The New Life | A Bible Class on Ephesians 4:17-32
Paul has urged the brethren in Ephesus to live in such a way as to promote unity in the body of Christ. Here, he began to discuss the way Christians must live ethically in light of their conversion to Christ.
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”
Paul began this paragraph by appealing to his apostolic authority. That authority, of course, was given to him by the Lord. He appeals to the Lord here: “I . . . testify in the Lord.”
The Ephesian Christians must no longer walk as the Gentiles do. “Walk” means to live. “Walk” is used 8 times in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and each time the verb means to live. Why is “walk” a good metaphor for “live?”
The Ephesians were Gentile Christians. “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of your Gentiles. . . .” (3:1). It’s interesting that Paul urged these Gentiles not to live as the Gentiles do. They may have been ethnically Gentiles, but they were to live ethically as Jews. Why did the New Testament writers (Paul especially) refer to people living in sin as Gentiles? Why did they view people living faithfully in Christ as Jews?
Paul succinctly said that the Gentiles walked “in the futility of their minds.” “Futility” means “vanity” or “emptiness.” The word contains the idea of aimlessly or not moving toward a goal. Why is “aimless” a good way to describe sinful living?
At verse 19, Paul said that the Gentiles had “given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Sexual sin was rampant in the Gentile world. Jews, by and large, abhorred sexual sin. Remember that the letter sent from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem at the Jerusalem Conference to Gentile Christians urged them to “abstain . . . from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29). The four things from which the Gentile were to abstain after the Jerusalem Conference—“what has been sacrificed to idols, blood, what has been strangled, and sexual immorality”—were all greatly tied to paganism and Gentile living. The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s guiding the apostles and elders to list these four activities seems to have been to “smooth over” the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians. In other words, Jews abhorred sexual sin, the Gentiles lived in it, and, since sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, the Spirit urged a coming together of the two camps into the truth.
Gentiles were raised to live in sexual sin—premarital sex and homosexuality were extremely common. Many young boys in the Gentile world were welcomed into “manhood” by an older man molesting them.
Why does living in Christ involve sexual purity? In other words, why does God have such strict guidelines around sexuality? How does the world view sexual purity? In what way(s) does the world promote their view of sexuality? How can Christians combat such error?
Notice at verse 19 that Paul said the Gentiles were “greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” They wanted to engage in every type of sexual sin imaginable. They had an insatiable appetite for sexual sin. Can we have an insatiable appetite for sin (not just sexual sin)? How can we keep ourselves from having an insatiable appetite for sin?
These ethnic Gentiles could no longer walk as ethic Gentiles “in the futility of their minds.” “Futility” in the Greek means “without purpose.” How does living in sin cause one’s thinking to be purposeless? What are some examples of purposeless thinking in our own day?
This purposeless was in the Gentiles’ minds. Why does one need to guard his mind? How can one go about guarding his mind?
“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”
The Greek grammar indicates a continual state of darkness. In other words, as long as people remain “alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart,” they remain in darkness. Why do people alienated from God live in spiritual darkness? What does “spiritual darkness” really mean? Describe a life of spiritual darkness.
They are “alienated from the life of God.” “Alienated” is in the perfect tense in Greek, which emphasizes the continuing state or existence. “The life of God” likely is a subjective genitive, i.e., God is the subject of “life.” In other words, God is the One who gives the life Paul here mentioned. How does God give life? What are the benefits of the life God gives? How is the life God gives different from the life one can have outside of Christ?
People living as Gentiles were alienated from the life of God “because of the ignorance that is in them.” Of what were they ignorant? How did ignorance lead to alienation? Are people today alienated from God’s life because of ignorance? What are some examples of people alienated from God’s life because of ignorance? How can a person overcome his ignorance?
The ignorance which kept these Gentiles from God’s life was “due to their hardness of heart.” What is “hardness of heart?” How does one’s heart become hard? How can a person keep his heart from becoming hard?
“They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
What did Paul mean by “callous?” The Greek term means “to cease to feel pain or grief, to become callous, insensible to pain.” One person said that the translation “past feeling” accurately portrays Paul’s meaning. How does a person become callous to the gospel? How can someone keep from become callous to the gospel?
These Gentiles had “given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. As we previously mentioned, the Greeks loved immoral sex—specifically premarital sex and homosexuality. Notice that Paul wrote they had “given themselves up to sensuality.” They had, in other words, surrendered their souls to practice sexual sin. Why is sexual sin so serious? Do people today tend to give themselves up to sensuality? Why did God make the sex drive so powerful?
