I. You don’t learn Christ by sinning (Ephesians 4:20-21)
II. You learn Christ by: (Ephesians 4:22-24)
A. Put off the Old
B. Put on the New
A few years ago, I watched on television an edited version of a movie called “Trading Places.” It starred Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy. Ackroyd was a rich business executive stockbroker, and Murphy was a recently arrested con-artist. Dan Ackroid worked for two old men who decided to do a little experiment on the age-old question of genetics versus environment. Is a person they way they are because of their genetic make-up, or because of the environment they live in?
So they decided to trade Ackroyd’s life for Murphy’s without the two of them knowing it. If I remember correctly, Murphy got all of Ackroyd’s money and cars and houses and job…and Ackroyd was stripped of everything and put out on the street.
In the movie, it was amazing to watch the change. Ackroyd, not able to access any of his bank accounts or get into his house or go to his job – thought he was going insane and even become somewhat of a criminal. Murphy, on the other hand, became a distinguished gentleman and changed his lifestyle and language and everything about himself.
Now, near the end of the movie, Murphy and Ackroyd discover the bet these two old men had made, and together, conspire to financially ruin the two men – which they are able to do through buying and selling futures in oranges or lima beans or something silly like that.
These two men changed their lifestyles because their environment had changed. And among the things that had been changed were their clothes – what they wear. And we’ve all heard the saying that “The clothes make the man.” This was true in the movie, and surprisingly, it is spiritually true for the Christian.
As we work our way though the book of Ephesians, we find ourselves in a section where we are commanded to walk in purity. To be holy. To live a clean life. In Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul tells us to do this simply by changing our clothes. He says in this section that we didn’t learn about Christ by sinning, and so we won’t continue to learn Christ by sinning either. We only learn about Christ as we put off the old way of living, the old clothes of sin and works righteousness, and put on the new clothes of Christ’s righteousness.
I. You don’t learn Christ by sinning (Ephesians 4:20-21)
Ephesians 4:20. But you have not so learned Christ,
The word But points us back to what we saw previously in Ephesians 4:17-19. There, we saw that the mind is the core problem with all people. Paul told us in Ephesians 4:17-19, that the person who is not a believer in Jesus Christ has a futile way of thinking; they are ignorant and have had their understanding darkened. And as believers, while we too were once that way, we should no longer live like that.
But as we can all testify, this is much easier said than done. Even Paul, in Romans 7, said that he does thing he does not want to do, and doesn’t do the things he should do. That sounds like the daily struggle we all face, doesn’t it? So how do you become victorious? How do you defeat sin? Well, if the root problem is a futile mind, we need to get at the root and renew our mind, get a new mind, change our way of thinking.
Many of us are trying to get our lawns and our gardens looking nice and green. And a large part of this is getting rid of the weeds. But we all learned real early that it doesn’t do much good to just chop off the leaves and the stalk of the weed. You’ve got to get the root out. You’ve got to either kill the root or dig it up, or it will come back with a vengeance.
The root of our sin is a depraved and futile mind, and if we want to gain victory over sin, we need to get the root out. We need to get rid of that futile mind and get a renewed mind. And Paul tells us how in Ephesians 4:20-24.
He says first, of all, in Ephesians 4:20, that you have not so learned Christ. In other words, you do not learn about Christ from the sin which sprouts from a futile mind.
It may seem rather obvious, but we do not learn about Christ through sin. Rather, through sin, you get further away from Christ, and further away from being able to witness about Christ.
And although this seems obvious, it is not. Some Christians I have talked to say that they perform certain sins so that they can relate to non-Christians who are enslaved by those sins. For example, I have a friend who believes that in order to better relate with his non-Christian friends who get drunk every weekend, he needed to get drunk with them so he could understand what they were going through, and therefore, have some common ground to relate with them so that he could better witness better to them.
Jesus came to save sinners. But do you ever see Him getting drunk, murdering, stealing or sleeping around? NO – never. The Bible tells us He was without sin. And yet, do we think Jesus didn’t understand sin? NO – of course He understood sin. And He understood it better than any of us ever have. He knew so much about it, He knew to stay away from it. The way to understand sin is not by doing it, but by abstaining from it – and, most importantly – knowing what the Bible teaches about it.
Paul frequently wrote about divorce, and how to handle disobedient children – but he was never married and never had any children. You don’t need to have gone through the sin to understand it and to be able to speak authoritatively about it. All you need is a good understanding of God’s word (truth) and compassion for people (love).
In fact, one could argue that those who have not committed the sin have more ability and authority to speak on it than those who have. Why? Because committing sin just causes you to become more ignorant about it because sin infects the mind.
But in Ephesians 4:20, Paul is talking about how we learn about Christ. If you can’t learn about sin through being sinful, you definitely can’t learn about Christ though being sinful.
But even in this, some people try. In Romans 6:1, we see that Paul had apparently run into some people who thought they could learn about the grace of Christ by sinning. Paul emphatically denies the possibility in Romans 6:2, and here in Ephesians 4:20, he says it’s impossible as well. You cannot understand sin or Christ by sinning. It says here, you did not learn Christ by sinning.
