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12. Leaving Our Old Ways Behind (Ephesians 4:17-24)

17 This I say therefore, 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.

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.

Introduction

I have always been one who enjoyed taking things that others threw away and finding a use for them. Our daughter Amy is just like me in this regard. The other day she called home from college. She reported that she and her roommate Gena were on their way to town to go out to dinner. It was about a mile walk. On the way, they observed a man carrying some items out to the street for the trash men. He must have been remodeling because among his “treasures” was an old toilet and a kitchen sink, still attached to the cabinet.

The girls both looked over the throw-aways, and gave a momentary thought to making use of them. Knowing how far it was from their dorm room, they decided not to try to take anything with them. After dinner, they once again passed by these same items, only this time the temptation was too great. They decided the toilet was too grungy to try to carry and fixed their efforts on the kitchen sink. Gena took the sink end while Amy crawled into the cupboard part. Away they walked with their find.

They carried this sink all the way home, until they reached to edge of their college campus. It was still a good distance to their dorm room and so they called campus security and requested a ride. Fortunately the van was dispatched. At first the driver was going to pass by the girls, thinking that they could not possibly be his callers. They flagged him down, loaded the sink in the back, and gratefully rode the remaining distance to their dorm room, where the sink and cupboard became a planter.

The campus security guard radioed in on his way to the dorm. “I picked up the girls,” he reported, “and the kitchen sink.” Needless to say, the security folks had a good laugh.

Often when I find something in the garbage, I do not use it for its originally intended use, but I adapt it for some other use. God has done something similar to every Christian. So far as our usefulness to God is concerned, when we are in our natural sinful state, we are fit for nothing else than the trash. But when God saves us through the person and work of His Son, He transforms us into something entirely new. Through His Spirit, which works in us personally and through other members of the body of Christ, He equips us for serving Him. He gives us a new identity and a new function.

In chapters 1-3 of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, Paul has spoken of the change which God has brought about in our lives, for our good and for His glory. In chapters 4-6, Paul exhorts us as Christians to carry out our calling as Christians. Our text in Ephesians 4:17-24 describes in very general terms the changes in our thinking and behavior which being “in Christ” requires.

Our text falls into three divisions. In verses 17-19, Paul writes concerning our new relationship to the world in which we live. In verses 22-24, Paul describes the Christian’s relationship to the flesh, our old nature. And in between, in verses 20-21, Paul reminds us that in coming to faith in Christ we learned a new way of life through Him who is the truth.

Verses 17-24 are general in nature. From verse 25 on Paul gets very specific, describing those things which the Christian must put off and those which he must put on. By putting off and putting on the things Paul identifies, we conduct ourselves in accordance with our calling.

Let us listen carefully to these vitally important truths, which are foundational to our Christian thinking and conduct.

Putting the World Behind Us
(4:17-19)

17 This I say therefore, 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.

As we approach this passage, we need to remember what Paul has already said about our previous condition as unbelievers:

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

We were lifeless apart from Christ, dead in our trespasses and sins. Paul will take up this “lifeless” dimension of the unbelievers in our text in chapter 4, in verse 18. But what is central to our study is what Paul has to say above concerning the unbeliever’s relationship to the world and to the flesh. As unbelievers, we were the pawns of Satan, under his dominion, carrying out his dictates. We were unaware of this because he controlled us through the influence of the world and the flesh. We once walked “according to the course of this world” (2:2) and in accordance with the “lusts of our flesh” (2:3).

Now that we have been born again, in Christ we have been raised from our dead state spiritually to newness of life. And because of this, we are to renounce the world and its dominion over us. This is what Paul urges every believer to do in 4:17-19. We were also slaves to our own fleshly desires, and now as believers we are to “put off” fleshly things and “put on” the things of the Spirit (4:22-24). Being born again is meant to reverse the way we once were, apart from Christ.

In verse 17 of chapter 4, Paul introduces his teaching with a solemn reminder of the importance of what he is about to say: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, …” The term “affirm” means “to bear testimony” or “to serve as a witness.” It is used elsewhere in the New Testament only by Paul.69 In every instance Paul employs this term to convey a sense of importance and urgency. When our Lord sought to convey this same sense, He employed the expression, “Truly, truly …”

Paul goes one step further in verse 17. He claims that his words are not his alone. What he is about to say is the instruction of the Lord Himself. Paul’s command is Christ’s command.

Now Paul lays down the command70 which all Christians are to heed: “That you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk …” Several things are implied or clearly stated by this command. Let us consider them one at a time.

