Friday, 6 February 2009

Godliness and the futility of legalism

Studying Ephesians 4-5 with a student at Uclan yesterday gave me a new insight into the passage that I'd never noticed before. I've known for some time that legalism can't change behaviour in more than an outward way, but had never spotted in Ephesians how this conviction is demonstrated.

Ephesians 4:22-24 says:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

In other words, there is a behaviour for believers to take off and a new behaviour to cultivate. But what will make this possible is to be made new in one's attitude. And that's the pattern of the verses that follow. Paul won't let us become legalistic - he always explains a reason for why the 'old self' needs to be taken off and the 'new self' is put on. It's as this new attitude penetrates a believer's mind and their desire is changed that behaviour ultimately changes.

So, for instance, the Christian that struggles with telling the truth should put off falsehood (verse 25) and instead speak truthfully. But what will help them do this? Not rules. But the conviction that lying to other believers is disruptive to other members of the body. We ourselves are hurt through lying to other members of the body. It's this new attitude that gives the believer a desire to change.

The pattern continues. Those who are stealing should steal no longer (verse 28). What will cause this to happen? Not rules, but a new attitude of wanting to share with those in need, that drives the believer to work hard instead.

Spent a great time with Jon in Preston yesterday chatting through these things. How wonderful it is that we not only have a calling to a new life, but that God has also given us the desire and resources to begin to live this life!


Boaly said...

What a great God, who gives us all that we need for godliness! Great post

peterdray said...

Absolutely. We so often can ignore all that's said about grace in Ephesians when we get to these later chapters.

Cheers for coming by.