A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com

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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 06/13/1999

Ephesians 4:20-24

The New Self "But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard of him and have been taught in him, just as truth is in Jesus, that in reference to your former manner of life you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." INTRODUCTION

To walk worthily of our calling, we must be transformed; to be transformed we must set the Church in order so that the transformation may go forward; so now, as we grow up into Christ, we put off the old self (or old man, as the KJV had it) and put on the new. Last week we looked at the old life in its darkness and futility. Today, we look at the process of transformation. The rest of the book will be concerned with the details of that transformation, the specifics of the worthy walk.


If indeed we have heard of Christ and been taught in him, if indeed we know him, then we must perforce be putting off the old self and putting on the new. The whole thrust of the logic of Paul's language here leaves no other alternative. For the Christian faith is not an abstract philosophy to be pursued academically but a radical re-creation that transforms us totally, taking us from death to life (2:5) and from darkness to light (5:8). It is a relationship with the living God, a relationship into which it is simply impossible to enter while remaining the same. Paul's language here emphasizes the Christian life as a life of discipleship--you did not "learn" Christ in that way, if you have indeed been "taught" by him. And therefore a changed life is not optional but is a necessary consequence of saving faith.

We are not saved by making this change; rather, being saved makes the change. We cannot be saved by works (2:8-10), but neither can we be saved without them. Therefore, while salvation is by faith alone, a life that has not been changed, which does not bring forth works worthy of repentance, is concluded to be a life that has not been saved (1 Cor. 6:9-11). We must always keep both of those truths before us. It is not that a true Christian is perfect--not yet--but it is true nevertheless that a true Christian is different. If he knows Christ, he will be putting off the old self and putting on the new, at least beginning to do so.


The metaphor that Paul uses to describe this transformation is that of changing clothes: we take off one set and put on another. We must imagine a worker coming in from the fields, sweaty, dirty, smelly; but he takes off those filthy garments and takes a shower and puts on fine evening clothes and then takes his wife out to the symphony. He has taken off the old, filthy rags of his own righteousness and put on the white robes of Christ's righteousness. But the problem is that this change can be a lifelong process. So many of us present a rather ridiculous figure indeed: ratty jeans and sneakers from the waste down, white tie and tails above. And many of us have been satisfied with such an incomplete transformation, settling into a really contradictory situation as if it were normal and not a travesty to be gotten past as quickly as we can. So Paul reminds us that we can't just put on the new suit over the old rags. We have to take them off and throw them, not in the hamper, but in the trash!

OK, if God is changing us, if indeed he had changed us, then why do we still need to do this taking off? I think about the deportment that was still common among Southern blacks years ago before Integration. These sons and daughters of slaves had been emancipated for years, but when they passed a white person they still looked down and said, "Massa." The reality was that they had been set free. The old self, the slave, was dead, as it were--it no longer existed. The new self, the free person, really existed. But for a number of reasons it was difficult to shake the old habits. The identity and hence the mentality of a slave was hard to shake; it did not automatically disappear. It required a conscious decision, and more, a conscious effort, involving risks and sacrifices, to put off the old identity and take on the new, even after the reality had officially changed. Old habits of thinking are always hard to break, and the society these people lived in exerted many subtle pressures to make that transition even harder. This is exactly parallel to the situation in which the Believer finds himself: he is a new creature in Christ, a new person, but the world he lives in conspires to keep him from fully realizing this fact and acting on it. Therefore the first principle of the Christian life, the exhortation we must constantly make to ourselves as we try to put off the old identity and put on the new, is this: REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE!


Paul interrupts his sequence here. "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind" comes between putting off the old self and putting on the new, and this interruption is, as it were, the key to success in the whole process. Prvb. 23:7 tells us that as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. And this tells us that, while Christian faith is more than intellect, it is not less. We are to love God with all our minds; we are to be not conformed to this world but be transformed by what? By the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2). So what then is "the spirit of the mind"? It is the inner core of the mind which gives it its orientation and tendency, and therefore controls how you think. And that has to be renewed if we are going to get anywhere.

How is it renewed? By a change in our thinking which progresses until it becomes pervasive. I go from thinking that "I'm OK" to thinking that I am a sinner, an inexcusable rebel whose heart is evil and who deserves Hell. I go from thinking that maybe God will accept me if I try hard enough to resting in salvation by grace through faith alone. I go from thinking that God is either a Cosmic Killjoy or a Doting Grandfather to thinking of him as the Lord of Creation, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, just, wise, and holy. I go from thinking that pleasure, wealth, and power are adequate motivations for living life to thinking that nothing less than the glory of God can suffice. I go from thinking that I am the captain of my fate to thinking of myself as the servant, the slave, the prisoner of Jesus Christ. And such a change of thinking cannot remain on the surface, but it must sink ever deeper until it permeates the roots, trunk, and branches of the tree that is my thoughts, self concept, motives. For as this happens, the power of God is unleashed in my life to let me be what I already am and am becoming: his child.


But this change cannot be brought about simply be effort, by striving, by turning over a new leaf. If our minds are truly being renewed, then it flows naturally from that fact. For we read that this new life has been created (v. 24)--not by us, but for us. It was prepared by God beforehand that we should walk in it (2:10). It is God's work, not ours. It "has been" created, not "is being" created. Therefore, putting it on is a matter of yielding to the Lordship of Christ, to the presence and power of his Holy Spirit, moment by moment.

Yet this yielding is not a passive but an active thing. "Put on" is an imperative, a command. Is this a contradiction? No. It is a mystery: WE work out our own salvation BECAUSE it is GOD who works in us both to will and to do (Phil. 2:12-13). God wants from us an active, deliberate, and intelligent obedience that flows from understanding--from the renewal of our minds. That is why v. 25 says, "THEREFORE, laying aside falsehood, speak truth . . ." This is the relation of the details of the details of the new life to the renewed mind, which understands the principles which constitute the character of Christ.

How then practically do we put on the new self? Perhaps we can summarize it in five steps. First, remember who you are. Remember, that is, the calling of which we are to walk worthy. Second, nourish your new identity, this new self concept, on the Word, Worship, Fellowship, and Ministry. Third, make a commitment once and for all to put off the old self and put on the new. Fourth, renew that commitment moment by moment as you yield to the Lordship of Christ and the indwelling presence of his Holy Spirit. And finally, do this as an expression of your love for the Christ who died for you.


You cannot do this without God; He will not do it without you. Therefore, I exhort you "that in reference to your former manner of life you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."

Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams