In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul strongly urges the Christians to be more than just believers in Christ. He encourages them to become true followers who imitate Christ in their daily routine. He writes,
Eph. 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (NASB)
Have you ever considered what it means to walk worthy of your calling to follow Christ? If you are thinking it means you need to work harder to live up to God’s standards, keep reading – Paul shows us that God does not expect us to accomplish this on our own!
We read in verses 4-6:
Eph. 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (NASB)
We are all in this together. We are all part of one body. We all have one Holy Spirit. We all have one Heavenly Father. But within this unity, are individuals who each play an important part. Paul goes on to give us an amazing picture of God’s design for the Church:
Eph. 4:11 And He [God] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
Paul singles out a certain group of people within the church. These are the ones God has gifted and called as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. They have a specific role in the Church, and that is to equip or prepare the saints–the body of believers–to do the work God has called them to do. The “work of service” is the role of every believer; to be a follower of Jesus is to assume the role and the heart of a servant, who came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).
My favorite part of this passage comes next: When everyone is doing his part–when the leaders are doing their part to equip and the body of believers are serving as God has called them to do–THEN several wonderful things happen!
First, the Body of Christ is built up. The Greek word used here is the same word you would use for building a building. When the Body of Christ is built up, new believers are brought into the fellowship, and the ministry of the church expands and is more effective.
Second, when everyone is doing his part, there are benefits for each believer in the fellowship.
- We ALL experience unity in the faith
- We ALL experience unity in the true knowledge of Christ, and
- We ALL grow as believers into maturity in Christ
In the Greek, there is more than one word for knowledge. The word Paul uses is epignosis, or true knowledge. Paul says that God’s plan for the Church is to bring all believers into a place of deep, intimate, first-hand knowledge of the Son of God. His desire is not just that we know of Him, but that we truly know Him. And not just that we know Him in a second-hand sort of way, but in a true, first-hand, one-on-one relationship kind of way. Knowing Him in this way, we experience unity with one another.
Let me give you an illustration of what it means to have true knowledge:
Suppose we have three young people, let’s call them John, Bruce, and Larry. John, Bruce and Larry all go to school and learn that lightning can be dangerous.
Bruce and Larry are friends. One day, Bruce is walking over to Larry’s house when a thunderstorm rolls in. Suddenly, as Bruce is walking, he feels a tingling sensation and within a fraction of a second, he is struck by lightning. Fortunately, Bruce isn’t seriously injured.
Since he is almost to Larry’s house, Bruce runs the rest of the way, and when he arrives, he tells his friend what happened. Larry listens to Bruce’s story, hears the trembling in his voice and notices that Bruce’s hair is sticking out funny.
Now, what do these three boys know about lightning? Well, John knows that lightning can be dangerous because he learned about it in school. But John has never met either Bruce or Larry and has no personal experience with lightning.
It’s different with Larry and Bruce. Larry knows that lightning is dangerous. He has knowledge from what he learned in school and he has knowledge because of Bruce’s experience. Larry’s knowledge and understanding of the danger of lightning goes much deeper than John’s.
But Bruce really knows that lightning is dangerous. He experienced it. Bruce has a true knowledge of the danger of lightning. And THIS is the kind of knowledge that Paul is talking about. God’s design for the church is that we would experience unity as we share a first-hand true knowledge of Jesus Christ.
There’s more! Paul goes on to tell us more of the benefits of God’s plan for us as believers. Continuing in Ephesians 4 we read,
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
This is good news! It means the more we follow in the path that God has laid out for us, the less we will get sidetracked and confused by those around us. We will not be so easily deceived by those who would want to manipulate us or who want us to take sides in their arguments. And when does this happen? When Jesus Christ is at the head and when individual believers are doing their individual parts.
So, the first truth that Paul wants us to understand about walking worthy is that we are not alone. We are all part of the Body of Christ and each one of us has an important part to play in the proper growth and functioning of the Body. If you are a believer in Christ but you are not a follower, that is, if you are not doing your part in the Body of Christ that God has both called and equipped you to do, it is not only your spiritual growth that is stunted, but your neglect inhibits others from experiencing the full measure of the unity of the faith and the true knowledge of the Son of God that God intends for us to experience. The same is true for every one of us.
