Back to Basics
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Ephesians 4:20-24
There was a time in the coaching career of the great Vince Lombardi where the Green Bay Packers were going through a time of rather poor play and the coach was dissatisfied with their performance on the field and in an effort to humble them and to get them back to where they needed to be, he said that, "Men, it is time for us to get back to fundamentals," and he picked up a football and he held it before them and he said, "Men, this is a football." And that's where he decided to start, going all the way back to the very basic fundamental that, "We start here at the very beginning. This is the ball with which we play." One of the receivers at the time said, "Coach," he held up his hand and he said, "Coach, slow down, you're going too fast." But that is one of the better known stories of the coaching career of Vince Lombardi and it was how he took the team back to basics in order to get them on track for the rest of their season and what they needed to be doing. It humbled them and yet it was instructive to them as well to think about the fundamentals, to think about the basics, to think about what it meant to be a football player on that great football team.
Now, that idea of going back to basics is central to the text that we're going to look at here in Ephesians 4 and I would invite you to turn to Ephesians 4 here this morning. As we come to this passage, we need to understand it's going to begin in verse 20, Ephesians 4, verse 20, we need to remember what Paul has been teaching about the nature of the Christian life. Ephesians in a way is a very fundamental book. It is a very basic book that walks through the basics of salvation and then draws conclusions from that. As you know, Paul goes back to the very beginning before time began and said God chose us in Christ before the beginning of time and he walks through redemptive history. Christ redeemed us through his shed blood. God adopted us into his family. The Spirit sealed us and now we are secure in Christ having gone from death into life, having been raised up into the heavenly places with Christ. And all of these wonderful truths lay the foundation for the passage that we're about to see. As you come to Ephesians 4, you need to consistently remember, you need to remember if you're going to get the import and the instruction that God intends for you to get out of this passage, that Paul has consistently talked about the past aspect of salvation as he has described the work of God in redeeming his people. There is a present dimension to salvation. There is a future dimension to salvation. But in Ephesians, Paul has gone out of his way repeatedly to talk about what God did in the past in the lives of these converts as a reminder to the source of their spiritual life and he takes them back to fundamentals, back to basics, so that they would respond properly.
Look, for example, at Ephesians 2. We're going to review a little bit of context because it will be very helpful as we move forward into our text today. In Ephesians 2, notice the past tense of these passages that I'm going to take you to. Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, looking at the past of their lives before they were converted, before they knew Christ, he says in chapter 2, verse 1, "You were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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." You were dead. You formerly walked. This is what it used to be like for you. Verse 3, he reemphasizes this past aspect, this prior, what life was like before you became a Christian. He says in verse 3 and he includes himself in the reference, he says, "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." Past tense. This is what your life before Christ was like: dead in sin; dominated by the devil; doomed to suffer the wrath of God. This is what it used to be like for you. These are the fundamentals.
Now, look at chapter 2, verse 5. He says, "God, being rich in mercy," that's actually verse 4, "because of His great love with which He loved us," notice again the past tense, "even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)." So he says, once again, "You were dead in your transgressions when God made you alive in Christ. When God worked on your soul, when God did a saving act upon you, you at that time were dead in sin before God acted upon you and brought you to new life. You were dead but now you are alive." Past tense. Reminding them of what had happened, of the nature of their conversion.
Look at chapter 2, verse 12. He says, "Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." This is what you were like. Past tense. Remember life before you became a Christian. Remember before your conversion. This is what happened. This is the state in which you were living. In verse 13 he says, "But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." He emphasizes the contrast: formerly far off, now brought near in Christ. So repeatedly as you go through, especially through chapter 2, you find the Apostle Paul emphasizing and reminding them that, "Formerly you were outside the life of God. You did not belong to Christ. You were dead in your sins. You were in spiritual darkness and in spiritual ignorance," he says.
He repeats that theme in verse 19 of chapter 2, when he alludes to this past tense when he says, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens," which means that you used to be a stranger to God. You used to be an alien. You were outside of the people of God. You were outside of the promises of God. You did not belong to him. You did not know Christ. You were lost. Then he goes on to say, "but you are," notice the present tense, the contrast, no longer this but now this, "you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household."
