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Ephesians XV: Old Self, New Self - Ephesians 4:17-24

Here’s the question that Paul is addressing in Ephesians 4:17-24, a question that comes up because of his teaching in chapter 2: since we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, does it matter how we walk? Do we need to live differently, or is it enough just to believe in Jesus?

This is Paul’s answer: “I solemnly declare in Jesus’ name that you must not walk in sin!” In Christ, you’ve learned a new way to live, because you’ve put off your old self, and put on the new self. Since you’ve put on this new Christlike self, are you walking like a Gentile; or are you walking like a Christian?

What’s the difference? Paul give two quick character sketches, contrasting the new self with the old self. The main difference he points out is that the old self has a futile mind, while the new self has been renewed in the spirit of the mind. A futile mindset can’t make sense of the world. Though unbelievers can be profound thinkers, and know all sorts of true things, they can’t put the whole package together because they reject the Creator God who made it all. To their darkened understanding, the world is simply matter in motion, a random bunch of chemical reactions, so whatever you think or do can’t possible have any meaning or ultimate significance, and so they settle for chasing fleeting pleasures. That’s a futile mind in action.

A renewed mind, though, takes us back to the garden of Eden. This passage is full of Genesis 1 imagery: there’s a contrast between dark and light, the term translated old and new self is more literally old and new man, making us think of Adam and Jesus in Romans 5, and Genesis especially shows up in v. 24: the new man is created after the likeness of God. Just like when man was first created before the fall, a renewed mind has fellowship with God and isn’t clouded by sin. This mind understands that man was made by God in order to bear His image in the world, which means imitating God and living rightly. That’s a renewed mind.

The contrast continues: the old man is alienated from the life of God (like Adam and Eve in the Garden), but the new man is godlike, living in the likeness of God. The old man gives himself up to sensuality and impurity; the new man is righteous and devout. These two ways of life are polar opposites; the way of the Gentiles is contrary to the way of Christ. And so living a new life is not optional for the Christian; it’s what being a Christian is all about.

Paul puts it another way and reminds the Ephesian Gentiles that they enrolled in the “school of Christ” and learned a new way to live. Notice all the words related to education: we learn Christ, we hear about him, we are taught in Him, our minds are affected. When you are taught the truth in Jesus, that’s how you’re transformed!

And in the school of Christ, here’s the curriculum – New Life 101: In Christ, your old self has been put off. New Life 102: In Christ, you are being renewed. New Life 103: In Christ, you’ve put on the new self. Paul is confident that the Ephesians have already passed these classes: “Since I’m sure you’ve heard about Christ, I know you were taught that you’ve put off the old and put on the new.”

It’s very important to see that Paul is not giving the Ephesians commands in verses 22-24, and it’s a good thing that he isn’t telling us to put off the old self and put on the new, because those are things we just can’t do! Most of us can’t even kick a bad habit; it’s utterly beyond us to enlighten our dark and hardened minds, and to re-create ourselves in the image of God. That’s God’s work, and that’s what He’s done through Jesus when He called us and saved us. Therefore, Paul is saying, since Jesus made you a new creation, don’t live an “old self” life; live a “new self” life!

This is why the gospel is such good news: you don’t have to make yourself new! You never could! But God gave you new life when you trusted in Jesus, and now that your darkness has been lifted, now that your hardened heart has been made soft, now that your desires have been purified and the spirit of your mind has been renewed, now you can live the life you were created for: made in the image of God, walking in fellowship with God, and doing what pleases God. That’s the way you learned Christ! That’s how Christians walk.

Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2019 by CJ Bowen