Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life (Handout)

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life
Ephesians 4:17-24

Main Idea Christians are called to live their daily lives in a way that is sharply differentiated from the world around them and from the lifestyle that characterized their pre-Christian past. Paul wants the Ephesians’ lives to be determined by their relationship with Jesus Christ and the new identity they have in him. This will involve allowing the Holy Spirit to change their way of thinking and to bring their lifestyles into conformity with their new identity.– Clint Arnold

Ephesians 4:17–24 (NIV)

17 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. 18 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. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.


As other Gentiles walk. He means those who had not yet been converted to Christ. But, at the same time, he reminds the Ephesians how necessary it was that they should repent, since by nature they resembled lost and condemned men. The miserable and shocking condition of other nations is held out as the motive to a change of disposition. He asserts that believers differ from unbelievers; and points out, as we shall see, the causes of this difference. “With regard to the former, he accuses their mind of vanity: and let us remember, that he speaks generally of all who have not been renewed by the Spirit of Christ.
– John Calvin

Paul longs to see the young churches changing their behaviour. The pagan way of life all around them is deadly. But you can’t alter behaviour without changing the mind; and the pagan, Gentile mind, he says, is foolish (verse 17), with darkened understanding and deep-seated ignorance (verse 18). This in turn springs from sheer hard-heartedness. A heart and mind like this produce moral insensitivity, the inability even to notice that some things are right and others are wrong. Once that’s in place, anything goes (verse 19). You won’t understand where the behaviour comes from unless you understand the state of heart and mind. And you won’t change the behaviour unless you change the heart and mind. This isn’t what many people today expect to hear. There is a persistent untruth which has made its way into the popular imagination in our day: that Christianity means closing off your mind, ceasing all serious thought, and living in a shallow fantasy world divorced from the solid truths of ‘real life’…  But the truth is that genuine Christianity opens the mind so that it can grasp truth at deeper and deeper levels… It’s a matter of the heart and mind being open to the ever wider range of insight and imagination that comes with ‘learning the king’ (verse 20). - N.T. Wright


The implied logic of this assertion is that the Ephesians have already “learned Christ” to a sufficient degree that they can walk in a manner worthy of their calling, in contrast to their pagan neighbors. At the same time, the notion of renewal and of clothing oneself that is part of vv. 23–24 indicate that although one may have “learned Christ,” there is still room for growth. Given that these seem to be the basic assumptions of this passage, one must admit that any of the options noted above could fit within such logic. One of the best ways to think of this may be to understand the notion of “learning Christ” through the lenses that Paul uses to speak of his own situation in Phil 3:7–14. Here Paul is speaking of the transformation of his own patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting in the light of “knowing Christ” (3:7–8). He has abandoned his prior perceptions about his identity and how he should act in the world so that he “may gain Christ” and “be found in him” (3:9). The result of such a transformation is that Paul would “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings,” and “may attain the resurrection from the dead” (3:10–11). As Phil 3:12–14 makes clear, Paul has in several significant ways already “learned Christ” (Eph 4:20). At the same time, learning Christ is also the end toward which he directs his future strivings. In Phil 3:7–14 and in Eph 4:20–24, Christ is seen as both the source of the transformations in Christians’ dispositions and habits of thinking and perceiving as well as the goal toward which those transformations are directed. – Charles Talbert