Ephesians Study 13: The New Self

Hello! We’ll be taking a look at a longer passage this lesson and next. Let’s jump in.

Teaching Text: Ephesians 4:17-5:21

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

5 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 

“Awake, O sleeper, 
and arise from the dead, 
and Christ will shine on you.” 

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 4:17–5:21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

As Paul’s thoughts continue with the conclusion of this chapter and the first part of the next, he carries through practical ways to fulfill the first part of the chapter. As he is reminding us that we are transformed and calling for unity, it is important that we live like people who are transformed and are united as the body of Christ. So what does that look like?

For this lesson and the next, we will explore this entire passage. In this lesson, I will step back and talk broadly about how this connects with what we’ve read already and it will serve as a springboard as we revisit this passage in the next lesson to talk about two specific themes: how we speak to each other and sexual immorality. While we have been going systematically through this book, verse by verse, chewing on larger chunks of Scripture is an important way to read passages, too.

New Self

I want to do a little bit of review and then show how this chunk of verses is framed. Having just told the Ephesians they are the body of Christ, he is now imploring them to put aside a way of living that is destructive to the body and offers alternatives to strengthen the body. If we think back to lesson 7, we have been saved by grace and not of our own doing. This grace transforms us and though it is not works that saves us, it is then works we will do in response to grace (Ephesians 2:10). And following the loop we talked about in that lesson, those righteous actions will bring us closer to God and further fuel our journey to sanctification.

Let’s take a look at Romans 6.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 6:1–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

As we follow the loop presented in Lesson 7, our righteous action will enable us to draw close to the presence of God. And we do righteous action as a response to the grace we have been given. Perpetuating our sin leads us away from God’s presence. Rather, as it says in Romans 6:13, we should present ourselves “to God as those who have been brought from death to life.”

And we can see how this ties to transformation as Paul uses this concept of our “old self” dying (v6) and instead we have been resurrected. Going back to our passage in Ephesians, Paul says in 4:22 to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life” and then “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” While we have been saved by grace, we should not rely on that grace. Rather we are to be actively working. We are not doing this alone. Remember, we have the support of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s sacrifice and God’s love. Philippians 2:12-13 tells us we are working in tandem with God.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 2:12–13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Paul adds one more element in this chunk of Ephesians that is important to keep in mind as we look at this. This particular passage is bookended with an emphasis to not be foolish. He opens this section by saying to not walk “as the Gentiles do in the futility of their minds” (for more on this idea of Gentile folly, look at these verses on your own… Romans 1:21, 1 Peter 1:18, Colossians 2:18, 2 Peter 2:18) and in 5:15-17, Paul talks about walking as wise, not unwise. And why? Because we should make the best use of the time.

Imagine having a big math test and you only have 45 minutes to answer all the questions. In order to do the best you can possibly do on that, you will need to make the best use of your time. Doodling pictures of stick figures on your test instead of solving the problems will eat into the time you have been given. Doodling pictures of stick figures is not fruitful (5:11), rather you will end up with a bad grade on the test. Similarly, walking in life with love (5:2), as children of light (5:8) and wisdom (5:15) will aid us in our formation and mission.

So, this is a lot. Let me sum it up with a question: Who are you becoming by what you are doing?

Answering this question about your actions can help you in your discernment of whether to continue those actions. Remember we are talking about a book that has an underlying theme of spiritual warfare. There is a battle being fought for your soul. In 1 Peter 2:11, it says:

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 2:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Your soul is under attack by forces that do not want you to transform into the likeness of Christ. Examine yourself. Are your actions bringing you into the presence of God? Take stock of areas in your life: Who are you becoming by the way you talk to people? Who are you becoming by the things you watch? Who are you becoming by the things you listen to? Who are you becoming by the things you think about? Who are you becoming by those you spend your time with?

Who are you becoming by what you are doing?