Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:17-24
We who have been told that we are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, chosen before the foundation of the world, holy and blameless, are also told to put off the old self and put on the new self. We who are “perfect in Christ” are still in process. These are paradoxical truths that apply to all of us who are in Christ.
Who we used to be
Paul says the condition of the Gentiles is the futility of their minds caused by the hardness of their hearts. At the root of sinful conduct is our worldview, a view that says we don’t need the creator God. We are the masters of our own destiny in a world of chance and materialism or a world of chaotic spirituality in which we are to gain mastery over the spirits of this world by becoming one with the universe. These are two versions of paganism. The problem with both lies in a hardened heart that will not acknowledge God nor give him thanks.
Who we are
But, Paul says, “that is not the way you learned Christ!”
We have an active part in this life in Christ. We are to “put off the old self” that had the self-determined worldview that is corrupt through deceitful desires. Instead of having a futile mind, we are to be renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new self that is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Putting off the old self and putting on the new self is an ongoing process of repentance. As we become aware of sinful conduct or sinful attitudes in our hearts, our responsibility is to consciously acknowledge to God these sinful acts or attitudes, i.e., confessing our sins. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 That takes care of the “bad stuff.”
The other side of this coin is putting on the new self and is really where the emphasis is to be placed. Paul speaks of this in Galatians, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The sequence is important. Paul doesn’t instruct us to avoid the desires of the flesh so we can walk by the Spirit but instead says, follow after the Holy Spirit and as a matter of course, you will not gratify the desire of the flesh. That is another way of saying, “put on the new self.” When we have an undivided heart to fear the Lord, we are not easily drawn away into the life of the “old self.”
With Paul, I say, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”