Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
I said two weeks ago that the series of messages on Ephesians 4:17 to 5:20 was chosen because many of us felt the need to ponder the relationship between our faith and the ordinary daily affairs of our lives. That is what this section of Scripture helps us do.
Six Layers of Corruption Apart from Christ
First, we looked at verses 17–21 where Paul, for the third time in this letter, lays bare the moral misery of life without the saving grace of God. He mentions six layers of corruption that, apart from the saving work of Christ, make us utterly unacceptable to God and without hope.
- First, he says in verse 18 that our root problem is hardness of heart.
- Second, this hardness against God darkens the understanding (v. 18).
- Third, the result of this darkness is a gross ignorance of reality (v. 18)—even if I have three doctoral degrees and know 10,000 facts, I am ignorant if I do not know the divine meaning or the purpose of those facts, and how they relate to the great things of eternity.
- Fourth, being ignorant of the true value of things in relation to God and eternity, I yield naturally to covetousness and licentiousness (v. 19), that is, my desires go after the wrong things, or after all things in the wrong way. None of my desires has a proper relation to God, and so they are all ruined.
- This leads, in the fifth place, to a life of futility (v. 17). Nothing of any eternal significance is accomplished. Life is one big ash heap of wasted weeks and years. There is no service to the King of Ages, and so it is all meaningless in the end—like a man who works hard planting trees and landscaped flower gardens in a new housing project and then watches them get bulldozed because he was just doing his own thing and never consulted the master plan for where they belonged. There is only futility in the end without relating all you do to God.
- The sixth layer of our corruption, and the one that seals our hopelessness without some mighty work of salvation, is mentioned in verse 18, namely, that we are alienated from the life of God. Our hardness and darkness and ignorance and licentiousness and futile behavior are the marks and motions of living dead men—like Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their dead!" (Luke 9:60). And like Paul said of self-indulgent widows: "She is dead even while she lives" (1 Timothy 5:6). Alienated from the life of God. Dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), "having no hope and without God in the world" (3:12).
Everyone of us is in that condition until the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ breaks in and melts the hardness, and dispels the darkness, and unites us to the life of God and makes us new creatures through faith in Christ.
Freedom Through Hearing the Voice of Jesus
And so Paul says in verse 17, "No longer live in the futility of your mind!" Life need not be—must not be—futile any more. Then in verse 20 he gives the reason why we can no longer live like the Gentiles in futility: "You did not so learn Christ."
Then in verse 21 he entertains the possibility that some who hear this letter may not be true Christians. He realizes he may be out in front of some church attenders. And so he mentions two things he is assuming when he says they don't have to walk in futility any more. He says, "Assuming [or: if indeed] 1) you have heard him [i.e., Christ] and 2) were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus."
I take this to mean: before you can escape from all the hardness and darkness and futility of the old life, you have to hear the voice of Jesus and in response to his voice enter his school to be taught by him as a trusted master. His voice is the power that breaks through all the hardness and darkness and ignorance and wakens you from the hopelessness of death. And faith responds like the Gadarene demoniac, suddenly saved from the futility of insanity and self-destruction, and says, "Lord, let me be with you."
And so I want to make clear before we go on this morning that this must happen in your life before today's text can apply to you. You must hear the voice of Jesus calling you out of darkness into light and out of death into life. This is why Jesus so often said things like, "Take heed how you hear" (Luke 8:18), and, "If any man has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:23). And once you hear the quickening voice of Jesus, you must, as Paul says here in verse 21, be taught in him as the truth is in Jesus. You must gladly and heartily enroll in the school of Christ.
The School of Christ: Instruction for Living
That is where we are this morning. Verses 22–24 are the teaching of the Lord for Christians who have been awakened by the voice of Jesus, have been given a new eternal life within and who are now in the school of Christ waiting and eager to be taught how to live, no longer like the Gentiles in the futility of their minds (v. 17) but like new creatures whose lives are full of meaning and hope and joy.