So multiple, multiple times in the early parts of Ephesians, he is reminding them of what their former life was like. That's very crucial to understanding our text for today as Paul brings them back to basics. What happened to them in that dark, lost, separated state? What transpired so that now they are different than what it used to be like for them? And bringing this up to today, bringing it to us here today, all of you who are in Christ have an identical testimony, have had an identical experience. Some of you, the distinction between past and present is not as clear as it is for the some of the rest of us, but there was a time when you were in darkness. You were separated from the life of Christ. No one is born a Christian. No one is born into this world being born again. You have to be born again, meaning that you need new life from above. In your dead and dark state, God needs to act upon you in order for you to be saved or you will remain in that darkness.
What is the mechanism that brought you to life? How is it that you find yourself now walking in the light, now you are a Christian, now you do have the Spirit of God dwelling in you, how did that take place? Paul describes this in the passage that we're going to look at this morning, Ephesians 4:20-24. Let's look at that passage which will be our text for this morning. Verses 20 through 24 of Ephesians 4. Paul, remember, had just spoken about how the Gentiles were in ignorance, in darkness, calloused of heart, and that's what they are like now. Verse 20, he draws a sharp contrast, he says, "But you," referring to the believers that he's writing to, he says,
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.
Now, I'm going to ask you for a favor here this morning. I'm genuinely asking for you to do something for me here in the coming 45 minutes or 60 minutes or 75 minutes, however this goes. You know how it goes here at Truth Community. This passage, these 5 verses that we're going to look at here today, it is a tough text to unpack. The Greek text itself is challenging enough as it is and, frankly, our NASB translators, the New American Standard translators, did not do us any favors in the way that they handled this particular text. I very rarely say anything like that but the NASB translators have made things even more difficult for us here today. So we're going to do a little bit of heavy mental lifting to walk you through this passage but I want to ask you for a favor, I want to ask you to stay with me, to follow and try to walk through this with me, because Paul's point is relatively simple here even though it is couched in some complex grammatical structures and even more so, not only is it simple and attainable once you work your way through it, this point is crucial for your Christian living. What he is saying here is the way in which we are to frame our entire thinking about the nature of the Christian life. This text lays forth before you the essence of how you pursue spiritual growth; how it is that you progress in the Christian life; how you become increasingly more like Jesus Christ, and that's the point of Paul's context here.
Let me remind you, go back to verses 15 and 16. We'll do this a few times in the coming weeks. I want to remind you that Paul says that what he's talking about now is spiritual growth. In verse 15 he says, "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head." At the end of verse 16, he speaks of the "growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." Because that's his theme, he says, "So this is what I say in light of my theme. In light of the fact that I want you as a Christian to grow spiritually, here's what I want you to understand and remember. Don't walk like the Gentiles. Don't walk like them in their darkness and in their ignorance, in their callous pursuit of sensuality with a greediness to have even more sin in their lives." He says, "Look at the culture around you. Look at the people around you and recognize that apart from Christ they are dead and they are pursuing sin in a way that is shameful and disgraceful and that is the darkness of their walk and the futility of their mind and the ignorance that is at the root of that that comes from the fact that they are unwilling to be taught the things of God." He sets up this contrast and says, "Look at the Gentiles around you. Look at the unsaved around you. Look at your culture and realize the dark futility in which they are gladly, eagerly walking, seeking for even more sin and recognize," he says, "that that is not the way that you are to walk."
Now, because he is talking about spiritual growth and because he is making a contrast, that helps us understand what he is saying here in verses 22 to 24. Not only that, when we remember how much Paul has emphasized the former life of his readers, for us as Christians remembering the former manner of life that we had when we were dead in sin and under Satan's dominion and we ourselves were pursuing sensuality in our own sinful pursuits. Understand that that's the context of what's going on and that's what's led up to this passage. That context will do wonders to help you understand what Paul is really saying. And what Paul is doing here, to go back to the simple illustration that I gave at the start, what Paul is doing here is he is holding up your conversion. Holding up the instruction that led you to Christ at some point in the past and he says, "Brothers and sisters, this is a football. Brothers and sisters, remember the most basic things about how you became a Christian, about how you were instructed, because that is where you go back to in order to follow through and to develop the spiritual life that God calls you to as you put away sin and embrace truth and holiness in specific areas of your life. Before we get to specifics," Paul says, "we've got to go back and say this is a football. We have to go back to the very point of your conversion so that you would remember what it is that led to the fact that you are no longer dead in your sins but now you are alive in Christ."
