Summary: Uses the metaphor of driver’s education to explore St. Paul’s understanding of personal holiness as it relates to corporate solidarity and ecclesial unity.


Ephesians 4:17-32


I was driving to Chicago a couple of weeks ago and I happened to get on the Dan Ryan Expressway just about the time of rush hour was ending. Now I don’t know if you have ever had the occasion to attempt this feat, but it is a real thrill. What happens is the traffic thins out just enough that everyone is able to move at a normal speed – which on the Ryan is somewhere between 65 and 80 m.p.h. Because there is still a substantial amount of traffic, however, everyone is moving at these speeds packed in bumper to bumper.

As I was driving along with everyone else a real unnerving thought entered into my mind. I realized that I was entrusting my health and safety to the safe driving of hundreds of thousands of other people. For example, if the guy in front of me over-corrected in his steering or was distracted by something on his radio, the resulting accident would endanger not only him and not only me, but the hundreds of other cars around us. We would simply be traveling too close together and going too fast to avoid causing damage to one another. The best way to negotiate this situation is to stay alert and drive as safely as you can.

This brings me to a similar thought concerning our relationship with Christ and with each other as members of his Body. You see, on one hand, we are all going through life at a high rate of speed. Life is short. On the other hand, the fact that we are all members of the Body of Christ creates a natural closeness and interconnectedness that is very much like the bumper to bumper situation on the Ryan Expressway. Accidents and personal sins effect more than those persons most immediately involved. Because of this, a good deal of our motivation for living a life of personal holiness ought to come from a concern for the purity and safety of the Body of Christ around us. Lets look at how the letter to the Ephesians teaches us this very point.


* When I was sixteen I attended drivers education classes at my high school. One of the first things the instructor did was show us a film of gory accident footage. You have probably seen or heard of some of these movies “Blood Flows Red on the Highway” or “Red Asphalt”. The idea is to sensitize young people to the danger and responsibility of driving. Paul does a similar thing here. He shows us how empty and degrading existence is when people are separated from the life of God.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

Notice a couple of things here. . .

A. (v. 17) So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord . . . Paul is speaking here as an Apostle of the Lord. What he is about to say by way of instruction carries with it as much authority as if it came from the mouth of God.

B. (v. 18-19) Paul connects the immoral behavior of unbelievers to the condition of their heart. A persons outward behavior reveals the inner disposition of their hearts. People do not become sinners when they sin. People sin because they are sinners.

C. (v. 19) Immorality gets progressively worse because we are desensitized. Paul urges us not to Live this way. Why?

II. HOW TO DRIVE (vv. 20-24)

20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

A. (v. 20) Remember Paul connects outward behavior to the inward condition of the heart. He urges us not to live in immorality because we are now living in a right relationship with Christ. Living in immorality would now put us in conflict with our new principle of life in Christ.

2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.

B. (v. 22-24) Paul then reminds us of how we are to live. He urges us to put off our old selves and be made new in the attitude of our minds. How do we put off our old selves and put on our new selves?

* Being made new in the attitude of our minds (spirit of our minds). Exchanging the truth of God’s Word for the error of the old ways of thinking. Study and meditation on the Word of God is essential to putting off the former self and putting on the new self..

Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

* Because it is something done inwardly we must pray for the empowering grace of God and believe that the Holy Spirit will make us willing and able to put on the new self in every area of our lives.

* Order our lives in such a way that we are not making opportunity to indulge in sin. Rather create structures in living that will help you form positive, God-honoring virtues.

Romans 6:12-13 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.


A. The Motivational Principle Is This (v. 25)

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

What Paul is saying is that we should order our lives according to the truth that we belong to Christ and put off the falsehood of living as immoral unbelievers. Why? Because our individual sins endanger the purity and safety of the whole Body of Christ.

B. The Principle Illustrated Practically (vv. 26-32)

26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

Why are we called to put our anger to rest and be reconciled to someone who has sinned against us. It is because Satan is given a foothold to produce strife and bitterness and divisions within the Body of Christ. Our individual sins have an impact on the Body of Christ.

28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

He who has been stealing should stop stealing. Why? Because when we are working and doing useful things we are on longer robbing the people of God but are, rather, able to be a blessing.

29 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.

The word “unwholesome” here is used in other Greek literature to describe rotten fish.

*While in seminary, my roommates and I lived about a half mile from the shore of Lake Michigan. In the middle of summer there was a certain kind of fish called alewives that would school and then be swept into shore by the pounding waves. In the middle of the hot summer they wash up in piles to bake in the sun. On my list of the worst smells ever that one ranks (ha!) right up near the top. Don’t participate in spreading that rotten smell around. If what you are saying does not build up or encourage a person to grow in Christ. Keep quiet. Rather utilize the mouth that God gave you to be a means of grace to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

This is the key to the whole point that God inspired Paul to make. In the same way that God indwelled the Temple in Old Testament Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was sent by Christ to indwell us corporately as a church body. When we sin against God, that sin negatively impacts the Body of Christ to such an extent that it causes the Holy Spirit to mourn as though over a dead person.

The reason for this is that God is zealous and devoted to his people and he is wounded and hurt when we wound and hurt his people by allowing sin to remain in our lives without repenting. God desires us to be as committed to the purity and peace of his Church as he, himself is.


?? Can St. Paul really be saying what he seems to be saying here. A historical example might serve to illustrate the abstract proposition.

The Sin of Achan at Jericho and the Defeat at Ai

Joshua 7:1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things; for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things; and the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel.


A. The sin of Achan is imputed to the whole nation of Israel and all of the people shared in its consequences. The narrative is very precise in the way it singles him out as an individual (Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah).

B. This historical example illustrates the principle of corporate identity. To at least some extent God contemplates us, not simply as individuals, but as a corporate unity.

C. This is a principle that is barely considered in American Christianity because of our emphasis on the individual. It is an essential truth that we must recover for our life together as Christians.

© 2001, Rev. Michael J. Pahls

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