“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.” Ephesians 4:20-24
This isn’t the only passage that speaks of our part in the sanctification process as a putting off and putting on. Colossians 3:9-14 says that those who are in Christ have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is slowly being renewed to be like our Creator. And Romans 13:14 parallels those passages by urging us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
But why does Paul use language that remind us of clothing, words that make us think of putting off or putting on an outfit? I think it’s a helpful word picture considering our in between state as we live in this world and wait for the next. While we are in this flesh, there will always be tattered vestiges of our old selves, sins and habits that continue to cling to us. Rich Mullins sang, “It’s hard to be like Jesus,” and these exhortations from the New Testament underscore that fact. While we live here, on this earth, we are not what we once were, but we’re also not what we will be. God is slowly renewing us by the power of the Spirit, but we also cooperate in this process by actively putting off what belonged to our old man and putting on what belongs to the new. If you’ve been full of malice or anger or envy, put it off like you would a foul smelling shirt, and instead put on kindness, forbearance and love.
But this isn’t the only place in the Bible where we read about clothing. Way back in the garden, after the fateful deed, Adam and Eve sought in vain to clothe themselves. They thought fig leaves could cover up their sin. But God knew; he could see through that inferior attire. God also provided a better covering by making them garments of skins. He shed the blood of animals to provide for them better clothing, pointing forward to an even better covering – the blood of Christ.
Sometimes I can get discouraged as I seek to practice this putting off and putting on. Some of the habits of my old man just won’t stay off. Instead, they continue to cling awkwardly like that fabric softener sheet I’ve forgotten about. But it helps to remind myself that the old man and his clothing doesn’t define me, like a team jersey. It will soon fall off for good and someday I will be fully and gloriously clothed. Looking forward to that day, Isaiah described our future outfit:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10
Let’s persevere by the Holy Spirit’s power to keep putting off the old and putting on the new. For soon and very soon, we will be clothed forevermore with the bright and shining garments of salvation.