Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:20a “But ye. . .”
Paul here begins what will be an extensive description of the Christian life. He has been using harsh and severe terms to portray the corruption of lostness (4:17-19). With the sudden use of “but,” a conjunction of contrast, Paul makes a dramatic and abrupt change in his message. By using the stark language of divergence, Paul hopes to shock his readers. He wants to make one point perfectly clear–believers are to be different from unbelievers. Being lost and being saved are diametrically opposed. They produce divergent mind-sets, and thus result in different lifestyles.
Sadly, the line of demarcation often becomes fuzzy, hard to define, not as stark as Paul meant to highlight here by his radical and sudden change in thought. A recent Gallup poll examined behavior categories–people who called in sick when they were not, people who puffed their resumes, people who cheated on tax deductions–and found “little difference in the ethical views and behavior of the churched and the unchurched” (cited in Charles Colson’s The Body). Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be. “Modern Christianity is often not vital enough to be hated by a godless world; and it is not hated because it only deserves to be scorned” (Maclaren). Something is wrong when we cannot tell the lost from the saved. “Our Lord could mix with publicans and sinners, but He was never mistaken for one of them” (Lloyd-Jones). The same should be able to be said of His followers.
Eph. 4:20b “. . .have not so. . .”
The life Paul described in verses 17-19 is totally contrary to the one we live in Christ. A Christian is one who joyfully left behind an old way of life to walk a new, straight and narrow way. A critical part of being saved is the decision to turn from sin. John the Baptist preached repentance (MT 3:2). Jesus preached repentance (MT 4:17). Peter preached repentance (AC 2:38). Paul preached repentance (AC 26:20). No one can be saved unless they repent. The call to come to Christ is a summons to leave behind the world and its sinful ways. At Pentecost Peter specifically called upon his listeners to “be saved from this perverse generation” (AC 2:40). From the very moment of conversion, a believer chooses to separate self from the life lived by the lost.
Eph. 4:20c “. . .learned Christ;. . .”
At our conversion, we “learned Christ” in a way which forbids us to remain as we were. We did not merely learn about Christ, we learned Him, a reference to having a personal relationship with Jesus. Christians are Christians because they personally know Jesus. We have to leave a life of sin behind because our lives become one with One whose life is sinless.
Having described lostness (4:17-19) as essentially a problem of the mind, Paul now describes salvation in mental terms, also. His analysis is based on words from the scholastic world. Paul was highly educated. He knew several languages and studied under the famed Gamaliel (AC 22:3). Being well-schooled, Paul knew the language of the classroom, and felt comfortable using the vernacular of academia. In Paul’s way of thinking, a believer is one who has enrolled in the University of Christ and is making progress therein. In this school Jesus is the book, the teacher, the lesson, the subject, the sum total of the curriculum, the all in all.
To become a Christian involves submitting the mind to learn a new lesson. It is yielding one’s mind to a new form of teaching, the result being a new way of living. Christian learning has behavioral implications.
Eph. 4:21a “If so be that ye have heard him,. . .”
Paul is not implying doubt about the genuineness of their conversions. He is certain they did hear Jesus, and truly were saved. Using the form of a delicate supposition, the Apostle calls on them to verify the experience.
The Ephesians knew from the first what they were getting into. They knew up front that receiving Jesus required the renunciation of their former lives in sin. Paul himself had come to their city and with his own mouth had preached unto them the need for “repentance toward God” (AC 20:21).
All believers, at the moment of their conversion, through the inner working of the Holy Spirit, “heard” the voice of Jesus. It was the voice of a Shepherd who expected to be obeyed immediately. From the first instant of salvation, we are sheep who hear our Shepherd and follow Him.
If we truly “have heard” Jesus in conversion, we can not continue in sin. We who believe in eternal security believe that everyone who is justified will someday be glorified. We also believe, though we do not talk about it as often, that everyone who is justified will also be sanctified.
Eph. 4:21b “. . .and have been taught by him,. . .”