First, faith in Christ demands a radical change in the lifestyle of the believer from the way he once behaved. The words “no longer” and “also” indicate that Paul’s readers once lived the way they are now to renounce and reject. Paul’s command is to cease living the way they used to live and to live in a way that glorifies God.

Second, this command deals with the Christian’s new relationship to the world. Once, as a part of the world system, we were alienated from God and strangers to His kingdom. Now, as those in Christ, we are citizens of God’s kingdom and members of His body, but we have become strangers and pilgrims to this world (see Hebrews 11:13-16; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11).

Third, this command deals with the Christian’s relationship to the culture in which they live. While the Ephesians saints once lived like Gentile heathen, their fellow-Ephesians still do live this way. This may very well result in the persecution of the Gentile saints, since their godliness poses a threat to the sinful ways of their peers (see 1 Peter 4:1-6). But in addition there will be considerable pressure on the Gentile believers to continue to live as they used to.

Paul does more than to simply command his readers to cease living like unbelievers; he commands them not to conduct themselves as their unbelieving Gentile peers. Why didn’t Paul command the Ephesian saints not to live like the unbelieving Jews? Because these Gentile saints were a part of the Gentile culture. It was this culture which threatened to influence them to live as they formerly did. The “world” is, to a great extent, the culture in which we live, which seeks to pressure us to conform to its values, standards, goals, and conduct. The “world” which most influences us is the culture in which we have grown up.

Christianity, Paul implies, often runs across the grain of our culture, and thus we must determine to follow Christ and to cease to march to the drum of the world in which we live. Peer pressure contrary to God’s will and His Word is to be expected and rejected by the Christian, in order that he or she may walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called (4:1).

Fourth, Paul maintains that the moral conduct of men is the outgrowth of his mental processes. The dominant thought here, as we find elsewhere in Ephesians, is that doctrine determines conduct. What we believe affects the way we behave.71

I am not a student of philosophy, but there are men like Francis Shaeffer who have done considerable work in this area. I think that it is safe to say that the immorality which is so rampant in the western world has been conceived by godless philosophers, and has been skillfully propagated by institutions of “higher learning.” Paul’s warning about the dangers of philosophy can be better understood in the light of his teaching on the relationship between fallen man’s reasoning and his conduct. The way a man thinks does bear heavily on the way he acts.

The Way Gentiles Walk

The final statement of verse 17 through verse 19 describes the way in which Paul’s readers once walked as Gentiles, the way in which their peers still walk, and the way in which the Ephesians saints must no longer walk.

… 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.

The lifestyle of unbelieving Gentiles is characterized as a walk which is …

in the futility of their mind
being darkened in their understanding
excluded from the life of God

The conduct of the Ephesian saints before their conversion to faith in Christ was the outgrowth of wrong doctrine. Paul speaks of their impairment as the “futility of their mind.” Futility is not to be mistaken for stupidity. Futile efforts are efforts which do not materialize into something worthwhile. Paul would not call Plato, Aristotle, or Socrates stupid. These men were Gentiles of great standing and of brilliant intellect. Nevertheless, their beliefs and philosophies were futile. They were futile because they failed to produce anything of lasting or eternal value.

Paul is taking us back to the very foundations of man’s thinking. The premises on which we base our thoughts determine what the results of our thinking will be. For example, the unbeliever (as a rule) thinks that life ends with death. Consequently, suffering is avoided and pleasure is pursued (see 1 Corinthians 15:32). The Christian believes that real life begins with faith in Christ and never ends. Because of this, suffering is joyfully endured for Christ’s sake, with the assurance that we will eternally enjoy the glory which awaits us (see 2 Corinthians 4:13-18).

The believer in Christ understands that he or she has been chosen for salvation for a purpose, to bring glory to God. Consequently, all that is done should be to His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The unbeliever sees all of life revolving around his own personal interests, and so self-interest is always the focus and servanthood is viewed with contempt. Furthermore, the thinking of the believer is based upon the revelation of truth in the Scriptures, while the thinking of the unbeliever is based only upon the individual’s subject perception of truth and reality. It is no wonder, therefore, that the mind set on the flesh is vastly different from the mind set on the Spirit (see Romans 8:5-9). And so it is that a believer’s thinking must be radically transformed (Romans 12:2).

