We spend our lives in transition. No sooner are we brought into this world but there are demands that we constantly change. Nothing ever stays the same. Demands are placed on us to be awake when the grandparents come over, but sleep through the night so the parents can rest. First our parents are overjoyed we can roll over, then they want us to sit up. Crawling is met with glee but next thing you know they stretching our arms over our heads to make us walk. At one time a giggle and goo was meet with glee but then they want us to talk. As months move to years we learn that smashing food on our heads first brought laughter, then a heavy sigh and finally scorn. When schooling starts we are expected to sit quietly while read to, then we are expected to read. Change is constant. Moving through childhood means new expectations to change as information is pumped into our heads. We must learn facts as well as the social mores of our culture. That overwhelming time of adolescence means we have to constantly juggle changing expectations as well as changing hormones. Changes dont cease as we find ourselves in adulthood repeating the cycle once again through marriage and having kids of our own.
But while our bodies change and our minds expand, change within looms as a Herculean task. Sure we can modify some unacceptable habits, we can ameliorate our external performance to the approval of others. But through a life of change there is often those nagging areas where we stagnate, where we seem fixated contending with the same issues again and again.
What about those addictive behaviors to food, sex or substances? How do we alter those uncontrollable emotions of anger, bitterness, fear? Have you ever tried to change the tongue from saying too much or too little? You cant keep promises or you cant keep secrets. Perhaps you are too harsh or too cowardly. Thoughts run rampant through your mind while you try to control others even through you cant control yourself. While all around us change happens so fast and furious, real change within seems impossible.
But then, when you think it couldnt get any worse, you open up Gods Word and what do you read but commands that you change. We are in a section of Pauls letter to the Ephesians where the demands to change are on every line. It is as if God assumes we can change.
Youll look at these verses and go, "Yea, right! Put off... put on. Sounds so simple, but it is so impossible. Like telling a drug addict, "Just say no!" ...a sexually active teenager to abstain... a habitual liar to always tell the truth. Its not that easy. The problem we often have with change is that as soon as we recognize that real, deep, important change is outside our grasp, we then assume change can never occur. As soon as we encounter defeat, we are sure that we are just stuck in a rut and that is where well stay. The problem is that that we do not understand that change happens to us and not by us. Real change finds its basis outside of us. So lets take a look at this passage and how real change takes place.
Change begins with an exchange
Change demands both putting off and putting on
A superficial reading of this will produce either a hypocrite, one who coats a sinful life with a thin veneer of goodness, thinking change has happened, or, for the self-critical, sensitive sort, this produces so much frustration that spiritual suicide seems to be the only option. Put off and put on sounds overly simplistic.
Some Christians emphasize one over the other. You may hear all about putting off, what you should not be doing. You come away with the idea that if you just stop a certain practice, then all will be well. If I can just rid myself of this one vice, all will be well. But if you just "put off" without "put on," you not only dont get the results you want, but you are in worse shape. In Luke 11 Jesus tells of a man out of whom comes an evil spirit. On the surface everything looks better. But after a period of time the demon goes back, finds the mans life in good order, but nothing occupying his life. So the demon returns with seven even nastier friends of his and takes up residence.
Other times well meaning Christians will not stress what you should not do, but will spend time telling you what you should put on, what you should do. It may be in an effort to be positive or a fear of talking about sin, but theyll speak of the benefits of joy and peace in a Christian life without a word as to the demands God places on us for obedience. The mistaken idea is that we starve the sin by adding good, but like a good action movie, the villain comes back to life again and again
After WWII my grandfather took over a medical practice in a small town. He moved into the home of the previous doctor. In preparation for his arrival, some of the town folks had painted the house, so he, his wife and children would enjoy their new home. But a few months after his arrival he became aware of the details of the other doctors demise. He knew the previous doctor succumbed to the demands of the job, becoming more and more depressed, finally taking his own life. The circumstances were never explained until one afternoon as my grandmother lay in her bed, she noticed faint spots on the bedroom ceiling coming through the fresh coat of paint. Over the months the spots became more noticeable. It was then they realized that the previous doctor met his ruin at the end of a barrel of a gun in that room and the paint served only as a thin veneer over the blood stained walls.
This idea of exchange permeates Pauls discussion on change. Not only must the sin cease, but righteousness must fill its place. If you thought change was hard only when it demanded you to stop the wrong, try adding the right as well. The job just got a ton harder.
When is a thief not a thief? Look in verse 24. If you If you say when he stops stealing, youre wrong.
A thief who is not stealing is just a thief between jobs. Thats not good enough.
When is a liar not a liar? When he stops lying? No, when he tells the truth.
