By Jeff May
Ephesians 4:17-24 makes for good reading. In only eight verses, the Christian receives a wealth of information on how to conduct his life. A very clear distinction is made here between the world and those who have been taught by Christ. In fact, you could take a pencil and draw a line between verses 19 and 20 and have the dividing line between those in sin and those who are righteous.
In verses 17-19 Paul refers to the common walk of life among the Gentiles. These people pursued vain interests. They removed themselves from the source of eternal life, hardened their hearts so they could feel no regret and then gave themselves over to unbridled lust and uncleanness.
Next, in reference to Christians, Paul says, “But you have not so learned Christ.” He has drawn a dividing line and the message is simple. He is telling these Christians that they did not learn Christ to be of that sort! Those who have been taught by Christ and have heard him and know his truth surely know that he is the opposite of all that.
I believe that Christians still need to learn this vital lesson. We cannot live after the manner of the world. While we must live among sinners, we must stand out as being different. Another preacher once wrote, “Jesus could mix with publicans and sinners but he was never mistaken for one of them.” If we, as Christians, think that we can live like the world, then we have not learned Christ! True disciples realize this world is not our home. We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” and we are seeking a “heavenly country” (Heb. 11:13-16).
Since reading Ephesians 4:20-21, I have been impressed with its message. The true Christian has learned Christ because he has been taught by him. Someone once said, “Christianity is not bought, caught, or fought but it is taught.” You cannot be a Christian without learning Christ and his doctrine. Students of Christ are sticklers for remaining in his teaching (2 Jn. 9-11; Jn. 8:31-32).
Since Jesus is my Teacher, I am to be like him. Luke 6:40 says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (NKJV). My desire is that when people see my ways, they will know my Teacher. If they can’t see my Teacher, then I am not perfectly trained! People could easily see who was the source of motivation to the apostles. Notice what is said of Peter and John as they stood before the Sanhedrin council! “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Did you catch my point? Among these scholarly Jews, Peter and John were regarded as uneducated and untrained but they had no problem at all knowing whose classroom they had been in! They had been taught by Jesus and were very much like their Teacher!
Since Jesus is my Teacher and I have obeyed him, I wear his name. The Scriptures say that the “disciples were called Christians” (Acts 11:26). It is a great honor to wear the name of Christ. It is not something to be looked upon lightly because we were bought with the precious blood of Jesus, God’s Lamb. The name “Christian” is already losing its meaning in our world. People who are not Christians call themselves Christians. It is also used as an adjective to describe a “good” person. Just the other day someone told me about a man and described him as a “Christian person.” This simply meant he was a good man. Cornelius was a good person before he was converted but he wasn’t a Christian (Acts 10).
Saddest of all in our world is when people live any way they wish and still do not hesitate to call themselves Christians. We crucify Christ all over again when we do that! A story has been told about Alexander the Great and one of his soldiers. According to the story, Alexander the Great learned of a young soldier who was not conducting himself properly. The soldier’s name coincidentally was also Alexander. The young soldier was ordered to appear before Alexander the Great who very plainly told him something like this, “Young man, you will either have to change your conduct or change your name. You will not wear my name and act as you are acting.” We can take that story and make application to us. If we intend to live in the ways of sin ‘ then we should never tell anyone that we are Christians. It only hurts the cause of Christ.
Those who have been taught by Christ are controlled by his message and put their trust in Christ and his truth (Eph. 1:13). They are mastered by the word of God. A Christian’s delight “is in the law of the Lord and in his law he meditates day and night” (Psa. 1:2). He will study his textbook (Bible) daily and desire to come to a full knowledge of the truth and his Teacher. On the other hand, those who have not learned Christ will perish because they did not love the truth (2 Thess. 2:9-12).
In Ephesians 4:22-24, we see the results of being taught by Jesus. Having enrolled ourselves in his class, we do not walk as others walk in life. A transformation occurs when we learn his message. In these verses, the Christian is told to “put off, concerning your former conduct the old man which grows corrupt according to deceitful lusts and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness.”
As we ponder the role of baptism, we see all of the above things happening in that act. We crucify and put off the old man of sin (Rom. 6:6), are buried with Christ (Rom. 6:4), and we put on the new man who is free of sin. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). We become like our Teacher. It’s a new life for us now. Having been set free from sin we become slaves of righteousness.
While in college, I observed many people who needed to go back and enroll in high school to learn the basics. They needed to be taught again. I perceive that many who call themselves Christians are in a similar situation. They need to repent for having failed to learn what Jesus taught them and enroll themselves again in the course of eternal life taught by the Master. Once they learned the message they should then go and be like their Teacher. Are you like your Teacher?
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 8, pp. 243-244
April 19, 1990