The Dynamics of Change (Ephesians 4:22–24)

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Doug Van Meter - 16 October 2016

The Dynamics of Change (Ephesians 4:22–24)

Ephesians Exposition

As Christians, we need to realise that there is no magic spiritual pill that will change our life, at least when it comes to sanctification. There is no secret mantra to “victorious Christian living.” Rather, if we will continue to become remade in the image of God’s dear Son, we will have to do it the old fashioned way. We will have to do some things. This is Paul’s burden in this second half of his epistle to the Ephesians. We have spent considerable time studying vv. 17–24, and we will bring our consideration of these verses to a close by exploring what I am calling the dynamic trio that Paul reveals concerning how change is effected in the life of the Christian: put off (v. 22); put in (v. 23); and put on (v. 24).

From Series: "Ephesians Exposition"

This series comprises the sermons preached at BBC during an exposition of the book of Ephesians.

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I was recently surprised to receive an email from my father. It was a simple message: “I’m so happy to share it with you! It’s absolutely amazing!” It contained a link and was signed, “Donald Van Meter.”

I say I was surprised because my dad died a year and a half ago. I doubt that people bother with email while they are in heaven enjoying the presence of the Lord of glory!

I clicked the link, and what appeared to be an article from the well-known Forbes magazine appeared. Its headline was, “Stephen Hawking predicts, ‘This Pill Will Change Humanity.’”

In what supposedly was an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, Hawking, the famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist purportedly credited a “brain booster” called InteliGEN with his phenomenal ability to use his brain. He was quoted as saying that this brain supplement works like those supplements used by body builders, except that in this case it strengthens the muscle of the brain.

The article claimed that many famous people testify that it “doubles IQ, skyrockets energy levels and connects areas of the brain not previously connected.” InteliGEN is said to be the result of work done by a team of neuroscientists at Harvard University.

One Harvard student who participated in this research claims, “As soon as I took it started working within minutes of taking it” (sic). Apparently it does not help one’s grammar! “All of a sudden, it felt like a dark cloud had been lifted up from in front of me. I was more alert, more focused had longer lasting energy, and experienced a mental clarity that I’d never felt before.”

The lead researcher is quoted as saying, “We are all very grateful to have this now, as I believe it can help everyone on the planet and take us to the next stage of evolution. We’re very proud.” I bet they are.

The article goes on, “But what does this all mean for the rest of us? Could this pill help ordinary people like you and me? The only way to find out is to try it.”

With one click, I was informed, my life will change. After all, quoting Warren Buffet, “the more you learn the more you earn.” If I take this pill, I “will never ever have to worry about money ever again”—though I may have to worry about the use of double negatives! “Who knows,” the article boasts, but “maybe this could be the one little decision that will change your life.” I doubt it. But I also have no doubt that many will fall for this fraudulent claim. Many probably already have, since apparently there are only eighteen bottles of the stuff remaining!

Though I chuckled at this, it really is not very funny. It is a scam. It is fraudulent. It is a lie. In the end, it will not produce for people what they think it will. They will still feel fatigued, their IQ will not change, and most will not see any increase in their bank accounts. There is no magic pill that will change your life.

But, as Christians, we also need to realise that there is no magic spiritual pill that will change your life—at least not when it comes to our sanctification; when it comes to us overcoming sin. There is no secret mantra to “victorious Christian living.” Rather, at the end of the day, if we will continue to become remade in the image of God’s dear Son, we will have to do it the old fashioned way. We will have to do some things. This is Paul’s burden in this second half of his epistle to the Ephesians.

We have spent considerable time studying vv. 17–24 about this matter of change and transformation. And we have done so because we must be grounded in the doctrine that drives our transformation. The principles must be grasped if the particulars will be experienced (4:25ff). In this study, we will bring to a close our consideration of this passage by exploring the dynamics of change. We will do so by first looking at some dynamic duos, and then we will note a dynamic trio.

This passage contains what has traditionally been labelled the put off / put on dynamic. It contains the principles of biblical change. It contains those truths that are necessary for us to embrace, to exercise for lasting and constant change to occur. May our study help us significantly in our sanctification.

The Dynamic Duos

Before exploring the trio for transformation, we first need to grasp the reality of the dynamic duos. An appreciation of the dynamic duos is necessary if we will appropriate the dynamic trio.

Being and Doing

The dynamic duo consists of being and doing—and always in that order.

