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Putting off the Old Man and Putting on the New 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)
In these verses the Apostle is reminding the Ephesian Christians of what it was they had learned in Christ Jesus. You see how logically he moves on. He reminds them first of all of the kind of life they used to live, and then he tells them that to `learn Christ' is to learn that you do not go on living like that any longer. But again, lest there might be any uncertainty about this, or any failure on their part to understand it truly, he comes down to the practical level and reminds them of what the truth is in Jesus---this truth which they have already learned, and heard, and been taught.
The three verses we are now to consider have an unusual importance in a theological sense, and particularly with regard to the doctrine of sanctification. They are crucial verses with regard to a true understanding of the New Testament teaching on the all important matter of holiness, and therefore we cannot pay too close or careful attention to them, were it merely for that reason. But in addition, and in some ways even more important, they are of great importance to us from the practical standpoint. The Apostle, as always, combines his doctrine and his practice. Unlike many of his followers, he is never guilty of separating them; the two always go together. If I may put it in a phrase---far too often the Christian Church today gives the impression that she is some kind of departmental store, having a whole series of departments with a very loose connection between them. But the Church was never meant to be like that. The Church is one, and there are certain things which must never be divided. Doctrine and practice: justification and sanctification: evangelism and building up. All go together, and it is all in terms of the truth.
The Apostle's statement, then, must be taken as a whole, because it is a whole. And yet we see that the whole is divided into parts. There are two parts here, with a kind of connecting link. The first part is negative; the second is positive. In verse 22 we have the negative, `you put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man'; then comes the connecting link---`Be renewed in the spirit of your mind'---and that brings you to the positive: `that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.'
There is a whole series of very remarkable contrasts here in these two verses 22 and 24. We have, for instance, the old man and the new man; the old man is going to destruction, the new man is created anew. Exact opposites! The old is rotting under the power of lust, the new is increasing under the power of God. The old is controlled by deceit, the new is controlled by truth. In other words, the contrasts are absolute contrasts. And that is what Paul is concerned to show, namely, that the two things are so essentially and entirely different that no Christian man who really has learned Christ can ever dream or think of continuing in the old way and on the old level. And this is the New Testament way of teaching holiness. It is simply asking us to be logical, to realise what we have believed, and therefore to put it into practice. It is a great appeal to reason and understanding and logic---learned Christ! heard Him! taught in Him as the truth is in Jesus! And any other presentation of sanctification and of holiness is not New Testament teaching; it is not scriptural; it savours more of the psychological.
As we come then to look at this great statement, there are one or two general points which must be dealt with first of all. As we have already seen, the two things in our verses must always be taken together. In other words the Apostle does not just give us the negative and leave it at that. He does not merely tell us to put off the old man, and then stop, for that is only part of an action; there is the other side, and they must always go together; we must put on as well as put off. We are not to remain naked, as it were. There is no kind of in-between neutral position. The two things must always be done together.
This is precisely the difference between Christianity and morality. Morality stops at the negative. It tells us, Put off the old man! you must not do this, and you must not do that. Then it is finished. That in essence is morality; it is always negative, it is only concerned with the putting off of the old. But that is never Christianity. Our Lord Himself once and for ever made this thing perfectly plain and clear. In the eleventh chapter of Luke's Gospel He speaks about the evil spirit that is gone out of a man. But because the man has merely driven out the evil spirit in a negative manner, and has not welcomed in the positive Spirit, the Holy Spirit, although his house is cleansed and swept and garnished, the evil spirit that has gone out soon returns with others much worse than himself; and the last state of that man, says our Lord, is worse than the first. From the spiritual and Christian standpoint there is nothing more dangerous than merely putting off the old man, cleansing your house, sweeping out the rubbish, as it were; for if the Holy Spirit does not come in, the last state, Christ says, will be worse than the first.