But think about it. The reverse is also true! If any one of us begins to follow Jesus intently, other believers we fellowship with will ALL experience more of what God has in store for us! Imagine what it would be like if you began to pursue Jesus… if you totally surrendered to Him and obeyed Him in that one area you have always been holding back! What do you think God might do?
We tend to want to understand everything before we step out and try something new. We want to have all the answers, or at least most of them. In other words, we want to be in control. But you see, Paul says we will gain TRUE knowledge after we jump in and do what God is telling us to do. Remember, regarding his understanding of lightning, Bruce was just like John until he had gained personal experience.
Now, I’m going to tell you something that might surprise you. Things like attending church and reading the Bible alone will only get you, as a believer, to the level of a Larry. Remember, Larry observed the effects of lightning in the life of his friend, Bruce. His level of understanding about the danger of lightning was far beyond John’s. But it was still secondhand knowledge. It was only Bruce that had the first-hand true knowledge of lightning.
You see, true knowledge does not come from learning alone. It doesn’t come from Sunday morning worship services. Neither does it come from spending time in prayer and Bible study, although learning the Bible, participating in the fellowship of the church, and in prayer are necessary steps. The true knowledge of Jesus comes from taking the next step and being obedient to Him. It comes when we move from being a believer to being a follower. And the only way to move from being a believer to being a follower is through obedience!
Paul continues in the next verses:
Eph. 4:17 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, 18 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; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
Paul is talking about the way the Gentiles live. We would probably say he is talking about “the world.” He says they walk about in the “futility of their minds.” Do you know what futility means? It means something that is meaningless and empty. Something pointless.
Paul says they are “darkened in their understanding” and “excluded from the life of God.” They are missing out on the blessings and grace of God and they are clueless. It’s likely they don’t even realize there is something that they are missing out on.
And their hearts are hardened. The more they harden their hearts, the more they “give themselves over to sensuality.” What does that mean exactly? Well it means they give themselves over to whatever makes them feel good. They allow their desires and emotions to determine their course of action.
Now why is Paul bringing this up? Because none of us are exempt from the temptation to live this way and, in fact, some of the believers in Ephesus were still living like they did before they received Christ. There was nothing much different in their lives. They were believers, but they were not followers. They were pursuing the meaningless and empty and missing out on the blessings and grace of God. They were allowing their desires and emotions to determine their actions rather than walking worthy with Christ.
Continuing from verse 20 Paul reminds them,
Eph. 4:20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus,
And what had they been taught?
Eph. 4:22 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, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Consider this with me. Paul says, if we are to walk worthy, we must lay aside the old self. In the Greek, this is in the aorist tense. It is a simple action. It is not something that just happens. It is a purposeful act. I love that word picture. Just lay it aside. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t fret over it. Just lay it aside. You don’t need it anymore.
To “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” means we must choose to think differently – we must allow the Holy Spirit to change our patterns of thinking and to bring our thoughts in line with what God says is true (compare Romans 12:1-2).
“And put on the new self.” You know I think sometimes we have trouble with this because we are still trying to fix our old self and make it look like a new self. But we don’t have to do that. Look again at verse 24, Paul says something amazing here. He says our “new self” has been created (past tense) in the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness. Our new self is already made, already created in the image of Jesus. We just have to put it on! Lay aside the old. Put on the new!
In the last part of the chapter, beginning with verse 25, Paul gives us some examples of what it looks like to lay aside the old self and put on the new self. He tells us to lay aside falsehood [that’s the old self] and to speak truth [the new self]. He talks about being angry, but not holding on to your anger. He talks about honesty, hard work, and generosity.
Picking it up again at verse 29, Paul says:
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
I want you to think for a moment about the words that typically come out of your mouth. Do you speak in such a way that it gives grace to those who hear? Do your words build people up or tear them down? Are you laying aside the old self and putting on the new self? Are you walking worthy in Christ?
Laying aside the old self is not a one-time act. If you want to be a follower of Christ, you must lay aside the old self, and put on the new self, daily. Jesus said it this way,
…If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
[adapted from a sermon originally preached 10/21/12]