“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:20–24, NASB95)
Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesian believers recognizing that not everyone who heard it read would actually be a believer and would know Jesus Christ. But for those who had personally heard Jesus speak and those who had been taught in Him, Paul reminded them that living as the Gentiles lived was in stark contrast to the teaching of Jesus. He called them to live differently, and He spoke at length regarding these differences. For those who were hearing this and who had not known Jesus, this comment might have served to awaken them to their great need, and if not these verses certainly other verses in the letter might have done so as they were much more pointed concerning salvation and life.
As saints, or holy ones in Christ, they (and us) were to live as holy ones in Christ. We have been called out from the world and have been set apart to live differently from the world or how we lived before coming to know Christ.
Starting with verse 22 Paul gives a three step process for change. This is not exhaustive, but it certainly is inclusive to cover all situations where we are called to live differently than the world. The first part is, “you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.” The first step of living according to Christ, as obvious as it might seem, is simply to stop living like the world. We are no longer who we were, and we are not to live as if we were. We are to lay those old things aside and not pick them back up again. I like to think of this in the realm of laundry in my home. There are generally two types of places that laundry goes. There are the places that dirty laundry goes and the places that clean laundry goes. For most of us when we get dressed in the morning we wouldn’t think right off the bat of going to the dirty laundry to get our clothes for the day. Then after having worn them and recognizing their dirty nature, we also choose at the appropriate time to take them off and lay them aside. Here Paul is saying that the appropriate time to take off the old stuff is when you realize that you are wearing the stuff of the old self. Don’t try to get an extra day out of it like you might a pair of jeans. Stop it. Lay it aside. Don’t pick it back up again. It may not be easy, but it needs to be done. You may fight the desire to go back there again, but don’t do it. This is what we find in this first part of Paul’s directions.
The second part has to do with our awareness. The time to lay the old ways aside is when we realize that they are the old ways and/or that we are doing them again. In verse 23 we read, “and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.…” I’ve heard a pastor friend of mine say on numerous occasions that the devil does not make us sin. We sin because we want to. Here Paul says that we are to be engaged of the process of continually having our minds renewed not only according to our actions but also according to the moving or leading in our thoughts. In Psalm 119:9 we read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” … “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:9, 11, NASB95) The psalmist filled His mind with the word of God such that when he was tempted to do contrary his mind would so move him not to do so. We are to be continually taking our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ as we read in 2 Corinthians 10:5. We are to study His word knowing that it is profitable for our lives as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB95) It is God’s Word and His Spirit working in us to make His Word alive that makes His Word such that we see where we have gone off track, how to get back on track, and how to grow and continue in that way. We are to live as people with minds continually being renewed, and when we do this we will find that we recognize more clearly the sins in our life and the appropriate response to them.
Then in verse 24 we read, “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” This is the other half of the laundry story. Get dressed as those who have been cleansed with clean clothes. God does not tell us to stop doing something without giving us the appropriate “to do” in response. And here the “to do” is as basic as it gets, with applications that extend to the fullness of His Word. The new self we possess is in the likeness of God. We have been created in Christ in righteousness and holiness of the truth. So to put it most simply, we are to get dressed according to the truth.
As a parent sometimes I struggle with how my kids walk out the door. There is the one side of the battle which reflects on me as their father that might give people cause to question how much parenting they are receiving. Over the years I have pretty much been able to set a part of this aside. I have been able to largely set aside the what kind of parenting issue or the “what will people think of me” issue. But the one part I continue to contend with concerning those still in the home is the “regardless of what they think of me, what does it say about you” issue. We encourage them to dress appropriate to who they are and where they are going. As Christians we are to remember that no matter where we are or where we are going we are doing so as children of God. Our attitudes and our actions are to reflect our identity such that Christ is glorified in us. This is how we are taught. This is how we are to live.