Ephesians 4:21-24 Three Key Principles to 
Christian Growth

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on September, 30, 2022

Ephesians 4:21-24 Three Key Principles to 
Christian Growth with Study Questions

21 “If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus. 22 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, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:21-24).

“Why does a person with the Holy Spirit still sin?” Perhaps some are afraid of the answer or do not know. In any case, we must address this question head-on; otherwise, we will never discover the secret to a victorious Christian life. Here are a few questions that Christians face all at once.

  1. Why do I want to do good but sometimes do not?
  2. What is the difference between a believer and an unbeliever?
  3. I try to obey God in some areas and do well for a while, but then I fall. Why?

The three sound Christian life principles discussed in these verses help us answer them all at once. 

Verse 21 speaks to the believer in Christ—“If indeed you have heard Him.” The genuine believer has heard the gospel of Christ, believed in His atoning work on the cross and been taught the truth connected with Christ Jesus. 

Paul seems familiar with this struggle and shares his insights into the battle with one’s old nature (i.e., man). We will discuss verse 24 before verse 23, but this should not affect their proposed interaction.

A) Put Off the Old Man (Eph 4:22)

“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” (Ephesians 4:22).

The first principle discussed in verse 22 is putting off the “old self” or (literally) man. This old man is the natural heart or set of impulses that drive our decision-making and will. It is inherently self-focused and selfish. Every person, from birth, has a sinful nature. It doesn’t come later at maturity, when one starts school, or when one gets married. It is equally distributed among all ethnicities, men, women, children, castes, stations in life, the rich, and the poor; all are partakers of the fallen human nature. Love stands opposite to a self-serving life, having no regard for the needs of others. 

Paul’s general principle instructs us to “lay aside” this old man, meaning to take off, like when taking clothes off. Like clothes, our old nature clings to us and therefore needs to be put off before putting another on. It does not say to put off this or that sin. Later (25 onwards), it will tell us to do that. Let us try to understand this old self further.

  1. The old nature makes us feel at home with ourselves, but it is not our true selves as believers. The ‘old’ describes our old nature as passé, different from ourselves, and removed.
  2. We never ‘have’ to sin. This freedom from the old self is one of the grand liberties given to the believer. But of course, as believers, we can still sin and will sin if we do not put off the old self. Its presence assures us of its influence on us.
  3. The old self only generates sinful attitudes and behaviors. That’s its nature, just as an apple tree only bears apples. The sinful nature only produces impulses and desires to gratify itself.
  4. “What do we wear once we ‘take off’ this old nature?” We will discuss “put on” the new nature later in verse 24.
  5. We must ask ourselves how to put off this ‘old self.’ How is this done? Verses 25-31 provide examples.

This command implies that all believers, despite having a new nature, still have to deal with the old man. God has freed His people from this “old man” and so are to lay it aside so that it no longer dominates us. As a believer, Christ lives in us, enabling us to avoid the old self.

Application

What wrong things do you like to do or still find yourself doing? Why? It is because the old man is operative in that area. Identifying some bad behavior or attitude is the first step to overcoming it. Confession is always the first step on the path of holy living. It might be so embarrassing that one does not want to talk about it. The old man is capable of horrible things but advances and admits it, allowing us to follow the subsequent two commands.

The second command, challenging the believer to renew the mind, is found in verse 23. We will look at that momentarily, but we first want to look at the third command in verse 24.

Steps to overcome from Ephesians 4:22-24

B) Put on the New Man (Eph 4:24)

“And put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

Paul here commands us to “put on the new self.” It doesn’t take much observation to see that this is the opposite of putting off the old self. The NASB, unfortunately, does not translate the word for “self” literally, making it a bit confusing. The word translated self here in 24 and 22 is the word for ‘man’ (anthropos). This meaning is not very clear for English speakers. Other translations might be ‘animating spirit,’ ‘spirit,’ ‘nature,’ and ‘set of desires’ and refers to the central operating system by which we live and make our decisions.

Being found naked, Paul exhorts us to put on this “new self”  created in God’s image, “the likeness of God.” Man (i.e., Adam) was originally made in God’s own image (Gen 1:26-27). Much of what we lost in the fall (when man first sinned against God) has now been fully reinstated in Christ, at least before we receive our new bodies. 

Paul describes this new man as “has been created.” Though initially confusing, we must understand that this new nature has a whole new set of God-given impulses. I suppose we could say it only has one, to desire the holy things of God. Either way, it animates us to desire the things of God. 

The new man “has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Most of us have not thought about gaining a unique set of new desires upon belief. Once I became a Christian, I became a different person. I never desired to read God’s Word before, but, suddenly, I had a love for His Word—the truth of God. Earlier on, I had used bad language, but after being saved, 12 or 13, my language immediately cleaned up. It was still me, but it was a new me created in righteousness.

