The Christian Life, Part One
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, July 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. - Ephesians 4:20-24
Pagan Versus Christian Life
In our previous study, we spoke about the life of a pagan as described in Ephesians 4:17-19. The mind of a pagan is ignorant of God and full of lies. Because he cannot perceive reality correctly, he lives a wicked life. We can tell what people believe by how they live. No matter what we claim, our actions will demonstrate our heart convictions.
In these verses we learned seven things about pagans: they are demonized, under the control of Satan; they are dead toward God, cut off from the life of God; they are darkened in their understanding; they are ignorant, especially of God; they are hardened in their hearts against God; they are under judgment, meaning that God has handed them over to practice immorality, as we read in Romans 1; and finally, their life is empty, void of meaning and purpose in God's eyes.
Verse 20 begins a description of the mind and life of a Christian. But before we begin our study of this passage, I want to make several corrections in the text. The New International Version translates verse 20 in this way: "You, however, did not come to know Christ that way." But the Greek text says, "You, however, did not learn Christ so" or, "You did not so learn Christ." The NIV translation of verse 21 begins, "Surely you heard of him." But the text says, "Surely you heard him," not "heard of him." The verse continues, "and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught with regard to your former way of life to put off the old self." Notice, this last statement is not an imperative telling us to put off the old self; rather, it is an indicative, a statement of fact, that we were taught that when we converted-at that very moment-we put off the old self. "You were taught with regard to your former way of life to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires"-or desires of deceit, desires of lies-"to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self"-or new man-"created to be like God"-simply, created after God-"in righteousness and holiness of truth."
The Christian Life
So now in verse 20 we are told, in essence, "But you did not learn Christ so." It is a strong contrast. Paul is saying, "You were pagans, but now you are Christians. You did not learn Christ in such a way that you can continue to live in sin. You know truth; therefore, you live a different life from that of pagans."
This verse declares that the saints of God, the church, cannot think and behave like the pagans. They are to live an entirely different life. Yet the vast majority of evangelicals, who claim to believe in the Bible and its message, have for several years embraced a view that Christians may live like pagans without any change in their thinking and behavior, as long as they have "received Jesus," whatever that means. They do this in the hope of influencing pagans for the gospel. But according to Dr. John MacArthur, the teaching that "a Christian does not have to give up anything or change anything when he becomes a Christian is nothing less than diabolical" (John MacArthur, The New Testament Commentary on Ephesians [Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1986], 173). The idea that one may receive Jesus as Savior but not as Lord is demonic and has nothing to do with the message proclaimed by the apostles. This modern teaching will say, "He who stole, let him continue to steal. He who lied, let him continue to lie, as a Christian."
But the truth is, those who believe such teachings have nothing to do with true Christianity, for the Bible teaches that he who justifies us will also make us holy. Jesus Christ cannot be divided. He is both Lord and Savior at the same time. He is righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. We cannot cut him into pieces and take only the pieces that we like.
So Paul says in verse 20, "But you did not so learn Christ." In other words, we are different from pagans. We did not learn Christ so that we can give ourselves over to sensuality and the practice of every form of uncleanness with greediness. We are not pagans; we are saints. We are the church of God, the light of the world. We have been made alive with Christ, raised with Christ, and seated with Christ, so that we may do good works that God has foreordained for us. We did not so learn Christ that we should continue to live a wicked life.
Christians "Learn Christ"
In this passage, Paul uses three verbs in the aorist tense, meaning the action took place once for all, generally in the past. The first is found in verse 20: "You did not so learn Christ." Unlike pagans, Christians are not ignorant of God. Instead, their minds are full of Christ.
Paul is using the image of an academy, a school, where believers in Jesus Christ learn certain lessons at the time of their conversion. The substance of their teaching is Jesus Christ himself. In fact, the entire Scriptures reveal Jesus Christ to us. So whenever we read the Scripture, we hear and see Jesus Christ. It is through the Scripture that he instructs, rebukes, corrects, and trains us in righteousness. When we read the Bible, we are not just reading a book of pages full of ink. God himself speaks to us through the Scripture. Awake! Rouse yourself! Christ is speaking.
Who is Christ? He is the eternal Son of God, who took sinless human nature for our salvation. Christ revealed the Father to us as holy, compassionate, just, true, and loving God, as the Creator and the one who loves sinners. What else did he do? He died on the cross. Every writer of the gospels says he was crucified. Why did he die for us? To make atonement for our sins and reconcile us to God. Where is he now? After he was buried, he was raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures; he ascended into the heavens and is seated on the right hand of God the Father. He is Lord and Sovereign over all, having received all authority in heaven and on earth. He rules and reigns now as the Head of the church, the fullness of him that fills all in all.