We must be something before we can do something. Sadly, this is often where we get things wrong. This is certainly where modern psychology gets it wrong when behavioural change is the emphasis rather than attitudinal change. The gospel is not interested in merely changing behaviour. The plague known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very present in many churches. This is the practice of exhorting people to change based on some vague notion of God rather than on exhorting Christians to change by the power of the gospel. The result is a lot of so called “moral” church members who, in many cases, are not Christians or, if they are, are constantly frustrated and flustered by failure. They view behavioural change as the therapeutic goal rather than theologically, doctrinally driven change by the power of the gospel. In a sense, they put the cart of behavioural change before the horse of belief change. Those who are not Christians cannot live—for long—like Christians. But those who have been changed from within are then empowered (and responsible) to change from without.

In the parable of the soils, only one seed (the last) represents true conversion (Matthew 13:18–23). For at least two of the others, there is some outward change, but only one brings forth fruit with perseverance.

Infinitives and Imperatives

We can put this another way as well: We need the dynamic duo of hearing the infinitives before attempting the imperatives.

As explained previously, in these verses Paul is not (yet) commanding these believers to either do or not do anything. Rather he is reminding them of what they heard when they were saved; what they experienced when they were supernaturally enabled to hear and be taught the gospel of Jesus. And what they heard was the command to put off the old man, to be renewed in the attitude of their mind, and to put on the new man, which is created according to God in true righteousness and holiness.

By the power of God, mediated through the gospel, these believers did just this. The tense indicates that they did so once for all (cf. Colossians 3:9–10).

Again, Paul is saying that this is what has happened to them (see Romans 6).

And it is because they had experienced these infinitives that they were now in a position to heed the imperatives (see Colossians 3:7–8ff).

As many have pastorally noted, we must first be grounded in the indicatives (facts) before we are confronted with the imperatives (commands).

So, is this dynamic duo a part of your life? Have you savingly heard the infinitive and are you now able to heed the imperatives?

In John 11, Lazarus was raised from the dead. Jesus issued two commands in that text. First, He instructed Lazarus to come forth from the tomb, and second, He commanded that the grave clothes be removed. Really, these two commands were two sides of the same resurrected coin. He needed to be raised, but then he needed to be reclothed for the new life. Similarly, we need to be raised spiritually from the dead, but then we must be fitted for Christian living.

Putting Off and Putting On

At the risk of confusion, we need to see that indeed this passage very much has an imperative in mind. In fact, it has several implied imperatives, commencing with v. 25: “Therefore, putting away” (literally, “therefore, having put away”). And though the actual words, “putting on” are not used, the concept is clearly present as Paul commands that, in place of lying, we are to speak truth; in place of stealing, we are to work and give; in place of anger and bitterness, we are to show kindness and forgiveness. The point is that the expectation is that we not be left naked but rather, having laid aside the old rags of unrighteousness and impurity, we are to be clothed with righteousness and holiness. We took off some things, but only to put on better things. The next dynamic duo defines what this new set of “clothes” looks like.

Righteousness and Holiness

This new lifestyle to which we are changed can be divided into two categories, as indicated by the use of these two words in v. 24: “righteousness” and “holiness.”

“Righteousness” speaks of our conduct towards others. It involves our horizontal relationships and behaviour. The word integrity sums it up well.

The expectation is that we will live in such a way before others that we demonstrate that we have undergone a transformation. In other words, becoming a Christian is not merely a private matter; it is very public as well. Character matters. And character is displayed in one’s conduct. How we treat our fellow man matters.

So, how are your relationships? How do you treat others? What do your workers say about how you treat them? What does your family say about your integrity? People are watching!

If your neighbours or coworkers attend your funeral one day, will they be surprised if the preacher says that you were a Christian?

The word “holiness” speaks to our conduct towards God. It involves our vertical relationship. The word purity sums it up well. The attitudes of our heart matter to God. He looks on the heart. We might say that becoming a Christian is not merely public, it is private as well. Actions and attitudes matter. They matter a lot.

The point that I wish to make is that we must keep this duo of the new creation ethic together. What God has joined let us not put asunder. This expectation demands that we both put on and put off. And public life and private life must be integrated. A Wikileaks release recently revealed Hilary Clinton as saying that a politician must have both a private and a public position. That is an almost frightening statement to hear from a presidential candidate, but it is a sad reality that many professing Christians do exactly that: They say one thing in public but do quite another in private.

