Ephesians 4:17-23

Last week we discussed what Paul meant by walk in a manner worthy of the grace in which you were called:

Ephesians 4:1–2:

1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, Here in verses 4:17-32 Paul continue this thought by compelling us to lay aside the old self and put on the new self, which Christ has brought about in us. This laying aside of the old self and putting on of the new self is tied directly to our walk as we shall see.

Ephesians 4:17–19:

17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

These verses are in the negative sense that is, “walk no longer…”. Earlier in 4:1 Paul taught us in the positive sense to walk in a worthy manner. These positive and negative explanations of how we are to walk serve to give us a deeper understanding of how we are to walk.

Paul explains in these three verses how we are not to walk. Notice how these verses go from bad to worse. Paul begins by saying that the unbelieving Gentiles walk in the futility of their mind. They are useless and incapable of doing good because their mind is also useless and incapable of doing good. He goes on to say that their futile mind produces a darkened understanding. They are in a sense blind in their understanding, stumbling around in the dark. This blindness is the cause of their ignorance, which in turn causes their hearts to be hardened to Christ. This results in their exclusion from the life changing salvation from God.

But it doesn’t just end with a hardness of heart towards Christ; it continues to get worse. Since they are hard of heart (callous) they continue to go from bad to worse. They know no other way than to give themselves over to sensuality or what makes them feel good and feel useful in a worldly sense. This need causes them to practice every kind of sin (impurity). Paul adds to this “with greediness”. It is not only that unbelievers practice sin; they do so with a desire for more and more. Just one sin won’t satisfy. They must continue with an insatiable appetite for more.

Understanding how lost we once were, how we were so darkened and blind in our understanding that we could only run from Christ and run to ever more sin serves to give us a greater understanding of the great grace with which we were saved. This same grace which God freely bestowed on us through Christ (Ephesians 1:6) Paul speaks of here. This understanding is part of the outworking of the prayer that Paul made earlier in Ephesians 1:18–19:

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might

Ephesians 4:20–24:

20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Paul then contrasts how we are not to walk (verses 17-19) with how we are to walk in our new self and especially in our new mind in Christ (verses 20-24). Our minds are not perpetually darkened so that we ignore Christ and only feed ourselves with sinful tendencies. No! Christ has lifted the veil and caused us to see His light. When Paul says this is not the way you learned Christ he is saying we were taught the truth of Jesus and through His truth we were transformed, or saved. As a result, we have a personal deep relationship with Christ. We don’t just have knowledge of Him. We have an experiential knowledge of Him, the living God.

In order for Christ to cause us to have this deep relationship with Him, He had to give us a new self. In verses 22-24 Paul discusses the old self and the new self. The “self” is commonly used to describe a person, their beliefs, habits, and emotions…essentially who they are. The old self is who we were before we believed. It is to be laid aside. This “laying aside” is commonly thought of as taking off a coat or shirt. Paul tells us that this old self is still continuously being corrupted/destroyed by the deceitfulness of our lusts. By laying aside this old self we can resist the corruption inherent in the old self. This enables us to put on the new self. God in His holiness and righteousness has created this new self in His likeness. This new self was created specifically for us to put on. Think of this “putting on” as the opposite of “laying aside”. Just like new clothes we are to put on this new self.

Now it’s one thing to liken “laying aside” and “putting on” to taking off and putting on one’s clothes, respectively. But this doesn’t quite capture the application or how we are to do this. To understand the “how” we need to look a bit closer at the grammar in this passage. The verbs “to lay aside” and “to put on” are actually infinitives, which act as an adverbial to the main verb. Since verses 20-24 are one long sentence, we have to look harder for the main verb and there can be only one main verb in a sentence. If we read backwards from the infinitives, we end up at the first verb “learn” in verse 20. This verb “learn” is being modified by the infinitives “to lay aside” and “to put on”. These infinitives essentially describe how we are to “learn Christ”. That is we are to lay aside the old self and put on the new self. But Paul intends to give us even more information as to how this is done. Notice in verse 23 in between the laying aside of the old self and the putting on of the new self he says, “that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind”. This is key for us to understand. In order to be able to truly take off the old self and put on the new self, we have a responsibility to “renew” our minds.

