Ephesians 4:17-32, Get a Divine Make-Over
People naturally have a fascination with their appearance and long to look better than they really are. Major newspapers all have a fashion section as their customers are all interested in the latest fashion statements. The London newspaper even has a daily report on what the royal family is wearing. Salons advertise before and after pictures of plain, dull, unhappy women, and then an after picture of the women after a complete makeover of hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, makeup, and the latest fashion. Naturally the new women look happy and confident. Men are into “power dressing” in an attempt to look smart, prosperous, and successful. What are the salons, makeup companies, designer clothiers, and advertising executives selling? Their statement is you can be a new and better person with the right clothing, makeup, and upgrade of appearance! They are offering you a chance to cover up the real you. The problem from a spiritual perspective is God still sees the real you, and you can’t transform the soul with clothes or makeup. In Ephesians 4:22-24, we are commanded to “put off” the old clothing which is the person you were before you believed in Christ and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and “put on” the new clothing which is the new person you are in Christ. Christ has given us a divine wardrobe, which can actually change your life.
Remember the old expression about conforming to culture—“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In Ephesians 4:17-18, Paul wrote that in spiritual terms that could be fatal. The present systems of this pagan world lead to futility, darkness of the mind, and a position of being separated from God. On the other hand, as Christians begin to experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit changing their hearts, Christians are transformed progressively being separated from the darkness as they walk in newness of the light of Jesus Christ. In Eph.4:17-19, Paul reminded them of the pagan lifestyle they needed to leave behind, and so we see a contrast here of the old lifestyle before Christ with the new lifestyle of the believer united to Christ. The church is like an island of saved people in a giant ocean of wickedness, and the temptation for us is to fall back into that ocean. Therefore Paul exhorts the church to avoid the old lifestyle by reminding them of the futility of it and the warped thinking that they used to have. All the pagans are buying into the foolish worldly notions that “greed is good” and “the ends justify the means”, and “if it feels good do it”. I can’t help but remember the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:11 as he looked back on his life spent chasing the futile worldly views that he could find satisfaction in his 1000 wives and concubines as he pursued every bodily pleasure known to man. He was also the richest and most powerful man in his known world. Yet he looked back at all he experienced and owned, and he said it was just like “chasing the wind”. In the last 5,000 years of recorded history, men have always been seeking the same futile goals to no avail. Paul is just saying “Stop the insanity”.
The old life as pagans also revealed an ignorance of the truth and a hardness of heart in believing in the true God. Instead, they had a willful determination to make up their own rules. Their selfish desires ruled their lives making them apathetic and insensitive to sin. Instead they “practiced” impurity with greed and self-indulgence. The key word here is “practiced”. It is one thing to slip and fall into sin while knowing that it is wrong, but quite another to purposely, constantly, routinely sin as a way of life.
But Not You—Ephesians 4:20-24
In contrast to their previous lifestyle believers in Christ no longer “practice” such things. Paul used the imagery here of putting off the dirty old clothes that stand for their previous life, and putting on the new clean holy clothes provided by Christ. Jesus has made us into a new creation, and has made possible the entirely new life which results from it. This is nothing less than dumping the old fleshly person like a dirty garment and putting on our new humanity like clean clothing. This is the true “makeover”! This actually makes you spiritually a new person living for Christ instead of yourself. Paul has told us what clothes we need to take off, and now in v.25-32 he will tell us what new clothes to put on.
Six Practical Examples of Living Like Christ
In Eph.4:25, we are exhorted to go from a natural born teller of terminological inexactitude (Lying), to speaking the truth. The story goes that three boys found a puppy that each wanted, so they had a competition to see who could tell the biggest lie to win the puppy. A self-righteous minister scolded the boys saying, “Shame on you boys, why when I was your age I never told a lie.” The boys handed him the dog saying, “OK mister you win the dog!” Our motive to tell the truth should be that “we are members of one another”, meaning members of Christ’s body of believers. We are one in Christ. Using the analogy of the human body, would the eyes lie to the brain? Would our brain lie to our hands so that we wrecked our car? No, the members of the body work in coordination with each other. Next we are to be angry without sinning. By this Paul was saying that we should have righteous indignation about what is wrong or evil, but don’t let it make you sin by seeking personal revenge or deceitful behavior. Also, don’t dwell on it because prolonged anger becomes more and more bitter until it harms our own self. If we let it fester and grow, it will give the devil an opportunity to take advantage of our state of mind, and our pride will build it up into an eruption. In Romans 12:17-21, Paul wrote to never seek your own vengeance, but let God take care of it. Our job is to overcome evil with good.
Next in v.28, we are to go from stealing to sharing. A practical example of this occurred in the Church at Thessalonica in that Paul wrote to them to stop taking advantage of their relationships by defrauding their brothers in Christ (1 Thes. 4:6), then again in 2 Thes. 3:11-12, some people were refusing to work while mooching other’s food. Another change expected by God is transformed speech. Profanity, corrupt talk, and harmful criticism should be put aside. We all know the swear words, the insults, and all that is unwholesome because it has been programmed by the world into our brains. It is not enough to stop talking trash, but we must now seek to build others up and to encourage them. All this abuse of our relationships like lying, stealing, and slandering actually “grieves the Holy Spirit”. The H. S. is guiding us to love one another, serve one another, and to encourage one another, so He is grieved when we reject His leadership.
The last of Paul’s contrasts in Eph.4:31-32 is a catch-all to put away bitterness, rage, slander, brawling, and conniving, and replace it with love and forgiveness. The best reason is that Christ loved us and forgave us. Can we who have been forgiven a mountain of stuff not forgive a molehill?
New life in Christ sounds like hard work, but in reality we don’t achieve or earn the new life. This new life we “put on” is a creation of God. We don’t make ourselves new –we just put on what God graciously provided. The problem is we are used to our old clothes, and they are comfortable. We may think “maybe I can just put on new socks and underwear, or maybe I can just patch up the old stuff with the new. Not so fast! Jesus addressed that in the parable of Matt. 9:16, “No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch pulls away from the garment and a worse tear results”. By this He meant that the new system of God’s grace was incompatible with the old system of law and works. The righteousness of God will not fit on my old self or be combined with my old ways. The old filthy clothes are our own carnal righteousness that fell way short of God’s standard. Isaiah addressed that in Isa. 64:6. Israel tried to earn their salvation, but Isaiah wrote “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (to God)”. We must put on the new life that God has provided.