Union and Communion

For this concept, we need to return briefly to v. 21. Note that “taught by Him” (NKJV) is perhaps better translated “taught in him” (ESV). Then note the phrase, “the truth as it is in Jesus.” “In Him” and “in Jesus” are associated with a major doctrinal theme in Ephesians; namely, the believer’s union with Christ. This is evident by the repeated occurrence of “in Christ,” “in Him,” etc. (see 1:1, 3, 10; 2:6; etc.).

Apart from this union with Jesus, we would never be able to put off the old man because we would still be the old man! Nor could we ever put on the new man, for there would be no new man to put on!

But this union with Christ, of necessity, leads to communion with Christ. This is seen in v. 20. As others have pointed out, the terminology used here speaks of relationship. It refers to learning of Christ through being brought into fellowship with Christ. It is this very fact of partnership, of sharing in the life of Christ that we are moved to continue to be renewed in our mind so as to continue to put off and to put on. This duo is one of the dynamic results of the dynamic of the gospel (Romans 1:16–17).

To summarise: Assuming that we have really heard the infinitives, we will be able to do the imperatives. This is a very serious issue. I suppose that we can say that, in many cases, particularly in our nominally Christian country, the phrase “born again Christian” is a necessary description. Many have the guise of being Christian, but in Paul’s words, they have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). The proof of being is in the doing. Are you putting off and putting on?

Sovereignty and Responsibility

This brings us to a most important dynamic duo: Christ’s sovereignty and our Christian responsibility. It’s taken awhile, but this is a very important point. It is foundational. Without it there can be no dynamic trio.

The language used here is in the aorist tense: We have put off and have been renewed in our mind and have put on. These are predominately in the middle tense, which means that these things have been done for and to us and in us. God has done this. By sovereign grace, these have become our gifts. It is all of God: “But you” (v. 20) and “but God” (2:4). This is the explanation for our change. Salvation is of the Lord. If you successfully argue against this, then you argue away any hope of salvation!

Note that, in Romans 6:1–14, these gifts of our union with Christ occurred long before we ever arrived on the scene; long before we were born. Yet God ensured that we had a portion in this work of His. Thanks be to God for such gracious salvation!

But with the experience of this sovereign grace we have a new responsibility.

Expectations of Grace

What is very clear from these verses, and from what follows, is that the gospel comes to us, not only with its dynamic for change, but also with a demand that we change. We must not lose sight of this. Grace brings obligations. Assuredly it supplies what is needed for those obligations to be fulfilled—“grace for grace” as John puts it (John 1:16). Augustine famously prayed (much to Pelagius’s disgust), “Command what you will and give what you command.” But as we acknowledge this glorious truth, we at the same time must not minimise the seriousness of our responsibility to live a certain way as commanded by God.

Biblical Christianity is not fatalism. And it certainly is not quietism or antinomianism. Rather, there are obligations to live in response to the gospel of the grace of God. In fact, Paul is arguing that those who have really listened and who have really heard the gospel will continue to really listen and to really hear the gospel (cf.  John 8:31). The change that the gospel powerfully produced at the start of the Christian life is an ongoing change throughout the Christian life. We might say that the indicative of God saving us is proven by how we respond to the imperatives that God uses to continually save us. The attitude of our heart towards such imperatives is quite revealing as to whether or not we have learned and heard.

Let me make a very important pastoral point: Pastors are called, in the words of Eugene Peterson, to a ministry that is sometimes characterised as “naysaying.” We have to say, “No,” and, “Don’t,” and, “You can’t,” and, “Stop it.” Though this naysaying may appear negative, it is nevertheless very much a part of the good news. It is good news that we have been set free from the awful master of sin and Satan and self to serve our new Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. And, with our new Master, we get a new set of clothes. Our old prison clothes, stained with the ugly drippings of the old life, are to be shed and we are to dress up in the spotless clothes of the Christian life. Literally, we are clothed with Christ Himself.

The question is, how do you respond to such preaching? Do you embrace your responsibility?

The godly person, the person who is growing in showing the righteousness and holiness for which he has been recreated (v. 24), the person who has been “created after the likeness of God,” is the person who actively pursues this godly life. And it is precisely here where we move from dynamic duos to the dynamic trio.

The Dynamic Trio

We now come to the dynamic trio, which, of course, being a trio, has three parts.

Put Off

We put off the deeds of the old man (see Colossians 3; Romans 6). Like a filthy garment, we shed ourselves of it. We throw it off, throw it away. This will include: forsaking of sinful attitudes and actions; in some cases, turning away from some associations; pouring alcohol down the drain; cleaning out your cupboards and bookshelves; installing Covenant Eyes or the like on your computer, phone and tablet; Putting off racism; putting off idolatry; and putting off arrogance.