How did that come to pass? Well, beloved, just remember some basic Scriptures even as you remember your own testimony. Scripture says that faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. We have been born again by the living word of God. The instrument of your conversion was the Scripture. It was the word of God taught to you. And not just Scripture in general but there were specific truths about you and about Christ that were communicated to you. As the Gospel was proclaimed to you in one manner or another, there was a call that was placed on your life. There was a call that said, "You must repent and come to Christ. You must leave behind your old life and come to Christ and live a new life." And you were called out of that Gentile manner of darkness in which you lived, called to consciously turn away from that and to follow Christ. Jesus said, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." He said, "Follow me." So there was a call that was placed on your life that led to you becoming a Christian and that's what God used. It was the teaching of truth that brought you to new life. That's the context. This is really crucial. If you miss that point, you won't understand this text.
So what Paul does here in this text, we're going to break it down into 2 parts. In verses 20 and 21, he reminds them in a general way about the past instruction that led to their conversion. Then in verses 22 to 24, he gives them the specific content of the instruction that led to their conversion. Why is he doing this? He is doing it because he is about to give them a series of examples of ways that he wants them to grow spiritually and we'll look at those in coming weeks. For now, he's making his pivot point. He's saying, "This is a football." He's saying, "We've got to come back to these fundamentals. We've got to go all the way back to the start in order to pursue the path that God has for us."
This is a good way to think just in general. Those of you that may be are off track a little bit spiritually in your life and, you know, you come in here and you know that you've kind of deviated off from your first love, as Jesus said to one of the churches in Revelation. Well, what do you do? What you need to do is you've got to go back and think back, "Where was it that I departed from? Where did I deviate from?" Don't just simply say, "Well, I'm going to read my Bible more and pray more," as if that's going to fix it. No, you have to think through and say, "Well, how did I ever get to this point? What was the point of departure that led me into this spiritual sickness that I find myself in? You know, I am not the motivated, joyful Christian that I once was. Where did that departure come from?" You have to kind of think through things. Well, what Paul is doing here is he is taking his readers all the way back to their original instruction in Christ so that they would understand and that that would correct the trajectory of their spiritual lives so that they would become the sanctified individuals that God intends them to become.
Now, for those of you that are in this room that are Christians, God intends for you to become a sanctified individual. He intends for you, the purpose of your salvation was not for you to have a happy life or a happy marriage or to get the earthly things that you wanted. God saved you, Christ paid a price for you so that you would become like him and that you would belong to him and be a people devoted to his glory and reflecting his glory in a character and in a lifestyle that resembled him. That's the purpose and if someone comes to Christ simply because they want things from him in their earthly existence, that's not even true salvation. You know, I'm going to use Jesus so I can get a career advancement. Or I'm going to use Jesus to get the spouse I want. Or I'm going to use Jesus to whatever. You don't use Jesus. He purchased his people. He owns them. He sets the prerogative and we come to him and submit to him and say, "Save me from my sins and make me like you. I want to be removed from my sinful past. I want to be free from the power of sin in my life." That's the whole purpose of salvation.
Well, what Paul does here, first of all, he gives them the reminder of their past instruction. He gives them a reminder of their past instruction in verses 22-21. Let me just remind you one more time here that Paul had just outlined the futility of Gentile life in verse 17. He says, "So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because, ignorant, hard of heart, callous, given over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." Paul says, "Look at the pagans around you. They have no understanding and their heart is hard." Now, as a result of that, they live callous, sensual lives with no spiritual sensitivity that restrains them from evil. He is calling his readers and he is calling us to think and God, I say Paul but this is God's word, God is calling us and telling us and leading us to think deeply about life so that his purposes would be better carried out in us. And for those of us that love him and love Christ and are grateful for our salvation, there is nothing we would want more than to see the purposes of God achieved in our lives, right? Isn't that what you want? You want to see the purposes of God achieved in your life. Well, that doesn't happen at a superficial level. It happens when you think scripturally, biblically, and you think through what Scripture is saying and interpret your life accordingly.
So Paul says, "Look at these Gentiles. Look at this darkness and now let me talk to you about what that means for you." Then he says, what he goes on and says is that, "In sharp contrast to that pagan wickedness, you now have a different source, a different fountain of spiritual life, which provides for a great contrast in your life. Your life will be different when you remember how you got to the position of being born again, how you became a Christian." And look at what he says in verse 20. Notice and remember that as we said last time, much of Paul's critique of Gentile life was their ignorance, their darkened understanding, the fact that they were unteachable, they were cold, dead, stony hearts and minds that were incapable and unwilling to receive instruction.
