Everyone is exploring what post-lockdown life will look like. Some have various fears of returning to “normal”—a kind of “re-entry syndrome”. Others may have some regrets about missing the hidden benefits of lockdown that they appreciated. Perhaps we have reassessed what seemed so essential before. Do we want things to go back to the way they were when life felt too full? Surveys during lockdown suggested most people were determined that things would change and not go back to the way they were. It is an opportunity in God’s providence to begin afresh in one sense. What should our daily “new normal” look like? What should we leave behind and what should we embrace? There is a spiritual answer to this. We need to put off the old and put on the new everyday.
Hopefully, you recognise that this is the language of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:22-24. He outlines three aspects of our daily normal life if we are followers of Christ. Those who have been truly taught by Christ (Ephesians 3:20) will be shaped by these things. James Fergusson explains more of what this means in this updated extract.
The first is daily efforts to put to death “the old man”; that natural and inbred corruption which has infected and polluted our whole being (v22). It is characterised by “deceitful lusts”, they must be left behind and cast off like old garments.
The second is being renewed in the spirit of our minds (v23). This means a serious endeavour to have our mind and understanding more and more renewed, or made new, by getting a new quality of divine and supernatural light implanted in it.
The third is the daily task of putting on “the new man” like new garments. This means to be more and more adorned with new and spiritual qualities in the will, affections and actions as well as the mind. God conforms us to His image by conforming us to the righteous requirements of His law so that we live in true holiness. It is something that He creates by His grace.
1. Abandoning Every Old Way of Living
Truly putting sin to death does not mean singling out one sin and passing by others. It strikes at all sin. We must not content ourselves with lopping off the branches but strike at the very root of sin. Paul describes this work as putting off the old man, i.e. the bitter root of inbred corruption, in its full latitude and extent.
Though we must begin to strike at the root of sin within, we must not stop there. We must set ourselves against sin in all its branches. If we attack sin at the root and in the heart we must also deal with it breaking out in outward ways. An outward change in our behaviour from what it was shows something of our battle with inward sins. When he says that they were to put off the old man in relation to their former behaviour, it does not mean that only outward sins are to be put to death. The inward work of putting sin to death appears through putting off outward sins in our behaviour.
2. Old Ways Will Get Worse if We Do Not Act
The work of putting off and putting to death this old man of inbred corruption is to be engaged in promptly. The longer that corruption is spared, it worse it gets and carries the person faster to ruin and destruction. Paul indirectly urges this duty of putting off the old man, from the fact that it is corrupt and gets worse and worse by its deceitful lusts.
Inbred corruption has an outlet in multitudes and swarms of inordinate lusts and sinful desires. The more it is expressed in this way the more strength it gets, both in soul and body. The old man has lusts, and is corrupted, or made worse, and more deeply rooted by those deceitful lusts.
Sinful lusts are deceitful lusts, they promise what they never fulfil (2 Peter 2:19) and often disguise themselves as some praiseworthy virtue (Colossians 2:18). Thus they enslave the sinner (Proverbs 7:21-22).
3. Adopting New Ways of Thinking
Being truly taught by Christ does not only mean striving to stop sinning and putting it to death in all its various branches. We must also learn to do what is right and endeavour to be adorned with the graces of God’s Spirit in the whole person. This means seeking conscientiously to fulfil all the positive requirements of a holy life. The apostle shows that being taught of Christ consisted not only in putting off the old man but in being renewed in the spirit of their mind (v23) and putting on the new man (v24).
Christians must seek their mind and understanding to be rightly informed so that they know the truth and their duty. This is essential if we want to lead a holy life. An erring mind will make us err in heart and hand also. Paul shows why it is necessary to be renewed in the spirit of the mind.
4. The New Birth Produces New Ways of Living
Saving knowledge of Christ in the mind leads to practising all the duties of a holy life. Paul says that putting on the new man in righteousness and holiness comes after renewing of the mind. By nature, we are so opposed to holiness and grace that creating power is required to work it in us. It is not something we can have by nature (Psalm 51:5) or by any of our own efforts (Romans 9:16). It is created by God (v24). It is a work of God’s omnipotence, even though He may use means to achieve it (2 Timothy 4:2).
5. The New Birth Produces a New Spiritual Image
Only those who are renewed in knowledge and have their souls adorned with gracious and spiritual qualities of righteousness and holiness have a likeness to God. Those who are most holy, are most like Him. Paul, speaking of being renewed in the mind, and putting on the new man, says that it is after the image of God (see Colossians 3:10).
The image of God does not so much consist in the natural essence, faculties or abilities of the soul (those who are wicked also have these). It consists of spiritual gifts and graces and being conformed God in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness (v24).
6. Adopting New Habits of Grace
This new man of grace which is created after God’s image consists of the inward grace of God’s Spirit rather than outward things (Romans 14:17). It includes exercising all spiritual principles and graces in all the duties of obedience in all things required by the moral law. He shows that this new man consists in righteousness and holiness, which includes conformity to the law of God in both parts of the Ten Commandments. (Holiness to God relating to the first four commandments, and righteousness towards others relating to the last six commandments)
Doing any or all of these commanded duties is not, however, sufficient proof of a renewed mind or the new birth in themselves. It is only when the necessary ingredient of sincerity and truth is also present. This is what makes those who do any duty engage with God (Genesis 17:1) and in every duty with their hears (Jeremiah 3:10). This is the way in which they aim at God’s glory as their main objective in all duties (1 Corinthians 10:31). They do not strive to fulfil merely one, but every duty, (Luke 1:6). This new man of grace, created after God’s image, is described as righteousness and true holiness, or righteousness and holiness of truth.
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