Put On

Like a new garment, having taking off the old and having bathed, you now put on the new clothes of Christ (Romans 13:14). In the early church, baptismal candidates were given new clothes to symbolise that truth.

Putting on a new set of clothes will include: putting on love, kindness, forgiveness, truth, sacrifice, purity, sobriety; putting on empathy and symphony and relational connection; putting on sexual purity; putting on a mind that puts others first; putting on the Ten Commandments: putting on the Sermon on the Mount; putting on new friends and associations; putting on new actions such as Bible reading and prayer and fellowship; and putting on racial reconciliation.

Put In

For us to continue to put off and to put on, we must be constant to put in to our minds the truth of God—that is, “the truth as it is in Jesus,” the ultimate revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1–3). And we are exposed to this ultimate revelation through the written Word of God.

That is, if we will continue to experience the dynamic of change, we must continue to be renewed by the transforming of our mind (Romans 12:1–2). And as we do so, we will increasingly grow in godliness. We will increasingly have the experience of the godly man as depicted in Psalm 1.

Psalm 1 is a beautiful old covenant picture of the new covenant reality of Ephesians 4:22–24.

The psalm is the first of twenty-six beatitude psalms. It is a psalm that reveals the way of happiness. It should also be a psalm that every Christian should be required to memorise! It beautifully portrays the person who puts off, and who puts on because they have put God’s Word in their mind.

It is also an anonymous psalm. We do not know its author. Some argue quite strenuously that Ezra was its author. That would be very apropos, but we do not know for sure.

I like the fact that it is nameless, for this invites each of us to make it our own. These six verses can be our own story. May God grant it!

What the Godly Person Puts Off

The psalmist tells us, first, what the godly person puts off: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (v. 1).

This godly, and therefore happy (“blessed”), person is committed to putting off some things.

When you combine the following clearly it amounts to a statement of ultimate allegiance. The godly person puts off ungodly advice (thinking or believing) (v. 1a), ungodly associations (behaving) (v. 1b), and ungodly attitudes (belonging) (v. 1c). Are you doing this? Will you?

This is not teaching us to be hermits; rather, it is teaching us the all importance of staying clear of influences that will draw us away from God and therefore from godliness. The concept of separation has been woefully disfigured by both misinterpretation and malpractice throughout the history of the church. Nevertheless, we would be foolish to throw out the baby of holiness with the bathwater of wrongheadedness. Holiness is still beautiful. And it remains a necessity if we will see God (Hebrews 12:14).

What the Godly Person Puts In

Second, the psalmist tells us what the godly person puts in: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (v. 2). As Kidner says, “Whatever shapes a man’s thinking shapes his life.”1

The godly person puts in “the law of the LORD”—God’s rules and standard. The godly person fills their mind with the truth of God. The godly person delights to submit to the rule of God and therefore to the rules of God.

In contrast to the ungodly person, the Christian (which is a synonym for godly person, and vice-versa) replaces ungodly advice with godly advice, ungodly associations with godly associations, and ungodly attitudes with godly attitudes. And this comes about because an ungodly appetite has been replaced with a godly appetite.

Note that this is not a sporadic delight; it is not a craving that is determined by circumstances. Rather, “day and night”—continually—the godly person is being renewed in their mind.

Though it may sound simplistic, it remains true that we must have a steady diet of truth. Put truth in so that truth can come out. But make sure the truth pierces your heart!

What the Godly Person Puts On

In v. 3, the psalmist tells us what the godly person puts on: “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”

Years ago, the man who disciples me, shortly before he moved to another town, framed these verses from Jeremiah and gave them to me:

Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.”

(Jeremiah 17:5–8)

In a word, the godly person puts on success. The godly person is just that—godly—and the ultimate expression of godlikeness is the Lord Jesus Christ. The godly person manifests the fruit of the Vine (i.e. Christlike character).

Like a tree planted by the rivers of water, their roots drink in the character of Christ and they bear His fruit—in all circumstances of life. This provides him “freedom from the crippling damage of drought.”2 That, my friend, is true prosperity.

The godly person’s “leaf shall not wither”—he will be healthy even when his times are unhealthy.

I have spoken to a lot of South Africans in recent weeks who have grown despondent about the future. South Africa, as I write, is in the midst of a severe drought, and the #FeesMustFall university protests have turned needlessly violent. Racial tensions are intensifying. Many are finding it difficult to be optimistic about the country’s future.

