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3. Pursuing Purity Together, Pt. 1: Contrasting Principles Of Living (4:17-24)

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The basis of Christian community is to “walk together in unity” (see article 1 in this series, Eph. 4:1-6). We have all heard and responded to the same call of God on our lives, a call that is to be exhibited in our common attitudes and our common confession. We must also “grow together in maturity” (see article 2 in this series, Eph. 4:7-16). We were spiritual infants in Christ when we responded to the call of God but infants cannot stay infants – we grow. We grow in our maturity (1) through Christ’s servants who teach and lead us; (2) for Christ’s service by working in ministry and edifying others; (3) in Christ-likeness as we grow up in him.

In addition, we must also “pursue purity together” (Eph. 4:17-24). That’s our subject in this article. This is the new principle for living that God expects of his people. This is the ethical change that takes place in our lives, one that is not merely inward and spiritual but outward and visible.

The conversion experience precipitates this radical change. We have been called to be one people, so we must cultivate unity (1-6). We have been called to be spiritual people, so we must cultivate maturity (7-16). We have been called to be holy people (4:24), so we must cultivate purity.

Purity is demanded by God of his people. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord (17a). It’s the Lord’s authority that demands a new way of living. This radical change of living is described by a series of contrasts: (1) contrasting principles for living; (2) contrasting practices for living; and (3) contrasting programs for living. In this article, we will cover contrasting principles for living (4:17-24). The thesis of this passage is: Dont live like unbelievers but live like Jesus.

This involves a radical change in the way we live. The radical change in the life of a believer is described by two contrasting principles for living – one negative and one positive. First the negative…

I. Don’t Live Like The Ungodly… In Corruption That Stems From Deceit (17-19)

You should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk (17b)

We must make a clean break from our former way of life. If there is to be unity in the church, we must separate ourselves from the rest of the Gentiles and their ungodly way of life which we once followed. We must be distinct from the rest of our society by not living like them because their lifestyle is totally contrary to the Christian life. We are radically different now and our thinking and behaviour must show it.

This whole new way of life is what unites the church. It brings together Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, rich and poor, by adopting a whole new set of principles for living. Our new way of living bears no resemblance to the way the ungodly live…

1. The Ungodly Live… In “Intellectual Darkness” (17c-18a)

… in the futility of their minds, having their understanding darkened.

Their thinking is futile and their understanding is darkened. At best their thinking is shallow and at worst empty, purposeless and vain. Their minds are spiritually darkened because the light of God has no entrance there; they refuse him who speaks from heaven.

In contrast, our minds have been spiritually illuminated. Our clouded understanding has been clarified by the Spirit of God so that we can see and understand the things of God. The eyes of (our) understanding (have been) enlightened (Eph. 1:18). For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6)

2. The Ungodly Live… In “Spiritual Deadness” (18b)

… being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.

This is their inward, unregenerate condition, estranged from God, separated from the life of God, unreconciled and at enmity with him because of the ignorance and hardness of their hearts.

Ignorance isn’t bliss in spiritual matters. Those who are ignorant are still guilty before God because their ignorance stems from the sin of a hardened heart. They obstinately reject the truth of God and harden themselves to God and to the knowledge of him.

The ungodly are intellectually and morally blind which is the end result of a progressive, downward, spiritual spiral. Their hardness of heart and darkness of mind sweeps them into a vortex of spiritual alienation from God so that they are spiritually dead.

So, the ungodly live (1) in intellectual darkness, (2) in spiritual deadness, and…

3. The Ungodly Live… In “Moral Depravity” (19)

… being past feeling, (they) have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

Intellectual darkness, spiritual deadness, and moral depravity are the results of hard heartedness. “Hardness of heart leads first to darkness of mind, then to deadness of soul under the judgment of God, and finally to recklessness of life.” 1 Such is the quicksand of spiritual depravity.

To harden your heart to God is the beginning of a course that sucks you irresistibly downward. To harden your heart to God and close your mind to the truth of God produces callousness toward God, that inability to feel, the loss of sensitivity to God.

