20 But ye have not so learned Christ; 21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:20–24)
I. CHRISTIANS HAVE DIFFERENT CLOTHES
A. You Can’t Wear That Anymore
When I was a kid, I, like many kids, had certain favorite clothes. One that I wore when I was about seven or eight was a particular light jacket. One day, one of those days that you start out wearing a jacket but then it gets too hot, I left my jacket on a post.
Well, the post that I left on was part of the pig pen. If you know anything about pigs, you know that goats have nothing on them when it comes to eating anything and everything. When I returned for my jacket, it was nothing but a hundred little squares of material on the ground.
From time to time, I think of that jacket, and other favorite clothes I had when I was a kid—but I know that I can never wear those things anymore. Why? First, they are all destroyed—thrown away or eaten by pigs.
But even if my Mom has something of mine stashed away, I couldn’t wear it because I’ve changed—I’ve grown up. I could try, I suppose, but it would look hilarious because it would look out of place.
The Christian is also someone who can’t or shouldn’t wear the old clothing of their past life. The reason is the same: they’ve changed. And to wear those old clothes again wouldn’t be hilarious, it would be hypocritical and sad. It may also mean that you never really truly received Christ as your Savior–that’s what the first couple verses here imply.
B. That’s Not How You Learned Christ
In Ephesians 4:17-19, we learned of the sinful behavior of unsaved people, about how they have darkened, spiritually ignorant minds, how they are alienated from God, and how their hearts are increasingly desensitized to sin.
The command was loud and clear: don’t behave the way the unsaved behave!
Well, why not? Because…
Ephesians 4:20 But ye have not so learned Christ;
We shouldn’t behave as the unsaved person does because that is not how we “learned Christ.” This is an unique phrase that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible. We can take it to mean “the same as knowing Christ in a personal way” (Exegetical Summary of Ephesians).
So, if you know Christ personally, then you won’t act the way the unsaved person does.
Learning Christ, or knowing him personally, means that you have welcomed him into your life, that you want to be shaped by his teaching, that you want to be like him.
If that doesn’t describe your experience, then Paul questions if you have really learned Christ at all. He says:
Ephesians 4:21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
“If so be that ye have heard him”—”Assuming that you have heard him.” In other words, if you are behaving like the unsaved, then you may not have heard Christ’s saving call in your life in the first place.
The phrase “heard him” refers to a person’s initial response to Christ’s call to salvation, which we can hear in the Bible. If you haven’t “heard him,” then you aren’t saved.
Not only has the Christian heard Christ, they also have been “taught by him.”
“If so be that ye…have been taught by him”—Where “heard him” refers to the initial saving experience of a believer, being “taught by him” refers to the ongoing growth of a believer in Christ.
Someone who is truly saved will be taught by Christ. They will grow in Christ. They will wear different and new clothes.
So Paul is saying to them: Are you saved? Have you heard Christ? Are you taught by him? Because if you are, then you should know that Christ teaches his followers that…
II. CHRISTIANS THROW AWAY OLD CLOTHES
Ephesians 4:22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
“former conversation” (ἀναστροφὴν, ἀναστροφή, Acc/Sg/Fem). We normally think of conversation as words shared between people, but when the KJV was translated, “conversation” referred primarily to one’s conduct (1828 Webster’s Dictionary).
Here the Greek word specifically refers to “conduct expressed according to certain principles” (BDAG). The “former conversation [conduct]” is how the “old man” wants us to act.
“the old man [self, nature]”—This is this the personality of a person when they are ruled by sin.
When we are born again by trusting in Jesus Christ, “the old man” is crucified, as it says in Romans:
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)
But even though the “old man” has been crucified, it’s influence still lives on in the form of sinful habits and patterns of thinking—“the former conversation”.
This “old man” is “corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” The sinful nature is a deceitful thing. Sin seems to be fun, pleasant, and right to do. And while some sins might be fun while we are committing them, all sins are a corrupting influence in our lives.
To “corrupt” something means to spoil or destroy it. What happens to milk or raw meat when you don’t put it in the fridge? It corrupts; it progressively gets worse and worse until it is unfit and unusable. That is what happens when we allow the “old man’s” habits to rule in our lives.
A Christian has a choice. We don’t have to let the “old man” rule in our lives—it’s been crucified anyway. We can “put off” (ἀποθέσθαι, ἀποτίθημι, Aor/Mid/Inf) the former conduct, the old man’s habits and ways of thinking.
This word here is speaking of taking off clothing, but in a figurative sense. We aren’t to wear the old man’s clothes. They aren’t appropriate for a Christian to wear, and more than that, they are dangerous to our spiritual health.
I read about a student nurse who was on her way to work at the hospital when some men on a motorcycle doused her with a cold liquid from a bottle. The nurse said that the cold sensation was quickly replaced by a burning sensation and she realized that they had doused her with acid.
What did she do? She ripped off her shirt and ran the rest of the way to the hospital where they had her bathe right away (http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2013/08/15/student-nurse-doused-with-acid-on-way-to-work/).
She ripped off her shirt because it was soaked in acid and was burning or corrupting her skin.
In the same way, we must also rip off the clothing of the “old man” or it will “corrupt” us. The Christian who does not do this will find themselves increasingly desensitized to sin, perhaps even to the point where it may be legitimately asked if they had heard Christ and been saved in the first place.
Christians throw away the old clothes and…
III. CHRISTIANS PUT ON NEW CLOTHES
A. Every Believer Is A New Man
Ephesians 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
Ephesians 4:24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
The phrase “put on the new man” means to be clothed in the “new man.” To put on the new clothes of the new person you become when you receive Jesus as your Savior.
