Practice Holy Living
Sunday School Lesson
for April 28, 2002
What We Were in
In this section of chapter four,
Paul presents the graphic picture of a person who is outside the saving
knowledge of Jesus Christ. Particularly,
he is describing his brothers and sisters in Ephesus from the perspective of
what they once were before the grace of God saved them. The term “Gentiles” is employed as a
metaphor for all those who are lost and excluded from the kingdom of God. Paul’s ultimate purpose is to motivate the
Ephesian believers to press forward in their pursuit of holiness and
In verses 17-19 we
find a sobering depiction of Gentile depravity:
- They exist in the “futility of their thinking”
(v.17)—Simply stated, this indicates that those who are not saved by grace
exercise their intellectual abilities in ways that do not honor God. Their reasoning abilities, particularly
with reference to God’s revelation, are adversely affected by their sinful
nature and will not lead them to the truth.
- They are also “darkened in their understanding”
(v.18)—This amplifies the statement above by reinforcing the fact that the
unbeliever exists in a state of moral and spiritual blindness. This moral blindness has a direct effect
upon the lost man’s “understanding” or intelligence. He is biased against the truth of God’s
Word and, as Paul makes clear in Romans 1:18, actually “suppresses”
God’s truth whenever and wherever he encounters it. This is not to suggest that unbelievers
are not intelligent or do not use their minds in ways that serve
humanity. Rather, Paul’s point is
that whenever the lost person finds his pursuit of truth leading to the
God of the Bible, he automatically resists and rejects it. This claim is made elsewhere by Paul in
equally clear language:
Those who live according to the sinful nature have
their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance
with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of
sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7
the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it
2 Corinthians 4:4
The god of this age has blinded the minds of
unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of
Christ, who is the image of God.
- They are, furthermore, “separated from the life of
God” (v. 18). This means that a lost person is alienated and estranged
from God. No relationship exists except that between Judge and guilty
sinner. This alienation is exacerbated by two additional factors. First, there is the presence of
culpable “ignorance” in them.
Again, this is more of a moral problem than strictly intellectual.
Their “ignorance” is in the realm of spiritual truth that confronts
them both by means of general revelation (God’s self-manifestation
in the created order) and special revelation (God’s
self-manifestation in Christ and the Scriptures). The ignorance and
rejection of God’s truth, in turn, results in the “hardening of their
- Finally, Paul explains that those who are alienated
from God have “lost all sensitivity” and, consequently, have freely
“given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of
impurity” (v.19). In other words, due to their spiritual callousness,
they have abandoned themselves to evil desires of every sort. Their sinful natures have been allowed
to pursue their destructive ends, even to the point of falling into a
tragic “lust for more,” literally an insatiable craving for that
which is forbidden (v.19).
What We Are in
This second section of our lesson
passage presents the truth that believers in Christ have experienced a radical
transformation that has consequences for every dimension of life. Fundamentally, the new life in Christ is
diametrically opposed to what the believer was in his/her sin. This radical contrast is set forth with the
statement, “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way (v.
20). That is, the Ephesians were
nothing at all like what they used to be! The remaining verses of this section
display how the transformation took place.
- First we see that this spiritual transformation was
initiated by the message of the gospel. Having “heard” and been “taught”
the “truth that is in Jesus,” the Ephesian believers were initially
brought to new life in Christ (v. 21).
- Secondly, we see that this transformation involved
the rejection and abandonment of past ways of living (v. 22). The “old
self,” what they were outside of the grace of God, was dealt a
deathblow by the victory of Christ.
The believer is then to live consistently with what they now are.
In the words of F. F. Bruce, Paul is saying, “Be what you are! —Be in
practice what the calling of God has made you” (357).
- Thirdly, Paul notes that this transformation is
continually extended through renewal (vv. 22-24). They are to be “made new in the
attitude of [their] minds.” This indicates that the renewal comes from
within as a “work of the Holy Spirit, progressively transforming believers
into the image of Christ” (Bruce, 358). In light of this Spirit-borne renewal, Paul
commands his readers to “put on the new self” (v. 24). In other words, they are summoned to
cooperate with the sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit. William Hendriksen explains that in one
sense, the Ephesian believers had
already put off
the old man and put on the new man, namely, when they had given their hearts to
Christ, and had professed him openly at the time of their baptism. But basic conversion must be followed
by daily conversion. Even though
in principle the believer has become a new creature . . . he remains a sinner
until he dies [italics his]. (214).
What We Should
Strive to Be (4:25-32)
Finally, Paul argues that the inner transformation
resulting from a saving encounter with the resurrected Christ will be
manifested in outward acts of holiness and Christ-like conduct. Seven character
traits are listed as evidence of the new birth and life in Christ.
- First: Truthfulness in speech (v. 25). Paul
calls upon his brethren to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to
his neighbor.” Stott observes that the “avoidance of lies is of little
use without the active pursuit of truth.
The followers of Jesus should be known in their community as
honest, reliable people whose word can be trusted” (185).
- Second: The proper control and exercise of anger
(vv. 26-27). When Paul exhorts his readers to express their “anger”
in righteous ways and not sinfully, he is apparently quoting from Psalm
4:4. The time limitation—“Do not let the sun go down while you are
still angry”—is apparently intended as an incentive to effect
reconciliation before nightfall and as a safeguard against righteous anger
being transformed into a “foothold” for the “devil” himself
- Third: The display of personal sacrifice and
unselfishness (v. 28). Holiness of life is particularly revealed when
one who has previously lived only for selfish gratification—“He who has
been stealing”—is, by the transforming power of God’s Spirit,
committed to meeting the needs of others—“to share with those in need.”
- Fourth: Purity in speech (v. 29). Not only should the believer
avoid falsehood, but also any form of speech that is “unwholesome.” Bruce understands this term to include
“not only obscene vulgarity and contemptuous talk, [but] any talk that
works to the detriment of the persons addressed or of those who are spoken
- Fifth: Cooperation with and sensitivity to the
Holy Spirit (v.30). Believers are warned not to “grieve the Holy
Spirit of God.” This language
indicates the personality of the Holy Spirit—a personality that may be
hurt and offended by the behavior of Christians. In particular, sins that upset the unity of the body of Christ
are deeply painful to Him who has “sealed” us “for the day of
- Sixth: A proper attitude (v.31). There are
some things that are totally incompatible with the Christian life and here
Paul lists six of them. Each of
these—“bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with
every form of malice”—must be summarily rejected.
- Seventh: A compassionate and forgiving spirit
(v.32). Finally, holiness is characterized by the graces operative in the
life of Christ—kindness, compassion, and a forgiving spirit. Believers are to freely give to one
another what they have received in the gospel—“just as in Christ God
forgave you.” Thus, “the free grace of the Father’s forgiving love is
the pattern for his children in their forgiveness of one another” (Bruce, 365).
for Application and Discussion
One: How might Paul’s teaching concerning the
moral and intellectual depravity of the lost man (4:17-19) enable us to better
evangelize? In other words, what do we
learn about or lost friends, family members, and acquaintances that might help
us better communicate the gospel to them?
Two: The “domino effect” of sin is apparent from
Paul’s comments in 4:19. What is the starting point for such a downward spiral?
Three: In practical terms, what does it mean to “lay
aside” the “old self”? How often should this happen and how?
practical terms, what does it mean to “put on” the “new self”? How often should this happen and