The root cause of the distortion of Gentile thinking is also identified:

because of the ignorance that is in them
because of the hardening of their heart

After describing the mental condition of heathen Gentiles, Paul presses on to disclose the causes of their mental dullness. Their thinking is futile because they are ignorant. Ignorance here surely does not refer to one’s intelligence. Neither does ignorance seem to refer to what one does not know. Ignorance, as Paul uses the term, refers to the “knowledge” which unbelievers possess, in which they place their trust, and from which they base their actions. It may be brilliant ignorance, but when compared with the truth of God, it is ignorance.

The mind of man and the heart of man are closely inter-twined. When Paul speaks of the “hardening of their heart” he refers to the impact which the hardened heart has on the minds of fallen men. Hardness of heart keeps one from seeing things as they really are. This was true of Pharaoh, who could not see the “finger of God” in the plagues of the Exodus, even when his own servants pointed it out to him (Exodus 8:19). It was even true of the Lord’s disciples, who could not understand what He was teaching them (Mark 6:52; 8:17).

The mental condition of fallen Gentiles ultimately works itself out in the moral lives of these unbelievers. Men who are excluded from the life of God do not reflect the righteousness of God in their conduct. And so Paul describes the moral outcome of the Gentiles’ mental decadence: “And they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (verse 19).

Those who are mentally blind become morally callused. They lose any sensitivity to what is right or wrong. Consequently, they give themselves over to the pursuit of fleshly pleasure.

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4).

Such men are not merely overcome by strong fleshly passions, they actively engage in the pursuit of these passions. They do not dabble in sin, they immerse themselves in it. They pursue the satisfaction of their fleshly appetites with a passion. They are greedy for fleshly pleasure. They can never get enough of it. They are, we would say, addicted to the pursuit of satisfying their fleshly urges.

Living According To What You Have Learned
(4:20-21)

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.

Paul has already begun the transition from the mental decay of the Gentiles to their moral decadence. He has begun to shift his attention from the Christian’s obligation to resist and reject the ungodly pressures of the world system. He is already turning from the Christian and the world to the Christian and the flesh, from external temptation to internal temptation. But before he deals with the “old self” and the “new self,” Paul will remind his readers that what he is teaching them is not really new at all, but rather the reiteration of what they had already learned.

I believe that Paul is referring to the conversion experience of the Ephesian saints in verse 20. Paul may not even be attempting to distinguish between evangelism and discipleship here, but rather is only seeking to show the continuity between his teaching in this epistle and that which they had already received.

“Learning Christ” is not the typical way of referring to one’s coming to Christ in the Bible. It most certainly is not the normal way of referring to conversion today. Biblical terms such as “born again” are sometimes used, but more often unbiblical expressions are the norm. We talk, for example, of “inviting Christ into our lives,” which is both existential and self-oriented. We talk little of “learning” and we think that doctrine and evangelism are not closely related. “Let them first get saved, and then let them learn doctrine,” is the way many Christians seem to think.

Paul assumes otherwise, perhaps because some of those to whom Paul was writing came to faith directly or indirectly through his ministry at Ephesus (see Acts 19). Coming to Christ, as Paul believed and practiced, was not just an experience. It was learning. It was learning Christ.

One of the most foolish statements I have ever heard is, “I don’t worship doctrine, I worship Jesus.” Paul would never tolerate such mindless talk. How does one “learn Christ” without learning the doctrines which tell us who He is? Is Christ only a man, or is He also God? The difference is of great importance, and it is only from learning the doctrines of Christ in the Scriptures that we will know the answer.

I wonder how biblical our evangelism is, compared to that which we find in the Scriptures. Our method of evangelizing seems to be more of a sales presentation, which seeks to get as quickly as possible to the “bottom line”—some kind of assent to trusting in Christ. When Jesus evangelized, He taught. Everywhere we find Jesus speaking in the gospels, He taught. It often took a considerable period of time for the truth He was teaching to be grasped, and this was only through the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit (see Matthew 16:17).72 When Paul went to the synagogues, he taught from the Scriptures, demonstrating that Jesus was the promised Messiah (see Acts 9:19-22; 13:5, 14ff.).

As I understand Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:20 and 21, Paul assumes that those who have come to Christ have already learned much about Him, and about the nature of the Christian life which should result from trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Suffering should come as no surprise, if our evangelism has been true to the teaching of God’s Word (see Luke 9:23-26; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12). There is no “small print” left out of our gospel, which comes unexpectedly after conversion.

