A New Race of Human … Commentary on Ephesians, Pt. 4

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series A New Race of Human

Be made new in the attitude of your mind.
Ephe 4:12

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. 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. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 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; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephe. 4:17-24)

The Jews had been taught that maintaining a certain standard of behavior was necessary if they wanted to enjoy the blessings of being in a relationship with God. (Exodus 19:5-6) Theirs was a conditional blessing based on obedience, and it was intended to demonstrate man’s inability to please God even under the threat of losing all the relationship’s benefits.

When He brought the gospel to the Church, God asked us to adopt a certain standard of behavior in gratitude for what He had freely given us. Ours is an unconditional blessing based on faith. Instead of trying to please Him for fear of losing our blessings, the Church is taught to please Him out of gratitude for the fact that our blessings can’t be lost. This is the essential difference between Law and Grace. Jew and Gentile alike are called to obedience. God’s standards have not been abandoned or even lowered. What has changed is the motivation for our behavior. Rather than fear, it’s now gratitude.

And in this passage, Paul made it clear to us that we have the power to make our behavior more pleasing to God. By changing the way we think, and attitudes are simply habits of thought, we can change the way we behave. I hope you understand what a radical idea this was in Paul’s day. Even today this truth is unknown to most, although it’s the cornerstone of nearly all approaches to self-development.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when Harvard Professor William James declared, “A man can change his life by changing his attitudes of mind,” it was hailed as one of the greatest discoveries of his generation. And yet here’s Paul, 1900 years earlier, admonishing the believers in Ephesus to do just that.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephe. 4:25-32)

The first change in attitude has to do with relationships between believers. Since we’re all members of one family, we’re not to lie to each other, any more than we’d lie to a biological family member. Nor are we to leave disputes between us unresolved, for that reserves a place in our hearts for the devil to inhabit. Footholds become strongholds.

After the resurrection, belief in the any-moment return of the Lord was so strong that many simply left their jobs and devoted all their time to study and preparation. Those with substance sold their possessions and donated the proceeds to feed those without. This went on for some time, but Paul admonished the Ephesians that taking from the community without contributing to its well being was tantamount to stealing, and all who could contribute should do so. Earlier, he had written, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thes. 3:10)

Remember, he said, the Holy Spirit is sealed within you. Don’t say or do anything to each other that would embarrass Him. But, out of gratitude for what the Lord has already done for you, do likewise for each other.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephe. 5:1-4)

James Allen, in his book “As a Man Thinketh,” demonstrated that to a large part, our expectations determine our behavior. Wake up on an average morning feeling a little off-center and begin worrying that you’re coming down with something, and sure enough you do. But on a day when there’s simply too much that has to be accomplished, you can deny those initial symptoms a place in your hectic schedule and, first thing you know, they’re gone. Behaviorists call it the “act as if” principle. It’s based on our God-given power to choose any response we want to any circumstance that confronts us. Act as if you’ll experience a certain outcome, positive or negative, and you vastly improve the probability that you will.

Earlier in this epistle, Paul had explained that as believers we’re the inheritors of the Universe, so overwhelmingly loved by our Creator that we’ve been lavished with every sort of gift and blessing, raised up and seated in the Heavenlies at the side of our Redeemer. Now he’s admonishing us to act as if we believe that.

He told the Ephesian Church that their former behavior was no longer appropriate to their newly acquired stature. How different would the Church of today appear if we focused less on the Grace that we think excuses our base behavior and more on acting in a manner consistent with our exalted position before God?

Suppose we woke up on a Sunday morning truly believing that we had a personal appointment with the Creator of the Universe where we’d have the chance to tell Him how much we love Him, thank Him for all His blessings, assure ourselves that He’d be at our side throughout the coming week, and immerse ourselves in His abiding love. Wouldn’t we make sure to be on time, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, clean and presentable in our “Sunday best”? Thrilled to be there?

And on Monday, what if we really believed that we were going out into the world as our Lord’s Ambassador to spread abroad news of His love, that there was nothing that could happen during the day that could harm us in any way? That we’re living examples of the truth of Psalm 23, and that our work and the income it generates are blessings from God?

And what if we really believed, deep down in our hearts, that He’s with us every second of every day? Are there things we wouldn’t do, thoughts we wouldn’t think, for fear of disappointing, embarrassing or even offending Him? Would we want to risk having Him think that we aren’t grateful for all He’s done? Wouldn’t we want to make every effort to please Him? These are just three of the new “attitudes of mind” Paul admonished us to adopt.

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephe.5:5-20)

Repeated immoral behavior may be evidence that no regeneration has taken place. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus told us. And Paul adds, “What does light have to do with darkness?” Regardless of what a person might say, observable actions are usually better indications of his or her heart condition. “Show me what a man pays conscious attention to,” one of my teachers said, “and I will show you what his sub-conscious intentions are.” Avoid the habitually disobedient.

Instead, show each other and the world in general what a blessing it is to be in a relationship with the Living God. Approach each day with music in your heart, praying about everything, being fearful of nothing, and thankful for anything. See you next time. 08-22-04