Lesson 19: Positive Basis: Death of the “Old Man” Page 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Ephesians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians
By: Tom Lowe Date: 9/12/17

Lesson 19: Positive Basis: Death of the “Old Man” (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Ephesians 4:20-24 (KJV)

20 But ye have not so learned Christ;
21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.


When we are born again we are called upon to “put off” the old garments of the natural life, the natural man. We are to deny the ways of the “old man.” (The “old man” is by nature corrupt, and by nature follows “the deceitful lust.”)


20 But ye have not so learned Christ;

The “ye” is in sharp contrast to the “gentiles” (4:17{3]). The readers of this letter did indeed learn the Christ, but not in such a way as to condone their old pagan habits. When they received the gospel they were taught that Christian discipleship required the renunciation of all pagan vices and the cultivation of true Christian holiness. Hence, Paul’s meaning here is this; the ungodly pattern set by gentiles was NOT the way they “learned Christ.” His language is, to say the least, unusual. How do we learn a person? We learn subjects and facts, and we “learn about” people. Is this simply a different way of saying “learn from or about” Christ?

Perhaps. But becoming a Christian involves more than learning about Christ. It is learning Christ in the sense that we come to know Him. In learning about Him, we come to trust and love Him. To live as the gentiles do would be to have learned nothing! It would be to reject Christ!

Paul assumes better of the Ephesian Christians (21). This is not how they were taught! That is not the life that is “worthy of the calling” with which they were called into union with Christ!

21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:

According to Greek authorities there is a mis-translation in verse 21. It should NOT read “as the truth is in Jesus.” In the Greek there is no preposition “in.” The phrase should read, “As the truth is Jesus.” That is exactly what Jesus said to Thomas: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). The truth is NOT in Jesus; JESUS IS THE TRUTH. There is no truth apart from Jesus. For indeed there, and only there, is truth to be found; the lines of solid fact and spiritual reality meet nowhere but in Him, in this divine Christ who is also “the man Christ Jesus,” as historical as He is eternal. He does not just “possess the truth,” he does not just “tell the truth.” He is the Truth. It is impossible for Jesus to lie. When he speaks, His words are spirit and truth (John 6:63, John 1:1, John 1:14, Hebrews 6:18 and Titus 1:2).

“Truth” must signify, as it does so often in John, knowledge of divine reality; as the human name “Jesus” must allude to the historic person. The final truth of God, Paul is saying, is embodied in the Jesus of history.“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Jesus is the Truth, and in Jesus we have all spiritual blessings… But ONLY in Jesus.

What, then, were they “taught… as the truth is in Jesus?” In what practical ways had they learned Christ? The readers of this letter had been taught “truth as it is in Jesus.” The thought here being; whatever is truth or spiritual reality is embodied in Christ. The “in Jesus,” implies that their Christian instruction had come to them in living fellowship with Christ. For to “learn Christ” is not merely to master His story in the Gospels, or to pattern one’s life on his teachings, but to find new life and power and hope in communion with Him. Such truth can be known only by those who have “learned Christ,” (20) have “heard him, and have been taught by Him.”

When we trust in Christ the ties that bind us to Adam are broken and we are “adopted” into a new family and culture. We now belong to Christ, the new Adam and representative Head of God’s people. Because we are “in Christ” everything He did for us becomes ours.

If this is now the fundamental truth about our identity, we need to learn to live in the light of it. That is what it means to learn Christ and to be “taught by Him as the truth that is in Jesus.” It means to understand what has happened to us when we became Christians and what implications arise for our lives. It means being renewed in the spirit of your minds (23)—so that we think about ourselves in a completely new and different way.

Notice the the structure and logic of what Paul says in verses 22, 23, 24.

22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; This is a key statement and it takes us to the heart of how Paul understands what it means to be a Christian.

The essence of truth as it is in Jesus is defined by three little clauses; “put off”, “be renewed” (23), and “put on” (24). Let’s take a closer look at these three clauses, for that will be helpful in understanding this passage.

The first instruction for the Ephesians and for us is “Put off… the old man (or person).”—A part of truth as it is in Jesus is that “ye did put off once for all concerning the former conversation manner of life the old man.” The “old man” is an important phrase, because he is “YOU.” Romans 6:6 affirms that “our old man is crucified with” Christ. Colossians 3:9 asserts, “Ye have put off the old man with his doings.” The term personifies the moral and spiritual state of the pre-Christian life (Galatians 2:20{1]). Moule understands it to mean “all that I was as an unregenerate son of Adam, liable to eternal doom, and the slave of sin.”

The “old man” is not renewed, and is not converted. He is under sentence of death and is in the process of decaying. He grows more and more “corrupt” by virtue of the sinful lusts that belong to his nature. The only remedy is to renounce him completely, nail him to the cross, and replace him with the “new man” (24). When Paul speaks of “putting off the old man,” the image is that of stripping off a garment. The tense points to a definite, decisive, and permanent act.

In the heathen world, Paul saw three terrible things. He saw men’s hearts so petrified that they were not even aware that they were sinning; he saw men so dominated by sin that shame was lost and decency forgotten; he saw men so much at the mercy of their desires that they did not care whose life they injured and whose innocence they destroyed so long as these desires were satisfied. These are exactly the sins of the Christless world today, sins that can be seen invading life at every point and stalking the streets of every great city.

Paul says, “That ye put off… the old man.” Paul speaks literally about the “old man” or “persons.” As in Romans 5:12—6:14 (6:6 especially) the “old man” does not merely denote my earlier life but that earlier life seen as constituted in Adam under the powers of the old world. The influences of my past life linger on and need to be resisted; but I am no longer “in Adam.” I am no longer a prisoner of the old order.

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