Archibald A. Allison
After describing the ungodly in Ephesians 4:17–19, the apostle Paul suddenly exclaims in verse 20, “But you have not so learned Christ.” Then in the subsequent verses he vividly describes the tremendous contrast between believers and unbelievers.
The ungodly walk in sinful and wicked lusts, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, and being alienated from the life of God, because of ignorance and the blindness of their heart.
Those who learn Christ should live differently. The doctrine of Christ in Scripture teaches us to renounce the sinful desires and inclinations of our fallen nature. If our lives are not different, we have not learned Christ. Knowing Christ means putting to death our sin.
God reproves the fleeting knowledge of the gospel that vainly fills many people whom the Holy Spirit has not made alive. Knowledge of Christ that does not produce dying to sin and godly living is neither true nor sincere. Knowledge of doctrine that does not produce godliness is of the devil, who appears as an angel of light, eager to interest us in doctrine if it does not make us godly, but proud and unloving.
If an increasing knowledge of doctrine does not produce an increasing knowledge of Christ himself and conform us more to Christ, something is terribly wrong.
In verse 21, Paul explains what he means by learning Christ. We know truth as it is in Jesus. Truth is only in him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In Christ are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). All truth is in Jesus. There is no truth apart from him.
Unlike the ungodly, we have learned truth, which is in Jesus alone. God forbid that we should ever separate doctrine and knowledge of the truth from the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. God forbid that we should ever become theoretical and detached, and forget that salvation has come in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ delivers you from the bondage of sin. He changes your whole condition and your whole life. The Holy Spirit takes you from the vanity of the world, joins you to Christ and his church, and makes you God’s child and an heir of everlasting life and glory.
If you know truth as it is in Jesus, you cannot continue living like the ungodly. It is ridiculous to say, “I can be justified without being sanctified. I can believe in Christ and be saved without holy living.” Knowing Christ must lead to holiness and godliness.
To know truth as it is in Jesus means that you know the historic person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. You rest in him and his work to save you from your sins. You know and believe that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, our Lord, who was born of the virgin Mary. He suffered in your place all the wrath of God due to your sins, for which you would have otherwise suffered in hell for all eternity. He died, was buried, rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, is sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and shall come to judge the living and the dead.
The historical person of Jesus is truth. The historical work of Jesus to redeem us from our sins is truth. The historical word of Jesus, written in the Bible, is truth. If we lose any of these, we lose truth as it in Jesus. We lose salvation. We lose everything. Peter says of Jesus, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Do you believe the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible, or the false teaching that you can be saved and still live an ungodly life? Ungodly men in the church “turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). The truth as it is in Jesus is that salvation always leads to godly living. Your daily life as a believer must correspond with truth as it is in Jesus. Everything about Christ leads to holiness.
The apostle John writes that Christ came to declare or reveal or expound the Father. Christ came to bear witness to the truth. What is that truth? Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Just mentioning God’s name teaches holiness. Therefore, we come humbly and reverently into the holy presence of our holy God in prayer and worship.
The Lord’s Prayer continues: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God is holy. His kingdom is coming and shall have no end. His will is being done on earth as he subdues his people to himself. Jesus is holy. Born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is sinless and holy to the Lord. You cannot mention Jesus’ name without realizing that he directs you to holiness, righteousness, and new life in him. You cannot preach Christ without preaching holiness and righteousness. You can have peace, happiness, and comfort only by trusting in Christ and learning to love holiness and righteousness and hate lawlessness as Jesus does.
In the beatitudes, Jesus begins with repentance: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.… Blessed are those who mourn.” (Matt. 5:3–4). Blessed are those who realize how spiritually weak and helpless they are. Blessed are those who mourn over their sin. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.… Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (5:6, 8). Jesus is not interested in religion that is only outward, superficial, on the lips, while the heart is far from God. Jesus says, in effect, “Give me your heart.” He knows the deepest secrets and darkest recesses of your heart.
We need to know Christ, so that the truth that is in Christ will be revealed to us, embodied in us, and lived out by us. Truth as it is in Jesus means we put every lie far from us and banish all guile, deceit, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. We become pure, simple, true, transparent, candid, honest, and upright. We become Christlike men, women, and children.
Two things are necessary in order to know truth as it is in Jesus. First, we must hear Christ. The Corinthians heard Paul, as the ambassador of Christ, preach the gospel to them, imploring them on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). Hearing Christ means hearing the gospel of Christ.
Listening is not the same thing as truly hearing. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to heed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). You can listen to the preaching of the gospel and read the Scriptures without hearing Christ. To hear Christ is to have the anointing of the Holy Spirit, so that you understand the things of God and they transform your heart, mind, and person.
You realize that God’s truth is the most important thing. You let everything else go, rather than God’s truth. You are willing to give up everything to know Christ and have eternal life. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him” (Phil. 3:7–9). Christ and his word become the chief things in your life. They govern and control you. You surrender yourself to them. You live to obey Christ and the gospel.
Second, in order to know truth as it is in Jesus, we must be taught by Christ. The Holy Spirit subdues our hearts to Christ. He replaces our heart of stone that will not learn Christ with a heart of flesh that is tender, obedient, and malleable, so that we learn to know, believe, and obey Christ, live by every word that comes from his mouth, and observe all that he has commanded. This is the result of the Spirit of God dwelling in us and transforming us by renewing our minds and feeding our souls with the bread from heaven. If we are taught by Christ, we cannot continue living as ungodly and worldly people do, because we humble ourselves before God, repent of our sins, surrender to Christ, and live according to his word.
You never know Christ merely by hearing men speak of him. You must hear Christ himself! Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” They not only hear the voice of the under-shepherd, but hear the voice of the Chief Shepherd, who laid down his life for them! You will never know Christ unless you hear him speaking personally to you in the words of Scripture as they are applied by the Holy Spirit. Scripture is the very word of the living Christ, spoken afresh to you each time you read it. You can only know Christ as the Spirit causes the printed letter to be the voice of Christ himself to you.
To learn more of Christ, you must be in fellowship with him and live with him. He must be your choice companion from morning to night. When you awake at night, you say, “I am still with you.” You can only learn Christ through humility worked by the Spirit in your heart, so that you sit at the feet of Christ, ready to hear him and be taught by him as truth is in Jesus.
The author is the pastor of Emmaus OPC in Fort Collins, Colo. He quotes the NKJV. New Horizons, April 2015.