Earlier in our study of Ephesians we saw how Christians are called to be different from the world. Our actions prove our faith, and once again the Apostle Paul repeats the truth that, as believers, we are to walk the walk we talk.
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Eph 4:17-24 NASB
Since the beginning of time, God commanded His people to deny self and obey Him. From Adam and Eve in the garden, to the Israelites in the wilderness, to the New Testament Church, Christians are required to live a life that honors God and rejects the things the world endorses. In our society today, the contrast between what God demands of His Church vs. what the world preaches as truth could not be starker. Right is wrong, wrong is right, and if we don’t agree with it, we are called insensitive and ignorant, or worse. It’s no wonder why Christ said the world would hate us, insult us, speak ill of us, and may even kill us for being associated with His name (Matt 5:11, Matt 10:22, Mark 13:12). Christ’s directives stand in such opposition to the world’s religion-of-self that it is practically impossible for them to coexist.
To be fruitful witnesses and representatives of Christ, we are obligated to put to death our old self, which is the flesh-centered, selfish way of thinking and acting. The lost see the truth of the gospel through our actions, and when our actions are dramatically different than the world’s we become the salt and light Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5.
Paul also taught on this subject in Romans 6:6 where he said, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”
Later in that same letter he wrote, “and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
Now saved by the grace and mercy of God, we are truly able to be detached and freed (literally: redeemed) from the world and our former mindset. By rejecting the desires of the flesh, battling temptation, and pursuing the truth of Christ, we are renewed in the spirit, by the Holy Spirit.
Accepting that we are sinners hopelessly dead in our selfish pursuits of worldly passions is difficult and requires humility – a humility that is granted by God to those His Spirit has beckoned (cf: 1 Cor 1:23-24, 2 Pet 1:3). But confessing our depravity is the first step in finding a true, saving faith and relationship with Christ (cf: 1 John 1:8-9). Now that we have been saved and have obtained God’s grace through faith, it’s time to put on the new self, with a mind continually transformed by the Spirit, in communion with God, rejecting sin and the corrupt passions of the world, and living in obedience to the divine call of our Master. And in doing so, we reflect the immensely bright, purifying light of Christ into the dreadfully dark world around us.