Knowing who Jesus Christ is and what he did, and knowing that all of us are sinners, the next question should be, "What must I do to be saved from God's wrath?" The answer is very simple: Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. And you shall be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, that you may live from now on only for the glory of God.
You did not so learn Christ to continue in sin, but that you may live for the glory of God. This learning of Christ, in other words, should produce a holy life because holy thinking produces holy living. We cannot learn Christ and live a life that contradicts Christ's life on earth. Notice, Paul was not speaking of learning about Christ. Seminaries are full of people who have learned about Christ. Now, no one can be saved without doctrine, but those who know doctrine are not necessarily saved. You can be a person of orthodoxy and yet be a pagan.
So it is not learning about Christ; it is learning Christ, as a wife learns her husband, and a husband learns his wife, in communion and in relationship. In Mark 3:14 we read, "He appointed twelve, designating them apostles, that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach." Notice that phrase: "that they might be with him." These disciples were learning Christ.
In Acts 4:13 we find this statement: "When [the Sanhedrin] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." And Paul says in Philippians 3:10, "I want to know Christ"-not about him, but to know him-as God, as Lord, as Savior, as the Holy One.
In Matthew 11:28-30 the Lord of the universe extends this invitation: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
In John 17:3 we read, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." Eternal life is relational knowledge, not intellectual orthodoxy.
In 2 Corinthians 4:5 Paul says, "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord." In other words, "We are introducing you to Jesus, that he may relate to you and that you may relate to him." And in 1 Peter 2:21 Peter says, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." That is what learning Christ will do. If we learn Christ relationally, we will never live a wicked life. We will follow in his footsteps.
Christians "Hear Christ"
The second aorist verb is found in verse 21: "Surely you heard him. . ." Heard him; not heard of him. The NIV translation is wrong here. All translations have errors; that is why we have to read the Greek text. Even the Greek manuscripts have problems, because we do not have the originals, but we can deal with them through a critical study of the text.
This verse is not saying that the Ephesians had heard about Christ, but that they heard him. That is an interesting way of putting it. Paul preached the gospel to them, we are told in Acts 19:4. Why, then, did Paul say they "heard him," referring to Jesus Christ? The truth is, when the true ministers of the gospel preach the gospel, we don't hear just a man; Jesus Christ himself is speaking to us. We are told in Ephesians 2:14-16 that "he himself is our peace" and that he made peace by his death on the cross. Then in verse 17 we are told, "He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near."
Do you hear the voice of Jesus Christ coming to you? Hear him! When the preacher preaches, hear him! Jesus Christ is preaching to you through human beings. He is saying that God is holy and hates sin; he says that God punished our sin in his sinless Son, and that God will punish the sin of every unrepentant person; he says that God saves us from our sins, for sin is contradiction of God, it is enmity and rebellion against God. Hear his voice! He says that there is a final judgment, that there is a heaven and a hell. Do you hear him? Rouse yourselves! Awake, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says about hearing that if one truly hears Christ, "Christ and His gospel become the chief things in his life, he is mastered by them. . . ." (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984], 112). That is what hearing is all about. It is not gathering some information so that you can talk about the gospel. Hearing means Christ and his gospel become the chief things in your life. Your eyes are opened. When Christ proclaims the gospel to you, you discover by divine revelation the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, and you go and sell everything, that you may obtain it.
Christians Are "Taught in Christ"
The third aorist verb is also found in verse 21: "You . . . were taught in him." Believers are taught in union with Jesus Christ. The environment of the teaching is Jesus Christ himself. It is not a teaching of disciples who are detached from the master. We are united with him. He is the head, we are his body; he is the vine, we are the branches. We are taught in union with him, and so his teaching is effectual. When he teaches, we will learn.
As we hear Christ and are taught in him, we gain knowledge of God, which the pagans do not have. The pagan's mind is empty, darkened, and ignorant. But a Christian's mind is full of God, which in turn results in a changed life and holy living. We cannot have knowledge of Christ and live the same old sinful life. It is absolutely impossible!
The pagans are ignorant of God, and so they live a wicked life. Christians know God and so they live a holy life. That is why Paul says, you did not so learn Christ to live a wicked life. The implication is that you learned Christ to live a different life, a life as different as light is different from darkness.
The saints are God's new creation. They have new minds and understanding. Because they know truth, they act differently, for when truth grips us, we will live according to it. So our eyes are open to heaven and we will not buy real estate in Sodom. We will not trust in this world, which is passing away, rather, we will invest our time and energy and everything else in things that matter and things that abide.
Truth Is in Jesus
Verse 21 says, "Surely you heard him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus." Look at that phrase-"truth that is in Jesus."
Satan is a liar and the father of all lies. Jesus himself said so. The devil blinds the eyes of the unbelievers. Why does he do that? To keep them from knowing Christ. Oh, people may say they don't believe in Jesus Christ on the basis of philosophy and science and everything else, but the truth is that the devil blinded their eyes that they may not come to know Christ and be saved.
