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How to Put Off the Old Man
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Darkness and Light” published in 1982.
`That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.' (Ephesians 4:22—24)
So far, in our consideration of these words of the Apostle, we have taken them in their general aspect. We have seen why we are to put off the old man; and now, the next step is to learn how we put him off. It is not enough just to say, Put off the old man, put on the new! This is something that has to be done in practice and in detail and we must know exactly how to do it. Now it may be that at this point modern evangelicalism shows its greatest weakness, for this aspect of the Christian life it has sadly neglected. We have often expressed adverse criticisms of Roman Catholicism, and we still do so. But we must grant that in this particular matter, the culture of the spiritual and the devotional life, they have a great deal to teach us. However we need not go to them. It was the peculiar teaching of the Puritans of the 17th century. This kind of pastoral theology, this teaching in detail of how this fight of faith is to be fought, was the thing in which they excelled. But all that, I say, has tended to be neglected by us, and to that extent we are guilty of doing violence to the Scripture. What, then, is the teaching concerning the putting off of the old man?
The first principle is clear. The `putting off' is something that the Christian has to do. It is not something that is done for him. The exhortation comes to him as a definite command. `Put off the old man'! I begin by stating the requirement negatively. Putting off the old man is not something that is to be prayed about. That sounds most unspiritual, does it not? Imagine a preacher in a Christian pulpit telling people that they are not to pray about this matter! But it is essential that we should say that, because there is a tendency on the part of many people, whatever the problem is, to say glibly and immediately, `We must pray about it! We must take it to the Lord in prayer.' It is quite simple, they say, there is nothing to do but to pray. Is anything worrying you? pray about it! Not at all, says Paul; you do not pray about this, you put off the old man; get on with it! There is something almost violent about this; and I think it needs violence, because there is a great deal of sickly sentimentality and false piety concerning this matter, which leads certain people to live a kind of spiritual life ever in the doldrums. Of course we need to pray about everything, our whole life should be a life of prayer. We should pray without ceasing. What I am saying is that you do not solve this problem by just praying about it. The Apostle does not say to the Christians in Ephesus, With regard to this problem, I want you to pray about it. Far from it. He in fact says, For these reasons that I have given you, put off that old man; you do not pray about this, I am telling you to do it; get on with it and do it.
But what if a believer talks about his lack of strength and power? The answer to that is, that as a regenerate creature, a new-born being, he has the power. If in the New Testament we are commanded to do a thing, we may rightly expect to receive from the Lord the power to do it, and therefore there is no excuse at this point. This is a very subtle matter, therefore let me put it in the following way: I suggest that, very often, people, by praying about a matter like this, far from solving their problem are simply increasing it, for they pray in a spirit of fear. They say, I feel myself to be so weak, I can do nothing. And they pray to be delivered from this thing, instead of throwing it off! The way to solve this problem is not to pray; it is to think, and to apply the Apostle's teaching and doctrine, to put off the old man.
Many years ago a lady came to see me about a problem which had been crippling her life for about twenty-two years. It may sound to others a trivial thing, but it was spoiling her life. She had a phobia, a terror, a horror, of thunderstorms. She once had been in a terrible thunderstorm and thought she was going to be killed, and that had fixed on her mind. And in the end it had come to this, that if she were walking to her place of worship on a Sunday morning and happened to see a black cloud, this fear would immediately suggest a coming thunderstorm, and instead of going to church she would go home because of her fear. The phobia had taken many forms: it had prevented her doing many things she had wanted to do, and it had created difficulties in the family; one can imagine the problems that would arise. The lady came to talk to me, purely as the result of something she heard me say as an aside in a sermon, and I listened to her story. Well now, I said, what have you been doing about it? She replied, I have done everything I can; I have talked to all sorts of people. I said, I suppose you have prayed about it? She said, I pray about nothing else, I am always praying about it. I replied, That is probably why the problem has persisted! And I continued, What you need is not to pray, but to think! And then I simply pointed out to her what a bad testimony this was in a Christian person such as she was; had she ever thought of that? Had she ever asked herself the question, Why should I be more afraid of a thunderstorm than anybody else? If all those other people can continue their journey to a place of worship, why should not I? Why is this trouble so peculiar to myself? She had never thought of that. Instead, she had been praying sincerely and honestly, and with great intensity, for twenty-two years to be delivered from the fear of thunderstorms, but the fear remained and was increasing.
