they’re all twisted and warped by sin. They’re even capable of certain thoughts that even the world approves of as benevolent thoughts, very good thoughts. But all parts of them are touched by sin; that’s what total depravity means.
It also means, and this is extremely important, it means that a man cannot, of himself, please God. It means that a man cannot, of himself, turn to the Lord. A man cannot, of himself, believe. If he could, of himself, believe, if he could, of himself, turn to the Lord, he could do the greatest thing of all. And thus, he would not be, as the Apostle says, ignorant, alienated, blinded, hardened, because he would have that capacity. So the Bible speaks of total depravity in the sense of total inability to respond to the things of God.
II. (:20-24) WALK DIFFERENTLY FROM YOUR PRE-CONVERSION DAYS (YOUR OLD SELF)
A. (:20-21) General Proposition of Imitation: Follow the Lifestyle of Christ =
The One that Corresponds to Truth
“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and
have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus”
Good Definition of True Discipleship = learning Christ
Clinton Arnold: Paul makes the rather unusual statement that they “learned Christ.” One normally learns a content (e.g., the law, statues, and ordinances, etc.) or a certain pattern of behavior (e.g., to obey God or to do good), but not a person. This unique expression most likely heightens the element of personal relationship with Christ that is central to the Christian faith and emphasized in Ephesians. Jesus has risen from the dead and has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. He is the living head of the church. Paul expresses a similar idea to “learning him” when he says to the Philippians, “I want to know Christ” (Phil 3:10). The expression should also be understood in light of Col 2:6–7: “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught.” In addition to the personal dimension, “learning Christ” also means to learn about him by becoming well acquainted with the oral Jesus tradition (now written in the four gospels) and the apostolic teaching about Christ, which is passed on as “the faith.” O’Brien sums it up well when he says: “Learning Christ means welcoming him as a living person and being shaped by his teaching.”
Frank Thielman: In 4:20–21, then, Paul begins to set Christian teaching in contrast to a Gentile worldview. To guide their lives, Christians have both a relationship with the living Christ and concrete instruction, derived from the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. The shape of their lives, thus guided, stands utterly apart from the hopeless and socially destructive behavior of their unbelieving Gentile neighbors.
Van Parunak: The early church focused its attention on the person and work of the Lord Jesus. The central meeting of the church, the breaking of bread, was “in remembrance of” him. More generally, everything they did was focused on him. Let this be our emphasis as well.
B. (:22-24) Specific Characteristics to Embrace: Three Key Steps:
Clinton Arnold: The solution lies in seeing these two texts as accurately displaying the tension between the indicative and imperative in Paul’s writings, or, as some have referred to it, the eschatological tension of the “already” and “not yet.” This is a fundamental structure in Paul’s thought. He balances the “indicative” of the work of Christ on our behalf and the resultant change in our identity with the “imperative” that calls for us to actualize in our day-to-day lives what is already true of us in Christ. Thus, Paul can regularly call believers “saints” (ἅγιοι), yet admonish them to pursue sanctification (ἁγιασμός; 1 Thess 4:3, 4, 7; cf. Rom 6:19, 22). Similarly, in Colossians, Paul can stress that believers “have been filled” with the fullness of God (2:9–10) and yet pray in Ephesians that the believers might be filled with the fullness of God (Eph 3:19).
The key to interpreting these statements is understanding the proper relationship of what has already happened in Christ with what Christ is yet calling his people to do. A real change has already taken place by virtue of one’s incorporation into Christ and participation in his death, resurrection, and ascension. Yet until Christ returns, these will not be fully realized characteristics in the daily experience of believers.
Thus, there is no contradiction when Paul says to the Colossians that “you have taken off your old self” (Col 3:9) and then tells the Ephesians that they still need to take off the old self (4:22). Both are true. The former statement affirms the new identity of believers in terms of their participation in the death of Christ. Because of their incorporation into Christ, their old self was crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6). Yet now believers need to align their day-to-day lives with the reality of who they are in Christ. Dunn is correct in saying that “Paul can hardly have intended to imply that ‘the old nature’ (Rom 6:6) had been totally destroyed, that there was nothing in the believer for sin to exert its influence over, that the old age was wholly past.” The “old self” still lingers as does “the flesh,” in spite of the fact that Paul says it, too, has been crucified (Gal 5:24). Paul then appeals to the believers in and around Ephesus to rid themselves of everything related to the old self.
But what is “the old self” (ὁ παλαιὸς ἄνθρωπος)? It is more than an old mind-set or lifestyle. It is a way of referring to believers in terms of their solidarity with Adam in his sin. He was the representative of humanity in its disobedience, sinfulness, and rebellion against God. Conversely, Christ is now the representative of the new humanity, the new creation “in Christ.” “The old self” is an expression of community identity—all were once fallen and dead in their transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1–2), but it also refers to the vestiges of that identity that remain in each individual. These sinful traits need to be stripped off; their influence needs to be defeated.
- (:22) Put Off the Old Man
“that, in reference to your former manner of life,
you lay aside the old self”
Problem with the Old Man: “which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit”
Frank Thielman: That old way of life could result only in personal disintegration, the kind of existence Paul has just described in 4:19—an existence that is guided by demons, hopeless, and so focused on greed that it leads to bizarre and antisocial behavior. It is also behavior that, in the end, is consumed by the wrath of God.
Grant Osborne: The reason the old way of life must be jettisoned is that it “is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” In the Romans and Colossians passages the old self is pictured as having existed only in the past, but here it is still alive, corrupting and deceiving its enslaved captives. We may be followers of Christ and still be burdened by the old nature. We have been redeemed and made part of the body of Christ, but the process is not yet complete. The old has been nullified and rendered powerless—has been “crucified with Christ” (Rom 6:6)—but while it is no longer an internal force controlling us it is still an external force tempting and deceiving us. It operates through the flesh, the sin nature that is still a part of us. It has been defeated but not destroyed, cast out of our new being but still operative as a threatening outside force. The battle still rages, and our victory must begin with a studied repudiation of the old nature and its ways.
