Take Off the Old, Put On the New (Ephesians)

There’s a saying that I’m sure you’ve all heard before — “Clothes make the man.”  But what you may not know is that phrase dates back to sometime around the time of Christ.  But it was Mark Twain in his spiffy white suits that made that phrase popular.  He actually said a little bit more than just “Clothes make the man.”  He is reported to have said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.”

            Clothing is actually an important Biblical theme from the very beginning!  In Genesis chapter 3, in the story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, their very first action after eating the forbidden fruit was to make clothes out of fig leaves.

            And then, God’s first act of grace also had to do with clothes. In preparation for their life outside the garden, God made a better set of clothing for this couple.  Not from those flimsy, scratchy leaves…but animal furs, durable and warm.  God sends them out of the garden with clothes that are appropriate for their new situation.

            And then, in the book of Leviticus, we read about the clothing that the priests had to wear when they served God – fine white linen.  In Zechariah chapter 3, Joshua the high priest, has his filthy clothes removed and God gives him a new set of clean clothes.

            And, continuing into the New Testament, we read Matthew’s account of the Messianic wedding feast in Matthew 22.  In that story, Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as a wedding feast for the king’s son.  But then, all the expected guests refused to come, so the wedding was opened up to everyone.  The king’s servants “went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:10).

            And everyone is having a wonderful time at this wedding feast, but then the parable continues: “When the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.’” (Matthew 22:11-12).

            What a terrible consequence that came as a result of this man wearing the wrong clothes.  But, of course, Jesus’ parable really wasn’t about clothing at all.  The point Jesus was trying to make is that it’s not enough to just “get into” the kingdom.  Once we get in, it’s important that we put on the right spiritual clothes!  We need to dress appropriately.  And how we dress affects how we behave.  

            There’s a documented, psychological trait known as “enclothed cognition.”  This principle says that our clothes shape our thoughts and our actions.  The idea is that how you dress will affect how people perceive you and it will affect how you perceive yourself. That’s why soldiers in the military have to wear uniforms and it’s why judges wear black robes.  So, it’s interesting that, in our text this morning, Paul talks about what we need to wear as Christians.

            Because if the idea of “enclothed cognition” holds true in the secular realm, it’s even more true in the spiritual realm. Clothes make the man — or the woman — who belongs to Jesus Christ.  But I’m not talking about cloth-and-fabric clothing.  I’m talking about how we have been clothed with Christ, how we have put on Christ’s righteousness and holiness and character. That’s what we need to be wearing on a daily basis. And so, this morning, we’re going to talk about the need to take off our old clothes and put on some new clothes.

            In our study through the New Testament, we come now to the book of Ephesians where Paul spends much of this letter instructing us how to live the Christian life.  And, in chapter 4, he says that part of Christian living is learning what to put off and what to put on.

            Beginning in Ephesians 4, verse 17, Paul writes: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV)

            Put off the old, put on the new.  Paul says we need to take a good look at what we’re wearing.  God wants us to throw out the old dingy wardrobe, because it doesn’t go with who you are now in Christ. There’s a new look that is much more suitable for you, that expresses who you really are right now. Clothe yourself with these garments.  Wear this new clothing that goes with the new you.

            Before we get to this passage, though, let’s take a look at this overview of the entire book of Ephesians, and then I’ll be back to talk about some of those things that we need to take off and some of the things that we all need to put on.

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            So, let talk about these new clothes we need to be wearing.  But before we can put on our new clothes, we’ve got to take off the old clothes.  Suppose you go to a department store to look for a new coat.  You find one and take it into one of those little changing rooms.  If you’re wearing a coat already, you don’t go in there and put the new coat on over your old coat. That would be silly.  You’ve got to take off the old one before you put on the new one.  That’s true spiritually as well. You’ve got to take off the old before you can put on the new.

            So, what exactly is it that we need to take off?  Basically, it’s everything that belongs to our old sinful way of living.  Paul reminds us where we came from and who we were before we came to Christ:

            “With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.  Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him.  They have no sense of shame.  They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19, NLT)

            Paul describes here what sinful people look like.  The Gentiles here in this passage are the pagans, all those people out there who don’t know God, who aren’t a part of God’s people.  But this isn’t just who they are.  It’s also who we used to be.  As Paul put it back in chapter 2, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.  You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world.” (Ephesians 2:1-2, NLT)

            And here in chapter 4, Paul describes that life as living in darkness, wandering far from God, hardening the heart, having no sense of shame, and living for lustful pleasure, which basically means doing whatever you want to do.  Being selfish, self-centered, focused on making yourself happy, expecting everything and everyone to serve your desires – that’s the old sinful nature that is filled with “every kind of impurity.”

            All in all, it’s a pretty ugly picture.  And that’s our “before” picture.  Every time you see an advertisement for a new diet plan, they always show you the “before” picture and the “after” picture to show you what a big difference their plan makes.  So, when Paul talks about our spiritual lives, he starts by describing the “before” picture, which is really ugly. 

            But, thankfully, there’s a new picture, an “after” picture which is truly beautiful.  There’s a life that God has created for us that is very different from that old way of living. 

