Ephesians 4:17-24: Three Steps to Become Holy
June 8, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
How do you become holy? What is God’s method for your sanctification? First, let me define terms. By “holy,” I mean becoming more like Christ. Holiness has the sense of “set apart.” It is something special. So when you hear the word “holy” don’t think “restrictive, narrow minded, moralistic, legalistic.” Think “becoming more like Christ, becoming set apart as someone special and the best possible version of the person that God made you to be.”
Similarly, “sanctification” is a word that is either misunderstood or not understood at all. “Sanctification” is the process by which those who are already Christians gradually become more like Christ. In either case, the assumption of the Bible is that holiness and sanctification are not possible without becoming first born again, having the power of Christ within us. If you don’t have a story to tell about how Jesus met you, then first ask Jesus into your life and become born again, or a real Christian.
Having defined our terms, what then is God’s method for us to become holy, to become more like Christ? Paul outlines three steps here.
First, your thinking. Non-Christians have a certain way of thinking. Paul calls is the “futility of their thinking.” They are, he says, “darkened in their understanding.” When we become a Christian, we still have the vestiges of old ways of thinking within us. So the first step to becoming more holy is to think as a Christian. This means that it matters what kind of content we allow to come into our minds. This means that Christians of all people are to be people of clear thinking and educated mindset. If you want to become holy, or if you are struggling to become holy, the first place to look is to your mind. What do you think of Christ? What do you think of sensuality? Do you, in your mind, have the persuasion that following Christ is better than immorality? If not, you are unlikely to grow in holiness. So the first step to becoming holy is to grow in your thought life. Read good books. Don’t just skim the information vomit of the Internet. Select the best material. Read it slowly. Write about it in a journal. Clarify your thoughts. Is this true? Is this helpful? How does this proposition mesh with this other claim? What is the truth here? Think.
Second, put off the old self. In order to grow in holiness, we need to make an active commitment. And the first active commitment we need to make is to put off the old self. That old self is Paul’s way of describing the way that we used to behave and live as someone who was not a Christian. Those habits, those tendencies, those desires, all of that must be actively turned away from. Think of it as a set of clothes. You have a certain set of behavioral clothes. Put off this old suit. Put off this old set of clothes. Don’t keep those old behaviors in your wardrobe. Throw them out! Put them off. Put off the old self. This means radical commitment to what Paul elsewhere describes as “putting to death” or mortification. We must dig out by the very roots our behaviors and put them to death, put them off. Not just the superficial sin, but the sin behind the sin. Perhaps we find ourselves gossiping. Clearly, we need to stop gossiping. But what is the sin behind the sin of gossip? Do we like to be in control? Are we frightened that if we do not share that information with others we will not have good friends? Are we fearing people more than fearing God? If so, the solution is to develop a bigger view of who God is! You get the idea. Dig deep. Dig out the roots. Take off that old set of clothes.
Then, third, put on the new self. The new self is Paul’s way of describing the new nature that God gives us when we become a Christian. We are born again. We are new. We have a new self. We have become new. But now we need to work to put on that new self more and more. Again, think of it as a set of clothes. Put on the new clothes. Put on the clothes of being like Christ. Put on his love, his patience, his zeal for God’s glory, his mercy, his truth. Put on these characteristics of Christ. To do so means to try them on for size. When you’re not a Christian, you cannot please God. You cannot grow in holiness. But when you become a Christian, you can please God, you can grow in holiness. At first, some of these characteristics may seem a little foreign. Not gossiping. Not taking revenge. Being merciful. Being patient. But put on those clothes. Try them on for size. And gradually you will realize that they are who you are now as a born again Christian. The way to grow in love is not just to try to intend to love. The way to grow in love is to do something loving for the person you are trying to be loving towards. What would you do if you really loved this person? Whatever that is, do that! And you will find that over time, loving feelings will follow along behind the loving actions, as you put on the new self.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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