In our first lesson in this series we notice the apostle Paul tell us that we have problems and our problems start in our way of thinking. Our way of thinking is futile and darkened, causing us to think that we see life, see others, and see ourselves properly. But we do not because we are separated from the life that is found in God. This leads us to be enslaved to our sins because no one can tell us that we are wrong or that our thinking is broken. I cannot overemphasis how important understanding this first point truly is. I have tried to counsel so many people who have major life problems or are captured by their sins. But they do not listen because they think they see life and others properly when they do not. So they keep plunging their lives into further and further ruin. Admitting that our thinking is broken and that we cannot see clearly is our first step to having hope of leaving our past behind. Open your Bibles to Ephesians 4 and we will begin our study there in God’s word. There we will look at the second step in leaving the past behind.
In our world, clothing matters. There is a saying that has been around for hundreds of years now. “Clothes make the man.” We care about clothing because it reflects who we are. Clothing makes a statement about ourselves. Clothes reflect your profession, your social status, your values, and your beliefs. While we may not want to be judged by appearance, clothing does make a statement about ourselves. The apostle Paul uses this imagery in Ephesians 4:22-24.
You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22–24 NRSV)
Put Off The Old (4:22)
The first picture given to us is that we are to put away our former way of life, the old self. The Greek word that the English translations render “put off” is a word that is used for setting aside clothing. It is the word used in Acts 7:58 when those who were stoning Stephen laid their coats down at the feet of Saul. It is often translated “put away” in the New Testament. We are to take off and put away our old self, meaning the way we used to live life. What is wrong with our old way of life? What is wrong with our old self? Why can’t I keep living how I was living before? The apostle Paul tells us that we have to lay the old self aside and put it away because it is corrupted by deceitful desires. This confirms what Paul was emphasizing earlier. Our way of looking at life is broken and corrupted.
Our deceitful desires have colored the way we look at life. Your former way of life was not good. It was not helping you. It was not accomplishing what you wanted. Now we can be deceived into thinking it was. Notice Paul says we have deceitful desires. Think about this: our desires are lying to us. What are these desires lying to us about? They are telling you that you will be happy if you obey your desires. They are telling you that you will be satisfied. They are telling you that if you could just do what you want, then you can fix your life and make it what you have always wanted. But think about this for moment: how well has that been working for you? Our sins do not make us happy and satisfied. But we believe the lies that our desires tell us. So we are corrupted by these desires that lie to us. This is what makes it so hard to put away the old self.
Think about this idea like clothes as Paul is illustrating for us. You probably have some old clothes in your dresser like me. There are usually two reasons we keep some really old clothes, even though they are faded or have some rips and tears. First, those clothes are comfortable. We like them. They feel good. There is something soothing about wearing those old clothes. Second, we have fond memories of the clothes. Sometimes those clothes represent something to us. Maybe they represent a good period in our life or a particular moment. Either way, our spouse wants us to get rid of these old clothes but we refuse for one or both of these reasons.
This is the way it is with the former way of life that Paul wants us to get rid of in our lives. Why is it so hard to take off the clothing of our former way of life? It is these reasons. We are comfortable with our former way of life and we only remember the good from that former life. This is why we go back to them so easily. New clothes feel weird. New clothes feel stiff. They do not feel right. But Paul is giving us a picture that we need to get rid of these old clothes. I know that they feel comfortable and you have some fond feelings. But you have to throw these old clothes away. We have to see them as corrupted and deceitful. We have to see that they are not helping us.
Putting off the old self is not just changing a few things in your life or changing a behavior or two. Putting off these clothes means getting rid of the whole way of how we use to do things. It means getting rid of how we think about life. We no longer do things because that is the way my family does it, my friends do it, my culture does it, my country does it, my party does it, or anyone else. I am casting off those old clothes and throwing them away. This is the first step toward hope to leave the past behind. Put off the old way of life.
New Attitude (4:23)
Second, in verse 23 we see that we need a new way of thinking. We need a new attitude. Again, we see why it is important to recognize that our problems come from our broken thinking. I think it is important to see that Paul does not simply say to put off the old clothes and put on the new clothes. You cannot put on the new clothes yet. It is not going to work until there is a renewing of the mind. Unless we renew our way of thinking, we will quickly go back to our old clothes. We cannot alter our behavior without changing the way we think. A restoring process must take place in us.
This renewing of the mind is a constant process. We are installing a new filter in our minds for how we look at life. Rather than accepting what we are told by other people, we run what is told to us through the filter of Christ. Rather than accepting what our desires tell us to do, we run our desires through the filter of what Christ has told us to do. This is a very important truth. We are told in our culture today to “follow our heart.” We are told to obey our desires. We are told to do what you want to do. We are told to listen to our own truth. But God is showing us that doing this will ruin our lives because it is part of the former way of life. Listening to what you think and feel without running those things through the filter of Christ is putting the old clothes back on. This is easy to do because the old clothes feel so good. Our old clothes feel right. So we say that we cannot be wrong because this feel right. But what feels right is not right. What seems right to our flesh is the old clothes. What is good and right is only seen through the filter of Christ.
Put On New Clothes (4:24)
It is this new thinking that allows these new clothes to be worn. Renewed thinking is going to change our way of life. The choices we make and the things we say and do will all be different now that the filter of Christ is in place. The first thing we do with new clothes is we look in the mirror to see how they look on us. Notice what these new clothes are supposed to look like on us. These clothes are “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” The new mind will lead to a radically different lifestyle because our standard of thinking and living will not be the world, but will be God. The goal of our transformation is that we would be created in God’s likeness. We are to be in the image of God. We are to show God to the world through our thinking and actions. Paul says this a few times in his letters.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:2–4 CSB)
For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 CSB)
The old life has died and now people see Christ when they see you. You are made in the image of God. Sin has corrupted and broken that image. But Christ has come and is renewing our way of thinking so that we can be in God’s likeness again. Now we are made in true righteousness and holiness that comes from God.
I want us to think about the motivation that is provided to us. Paul did not teach us that the reason we need to live a different life and put off the old clothes of corruption is because God is going to judge us, or because wrath is coming, or because we are going to get caught, or because it will make life a mess. While all these things are true, none of these things are the motivations for putting off our old clothes. Paul’s motivation for putting off the old way of life and putting on the new clothes is simple but important. The old way of life is not who you are. Those sins are not who you are. That old life is not what you were made for. You have a new way of life. You have a purpose. You have a reason for living. We put off the former way of life because that is who we have been made to be in Christ. You want to stop the former way of living because you have been created for something greater and better. You have a better calling. You have a higher calling. When we sin, we are choosing to not live up to the purpose given to us. We are listening to our deceitful desires that tell us lies about who we are and why we are here.
We need to be weary of the world telling us who we are. Our culture tries to tell us who we are based on gender, based on race, based on ethnicity, based on sexual desires, based on career, based on wealth, based on geography, and so many other factors. God is trying to get us to stop listening to this.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:27–29 NRSV)
Notice what God says you are. He says you are not all these other things that the world tries to layer on you. You are a Christian. If you belong to Christ, then you are an heir of the promise. Know who you are and live to your purpose. You need new clothes. Throw away the old clothes that have been given to you. Those old clothes are full of lies, emptiness, and pain. I know those old clothes are comfortable. But God has better clothes for you — clothes that give you hope, help, and healing. Leave the past behind and move forward with your new purpose that gives you hope. You are made in God’s image, in righteousness and holiness. Change how you think about yourself, others, and life.