Ripping Off the Old Man: Thoughts on Ephesians 4 (Part 1)

January 13, 2020

Ephesians 4 is changing my life. It sounds like Christian clickbait, but it’s not. More accurate wording would be that God is changing my life through his living and active word, that he promises to do that all over the place in the Bible, and that it shouldn’t be big news in my life. But I’m a stubborn sinner, so it is. If you’re like me in that, let’s talk. 

I’m told in Ephesians 4:22 that there is a serious “old man” (as the KJV calls it) in my life. This is no surprise to me; in fact, I’m convinced he is the most ripped, herculean “old man” around with the strength he displays when he wants his way. But the Apostle Paul doesn’t give him much credit. He doesn’t seem intimidated. If we’ve “learned Christ”, Paul tells us, we need to “put off your old self [old man], which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…” 

The trick is our deceitful desires feel so right. They’re smooth. They convince us we deserve more: more respect, more control, more pleasure, more service, more relaxation–in other words, more worship. 

Not much has changed since the serpent served up his dish of lies to Eve and she greedily swallowed. Lies still taste good, and our culture only reinforces them by broadcasting visions of all we can have and be if we just worship the idol of me. We nod and swallow (again), and the old man retains his strength in our lives, flexing and grinning and demanding still more. 

God has something far better for us than this vacuous existence. Through Christ, he made a way for us to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (vs. 23-24).  

The first step is to take a good hard look at what specific “deceitful desires” are guiding us. When we feel that familiar brooding (impatience, stubbornness, lust, pride) growing in our hearts, we need to stop and ask, “What is it that I really want right now? Are any deceitful desires at work?” For example, if I’m snapping at my kids, chances are, I want ease more than I want to love God by loving my children. If I’m worrying nonstop about a trial in my life, chances are I want to be in control of my life more than trusting God’s good plan for me. 

These desires are deceitful. They’re lying to us! And they promise that if we fulfill them, we’ll be happy. So we snap at the kids, we worry all night, we click the impure image, and we eat another bagel. Despite all this, our desires are never satisfied. (I’ve been tracking the data for over 40 years now, and it’s very consistent.) The old self is simply a bag of wind who fuels our sin as he laughs at us. God’s Word tells us to put him off like a grimy old shirt. 

Our Heavenly Father has so much more for us–beautiful new clothes that allow us to move like Jesus and act like Jesus and look like Jesus to the world around us. But how do we put that new self on? What do we do? 

We’ll tackle that next Monday, so come back then for Part 2.

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