Dallas Willard in his amazing book The Divine Conspiracy seeks to tease believers once again to accept their calling as apprentices of Jesus. To become an apprentice of Jesus means that one will need to learn the ways of Jesus. However, as Willard points out, learning to follow Jesus also involves a certain amount of unlearning.
In calling the readers of Ephesians to the ways of Jesus (in Ephesians 4:17-5:21), Paul will remind them first what they needed to unlearn. Formerly, they were alienated from God’s life because of their “ignorance and hardness of heart” and had “abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph 4:18-19).
Not only were this way of living self-destructive, but more importantly, they are contrary to what it means to follow Jesus. “This is not,” says Paul, “the way you learned Christ!” (Eph 4:20).
Then, what does it mean to follow Jesus exactly? For Paul, in this text, it means three things: putting off vices, putting on virtues, and seeing this process as the transformation of becoming like Jesus.
In Ephesians 4:17-32, Christians are to live no longer like the world around them and are to put away their former way of life. This involves a laundry list of things such as falsehood, anger, stealing, bitterness, and slander, to name a few.
In contrast, Christian are to take on certain virtues, such as speaking truthfully, but only what is beneficial to one’s hearers. Other virtues include being “kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving one another (Eph 4:32).
So how is this related to becoming like Jesus? First, Paul begins by insisting “in the Lord” that believers do not live like the world and this because we did not “learn” Christ this way!
This putting-off and putting-on process is described in resurrection/creation language: we put off the old self so that our minds can be renewed and we put on the new self which God is (re)creating in His image.
We are not to grieve the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is God’s promise to us that he will finish this work in us. The call to forgive one another is based on how God “in Christ” has forgiven us (Eph 4:32). While we participate with God in our transformation, it is still God who accomplishes it; it is God who can make us more like Jesus.
So, then, how have you learned Jesus? Only your life can tell.