"Change Your Clothes"
What is the first thing Jesus says to us when we enter his school? Answer: verses 22–24 (my literal translation):
Put off the old person [or: old self; or: old man] which accords with the former way of life and which is corrupted in accord with the desires of deceit. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And put on the new person which was created in accordance with God in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
And so after you hear the voice of Christ and are made alive and brought to faith in him and enter into his school to let him teach you how to live, the first thing he says to you is: "change your clothes." Take off the old person and put on the new person.
Putting Off the Old Person
So we should ask immediately: What do these two garments refer to? What is the old person and what is the new person?
Verse 25 gives a helpful clue. The same word is used for "put off" both here and in verse 22, as though Paul meant to illustrate now what he intends by putting off the old person. He says, "Therefore putting off falsehood, speak truth." So it seems like one example of putting off the old person is to put off bad practices that belong to the old way of life—like lying.
Another good clue to the meaning of "the old person" is in Colossians 3:8–9.
But now put them all away [same Greek word as in Ephesians 4:22]: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old person with its practices.
So putting off the old person is more than putting off old practices, because Colossians 3:9 says we put it off WITH its practices. And Colossians 3:8 mentions things that lie beneath and behind practices—like anger and wrath.
So the old person is the old bundle of attitudes and emotions and practices that I used to be. That's who I was before I was called out of darkness by the voice of Jesus and began to be taught in his school.
Putting On the New Person
Colossians 3:12 gives the same kind of clue about the meaning of the new person that we are supposed to put on. Paul says, "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and loved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience."
So the new person is the new bundle of attitudes and emotions and practices that Jesus has called us to become in his school. We must take off the old person and put on the new person. It is absolutely imperative that we get our moral clothes changed. If we don't, we will not graduate. We will not make it to heaven.
The Requirement for Graduation
Do you remember the parable of the marriage feast (Matthew 22:1–14)? The invitation was thrown open to anybody who would come. But then Jesus says,
But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?" And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."
There will be many shocked church goers when the Lord comes, who think that they have responded to the Lord's invitation to come to the banquet of heaven, but in fact have never really, with their hearts, entered his school to get ready. They walk in the door, as it were, when the bell rings, but they don't listen to him. With their lips they honor him as the schoolmaster, but their hearts are far away. It's as though they were not even there. When the Master says, "Change your clothes," they adjust their collars or shine their shoes, or tuck in their shirts, but they won't take off those cherished habits. They won't strip away those old attitudes of racism, or the love of money, or the addiction to pornography. They want the hope of heaven, but they won't dress for heaven. They won't change their clothes. And Jesus says in the end on the graduation day, "Bind him hand and foot and cast him into outer darkness." He had never really enrolled with his heart. It was all a show.
So when Paul says, put off the old person and put on the new person, he is not talking about an optional elective that some true Christians enroll in and others don't. This is the core curriculum in the school of Christ. It is a requirement for graduation. There is a holiness without which we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Therefore (as v. 24 says) put on the new person created after the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness.
An Utterly Unique School
Now why doesn't Paul just come straight out and say that when you believe on Jesus you must get rid of bad attitudes and habits and build in some new good attitudes and habits? Why does he write in pictures like this in verses 22–24?
The answer is that Christianity is not like any other school. It is not a moral self-improvement course. You don't just sign up and work hard to change yourself. That's the school of legalism, not the school of grace.
In the school of Christ change comes in a totally different way, by grace through faith, so that the schoolmaster gets all the glory not the students. That's why Paul has to describe the coursework with such strange language. It's like nothing you have experienced anywhere before entering this school. Let's look closely at the three verses and see how the coursework is described.
The Description of the Coursework
Verses 22 and 24 are parallel in four ways.
- First, put off the old person in verse 22 is parallel to put on the new person in verse 24.
- Second, verse 22 says that the old person accords with the former way of life; verse 24 says that the new person accords with God.
- Third, verse 22 says that the old self is corrupted through its desires; verse 24 says that the new person is created in righteousness and holiness.
- Fourth, verse 22 says the desires that ruined the old person were based on deceit; verse 24 says that the righteousness and holiness of the new person are based on truth.
|Old person||New person|
|Corresponding to former life||Corresponding to God|
|Corrupted through desires||Created in righteousness and holiness|
|Based on deceit||Based on truth|
Now you can start to see how different the coursework is here than in a moral self-improvement course. In the school of legalism, where you take moral self-improvement courses, you are given the assignment to make a new set of moral clothes and put them on. But in the school of grace your new clothes are . . . what (v. 24)? CREATED! God creates the new person that we must put on.
