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. Ephesians 4:17 NIV84
Did you see that word there, insist? I hadn’t noticed it until just now. This section of Ephesians packs a hard punch, right from the jump. I’ve read this verse countless times but as I read it now, with fresh eyes and prayers tumbling from my head as I try to frame this up, that word hits me hard in the heart–insist.
The call here, to live life transformed in the Lord, is not simply motivational encouragement. Following Christ is serious business, and Paul strongly urges–or rather, he insists on the critical need for the Christians at Ephesus to live a life that reflects this new heart–as in, live in such a way that the change on the inside, is obvious on the outside. Paul”s not talking about a prideful, boastful living, but rather a severing of ties with the old ways, which included idol worship and indulgence in various other sinful practices:
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. Ephesians 4:19-20 NIV84
The Gentiles were living life in direct opposition to the gospel of Christ. Paul goes on to name a variety of behaviors that are no longer acceptable for these new believers to engage in, including: lying, stealing, trash-talking, malice, rage, deceit, envy, and bitterness (Ephesians 4: 25-31)
Yikes. That’s a broad list of behaviors that I still wrestle to subdue from time to time. I’ve struggled with at least three of those just this week.
There’s a temptation to be discouraged by this list of common sins. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t stop there. At first glance, this passage starts to sound like an overwhelming list of “dont’s” that one might have serious trouble living by. But he is gracious in his encouragement for these people (and lets get real, for us as well), and his heart for the Lord encourages us as he offers instruction on how then, one should live a new life in Christ:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV84
Reading back through the passage again, it’s not difficult to see what the new life ought to look like. Christians are to be honest, and quick to forgive, slow to anger, and self controlled. They are to put aside their jealousy or prideful ways. he encourages us to live joyful lives, demonstrating grace and compassion towards their fellow man. If your familiar with Galatians 5:22-23, these characteristics ought to sound familiar as they are also known as the fruits of the spirit.
And so it seems that living the new life in Christ means our lives should reflect more of Jesus and less of our own sinful nature. And that remains our daily struggle in the flesh, to live by the spirit, rather than the body.
I’m confronted daily with the reality of this struggle as I parent my children. Some days I am just plain angry about their nonsensical ways. I envy other women whose children seem incapable of throwing a tantrum over having to wear the “wrong color corduroy pants, or that their waffle wasn’t “bendy” enough. It can feel impossible, this concept of living a new life, because the truth is, while our hearts may have turned towards Christ, we still live among sinners in a broken world.
Still, despite my struggle to live in complete obedience to this word, Paul’s admonition against living as a “gentile” and his insistence upon living transformed help strengthen me as I face the weakness of my humanity.
While the new life is available for all who claim that grace in Christ, true obedience to the call is a life-long journey. We should read this passage for it’s instructional usefulness, as well as it’s encouragement for our Christian journey. There’s a lot of really good advice to be received here.