Now some seem to think that this term learn Christ means “believe in Christ.” One commentator says, “To learn Christ is to be saved” (MacArthur, Ephesians). But the Greek word here is the verb manthano, which everywhere in Scripture refers to learning truth so that it can be applied and obeyed. Even the noun form of the word, mathetes, means “disciple” which we all know is someone who learns and obeys.
So what does Scripture say about eternal life? Does it say, “Everyone who learns and obeys has eternal life”? No. Instead, Scripture plainly says “Everyone who believes has eternal life” (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47). Learning and obeying is something you do after you become a Christian so that you can have greater fellowship and intimacy with Christ and with other Christians and so that you can store up for yourself treasures in heaven. To learn Christ does not refer to becoming a Christian but to developing in your personal relationship with Christ as a Christian (cf. Wiersbe, 40).
This same argument can be proved just by looking at the English. Paul says, “You did not learn Christ this way.” In other words, you don’t learn Christ by sinning, right? How do you learn Christ then? Well, logically, the opposite of sinning is obedience. Therefore, Ephesians 4:20 could also be understood to say that you learn Christ by obedience.
If, as some people teach, the phrase “learn Christ” means gaining eternal life, then Ephesians 4:20 is teaching that we gain eternal life by obedience. But obedience doesn’t give you eternal life. We receive eternal life as a free gift from God when we believe in Jesus for it. Obedience allows those who are already saved to learn more about Christ. To grow into a deeper relationship with Christ.
That’s what he says in Ephesians 4:20, and he says it again in Ephesians 4:21.
Ephesians 4:21. … if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:
The if here doesn’t mean Paul is questioning whether they had heard Christ and had been taught by Him. It is a first class conditional sentence, which means that Paul is assuming the truth of it. He is saying, Since or Because you have heard Him and have been taught by Him.
We saw in Ephesians 4:17-19 that we had a mind of futility. How do we get a new mind? By giving it a spiritual education. Ephesians 4:20 used the term learned; here we see the terms heard … and … taught. These three words contain the image of school. You learn when you hear and are taught. There is no such thing as a growing Christian who is not learning. There is no such thing as a healthy Christian who is not learning.
So ask yourself, what did you learn this week? As you studied Scripture, listened to tapes, as you prayed, as you heard and were taught by Christ? In the Christian life, there is no such thing as coasting, there is no such thing as standing still, there is no such thing as taking a break. If you try to do any of these things, you are actually going backwards in the faith.
Now the phrases you have heard Him and have been taught by Him cannot refer to hearing the physical voice of Jesus while he was on this earth, because there is no way that all of those Christians to whom Paul was writing could have heard Jesus speak. They were separated by time and geographical distance.
Paul is using a figure of speech here to refer to the preaching and proclamation of the Word of God. Scripture tells us over and over that when we read, and study God’s Word, it is as if God Himself is speaking to us. “When sound Biblical…instruction is being given, it may be said that Christ is teaching about Christ” (Stott, 179). When people or churches place personal revelations above the Word of God, they are undermining the Bible, and therefore, undermining Christ.
What Paul is saying here is that when they heard the Word of God proclaimed to them, they were hearing Christ. The Bible is the very Word of God. And according to the Gospel of John, Jesus is The Word, the physical manifestation of God and God’s teachings here on earth. So, when you read and study the truth of God’s Word, you are hearing Christ and being taught by Christ.
And that is what the last phrase in Ephesians 4:21 says as well. Paul writes, as the truth is in Jesus. Jesus is the truth. He himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). And in 1 John 5:20, we read, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
So, since you have heard Christ, and have been taught by him, what are the two specific directions to learn Christ to get rid of that futile mind – to renew your mind? Paul gives us the first one in verses 22.
II. You learn Christ by: (Ephesians 4:22-24)
A. Put off the Old (Ephesians 4:22)
Ephesians 4:22. … that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,
The first thing to do if you are going to learn Christ, if you are going to walk in purity, if you are going to become a holy disciple of Christ, is to put off the old man. The term Paul uses here for put off means to take off, or to strip off. It is frequently used of getting out of filthy clothes.
Imagine yourself working in a manure pit on a hot summer day. It’s slippery so your fall occasionally into the manure, and it’s hot so everything – including yourself – stinks. Now, when you get home, what’s the first thing you do? Do you go sit on the couch and grab a snack? No! You are filthy! The first thing you do is strip off those filthy clothes.
That is what Paul says here. Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows according to the deceitful lusts. The old man is the filthy clothes. It is characterized by deceitful lusts and everything that we saw in Ephesians 4:17-19, which is our former conduct, the way we used to live.
And notice that it can still grow. It grows according to the deceitful lusts. This means that, although it has been crucified with Christ, and although it has been defeated and done away with, it still resides within you, and is a part of you. This old man can grow into a strong man when you feed it by giving in to your lusts.