Historically speaking this is one of the most important things that we can ever grasp. I am one of those who hold the view that the real damage was done towards the end of last century when the Christian Church began to form organisations to deal with particular sins. She dropped unconsciously from the spiritual to the moral level. Now it is no part of my business to denounce these things, but I am just asking you to look at the facts. In spite of our having special organisations with regard to Sabbath observance, temperance, gambling, and many other matters---all carried on by excellent people who have worked very hard---what have they really achieved? I think the present facts show that they have achieved very little. And I am not surprised. That is not the way to deal with these things. The way to deal with them is to have the positive truth of the gospel. That is what happened in the 18th century. And I sometimes think that the high-road to revival is just to realise that the sooner we forget the 19th century and go back to the 18th, the better it will be. The positive preaching of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit dealt with these various problems, inevitably; it always does. That is the sort of point that emerges here. We do not merely put off the old and stop at that; no, it is a combined action. We put off the old, we put on the new; we are never to remain in a neutral, naked condition. The two things must always be taken together. And yet we do realise that they have to be considered separately, in order that we may have a full understanding of them. But though we consider them separately that does not mean that we make isolated and discrete actions of them, as if we said to a man, Well now then, for the time being, just put off the old, and then later on, perhaps, we will take you to a meeting or a convention where you can put on the new. Never! never! These things must never be divided. We consider them separately, merely for the sake of convenience and understanding, but we must never divide them in that utter, absolute sense in our thought.
My second general comment on these verses is that the putting off and putting on, according to the way in which the Apostle has expressed himself here, are to be actions performed once and for ever, although the connecting link, the renewing in the spirit of the mind, is continuous. The A.V. translation, unfortunately, does not bring it out quite as clearly as it should. `That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man' is put by the Apostle in the aorist tense, which indicates a once-and-for-all action; the Christian puts off once and for ever the old man, he says, and he puts on once and for ever the new man. Yes, but you go on being renewed in the spirit of your mind; that is a continuous action, it is in the continuous present; it never stops. But the other is once and for ever, as I hope to show you. This difference is important to the understanding of the doctrine of sanctification.
One further explanation is necessary at this point. It concerns the word translated 'conversation'. In the Authorised Version the word always means conduct and behaviour, mode or manner of living. We have various illustrations of this. The Apostle, in writing to the Philippians, says, `Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ'. But he did not mean what is always meant by conversation today; he was not confining it to speech. No, he meant the whole of the life. Later he again says to the Philippians, `Our conversation is in heaven', which means our citizenship. So here he means by `the former conversation' the old way of life which he has been depicting in verses 17 to 19. And this is how he puts it: I am therefore saving that what you have learned in Christ is that with regard to the old life which you once lived, you must put off the old man, once and for ever.
To get the exact meaning of this we must start by looking at the terms Paul uses---`put off' and `put on'. This is clearly a figure, and it is an obvious one. It is the figure of putting off a garment. You take off your gown and lay it aside. Or you put it on. Paul chooses this particular analogy in order to give us the sense of the finality of the action. Either you take your gown off or you put it on. It cannot be half on and half off. It is either something that you put aside---there it is, you have finished with it, thrown it away, as it were---or you take it up and put it on. It is a strong and graphic figure of speech, and it was precisely what the Apostle wanted at this stage. It conveys the full idea of forsaking and renouncing, laying a thing aside, not using it any more.
But what are we to put off? `Put off', says Paul, ‘as concerning the former conversation the old man'. 'Old man' is a kind of technical term that he uses, and it is a very important one. You will find it constantly in his Epistles, and it is essential for us to grasp its meaning. By man, of course, he means the personality, the totality of the personality. That is the man. So what he means here is the unregenerate person that we once were, who was dominated by a depraved nature, and to help us he calls that the old man. There is nothing difficult in these terms. We talk about our better self, and so we make a kind of division of ourselves, and in the same way Paul uses this expression, the old man. Why old? One reason is that he is contrasting something that used to be true of the believers of Ephesus, but is so no longer. He refers to the former conversation, and that is old because it belongs to their way of life in the past; it is what they once were---former.