            When I’m hot and sweaty and filthy, nothing feels better than a nice hot shower.  I can enjoy a steamy shower and come out smelling clean.  But it would be foolish for me to put my dirty clothes back on. When I’m clean, I want to put on clean clothes, that’s only natural.  And that’s what Paul’s point is here.  God has cleaned you up, so don’t be putting those dirty clothes back on.

            One of our problems as Christians is that we have a temptation to go back to what’s familiar to us, to go back to what we’re used to.  And it’s so easy for us to look like and act like unbelievers all over again.  And so, Paul says:

            “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24, NIV)

            Paul says to take off your old self and put on the new self.  The Greek words that Paul uses here were actually used for taking off clothing and putting on clothing.  It’s like the old self, that old sinful way of living, was an ugly, out-of-style outfit that we really need to take off and get rid of.  But if we do that – we can’t just run around naked.  So, we need to put on some new clothes — the new self, the new nature that we now have in Christ.

            Paul tells us that this new self was “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  When you were baptized into Christ, you became a new creature.  There’s a whole new you, that God has made.  And he created you to be like him, to share in his character.   God himself provides the model and the pattern for our new way of life. Being a Christian isn’t just about following a list of rules.  It’s about being like God.  It’s about loving what God loves, and doing the kinds of things that God does.

            But I want you to notice that Paul doesn’t say that we “make ourselves new”.  He said we need to “be made new”.  Ultimately, this renewal is not something that we do; it’s something that God is doing in us.  He’s doing it by his Holy Spirit.  Back in chapter 3, Paul said that the Holy Spirit is the one who strengthens us through our faith in Christ.

            So, when Paul says here that we are to “be made new”, he’s talking about the fact that God’s Spirit is at work in our lives to change the attitude of our minds.  He’s not just giving us a few new instructions.  He’s changing our whole mindset so that we see the implication of the gospel for our lives.  And that will affect our thoughts, our hearts, our desires, and ultimately, our actions.

            But even though this is something that God is doing in us, we’re not told to just sit back, relax and let God get on with the work while we do something else.  We’re taught to take intentional steps to change — knowing that God is at work in us.  That means that we need to identify areas in our lives that need to change. We need to bring those things to God, praying and asking God to help us to change. We need to examine our lives to see how God is working, and thank him for acting in us in that way.

            This deliberate discipline of change and growth and maturity isn’t an optional thing for those of us who are Christians.  It’s something that must happen, because that’s the very purpose for which God has saved us.

            And so, that’s what it means to put off the old self and to put on the new.  But I want you to notice that Paul doesn’t let this stay in generalities.  He gets down to specifics.  There are some very real, specific differences in the way we live now as Christians, in how we deal with others, both inside and outside the body of Christ. So, Paul continues:

            “Do not continue living like those who do not believe…You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before…But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy.

            “So you must stop telling lies.  Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body. 

            “When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day…

            “Those who are stealing must stop stealing and start working. They should earn an honest living for themselves. Then they will have something to share with those who are poor.

            “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need — words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you…

            “Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil.  Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:17-32, NCV)

            So, let’s take a closer look at four things that Paul says we all need to take off and four things that we need to put on. 

1.         Take off falsehood, put on honesty

            “You must stop telling lies.  Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body.(Ephesians 4:25, NCV)

            Paul says that lying was part of the way that you used to live before you became a Christian.  It’s part of the way that the unbelievers around us live.  There is something deep within our nature that draws us to deception.  Evidence suggests that most people learn to lie at a very early age. Starting at about the age of three, children will lie to avoid getting into trouble.  Just ask a child, “Did you take that cookie I told you not to touch?” and see what happens. 

            David was exaggerating a bit, but he wasn’t far off the mark when he said in Psalm 58:3 (NCV), “From birth, evil people turn away from God; they wander off and tell lies as soon as they are born.”

            I would suggest that lying may well be the most common sin in the world.  But Paul says that lying has no place in the life of a Christian.  We need to take it off, get rid of it, throw it away.  And then we need to put on the clothing of truthfulness. 

            Now, there are a lot of reasons why we need to tell the truth.  First and foremost, because we have been re-created in the image of God, and our God is a God of truth.

            But it’s interesting the reason that Paul gives here.  Paul says to “Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body.  We need to always tell the truth, but we especially need to be honest with our brothers and sisters in Christ because we are connected, we’re part of the same body. 

            Proverbs 10:10 says, “Someone who holds back the truth causes trouble.” (GN).  When you lie, you inevitably cause trouble. You cause resentment, you cause mistrust, you cause anger.  Those of us who are Christians must be known as a people of truth.  

            In a poll a few years ago, people were asked this question: “What is the most important characteristic or attribute that a friend can have?” Ninety-four percent of the people interviewed said, “The one quality we would want in a friend above all other qualities is honesty.”

            That’s how we want to be treated and that’s how we as Christians need to treat others.

2.         Take off anger, put on forgiveness

            “When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day…“Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil.  Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:26,31-32)

            Now I understand that it’s possible to be angry and not sin, to have what the Bible calls a righteous anger.  But when Paul says not to let the “sun go down on your anger”, he’s saying that we shouldnever allow our anger to smolder and grow into bitterness.  Because to be angry like that is to give Satan a foothold on your heart.

