Most of us realize that the unity of the church of God courses through the book of Ephesians as a general theme. Paul illustrates the church as a complete body of which Jesus, though in heaven, is the Head, and the elect here on earth comprise the rest of it. Early on, Paul declares how God has planned the organization of His purpose from the very beginning, determining whom He would call, give His Spirit to, and perfect as His children.
In Ephesians 4, the apostle begins to clarify our Christian responsibilities regarding works. He appeals to us in verse 1 to make every effort to live a manner of life that measures up to the magnificence of our high calling. He then makes sure we understand that we must carry out our responsibilities in humility, kindness, and forbearance as we strive to maintain doctrinal accord in purity.
He explains that Christ has given each of us gifts to meet our responsibilities in maintaining the unity of God's church. Foremost among these gifts are teachers who will work to equip us for service in the church and eventually in the Kingdom. This same process will enable us to grow to completion, to mature, no longer wavering in our loyalties, certain in the direction of our lives, and not deceived by the craftiness of men.
With that foundation, the "therefore" in verse 17 draws our focus to the practical applications necessary to meet the standards of the preceding spiritual concepts. We must not conduct our lives as the unconverted do. They are blinded to these spiritual realities and so conduct life in ignorance, following the lusts of darkened minds.
Because we are being educated by God, the standards of conduct are established by His truths and are therefore exceedingly higher. We must make every effort to throw off the works of carnality and strive to acquire a renewed mind through diligent, continuous effort so that we can be created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness (verse 24).
In verses 25-29, Paul moves even further from generalities to clear, specific works that we must do. We must speak truth so that we do not injure another through lies, as well as to maintain unity. Because deceit produces distrust, unity cannot be maintained if lying occurs. We must not allow our tempers to flare out of control, for they serve as an open door for Satan to create havoc.
We must be honest, earning our way so that we are prepared to give to others who are in need. We must be careful that what we speak is not only true but also edifying, imparting encouragement, empathy, sympathy, exhortation, and even gentle correction when needed.
In verse 30 is a brief and kind reminder that, in doing our works we must never forget that we owe everything to our indwelling Lord and Master. We must make every effort to be thankful, acknowledging Him as the Source of all gifts and strengths, enabling us to glorify Him through our works.
In the final two verses of the chapter, Paul delineates specific responsibilities concerning our attitudes toward fellow Christians within personal relationships.
This brief overview of just one chapter shows clearly how much works enter into a Christian's life as practical requirements that cannot be passed off as unnecessary. How else will a Christian glorify God? How else will he grow to reflect the image of God? How else will he fulfill God's command to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19) except by faithfully doing those works that lead to life?
Through the whole process of sanctification, the Christian will make constant use of two additional works: daily prayer and Bible study, which must be combined with his efforts to obey God. No one who is careless about performing these works can expect to make progress growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ during sanctification.
Why? Without them, he will have no relationship with either the Father or the Son, and thus will not be enabled to achieve the required works. They are the Source of the powers that make it possible for us to do the works God has ordained. If we do not follow through on these two works, we will surely hear ourselves called "wicked and lazy" and be cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:24-30).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)
Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow His example. This call is not so much a call to martyrdom as a command to deny self or, crucify the flesh, even to the point of death. We must be prepared to die, if that is where the course of events leads, but in most cases it is not so much literal martyrdom as it is to have the attitude of self-denial that is willing to give up all. Christ's disciples live to serve God, not self. Paul admonishes us to put off our former conduct and put to death our sinful actions.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial
This occurrence of "holy" (verse 24) is a different word from the other word that is most frequently translated as "holy." This word means "to be without contamination." If one becomes dirty because of work - say there is dirt on one's face, hands, arms, and perhaps some of it is grease - it is very difficult to get it off. Will that dirt that contaminates one come off just because one wishes it so?
No, we become uncontaminated, clean, because we work at it. The analogy is being followed through here. Paul's illustration explains that effort must be made to become holy, to be transformed into the image of God. There is action required on our part.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and Works
God's Holy Spirit imparts to us His love, giving us the power to obey His laws in their full spiritual intent. The repentant sinner is then a changed person - his whole outlook and purpose is changed as he is led by the Spirit.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: Salvation
Notice another interesting similarity in terminology whenever Paul speaks of the new man. Quite consistently, he uses the verb "to put on." The Greek verb is enduo, which means, literally, "to sink into." By extension, it means "to enter into," "to get into," or "to put on" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). New Testament writers often use it when referring to putting on clothes (see Matthew 6:25; 27:31; Mark 1:6; I Thessalonians 5:8; Revelation 1:13; 15:6; etc.).
Paul repeatedly uses the metaphor of putting on clothes when he commands us to adopt the Christian way of life. With the same predictability, he speaks of taking clothes off to describe the abandonment of this world's lifestyle. We see it again in Colossians 3:9-10, where he speaks of our "put[ting] off the old man with his deeds" and our "put[ting] on the new man." He uses the same figure of speech in Ephesians 4:22-24. In Ephesians 6:11-17, the apostle goes a step further when he tells us how to dress the new man: "Put on the whole armor of God."
God's consistent use of the analogy of donning clothes to describe our adoption of the new man tells us a lot about the choices we must make daily. The logical conclusion of the metaphor is as inescapable as it is meaningful: The clothing we wear is largely a matter of our choice. Unless an adult is in very special circumstances, as in prison or the military, he has wide discretion in the matter of clothing. His is the choice of what to wear and when to wear it. He determines when to take clothes off and when to put them on. More than this, it is a choice he makes daily—sometimes many times a day—as he determines what to wear in different social contexts.
So it is with the Christian walk, the way of life of the new man. Daily, repeatedly each day, we must choose to "put on" the Christian way of life.
That is what Paul is telling us through his splendid clothing analogy: Christianity is a way of life. We must choose to put on that way of life—and to keep it on. Just as we do with a well-worn garment, we must come to feel so at home with the new man—so comfortable with his way of life—that we absolutely refuse to take it off for any reason at all.
In addition, God's consistent use of the clothing analogy argues against the Protestants' false doctrine of eternal security. "Once saved, always saved" is the cry of some Protestants. Others put it in a slightly different way: "It was all done at the cross."
What is wrong with this? "Born-again" Protestants, so-called Christians who claim the new man was born in them when they "accepted" Christ, have in fact abdicated virtually all personal responsibility for their salvation! Take their thought to its logical conclusion: When we were physically born, from our viewpoint, it just happened—we had no say about it at all! It was out of our control. So, the "born-again" Christian believes that he "accepts Christ," and, presto, he is saved, forever born as a spirit being, a new man. Thus, now, in this life, he has no further responsibility. Christ did it all "at the cross" and must, upon his confession of faith, irrevocably save him.
This false doctrine permits its adherents to evade all responsibility to choose daily to follow Christ. True Christians know, because of the clothing analogy, that they have that ongoing responsibility to "put on the new man."
In describing the new man, the birth or conception analogy is conspicuous by its absence. However, by its repeated presence, the clothing analogy is equally conspicuous.
Choosing the New Man (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Ephesians 4:23: