Ephesians 4:28 is a wonderful verse that has several applications for Christians today. This section in the epistle is about the Christian lifestyle, it is also about Christian transformation. The specific point of verse 28 serves to illustrate what it will look like for a Christian to forsake his or her past behavior and pursue holy living. The practical example is that of a thief who becomes a hard worker to make his own living. Not only should he forsake his thievery, but he should replace that activity with the activity of working hard with his own hands. Not only should he work hard to earn a paycheck for himself, but he should work hard to earn a paycheck so that he can be a charitable giver to those in need around him. What a rich theology of the Christian’s transformation! What a practical application for every believer!
The thing that I would like to stress at this point is the applicability of this principle to many areas of our lives. I think it is completely appropriate for Christians to have practical ways of substituting godly habits for bad habits of which they want to rid themselves. It may be something fairly extreme such as a thief who gives up thievery for a life of hard work with his own hands (Eph 4:28), or it may be a drunkard who no longer fills himself with alcohol but is filled in the spirit through speaking in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in his heart to the Lord and giving thanks always (Eph 5:18-20). Maybe one of the most practical examples of this idea is the tobacco smoker who stops his bad habit and replaces it with chewing gum or peppermint. From extreme examples to very simple ones, there is a theology here of activity replacement.
What activity is it in your life that you need to give up in order to replace it with holy, godly living? God does not expect us to give up our bad habits cold-turkey. He knows that our sanctification, that is, our holiness, is progressive; thus there is the idea of slowly but surely becoming more and more holy. There is the idea of quitting one sinful activity and replacing it with a holy one. The Holy Spirit will also help us to put to death the deeds of the flesh, meaning, the things of our “old person” (Rom 8:13). So, pursue holiness by replacing sinful habits with holy ones and by trusting that God will help you all along the way by the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.