What we listen to, and whom we learn from, affects what we think and do. Julian the Apostate, the awful tyrant who sought to obliterate the name of Jesus from the earth, was not solely a product of his own making. He was trained under two heathen tutors who exposed him to profaneness. To what and to whom are we giving our minds? What literature do we read? What movies and TV programs do we watch? Beware! What goes in the mind ultimately determines what comes out in behavior.
Jesus is the best teacher. He is to be our obsession. The phrase “by him” is literally “in him.” The underlying idea is one of union with Jesus. He is to be the atmosphere of all our learning, and we should be allowing nothing into our minds which would be unwelcome in His presence.
We learn in fellowship with Him. Truth apart from the presence and person of Jesus has little power. Abstract doctrines avail little. A preacher’s words can go only from his lips to a listener’s ears. Only Jesus can press a message home. As “true preaching takes place, Jesus is invisibly in the pulpit and walking the aisles personally teaching his own” (Hughes).
Eph. 4:21c “. . .as the truth is in Jesus:. . .”
The truth we learn as believers is not to be defined theoretically or left to our whimsical definitions. It can be objectively analyzed. In Jesus we have a definite and tangible measurement. “The truth is in Jesus.”
Paul rarely uses the name “Jesus” alone. Of the some 216 times Paul wrote the name “Jesus,” he modified it about 205 times with words such as Lord, Christ, Master, Son of God. Paul obviously had a deep respect for our Savior and did not want to risk taking Jesus’ name in vain. To show respect, Paul almost always added an extra term of veneration. Of the eleven or so times Paul used the name “Jesus” alone, his intent was usually to point to the life our Master lived in the flesh (RO 3:26; 8:11; 1 C 12:3; 2 C 4:10-11,14; 11:4; EP 4:21; PH 2:10; 1 TH 1:10; 4:14). Thus, in our text, Paul is emphasizing that Christ, in his historic incarnation and earthly life, was the manifestation of truth. Jesus embodied His own teachings. Jesus was the truth in person. Only He could say, “I am. . .the truth” (JN 14:6). Pilate cynically asked, “What is truth?” The poor blind deluded lost leader had truth standing before him, but did not recognize it.
All truth which really matters can be known for sure only in Jesus. In Jesus we see the true standard for conduct–the virtues, the motives, the purity, and the holiness required of His followers. In seeking to learn how we are to live, we are not at liberty to define terms in our own way, or with our own dictionary. We are to reproduce His life, to define everything in light of the life Jesus lived.
Our own Baptist Faith and Message declares, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” Words, terms, and concepts presented in the Bible are to be defined in light of the earthly life Jesus lived. We have two words from God, Jesus the living word, Scripture the written word. The two go together. The written word introduces us to the living word, who in turn provides expression for the written word.
What is holiness? We define it by Jesus’ life. What is devotion to God? Jesus set the standard for us all. What is truth, genuine reality? We look at Jesus to find out. What is love? It is defined in Jesus’ life. Thus, those who speak of a God of love who would not send the lost to Hell do not understand love, for Jesus spoke of Hell more than did anyone else in Scripture. We do serve a God of love, but love as defined in Jesus. What is peace? Jesus’ life clarifies it. Thus, those who say we should compromise with error in order to have peace are in error.
Any trait in life worth practicing is to be defined in terms of Jesus. His death gives us a new life; His life shows us how to live this imparted life. “The sum of all duty, the height of all moral perfectness, the realized ideal of humanity, is in Christ, and the true way to know what a man or a nation ought to do is to study Him” (Maclaren).
Apart from Jesus, the best philosophers and sociologists have only wild guesses and human hunches to offer on how people should live. Plato once said, “Perhaps one day there will come forth a Word out of God who will reveal all things and make everything plain.” Interestingly, the culture of Plato was the first to kneel en masse at the feet of Jesus. The gods of Olympus were the first to die in the march of the Nazarene. Fortunately for us all, Julia Howe’s words are still true, “His truth is marching on.”