Paul makes us aware of these principles, so God’s Spirit fully impacts our lives. Satan strategizes to keep God’s people ignorant. For example, the apostle tells us to put on the new man. How can we obey this command if we do not even understand the new man? How can the Christian take courage if he does not know of this new man? 

If the Christian does not learn these things early on, he will assume these changes are just a stirring of his heart when he thinks more about Christ’s love. He will not know that this new nature is something he can always rely on.

This passage does not focus on guilt and cleansing here, as Paul later situated it here in chapter 4 where he teaches how the Spirit empowers us for holy living. In chapter 2, Paul speaks on justification’s theme through Christ’s blood. However, gaining the proper perspective of Christ’s forgiveness of our sin and cleansing from our guilt plays a foundational role in renewing the mind. Paul has already addressed this and therefore does not come into sight here.

Two Bicycles

Let me illustrate these two natures. Let me ask you, “Can you ride two bicycles at the same time?” No, clearly, no one cannot do this. Neither can anyone live by both the Spirit and the flesh at the same time. 

Picture an old, dumpy rusty bike. The tires have no air, and the brakes don’t work. Even the handlebars do not always turn. When riding the bike, you barely go anywhere; certainly, it never goes where you desire. You usually end up hurt from riding it.

I remember once hearing my two sons talking about biking. I heard my second son say he did not want to go. Later I asked him, “Why didn’t you want to go biking?” He told me he had no brakes. Our home had steep hills all around it. It is okay to have no brakes going up the hills but very dangerous when riding down them! I tried to help him get his bike fixed. 

Let us compare this to a new bicycle. The shiny, new bike has nice tires full of air, excellent working brakes, is easy to pedal, and even turns as you steer it! Now, if you had the two bikes next to each other, the old and the new, and you had to go riding, which one would you choose? Most people, except the most adventurous, would pick the new one. Even if you did choose the old one, after experiencing it, you would then select the new bike. 

I am comparing the old man (old bike) with the new man (new bike). We can only ride one at a time. Why is it that if the new one is so much better, we often choose the old one? Let me put it in Christian terms. Why do Christians live by their old man rather than the new man made in God’s image? The results are startlingly different.

Behind this question, we find why Christians do not always live by God’s ways. The Christian often sins because he thinks it is better. It would be evident if he looked objectively at both bikes, but he doesn’t. This is a trick of the evil one. Satan and his cohorts come by and whisper specific thoughts into our minds.

Do you ever take notice of the different noises that go on around you? There is a horn, a train whistle, a bird, music, etc. Often, because they happen regularly, they go hardly noticed after a time. The noise and voices of the television, ads and children’s voices are there, but you have got used to them. The same is true with the evil one’s suggestions (i.e., temptations). We have got used to them. If he made extreme or new suggestions, he would no longer be able to bait us successfully. He has to use familiar thoughts to go under the radar or get us off balance with anger to entice us with more extreme suggestions. Like in fishing, you must use bait that the fish is familiar with and can be deceived. 

Paul mentions the “lusts of deceit” at the end of verse 22. Satan deceives us to listen and believe him, suggesting, “Wouldn’t that be nice. You did it before. Didn’t it feel good?” The evil one can use different languages and phrases suited to each person. Let me propose a few others.

“Hey, isn’t she dressed seductively? Look more closely.”

“She spoke so rudely to you. You ought to give back just what she gave to you. She deserves it!”

“Wouldn’t you like a taste? Do you remember the last time you had some? No one is looking. Just take it.”

“Your parents don’t really understand you. They are being very unfair, making you come back at 8 pm. Why not just say a little lie about getting caught in traffic? That way, you would have an extra half hour.”

The evil one cleverly convinces you to choose that old bike even when the new one is beside it, but you are deceived. The desires deceitfully have you fall again for it; you forget and your old desires are awakened. What does the evil one whisper to you?

There is a command in verse 24. Put on the new man. We ought to decide only to ride the new bike, that is, to do the thing that is pleasing in God’s sight. Usually, the right thing is the opposite of what the evil one is promoting.

Christians still sin because they have not discerned the voice of the evil one and have not allowed God’s Word to affect their decision-making process substantially. We will now look at how to overcome the evil one and avoid falling for our deceitful lusts in verse 23.

C) Renew the Mind (Eph 4:23)

“And that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph 4:23).

Verse 23 provides another terse command, tying verses 22 and 24 together. Without it, we would tell people the first and third commands. Don’t do that; do this! With verse 23, the whole sequence of steps expands into a marvelous process by which we can overcome any sin, even for the long term. Many Christians try hard not to sin. That works for a while, but after they lose their clear focus, they fall back into the same sin pattern and sometimes worse. 