The ganglia nerves are the tiny nerve branches which go out from the main nerves. They cover our body so that we cannot stick a pin in the body without a message flashing to the mind to warn us of an invasion into our body. This is a fantastic warning system that protects our very life. Spiritually, we must have the same sensitivity which warns us of harmful spiritual danger. 2 Once the conscience is seared and the feelings have become deadened there is no end to the kinds of sensuality and debauchery that you may give way to.

When spiritual constraint is thrown off so is moral constraint. Deadness of soul leads to recklessness of life. The soul that is past feeling gives itself up to immorality and an insatiable appetite for uncleanness – coarseness, vulgarity, profanity. “Having lost all sensitivity, people lose all self-control”.3

If you engage in indecent conduct, it soon becomes all-consuming. There is a continual urge for more and the activities desired become more and more perverted. That’s the way of the ungodly.

What is, arguably, the most powerful, most readily available and most addictive source of evil today? I believe it is internet-based pornography. The internet has single-handedly promoted sexual perversion and pornography probably more than any other means of communication in the history of the world. In fact, the revenue generated from pornography is greater now than the revenue from the entire alcohol and tobacco industries combined!

There is nothing that the human heart is incapable of! Let this be a warning to us as believers. Don’t be deceived by curiosity about things which may consume you. Don’t be deceived by things that corrupt your mind and soil your spirit! Don’t be deceived by uncleanness that mars your fellowship with God and taints your soul!

The negative principle for living is: “Don’t live like the ungodly in corruption that stems from deceit!” In contrast, the positive principle for living is…

II. Live Like Jesus… In Purity That Stems From The Truth (20-24)

The ungodly live in corruption but as for you, you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard him and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus (20-21). Paul says: “That’s how the ungodly live. But you left that way of life when you were saved. Christians have no part in that lifestyle. That’s the way of the ungodly! But as for you, that’s another matter. That’s not what you have learned or been taught.”

The Ephesians had to learn an entirely different way of life. “Your life in Christ is not like your life before you knew Christ,” Paul says. “Before you knew Christ, you walked in intellectual darkness, in spiritual deadness, and in moral depravity. But now as Christians, you know the moral teaching of Christ. You know the truth as it is in Jesus and your life is changed.”

They had learned about Christ; they had heard him and been taught by him. Through the teaching of the apostles, it was just as though Christ himself had spoken to them and taught them. They had learned what it is to imitate Christ and to live Christ. They had learned and been taught the truth as it is in Jesus.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize Winner, once said, “One word of truth shall outweigh the world.” That’s true. The word of truth that is in Jesus far outweighs anything that the deceit of the ungodly can offer. The truth that Jesus embodied is the truth by which we are to walk. We are to walk just as he walked (1 Jn. 2:6). Jesus said, You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free (Jn. 8:32). Just as ignorance binds the ungodly in darkness and produces in them unrighteousness, so the truth sets Christians free and produces in us righteousness and holiness.

What is the truth that is in Jesus? How do we live like Jesus?

1. You Live Like Jesus… By Changing Your Identity (22, 24)

… concerning your former conduct, putting off the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts… and putting on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (22, 24).

When Paul uses the term “man” he is referring to our “self” - either what we were in the flesh prior to our conversion (the “old man”), or what we are in Christ after conversion (the “new man”).

The truth is that becoming a Christian demands a radical change of life, a total break with the past way of life. It’s described here in terms of a change of clothing. The old clothes are taken off and the new put on.

Becoming a Christian signifies a complete change of identity. It’s an exchange of our old humanity for a new creation of God. It’s putting off our old nature, which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts (22b) and putting on a new nature, which was created according to God (24b).

We repudiate our old self, that old nature, which characterized our former way of life without God, which was deformed and spiritually ruined, and which was dominated by its lusts and uncontrolled passions. And we adopt a new self, new nature, which is full of fresh spiritual life, created after God’s likeness.

The old and the new are completely incompatible. The old is what we were in Adam; the new is what we are in Christ.