There are points, I say in the Name of God and in the name of Scripture, about which you do not need to pray, but you do need to think and to apply the doctrine. You put off the old man! You need not pray for guidance about this! Having realised his character, put him off! This is not a matter of praying, this is a matter of doing. And so we see that the devil in his subtlety and as an angel of light can sometimes encourage us to pray in a blind and unintelligent manner, because he knows that, as long as we are doing that, we will not think and we will not face the scriptural teaching and apply it to ourselves and to this particular problem. But I must state the force of the Apostle's word in another negative. This is not an experience which you receive or which happens to you. Many Christians are familiar with the teaching which says that the solution of any and every problem in the spiritual life is quite simple; all one has to do is to take it to the Lord and leave it with Him. He will deliver you. Let go and let God! Quite simple! they say, you have simply got to take it to Him; and then you will have this wonderful experience of deliverance. That teaching has been propagated for a number of years now, and there are people who have been trying to practise it. But they have not been delivered from their troubles. They may have had temporary deliverance while they were in meetings, but the trouble comes back again; and they have gone on trying to let go and to let God! But, says the Apostle, that is not what is needed, you must put off the old man yourself. You do not ask God to take the old man from you, you put him off!
Surely we must recognise that this `Let go and let God' teaching is quite unscriptural. If it were true, this whole section of the Epistle to the Ephesians, from verse 17 of the fourth chapter to the end of the Epistle, should never have been written at all. The Apostle should not have written these words, and he should not have gone on to say, Therefore, put away lying; speak truth every man with his neighbour; be ye angry and sin not; neither give place to the devil; let him that stole, steal no more. He would not have said these things; it would have been wrong for him to say them. Instead, he would have said, If any of you believers are tempted to steal, pray about it; let go, and ask the Lord to deliver you from it! But he says nothing of the kind. Instead he says, Those of you who have been given to stealing, stop doing it, steal no more, put off the old man! Thus it is obvious that the teaching which may sound very spiritual can be utterly unscriptural. It not only by-passes the Scripture, it denies the Scripture.
But surely, comes the protest, you receive your sanctification as you receive your justification; you receive your justification by faith, and you must do the same in regard to the old man. But that is where the fallacy comes in. Certainly, justification is entirely by faith, because it is given when a person has no spiritual life, no ability at all. But it is not so with regard to the putting off of the old man. But, says someone, has not Paul said in chapter 2, `We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works'? I answer: That is a reference to justification, and regeneration; we are entirely God's work there. But remember that the same Paul who writes, `We are his workmanship', also says to those who have been saved, `Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling'! In other words, Put away, put off: then put on. 'We are his workmanship.' Of course! we cannot do anything until He has made us anew. But once He has made us anew, then we are capable of working. So he says, Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Justification is by faith only. Sanctification is not by faith only. The whole of the Christian life is a life of faith, but in sanctification we have to work, and to work out; to put off, and to put on; as the Apostle tells us in all these details which he gives us here. We start, then, by realising that this is something that we ourselves have to do. It is not done for us. We do not just wait passively, or relax and expect it to be accomplished for us. Not at all! Put off! Stop doing certain things, says the Apostle. And I say again, what a tragedy it is that men and women should have thought that it was highly spiritual to deny this plain command and exhortation and teaching of the Scripture! That other teaching, as I have often pointed out, really means that the second half of every New Testament epistle should never have been written at all. In the case before us, all the Apostle should have said, either at the beginning of chapter 4 or in verse 17, is just this: In the light of this doctrine, all you have to do is to let go, to abide in Christ, and all will be well; you will be delivered from all your problems; it is quite simple; it is just like lifting up the blinds and letting the sun come in; there is no more to be done. That is all he need have said! But we notice that the New Testament writers give about half of their letters to detailed, practical instructions; they tell people what not to do, they tell them what to do. Clearly, these two teachings are quite incompatible. But the teaching of the Scripture is plainly, Put off! It is something that we ourselves have to do. And as I have reminded you, it is useless to say that we have not the strength. We have! If you are a Christian, it is at hand. God never commands a man to do a thing without enabling him to do it. If you and I are born again, the Spirit of God and of Christ is in us, the Holy Spirit is in us, the power is there. And we have to realise this, and in the strength of divine might and power we act, we do this thing.
Next, how do we do it? There is the principle, and next, the practical application. The first essential is, that we have to remind ourselves of who we are and what we are. The Apostle indeed tells us to do so. He says, Put off the old man because of his sinful character, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. We are no longer what we were, and the first thing we have to do is to tell ourselves just that! The whole art of Christian living is to know how to talk to yourself. If you do not preach to yourself you are not a Christian. A Christian is a preacher, he preaches to himself. You start your day by telling yourself, Now I am the new man, I am no longer the old man; my old man has been crucified with Christ, my old man is dead, finished with, he is non-existent; I am no longer what I was. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature, a new creation; old things have passed away, behold all things are become new. You start the new day by saying that to yourself. It will not be said to you, it will not happen automatically to you. The devil will speak to you the moment you wake up, and he will say a thousand and one things to you to depress you before you are even out of bed. Therefore we have to make a resolution; we are going to get up and to say, I am a new man in Christ. It literally has to be done in detail in this way.
