Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephes. 4: 25-28).
Where to begin? Ethics for the believer. If Paul believed in simple imputed righteousness he certainly expected a lot of co-operation with grace, as the transformation in life-style he was looking for was quite significant. I suspect though that he saw beyond a ‘forensic declaration of forgiveness’ over the believer to a transformation of character through an encounter, an experience.
I find the ethics of the New Testament very challenging. Way beyond what is right and wrong, beyond legalism. Take the first one here in v. 25 where Paul writes of falsehood. This is so beyond ‘don’t lie’. It is easy not to lie but much more challenging to live, speak and act so that there is self-disclosure. Religiosity (or pride, and are they very different?) never wants to admit to reality. ‘Put off falsehood’ requires that there is personal vulnerability, that what is seen and heard is in line with who the ‘I’ really is. I can avoid lying, but give the impression of being someone better than I am. I can do so but will not be ‘putting off falsehood’. I am not sure that even to say ‘I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ would even get me there. ‘So help me God’ (without hand on Bible please!) will certainly be required.
The transformational aspect of faith is very clear when Paul addresses the issue of the person who was stealing. The shift from ‘taking what was not theirs’ is complete. The challenge is not to stop stealing, but to give what they have to those in need.
If we place stealing at one end, then ‘not stealing’ is in the middle of the spectrum… but working to give is at the other end. Transformation. The radical opposite. Not surprising when we know that Jesus died, but did not simply come back to life, but through the Spirit became a ‘life-giver’. The radical opposite of being dead.
I suspect we are just so sub-New Testament in so many aspects.
Here’s to a discovery of the power of transformation.