The devil teaches unreality every day. He darkens the minds of people and calls it enlightenment. People laugh at the Reformation, but exalt the Enlightenment, which extolled fallen human reason as the final court of appeal. So the bright professor will say, as he is taught by the devil, that "chance" produced mankind. But chance does not exist. But people will say chance produced inorganic compounds like hydrogen, carbon dioxide, water, and ammonia. Then chance produced, out of these inorganic compounds, bio-organic compounds like amino acids and sugars. Then chance produced, out of these, biopolymers like proteins. And out of these, chance produced the first living cells, like algae. Then, of course, it was very simple. After billions and billions of years, chance produced sentient beings such as man. In this view, there is no God, no meaning, no purpose, no morality, no heaven, and no hell; thus, the devil would tell us, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die."
So the devil is a liar and the father of lies, but Jesus is the embodiment of truth. Paul uses the word Jesus to call attention to the historical Jesus. Therefore, if we want to know truth, we must read the Bible, especially the gospels, to learn about the historical Jesus. The gospel is called "the word of truth" in Ephesians 1:13. Truth is found in Jesus Christ alone. It is he who said, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Paul says Christ is the one "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). When we learn Christ, we learn truth.
Philosophers did not have truth, thus they did not teach any truth. Plato supposedly said, "It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, who will reveal all things and make everything plain." Plato did not know truth at all. He was in a cave, where everything was dark.
But the word of truth did come in the person of Jesus Christ. The world is darkness, but Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). In Christ we are set free from all kinds of slavery to sin and wickedness and Satan.
Old Man Versus New Man
What do Christians learn when they learn Christ, when they hear him, when they are taught in him at the time of their conversion? We are told in verses 22 through 24: "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."
These verses speak of a putting off and a putting on of something. Now, this can be misunderstood as a command, but it is not. This is why it is difficult to interpret Scripture. We have to study it carefully. Many theologians have wrongly interpreted this text. It is not asking us now to put off the old man and to put on the new man. Paul does say that later in verse 25, but not here.
What, then, does this text teach? That we have already put off the old man and have put on the new man at the time of our conversion. (PGM) These statements are not imperatives, but indicatives. They are speaking of the reality that occurred at the time of our conversion.
We can prove this by examining the parallel passage in Colossians 3:9-10, which is very important in the interpretation of the Ephesians passage: "Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." Notice, Paul is referring to something that has happened in the past. The question is, when did this happen? "[W]hen you came to know Christ."
Paul is saying that the believers have been taught that when they were converted, they put off the old self, or old man. What is this old self? It is our former sinful way of living. At the moment of our conversion, we put off our old Adamic nature, which lived by the evil, powerful lusts of deceit.
This old nature is described in Ephesians 2:1-3: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at that time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts." The moment we come to know Christ, we put off that old nature and put on the new.
Thus, there should be a stark contrast between the life of a pagan and the life of a saint. It is a false Christian who cannot tolerate the gospel that demands a radical change in his life. It is a false preacher who says, "You can receive Jesus Christ and still continue in your old way of living. We will make it easy for you because we want to fill the church with people who want to do whatever they want. Come on in! 'Don't ask, don't tell' is our policy. You can live with your boyfriend or girlfriend; no one will ask you a thing."
But that is not what the Scripture is telling us. There is a radical contrast between the life of a pagan and the life of true Christian, between the life of the old man and the life of the new man, between unregenerate life and regenerate life.
When God made us alive in Christ, we were enlightened in Christ. We put off the filthy garment of the old man, the unconverted Adamic nature, and put on the clean garment of the new man, created after the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness of truth. All this happened the moment we were converted.
Paul affirms this truth in Romans 6:6-7, "For we know that our old self"-that is, our old, Adamic, unregenerate nature-"was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-because anyone who has died has been freed from sin." Paul uses the same crucifixion language in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ"-this is speaking about the old nature, the old man-"and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me," and again in Galatians 6:14, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
When Christ died for our sins on the cross in history, we died with him in our old nature. At our conversion, we affirmed this reality by putting off the old man and by faith putting on the new man. Therefore, in our Christian life, we now say "No" to sin and "Yes" to righteousness. We no longer walk like pagans, in the life we read about in Ephesians 2:1-3 and 4:17-19. We have put off the old and put on the new.
This means we no longer live by the lusts of deceit. Lusts of deceit are basic to the world economy. We can look at any form of media-it is all designed to engender lust in you. But sin will always deceive us. It promises happiness but delivers eternal misery. Sin also discourages critical thinking. Haven't you noticed that when you sin, you do not want to think about what you are doing? Sin always plays upon our feelings and desires, arousing them. Sin always creates excuses, causing us to blame everyone but ourselves, and especially God. And sin will never satisfy the sinner.
