Sanctification – Ephesians 4:17–32

Read the Passage: Ephesians 4:17-32

The Old Man (4:17–19)

Earlier, as Paul began the application section of the book of Ephesians, he exhorted his readers toward sanctification, instructing them to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph. 4:1). In the rest of this letter, Paul gives details about the worthy walk, which displays the unity of believers in Christ. In Eph. 4:1–10, Paul reminds the church of their common faith and of their individual giftedness. Along these same lines, in Eph. 4:11–16 Paul writes that God has gifted the church with leaders who will work to equip believers and to edify the Body of Christ. Said differently, Paul taught that God has gifted the church with men whose task it is to aid believers in their sanctification. As he moves to address specific topics in the concluding chapters of his book, Paul reminds his readers about their identity in Jesus, even labeling each new believer as a “new man” (Eph. 4:24).

In Eph. 4:17, Paul writes, “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind.” While his aim in this passage is to describe the worthy walk of a believer, in Eph. 4:18–19 Paul briefly details the unworthy walk of an unbeliever. While he does not use the phrase “old man” until Eph. 4:22, it seems Paul’s intent in Eph. 4:17–19 is to present a foil he can use to describe the essential nature of the “new man” (Eph. 4:24) in the concluding chapters of this book. In this passage Paul gives a number of characteristics which highlight three problem areas related to the foundational nature of unbelievers: first, unbelievers are intellectually deceived (cf. Eph. 4:17b–18a); second, unbelievers are spiritually alienated from God (cf. Eph. 18:b); and third, unbelievers are morally corrupt (cf. Eph. 4:18c–19).

The New Man (4:20–24)

Having described the corruption of the mind, heart, and will of the “old man” (Eph. 4:22; cf. Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), in Eph. 4:20–24 Paul begins to unpack what it means to walk as a “new man” (Eph. 4:22; cf. Col. 3:10). In detailing what it means to “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk” (Eph. 4:17), Paul reminds the church that they had previously “learned . . . heard . . . and been taught by . . . Jesus” (Eph. 4:20–21). Paul’s teaching in Eph. 4:20–24, then, is that with a new mind, heart, and will, Christians must—indeed, they will—begin to resemble Jesus. Practically speaking, the transition from the old man to a new man is oftentimes slow; yet, it must occur if salvation is authentic (cf. Luke 6:43–45). The irony that God facilitates this change as believers strive after Christ is summarized in Paul’s earlier teaching that we must pursue “good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10; cf. Phil. 2:12–13).

While the exact phrase “new man” or “new self” only occurs in the books of Ephesians and Colossians, the concept occurs with regularity in Scripture, especially in the letters of Paul. In surveying this concept we learn that in Christ, believers have: a new mind (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16; Rom. 12:2), new knowledge (cf. Col. 3:10), a new heart and a new spirit (cf. Ezek. 26:36), a new will (cf. Phil. 2:12–13), new passions and desires (cf. Gal. 5:24), a new conscience (cf. Heb. 9:14), and are a new creation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). This is all the result of being in a new covenant with God (cf. Heb. 8:6). Note the scope of the transformation of the old man into a new man, as the new man in completely and thoroughly renewed. Observe, too, that believers often focus on a particular aspect of being in Christ, such as knowledge or actions; however, the change that Scripture describes is totally comprehensive.

The Changed Life (4:25–32)

In Eph. 5–6 Paul will address, in depth, certain areas of Christian living. Before speaking to particular issues, however, in Eph. 4:25–32, Paul briefly addresses lying (cf. Eph. 4:25), anger (cf. Eph. 4:26), stealing (cf. Eph. 4:28), and right speech (cf. Eph. 4:29). It is not clear why Paul chose to mention these four issues here; yet, it is possible that these topics were subjects about which the Ephesian believers had asked Paul or over which they were struggling. Finally, Paul’s summary exhortation in Eph. 4:31–32 is to not sin regarding these moral norms, but to manifest the opposite behaviors—namely, showing kindness, being tenderhearted, and exhibiting forgiveness. The main danger in not “putting on the new man” (Eph. 4:24) is that as we sin against and stray from God, we “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30), whose role it is to comfort and to guide believers in Christ-likeness.

Application Questions:

  1. Do most contemporary believers look and act differently than unbelievers? How can Christians become different than the world, and yet remain relevant?
  2. If all believers are given a new nature at the moment of conversion (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17), why do we still struggle with sin (cf. Eph. 2:1–3)?
  3. How can we be sure that evidences of Christianity in our lives, or in the lives of others, are being facilitated by God and not by the unaided efforts of man?
  4. In what areas of your life—mind, heart, or will—have you made the most progress in sanctification? In what areas have you made the least progress?
  5. What are the practical consequences of grieving (cf. Eph. 4:30) or quenching (cf. 1 Thess. 5:19) the Holy Spirit of God?