Ephesians 4:17-24: A New Creation in Christ, Part 1: The Old Man
Thomas Watson once said, ‘Dead fish swim downstream; living fish swim upstream.’ As Christians we are no longer dead, we can no longer go along with the world. We are no longer what we were so we can no longer live the way we used to. We have life and cannot live like we do not; we have God and cannot live like we do not. This is the heart of what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 4:17-24. We are in the second half of the letter to the Ephesians. Chapters 1-3 are mostly doctrine indicating what God has done for us, and the gospel realities we have been brought into. Chapters 4-6 map out the life that must now flow in light of these wonderful realities. Paul began chapter 4 urging the Ephesians to walk worthy of the call they have been called to, 4:1. There are two things we are called to that Paul maps out in chapters 4-6. We are called to be one, in other words to unity. 4:1-16 dealt with the issue of unity. But we are also called to holiness, and 4:17, pretty much to the end of the book deals with what that holiness looks like. 4:17-24 then play an important role in Paul outlining the gospel realities which ground the new life of holiness we are to live. Paul here tells us of the newness that God has brought about by the gospel which calls for the new life we are to live. In other words, Paul tells us what we are, before calling us to be what we are. You can see that he tells us to put the old away and cultivate the new, and then immediately in v25 he launches into putting of the old actions of lying, anger, stealing, etc. All of those imperatives flow from this indicative.
V17-24 fall into two parts. V17-19 describes the old way of living that we are to put off. In that section Paul shows how the old way of living flowed from the old realities that once controlled us, namely being dead in sin. V20-24, contrast with this as Paul talks about the Ephesians did not experience the gospel in such a way that left them in their sins. And so he calls them to be renewed and to cultivate the new life of holiness they have been saved for. So v17-19 looks at Paul’s description of the old man and v20-24 talks about how we are made new and should now continue to cultivate that newness.