It is not surprising that we fail so much. We do not start the day as we should. We groan, Here are these thoughts again, and here is the problem, another eighteen hours or so before me, what can I do? And before we realise it, we are already defeated. Let us give heed to the Apostle's exhortation---Put off the old man! And if and as you do so, you will realise that Christ has come into your life and has delivered you. So do not hurry out of your bed to get on your knees and pray a prayer of depression. Instead, first of all remind yourself of who you are, for if you pray in a depressed way you are not really praying in the Spirit at all. It is a prayer of unbelief, not of belief. We cannot really pray until we are clear in our doctrine. Let us therefore remind ourselves who we are before we go to God.
The second essential follows obviously, does it not? We are to remind ourselves again of the nature and the character of the old life. It is depicted here in these terrifying verses 17, 18 and 19; Paul gives his little summary again in verse 22. Notice how concerned the Apostle is that we should do this in detail; he will not let us escape it. He keeps on reminding us of the character of the former life; he bids us hold it before us. And this, I sometimes think, is the whole art of triumphing in the Christian life. I suppose I have to say this more frequently than anything else in my pastoral work. People come about particular problems; they tell me that they have been praying to be delivered, and so on. I say to them, Have you ever really looked this thing in the face ? You are frightened of it, you are running away from it, you are cowering, your whole attitude is wrong. But now, wait a moment. Examine this thing, put it up in front of you, analyse it and dissect it, see it for what it is. That is half the battle. And then, says Paul, you will see that the whole thing must be got rid of. Look at it and face it, instead of running away from it. That is the second essential.
And then there is a third point. Impress upon yourself the utter inconsistency of claiming to be a Christian but continuing to live in the old way. So obvious, is it not? And yet how we all fail to do it! You have to look at yourself, you have to look at your old life, and when you do so, you say to yourself: Well now, it is impossible, I am being utterly inconsistent; I say that I have no use for a man who is inconsistent, I have no use for a hypocrite, a man who says one thing and does another. But what am I? how am I living? what do I claim as a Christian, as a member of the Church? Whether I like it or not, and whether I understand it or not, I am making a tremendous claim. As a Christian, as a man who calls himself a Christian, I am saying that I am a partaker of the divine nature, that Christ died to rescue me from this present evil world, that I have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. That is what I am saying. I am saying that I am a member of the body of Christ, and that by these bands of supply that the Apostle has been talking about, the life of the blessed Head is flowing into me. Is it consistent with that claim to go on living as I have been doing? Is my conduct and my behaviour to be that of the old realm when I claim to belong to this new realm? The New Testament is literally full of this kind of argument. Listen to Paul as he writes to the Philippians: `Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ' (1:27). His argument is clear: Is your behaviour becoming? does it fit in with your profession? We are all familiar with the argument, the illustration. Do not have a clash of colours in your clothing, says the Apostle. Do not dress in a manner that is inappropriate to what you are. Let your conversation, your conduct, be as becometh the gospel of Christ. See that your whole life is such that it will suggest to people that the Son of God left heaven and came into this world, that He died upon the tree, and that He rose again and sent the Holy Spirit.
But let me illustrate the teaching by giving you another incident out of my pastoral experience. Again it sounds simple and almost trivial, yet I feel it is one of the greatest things that has ever come within the realm of my experience. It concerns a certain man in his early fifties, who had lived a very evil and dissolute life. He was a drunkard, a fighter, gambler, wife-beater, adulterer; there was nothing, I imagine, short of murder, that the man had not been guilty of; and indeed, he would have been guilty of murder in many a drunken brawl if he had not been restrained by his own friends. He had a fiendish, foul temper, and he became mad under drink. Eventually he came under the sound of the gospel and was converted. Now this is where the thing sounds almost ludicrous, but this is the fact. He was a tall man, athletic, well built, a fighter. And there was one thing he was particularly proud of, namely his moustache and its length from tip to tip. (Is it not extraordinary what people are proud of?) This was his particular matter of pride. In fact, the cause of most of his fightings happened to be his moustache, because some other man would challenge him that his moustache measured more from tip to tip than his own. And so a quarrel would begin, and they would end in fighting. But he was not only proud of his moustache; he also boasted that no man could stand up to him in his prowess as a fighter. Then the unexpected happened. He came to the church, and was converted, and we looked on the event with wonder.