A London businessman told the story of a warehouse property he was selling. The building had been empty for months and needed repairs. Vandals had damaged the doors, smashed the windows, and strewn trash around the interior. As he showed a prospective buyer the property, the businessman took pains to say that he would replace the broken windows, bring in a crew to correct any structural damage, and clean out garbage. “Forget about the repairs,” the buyer said. “When I buy this place, I’m going to build something completely different. I don’t want the building; I want the site.” 4

Compared with the renovation God has in mind, our efforts to improve our own lives are as trivial as sweeping a warehouse slated for the wrecking ball. When we become God’s, the old life is over (2 Cor. 5:17). He makes all things new.

Such is the exchanged life that conversion produces. What was corrupt is exchanged for a new creation. What was driven by its passions is exchanged for holiness. What was marked by deceit is exchanged for truth.

This radical transformation is a continual process in our lives. We don’t repeat the event but we “continue to live out its significance by giving up on that old person that (we) no longer are.” 5 As new people of God we must put into practice what God has already done in principle in us. In this sense there is a continual “putting off” and a “putting on.”

But we cannot effect this change on our own. It only comes about through the “new man” which is created in Gods likeness (24b). The new man is, literally, “created like God.” The image of God in us that was marred at the Fall has been recreated. We are new creatures in Christ, for old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). The old man walked in the lust of the flesh but the new man is created according to God to live in purity (cf. Col. 3:10). The new man has a life that is patterned after God’s life (cf. 5:1) and, therefore, the new man has a new principle of living that is according to God.

What God has created must be appropriated by us. At conversion, God sovereignly gives us a new nature that is suited to, and participates in, his divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). Now it’s our responsibility to live as those who have an entirely new order of being, an entirely new frame of reference, an entirely new mode of operation.

This new life is known by purity that stems from the truth, by righteousness and holiness which come from the truth (24c). This is its stamp of identification in stark contrast to the old life. The life of the old man was identified by lewdness and uncleanness (4:19) but the life of the new man, God’s new creation, is plainly identified by righteousness and holiness - those good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (2:10). The life of the new man is the very life of God so much so that God’s righteousness and holiness are duplicated in us and by us.

God has provided the means for us to live lives that are according to God. It is our responsibility to “put on” that new life by practicing his righteousness and his holiness. This is the ethical principle for our whole manner of life. This is the sum and substance of Christian living. By following this principle for living, we display those qualities that are most like God.

We are to practice his righteousness because we are created to be righteous just like him: He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous (1 Jn. 3:7). We are to practice his holiness because we are created to be holy just like him. Be holy as I am holy (1 Pet. 2:16). This is the truth of the new life that we have in Christ, a life that necessitates a radical change in who we are, how we live, and how we think.

To be a Christian means not only that Christ has revealed himself to us and we know him as Saviour and Lord, but also that we begin to live according to these contrasting principles for living because we are new people now.

Do you know this radically changed way of life? If you profess to be a Christian, is your life different now from what it was before? If you are truly born again, it must be! Is your life characterized by purity based on the truth as it is in Jesus?

You live like Jesus by “changing your identity” and…

2. You Live Like Jesus By… Changing Your Thinking (23)

… renewed in the spirit of your mind

Christian conversion involves inner renewal. The change that takes place at conversion is both internal and external. Our behaviour changes externally (by putting off the old and putting on the new) and our thinking changes internally. We think differently as well as act differently. We are transformed in our behaviour as well as in our thinking.

We are renewed inwardly through a change in our minds. Mind renewal is the first and foremost characteristic of being a Christian. Be transformed by the renewing of your minds (Rom. 12:2). The ungodly are known by the “futility” of their minds: Christians are known by the “renewal” of their minds. Like the exchange of the old man for the new, mind renewal is a continuous process that begins at conversion.

We must discipline our minds, set them on things above not on things on the earth (Col. 3:2). We must reject those things that would pollute our minds, the obscenities and vanities of the world. The whole spirit of our mind must be regenerated so that it is consistent with who we are.