Is the word “spirit” capitalized? It theoretically could be the Holy Spirit, but it seems better to describe a person’s immaterial nature. It could then mean “be renewed” in your mind. The “spirit of” only further explains the mind’s inner reasoning. If the phrase refers to the Holy Spirit, it becomes clumsy.

We need to be renewed in the mind because this is where the battle is. Before getting on a bike, the decision has been made for riding either the new or old. Without the distortion from Satan’s deception, we would pick out the new one. But by being distracted and ensnared by our lusts, we are again convinced that the old way is better. Let me give you a few examples.

We might receive a suggestion on Sunday: “You don’t need to go to church. You have been working hard. You deserve a break.” It ties into our focus on our lazy desires rather than allowing the articulate Word of God to affect our decisions.

“Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

The Word of God speaks to this situation. It tells us, without question, that we should worship with others. The old man has us focus on our wayward desires while the new man goes to church. But just hearing this might not be enough. We need to let the Word of God impact our minds. When the truth of God illuminates our minds, then we are free to move forward to follow God’s way. 

We must ask two questions to get to the bottom of each sin problem. We first need to ask what is the evil one suggesting. Why does that phrase entice you? Then you need to ask what the Word of God says and why is that better? God’s Word will always be better. Just like the two bikes. It is obvious which is better; we should never be afraid to compare the two choices and results from the following.

God’s Word, often found in a promise or instruction, will give us extra motivation to obey Him. Hebrews 10:25 is an instruction. It reminds us of our mission to encourage others to attend the assembly of God’s people. So when tempted by sin, one should catch that ‘old’ voice, “You don’t need to go today,” and instead clarify your vision with God’s voice (i.e., His Word). In this case, you can say (aloud if necessary), “God wants me to go to church. This would please Him. He wants to strengthen my faith and in any case, He deserves all my praise.” 

We renew our minds by listening to God instead of the evil one. We are allowing God’s truth to influence and reshape our minds. When God’s truth is alive and active, then we obey Him. When we obey Him, we can compare obedience’s blessing with disobedience, riding the new bike with the old bike. You then proudly announce God’s victory by squeezing that shiny horn on the new bicycle.

We want to focus on renewing our minds (23) so that we take step three and put on the new man (24). As we continue through chapter 4 and into chapter 5, we will see this three-step pattern repeated regularly. We need to identify them and follow them.

Summary

The fight is fought in our minds before we ever reach those bikes. The tempter is prowling about, making suggestions so that we would feel controlled by the desires of the old nature. Those voices are not from the Lord but the evil one. Instead, we need to be more impacted by God’s Word by renewing our minds and allowing God’s way to inspire us to serve Him and others in noble manners.

Every time the old bike is ridden, we hurt others, probably fall into a mud puddle, and don’t get far. You walk the bike back to its former place, and recognize that you should not have taken it at all! You should have known better!

Pick out three weaknesses in your life where you fall into sin. For the next three weeks, focus on one sin per week. Carefully go through the three key steps, (22) identify the sin to put aside, (23) look for and think through Scripture that speaks to this issue and see if there are any additional comments which help shape how you should think about this issue and (24)  purposefully commit yourself to put on the new. Finish the time with a prayer. 

For long-term success, you must repeat the process (very consciously) until you can quickly pick out the evil one’s words and deliberate on your response from the new man. Once it is ingrained, you have added a shield to protect yourself to the evil one’s attacks in this area. His dark suggestions will be more pronounced, seeing how wretched that old bike is and remembering the excellent reward of putting on the new man!

The following verses, starting in 4:25, highlight Paul’s putting these principles into practice.

The two bikes illustration highlight Christian life principles.

Study Questions for Ephesians 4:21-24

  1. When we came to new life in Christ, what are the three transforming steps that we should see take place in every Christian’s life (verses 22-24)?
  2. What is the first step? Explain what it means in your own words (Ephesians 4:22).
  3. What is the second step? Explain it in your own words (Ephesians 4:23).
  4. What is the third step? Explain its meaning (Ephesians 4:24).
  5. How do the two bikes illustration help clarify this meaning?
  6. How is the new self (4:24) different from the old self (22)?
  7. (Advanced) How does becoming in the ‘likeness of God’ reflect the phrase ‘in the image of God’ in Genesis 1-2?

Application 

  1. Does verse 22 (lay aside the old self) describe a one-time event for the Christian? Why or why not?
  2. Can a person take the “renew mind” step (renewed in the spirit of your mind 4:23) without taking the first step (22)? Explain.
  3. How is the second step of renewal different from the third, putting on the new self (4:24)?
  4. Explain how you experienced these three steps of God’s grace taking part in your life.
  5. What step or area of Christian growth have you most struggled with? Explain.

Comments

There are currently no comments, be the first!


We noticed you're not logged in, please login before commenting, thank you!

Related Articles