When it comes to change there is not only something that must stop, but there is something which must fill the void left by the wrong which was done. There is a take off and a put on. If your yard is full of weeds, it is not enough to plow under the weeds. It may be fine for a while. But soon theyll be back. Instead, you need to plant grass.
Change demands we throw off the old self
What Paul describes here is not just a simple addition or subtraction, but a complete exchange. There has to be a radical transformation. Not only must this transformation be complete, it must be immediate. It is not like trying the "patch" when quitting smoking, in which you are weaned off little by little. The word used here means to strip off, there is an urgency about the task.
Image you are cold, so you reach into the sweater cabinet to pull out that favorite sweater of yours. It is cozy and comfortable, making you feel all snug and comfy. But then you notice a strange, itchy feeling; you look down at the sweater and notice fleas and lice covering the sweater. What is more, moth larva and maggots have infested the garment and on top of all that, a skunk has made its nest inside. It looks nice at first, but you realize you cant wear it anymore. What do you do? You rip that off as fast as you can. You dont flick off the disease carrying vermin here and there. You dont try to fix it while its still on. With one pull it comes off.
There is first a putting off, but when does that happen? Paul is walking his readers through something theyve already been taught. This is not new. The word Paul uses here is an aorist infinitive. The aorist tense refers to a point in time. The infinitive is descriptive, not imperative.
Paul is reviewing what has already happened, not what we must do now. What Paul describes here is regeneration. This is the starting point of change. This is the Gospel. Real change, radical transformation comes by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, based on the work of Christ 2000 years ago and flows out of the decision of God the Father in eternity past. The foundation for all change is not found in our own righteous activity, but in Gods power through the Cross.
What is it we are to put off? The "old self."
This is not just turning over a new leaf, this is not moral reformation. This refers to the exchange which took place on the Cross. This "self" in the NIV or "nature" in other versions is the Greek word "anthropos" or man. The old man is taken off and the new man is put on. This language is typical of Paul. The old man, the adamic nature, the fallen man has no option but to sin. Of this old man Paul says in Romans 6:6, it was crucified with Christ. In Colossians 3:9 Paul commands that we no longer lie to each other, "since you have taken off your old self ... and have put on the new self...." The removal of the old self, the old nature, the old man is always referred to as a past event, its death tied into the work of Christ on the Cross.
But if the old self is crucified, is dead, is put off in regeneration, why do I still struggle with sin? Why is change still so hard?
This old self is crucified, but the remnants of sin remain. Youve ripped off that disease infected sweater, but you are still infected.
Debra Welsh had a problem with mice in her house near Albuquerque, N.M. But she got good at catching them. Especially the "wobbly" ones. "Those little drunken, wobbly mice would get into the house and you could get right up to them and pick them up by their tails," she said. "And they would die real fast." After catching the last one, she was hospitalized - with bubonic plague. But even though the mice are all gone, she is still sick. (THIS is TRUE for 30 January 2000)
Our corruption continues. Dont ever believe the lie that as soon as you profess faith in Christ the struggle ends. Rather the struggle is just beginning. There is an ongoing corruption. The word used here means to decay or rot, often used in reference to a corpse. The old self is dead, crucified with Christ. Thats the good news. The bad news is that its decaying smell is still with us.
The smell comes from the deceitful lusts.
Change comes so hard because we are so very easily deceived by that which gives us so much pleasure. What we enjoy, our lusts, promise us happiness, but always leave us more miserable than before. When we see the word lusts we think of the big bad evil sins which could get us arrested. But our lusts are those aspects of life, infected by the Fall but which have the covering of morality. They are all those aspects of our life which promise happiness but leave us with the bitter taste of emptiness.
Change demands we are covered with the new
Change comes not only by the removal of the old, but the addition of the new. God doesn't repair the old self, He exchanges old self for a new one. God doesn't reform, He transforms; He doesn't redecorate, He replaces. Just like you would not be content with a scissor to cut paper, as you need both parts to make a pair of scissors, the crucifixion of the old self is not enough; the resurrection of the new is necessary.
We saw in Romans 6 that the old self was nailed to the Cross so we are now raised in Christ. That which is old must be excised and something new put into its place. We must not think we should engage in moral reformation, cleaning up the niceties. We cannot make ourselves this way on our own. Self-reformation tends to be an exercise in futility. It is like sweeping a dirt floor. We just rearrange the dirt.
When Gary Maddox played baseball for the Phillies, sportscaster Harry Kalas said, "Gary has turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable, now he is miserable and depressed."
Change comes about when the old is removed and the new is added, a new which is completely different.
This is at the heart of the Gospel. The putting off is Christ taking our sin on Himself on the Cross, suffering our just punishment. The putting on is being clothed with an alien righteousness. This great exchange is at the heart of any real and lasting change that will take place in our lives. The new self is not an improved Chris Vogel, but a covering of Christ. It is his righteousness imputed to me. It is my debt paid (the death of the old self) as well as an infinite balance applied (put on the new self). The new anthropos, the new man is none other than Christ.
