How much of our behaviour and lifestyle is derived from our upbringing and surrounding culture? How much is derived from Christ? Spend some time praying for insight and honesty as you come to this passage.
Instructions for Christian living
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
It’s as though Paul’s letter has been building up to verse 17: God’s eternal purposes in Christ; the generosity of God’s grace and desire to unite all humanity under Christ; the prayer for love that makes this unity possible; the understanding that true unity requires that we teach the truth and love each other while constantly depending on Christ. So…
Verses 17–19. Now that the Ephesians have changed allegiances, what is needed? (See 2:1–3 again.) What is the relationship between the Gentiles’ lifestyles and thinking? Why do you think Paul specifically picks out sensuality and greed?
Verses 20–24. It is perhaps surprising how central our minds are to discipleship. What are the ways in which Paul wants his readers to work on their thinking? Paul brings another image – when we join Christ’s team we have new team colours. So throw out the old uniform and rejoice in the new one! Notice how Paul speaks of a transformation of ‘self’. This is only possible because we have been given a new self, a new life as a result of our new birth (see 2:5).
In what ways is your new life in Christ undermined by an old lifestyle? Have you been open with God about this? Praise him for his forgiveness and pray for him to grow you more like Christ!
Deeper Bible study
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image’.1
The word ‘Gentiles’ earlier referred to Christians of different racial and cultural backgrounds, but here ‘Gentiles’ means the human world outside the Christian group. We live in the human world. The constant struggle for Christians is how to live in the world without being tainted by it. Paul describes the cultural context surrounding the first Christians throughout the Roman Empire as given over to sensuality, indulgence in impurity and the lust for more (v 19). Do we recognise our own society? The answer has to be both no and yes. Those of us fortunate enough to live in Western-style democracies and particularly, like me, in middle-class suburbia, know that our neighbours are decent, charitable, morally upright people. That is because, in the past, Christians have been the salt of the earth and their influence on society is still discernible today.
But my teenaged grandchildren are growing up in a world where indulging the self is becoming the norm. Celebrities are the new heroes: their opulence, their plastic surgery and their sex lives pervade our TV screens. Children encounter questions about their sexual orientation in primary school. They are constantly besieged by the media urging them to ‘just do it’. People on social media post happy images, Photoshopped to depict themselves always looking beautiful. Today’s reading tells us that self-images are deceptive, not only to others but to ourselves. The image we must cultivate is the image into which God wants to shape us, characterised by righteousness and holiness, words rarely posted on Facebook or Instagram. We must indeed cultivate a new image, not the world’s image but God’s image.
‘Higher than the highest heavens, / deeper than the deepest sea, / Lord, thy love at last hath conquered; / grant me now my heart’s petition, none of self, and all of thee.’2
12 Cor 3:18 2 Theodore Monod, 1836–1921, ‘Oh, the bitter shame and sorrow’
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Mark 5; Psalm 90
Pray for Scripture Union
The X:site National holiday was planned to start today, at a new site in Yorkshire. In common with many SU holidays, it is refocussing to be more accessible to children with little Prayers or no church background. Pray that holiday and mission teams will know how best to speak about Jesus to those who know nothing about him.