There is a reason why faith in Christ and learning are closely related. This is explained in verse 21: “If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, …”

Jesus is not just a teacher; He is even more than the teacher. Jesus is the truth: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’” (John 14:6). Jesus is the truth. To come to Him in faith is to come from death to life, from condemnation to justification, from sin to sanctification, and from ignorance to true wisdom. You cannot come to faith in Jesus Christ without changing your thinking. This is what true repentance is all about—changing your mind, and coming to see things as God does. And so it is that Paul links evangelism and discipleship. Coming to Christ by faith is the result of learning about Him (see Romans 10:13-17), just as it is also the beginning of learning.

The lifestyle which Paul sets out as God’s standard for Christians should come as a surprise to no convert to Christ, as radically different as it is from our former way of life. Our relationship to the world and to our own flesh is simply the outworking of the gospel which we should already have learned in coming to Christ. If, as may be the case today, some have not learned these general things of which Paul speaks in verses 17-24, then the gospel has not been fully or faithfully proclaimed.

Putting Off the Old and Putting On the New
(4:22-24)

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.

In the first verses of Ephesians chapter 2, Paul described the unbeliever as being subject to the world, the flesh, and the devil. In most instances, the devil exercises control over lost men by means of the external pressure of the world and corresponding internal inclinations of the flesh. In Ephesians 4:17-19 Paul has instructed the Christian to turn from the corrupting influences of the world in which we live (our culture). Now, in verses 22-24, Paul turns to the subject of our flesh, urging us to put off the “old man” and to put on the new.

I understand Paul to refer to the flesh as our “old self,” or as the marginal note in the NASB indicates, our “old man.” In Romans chapter 8 this “old self” would be synonymous with the “mind set on the flesh” (Romans 8:6-7). The “new self” would be our new “inner man” (Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 3:16), the “mind set on the Spirit” (Romans 8:6).

Beginning at verse 25, Paul will specifically identify those attitudes and actions which we should “put off” and those which should be “put on” in their place. But here Paul is dealing with our manner of life in principle, in general terms. Our fleshly behavior is the outgrowth, the expression, of our inner fleshly nature, just as Christian conduct is the outgrowth and expression of the inner man, created and empowered by the Holy Spirit:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:16-24).

Paul persists in emphasizing the continuity between our conversion to Christ and our conduct in Christ, which should be evident in our manner of life.

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:1-14).

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, (Colossians 2:6).

In Christ, our old man has been crucified, put to death. In our daily conduct, we should crucify the flesh daily, and put aside the conduct which springs forth from fleshly desires. In Christ we were made alive, raised from the dead and seated with Him in the heavenlies (see Ephesians 2:5-6). We should therefore walk in newness of life, manifesting the work of the Spirit of God in and through us. It is by His power that we are both motivated and enabled to live in a way that pleases God:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.… 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. (Romans 8:1-4, 10-11)

20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20).

This expression, “lusts of deceit” is somewhat puzzling as to its precise meaning. What we can be sure of is that there is a direct relationship between “lust” and “deceit.” I believe it is safe to say that “lust” is “deceitful,” and also to say that “deceit” is “lustful.” Lust is deceitful in that it does not produce what it seems to promise. Lust promises pleasure, but it ultimately produces death (see Romans 6:15-23, especially verse 21). Deceit is lustful in that it never seems to be satisfied, it always wants more victims (see Proverbs 1:10-19).

Jesus warned of the danger of attempting to remove evil, rather than replacing it (see Luke 11:26). Paul’s words indicate that our old nature and its deeds are not merely to be rejected, they are to be replaced. We must “put off” the old man and at the same time “put on” the new. While the old nature is continually being corrupted by the lusts of deceit, the new nature is renewing us, in accordance with the nature of God and His righteousness and truth. The old nature is being corrupted, the new is being renewed. The old is deceitful, the new deals in truth. The old is sinful, the new is righteous. The old is driven by lusts, the new by the character and purposes of God.

Conclusion

Christ did not save us in order that we may live any way that we choose. He saved us to live godly lives, and thus to live in a way that is radically different from our lifestyle as unbelievers. Our conduct, as Paul has indicated in verse 1 of chapter 4 is to conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of our calling in Christ.

The conduct which God requires of Christians should not come as a surprise to them after they have been saved. The gospel, as preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles, called men to repentance as well as to faith in Christ. Men were required to turn from their sin to Christ, and it was clear that this meant a new way of life. The “gospel” of our day is not so clearly stated. It is as though we fear that men will be receive Christ if they know what is involved. The irony is that the gospel, the true gospel, is the power of God unto salvation. The more we seek to rid the gospel of its unappealing aspects (from the unbeliever’s point of view) the more we rob it of its power. We then rely more on our cleverness and deceit than on the power of the Holy Spirit to convince and convert lost sinners. When we share our faith, let us tell it like it is.

