We all know how difficult it can be to change.
Stop and think for a moment to something that you would like to change, or you’ve tried to change in the past. How much effort did it take you? How difficult was it for you to change? Were you successful in bringing about the change you desired?
Many times we know that we need to change and still we struggle with bringing about the change that we desperately need.
Of course despite our difficulties with bringing about real substantial change in our lives we still think it’s possible for us to do. Especially as Americans, we believe we can do whatever needs to be done. Admittedly we as a race have achieved some remarkable accomplishments.
Just think of Noah and his sons building a huge ship that protected them through the greatest flood the world has yet to experience, and they did it all by hand.
Think about the ancient pyramids in Egypt. Unbelievable feat of engineering. Fast forward to the modern skyscrapers of today. Or how about the stealth bomber who can fly half way around the world accomplish it’s mission and fly back home and is never detected.
If we can accomplish such feats as these surely we can make changes in our lives, surely we can change ourselves, surely we can reform ourselves.
If we can build buildings that reach a mile into the sky surely we can change ourselves so that we are ok in God’s eyes.
That’s one of the reasons that we as a race find the message of the gospel to be so offensive. The message of the gospel is we are not acceptable to God in our natural state. We all come into the world in an unacceptable condition. In our natural born state we are totally unacceptable in God’s sight. Compounding the situation is the fact that we do not have the necessary resources within us to be able make the necessary changes that would make us acceptable to God.
What do you mean I can’t change myself! I’ll show you! What do you mean I’m unacceptable to God? I’ve built buildings that reach into heaven!
So we continue on with this false sense of self sufficiency and unless and until God graciously intervenes in our lives our false sense of self sufficiency we will ultimately lead us to our eternal destruction.
The reason I’ve spent a couple of moments talking about change is that becoming a Christian involves change. We are changed from having a heart of stone to having a heart of flesh. We are changed from a state or a condition of spiritual death to one of spiritual life. We are as Paul describes in Corinthians “a new creation”
Now it’s important to note that in each one, or in each of the changes that take place in our lives (the ones I’ve just mentioned) is who brings about the change in our lives? Who replaces our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh? God does.
Listen to Ezekiel 36:26.
” And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
So who brings about this change? Us or God? According to the Scriptures God does.
Who makes us a new creation? Listen to 2Cor. 5:17-18
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;”
Notice carefully what Paul says “all this is from God”.
But it’s important that we understand, truly understand, that our salvation is not a process of self reformation, but rather a completed act of creation where God through Christ makes a new creation, with a new nature and new desires, and with new abilities, and capabilities to become who we truly are in Christ.
Again because of our sinful tendency of self sufficiency we must guard our understanding of what salvation is and how it was accomplished.
Our understanding of these truths impacts our understanding of what Paul is teaching us in this passage.
This morning I want to focus on two phrases that Paul uses. Those two phrases are “put off” and “put on”. At first glance it may appear especially when Paul tells us to take off the old man or the old self it appears that it is solely our responsibility to do so. But is that really the case and would that be consistent with God’s pattern?
One clue as to how we can best understand this passage is by taking note of what Paul has previously said.
Look at what Paul said, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!”. What’s important for our understanding for our understanding is the past tense that Paul uses. He said that is not the way you learned Christ. Paul is referring to an action that has taken place in the past, he is referring to some previously completed action.
What is Paul referring too? When Paul makes reference to them having learned Christ he is referring to their salvation. To learn Christ is to know him in a saving way. Notice he continues to talk to them about things that have transpired in the past. He goes on to say “assuming you have heard about him, and were taught in him.”
He is referring to things that have already happened, he is referring to things that have already taken place, things that are already done.
Why is that important? It’s important because Paul goes on to say, “to put off your old self”. Did Paul start a new sentence with that thought? No, it was a continuation of what he has been explaining to them.