Now what does it mean to “renew” our minds? This is the critical thing that we all need to get right (that is, this is our responsibility). In verses 17-19 the topic was the futility of the unbeliever’s mind. Here in verses 20-24 Paul keeps to that same theme, “the mind”, but in this instance it is the believer’s mind. The mind is where we reason and from which flow our thoughts and emotions. It is where we can understand the true graces and mercies of Christ towards us. Therefore, to renew our minds is to renew or refresh our thinking. The two most obvious ways are to pray without ceasing and to study the Bible. The Bible is the living word able to pierce to the very core of us in order to change us (this is the process of sanctification).

There are two other words that need their use to be examined. The first is the verb “is being corrupted” (v22). This verb is a present participle (neither the main verb or an infinitive) that describes the old self as continually being corrupted. This is the difficulty that we all face, that our old self is always there and is always going from bad to worse. To fight this Paul uses another present participle “be renewed” in verse 23. This, again, is another verb participle of continuous action. In order to keep the old self off, we must constantly be renewing our mind in order to put on the new self.

Romans 12:1–2:

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Matthew 16:24:

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

Ephesians 4:25–32:

25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. 26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Now that we have understood how we are to walk in our calling and have understood the laying aside of the old self and the putting on of the new self, Paul transitions to a list of applications that result from our walk in the renewal of our mind. This is essentially a list of commands (imperatives) for us to follow:

Speak truth to one another

Yes we are to speak truth to both believers and unbelievers, but here in this context Paul seems to be focusing on believers speaking truth to other believers. And why do we do this? For the sake of unity. At the end of verse 25 Paul states that we are all members of one another, hearkening back to the unity of the body of Christ (i.e., the church). In order to remain unified, we must speak truth to other believers. This is no easy task as in the case when a believer is backsliding or mistakenly twisting scripture around. In these cases, we must speak truth but always with an attitude of love towards the person. Otherwise our goal of reconciliation will never come about.

Be angry

This one can be more difficult to understand since it says later in verse 31, “let …anger… be put away from you”. These are indeed both the same words for “anger” in both the English and the Greek. However, Paul puts several restrictions on the command to “be angry” here in verse 26. Those restrictions are that we must not sin while we are angry and that we do not let our anger continue to fester. That is, we must only have the righteous anger of Christ, not the unrighteous anger of our old self. Did not Christ have a righteous anger? Indeed! Therefore, we must take great care to not allow our anger (righteous as it may be) to cause us to stumble and allow the devil to gain a foothold. In other words, be extremely careful with righteous anger. It can metastasize into sin, and when it does the devil will use it to not only weaken our testimony but also to sow disunity in the church body.

Steal no longer

Stealing is a sin and mentioned by name as one of the 10 commandments. Stealing does not glorify either God or His body of believers. Rather we must stop this sinning and do something constructive that helps and serves others that will glorify both God and His body.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth

Unwholesome describes a word that is useless, damaged, or decayed. This can be a wide array of speech such as foul language, lying, deceitful speech, and even little white lies. All such language is useless to our Lord and His body. Rather, we should only say that which is good and which builds up other believers. This type of speech will give grace to others. Remember Ephesians 4:7:

7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Christ gave us a gift of grace; we should use that grace in our speech to build up others.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit

In other words, do not cause the Holy Spirit to be saddened by our sinful actions or words. The Spirit guarantees our redemption and acts as a seal of our salvation (as we discussed earlier in Ephesians 1:13). Knowing that the Spirit was given to us with an overwhelming grace as a guarantee of our salvation should spur us on to obey and please the Spirit, not sadden Him.

Put away all…

We are to put away, along with the old self, all of these:

Bitterness – resentment

Wrath – rage

Anger – deep sinful continuous anger or hostility

Clamor – out-of-control strife or outcry

Slander – to speak evil of someone with the intent to destroy their reputation

Malice – perversion of morality or simply evil

Be kind to one another

Being kind to each other involves both being tender hearted towards each other as well as forgiving others as Christ forgave us. The way we forgive others is bound tightly to the way Christ forgave us…fully and completely. Christ’s forgiveness holds no animosity towards us, once forgiven always forgiven. We should work diligently to forgive others in this same Christ-like manner.