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.”
“At this point in my life, for all intents and purposes, I was godless. I engaged in all manner of sensuality in the form of ‘sex, drugs and rock-n-roll’, and thought nothing of it. The concept of hell or eternal damnation for unrepentant sin was not even in my mind. However, as time went on, my life became more and more of a shambles.”
These individuals learned the lesson of their first parents – Adam and Eve – that what may seem pleasurable – if it is in violation of God’s command or separated from him – becomes in truth a deceitful pleasure. However good it feels for the moment, in the end it leads to emptiness and to a downward path morally.
How else did we learn Christ? We learned that there has to be a putting off of the old self. Jesus is not an add-on, a clothing accessory. We don’t fit him into our lives. There may be some of you trying to do that now. You know there is something missing in your life, that there is a spiritual void that needs filling, and you think maybe having a relationship with Jesus will make a difference. And so you add this dimension to your life in the same way that you might add an exercise or diet program or take up a new interest.
But if you are to really learn Christ, you will learn that he will not be added on to your life. He moves in to take it over. And the first thing he does it to go into your wardrobe and demand that all the clothing be thrown out. And so the old self with which you clothed yourself, which felt rather comfortable, has to go.