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
The Ephesians had not learned Christ in a way to be callous toward sin and to give “themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Why had the Ephesians not learned Christ in that way? How had the Ephesians learned Christ? What have you not learned Christ in that way? How have you learned Christ?
Notice that Paul did not say that the Ephesians had learned about Christ; he said they had learned Christ. Is there a difference in learning about Christ and learning Christ? If so, what is that difference? What is the danger of only learning about Christ? How does someone go about learning Christ?
Paul assumed that the Ephesians had heard about Jesus and were taught in him. I think it’s best to take “assuming” here as sarcasm; of course, Paul knew that the Ephesians had heard about Jesus and were taught in him. It certainly seems from this paragraph that some of these Christians were not living as though they had heard about Jesus and had been taught in him.
What facts does a person absolutely need to hear about Jesus? How do those facts produce proper faith? How does someone teach another soul “in” Jesus? What did Paul mean here?
The truth is in Jesus. Why is the truth in Jesus? Is there any truth outside of Jesus? What about biology or mathematics or astrophysics or sociology? How does understanding the truth is found only in Jesus affect your life?
“Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
This is one place where I really wish the English Standard Version were a tad more literal (it’s normally very literal). However, “old man” just doesn’t sound as politically correct in our climate as “old self.” The basic meaning is the same. However, Paul is almost certainly making a reference to Adam in this passage. Adam after the Fall is the “old man.” Adam before the Fall is the “new man.” This seems especially apt since Paul mentioned that the “new man” is “created after the likeness of God. . . .” The mention of creation in the likeness of God harkens back to the Adam’s being made from the dust of the ground.
If Paul is making a veiled reference to Adam, he is certainly pointing to the fact that every man, woman, and child is implicated in some way in Adam’s sin. I did not say that all people are guilty because of Adam’s sin. Sin requires doing something against God’s law (cf. 1 Jn 3:4). However, the consequences of Adam’s sin are far and wide. What are some of the consequences we bear for Adam’s sin? How did Adam’s sin open the door for our own sinfulness?
The Ephesians were to take off the old self. As we’ve mentioned in here before, the early church often baptized folks in the nude. The practice came from after the time of the apostles, so Paul is not making any reference to that practice here. However, the symbolism of stripping your clothing, being baptized, and then immediately being clothed in a pure, white garment is very poignant. These Christians were recreating physically what was taking place spiritually.
What is the “old self?” What qualities does the old self have? How do you go about putting off the old self? What happens if you become a Christian and you don’t put off the old self?
The old self “belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” The old self needs to be left in one’s former manner of life. Why can a Christian not continue to live the same way as before his conversion? What if a Christian sins? Does that mean he is automatically out of Christ? Why or why not?
The old self has been corrupted through deceitful desires. Why did the old self not stay pure? How did deceitful desires corrupt it? What are “deceitful” desires? How can a desire be deceitful?
The Ephesians needed “to be renewed in the spirit of [their] minds.” What is renewal? Why is renewal necessary? How does one go about being renewed?
This renewal is to take place “in the spirit of [people’s] minds.” What is the spirit of the mind? Why does renewal need to take place in the spirit of a person’s mind?
As one his renewed in his mind, he must “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Just as one puts on a new, clean garment, one is to put on the new self; the Greek for “put on” means to put on a garment. Throughout the New Testament, a Christian is told to wear Christ. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14). “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).
It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch at all to equate putting on the new man to putting on Christ. Why is putting on the new man like putting on Christ? What attributes does the new man have?
The new man is “created after the likeness of God.” We’ve already discussed the likelihood that Paul is referencing Adam in the Garden in his pre-sinful state. Just as Adam was pure and sinless in the Garden, the new man is pure and sinless. How can the new man be pure and sinless?
What is the likeness of God? How is the new man created in God’s likeness? How does the Christian live in God’s likeness?
The new self is created after God’s likeness “in true righteousness and holiness.” Does the mention of “true” righteousness and holiness indicate there is a false righteousness and holiness? What might a false righteousness and holiness look like? How could one possibly tell the difference between false and true righteousness and holiness? What is righteousness? How does one live righteously? What is holiness? How does one live in holiness?
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
The “therefore” ties back to putting on the new man created in God’s likeness.
Because the Christian has put on the new man, he must put away falsehood. The sins Paul listed here were as common among Jews as they were among Gentiles. What is falsehood? What if someone mistakenly says something that is false? What might Abraham’s calling Sarah his sister have to say about this?
Why must Christians put away falsehood? In other words, why is it a sin to lie? Are there different types (or degrees) of lies? Why or why not?