How should we respond to the events we are facing in our country? We should keep delighting in God’s law. We should keep sinking our roots deeply into the soil of Christ. We should continue to make much of our union and communion with Christ. We should continue to expect the patient bringing forth of fruit regardless of what we are facing.

What the Godly Pursues

Verses 4–6 speak to what the godly pursue:

The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

(Psalm 1:4–6)

The word translated “chaff” speaks of that which is rootless, weightless, or useless—of futility.

The godly person understands what is at stake. That is why they take God and His gospel seriously—deadly seriously. They know that there are only two ways to live and that one day there will be a parting of the ways (see Colossians 3:1–11).

Those who live God’s way demonstrate that they really have been saved to walk this way. That is the reason for the conditional “if” in Ephesians 4:21 (“if indeed you have heard Him”) and 1 Corinthians 15:2 (“if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain”).

But those whose allegiance is clearly to that which is ungodly will not stand in the judgement. They will be unable to, for only the righteousness of Christ is able to do so. All others, no matter how religiously righteous, will perish.

In other words, those who have not been empowered to put off and to put on, because they have not had a new mind put in, will be rejected.

How do you know if this has been done to you? Simple: Are you putting off and putting on through putting in? If there is no corresponding exercise of personal responsibility, then there has been no experience of gracious sovereignty. The dynamic trio can never be separated from this dynamic duo.

But before bringing this to a close, there is one final dynamic duo that we need to consider. It is inseparable from the dynamic trio. And it has so much to do with our putting off and putting on by putting in. In fact, as I will argue, without this we hinder our growth in godliness. Without this necessary partnership, the trees of our life will be cut off from the rivers of water that ensure fruitfulness in all circumstances of life.

A Dynamic Combo

The final dynamic duo is the Christian and the church.

As we have seen, the put off / put on dynamic is essential gospel truth, and like all gospel truth, it is two-sided. That is, from our side, upon our response to the gospel, we embrace the demands of personal responsibility. But this personal responsibility is to be partnered with corporate support. God has equipped His new creations for change by the combination of personal responsibility with structural support.

It is interesting that, in both texts we have looked at today, there is a corporate element as well as personal responsibility.

Ephesians 4:24 speaks of the “new man” (cf. 2:15). We should not read “new man” in a purely individualised way. Rather, since Paul is writing to a church, his words are inclusive of every Christian. This is not merely an individualistic exhortation but a corporate one as well.

Every Christian has experienced this sovereign grace of putting off, putting in and putting on. And therefore every Christian shares the same personal responsibility to continue to put off, put in, and put on. Since we all share this responsibility, we are to share the concern that we all do it. We need each other.

In Psalm 1 we read of “the congregation of the righteous.” According to the context, this is a select group of people who share the same passion to put off, put in, and put on. We share this passion together.

What I am simply pointing out is that both the Christian and the congregation—the church—partner together for change. This combination, when properly appreciated is a very dynamic duo.

You see, the individual Christian is not alone in putting off, putting in, and putting on. Others are doing the same thing. This is so important!

In other words, we do not merely exhort people to stop it and start it, but we also must utilise the structure of the church to help fellow believers to do so.

This requires that we humble ourselves both to be available to help as well as to ask for help and then to accept that help.

I cannot say this often enough or strong enough: Meaningful local church membership is absolutely essential for the transformation of the Christian’s life. Successful and heroically-victorious Christian lone rangers are as fantastical as the Hollywood story (though, of course, even he did not ride alone!). No, those Christians who grow in Christ do so as a faithful member of the dynamic duo—the Christian and his or her church.

Yes, you can grow in head knowledge as a lone ranger, but merely having a spiritual fat head is in no way comparable to having a spiritually fit body. You cannot have a well-nourished soul if you starve it of union and communion with Christ and His people.

Are you involved in your church’s small group ministry? Are you in meaningful fellowship with others? Are you accountable to others? Do you pray for and with one another?

Christian, make the most of this dynamic duo. Let us help one another. I am excited about some opportunities in the future for us to be further equipped as a congregation to minister to one another.

No, I do not have a magic pill to do this. But what we do have is the Word of God revealing the dynamics of change, and we have the people of God to implement these dynamics of change. With such a wonderful combination we can all expect this dynamic change.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Derek Kidner, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, 2 vols. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 48.
  2. Kidner, Psalms, 48.