“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20–24).
Paul now reminds the Ephesian church what they had learned by first telling them who they had learned. They had learned Christ!
The second person of the triune Godhead had become a baby and lived a perfect and sinless life for them. He had then shown a glimpse of His kingdom through His public ministry. He had battled temptations and spiritual warfare. He had healed the sick and raised the dead. He had preached of a new life, of the need for human hearts to be changed from within. He had gone to the cross to substitute Himself for all of humanity. He had raised back to life to secure their salvation. He had ascended. From His seat in heaven, He became the giver of new life for all who believe in Him. They had learned Christ!
In learning Christ, Paul used various phrases. First, they had “heard about Him,” for true Christian teaching centers upon Christ. Second, they were “taught in Him,” for, ultimately, He is the teacher. Third, they had found “the truth is in Jesus,” for true Christian teaching never leaves the environment of Christ. When it does, it ceases to be Christian.
It is not hard to imagine how Paul views all these phrases. He has just written that Jesus is the ascended head of the body, the church (Ephesians 4:7-10). From His exalted position as the church's head, He has given Word-based messengers — apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers who are to teach the saints the word of Christ, equipping His people for lives of ministry.
It’s as if Paul sees a human body. The mind or brain of that body is Jesus. The mouthpiece or nervous system of that body, communicating to all the body parts, is the word of God, especially as delivered through His messengers. The various parts of that body are the individual saints and local congregations scattered through time and nations. When the word-based messengers center their teaching on Jesus, about Jesus, and from Jesus, they are communicating most accurately His will for the body. It’s as if it is Jesus teaching the church, for it is merely His desire and will which is passed along by His messengers. It is not their message or will, but His.
But Paul has given thought to what the church has learned of Christ and from Christ. First, we have learned to “put off our old self.” The believer is new, the old man was crucified and buried with Jesus (Romans 6:1-11). But the remnant of that old man, the body of sin, must be continually put off lest we live in accordance with the old nature. Second, we have learned to “be renewed in the spirit of (our) minds.” We know we need mind transformation, Jesus showed us this, so we give ourselves to prayer, Bible study, confession, communion, acts of service, and Christian community in order to allow space for the Spirit to alter our spirits within. Third, we have learned to “put on the new self.” We know we are positionally in Christ, Ephesians has taught us as much, but realize we must put on this new nature daily so that we can experience the newness of life He’s won for us.
That Christianity is not dead religion should be evident from these exhortations. We aren’t merely told to go be different — “Stop lying. Stop stealing. Stop your anger.” No, Christianity doesn’t just give us a moral code to embrace. It gives us a Savior who gives us a new nature. We now live out the new nature He’s given us. We cannot do it alone, but He is there to help renew the spirit of our minds. As we surrender progressively to Him throughout the years, He changes us, and the new nature He has already given us become more and more our daily experience.
During Fall 2017, I taught Calvary Monterey the book of Ephesians. During the series, I also wrote about Ephesians in sixty-plus short, devotionally styled posts. Each Thursday, through 2018, I will release a post. I hope you enjoy. For the entire series, please visit nateholdridge.com/united-for-unity-posts.