So would it be safe to say that when Paul says “to put off your old self” that he is thinking in terms of the past tense as well? Yes he is, and how do we know this? Well let me quote John MacArthur at this point. Dr. MacArthur writes ” It is important to note that Paul is not here exhorting believers to do these things. These three infinitives describe the saving truth in Jesus and are not imperatives directed to Christians. They are done at the point of conversion, and are mentioned here only as a reminder of the reality of that experience.”
Putting off your old self is related to, assuming you have heard about him, and were taught in him.
Though it seems as if Paul is telling us that we should be putting off the old man, that’s not what he is saying. He is simply reminding them and us of what God did for us through Christ at the moment of our salvation.
Now less you get nervous, salvation does require a human response. A person must hear the gospel to be saved and a person must respond to the gospel to be saved but a person is not capable of doing either of those things apart from God giving them the ability to hear and respond to the gospel.
But the important point that I want you to grasp this morning is that God has done for you what you could not do for yourself. You were not capable of taking off the old man, you were not capable of laying aside the old self apart from God’s working in you.
Paul frequently in his writings make reference to our salvation in the past tense. For instance in Romans 6 he says
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
¶ For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Salvation is what God has done, not an ongoing self-improvement project.
What does it mean then to “put off the old self”? First of all The verb means to strip off, as in the case of old filthy clothes. The tense (aorist middle) indicates a once-and-forever action done by the believer at salvation.” When we hear the gospel and respond to the gospel we are stripping off the old man, we are laying aside who we are. When we strip off the old man we are leaving behind our old way of life, we are leaving behind the way that the Gentiles walk.
The reality is that this is what God has done for the believer at the moment of their redemption. He has called them to a new life, and the new life is not fit for the old man.
What is my role then as a believer? First my responsibility is to believe that this is what God has done for me. The old man, the old self has been taken care of by God, that frees us to move forward. When I was a kid, there was a man in our church who sang this song, and he sang it alot. He sang “Thanks to Calvary I’m not the man I used to be”. That so is so right, it is so biblical. it is only because of what Jesus has done on the cross that we are not the people we used to be. So based upon this reality, based upon this truth, Paul says don’t live the way you used to because you aren’t that person anymore.
As Christians we need to understand who we are in Christ. I’m afraid many many Christians fail to understand, fail to embrace all that God has done for us through Christ, and as a result we struggle in some areas that we need not to if we would only understand who we are in Christ. A great study for you to undertake some time would be for you to go through the New Testament and see who you are in Christ.
If what Paul is saying here sound familiar that’s good because he wrote in very similar terms to the church, to the believers in the church at Colossae.
¶ If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Our salvation is unbelievably nothing less than a spiritual union with Christ. Just think about that for a moment, if you are a Christian you are spiritually united with Christ. There is an unbreakable bond between you and your Savior. There is an inseparable union between you and your God.
John MacArthur writes:
“This union and new identity clearly means that salvation is transformation. It is not the addition of a new self to an old self. In Christ, the old self no longer exists (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17)”.
Take note of that last phrase, “In Christ the old self no longer exists” That’s why we should no longer “walk” or live as the Gentiles live. That’s why we should not live as the unbelievers live.
That’s what Paul says about the old self, it was corrupt, it belonged, it was only fitting to the old self, to the old person that we were apart from Christ. Again when you begin to recognize that your salvation is a spiritual union with Christ immediately we begin to understand that we should be different than when we were separated from Christ.
Now in verse 23 Paul says that we are to be “renewed in the spirit of your minds”. What does that mean? Again I’ll just mention that Paul addresses the subject of our minds, and our thinking takes place with our minds, and the way that we think governs our actions. The focal point is how we think, we need to pay attention to the way that we think.
Commentator John Eadie writes “The change is not in the mind psychologically, either in its essence or in its operation; and neither is it in the mind as if it were a superficial change of opinion on points of doctrine or practice; but it is in the spirit of the mind; in that which gives mind both its bent and its material of thought. It is not simply in the spirit as if it lay there in dim and mystic quietude; but it is in the spirit of the mind; in the power which, when changed itself, radically alters the entire sphere and business of the inner mechanism.”
