Summary: 35th in a series from Ephesians. Our lives are to be consistent with what God has already done for us.
We’ve probably all heard the phrase “Clothes make the man.” But I wonder if you’ve heard Mark Twain’s take on that familiar adage:
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
Clothes really are important. But it seems to me that our clothes don’t really make us as much as they are a reflection of who we already are. I could go down to the local fire station and put on all the clothing and gear that the firemen wear when fighting a fire, but that wouldn’t make me a fireman. Or I could go buy a lab coat and a stethoscope and wear them around, but that wouldn’t make me a doctor. I could even put on a diaper and drive across the country to confront a rival, but that wouldn’t make me an astronaut.
But a fireman puts on his specialized clothing and gear because he has gone through the required training that prepares him to be a fireman. A doctor puts on a lab coat and carries a stethoscope around his neck only after he has already become a doctor. And an astronaut wears a diaper only after completing his or her training and going into space. In other words, we tend to dress the part according to who we already are.
As Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians, he writes to his readers, and to us, about the importance of us dressing the part as followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s read our passage out loud together:
22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)
This is not the only place in his writings that Paul uses the picture of taking off something that we no longer want to characterize our lives and to put on something new that is consistent with our new life in Jesus. Let’s look briefly at a couple of places where Paul uses similar language.
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Romans 13:12 (NIV)
You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Colossians 3:7-10 (NIV)
Other New Testament writers also employed the same picture:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
1 Peter 2:1 (NIV)
As I read all those passages the first question that comes to my mind is this: Do the clothes make the man or are they merely dressing the part according to who I already am? Let’s go back to our passage in Ephesians and see if we can’t answer that question.
Paul uses a really unusual mixture of verb tenses and forms in this passage. There is a sense in which Paul is indicating that the concept of taking off the old and putting on the new is a completed action which took place in the past. In other words, it is a picture of our position in Christ. But that same construction could also indicate actions that believers are to carry out in their lives. That would be a description of our practice.
Within the context of the entire letter, and particularly chapter 4, it seems to me that Paul, as he often does, doesn’t require us to choose between the two interpretations, but rather incorporates both of them in his thinking. I’ve created a little chart to help us work through this passage this morning:
[Chart of main points in verses 22-24. Email me and I can sent it to you in Microsoft Word]
Verses 22 and 24 describe the clear contrast between the old and the new and verse 23 is the transition that gives us some guidance on how we take off the old clothes and put on the new.
The process begins with us putting off the old man. The word that Paul uses here for “putting off” is a word that was used to describe runners in the Olympic Games who would literally cast off all their clothes and run nearly naked in the stadium.