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Taught In Him (4:17-24)

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In chapter 4, verses 11 through 16 of his inspired letter to the followers of Christ in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul writes that the spiritual maturity and growth of Christ’s body, that is the church, is not merely the responsibility of the leaders with which Christ has gifted it. No, the church is built up by the individuals who are a part of the body. But the question is, how can a follower of Christ grow?

In chapter 4, verses 17 through 21 Paul writes, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts; who having become callous gave themselves up to lust, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you did not learn Christ that way; if indeed you heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus:”

If one were to summarize what Paul is saying in this passage, it is that a follower of Christ must leave his past life behind and truly become a new person in Christ. Paul is writing this inspired letter to Gentile people. Yet, in verse 17 he says that they must “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk .” This is not merely a suggestion. Paul gives it as a command “in the Lord.” But why must we renounce our heritage when we come to Christ? It is because in chapter 2, verse 19 Paul had already pointed out that those who follow Christ are “no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” When one becomes a citizen of another country he must renounce allegiance to the country from which he came. When we decide to follow Christ we must turn away from our old allegiance. In a spiritual sense, we are no longer Gentiles, but citizens of a new country. Each of us must decide whether we are going to belong to Christ, or remain in our old way of life.

Paul points out that the thinking of the Gentiles is futile. He explains why in verse 18. It says, “being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts;”

The thinking of the Gentiles is futile because they are darkened in their understanding. Their understanding is darkened because of ignorance. But their ignorance is not innocent. The ignorance of the Gentiles is not due to a lack of information but because of hardness of heart. They do not know God’s will because they have chosen not to know it. When one hardens his heart and, by refusing to hear God’s voice, is separated from the life that God gives, then the alternative is to descend into sensuality and impurity.

In the Greek language in which Paul wrote this letter, he states a condition in verses 20 and 21. If someone has indeed heard of Christ, they did not come to know Him by thinking and acting like the Gentiles. Paul mentions three constants in coming to know Christ. The first is that the truth is in Jesus. Jesus himself said, “...For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 8:37) This means that no one can truly follow Christ and accept a different teaching as well.

The second constant in the experience of those who follow Christ is that they have “heard of him.” In chapter 1, verse 13, Paul wrote, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation...” (NIV) As we saw, when discussing that verse, ‘hearing’ in the Scriptural sense, always implies taking action on what is heard. In the context of this letter, hearing specifically involves believing what was heard. ‘Hearing’ also implies a soft heart which is receptive to the message.

Though it is absolutely essential to hear and accept Christ’s gospel message, that is merely the beginning. A third experience in which all true followers of Christ share is that they are “taught in him.” What this means is that we must put Christ’s teaching into practice in our lives. We cannot remain one of Christ’s followers without acting on what He said.

But what is the teaching of Christ? Paul provides the answer in verses 22 through 24. “that you put away, as concerning your former way of life, the old man, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.” The first teaching is to “put away” the “old man.” This refers to habits and lifestyle. Paul writes that the ‘old man’ is in the process of being corrupted by deceitful desires. Once a person becomes Christ’s follower he can no longer live as though he weren’t. The verb which Paul uses indicates that removing the ‘old man’ does not happen automatically when we choose to follow Christ, but involves conscious effort on our part.

But the change cannot be merely external. Paul writes that the followers of Christ must be “renewed in the spirit of your mind.” In verse 17 Paul said that the Gentiles live as they do because of the futility of their thinking. The mind of someone who belongs to Christ is to be radically different. However, this is not something which a person is capable of achieving on his own. The change takes place when we allow God’s Spirit to renew our spirit.

Not only is a follower of Christ to remove his old way of living but he is to consciously “put on the new man.” What is this new man? Paul says that it is one in which “the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Scripture says that, “God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him...” (Genesis 1:27) Through our sin, however, we have destroyed the likeness. Those who follow Christ are re-created in God’s image. If we are made in God’s image, we need to display a godly character. When people look at us, what image do they see? Do they see God in us?