Now, as we move into our text for today, you see Paul emphasizing again that mental aspect of the spiritual life, the understanding, the comprehension of truth and Paul reminds them of the fact that they were taught and responded to teaching that was diametrically opposed to the pagan world that they knew. Look at verses 20 and 21. Finally he gets to the text, meaning me. He says, "But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus." Notice what he's doing here. First of all, there is this very sharp contrast. It's even more dramatic in the original text. "But you," he says, "I've been talking about these Gentiles, now I want you to understand I'm going to talk about something else." He says, "But you." He grabs their attention. It's as if he kind of takes them by the shoulders and shakes them a little bit and says, "But now it's different with you." There is an urgency. There is a contrast. There is a vivid distinction that he is drawing that says, "You're not like that. That way of life is not your way of life. This is different now. There are whole different principles that are at work in you," is what he is saying as we come to verse 20.
He says, "You have learned Christ." Notice again the past tense that he has been talking about over and over again in the prior chapters. Here he is speaking in the past tense saying, "You did not learn Christ in this way. When you were taught the Gospel, when you were called to Christ, there was teaching and instruction that was distinct and qualitatively different from this pagan way of life." And he says, "You did not learn Christ in order to live like Gentiles. You were not saved in order for you to continue to be a pagan in lifestyle and in thought." He says, "You were owned. You were brought into something completely new and different." So he is reminding them of the time in the past when they learned something, when someone taught them something about Christ. He's reminding them in general terms of the fact of their past instruction, setting it in contrast with the darkened understanding of the Gentiles. He says, "This is dark ignorance. You have light and understanding so let's live and calculate that into how we're going to live the Christian life."
What did they do? Well, obviously if they were Christians, they welcomed this instruction. They received it. They learned from it as the Spirit of God worked on their hearts, and they welcomed the instruction. Notice this, it wasn't just teaching. It wasn't just doctrine, although that was formative to it. Paul says, look at verse 20, he said, "You did not learn Christ this way." It's interesting, he doesn't say, "You didn't learn about Christ," as describing their past instruction. He uses a very unique construction and says, "You learned a person. You learned Christ." He brings the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and places it right at the center and says, "You learned Christ in a way that makes you distinct from Gentiles. You learned a person. You learned about the living Christ and he became a living reality to you, not simply an abstract doctrinal discussion." So the Gospel had introduced them to Christ and it had at the same time introduced them to a different way of life in keeping with the contrast that he is drawing.
Now, you're still staying with me, right? You're keeping the favor I asked of you? Good because I want you to stay with me. Notice what he says now in verse 21. Paul now is going to develop the thought about their past teaching. He said, "You didn't learn Christ in this way." Now in verse 21, it's like he's saying, "And let me explain a little bit more about what I mean by that." He says in verse 21, "if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus." If indeed. It sounds like he might be casting doubt on whether they had actually heard about Christ, whether they were actually Christians. That's how we understand the English word "if" a lot of the times. You know, "if" is a way of saying, "I'm not sure that this happened." It can be used that way. However, that's not what Paul means here. That's not the Greek construction at all and I can give you an example to help illustrate this for you. What he's doing here in verse 21, he's actually confirming for them that they had received Christ. This could properly be translated, "Since indeed you have heard him. Since indeed you have been taught in him just as truth is in Jesus."
Let me give you an illustration that will help you understand what he's saying here. I could say and because we speak this way in English, we use the word "if" this way in English, I could say, "If you attend Truth Community Church you hear Bible teaching." Now, when I say that, especially to a room where you're all present here like you are now, I'm not casting doubt upon whether you attend Truth Community Church. I am not suggesting that maybe you don't because you're right here in front of me. So when I say, "If you attend Truth Community Church," it's simply a custom of speech that lays forth an assumed fact in order to draw a conclusion from that fact. "If you attend Truth Community Church you sing hymns and you hear Bible teaching." I'm not saying, "I'm not sure if you attend or not." I'm just saying, "Since you attend, this is the conclusion that flows from it." It's simple, right? That's not difficult.