But this is the story. Some six weeks after the man's conversion he came to a week-night meeting, and I noticed immediately as he came in that the moustache had gone. He had not merely cut off the extended ends but he had shaved off the entire moustache. My immediate reaction was one of annoyance; I said to myself, Some busybody in this church has told this man to do that. At the end of the meeting, as he was going out, I stopped him and said I wanted a word with him. Who told you to get rid of that moustache? I said. Nobody! he replied. Now come along, I said; don't shield anybody; this kind of busybody does great harm in a church. I am out to get rid of these self-appointed spiritual detectives, I continued. Tell me the truth. Who told you to get rid of that moustache? He said, Nobody has told me. I still pressed him hard, but he persisted. Well, I said, why have you got rid of it then? I will tell you, he said. I was getting up, actually, this morning and after I had washed, I went to the looking-glass, and I was there, he said, brushing my hair. Suddenly I saw my moustaches---on account of its size he reckoned it as two moustaches---and I said to myself, Them things don't belong to a Christian! So I cut off the ends, he said, and I shaved off the rest.
The man, let me add, could neither read nor write. He had lived such a dissolute, evil life, and had been brought up in such a loose way, that, literally, he could not write, he could not read; and that was his expression, `Them things don't belong to a Christian!' Illiterate and ignorant, yes, but he had been born again, and the Spirit of God had come into him; and the Spirit of God with His unction and anointing had taught him the lesson, `Them things don't belong to a Christian!' `Put off the old man!' And he had put him off in that respect. They belonged to the old life, they had nothing to do with the new life. Very simple, is it not? Ignorant, illiterate man! I would to God that this church were full of such people! I see Christians today, even deliberately, it seems to me, putting on the old man! putting on things that belong to the life of the flesh and the devil and the world. And they have not yet realised that `Them things don't belong to a Christian'! That is the argument of the Apostle. Work it out for yourselves in detail. The Christian should not even look like the typical man or woman of the world. There are certain things that are incompatible with this new life. Put them off! Get rid of them!
But we must go on to the next step of obedience to the gospel. I quote to you a word written by the Apostle in his next chapter: `Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.' The material point here, the operative phrase, is no fellowship. In other words he says, Have nothing at all to do with the works of darkness. Be drastic. Have no dealings at all with them. The important principle, it seems to me, is this: Watch the beginning. Have no parleying, have no discussion, have nothing at all to do with sin, if you are a wise man; put off the old man altogether. Have we not all proved this in experience? The moment you even listen to the devil you have practically gone under. If you have a discussion with him, it is certain that you will be defeated. Do not have any talk with the devil; have nothing to do with him at all. Do not speak to him, do not be on speaking terms with him. If you begin to talk to the devil and to listen to him and to say, Well now, why not? I want to understand ... you are already beaten, he will defeat you every time; he is subtle, he is clever, he is brilliant at the art of repartee; he knows all the arguments. If you begin to have any parleyings with sin, you are done for. Have nothing to do, have no fellowship at all, with the unfruitful works of darkness. Make it a principle, also, that if you are doubtful about a thing, you will not touch it. `Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.' `He that eateth and doubteth is damned if he eat', says Paul in Romans 14. If you are in doubt about a thing, say No! Err on that side rather than on the other. Things that are even doubtful should not be touched.
Next we come to another positive injunction which I want to emphasise. And again it is a direct quotation from Scripture. In his Epistle to the Romans the Apostle writes: `Make not provision for the flesh' (13:14). What a statement! `Make not (or no) provision for the flesh'! What a tremendous thing it is! These words played their part in the life of St. Augustine. What does Paul mean by saying we should not make provision for the flesh? He means to say, Do not be fool enough to feed that old man that is in you. Do not be fool enough to lead yourself into temptation. Do not make provision for your flesh, the thing that gets you down! There are certain places that are bad for you---Stay out of them! To go into such places is making provision for the flesh! You know beforehand that if you go in, the flesh will be stimulated. That is making provision for the flesh. Therefore, never go into such a place. And not only places, but also people. If there are certain people that always have a bad influence upon you, avoid them. Put off the old man! You do not pray about this, you do not argue, you do not need special guidance about this. If experience teaches you that such a person invariably tends to have a bad influence upon you, avoid such a person. Make no provision for the flesh.
