Formations 03.03.2019: A New Way of Life

Ephesians 4:17–5:2

Poster shoes how to reinforce clothes amid rationing during World War I.

My clothes wear out predictably. Holes form over the left knee and under the right elbow. The heels of my shoes wear down at the outer corner. When Paul reminds the Ephesian audience “to clothe yourselves with the new self,” I remember my resistance to throw out old clothes (v. 24). Shoes can be resoled. The pants and shirts can be patched or provide the patch itself.

I like the idea of Lent, its awareness of dust and ash, in the same way I like what worn-out clothes show: how arms and legs rest and the paths that steps take. The fast, however, is less exciting. Paul focuses on what must be given up: “You must no longer live as the Gentiles live.” “Put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts” (vv. 17, 22).

Paul positions these fasts as necessary for the advent of a new self. This is a helpful reminder, for me at least, that the coming attention to sin and suffering serves to widen a sense of joy and liveliness. This reflects the ways the wider church will remember clothes in this week’s observance of the transfiguration. Jesus’ clothes shine in the meeting with Moses and Elijah (Lk 9:29). For us, too, flourishing, rather than austerity, might be the goal of the pursuit of holiness.

After the transfiguration, Jesus and the disciples leave the mountain. In the same way, the Ephesian church, who learned better, returned to old ways. These patterns of coming and going suggest a vision of life to come, even when the day’s suffering makes it seem impossible.


• When have you experienced some part of your community, environment, or self transfigured?

• What are the old clothes, trappings, habits, and responsibilities of our lives? Which of these might be put away? Which of these might be regarded as important?

• Toward what vision of ourselves and of our community can we walk in the coming season?

Reference Shelf

The New Self

The writer then calls for a “renewal in the spirit of your mind” (v. 23b; cf. Rom 12:2). Similar NT passages call for a rejection of the old lifestyle and an immediate acceptance of the new one (e.g., Rom 13:12-14; Col 3:5-10; 1 Pet 2:1-2). Some argue that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Indeed, pneuma consistently refers to the Holy Spirit in Ephesians, and this Spirit guides and directs the faithful (see 1:17; 3:16; 4:3; 6:18). Mitton counters that “spirit” and “mind” together in this context indicate one’s inner being (see 3:16). Concurring with Mitton on this point, Lincoln states that this passage “is functionally equivalent to . . . Col 3:10, which speaks of ‘being renewed in knowledge.’” I concur.

The author now exhorts the readers to “put on the new person” (v. 24). Lincoln correctly notes that “the new person” has both communal and individual connotations. The new person represents a new community composed of both Jews and non-Jews that has replaced the former groups. Second, each new person must individually live a morally renewed, different life. Lincoln is eminently correct. Ephesians’ “high ecclesiology” sees the people of God collectively and individually as faithful holy ones (1:1; 3:8), made so by Christ himself (5:25-27). They are righteous and holy (v. 24).

Thomas B. Slater, Ephesians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2012), 117.

Walking and Imitating

The first verse of chapter 5 gives wider application to the idea at the end of chapter 4. Christians are to be imitators (mimētai) of God. The exact phrase is found only here, although the idea is common in both the Old Testament and New Testament. As “beloved children,” they bear a family resemblance to God. But what does this mean? What is the nature of God that should be imitated? It is love (v. 2). To reinforce the idea that love is not an emotion but the willingness to renounce self for the good of another, the writer lifts up the example of Christ, who “loved us and gave himself up for us.” “Gave himself up” (paredōken from paradidōmi) is the same word used in connection with the death of Jesus. The point is that God’s love is generous and self-giving, and these attitudes must be the hallmarks of Christian life. (This background makes the same phrase in 5:25 even more potent.)

To “walk in love” (again, peripateite is used to indicate the pattern of life or lifestyle) is to “sacrifice to God.” As J. Murray wrote, “it is the service which we offer in the temple which we are.” The “fragrant offering” is probably a reference to sweet-savor offerings of thanksgiving in the Jerusalem Temple, but it would have similar connotations for the writer’s pagan audience (cf. Phil 4:18).

Bonnie Thurston, Reading Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 137–38.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.


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