Well, that's what Paul is saying here. That's what he's doing here when he says, "You did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed," or because, since, "you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus." The whole letter of Ephesians assumes that they had heard these things. It assumes the truth of the matter. It assumes the fact that as they are reading these things and he says, "We have been born again. Christ has raised us up," it assumes that they are participants in it and so in the same way here Paul is saying that, "You're a Christian because you learned Christ. You learned truth. You learned in the realm of Christ and you learned a person of Christ and he became a living reality to you."
Now, why is that important at this point in Ephesians and how does it help us understand where he is going and why is it so is essential for us today to grab the essence of what he is saying here? Paul is about to pivot away from his lofty doctrinal discussions of the first 3 chapters, away from his prayers, he's about to pivot into a different subject matter. He's about to address remaining sin in their lives and what he is doing is he is reminding them of the big context so that there is a frame of mind for them to draw upon that will motivate them and encourage them and help them to obey what he is about to say and by telling them and reminding them and saying, "Let's go back to the fundamentals. Remember when you were first instructed in Christ?" "Oh yeah, I remember that. I was this dark pagan and you should have seen the temples that I worshiped at and the things that I did. Yeah, I remember that." He's calling memories to mind of how they were instructed so that it would shift their thinking out of the mindset of the world and into the realm of truth where there is room and productivity to take place in the instruction that he wants to give to them. He says, "The Gentiles walk this way. You did not learn Christ this way because, remember, you heard him. You were instructed in him and truth is in Jesus, right?" "Right." Okay, now he's got them on the same page and he's able to move forward.
Now, let me just peek ahead into next week to help you see this. We're going to jump over verses 22 to 24 for just a moment so that you can see how Paul's argument and how his method is working here. In verse 25 he says, "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another." What he's doing there in that verse is he is saying, "I want to address this specific area of sin in your lives. I want you to speak truth and not falsehood and I want you to lay aside your lying ways and walk in truth and speak the truth in love to your neighbor." In the passage that we're at here this morning, Paul is setting a context so that those individual instructions have a root that they can go back to that establishes them and they are motivated to listen and to obey. So in our verses today in verses 22-24, Paul is reminding them of their first instruction in Christ. The demands that are about to come. The commands for change that are about to come in verses 25 and following, they are consistent with this original instruction that they received.
Now, here in these first 2 verses, verses 20 and 21, after reminding them about their past instruction, Paul specifies exactly what he wants them to remember about their past instruction. That brings us to our second point here this morning. I told you there was going to be some heavy lifting here, right? That's okay. Just continue on and hang here with me because this all becomes really clear by the time we're done. Paul has reminded them of their past instruction and now he's going to give them the content of their past instruction, okay? In verses 22 to 24, he is about to tell them and remind them of what they were taught when they first learned Christ. This may be a little bit different than how you've heard this passage explained before but I'm confident that this is the right way to understand it in terms of what we're going to see.
What was it that they were taught in former times? Just follow and ask yourself a couple of questions as you go along. So he's evidently, he's obviously taking them mentally into the past to remember their first initial instruction in Christ. Verse 20, "You did not learn Christ in this way. You heard him. You were taught in him just as truth is in Jesus." Now, the question is: "Paul, what specifically do you have in mind? There was a lot of instructions that took place at that time. What is it that you are referring to?" If you keep in mind that Paul was writing for the church of all ages, we wouldn't have the benefit of the memories that his original readers had to know exactly what Paul was alluding to and so he says, "You were taught in Christ," but if it stopped there, he said, "You were taught in Christ." Well, if you're like me, you'd say, "Okay, take us to another level here. What exactly are you talking about?" It's one thing to say, "You were taught." Okay, good. You were taught but what were they taught? How do we know exactly what Paul has in mind unless he specifies it? Well, when you go to verse 22 and 24, he tells them what he is reminding them of, what he is thinking about when he says, "you were taught." He is reminding them of the specifics of that teaching that they received that led to their new birth.
Now, you can see this in the NASB but boy, do you have to look close to see it. It's not nearly this difficult in other translations and it's not nearly this difficult in the original language but NASB made it kind of difficult. I think perhaps their translators were getting ready for their lunch break when they got to this point and they said, "Guys, we've just got to hurry up and get this done because I want my sandwich." I don't know. I can't explain it but we're going to deal with the text, the English text as we have it here and we'll point these things out so you can see it.
