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Ephesians 4:17-5:2: The New Self Walks in Love Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 December 2017

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One of my commentators, Tony Merida, shares the story of he and his wife adopting their four children from the Ukraine in his comments on our passage. As they were in the country, visiting and waiting to take the children home, they noticed that they were always wearing the same old, tattered and smelly clothes when they visited. They learned that in the orphanage where his children stayed, there was a tradition of leaving your old clothes behind and putting on new clothes when you left. So when they went to get them for the final time, they took new clothes with them for their children to wear as they left the orphanage and joined their new family. He concludes: “What a picture of the gospel! The put off their old orphanage garments and put on the clothes from their adoptive parents. New clothes. New identity. New home. New security. And a new way to live.” What a great picture of the gospel indeed!

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Paul uses a similar analogy in Ephesians 4:17-5:2. He instructs us to put off your old self and put on the new self (v. 22, 24). We are to take off the old clothes and put on the new ones. As we have seen in this letter, our new identity in Christ impacts the way we live. Who we are in Him changes how we live in this world. Paul has encouraged us to walk worthy of the calling that we have received (4:1) and in our passage today we see more about what that practically means. Our new life in Christ is in contrast to our old life without Him. In particular, our new relationship with God through faith in Jesus will radically change our relationships with others. We have new vertical relationship which impacts all of our horizontal relationships. In teaching us this, our passage can be broken into two sections: the general command and the specific application. Let’s consider those together this morning.

The general command: Put on the new self (v. 17-24)

In order to show the contrast between our old and new life, Paul begins with a description of the old. Look at verses 17-19. This is a strong description of human depravity. It begins with the mind, which is lost in futility and darkness. Such blindness and ignorance leaves us alienated from the life of God. As Paul said earlier, before Christ we had no hope and we were without God in the world (2:12). We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (2:3). Paul paints a bleak picture of humanity without Jesus. Yet, isn’t this what we see around us every day? How can you watch reports of the current sex scandals that are filling the news right now and not conclude that people have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Humans are not ‘basically good.’ We are not blank slates. Our sin has broken our relationship with God which has broken our relationships with one another. We are selfish and greedy and impure. Our minds are deceived and the end result is futility and hopelessness. Theologians call this depravity and Paul encourages us not to walk in those practices. As new creatures in Christ, we are not to keep living for ourselves and for our sin.

Rather, we are to put off the old self, be renewed, and put on the new self (v. 22, 23, 24). Look at verses 20-24 with me. We see again Paul pointing us back to our identity in Christ. We have learned about our Savior, His person and His work. He perfectly obeyed the Father and died on the cross in our place. He was obedient even to the point of death and He came back from the dead to give us new life in Him. He nailed our sins to the cross and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we could walk in obedience to Him. This is what it means to learn Christ and to be taught in him. We know the truth about who Jesus really is and how He really lived on the earth, and through faith in Him we can live new lives. This means putting off the old life and putting on the new. We leave those old clothes in the orphanage and walk out as children of God. Of course, we will still struggle with the old life. We will still battle with our flesh. Thus, our putting on the new self is a daily activity based upon our new identity in Jesus. In this sense, we put on the new self each morning through repentance and faith in our Savior. Our new self is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. We have the righteousness of Christ that comes through faith (imputed) and we are called to live out that righteousness and grow in that righteousness each day as we live for Jesus. We must put on the new self.

The specific application: Walk in love toward others (v. 25-32)

Paul follows the general command with some specific application. Before we look at each of these, let me make a few notes about how Paul structures them. First, each one has a negative (‘Do not…’) and a positive (‘Do…’). This is important because it teaches us that the best way to avoid sins is to replace them with obedience. The best way to get air out of an empty cup is to fill it with water. We have to replace the air with something else. In the same way, we must replace our sins with obedience. Second, he gives a theological basis for each of the commands. As we have already noted, Paul connects our actions with our identity to encourage our obedience. Third, these particular commands primarily deal with our relationships with others. We walk in newness of life by loving others. So then, let’s look at these six commands individually.