The exchange which takes place is not about you removing those aspects of your life you believe are offensive to God and incorporating behaviors which please Him. That is an impossible task. Rather, the change which Paul describes in Ephesians 4 is a change through the power of the Gospel. It is the application of the exchanged life in our every day living.
Now change can begin. But just that exchange is not change, there must also be an interchange. We skipped over the important phrase in v23: "to be made new..."
Change continues with a interchange
We must constantly be renewing our minds
Wedged in between the putting off and putting on is what is to be happening now. The old self has been put off and new self has been put on. The trouble is, you and I keep reaching back into that closet where that old vermin infested sweater is stored and we slip it on. We keep hugging a decaying corpse. What must happen now is that our thinking must be renewed.
Once the exchange has happened, an interchange must take place. Paul uses another infinitive, but this time a present infinitive, describing an ongoing, daily process of restoration. If the putting off and putting on is regeneration, the being made new is conversion, growth, sanctification.
As per Debra Welsh, the lady from Albuquerque, N.M., who got the bubonic plague from playing with mice in her house once the disease is cured and her health is restored, what must she do?
I hope she stops playing with disease infested mice! Her thinking must be renewed: "Mice are not to be played with." In verses 17-19 Paul tells his readers to stop thinking like the Gentiles. Change begins to take place with mind renewal. This renewal occurs as we examine what those areas of our lives are where we are still thinking like unbelievers, where worry and fear predominate, where godless structures still rule our decision-making process.
Real change will occur when you daily interchange the thinking of the decaying corpse for the resurrected life. There is a new attitude, literally when the spirit of your mind is made new. What drives you is different, what motivates you is altered.
You do what you do not because of what your parents told you, what your culture dictated to you, what your peers insisted should be done to be accepted. You uncritically to respond without any forethought. So much of what we do is knee jerk response as weve been influenced by our culture.
As a Midwesterner there are certain assumption with being polite, but not too extremely warm. How has your Catholic, Lutheran, or Presbyterian upbringing given you an uninformed way of living? No longer choices are made on the basis of being in labor or management, white or black, but because you are a Christian that is the basis of what you do. You ask yourself does this please God, is this in accord with what God commands?
What is the area with which you struggle?
Perhaps your mind is captivated by the futile thinking of our culture which dictates you must achieve a certain social status, a nice house, a respectable job, so you are driven constantly. But then your mind is renewed through Gods Word and you recognize the covetousness clinging to your heart.
Perhaps there is a video playing in your mind of all the hurt from another and all you feel is the pain and hatred. Change never begins because the noise from that tape is played over and over. But then your mind is renewed as you consider Christs suffering for sins of a people who had constantly rejected Him. The hatred begins to melt away as you see your hatred in light of the Cross.
Your fear of that other person, your need for his or her approval, is revealed for the idolatry that it is as you begin to realize that you no longer care about the approval of the serfs when you have the honor of the King!
The lure of the digital image leaves you unfulfilled but breaking the power of pornography seems impossible to break. But then your mind is renewed as you see sexuality in terms of Gods creation and His gift of a covenantal relationship.
We renew our minds by learning Christ - verses 20-21
So how does this renewal take place? Notice how Paul begins. Rather than the ignorance of those without Christ, Paul goes back to the basics. Youve heard the old story of Vince Lombardi on the first day of every practice: "This is a football." When dealing with change Paul takes us back to how we began.
"You did not come to know Christ." Literally: "You did not learn Christ." "You heard him" not heard about Christ, but heard Christ. You were taught "in Christ."
This is a strange statement, without parallel in the ancient world. We say you learn about a person, but here Christ is both subject and object of what we learn. Change comes not with the accumulation of doctrine. Rather change comes with the embracing of truth that is a Person. It is now a part of our literary culture to repeat the verse from John 8, "the truth shall set you free." But we throw it about as though truthful statement is what frees us. But where this verse is found, Jesus explains who this truth really is. The truth which sets us free is Christ. The other option? Being a slave to sin. The truth, the Son of God, Jesus Christ is the only one who will ever set you free from that which drags you down.
When we struggle with sin, so often we run from the cure. We look for anything other than what is best for us. Paul takes us back to the Cross. It is there that our thinking is renewed. God gives us means of grace to change us, the Word and Sacraments to take us back to that which is the only cure. Here on this table are the elements where in, by faith, we can be spiritually nourished. When you struggle with the need to change, latch hold of the Cross through the Word as well as through bread and wine. It is to the Cross we must come if we desire change. We cling to the work accomplished for us by Christ and that is where real change will come.