Ephesians 4:17-30 Holiness

Sermon preached on 18th March 2012

When we talk about holiness, we don’t mean being extremely religious or “holier than thou.”  We mean Christlikeness, which, unlike extreme religiosity, is very attractive.

1.       An exhortation to holiness [17]

Paul has begun chapter 4 with an exhortation to a life of holiness. As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. [4:1]

If we are followers of Jesus we should live lives which show we are followers of Jesus.

Paul then addresses church issues, and then in 17 comes back to the personal.

17 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.

This is not just Paul’s latest good idea nor is it just his opinion.  He insists on it in the Lord.  As an apostle of Christ, Paul is speaking with the full authority of the Lord Jesus.  He commands them that their lifestyle must be different from those around them, the Gentiles.  What does this mean?  Does it mean withdrawing from the world and living in communes?  No it doesn’t.

Jesus, God’s only Son was a first century Jewish man, who ate Jewish food, wore Jewish clothes and lived in a Jewish community.  We call this the Incarnation.  Likewise the gospel needs to be incarnated in whatever culture it is preached.   I shared two weeks ago how church must be prepared to change as the culture around us changes.  Missionaries incarnate themselves into their host culture (or at least they should do), wearing their clothes and eating their food to really understand them, in order to reach them with the gospel.

Paul’s exhortation not to live like the Gentiles do doesn’t mean living completely separate lives; rather it is an exhortation to holiness of life.

One of the reasons the early church was so successful was because of the changed lives of the Christians, and the world noticed.  Passages like this one in Ephesians had a big impact on how early Christians lived, and taught a lifestyle quite contrary to the Gentile world of the time.  We know from the Bible and other historical sources that the first century was a very immoral and violent culture.  The fact is Western culture has become again very similar to 1st century culture.  So today you need the exhortation and encouragement to live differently, because you are swimming against the stream.

2.       An explanation of holiness [18-24]

17c-19 I do not believe this is a description of every unsaved person.  Rather it is a description of the characteristics of the culture at the time – a culture separated from the life of God.

Paul begins with the mind, the intellect, with the Gentile ways of thinking.  He talks about the futility of their thinking and their darkened understanding.

An article I read this week pointed out how easily Christians are influenced by the surrounding culture.  It began with this question: “Do we believe in the supernatural?” It went on to say, “There is no longer a Christian mind. It is commonplace that the mind of modern man has been secularized.  For instance, it has been deprived of any orientation towards the supernatural. As a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization.”

On Friday evening I went to a Question Time evening at my son’s school.  There was a distinguished panel:  an MEP, a Bishop, a newspaper editor, a Lord, and an MP.  But one thing which was noticeably absent – including I have to say also in the bishop – was someone with a Christian mind, a biblical worldview.

My article went on to say, “On the whole Christians, while still behaving as Christians and worshipping as Christians, are operating with secularist presuppositions and perspectives.”

Paul sees that the problems of the Gentile world as beginning in the mind.  As the serpent deceived Eve with “hath God said?” so our culture has likewise been seduced.

In 18 Paul goes on to show that this this ignorance isn’t just due to a lack of education.  It is due to a hardening of the heart.  This implies obstinacy, a deliberate wilfulness and an inner resistance to the things of God, to his Word and to the truth.

19 having lost all sensitivity – they no longer understand right from wrong, and as Jeremiah put it, they no longer know how to blush.

19 they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

Gross immorality marked the 1st century just as it marks the 21st century.  However 2000 years ago there was no Internet.  The advent of Internet pornography has made things much worse because it is so accessible.  It’s like a drug.  Its daddy’s little secret.  It is a powerful addiction and the sinful nature craves more and more.  I heard the testimony recently of someone on the radio – not a Christian – how it had ruined his life.  He explained how now he hated it, but he couldn’t get free.  One researcher claims, “Pornography addicts have a more difficult time recovering from their addiction than cocaine addicts, since coke users can get the drug out of their system, but pornographic images stay in the brain forever.”  But the good news of the gospel is that we can be free, cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

Paul, having explained Gentile culture now shows this is not the way for a follower of Christ.

20-21 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.  Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.

I like the KJV But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:     

Christians are different because they have learned Christ – as the truth is in Jesus!  Truth matters!  They had been in ignorance; many had given themselves over to sensuality and all kinds of impurity.  But now they have learned Christ – Christ who said, I am the truth.

What have they learned?  They have learned first-hand in their experience about his forgiveness and love.  They have learned the way of Christ, His lifestyle, His teaching, all of which was radically different from what they were used to.

I think to learn Christ means more than just learning about him; it means receiving him as a living person; it means being shaped by his teaching according to the word of God.  This begins at conversion and continues for a life time.

You have heard him I think this implies more than hearing about him, though it does mean that.  But it means hearing the voice of Spirit: My sheep hear my voice. 

Paul and other teachers had taught them about the works and works of Christ; they were taught all about this as the truth is in Jesus.

22-24 Paul then explains what happened when they became Christian.  He uses the metaphor of a change of clothes.  The shabby and torn clothes of the slave of sin – the old self – are taken off and the new clothes belonging to a son of the king – the new self – are put on.

22b put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires

24 put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness

I believe Paul is saying here is that in Christ you have become a brand new person.  You are now clothed with Christ, with his righteousness, with his holiness.  So now live out in practice what you have already become in Christ.  When you face temptation put off the old, and put on the new.

Notice in 23, Paul comes back to the mind, and the need to be renewed in the attitude of your mind.  Again and again you need to renew your mind so you begin to think in a Christian way.

As you do this you begin to change.  You will come to resemble Christ more and more, since this new self, this new life is created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

This is why we should be different – and it makes all the difference.

3.       Examples of holiness[25-32]

We have been talking high Christian doctrine.  But the practicalities – which Paul fleshes out in 25-32 – are remarkable simple.

25 Since you have learned Christ, since you are a brand new person on the inside … don’t lie to each other.  Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour.

Two Christians in the UK have recently lost the right to wear a cross at work.  But is this really the right battle to be fighting?  I realise there is a liberty issue, but the external is not God’s priority:  He looks on the heart.  You need to make sure you are wearing the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  It’s this, for example speaking truthfully, which will make a real difference in the work place.

26 Since you’ve learned Christ … don’t get angry … or when you do deal with it quickly, and don’t let the devil get in.  99% of our anger is sinful anger, and rarely righteous anger, so don’t let the sun go down on your anger.

28 Since you have learned Christ … don’t steal.  You now know the 10 commandments, you know Christ’s command to love your neighbour, so don’t steal from him.  Instead do something useful; and use your earnings to share with those in need.

29 Since you have learned Christ … be careful with your words. Don’t slander others; don’t gossip; don’t wear.  Use your tongue for building others up, encouraging them, promoting unity.


Consider if there are areas where you need to put off the old self, and put on the new self.


3 Responses to Ephesians 4:17-30 Holiness

  1. Pingback: You Are More. « One Mans Opinion

  2. Pingback: New Chapter Begins Here « My Last Pen

  3. Pingback: Spring Cleaning Thine Spirit « A Kiss Of Bliss

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