Putting on the New Self (or: Reading and Applying the Bible) – 1

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newnessScripture: Ephesians 4:20-25

As believers in Christ, we have new lives, but from time to time all of us need to be reminded to live up to the new lives. To put off the old self, to be made new in the attitude of minds, and to put on the new man, are reminders that Paul gave to believers in Ephesians (4:22-24). In the rest of the book, Paul talks about practical matters that believers should pay attention to in applying these principles.

Although the book of Ephesians was a letter written by Paul to the Church of Ephesus,1 it still speaks to us today as we read it. No doubt the Holy Spirit has used it to speak to Christians throughout all generations for nearly 2000 years.

But how can we derive life lessons from a book that was written about 2000 years ago when we are living in an era which seems to be so different from that of 2000 years ago?

First of all, although outward things and technologies have changed a lot, deep inside human beings haven’t changed that much, if at all. Secondly, the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of the Bible is still living and still speaks to us today! Thirdly, although our specific situations might be different from those mentioned in the Bible, the principles given by God in handling them are the same in comparable situations.

A few suggestions concerning reading and applying the Bible will be given here:2

Look for abiding principles.

Verse 25 says “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor.” This is clearly a timeless teaching to all Christians. People who lived in Paul’s days as well as believers today are to take this teaching and learn to apply it in our daily lives.

Think of comparable situations.

In this passage the word “neighbor” seems to suggest brothers and sisters in the Church, as the verse say “for we are members of one another.” If we have been untruthful to our brothers and sisters, of course we should be reminded of this teaching and change our behavior.

But depending on how we were brought up and how long we have been a Christian, we might not speak untruthfully to our “neighbor” in the Church, so we might not find a situation that is exactly the same as the situation mentioned.

However, the general principle is that we are to get rid of the old and un-Christian ways of handling our relationship with others and that we should handle them in a Christian manner instead. If we think of this principle, then there are plenty of situations which do not involve falsehood or lying but to which we can also apply the same principle.

Examples include handling disagreements or disputes. This passage certainly reminds us not to handle them in a worldly way but in a Christian way. These are examples that we can learn lessons from the Bible even when the situation is not exactly the same but is comparable.3

Consider historical background and context.

Even a simple consideration on the background of Ephesus will give us a better understanding of the passage. The believers in Ephesus were gentiles by birth. They were not under the influence of the the Old Testament teaching, so they had their own way of living and their own philosophy of life. Paul’s teaching is that once they knew Christ, they should get rid of the old way but change to the new way.

Some/many Christians do not have a pagan background as the Ephesians did, but if we do not have a solid background in the Bible, we are likely influenced by the world more than by the word of God, so Paul’s message to the Ephesians is the same to us today.

Thus verse 25 is not simply telling us not to lie, but it is a call to change our old way of living to a new one. Such message is often missed if we do not consider the background of the original readers.

Remember the overall message.

We are still in the division of “liv[ing] a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1), under the discussion of “unity in faith” and “speaking truth in love” (4:13-15) and in the section discussing “putting off the old self” and “putting on the new self” (4:22-24).

Instead of taking v. 25 in isolation, we should see the big picture and understand the context.

Hopefully this article illustrates a few principles of bible interpretation and application. We will look at some other teachings in next article.


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.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

(Eph 4:20-25 TNIV)

 

  1. The recipients might include other churches as this letter is most likely a circular letter. See the “Additional Information” section in Praise be to God: A Call to Praise.
  2. It is impossible to discuss all issues related to Bible reading and application in a short blog article. Interested readers are strongly suggested to read Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), chaps 3 – 4. The whole book is worth reading and then reading again.
  3. It is hard to define what is a genuinely comparable situation. Again the reader is encouraged to read the book by Fee and Stuart mentioned in previous footnote.

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