Now, another illustration here to help you see the grammar that is going on here. Let's just think in terms of something very general and every day life-ish as we're thinking here. You could say, let's say you had a conversation with a friend about a restaurant and I come up and I ask you and say, "What did you say to your friend?" You would say, "Well, I said that this restaurant has really good chicken tenders and this restaurant has really good iced tea. That's what I said. I said that there was good chicken and I said that there was good iced tea." Notice that little word "that" in there. The word "that" is a marker that indicates the content of what you said. I said "that" and we just automatically assume and we implicitly know that what comes after "that" is a recognition of the content of your discourse. Okay? That is present here in this text.
Look at the start of verse 22 as we come back to Scripture, where the English translators say "that." Here's the question. There's a real connection here between verses 21 and 22. "You heard him. You have been taught in him." Better translated, "you were taught in him," referring to this past instruction when they learned Christ. That is the marker that the translators have given to us to indicate that Paul is about to tell us what the content of that instruction was in the past prior to their conversion that God used to lead them to Christ. Okay? Paul's point here – oh, this is so very important. If you checked out for the past 10 minutes, it's time to check back in so that you can get this. Paul's point here at this precise moment in the text in verses 22, 23 and 24, his point here is not to give them a command applicable to their present life that they are supposed to implement as a Christian. That's not his point here. He's going to get to those commands in just a few verses. His point here is to remind them of the content of their past instruction.
So what were they taught? They were taught that, watch this, oh, this is cool. Now we've got this groundwork laid, now it gets really cool. You've done the hard work and now we get to go in and we see, we get a glimpse into first century apostolic Gospel preaching and what it was like and what those people heard and what they were told that led to their conversion, that God used to bring new life out of the deadness of their pagan way of life. What did they hear? How was it that they became Christians? Paul is laying out for them a summary of that which is common to their Christian testimony. Do you know what else? He is laying out here that which is common to your Christian testimony and common to mine. This is how people become Christians is what he's laying out for us here. This is a Gospel text that I hope one day I can preach to a bunch of unsaved people but that's not the audience here today.
What where they taught? They were taught that, content that follows of their instruction, "in reference to your former manner of life." So that's kind of a parenthetical, last time setting of context. "You were taught that with regard to the way that you used to live." So I'm reminding you of the time when you were instructed before you became a Christian that in reference to that former manner of life, here's what you needed to do. Here was the call of God on your life. Here's what you responded to. "You were taught that you lay aside the old self which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit." That's the first aspect. There are 3 aspects to their past instruction here. You were taught that and in the Greek this is marked out clearly by infinitives, "to do this, to do that." It's very clear in the Greek. They were taught that, 1. You lay aside the old self. 2. Verse 23, you must be renewed in your mind. 3. You were taught that you must put on the new self, verse 24. You were taught 3 things: lay aside the old self; be renewed in your mind; and put on the new self.
Now, the English Standard Version brings this out with clarity. I was momentarily tempted to preach out of the ESV today but I didn't think that would be good form. It would seem like it was a matter of convenience rather than conviction. The ESV translates it this way and some of you have an ESV. It reads this way, verse 22, reading all of the ESV said, you were taught "to put off your old self." Verse 23, "to be renewed in the spirit of your minds." Verse 24, "to put on the new self." Do you see how the word "to" structures it for you? To put off your old self. To be renewed. To put on the new self. So you can just see that there is 1, 2, 3 dimension to the teaching. It's clear. It's simple when you get down to it. NASB has clouded it up and I do have thoughts on why they did that but they're not important for today.
Now, let's take this and put this together because I'm actually very excited about this. I'm incredibly amazed at the clarity of God's word and how it all fits together and makes perfect sense. They were taught that for them to come to Christ, remember, they were taught in their unsaved condition; they came under the sound of Gospel preaching. What were they taught that led to them becoming Christians? They were taught this, for those of you who are not a Christian in here today, maybe some of you young people, you know, you've just kind of been, "Eh, whatever is going on in here I don't care." Maybe some of you older people, you haven't been under Gospel teaching, you haven't been under biblical teaching or you've just carried about a hard heart and done the externals but you have not truly been converted, here's what you need to know. I'm going to get to preach an evangelistic sermon out of this after all. Here's what you need to know and here's what you need to do. If you are to be saved out of the world and saved out of your sinful self, you must make a decisive break with your past, a decisive break with the world, and come to Christ as the governing principle of your life. You must leave behind your old man. You must leave behind the world and come empty-handed to Christ and say, "I need to be born again. I need to be saved from my sin. I want to follow you." That's the call of the Gospel. That's the call of Christ on a life. You might vary up the terms or talk about it a little bit differently but there is a leaving, there is an embracing of a new mind, and there is a receiving of Christ that goes on in any true response to the Gospel.