Now remember what this new person is! It is the bundle of attitudes and emotions and practices that make up the new me. That is what verse 24 says God creates. He creates the new me. The bundle of attitudes and emotions and practices are created after his own likeness in righteousness and holiness, the catalogue says.
This is totally unlike any other school in the world. I am given the assignment to become holy; but then I am told that God creates my holiness. This is a very strange school. Look at Ephesians 2:10 for one of the strangest sentences of all in the course description:
We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This boggles the mind! I am God's workmanship, God's creation. And not only that, the works that I am assigned to do—he has already prepared those, too! Who is working in this school, anyway?!
Do you see why Paul can't just say, "OK, you're a Christian now, get rid of your bad habits and get some good ones." That is the curriculum in the school of legalism: God saved you, now improve yourself. No! In the school of grace God creates the new person—and that includes all the new attitudes and emotions and practices that we are supposed to put on.
The Key Question in the Christian Life
So here I am in the school of Christ. I have heard his voice. He has called me from death to life. I've trusted him to forgive all my sins. I've gladly submitted to enter his school and learn from him how to live to his glory. Now here I am, and he tells me that I am his workmanship and that the new person I am to become is his creation and the works I am assigned to do are already prepared by him before I even do them. What in the world am I supposed to do?
Verse 24 says, "Put on the new person!" But how do you put on a bundle of attitudes and emotions and practices that God has created? Here is THE KEY QUESTION for how to live the Christian life: How do you think in such a way that God will be the creator of your thoughts? How do you feel in such a way that God will be the creator of your feelings? How do you act in such a way that God will be the creator of your actions? How do you put on a new person created by God?
I believe the answer is found in verse 23: "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind."
This is the connection between the laying off of the old in verse 22 and the putting on of the new in verse 24.
Notice very carefully: in verse 22 the old person is corrupted by desires that are fueled and fired by deceit, by lies, by the absence of truth. When your mind is deceived, you can even love to drink poison.
But then notice in verse 24 that the new person is created in righteousness and holiness that is fueled and fired by truth. Right attitudes and emotions and actions are born from true views of spiritual reality.
And what is the bridge that leads from between the corrupting deceit in verse 22 to the sanctifying truth in verse 24? It is the renewing of the spirit of the mind in verse 23. This is the key to all the assignments in the school of grace: "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind." If your attitudes and emotions and practices come from the spirit of a renewed mind, they will be yours in one sense, but in a deeper sense they will be the creation of God in righteousness and holiness. And you will be able to say with one of the most advanced students in the school of grace, "I worked harder than any of them, nevertheless, it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). I did my assignments but really God did my assignments in me and through me.
Becoming Renewed in the Spirit of Your Mind
But how do you become renewed in the spirit of your mind?
With this I close until next week when we will flesh it out with the specific example of putting away lying and putting on honesty.
The answer is to fill the mind continually with truth about spiritual, eternal, heavenly reality. In 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 Paul says, "We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day." How? Answer: "Because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." Paul was renewed in the spirit of his mind by filling his mind with the unseen truths of eternity, so that the loud, garish deceitfulness of this world was pushed out.
He says in Colossians 3:2–3, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God." Fill your mind with the truth of heaven.
And here in Ephesians Paul prays for us in 1:18–19 that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened that we might know what is the hope to which God had called us, and what are the riches of his glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power. Why does he want us to see these things with the eyes of our hearts? Because this is what renews the spirit of the mind—when it is full of the truth of God's power and promises.
And finally, in 3:18–19 Paul prayed for us that we may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God." Why?
Because when your mind is filled with the love of Christ and with all the fullness of God, then the spirit of your mind is renewed and freed from the deceit of the world. And out of that renewed mind come new attitudes and emotions and practices, and they clothe you with righteousness and holiness. And this new person that you become is indeed the creation of God himself, and to him belongs all the glory forever and ever. Amen.