The “new man” is what God creates in every new believer in Jesus Christ. It is a man of “righteousness and true holiness.”
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Jesus is the epitome of a “new man,” because he is perfectly righteous and holy. Adam and Eve before they sinned were also righteous and holy, which should be no surprise because they were created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:26-27). The “new man” is the way that God intended humanity to be.
B. A New Man In Old Clothing
Although we are made new by God when we are saved, practically speaking, we don’t always act as though we are new. We revert to the ways of the old man.
How does one explain this? When we become believers, nothing on the outside changes, but we are given a new inner principle that starts to work itself out in our lives. That new inner principle starts to change our habits, attitudes, words, and actions.
Those who were saved later in life often notice this more easily than those who weren’t. Habits like swearing or drinking dropped off because inside you, the new inner principle was at work.
It’s like replacing an old, worn out car engine with a new one. On the outside, you don’t see any immediate difference to the vehicle. But then when you start the engine, oh wow, it sounds different. Then you step on the gas, and you sense the new power under the hood.
The problem we have as Christians is that we hold on to the old habits of the old man. We all have our favorite clothes from before we were saved. We ignore the prompting of the new inner principle within us.
Maybe it’s the clothing of sexual lust, or the clothing of anger, or the clothing of gossiping. Whatever it is, we like to keep wearing those old clothes because they are comfortable.
C. Replace The Old Clothing With The New
So Paul tells us to take off the old clothes, but also to put on the new clothes of the “new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
In other words, don’t just stop the bad habits and attitudes, replace them with new habits and attitudes—Christlike habits and attitudes. Be like Jesus.
What does it mean to live in “righteousness and true holiness”? It’s very simple, really. To live in righteousness means that you, by God’s grace, determine to always do what God says is right. Not what you feel is right, but what God says is right to do.
What about living in “holiness”? Holiness is separating from sin. Not indulging ourselves in sinful desires and activities.
What does putting on a righteous and holy new man look like in practical, day to day living? That’s what the apostle Paul is going to show us in the verses to come. Here are a few examples:
25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)
29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)
As you can see, the new clothing that the Christian wears is going to show up in our lives in very visible ways. People will notice that we are wearing new clothes. No Christian ought to be content wearing invisible clothes!
IV. HOW CHRISTIANS CHANGE THEIR CLOTHING
A. Renewing Our Minds
So, how does one change their clothes? How does one take off the old man and put on the new man? How does one start to think, feel, and act the way that God intends someone with a new nature to think, feel, and act?
Paul’s answer is found in verse 23:
Ephesians 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
The same phrase is found in Romans 12—
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)
“be renewed” (ἀνανεοῦσθαι, ἀνανεόω, Pres/Pass/Inf) “become young again” or “to become reestablished in a like-new and often improved manner.”
The word here is passive, which means that God initiates it, not us. But we need to cooperate with God’s work in our lives.
Also, the word “renewed” is in the present tense, which suggests that this is an ongoing process; not something that you do once and then forget about.
The renewing of your mind is a life-long process. Each day you need to re-decide to allow God to renew your mind—each day you pray, “Lord, give me a new way of thinking.”
It is Christ who renews our mind. He is the only one that can. But we need to cooperate with him in order for that to happen.
How might we cooperate with him on this issue of renewing our minds? By filling our minds with eternal realities:
16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. [How is the inward man renewed?] 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 [This is how the inner man is renewed:] While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
Paul said that their inner man, the new man, was renewed day by day because they looked at the eternal, unseen things.
So what do you fill your mind with day in and day out? Are you thinking about Jesus, about eternal and spiritual realities? Or is your mind cluttered with the stuff of earth?
2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:2–3)
B. Mind-Filling Practices
Here are some practical ways that we can fill our minds with Christ. These don’t automatically make us better, nor do they make God like us more. Instead, they are a means that we can cooperate with Christ as he renews our minds:
1. Be diligent and tireless in reading the Bible.
A pastor from the 1700’s, Jonathan Edwards, called the Bible the fountain from which all knowledge of God must come.
We cannot neglect it, it must be read, studied, memorized, over and over again. Do you have a devotion time? If not, commit to half an hour. Give that time to the Lord not to make him love you, but because you love him.
2. Donʼt just skim the Bible, observe carefully what it says.
Understand what you are reading. Take notice of the line of argument, or the plot of the story, and compare one scripture with another. Studying the Bible involves reading it, asking questions of it, and writing down what you discover.
3. Read other books which may help you grow in knowledge of God.
There are bad ones, of course, but there are many excellent books out there to help you understand God better. Buy them, read them, and mark them.
Some Christians never read any “Christian” books at all, instead they read secular novels or non-fiction. But we must fill our minds with good stuff.
4. Talk to other Christians about Jesus.
Not just sharing bits of Bible trivia, but really encouraging and receiving encouragement from one another.
To that end, I challenge the young people to find an older person to be a mentor; Older folks, find a young person, not just to “share your wisdom with,” but to help you revitalize your life with the excitement of youth.
5. Pray and seek God, that he would bless you in the pursuit of knowledge.
Let me warn you, these are not steps to instant change. Maturity is not an overnight delivery or a drive through meal.
But the good news is that Jesus does have a picture in his mind of a perfect you. And that picture is himself, the perfect new man. You will be like him one day, and he will get you there.
18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
What clothes are you wearing? Old ones or new? Can the world see that you don’t wear the same clothes as they do? Do you care what clothes you wear?
If they can’t tell and you don’t care, then maybe you should examine your heart and ask yourself: Am I really saved? Do I really have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
Christian, you are a new person created by God—live like who you are.