First, we must speak the truth. Look at verse 25. The negative that we are to avoid is falsehood. Deception and lies belong to the old self. Rather, in the place of falsehood we must speak the truth. Paul is quoting from Zechariah 8 which we read to start our service. We replace deceit with the truth. We do this because we are members one of another. We are unified in Christ and we should be eager to maintain that unity (4:3). If we are going to put on the new self, then we must speak the truth to one another and put away falsehood.

Second, we must seek reconciliation. Look at verses 26-27. Anger is a part of life. At times, anger can be justified. We call this righteous indignation, and it includes being angry over injustice and the mistreatment of others. Likewise, people will sin against us. They will treat us wrong. Yet, Paul tells us not to sin in our anger (quoting from Psalm 4). Even if our anger is righteous indignation, we must not let it cause us to sin. When others sin against us, we must seek reconciliation. Paul even gives us a time-frame: do not let the sun go down on your anger. And the reason for this is that nobody wants to wake up with the Devil! The real danger in our anger against each other is when we let it fester and grow. We must avoid that. Replace anger with reconciliation. Perhaps you need to do that with someone today. Do not let it fester.

Third, we must work hard. Look at verse 28. The negative is stealing. The new self should not be a thief. Rather, he should replace stealing with hard work. Laziness is not a Christian virtue. And we work hard not to buy more stuff for ourselves but to share with others. John Wesley said it this way: “Work as hard as you can, make as much as you can, then give as much as you can.” The love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), so we fight that by loving to share with others. Put on the new self and love others by working hard and sharing.

Fourth, we must build up. Look at verse 29. We should be careful in how we speak with others. Our speech can be rotten and destructive. We must avoid that by replacing it with speech that builds up. Such speech will give grace to those who hear. I want my language and the way that I speak with others to be a gift of grace. I confess my struggle with this. I love laughter (which is not a bad thing) and I love sarcasm (which is not always a good thing). These are my defaults. I want to learn how to genuinely give grace with my speech. I want to learn how to better build up so that my speech is not rotten. Part of this is learning how to hold our tongues. Instead of saying the first thing (that is often destructive) we should pause and say the best thing.

Fifth, we must not grieve the Spirit. Look at verse 30. Paul breaks from his pattern a bit with this one since it is a negative. It is at least a theological basis for building one another up with our speech. It is probably meant to be a theological basis for the whole list. When we mistreat others in any of these ways we grieve the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit that was given to us by God as a seal and guarantee of our future inheritance (see 1:13). When we treat each other poorly, we are grieving the Spirit. We are not maintaining the unity that we have through Him. Instead of grieving the Spirit, we should love each other, which is where Paul turns next.

Sixth, we must show kindness and forgiveness. Look at verses 31-32. Many negatives are again found in verse 31 and they all deal with how we treat others. We should not be bitter and angry. We should not slander and gossip. Rather, we should be kind and forgive. What motivates such kindness and forgiveness? We should forgive much because we have been forgiven even more. God has forgiven all our sins through Jesus, surely we can forgive others their sins against us.

Paul’s call to put on the new self by walking in love toward others is not an easy task. People can be mean and rude. People hurt us all of the time. People can be insensitive and unkind. So how can we keep loving people? We love them because we are loved. Look at 5:1-2. We are God’s children. We have been adopted into His family (1:5), an idea that we will be talking about more in our Advent Celebration this afternoon. As God’s sons and daughters, as His beloved children, we should imitate Him in our love for others. Have you been loved by God? Then love others, even when it is hard. How much has God loved us? He sent us His only Son who gave himself up for us. Jesus died on a cross for my sins. He bore the wrath that I deserved. He offered himself in my place. There is no greater love than this! If this is true, and I believe with every fiber of my being that it is, then I should walk in love. Turn from your old self, believe in what He did for you at the cross, and walk in love through Him. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 02 January 2018 )

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