Picture a pig farmer returning to his house after a long day’s work. He comes in with his work boots on covered with mud, his overalls soiled, his hands filthy, and accompanied by a dominant odor. Imagine that he walks in the house, dressed as he was with the animals, and reclines on the couch? How would his wife respond?
She would likely say (among other things), “Take off those clothes. Put some clean clothes on. Get your mind right.”
This is basically what the apostle says in Ephesians 4 when instructing believers in how they should live. We see in verse 22, put off your old self. Then in verse 24, put on the new self. And sandwiched in between is this in verse 23, be renewed in the spirit of your minds.
Put Off the Vices of the Old Self
Think of the old self as the filthy clothes that accompany the workday. They are the vices, the worldly habits of sin. Paul says, put those off. In another place, he says, put them to death (Rom. 8:13). Kill them (Col. 3:5). These manifestations of sin and depravity must be dealt with a holy intolerance. (See A Primer on Mortification of Sin.)
Why? Because they belong to the old you, your former manner of life (Eph. 4:22). They are from the old world system and order. And because the old self is corrupted through deceitful desires (v. 22). The old self is warped and inclined in itself with wrong desires and lusts. Paul is saying, put it off. Put it to death.
We can’t domesticate sin; it’s dangerous and deadly. I remember a man in our community who would walk around showing off his six-foot Boa constrictor to neighbors. On one such occasion, the snake tightened relentlessly around his neck. Within minutes he was out of breath, on the floor, and soon after, dead. His pet became his killer in a matter of seconds. This man had overestimated his ability to master the snake while underestimating the snake’s desire to master him. So often, this is the way it is with the sin of pride. We may think we have it domesticated, but in a moment we don’t expect, we find out who the real master is.
Renew Your Mind
How do we learn how to do this? We see in verse 23 that we are renewed in our minds. This is where the battle takes place. In the 21st century, the mind is a neglected territory. Too often, we look past the mind (what we think) to focus on the heart (what we feel and love). But the heart is led by the mind. And it’s only changed by the renewal of the mind.
In another place, Paul says that we are not to be conformed to this world’s manner of thinking, but rather, we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:1–2). Our minds are never neutral. They’re always being shaped. They’re always being conformed.
The question is, what are they being conformed to? Who or what is shaping them? How are they being shaped?
This is part of what it means to live as a Christian. Our new life in Christ transforms how and why we live. A new life means a new walk.
Put on the Virtues of the New Self
And then we put on. We are to put on the virtues of this new life in Christ.
And, again, Paul shows us that this is not just a list of things to do but an overarching framework established. He not only tells us how to live but also why. We are to put on these virtues; these acts are consistent with what God has called us to be. Because this is how God has remade us. It’s who he has made us to be.
If you are looking for a list of what to put on it’s everything the Bible tells you to do. If you’re looking for something a bit more concise, it’s to remove yourself as the center of the universe and put God there. And as you do, make your decisions, live in accordance with what he says and for the reason that God says.
And this is what he gives us in the next several verses (and throughout a lot of Ephesians). We have some practical examples of what this new life should look like.
(1) Put off lying and speak the truth to one another (Eph. 4:25).
(2) Deal with your anger promptly and properly, lest you leave a house key for Satan (Eph. 4:26-27).
(3) Don’t steal, but work hard and honestly, so you can share with those in need (Eph 4:28).
(4) Instead of being careless, consider how to say what is most appropriate and life-giving to others (Eph 4:29).
(5) Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).
(6) Forsake the fleshly reflex that pivots on self and instead dispense grace by imitating Jesus (Eph. 4:30–5:2).
Habits are tough to break. By very definition, they are things we are accustomed to regularly doing. One of the reasons why they are tough to break is because of how they interact with our brains. There is nothing more habitual for us than sin. This is why we must work tirelessly and tenaciously to deal with our sin. We do this with the regular priority of putting off, renewing our minds, and putting on.