So when a man is convicted of sin and he feels the weight of sin and guilt and the judgment of God, he recognizes, "I have to leave this behind." There is an inner turning of his heart away from that sin and finds hope and promise and forgiveness in the promise of Christ who says, "Come to me all you who labor and I will give you rest." But you don't come to Christ, you don't have your feet anchored in the concrete of the world and say, "I like it here," and still come to Christ. You have to get out of the concrete holding your feet down and walk to him and go to him. You have to move. You have to leave the concrete and leave the sin behind and come to Christ. That's what Paul is reminding them of. He's using figures of speech to remind them of how they came to Christ and he uses an imagery, he uses a picture that it's like they had dirty clothes on, old, rotten dirty clothes, symbolizing the dirty rot of sin in their lives. He said, "You had too lay that aside. You were told that you must lay aside, you must take off the old man. You must take off your old dirty clothes. In other words, you must leave behind sin. You must reject your former wayward darkness and put on something new. You must put on Christ. You must embrace his Lordship. You must embrace new priorities for your life."
So Paul is saying, "You were told that you had to renounce your former life in order to be saved." Why did they have to renounce it? It's because they learned that they were just like those other Gentiles. They learned that their prior life was corrupt and deceptive. It was full of deceit. It was ignorant of the truth. Have you come to that point in your own spiritual life? Has there been a time where you recognized that, "My old way of thinking and my old way of living was corrupt and deceitful and I disown it. I reject it. I renounce it." That's part of coming to Christ. That's what these Ephesians were taught. They were taught that you had to renounce the old man if you were to come to Christ. Verse 23, they were taught that they needed to be "renewed in the spirit of their mind." They needed to put off the entire way of thinking of the world of that Gentile culture and begin to learn an entirely new way of thinking that was shaped around Christ.
They were taught in verse 24 that they needed to "put on the new self." What is he saying? In other scriptural language, they were taught that they had to be born again. You need new life. You need a new man. You can't fix your sinful life. This isn't a repair job. This isn't deferred maintenance and we just need to fix a few things here and there. If I can change the imagery, they were taught that their former manner of life was a demolition job. It had to be completely torn down, rejected and renounced so that something new could be built in its place. They had to embrace Christ and receive him and receive that new life as their own. Put off. Put on. Receive. Submit to the new mind that Christ will unfold to you in the authority of his word. That's what they were taught.
How did they become Christians? They embraced that. They received that. They repented of sin and received Christ. They turned away from their old life and they rested in Christ alone for salvation and embraced the authority of his person in a way that issued in new behavior and new thinking but there was a decisive principle at work that says, "The old me has to be done away. I need to receive Christ and this is a new life that I am now embarking on." That's the idea. This is what they were taught. That's what they responded to.
Do you know what's interesting? A lot of things are interesting. Do you know what's interesting right here is that this is very reminiscent of the threefold call that Christ himself made in his own preaching. Look over at Mark 8:34. The Ephesian Christians heard that which echoed what Christ himself said in his own preaching while he was here on earth. Mark 8:34, you're all there, right? Good. Jesus "summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me,'" 1. "He must deny himself," he must put off the old man. 2. He must "take up his cross," he must be renewed in his mind. 3. He must "follow Me." Put of the old. Take up a new mind. Follow me. Put off the old man, put on the new. This is what they were taught.
Beloved, go back to Ephesians 4 now. Ephesians 4, going back to verse 24, actually let's look at the text just a little bit closer here in verse 22. He says, "You were called out of your former manner of life. You were taught that you had to lay aside the old self." Why did you have to lay it aside? "Because it's being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit." There were passions at work in your heart that were sinful and dark and it was a deceptive way of life of darkness. You had to lay all of that aside and reject it and renounce it. That's what you were taught. You were taught in verse 23 to "be renewed in the spirit of your mind." You were called to the authority of Christ. You were taught under the authority of God's word and were to embrace that as the principle of truth that would henceforth guide your life. Verse 24, to "put on the new self." What is that new self like? Well, it's a new life that you received from God. God creates that new life and watch this, because this becomes the bridge to everything that's going to follow: that new life is created after the nature of God himself. It resembles the character of God. You received a new life that is oriented toward righteousness; that is oriented toward truth; that is oriented toward holiness. You see, the Gospel call called them out of deception and into truth, out of sin and into righteousness. And in that moment of their conversion when they turned to Christ, they had embraced all of that saying, "This is that which I embrace. I accept this principle of new life. I submit to Christ. I trust in him and henceforth I will follow him." That's what happened at their conversion and so the call to salvation was a call to leave behind the deceitful ways of Gentiles and follow something different, to follow Christ, to learn him.
