Do You Want to Be a New Person? Then Take a Grammar Lesson!Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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.
Okay, I'll admit that the title of this reflection won't be compelling to most of my readers. A few grammar nerds may cheer, but most of you won't be running out to buy a grammar book. Just as well. I'm not talking about English grammar here, but Greek grammar. The fact is, knowledge of Greek grammar will help you understand how you can be a new person in Christ. Really.
After reminding the Ephesians that they were taught to put off their "old man," Paul adds, "[You were taught] to be made new in the attitude of your minds" (4:23). In Greek, unlike in English, infinitives of verbs have multiple forms and tenses. For example, they can be present, past, or future in form, and this affects their meaning. So, in our verse, "to be made new" is one word in Greek (ananeousthai), a present infinitive form of the verb ananeoo.
Now that we know the tense of the infinitive, we need to grasp its distinct meaning. The present infinitive in Greek conveys a sense of ongoing action. Whereas the past tense of the infinitive suggests a singular endeavor, the present implies a process. Thus, an overly literal, expanded translation of verse 23 might read, "[You were taught] to continue in the process of being made new in the attitude of your minds."
When we first receive the good news of the gospel, we become God's handiwork, newly created in Christ for good works (Eph. 2:10). Emphasizing the newness that has already come to us, Paul can write in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!" Yet, earlier in the same letter, Paul says, "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed [present tense] day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). In writing to the Romans, Paul advises, "Be transformed [present imperative] by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).
Is Paul hopelessly confused or contradictory? No. Rather, he understands the eschatological dimension of our lives in Christ, the "already and not yet" reality in which we live. When we become Christians, we are already made new by God's power through the Word and Spirit. Yet, that newness isn't complete yet. Our lives in Christ are a long process of ongoing renewal through the Word and Spirit. In Ephesians 4:23, the present tense reminds us of this fact.
As you look at your life today, you should be able to see ways in which God has already renewed you. And, I expect you can also identify ways still in need of renovation. If you accept this grammatically clarified understanding of renewal, then you're ready to open your life to this ongoing process.
But there is good news ahead, very good news. It depends on yet another grammar lesson. Stay tuned.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: As you reflect on your life, how have you already been renewed in Christ? In what ways do you still need to be renewed?
PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for all the ways you have begun to make me new inside. I'm sure I can't even count half of them. Yet, how grateful I am for what I can see. Thank you!
Still, Lord, I know that your renewing work in me is a process. Yes, you will bring it to completion one day. But, for now, I am still being formed and reformed by you. Thank you. And may this continue to happen as I open my whole life to you. Amen.
Feeling the Love at Work
Do you sometimes wonder if you'll find your dream job? Or do you know someone who wonders if their work really matters? Take a look at our series, Feeling the Love at Work. Or, if you know someone who might appreciate encouragement along these lines, join us at The High Calling.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.