The Christian must speak truth with his neighbor. How does the Christian speak the truth? Who is the Christian’s neighbor?
The Christian must speak the truth with his neighbor, “for we are members one of another?” Who are “members one of another?” How are Christians “members one of another?” What other responsibilities (besides speaking the truth) do Christians have to one another because they are “members one of another?”
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
How can one be angry and keep from sinning? How does one act when he is angry but not sinning? When does anger become a sin? Can you think of biblical examples of people who did not sin when they were angry? Can you think of biblical examples of people who did sin when they were angry?
One is not to let the sun go down on his anger. Was Paul simply using a figure of speech or was he being literal? How can one get rid of his anger? Why is getting rid of anger so important?
Getting rid of one’s anger gives “no opportunity to the devil.” How does anger give an “opportunity to the devil?”
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
Paul’s wording here may indicate that some in Ephesus had been thieves at one point in their lives.
The wording here shows the necessity of repentance. Why could the thief not steal any longer? If he’s sorry he’s stolen and prays for forgiveness, why does he have to stop? What is repentance? How does someone go about repenting of his sins? Why is repentance necessary?
Instead of stealing, the former thief is to “labor, doing honest work with his own hands.” Notice that repentance involves doing the opposite of what one once did. The thief used to steal; now he must labor and work with his own hands.
The thief must labor. In a very real sense, man was created to labor. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). Even before man sinned, man was expected to work. Yes, the Fall forever changed the way man works, but the Fall did not introduce work—God did so before the Fall. To refuse to work is to refuse to participate in the purpose of one’s creation. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Eccl 9:10). “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess 3:12). Why does man need to work?
The thief’s work must be “honest work with his own hands.” Is there such a thing as “dishonest work?” What might dishonest work be? Honest work is with someone’s “own hands.” Instead of stealing what one has, he is to earn it through his own work.
As the thief does honest labor, he will “have something to share with anyone in need.” If everyone is doing honest labor with his own hands, how can there be anyone in need? If someone is in need, does that mean that he is not doing honest labor with his own hands? Why or why not? Why should the thief share with those in need? What if the thief doesn’t think the needy person is worthy of help?
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
The Greek term for “corrupting” means rotten or putrid. The word was used for rancid fish and withered flowers. The word was used metaphorically for something which is unsound, unhealthy, and bad.
Simply reading the sentence makes clear that rotten talk is the opposite of talk which gives grace to those who hear. How can talk be rancid? How can talk be destructive? How does James 3:1-12 instruct us on the use of the tongue? How can one speak in a way to build up? How can one speak so that his words fit the occasion? How can one’s speech give “grace to those who hear?”
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
How does one grieve the Holy Spirit? What would grieve the Holy Spirit? Why should someone not wish to grieve the Holy Spirit?
The Spirit sealed the Christian for the day of redemption. In what way(s) does the Spirit seal the Christian? What is “the day of redemption?” Why does the Christian need to be sealed for that day?
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
What is bitterness? Why must all bitterness be put away in the new life?
What is wrath? What is the difference between wrath and anger? Why must wrath be put away in the new life?
What is anger? I thought there was no sin in being angry (“Be angry and do not sin. . . .”); why, therefore, did Paul say that anger needs to be put away? Why does anger need to be put away in the new life?
What is clamor? The Greek term Paul used means “crying, screaming, shrieking, shouting.” In Accts 23:9, the word is used of people shouting back and forth in a quarrel. Why does clamor need to be put away in the new life?
What is slander? If something is true, can it be slander? The Greek term is “blasphemy” and simply means to speak against. The idea is speaking against someone else. Why does slander need to be put away in the new life?
What is malice? Why does malice need to be put away in the new life?
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
What is kindness? In other words, how does kindness act (be as specific as possible)? Why do Christians need to be kind to one another? Paul said to “be kind to one another.” Fellow Christians are obviously the “one another.” Does this mean that Christians do not need to be kind to to non-Christian? Why or why not?
What is being tenderhearted? How does a tenderhearted person act? Why does a Christian need to be tenderhearted?
Christians are to be forgiving of one another. What is forgiveness? What if I can’t forget what someone did to me? What is the best way to express my forgiveness to another Christian?
Why does a Christian need to forgive? What if the other person isn’t worthy of forgiveness? What if the other person doesn’t ask for forgiveness?
Does forgiveness help the one who is giving or receiving the forgiveness? What happens when people do not forgive?
The Christian is to forgive “as God in Christ” has forgiven him? How has God in Christ forgiven the Christian? How does God’s forgiveness impact the way the Christian should forgive others?