This renewing of the mind again is initially accomplished by God at the moment of our salvation. In what way is the mind renewed? When God renews our minds, He is giving us new abilities and new capacities to begin to think rightly, He is giving us the ability to think straight, He is giving us the ability to comprehend and to understand spiritual truth.
Jay Adams who has written well and extensively on this subject writes “To be renewed in the spirit of your minds is to be rejuvenated, to be youthful again…It’s easy to become cynical…the anticipation of youth with all it’s possibilities must be renewed, replacing the cynicism that corrodes through life.”
The renewing of our minds is an ongoing work, the Holy Spirit continues to renew our minds as we feed on, and meditate on the Word of God. The Holy Spirit renews our minds as we seek God through prayer. That’s why it’s important as we pray to be praying Scripture, to be praying the truth of God’s Word. As we do so our minds our changed, our minds begin to think rightly about God, about Christ, about His Word, about this world, about our priorities.
Though we don’t have time to look at all of what the Scriptures have to say about our minds, let me give you one clear admonition from Scripture to guide us in our thinking.
¶ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Some pastors as well as all of us would be wise to take those words to heart.
Once the old self, the old man has been put off, it must be replaced with something. What is that something? It is the “new self”. What is the new self? Perhaps the best way to understand it is to look at how Paul describes the new self.
How is the new self created? Paul says that it is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”. Now contrast that description with what we know to be true of the old self, of the old man. The old self knew nothing of true righteousness, it only knew self-righteousness. The old self knew nothing of holiness, it was corrupted, it was a dead rotting corpse. So the new self has been created after the likeness – in the original Greek it means “according to what God is”. Think about that, and couple that with your spiritual union with Christ. You are not what you use to be, you have created in the likeness of God, you have been created in true righteousness and holiness. Those then are the characteristics of your life as a Christian. Those are to be the dominant characteristics of your life as a believer!
As Christians we need to comprehend this truth, we need to meditate on this truth until and when it sinks in and settles down on us and we are in awe and have a sense of wonder over what God has done and who we are in Christ.
If our new self, if the new man has been created in true righteousness and holiness then why do we sin? Why do we who have put off the old self continue to act like the old self at times?
Paul addresses this in the book of Romans. Where or what does he cite as the source of the sin that we still indulge in and commit far too frequently?
Listen to what he wrote in Romans 6.
¶ Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
If we’ve been a Christian any length of time at all we identify with the Apostle Paul’s struggle where he cries out Rom. 7:24
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Our sin, does not come from our new self, indeed it cannot, it does not come from our old self because it has been put to death, it has been stripped off, it has been laid aside as worthless and useless. Then where does our sin come from? Paul says that it comes from our mortal bodies, to come from the members of our bodies. It comes from an unrestrained tongue, it comes from a wondering eye. It comes from a mind that does not focus on the truth. It comes from the sinful habits that we have acquired up until the time of our conversion. Sin comes from unrestrained and unbridled desires.
The new man, the new self hungers and thirsts after righteousness. But our bodies are constantly waging war against us, to continue to act out to live out the sinful habits that we have acquired over a lifetime.
That’s why the bible tells us to stop doing this, stop doing that, and start doing this and start doing that. We have to through the power of our new nature, through the resources available to us as new creations to lay aside the old sinful habits, patterns and actions and begin to do the right things, to begin to develop godly habits, and practices and attitudes.
Do you realize who you are in Christ? Do you realize the spiritual union you share with Christ? Do you realize that the new self that you are as a Christian has been created in true righteousness and holiness? Do you realize that the old self, the old man has put aside, has been stripped away and no longer controls who you are>
Do you realize the resources you now possess? Do you grasp your new identity? Which identity are you living out of? Are you living like a Gentile or are you living up to and out of who you are now?
How’s your walk?[/sws_author_bio_ui]
MacArthur, John (1986-04-08). Ephesians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (p. 177). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.”
MacArthur, John (1986-04-08). Ephesians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (p. 177). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
MacArthur, John (1986-04-08). Ephesians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (p. 176). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
MacArthur, John (1986-04-08). Ephesians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (pp. 175-176). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.”