The believer, "through the law," as shown by the apostle Paul, is "dead to the law," that he may "live unto God." He can say, like Paul, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." This is his standing before God, and the result upon his outward conduct should be, as with the apostle, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:19, 20.) He has no longer the law, but Christ, for his standard. To live Christ, that is, to reproduce as it were the life of Christ in our own, is true Christian walk. Christ always walked in the Spirit, and if we are walking in the Spirit we "shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh," but shall bring forth those fruits of the Spirit - that "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," which adorn in such rich clusters the life of the blessed Lord. (Gal 5:20-23.) It is impossible to gather grapes from the thorns of the old nature. Christ is the true vine, the one stock from which fruit for God can be brought forth. Only as we are branches abiding in Him can we bear fruit like His own; only thus is it possible for us "so to walk even as He walked." (John 15:5; 1 John 2:6.)
These truths are beautifully brought out in the passage now before us. The apostle having shown how a believer can walk worthy of the vocation wherewith he is called in the church, next goes on to indicate how he should carry out the same principle in his conduct towards his fellow-men, whether believers or unbelievers. He does not put Gentile converts under law; but while not bringing them on to Jewish ground, he carefully removes them from Gentile. "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness (or hardness) of their heart; who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." (v. 17-19.)
Such is man, as fallen, and left to the guidance of natural conscience and reason. Truly he is "without excuse," for the ignorance is not a guiltless one. "When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was hardened." It was because "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge" that He "gave them over to a reprobate mind," or a mind void of judgment. (Rom. 1:21, 28.) So in the passage we are considering. It is "because of the hardness of their heart" that their understanding is darkened, and in their ignorance they are alienated from the life of God. Thus they walk "in the vanity of their mind," the vain, sinful desires and feelings of the natural heart being their only guide. Nor is this all. Corrupt appetites, followed without restraint, soon deaden the conscience and poison the affections, so that all right natural feeling is lost. This is the lamentable condition of the Gentile world. They are "past feeling," the restraints of conscience and even decency are removed, and giving themselves over to depraved appetites, they "work all uncleanness with greediness." Thus it was with the world before the flood, when the whole earth was filled with "corruption and violence." Thus it was with the cities of the plain, till God rained upon them fire and brimstone from heaven. Thus it ever has been when man has been left to himself to follow the leading of his own evil heart.
But the Ephesians had, through grace, been brought out of this state of things. They had another guide, as widely removed from mere natural conscience on the one side as from law on the other. "But ye," says the apostle, "have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard Him, and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth." (v. 20-24.) These Ephesians had learnt, not law, but Christ. They had by faith heard Him, and been taught by - or rather in - Him, according to the truth of which His own life as man had been the perfect and divine manifestation. The truth as it is in Jesus does not mean the doctrinal truth of salvation, but the perfect, holy walk of truth, as shown in His person; for when Jesus is spoken of in this way it refers to His life and walk here in the world. The Ephesians had "learned Christ" in the only way in which He can be learned. The natural man may learn of Christ; the spiritual man alone can learn Him. For "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14.) There must be the hearing ear before Christ's words can be understood. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word." (John 8:43.) The Ephesians had heard Christ, and been instructed in Him. The words that He spoke, they are spirit and they are life," and they had produced their quickening power on the hearts of these saints. Hence they knew the truth as it showed itself in the spotless, holy life of Jesus.
This was to be practically manifested in their own lives. They belonged no more to the flesh, and therefore their walk was not to be according to the old model - "the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." They had done with the old creation, as to their standing before God, and were seen in a new creation, as quickened together with Christ. This then was to be their new model. Being "renewed in the spirit of their mind," they were to walk after a new fashion, not according to the law of the old nature, but as having "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth." The new man is man in the new creation - the creation which has its head in Christ, the creation which draws its character from Christ. To walk as having put on the new man is therefore to walk as Christ walked; for this new man is created according to God's nature in righteousness and holiness suited to His own truth.
This standard once acknowledged, practical results are to follow; and it is interesting to see how even the most common-place acts are submitted to this new test. Thus the apostle says, "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another." (v. 25.) Moral philosophers have discussed the question why men should not lie, and wide differences have existed among them on the subject. But moral philosophy never assigned as a reason anything like what is given here. The life of Christ is to be our rule, not worked out through imitation, but worked out by the fact that we are quickened together with Him, and created anew on His model. This settles the whole question. Who can imagine falsehood from the lips of Him whose words were the words of God, and whose truth was the truth of God? Just as little could falsehood be found in the lips of one who walked in His spirit, showed forth His life.