Corruption is a process, a rotting of the senses that occurs in stages when sin goes unchecked. Sin is a gangrenous disease that atrophies and then eats away the limbs, and it can be stopped only by cutting away the offending flesh. It cannot be toyed with or tolerated but must be removed and disposed of. The process of temptation takes place through our “deceitful desires,” those self-centered impulses that seem so good in the beginning but are in reality a pack of lies that would destroy us. This runs the whole gamut from greedy accumulation of possessions to sexual cravings to a desire for power and status over others. None of these will ever truly satisfy, but they tempt us because they all seem so right, so desirable, so fraught with pleasure.
Van Parunak: “The old man”.—Contrasted with the “new man” in Col 3:9,10.
- What does it mean? Other terms:
- Commonly referred to as “old nature,” but this is not a biblical term.
- Contrasted with the “new man” in v.24; Col 3:9,10; cf. Gal 3:27; Rom 13:14. The origin of this is Rom 5:12-21, the realization that there are ultimately only two men in the world, Adam and Christ, and we are either in one or in the other. (But note that this “new man” is “created.” It is not just Christ, but the application of Christ to the believer. Cf. also 2:15; it involves the unification of Jew and Gentile into one “new man,” with whom the believer is united.
- “The body of sin,” Col 2:11; Rom 6:6; cf. “members” in Col 3:5 and “flesh” Rom 13:14. Our current body, inherited from Adam, is fallen and liable to sin. Thus the importance of the transformation promised in Phil 3:21, when we shall “be fashioned like unto his glorious body.”
When does this happen? In Col 3:9,10; Rom 6:6; Gal 3:27 the change is positional, in the past. But there is a practical aspect as well, seen in Rom 13:14. Note also that sinful deeds are gone positionally in Col 3:9, but must be dealt with in practice in 3:5,8.
- (:23) Be Renewed in Your Mind
“and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind”
Clinton Arnold: The mind (ὁ νοῦς), then, is the focus of the Spirit’s renewing work. Technically, since the infinitive is in the passive voice, the genitive case of “the mind” should be understood as a subjective genitive; that is, it serves as the subject of the passive verb with the Spirit being understood as the agent of the renewing work: “the mind is being renewed by the Spirit.” The idea is similar to what Paul says in Rom 12:2: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind (τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός).”
Van Parunak: This renewal is not the result of our fleshly effort; we open ourselves to it, and it happens. But how do we open ourselves to it? By focusing our minds on the things of God, through the regular reading of Scripture, memorization, prayer, and exhortation with the people of God.
3. (:24) Put on the New Man
“and put on the new self”
Potential of the New Man: “which in the likeness of God has been created in
righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
Clinton Arnold: This “new self” (καινὸς ἄνθρωπος) is a new identity that these believers have already acquired at the time of their conversion (Col 3:10) when they were sealed with the Spirit (Eph 1:13) and were joined to Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension (2:5–6). The new self is who believers now are in terms of their solidarity with Christ. Nevertheless, Paul calls them to put on this new identity. This amounts to a daily and growing recognition of the truth of who they are now in Christ Jesus. It also involves an actualization of this identity in their daily experience through a transformed way of thinking (4:23) and bringing their lives into conformity with the defining characteristics of this new identity—righteousness and holiness.
The new self is not simply a renewal of the old self; it is a new creation. The passive participle “created” should probably be taken as a divine passive; that is, God is the creative force behind it. The same God who created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1) is now responsible for the creation of this new identity of believers. He is creating a people for himself who will conform to his own image or likeness. This corresponds to the thought of Col 3:10, where the new self is shaped in the likeness of the image of Creator God (κατ’ εἰκόνα τοῦ κτίσαντος αὐτόν). This corresponds with Paul’s thought in 2 Cor 5:17, that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (καινὴ κτίσις). In that context, Paul clarifies that “the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). Similarly here, Paul stresses that the renewal of the mind can be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. As Moyer Hubbard explains, new creation should be understood in terms of “pneumatological restoration.” Thus, the presence of the Spirit is a key factor in the new identity of believers that constitutes the “new self.”
The distinguishing features of the new self that Paul identifies here are “righteousness and holiness (δικαιοσύνη and ὁσιότης).” These two terms appear together commonly to summarize a virtuous life that is obedient to the commands of God (see, e.g., Deut 9:5; Luke 1:75).
Andrew Lincoln: The change of clothing imagery signifies an exchange of identities, and the concepts of the old and the new persons reinforce this. These old and new persons are not simply Adam and Christ as representatives of the old and new orders (pace Barth, 539), nor more specifically Adam in the inner person and Christ in the inner person (pace Jervell, Imago Dei, 240–48). They are individuals, as those individuals are identified either with the old or with the new order of existence. The old person is the person living under the dominion of the present evil age and its powers, and this previous identity has to be dealt with decisively. . .
Putting off the old person has already taken place through baptism, which transferred believers to the new order. This injunction is not an exhortation to believers to repeat that event but to continue to live out its significance by giving up on that old person that they no longer are. They are new people who must become in practice what God has already made them, and that involves the resolve to put off the old way of life as it attempts to impinge. This is made clear by the qualifying phrase which precedes the mention of the old person—“as regards your former way of life.” The use of ἀναστροφή, “way of life,” recalls the use of the cognate verb in the earlier depiction of the Gentile readers’ past in 2:3. It should now be plain to them that learning Christ means giving up that Gentile past and its practices.