            Paul says that anger was part of the way that you used to live before you became a Christian.  It’s part of the way that the unbelievers around us live.  There is something deep within our nature that draws us to anger.  One preacher, John Perkins, recently said, “this generation is the first to turn hate into an asset.”   And I think I would have to agree.  There just seems to be so much anger and hatred in the world.

            There are businesses now where you can go to release your pent-up anger by smashing old things like printers or TV’s, and glassware.  And, for some of you, that may sound like a lot of fun.  But smashing things is not the way to deal with anger.  And, unfortunately, it’s usually the people in our lives that we end up smashing in our anger.

            Paul says that that kind of anger has no place in the life of a Christian.  We need to take it off, get rid of it, throw it away.  And then we need to put the clothing of forgiveness and grace.

            People who have been made new in Christ don’t have smoldering resentment or hold grudges toward others.  They put away wrath and anger.   They don’t lose their temper and express rage when they don’t get their way.   They don’t shout or have public outbursts of anger and lose control.  

            If we act that way when conflict arises, relationships are destroyed and the church suffers.  When unbelievers see Christians with attitudes like that and treating each other like that, then they’ll just assume that we’re just like everyone else in the world and see absolutely nothing compelling in our message. 

            But instead, Paul says we’re to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”  And all of this is rooted in what God has done for us, “as God in Christ forgave you.”  God has treated us this way, so we need to treat each other this way.  God gave us what we don’t deserve, so we should give others what they don’t deserve.  We must be a people of grace.

3.         Take off stealing, put on sharing

            “Those who are stealing must stop stealing and start working. They should earn an honest living for themselves. Then they will have something to share with those who are poor.” (Ephesians 4:28)

            Paul says that stealing was part of the way that you used to live before you became a Christian.  It’s part of the way that the unbelievers around us live.  It’s likely that every one of us, at some point in time, has taken something that wasn’t ours, shoplifted something that wasn’t purchased, or kept something that we didn’t earn.

            And it’s nothing new.  In a sense, the very first sin of eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was a theft, because Adam and Eve took something that God told them wasn’t theirs to have.  

            We all have something inside of us that is fascinated with the concept of getting something for nothing.  That’s how just about everybody thinks.  But God’s instruction for his people has always been clear:  “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15). 

            Paul says that that theft has no place in the life of a Christian.  We need to take it off, get rid of it, throw it away.  And then we need to put on the clothing of giving to others.  And here’s one time when I think we’re happy just to take off the old clothes, but we don’t want to put on the new clothes.  Most Christians, I think, would agree, “Stealing is bad.  And so, I don’t steal.”

            But Paul doesn’t just say to take off the old clothes.  He says to put on the new clothes.  If you take off the old clothes but you don’t put on the new clothes, that’s just leaves you naked.  So, get some clothes on.  And here’s what Paul says we need to put on – “They should earn an honest living for themselves. Then they will have something to share with those who are poor.”

            People who have been made new by Christ are people who share rather than steal.   God makes us a generous people.  And so, our desire to work is not only to provide for ourselves but also to help others. 

            Our work isn’t just about increasing our standard of living.  And this is where we need to undo some of what our culture has taught us.   America says, “If you make more, you should have more.”   God says, “If you make more, you should give more.” 

            We should work in order to “share with anyone in need.”  And there’s always someone in need.  Do we view our work as a God-given means for meeting the needs of others?  We need to take off stealing, but more than that, we need to put on giving.  And then, lastly…

4.         Take off harmful words, put on words of encouragement

            “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need — words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you…” (Ephesians 4:29)

            Paul says that speaking harmful words was part of the way that you used to live before you became a Christian.  It’s part of the way that the unbelievers around you live.  Everybody wants to cut everybody else down with the words that they speak.  Words of anger, words of hatred, words of profanity and vulgarity.  Not just in what we say, but in what we write or maybe post online.

            Paul says that that that kind of language has no place in the life of a Christian.  We need to take it off, get rid of it, throw it away.  And then we need to put on the clothing of speaking words of encouragement.  Many of us were taught growing up, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”  So, we feel pretty good if we don’t bad-mouth somebody. 

            But that’s only taking off the old clothing.  Once again, if you take off the old clothes but don’t put on the new clothes, that’s just leaves you naked.  Paul says, “There’s always something good that you can say.  Something that will encourage and build others up.” 

            Maybe, as we’ve looked over this list here in Ephesians 4, you see something that you need to get rid of.  Maybe you need to stop telling lies.  Or maybe you need to stop stealing.  Or you need to stop saying harmful things, stop gossiping, stop shouting, stop being angry.  Or maybe there’s something you need to stop that’s not on that list. 

            Or maybe you’ve stopped all those bad things, but you’ve never started doing the good things.  You don’t steal, but you don’t give to anybody who is in need.  You don’t bad-mouth anybody, but you don’t encourage anybody either.  It’s time to not only take off the old clothes.  It’s time to put on the new clothes.

            “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV)

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