Rather, we need to die daily, and put to death the old man, and not give in to your lusts, and strip off those old clothes. And once you have gotten rid of those old, filthy, stinking clothes, are you done? No, you are not. You still need to get dressed in new clothes. It’s out with the old, in with the new. That is what verses 23-24 talk about.
B. Put on the New (Ephesians 4:23-24)
Ephesians 4:23-24. … and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
The main verb and subject of this sentence is the phrase put on the new man. Everything else is a sub-point under that idea. After you get rid of your old stinking clothes, you need to put on your new clothes. It’s the next logical step, and all of us do it every day. You don’t take off the dirty clothes, and then shower, and then put the old clothes back on.
Some people do this, I suppose. I had a friend in third grade who thought it was cool to be dirty – you know the way some third grade boys are. We went camping for a week one year, and he only brought one shirt and one pair of shorts for the whole week. Now he came from a very wealthy family, so it’s not that he didn’t have plenty of clothes.
By the end of the week, his clothes were so dirty and stained, that nobody wanted to be around him. I have a picture somewhere of how dirty he was. But it was so funny because we would go shower and then he would put his dirty clothes right back on while the rest of us put on clean clothes.
We thought he was crazy. But that is what some of us still do spiritually. When we first become a Christian, we get rid of some of those old habits, some of those old ways of living, and we live clean for a while, but, if we don’t replace the old with something new, we soon find that those old habits and ways of living are right back where they used to be, and stronger than ever.
When you clean out the closet, you’ve got to put something in there, or it will just get filled with garbage again. When you put off the old man, you’ve got to put on the new, or that old man will come right back. So how do you put on the new? Paul gives us two ways here in verses 23-24.
The first thing to do if you are going to put on the new man is found back in Ephesians 4:23. Paul put it here so that it is in the emphatic position. He wanted to emphasize it as of primary importance, so he put it first.
This first thing is to get a new mind. Ephesians 4:23 says be renewed in the spirit of your mind. The mind is the root cause of sin and corruption and deceitful lusts. That’s what Paul showed us back in Ephesians 4:17-19, and so here he says it again. If you want to gain victory over sin, you’ve got to begin with your mind.
What you know and what you think determines who you are and how you behave. Physically, you are what you eat, but spiritually, you are what you think (Wiersbe, 40). That’s Biblical truth. Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks … so is he.” So if you have sinful behavior and if you have sinful actions which come from that old man…I’m sorry to put it this way, but…off with his head! You’ve got to stop him from doing the thinking!
This is what is meant by the spirit of your mind. Your mind is not renewed simply by gaining knowledge, but by changing the way you think (Romans 12:1-2). And the only way to do this is through Bible study and prayer. As you immerse yourself in the Word of God, reading, studying, memorizing meditating upon it, as you pray through God’s Word, as you attend Bible Studies and listen to sermons on tape, and as you sit under the teaching of God’s Word, the Bible, which is living and active, will transform your mind, will renew your mind, will change your thought patterns, will give you a whole new perspective and outlook on life.
It’s that simple. But it’s not easy. There are no shortcuts here. It takes time, and effort and patience, and diligence and faith. As you do this, you will gain a new mind.
Secondly, you need to gain the new man. We already talked about the need to put off the old, and put on the new. But let me define for you what the new man is. According to Ephesians 4:24, it has been created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Created according to God means that it is a new creation. Paul is not telling us to renovate or remake our old man into new man. He is telling us to put on a completely new and different man. We are not putting on old clothes after they have been washed and mended. We are getting a whole new wardrobe. A whole new set of clothing. A whole new man.
And this new creation is according to God. In other words, it is what God is. Those who believe in Jesus Christ and then strive to become like Him are made like God! This doesn’t mean we become God, but that we become what God has intended for mankind. We become like Christ.
Paul says here that we become like him in His true righteousness and holiness. Righteousness refers to how we interact in our relationships with other people. Holiness refers to how we interact in our relationship with God. These two words summarize, by the way, the ten commandments.
So what is Paul telling us today? He’s saying, “Hey, as Christians, you need to free your mind from all that it once was. This begins by going to school. By learning the Word of God, hearing Christ and being taught by Him.
“And as you do this, you need to get a new wardrobe as well. You need to put on your back to school clothes. Get rid of those old, moth-eaten, manure-covered, garbage-bound clothes you used to wear, and put on heavenly clothes of light.” We must reject sensuality, pride, materialism, bitterness, anger, and a host of other sins that drag us down into the mud. These are complex problems with an incredibly simple solution.
Do you want to change something in your life? Do you want to get rid of something from your old way of living? The way ahead is quite simple – it’s not easy – but it is simple – learn from Christ, hear Him and be taught by Him as you read the Bible, pray and attend places such as church where the Word of God is faithfully taught and explained.
And as we do this, just like with Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd, the clothes will make the man. As we put on the new man, as we renew our minds, we will become new men and women of God.