There is, indeed, another reason given, also characteristic of this epistle, "for we are members one of another." How practical the "one body" is. No man would lie to himself; no man could imagine the hand trying to deceive the foot, or the ears trying to deceive the eyes. Just as little should believers in Christ deceive each other. Being members of Christ, "were members one of another" - parts, as it were, of the "one new man" which Christ has made us "in Himself."
Another result is seen in the next admonition, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil." (v. 26, 27.) Our Lord was angry with certain persons, "being grieved for the hardness of their hearts." (Mark 3:5.) There is therefore an anger which is of God, but the abiding wrath which springs from vindictive feeling is not of God. Even the anger kindled by godly indignation against evil may too readily degenerate into fleshly passion. We must beware therefore that in anger we "sin not," and guard against vindictive feelings by watching that the sun does not go down on our wrath. Otherwise the tempter may come in, and we are not to "give place to the devil."
The next exhortation is a little startling from its very ohviousness, "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." (v. 28.) We must remember that the early assemblies were formed of persons just brought out of heathenism, with all its abominations, and consisted in part of slaves, an oppressed and degraded class, among whom theft was practised without scruple or shame. The exhortation too goes beyond open theft, and in principle condemns all taking of unfair advantage, such as even the fuller morality of our own day often but feebly condemns. But the interest of the exhortation lies rather in the motive than in the course of conduct enjoined. If believers had been under the law, a simple appeal to the eighth commandment of the decalogue would have been enough. But we are not under the law, but under grace. What is the ohligation then imposed by this position? Not only to do "the righteousness of the law," but a great deal more. Did Christ stop with doing the righteousness of the law? On the contrary, He went far beyond it. The law requires that we should love our neighbour as ourselves, but it does not require us to lay down our lives for our neighbour. This however was what Christ did; and if the life of Christ is in us, "we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1 John 3:16.) So extreme a sacrifice may indeed be rarely demanded, but the spirit of it may always be shown. Christ not only did not injure man, but "though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich." (2 Cor. 8:9.) His whole life was one of self-sacrificing love. How beautifully this reappears in Paul, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you." (2 Cor. 12:15.) The Christian should walk in the same path, as he has the same life, not only refraining from stealing, or taking unfair advantage, but working to have the means of ministering "to him that needeth."
Thus the Holy Ghost, by one of the simplest exhortations in Scripture - an exhortation which from its common-place character might to our blind reasoning seem hardly worthy of a place in such an epistle - brings out one of the most striking differences between law and grace. Law simply prohibits evil; grace delights in doing good. Law is what God demands from man; grace is what God is in Himself. How sad, then, to see believers, who have been brought into liherty and associated with Christ, falling back into the lower class of motives and principles, and putting themselves again in bondage under a system to which they are declared to be "dead by the body of Christ." The whole "righteousness of the law" shone out in the ways of Christ, and will shine out in the ways of one who is abiding in Christ. But how infinitely beyond law the grace revealed in every action of that perfect life! And this is what will appear, of course in a vastly inferior degree, but still as a real fruit of abiding in Him, and walking in the power of the new life in which we are quickened together with Him.
The same thing may be observed in the next exhortation, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers." (v. 29.) A special class of corrupt communications, such as might be expected from Gentiles who wrought "all uncleanness with greediness," is alluded to in the next chapter; but here the exhortation has a wider scope. "How can ye, being evil, speak good things?" asks our Lord of the Jews. (Matt. 12:34.) A corrupt tree can only bring forth corrupt fruit. The words, as well as the works, will bear the character of the heart from which they proceed. But it is not enough that the believer merely abstains from corrupt communications such as naturally belong to "the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." He has put on the new man, of which Christ is the perfect representative. Did Christ merely refrain from evil in His conversation? No; His words, like His life, "ministered grace unto the hearers." And so will the words of one who is in communion with Christ. Just so far as we walk after "the new man" will our words resemble the words of Him of whom it is written, "Grace is poured into thy lips, therefore God hath blessed thee for ever." (Ps. 45:2.) T. B. Baines.