Moral Implications of the Gospel


“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 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, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:20-24).

Paul’s discussion of the spiritual blessings of the gospel in the first half of Ephesians (chs. 1-3) is followed by his teaching on the practical implications of the gospel (chs. 4-6). The apostle emphasizes how those who have been redeemed ought to conduct themselves in their personal, family, and social life.

How we are to walk. The imperative to walk in an appropriate way appears repeatedly in this section, setting forth a code of moral and ethical conduct. As believers we are to walk worth of our calling (Eph. 4:1); walk with a renewed mind (Eph. 4:17); walk in love (Eph. 5:1-2); walk in light (Eph. 5:7-8); walk in wisdom (Eph. 5:15).

Such a lifestyle differs from the ways of the world. Paul presents a before-and-after picture, contrasting the old and new life of the believers. Christians must no longer walk as they used to. The old way of life is based on an old way of thinking that involves futility of mind, darkened thoughts, and hardening of the heart. Willfully ignoring God in our thinking ultimately leads to a life characterized by the pursuit of the sensual and the practice of impurity (4:17-19).

Ideas have consequences. What we believe and think affects our conduct. Our moral compass is ultimately set according to our worldview. Bad thinking tends to lead to bad conduct. Leaving God out of our thinking eventually results in a self-focused life and alienation from the life of God.

The new self. Believers have embraced a new life based on a new way of thinking. In Christ, we were taught to put off the old self with its lifestyle as if we were casting off an old garment. We cast it off because it leads to nothing good. Instead, we have clothed ourselves with the new person who has been renewed in mind, attitudes, and thoughts. The new self is the kind of person God had in mind from the beginning when he created man in his own image (4:22-24).

The answer is to hold to Christ. Embrace what we have learned in him (Eph. 4:20). Learning and thinking of Christ, his truth, his salvation, and his life provide the proper foundation for living. Christ—what he has taught us and what he has done for us—is our standard. In his own life he is the model we are called to follow and emulate. Learning Christ means we grow to a personal knowledge of who he is. It is the cultivation of the inner person in faith and knowledge of truth, an on-going process of transformation and sanctification.

Moral implications of the gospel. Paul’s moral instructions in this section of his letter demonstrate the moral implications of the gospel. True faith in Christ and the gospel message of redemption will change our worldview—who we are, how we think, and how we live. At the same time, the instructions regarding how we are to walk in life are more than lists of dos and don’ts or rules to be obeyed. They reflect what God has done through Christ in bringing redemption.

So, we are to speak truth with our neighbor because we have laid aside the lie that we accepted in our old life, and because in Christ we are members of one another (Eph. 4:25). We are not to allow our anger to lead us to sin, because we do not want to give the evil one a foothold by which he could lead us back to the old life (Eph. 4:26-27). We are to put away stealing, because it is through honest work that we can, like Christ, share with those in need (Eph. 4:28). We are to replace unwholesome communication that can divide and disrupt Christian unity with words that provide edification and grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29). We are called to replace malice with the spirit of kindness and forgiveness that has been exemplified in Christ (Eph. 4:31-32).

We do nothing, the apostle says, that would grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom we were sealed for the day redemption (Eph. 4:30). Some behaviors, he continues, are neither proper nor fitting among saints, and should not even be named among those who look for the eternal inheritance (Eph. 5:3-5).

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). We have been blessed richly; let us live accordingly.

Dan Petty