Paul wrote Ephesians to believers who were living in a culture of unbelief and sin. As I read Ephesians 4:17-24 this morning, I felt like Paul was writing to me in my culture.
Verses 17-19 sum up the problem:
Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against Him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
Here's the turning point in verses 20-22.
But that isn't what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from Him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.
Here's how we do that (verses 23-24).
Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God -- truly righteous and holy.
This is big for me not because I forget that I live in a culture that is full of darkness and hardened against God, but because I start to think the goal is to be a little bit better than the world rather than to be as radically different as possible.
As I struggle against temptation -- and wow, is Satan attacking me in this time of my life -- I tend to live in justifications.
Entertaining "what ifs" and sinful thoughts are not as bad as actually acting on my thoughts, right? I mean, t0ns of people do the things I'm thinking about, so I'm not hurting anyone.
Paul says, "that isn't what you learned about Christ. ... let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes." Notice he doesn't say renew your actions, the things on the outside that are exposed. Renew your thoughts and attitudes. Those desires, lusts, judgments and rages that you keep entrenched on the inside where no one can find you out or set you straight. Where Satan can continue to keep you in secret chains.
Jesus said in Mark 7:21-23,
It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.
The only way I can get rid of the darkness that tries to take hold inside of me is to be filled with and renewed by God's Spirit. That means a lot of prayer and honest surrender of the desires that I want to cling to.
Dear X by Disciple describes the constant battle with sins of the heart and has become something of an anthem for me.