Before the Fall, our reasoning and thinking mind was to govern our desires, our conscience was to control our mind, and God was to control our conscience. But after the Fall, it was all reversed. Now, powerful, sinful desires control our mind, our conscience is dead, and God is negated. Thus, the fool says in his heart, "There is no God." But when we are born of God and converted, the old, decaying, rotting man is thrown out and we put on the new man of God's new creation.
Characteristics of the New Man
This new man, recreated in the likeness of God, is characterized by two things: righteousness and holiness. Truth produces a lifestyle, just as lie produces a lifestyle. The new man has abandoned lies and embraced Jesus, who is the truth. He learned Christ, he heard Christ, and he is taught truth in Christ. Therefore, a Christian is characterized by righteousness and holiness, which have been produced in him by truth. He is no longer governed by the powerful, evil lusts of lies, but by Christ's truth. Now he delights in the Ten Commandments. He is righteous in his dealings with man, holy in his being, and therefore holy in his worship and service to God.
A Christian should always be characterized by righteousness and holiness. They are necessary, not optional, fruits of the Christian life. So it is a lie and a distortion of the gospel to say that one can receive Jesus as Savior without experiencing any change in life. The Scripture repudiates such perversity.
First Corinthians 6:9-11 describes the clear difference between the old life of pagans and the new life of Christians: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." These were all violators of God's moral law. Now, notice, verse 11: "And that is what some of you were." Not are, but were. "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
Ephesians 4:28 also illustrates the sharp difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate life: "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." Note the drastic change between the pagan and the Christian life. Who said we should not steal? The Ten Commandments. Who said we must work? The Ten Commandments. The unregenerate person violates God's commandments, but the regenerate person obeys them, because he loves them and delights in them.
Therefore, a Christian can never be antinomian because he will keep God's commandments by the power of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, he will delight in doing so. But the vast majority of professing Christians are not regenerated. They are not new creations after the image and likeness of God. Therefore, they continue to live in sensuality and ignorance of God, practicing all forms of uncleanness with a continuous lust for more. But a true Christian is a new man, a new creation, created by God in righteousness and holiness of truth. Christianity is not a mere improvement or a matter of reforming, restoring, or refurbishing the old life; it is not putting on a coat or two of fresh paint of new morality. A Christian is absolutely a new creation. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." In this new creation, the image of God that was defaced is now restored. We are created in spirituality. We are created with true rational faculties, and given the ability to think. We are not given new brains, but are reoriented toward God, and so we are able to understand and interpret reality correctly. And we are created in rulership, in righteousness, and in holiness.
First Corinthians 2:14-16 tells us, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." As a new creation, the Christian receives from God everything he needs for life and godliness. This is what we are taught in the Lord.
"You Were Taught . . ."
Let us look at a few things from verse 22 about what we are taught. First, we have thrown off our old behavior pattern. Like a filthy garment, we have taken the old man, which is decaying to destruction, and thrown it out, once for all.
Second, we have thrown out our former governing principle of lies and powerful, evil lusts. We are no longer governed by lust, which is what governs the unbeliever and which is basic to our economy. Imagine how much trouble the economy would be in if people did not lust after new things all the time.
Third, we are being renewed in the attitude of our mind. You see, renewal must take place in the spirit of our mind. It is a daily thing. Daily, by means of the truth of the gospel, we are being renewed in the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, we have put on the new man-not a new, improved version of the old, but one newly created by God, one that delights in God's truth and delights in holy living. This new man is characterized by loving God with all his heart and loving his fellow man in righteousness and holiness. This new man is governed by the truth of the gospel.
These are the realities, the indicatives, of the Christian life. This is what we are; therefore, we are exhorted by Paul in verse 25: "Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood." Because we have thrown out the old man, we are able to do this and be what we truly are.
If you have learned one thing from this sermon, let it be this: "You have not so learned Christ." There should be a radical difference between a pagan and a Christian. The pagan's head is filled with lies, and, therefore, he will live a life of lies. But we are fundamentally changed in our minds. We are filled with truth in Christ; therefore, we will live a life of truth.
If you still are living as an unbeliever, I hope you will understand this: that sin deceives, that sin never satisfies, that sin impedes our thinking, that sin rouses up evil desires, and that finally it leads us to judgment. I encourage you to ask the critical question: "How can I know truth? Is there any hope for me? What must I do to be saved?" What will be the answer? "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." It is that simple. You can now move from darkness to light, from death to life, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of his dear Son. I encourage you to do so. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Second, if you are a Christian who is living a disobedient life, then you are not behaving according to truth. The reality is that you are saved and are a new creation. Your mind is full of truth, but you are living a life of contradiction. I admonish you today to start being what you truly are. We say to adults, "Don't act like a baby, because you are not a baby." You are a new creation. Behave as one.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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