The same holds good with respect to reading. I have no hesitation in saying that the popular newspapers of this country today are undoubtedly the worst influence of all as regards the spiritual life. They are full of suggestion and innuendo. So be discriminating and careful as you read your newspaper. Avoid that which tends to harm you and to drag you down. Make no provision for the flesh! Listen to Job, as he speaks to us in the Old Testament. He was a godly man, and this is what he says: `I made a covenant with mine eyes'! (31:1) In verse 7 of that same chapter he says, `If my step hath turned out of the way and mine heart walked after mine eyes . . .' Your heart goes after your eyes! The eyes are the trouble. You see something, and your heart goes after it. So, says job, `I made a covenant with mine eyes.' Let me put the matter positively as we find it in Proverbs 4:25: `Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.' If there is something that is enticing, do not look at it! That is what is meant by putting off the old man. Make a covenant with your eyes, look straight on, do not let your eyes wander, do not let them lust after things, do not let them turn from the straight path. This is biblical teaching: you do not merely pray about it; you must just not look! Keep your eyes from things that are likely to entice you or to attract you, whatever they are; make a covenant with your eyes, look straight onwards, keep stedfast, looking in the direction of God and of heaven and of holiness. Make no provision for the flesh.
And that brings me to the last principle---I have tried to put the principles in ascending order---not only must we not make any provision for the flesh, but we are actually told to mortify the flesh. `If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live', says Paul to the Roman Christians (8:13). We read a similar command in Colossians 3:5: `Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.' Mortify your members which are on the earth! You have got to do it, and I have got to do it; it is not done for us; evil is not all taken out of us in a marvellous, thrilling experience. We have to engage in this work of mortification; we have got to mortify the deeds of the body. And it is to be done through the Spirit! The Spirit is given; we have the Spirit. Therefore, says the Apostle, in His power mortify. ... Mortify means to deaden, it means deliberately to attack, it means to starve so that our foes will die of inanition; withhold food from them, make no provision for them, in other words. Another good way of mortifying something is not to use it. If you do not use your muscles they will atrophy and they will become weak. So, not to use is a very good way of mortifying. Withhold the food and the sustenance; do not use. And as you do these two things, our enemies will gradually become mortified.
But the Apostle goes even further. We must not merely not feed the flesh and the body in this evil sense; we must not only not exercise the body if we would mortify it. The Apostle goes further in his First Epistle to the Corinthians saying, `I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air, but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection'! (9:26, 27). At once comes the objection: `That is legalism, that is a man doing something, falling back on works.' But it is the Apostle who teaches it! And the literal meaning of the term that the Apostle actually used, here translated `keep under the body', is to hit under the eye; to buffet, to disable an antagonist as a pugilist! The Apostle really says, `I hit myself under the eye.' He virtually says: I am like a boxer, I am not beating the air, I am pummelling myself, I am hitting myself black and blue, I am giving myself black eyes; that this flesh may not get me down. I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection.
Such is the Christian! So we are not to say about our problem, `Oh, the solution is quite simple; just let up the blinds and the sun comes in, all darkness gone!' But it does not all go! And the people who use these terms know that it does not all go; and there have been people who for years have been trying to lift up the blinds, and they are still defeated by particular sins. Of course they are! They are denying the Scripture. I keep under my body, I buffet it, I hit it under the eye with all my force; I am up against an antagonist, and as a pugilist I am trying to knock him out. That is the scriptural method. So we not only do not make provision for the flesh, we must mortify the flesh, keep it under, keep it down, realising that unless we do so, it will get us down temporarily and we shall be living a contradictory life.
This, then, is the essence of the Apostle's teaching. If you wish to read an expansion of it, and oh, how it was expanded, turn to John Owen's treatise on The Mortification of the Flesh; you will find it a very substantial volume. Of course it is, for these things have to be worked out in detail. I have merely given you the basic principles. Let me repeat, then, that whatever it is that troubles you, put it up and look at it in the light of these principles. Do not run away, do not be frightened, do not just say, I must try to pray. Look at the thing and work it out; put it in the light of this context, and then apply the principles and grapple with it in the power of the Holy Spirit. Put off the old man! And do it in detail. The Apostle goes on to details--lying, stealing, corrupt communications. He takes them up one by one, and he says you have to apply the principles with regard to every single item. And thus you will put off the old man that is corrupt and dying and decaying, according to the lusts of deceit.
May God give us honesty! May God open our eyes to the Scripture! May God save us from by-passing the Scripture and eliminating whole sections of it in the interests of a theory! And as He does so, and as we realise that we have the Spirit of God within us, we shall find ourselves being enabled to put off the old man and all that is so horribly true of him, that we may no longer disgrace the fair and glorious name of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. [140-152]
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