I pause this morning and consider how emphatic Paul is in exhorting the Ephesians:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
(Ephesians 4:17 ESV)
No more, says Paul. No longer. You should not. You must not. Stop it.
He exhorts them to put off the old self, to renew their minds, and to put on the new self so that they no longer live after their “former manner of life”, fueled by its “corrupt desires”, but conduct themselves in a way consistent with how they were taught in Christ (4:20-24a).
And this, not so they can earn God’s continued favor, not so they can boast in self-righteousness, not so they might possess a holier-than-thou attitude among others. Rather, because they have already known God’s favor; because they are, in fact, righteous; because they are, in reality, marked by holiness. Paul’s exhortation is not they would fake being something they are not, but that they would live into something that they already are.
. . . put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
(Ephesians 4:24 ESV)
Created after the likeness of God. That’s Genesis language. Just as man and woman were created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27), so the born-again man, the born-again woman, have been created after the likeness of God. Though once walking in ignorance and darkened understanding, though once subject to the hardness of our naturally born rebellious hearts, in Christ we have become a new creation (2Cor. 5:17). A new heart, an enlightened understanding, given everything we need to partake of the divine nature (2Pet. 1:4), created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Chew on that for a bit. If we are in Christ then we bear the likeness of God in a way we were never able to do so before, even though we were born to be His image-bearers. Now able to reflect true righteousness. Now empowered to walk in actual holiness. That’s who you are, says Paul, live into it. And not just for your good, but for God’s glory. To live any other way, especially in your former way, is to distort the likeness of God.
And this isn’t meant to add pressure on us to perform. Rather, it’s strong encouragement to allow God to do the work He’s promised to do in us — to transform. We say no to the old. We lean into pursuing the new. And God, through the Spirit, renews us through our minds, which eventually translates into how we live. And that, because we have been created after His likeness in true righteousness and holiness.
Not in ourselves, but through the One who lives in us. We can bear the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness because or our union with Christ, the One who is God and is, Himself, true righteousness an actual holiness.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)
Ours is not to formulate a new life, but to cooperate in allowing the new life we’ve freely and fully been given to flourish. To live into who we are — image bearers by creation, likeness bearers through recreation. To do otherwise is to distort the image of God.
Father, help me to war as I should against the temptation to live according to the old man. Transform my life through the renewing of my mind that I might reflect the new man. Teach me the way of Christ, the way of surrender, such that it really is no longer I who live but Jesus who lives in me. Then will I live as I was created to live, after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Only by your grace. Only for your glory.