“Put off the Old, Put on the New” (Ephesians 4:17 – 5:2)

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 12, 2018

“Put off the Old, Put on the New” (Ephesians 4:17 – 5:2)

“Clothes make the man.” I’m sure many of you have heard that old saying. “Clothes make the man.” The idea is that how you dress will affect how people perceive you–and maybe also how you perceive yourself. If you dress shabbily, in dingy, dirty old clothes, you will be perceived one way. If you dress your best, you will convey a different impression. “Clothes make the man.” Likewise, it’s a good idea to dress appropriate to who you are. If you’re a pastor, a clerical shirt is appropriate attire. If you’re a soldier, you wear your uniform when you’re on duty. And so it goes. You want to dress appropriately for your particular calling.

Now if that’s true it’s in the secular realm, it’s even more true in the spiritual realm. Clothes make the man–or the woman who belongs to Christ, as the case may be. And here I’m not talking about cloth-and-fabric clothing. No, here I’m talking about how you have been clothed with Christ, how you have put on Christ’s righteousness and holiness and character. That’s how you have been dressed. So that’s what you should wear, on a daily basis. Don’t wear the dirty old dingy clothes of your previous life. Put on the new garment of righteousness that is yours in Christ. That’s our message today, under the theme, “Put off the Old, Put on the New.”

Our text is the Epistle for this day, from Ephesians, chapters 4 and 5. There St. Paul lays out our new clothing for us, for us to look at. The apostle encourages us to “put off the old, put on the new,” both as a basic principle for Christian living and with some specific examples included, to see what that looks like in practical terms. Put off the old, put on the new.

St. Paul establishes the basic overarching principle in chapter 4, verses 22-24. There he writes: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and 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.”

Put off the old, put on the new. Paul calls us to radically reevaluate what we’ve been wearing. God wants us to throw the old dingy wardrobe away! It doesn’t go with who you are now in Christ. There’s a whole new look that is much more suitable for you, that expresses who you really are now. Clothe yourself with these garments. And Paul doesn’t just give us a lecture or advice. He points us to the resources we’ve been given to pull off that look. Everything you need has been given to you. Wear this new clothing that goes with the new you.

So, what not to wear? Basically, it’s everything that belongs to our old sinful nature. Paul reminds us of where we came from, who we were before Christ: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

What Paul describes here is our natural sinful condition. The Gentiles are the pagans, the heathen, all those who do not know God and are outside of God’s people. That’s who we were by nature. And that’s not a good place to be. We were born dead–yes, we can put it that strongly. Paul describes this state with strong terms: “futility,” “darkened in understanding,” “alienated from the life of God,” “ignorance,” “hardness of heart.”

And this dead natural condition shows itself in a life of deadness: “callous,” like toughened skin that’s no longer sensitive to what it ought to feel; giving ourselves over to “sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Now when we hear “sensuality,” we think immediately of sexual sins. When we hear “greedy,” we think of covetousness for money and possessions. And what Paul says here certainly includes those sins. But it’s more than that. Our sinful state extends to “every kind of impurity.” Whether we’re talking about blatant vices and crass immorality, or, on the other hand, more refined, respectable sins, like pride and self-righteousness, all of it is included. Whatever appeals to your “selfish self,” the “you” that wants to be your own god and wants everything and everyone to serve your desires–that is the old sinful nature that is marked by “every kind of impurity.”

All in all, it’s a pretty ugly picture. That’s our “Before” picture. But, thank God, there’s a new picture, an “After” picture that is truly beautiful. Since there is this new, God-created reality, Paul calls us to see ourselves in this new light. It contrasts so strongly with the old way of darkness. Paul writes: “But that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and 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.”

Put off your old self, put on the new self. The Greek words that Paul uses here for “put off” and “put on” are the words used for taking off and putting on clothing. It’s like the old self, the old sinful nature, was an ugly, unflattering, out-of-style outfit that we really ought to take off and lay aside. Indeed, throw those old rags out! But if we do that–well, we can’t go around naked. So the new self, the new nature we have now in Christ–this is the beautiful, costly garment that’s just right for Christians to wear. So put it on! Dress yourself in that! It’s you!

Dear Christian, you were clothed with Christ in your baptism. There at the font you put on the robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness to cover all your sins. Your robes were washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. We show that forth, don’t we, when a child is baptized. We clothe him or her in a clean, white christening gown, in token of the robe of righteousness we wear spiritually in Christ. But that new clothing was not just meant for the day of your baptism. This is what we wear daily, every day of our life as God’s baptized people. That’s why Paul teaches 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.” It is a daily renewal, which follows on the once-and-for-all break with the old life that happened in our baptism. New people in Christ put on their new clothing one day at a time, a daily dying and rising with Christ. So Luther writes in the Large Catechism: “For this reason let everybody value his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly.”

The new self that you put on is God’s creation, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” You are a new creation in Christ. There’s a whole new you! God did it. He made you who you are. And he created you to be like him, to share in his character. “In true righteousness and holiness.” You were created to love the right and to hate the wrong, to walk in love and to turn away from sin. “True righteousness and holiness.” It’s built into your DNA as a Christian. The Holy Spirit leads you to walk in that newness of life.

That’s what it means to put off the old self and to put on the new. But notice, Paul doesn’t let this stay in generalities. He gets down to specifics. There are real, specific differences in the way we live now as Christians, in how we deal with others, both inside and outside the body of Christ. So Paul continues: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Put off the old self, put on the new self. This affects, very specifically, how we live, our thoughts, our words, and our actions. It affects what we let in our hearts and minds. It affects how we use our feet and hands, our eyes and ears, our mouth and tongue. It leads to specific decisions we make in how we conduct ourselves. It affects how we speak to one another, both the helpful words we use to build up our neighbor and the harmful words we choose not to use about or against our brother or sister in Christ. It affects how we deal with anger in our heart. Do we let it lead us into sin? Do we let anger fester and take root, or do we ask God’s help in dealing with our anger promptly? Take the initiative and go and make peace with that fellow church member and be reconciled, rather than let that grudge take up residence in your heart. Putting off the old means putting away the old ugly rags that used to fill your wardrobe, things like bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander. Putting on the new self, the new you, created in Christ Jesus, means clothing yourself with the new, beautiful garments God gives you, things like kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness.

“Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ah, there it is, isn’t it? “As God in Christ forgave you.” There is the gospel, the source of our new life in Christ. God forgave you all of your sins in Christ, by his death on the cross, when Jesus Christ paid the price for your sins with his holy, precious blood. God’s own Son gave himself up for you, put himself under God’s judgment for you, so you would be spared that judgment. Jesus was stripped of his clothes, literally stripped, and clothed with the mocking purple robe and the painful crown of thorns. Christ wore shame and dishonor, so that you would be clothed with forgiveness and life–everlasting life, the new life of love that we know now from God. And so our text concludes: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Baptized Christian, today God is calling you to put off the old self. Every kind of impurity, deceitful desires, corrupting talk–everything that belongs to the old way of life. That’s what not to wear. Throw those old rags into the trash bin where they belong! Put on, in their place, the whole new wardrobe that Christ has purchased for you: righteousness and holiness, kindness and tenderheartedness, love and forgiveness–things that go with being a Christian.

“Here you go, ma’am. Try this on, sir. Put this on, the new self. There, let’s see how that looks on you. Oh, now that is you! It really goes with who you are–the new you–a new creation in Christ.”

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Published in: on August 11, 2018 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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