Let's come full circle. Paul has just held out the fundamentals to them. He said, "Do you remember how you first came to Christ? It was a rejection of sin and an embracing of Christ in a life that was after the manner of the righteousness and truth of God. You rejected the old life. You received the new. Now that you're a Christian, all that change is in the past tense. This is what you learned and now there are consequences that flow from that." One parallel passage real quickly. Turn to the right in your Bibles to Colossians 3 where Paul describes this in terms of what they actually did. He describes it in terms of the past tense. It's a direct parallel passage. Colossians 3:9-10, he says, "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside," notice the past tense, "you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." You were born of God. You received a new life. You have accepted that. You have received it. You have submitted to it and therefore there are ethical consequences that flow from that, point being is that Paul is describing this change as a past event in the life of a Christian at this point in his letter. He said, "You did that in the past. You received that instruction and you did this. You laid off the old man and you have put on the new man. Now that you have done that, since that is true, I want you to live in this way that I am about to describe." That's the flow of the text. John Stott says this. Not everything that John Stott says is excellent but this is good. John Stott says, quote, "It is because we have already put off our old nature in that decisive act of repentance called conversion that we can logically be commanded to put away all the practices which belong to that old and rejected life."
This has already been settled in your life. You laid off the old man. Now I want you to take individual sins that are marking your life now and lay those aside. I want you to work out the implications of what is to come and that's what we're going to see in coming weeks as he lays forth what it is that a Christian should do and how it is that we grow spiritually. He's not giving us some kind of mystical, hard to understand command that now you put off the old man and put on a new man without giving us any sense of what that means. His instruction is far more clear and it is much easier to understand. He's going to go on and say, "Put aside falsehood and put on truth. Put aside your anger and embrace love. Stop stealing and start working with your hands." And all of this put on and put off becomes in the context of something that is very clear and evident by what he means. All of that is rooted and, beloved, your spiritual change is rooted in the understanding that what you did at your conversion was you rejected your old man, now as a Christian, you reject the remnants of that old life and you pursue the truth and the holiness that God calls us to in the rest of this book.
Do you know what's ahead for us, those of us that are regulars at Truth Community Church in what's about to come? What's ahead of us is spiritual change. Really good stuff. What's going to happen as we go through the word of God in the passages that lie ahead of us is that there is going to be a work of the Spirit of God on our character, on yours and mine, to conform us more closely to the image of Christ and the reason that that is going to happen is because it is the natural outgrowth of what happened at our conversions before any of us met each other. There is spiritual change. Spiritual growth. We are going to become more like Christ in the coming months than we are today. Why don't you join us as we go on that path? Why would you miss that because that's what's ahead?
For those of you that don't know Christ, put off your old life. Come out of the world. Come out of your love for sin and come to this Christ and receive him as your new life whom will follow henceforth and forever more.
Let's pray together.
Father, we pray first of all with gratitude and with thanksgiving that you have done a work in our hearts, that you called us out of death into life and you worked into our hearts a true repentance and faith in Christ that has delivered our souls from sin, both in its penalty and in its power and one day in its very presence. Thank you that you have done that for us, Father. We pray now looking forward that you would perfect the work that you have begun, that you would complete it, that you would help us see the areas of life that your word will point out to us so that we could change. Not just changing, Father, for our own sake or so that we could feel better about ourselves, not that at all, Father, what we want is to be changed into the image of Christ so that we would be pleasing children to you and that we would be like our Savior and fulfill the purpose of our salvation. Prepare us for that path ahead and, Father, I pray for each of one of us here. I pray for our church, that we would look back 3, 6 months from now after we go through this instruction that is about to come, and realize that you have done a mighty work of conforming us to the image of Christ. Do that in the lives of your people and, Father, bring about true salvation for the first time in the lives of those who do not know you. We are not content to let any sinner walk out of this building unconfronted in sin and unrepentant before a holy Christ, Lord. So we pray that having preached your word, you would take that word and use it to bring people to faith. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.