What you think about is only known by you and God. I cannot determine what you are thinking about (cf. 1 Cor. 2:11), what you are lusting after, what you are contemplating. Because it’s so private, it’s an area that is often not under control. But remember, what you think about shapes how you act and who you are (Prov. 23:7; Matt. 15:19). Our minds that were tainted by sin have been renewed so that we can think clearly and spiritually. Our new creation gives us a new mind and our new mind causes us to act in conformity with the life of God. That’s the sequence.


These, then, are the contrasting principles for Christian living. This is the way of living that is fundamental to the radical change that takes place as we seek to live together in purity. Corruption and deceit separate; truth and purity unite.

Often, it’s not easy to adopt thiese new principles for living. Our old nature likes the way we were and it tries to draw us back there. It’s difficult to leave the old life.

For 11 years Merham Karimi Nasseri was a man without a country. For 11 years he lived in a Paris airport. He had no passport. He had no citizenship. He had no papers to permit him to leave the airport or fly to another country. He had been expelled from his native country of Iran. Then was sent away from Paris because he lacked documentation. He said his Belgian-issued refugee document had been stolen. He flew to England but was denied entry and sent back to Paris. When he was returned to the Paris airport in 1988, airport authorities allowed him to live in Terminal 1, and there he stayed for 11 years, writing a diary, living off handouts from airport employees, cleaning up in the airport bathroom.

Then in September, 1999, the situation reversed. French authorities presented Nasseri with an international travel card and a French residency permit. Suddenly he was free to go anywhere he wanted. But when airport officials handed him his walking papers, to everyone’s surprise, he simply smiled, tucked the documents in his folder, and resumed writing his diary. They found he was afraid to leave the bench and table that had been his home for 11 years. As the days passed and Nasseri refused to leave, airport officials said they would not throw him out of the airport, but they would have to gently and patiently coax him to find a new home.

An airport isn’t the kind of place anyone would normally choose to live. It’s bustling and interesting but not home. But that was Nasseri’s life and changing that way of life was more threatening than staying.

When we come to Christ, we are called to make dramatic changes to our way of life. We are called from our old way of life (the way of the ungodly; the way of corruption and deceit) to a new way of life (a life of purity and truth; a life that was modelled by Christ). We’re different now. 6

The truth that is found in Jesus has made all the difference. It’s the line of demarcation between the old life and the new life. It isn’t a matter of turning over a new leaf, or of making a New Year’s resolution, or of any merit in ourselves. It’s a matter of what God has done in Christ on our behalf in redeeming us; in giving us a new nature that delights to please him; and in illuminating us with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit so that we can understand the truth as it is in Jesus. That’s what has made the difference in our lives.

That’s what has made us different from the rest of the Gentiles (17). That’s what enables us to live together in community by exchanging a life of impurity for a life of purity. We have learned the truth and the truth has set us free - free from the bondage of sin - and brought us into the glorious liberty of Christ. We have been freed by the truth and we must live by the truth as Jesus did in righteousness and holiness.

Is this contrasting principle for living true of you? Do you, through the knowledge of the truth, pursue purity with God’s people? Do you practice the righteousness and holiness that come from the truth? Do you live as those who are no longer slaves to sin but servants to righteousness (Rom. 6:6 and 18)?

Note: In this article I have covered “Pursuing Purity Together, Part 1: Contrasting Principles of Living” (Eph. 4:17-24). See also subsequent articles: “Pursuing Purity Together, Part 2: Contrasting Practices of Living” (Eph. 4:25-32) and “Pursuing Purity Together, Part 3: Contrasting Programs for Living” (Eph. 5:1-21).

1 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 177.

2 Floyd Strater, Sermon Outlines on Ephesians, 36.

3 Stott, 177.

4 Cited by Ian L. Wilson, in Leadership, vol. 4, no. 3.

5 Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians (Word Biblical Commentary), 285.

6 Adapted from Ray Mosely, At Last, Airport Prisoner Gets His Walking Paper, Chicago Tribune,(9-21-99); Suzanne Daley, 11 Years Caged in an Airport: Now He Fears to Fly, N.Y. Time, 9-27-99.

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