Summary: Walking in Christ involves three activities - putting off the old self, having the mind renewed, and putting on the new self. What does this look like?
How important is what you wear? The answers may range from “it makes no difference at all” to “you are what you wear.” Wherever you stand in the scale of opinion, what you wear does make a statement of what you think, at least about clothing.
Our Scripture passage is concerned about dress. Indeed, it is rather insistent about what inappropriate wear is and what we must put on. Let’s take a look.
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.
There are three clear points in this text. We are to one, put off the old self; two, be renewed in the spirit of our minds; and three, put on the new self. Before we go on, a word of caution: Whatever we will be learning from the three-point instruction about dress code, it is not being given to us as a self-improvement program. These are not the “Three Keys to Becoming a Better You” or “How to Dress for Success.”
Then what are they about? Look at the opening two verses and note each reference to Christ. “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.” Note the connection. This new dress for us has to do with knowing Jesus Christ; it has to do with who he is and what he has done. We will see how he is involved as we go along.
Put Off the Old Self
First, we are told to “put off your old self.” Paul already spoke about this in verse 17: “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.” In each case, he is saying that once we become new creations in Christ, we cannot continue on living the way we did before we knew him. That is not the way we “learned Christ.”
How did we learn Christ? For starters, we learned how deceptive the desires of our former manner of life were. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of reading the full testimonies of those joining the church, and this theme of the deceitfulness of desires is common for those who became Christians as adults. Here are some samples:
“I lived a self-centered, pleasure-seeking/hedonistic, and immoral lifestyle. I traveled to many states looking for the right place, the right people, the right lifestyle, whatever it was that I was missing. As the song says, I was looking for love in all the wrong places, looking for love in so many faces. My life was like the Peggy Lee song, ‘Is That All There Is?’ ”
“In some sense I was content to live my life independently and at a distance from God but deep down there was a void in my life. Life was empty and meaningless; it was just easier not to think about it.”