All of us want to be ‘right’. It’s how we are made (Ecclesiastes 7:29) and we feel ill at ease if we can’t justify our actions.
But, in the real world, we are actually living before God. So, we need to be right in his eyes—that’s what righteousness means. Without this, we fall into Satan’s hands.
Some have professed to believe in Christ but not been careful how they live, and Satan has brought them low. So, Paul tells us we need to be protected by righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). We need to put it on!
This sounds strange, but, thankfully, he’s already told us what he means earlier in his letter. We’ll just look at three ways in which this happens.
First, we need to know that a Christian is something God makes.
Paul says there’s a new ‘self’ to put on—created by God, and to be ‘like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (4:24). He’s talking about things we need to do, like being truthful and not getting angry, but our new ‘self’ needs a ‘Made by God’ label on it.
We become Christians because of God alone—a work of grace. And he creates us ‘in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (2:8-10).
Being God’s new creation means we’re already reconciled to God and that he doesn’t count our sins against us any more (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). This is not just a book-keeping entry in heaven. It’s a relationship. A Christian is someone moved by God’s love (v. 14). When it comes to being a Christian, this is where we are always beginning.
Every day, we find our righteousness is lacking—sometimes, badly. But Christ’s blood keeps on cleansing us (1 John 1:9). Our task is to keep clean what God makes clean, not tidy up yesterday’s mess!
Now, we need to be what we are—to act consistently with our new identity as God’s creation. If we forget who we are, we’ve got nothing to be!
The righteous acts we do are basically gratefulness for God’s goodness to us. Anything we do outside this would be making something of ourselves, and that’s not righteousness! What impresses God and deters Satan must be made by God (Philippians 2:13).
In another letter, Paul says we have put on our new self—that’s what happens when we become a Christian. And now we are being renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:10). This is what we must talk about next. But both our beginning and continuing are what God creates.
Second, we need to think in this new way.
Paul calls this being ‘renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (4:23). What God has made is alive and needs to grow. What we’ve received needs to work its way through all of our thinking (Romans 12:1-2).
There’s a lot of talk these days about what is right and wrong. But, in many cases, we are not being asked to think, but to agree. God doesn’t want ‘Yes’ people. He wants us to understand what he says, love what he wants, and think of ways to share in his working.
Our teacher in getting this new mind is Jesus (4:20-21). We can’t afford to trust our feelings or majority opinion. Our understanding of what is right needs to come from him—a gracious Saviour.
But then, he is also the material we learn. He is what is true, and he is what we need to be. It’s his purity, and it’s his kindness that are powerful to help us change.
You could say, we are in his space! He is not just the best teacher but he also the ideal environment for learning. For example, we are to ‘be kind to one another, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’ (4:32).
Third, we need to change how we live.
A physiotherapist told me once, ‘the body is a cheat’. It finds the way of least effort to do what it needs to—even when it’s damaging itself. The same is true with behaviour. The way we’ve always done things, or what comes naturally, seem preferable to change. But then, no change may mean death! We need to think about what we’re doing.
There are things to ‘put off’. We used to do whatever we felt like—without God, without shame and without limits (4:22). Now we know these things don’t set us free. They deceive and corrupt us. Where Satan is concerned, we’re letting him walk all over us, not standing against him. Sometimes, we just have to say ‘No!’
And there are things to ‘put on’ (4:24), like being self-sufficient and generous (4:28). We need to let the Holy Spirit fill up all our dark spaces with helpful conversation and kindness (4:29-31).
Paul gives us a list of ways in which we can imitate the God who is giving us new life (5:1-18). He tells us to walk carefully, to make good use of time because the days are evil and to understand what the will of the Lord is. All this needs some enthusiasm and persistence. And we’ll need the company of our Christian friends (5:19-21).
If being righteous sounds boring and conservative, or impossible, think again. You’re a human being doing exactly what you were created to do. You’re enjoying the purpose God has in saving you. And God is treating you with great dignity by expecting something from you. It’s the way to be strong, and the only way to be protected from our enemy.