This text, and those which follow in Ephesians, make it clear that while salvation and sanctification are the work of God, they require man’s response. God is sovereign in the salvation and spiritual growth of those whom He has chosen. He also ordained that men are to be informed of the gospel and of God’s standards of conduct, and that we are to act in obedience to His commands, not in our own strength, but in that which He supplies. Let us not leave this text with a passive view of our spiritual life. God has made every provision for our sanctification, and we are to obediently make use of them, for His glory and for our good.

It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of the truths conveyed in the passage before us. While the verses which follow it will spell out specific conduct which befits the Christian, this text speaks of the basis for our conduct in general terms. It is our commitment to the general exhortations of this passage which will greatly affect our compliance with the commands that follow.

The Christian lifestyle will not be lived out by those with a pagan mindset. It is the Christian mindset of our text which works itself out in the conduct which befits our calling in Christ. Allow me to point out some of the inferences of Paul’s teaching in our text and its implications in our practical daily living.

Our pagan culture believes that the past is the key to the present. What we think and how we act, we are told, is the result of our past. It is only by understanding our past that we can live as we should in the present. In other words, the past controls the present.

The Bible reverses this. Paul teaches us that our thinking and conduct in the past was the outworking of our unregenerate thinking. Paul insists that we refuse to allow our past to control us in the present. Instead, Paul teaches us that what we now are, in Christ, is what should override and overrule our past thinking and behavior. What we now are in Christ should cause us to put away what we once thought and did as unbelievers. Our past should not be resurrected, analyzed and dwelled upon, it should be buried in an unmarked grave. It is not what we were that matters, but what we are. Let us ponder what we are, in Christ, and not what we were without Him.

In our culture, what you believe seems to have taken second place to how you feel. The sensitive, intelligent, and probing thing to ask these days is, “How do you feel about that?” Paul would rather have us focus on what we believe. What we feel is often a far cry from what is true, and even from what we believe. Faith, as I understand it, calls upon men to act on the truth God has revealed in His Word, not on how we feel. Abraham did not “feel” like leaving his homeland and relatives to go to an unnamed place, but he obeyed God. Neither did he feel like offering up his son, Isaac, but he was willing to obey. Our Lord did not feel like going to the cross of Calvary, but He obeyed the will of His Father. Let us act on what we know to be the truth as revealed in the Word of God, more than on how we happen to feel. As a rule, faith acts on the facts of God’s Word and disregards our feelings.

If the renewing of our minds is so vital to our Christian life, how is it done? The Bible is not a book of formulas, but I would like to focus your attention on one key element: the Word of God. When a person wants to learn a foreign language, what is the most effective way to do so? It is to enter into that culture and language and become saturated with it. This is how our children learn to talk and to think as we do. If we would desire to have our minds renewed, then we must find God’s thoughts and immerse ourselves in them. His thoughts have been incarnated in Christ, the Living Word, and recorded in the Bible, His inspired written Word.

I dare say that most Christians spend more time in front of their television sets, radios, magazines, and books than they do in their Bibles. Even many Christian stations and publications contain much that is secular thinking sprinkled with a smattering of spiritual jargon. If we would think God’s thoughts after Him, we will find them only in His Word. Let us become so saturated with His Word that we begin to reflect His ways, His values, His goals, His methods. This is the renewing of the mind which Paul calls for.


69 See also Acts 20:26; 26:22; Galatians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:11.

70 In the original text, the imperative mood is not used, but most Bible students would probably agree that the sense is that of a command. It is what A. T. Robertson, the Greek scholar, calls an “indirect command.” The same would be true of the parallel infinitives that convey the commands in verses 22 and 23. In each instance the imperative is preceded by the word “that.” See A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), IV, p. 539.

71 The reverse is also true. Men’s behavior affects the way they think. Just as bad thinking leads to wrong conduct, so wrong conduct leads to bad thinking. Solomon is an example of this. Although the wisest man in the world, Solomon disobeyed God in several ways. Among these was his marriage to foreign wives. I believe that as his moral conduct deteriorated, so did his mental acuity. What results is a downward cycle. Bad thinking leads to wrong conduct, which leads to further deterioration in one’s thinking, which leads to further moral decay. An illustration of this cycle can be found in Romans chapter 1.

72 The fact of the matter is that most of what Jesus taught was not understood by anyone until after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:25-26; 16:7-15).

Related Topics: Regeneration, Justification, Sanctification