February 25, 2019 • Life for Leaders
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 last Thursday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we wondered if, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we must change everything about our lives. The context of Ephesians 4:22 suggests that this is not the case. Rather, we are to put off everything in our lives that is inconsistent with Jesus Christ: his life, his teachings, and the gospel centered in his death and resurrection.
Ephesians 4:22 offers another way of thinking about what in our lives we must put away as we seek to follow Jesus. The verse reads, “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.” Notice that the old self is “being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” This description helps us to know what parts of our pre-Christian life should be put away.
But of course this raises another question. What parts of our lives are being corrupted by deceitful desires?
Paul’s reference to “deceitful desires” implies that some desires are good. A desire to honor God by loving your neighbor is surely good, for example. Moreover, the word translated here as “desires” (epithumia in Greek), is used in the New Testament in positive ways: Jesus desired to eat the Passover with his disciples (Luke 22:15); Paul had the desire to be with Christ (Phillippians 1:23). So, that which corrupts us isn’t desire itself, but rather “deceitful desires.”
What are these? A deceitful desire involves some kind of deception or trickery. A deceitful desire lies to you. For example, a deceitful desire might promise some happy result, but fail to deliver. I might believe that if I only achieve a certain level of professional success I will be fully happy. But when I meet my goal, I still feel unfulfilled. It turns out that my desire for success deceived me. Beneath the deceit that motivated me was falsehood. I wrongly believed that success at work was the ultimate source of happiness. I expect you can think of all sorts of desires that are deceitful in this way, such as: I long for sexual intimacy outside of marriage because then I will be truly loved; I desire to be famous because then I will feel truly good about myself; etc. (Tomorrow, I’ll share a story from my own life about a deceitful desire that once governed me.)
Where does this leave us? The old self we are to strip off as Christians is governed and corrupted by deceitful desires, that is, by desires that play dirty tricks on us because they are based on falsehood, rather than “the truth that is in Jesus” (4:21). Ephesians 4:22 invites us to examine our lives, our motivations, our desires to see truly what’s really going on with us. The following questions might help.
Something to Think About:
Can you think of desires you have had in the past that were deceitful—based on falsehood?
How were you able to “put off” those desires?
How much of what you do now is driven by deceitful desires? How many of your motivations are based on lies, perhaps even on claims you know to be false?
Which desires might the Lord help you to strip off now?
Something to Do:
Set aside at least ten minutes for quiet. After thanking God for his gracious presence, ask the Spirit of God to show you which of your desires are in some way deceitful, that is, based on some sort of falsehood. As the Spirit helps you see your desires in a new light, confess to the Lord whatever you need to confess. Ask him to reorient your desires based on what is true.
Gracious God, thank you for helping me to see and to set aside my deceitful desires. Crafty cravings that once consumed me no longer have power over my life. Thank you, Lord, for the freedom that comes from your grace and truth.
Yet, as you know, I’m not through with deceitful desires. I continue to be motivated by longings that will not fulfill me because they are not based on the truth that is in Jesus. Help me, Lord, to see through the deception. Help me to see and yearn for the truth. By your grace, may I put off all of my “old self,” so that I might live fully in the new life you offer to me. Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Stuck in the Cycle of Sin
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.