So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:20-24
Put on the New Self
Having dealt with the issue of unity in the body of Christ from verses 1-16, Paul switches his focus in the latter part of Ephesians 4 to provide instructions for Christian living to the Ephesians. In verse 17, he begins his directives by appealing to the new Christian converts to leave their old way of life and to embrace the godliness of Christian living. Paul highlights what he considers the essential characteristics of heathen life: hardened heart, loss of spiritual sensitivity, overindulgence in sensuality, and every kind of impurity, and greed.
Paul uses the Greek word ‘porosis’ for the hardening of the heart. This word comes from the Greek ‘poros’, which initially meant “a stone that was harder than marble.” That word was used “of the callus that forms where a bone has been broken and re-set, a callus which is harder than the bone itself.” It was a word that was used to describe something which had become so hardened, so hardened that it had no power to feel at all. In verse 19, Paul uses the Greek word aselgeia to describe the insatiable lust of the heathen’s desire. The person who has aselgeia in his or her soul does not care how much he or she shocks public opinion so long as he can gratify his or her desires. It is like a drug addict who “first takes the drug in secret, but comes to a stage when he or she openly pleads for the drug to satisfy the craving.
Paul also uses the Greek word pleonexia to describe the arrogant greediness of the heathens. Pleonexia speaks of an accursed love of possessing that which belongs to others. “It has been defined as the spirit in which a person is always ready to sacrifice their neighbor to their own desires. Pleonexia is the irresistible desire to have what we have no right to possess.” The spirit of pleonexia can lead to the theft of material things; it leads one to trample on other people to get their way; it certainly opens the door to sexual depravity.
In verse 20, Paul reminds the Ephesians about the Christian teachings they received, perhaps from Apostle John, or Apollos or Aquilla and Priscilla. This is a reminder to the Ephesians that much time was invested in teaching them the truth of the gospel and the ways of Christian life. His expectation is for them to adhere to what they were taught. In verse 22-23, he repeats the comments he made in Ephesians 2 regarding the sinful ways the Gentiles lived before the administration of God’s grace. He also challenged them to put off their old selves, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires. His expectation and exhortation is for the Ephesians to put on the new (spiritual) self that is characterized by a new attitude of the mind. This new self is created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
There is a distinct difference between the way Christians are called to live and the way people in the world are living. When someone is in Christ, he or she is a new creature. He or she dies to his or her old nature, so they can walk in righteousness and holiness. That requires a new attitude of the mind. Indeed, the believer must put on the mind of Christ to avoid walking in spiritual ignorance due to the hardening of their hearts.
Being a Christian is more than an identity. It is a lifestyle that requires spiritual discipline and a willingness to embrace righteousness and holiness. Authentic Christian discipleship is about surrendering to the Holy Spirit and resisting the urge to satisfy the deceitful desires of the flesh.
Whereas being a Christian does not mean we walk in perfection. We cannot indulge ourselves in every kind of impurity, assuming that God will forgive our sins. There is, after all, a difference between willful and unwitting sinning. What Paul is talking about are the people that indulge themselves in a life of sin, thereby losing their sensitivity to Spirit of godliness that can conform them to the ways of God.
As Paul reminded the Ephesians of their new nature in Jesus Christ, we must also be reminded of who we are when we are tempted to go astray. It is easy for a believer to backslide and return to his or her sinful nature, thus becoming desensitized to the Holy Spirit. Many new converts have left the faith and forsaken their first love for Christ. We need to pray for these individuals so they can have the fortitude to hold on to their Christian training and stay on the battlefield for the Lord.
Lord, please help us to live according to the godly instructions provided to us in the Bible so we can live a life that is pleasing to you.