But there is more than that in Paul's use of the term `old man'. I think that he uses it in the sense of what the Bible means by original sin, because the old man that is in us is very old indeed; he is in fact as old as Adam. And therefore `the old man' really must be thought of as the old man that we all were by our birth and as the result of our descent from Adam. It speaks of all that we have inherited from Adam as the result of the Fall. So that there is a sense in which the old man is the same in every single one of us. We are all born with a corrupted nature, with a defiled nature, with a polluted nature. Surely nobody wants to dispute that! There is nothing so obvious as the fact of the universality of sin. Everybody sins, and everybody sins as soon as he is capable of taking any decision for himself. The smallest child likes doing what you tell it not to do; it likes doing what is not good for it to do. That is sin, original sin; it is a manifestation of the pollution in our nature, the depravity, the defilement that has been in human nature ever since the fall of Adam. We can see the universality of it today. You read your Bible and you find it everywhere there; it appears from the very beginning and that is why Genesis is such an important book. The classic passage on all this is the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans where we read about our being `in Adam' and then our being `in Christ'. It is the same theme here. The old man, then, is what we all are by birth and by nature: fallen, polluted, depraved, corrupt, sinful, with a bias against God and towards evil. Sin is universal. Therefore, says the Apostle, I am telling you to put off that old man. Put him off!
Why then must we do this? Here again there is a preliminary point that seems to me to be of very great interest indeed, for people often stumble here, and feel that there is almost an inconsistency in the teaching of the Apostle. Here, they say, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul is telling us to put off the old man, whereas in Romans 6, verse 6, he says, `knowing that our old man is crucified with Christ'. How do you explain that? The argument in Romans 6 is that the old man was crucified with Christ and he died with Christ. Paul keeps on saying it, `you are dead to sin', `you are dead to the law', your old man has died with Christ. And yet, they continue, here in Ephesians 4:22 he is telling us to put off the old man. How can you put off the old man if the old man is already dead?
There is then, an apparent difficulty, but really it is no difficulty at all if you take the teaching just as it is. Romans 6:6 states something which is a fact. It is a description of what is true of us in our relationship to God. Every one of us, as I say, is born a child of Adam, every one of us is born in Adam, we belong to Adam, and we suffer all the consequences of Adam's fall. Yes, that is quite true, but it is also true to say of the Christian that the man that he was in Adam is dead. If a man is in Christ he is no longer in Adam, and if I am a Christian the man that I was in Adam has gone for ever. God does not recognise him; I have been justified freely by God's grace in Jesus Christ. God no longer looks upon me as a man in Adam, because I am a man in Christ. So it is perfectly right to say that the old man was crucified and has died with Christ. That is an absolute statement of fact.
Very well then, you say, if that is true, how can Paul here exhort us to put off the old man? The answer is this: It is because the old man is dead that I am to put him off. The only person who can put off the old man is the one who knows that, in his case, the old man is dead. Let me put it like this. Although in my relationship to God it is true to say that my old man is dead, nevertheless, from the experimental standpoint, because of habits and practices and lack of knowledge and understanding, many of the characteristics of the old man still cling to me as the new man. So the Apostle can say to me now, Have nothing to do with the old man, do not go on doing the things that he used to do, because he is dead! That is the argument, and it is perfectly consistent. The old man must always be thought of, as I say, in terms of our position, our relationship to God. We all start as in Adam; then if we become Christian, and are born again, we are in Christ; and if we are in Christ we are no longer in Adam. It is either one thing or the other, and the fact that we are in Christ means that we are dead to the Adamic nature, dead to sin, dead to the law, dead to any possibility of condemnation; we are new creatures in Christ.
In other words, what the Apostle is really telling us here is that we ought TO BE WHAT WE ARE. Does that make sense to you? Be what you are. Realise what you are, and be that! An illustration may help here. It seems that after the American Civil War and the liberation of the slaves in the South, some of them, very naturally, kept forgetting that they were now free men, and they went on living and behaving exactly as if they were still slaves. The same servile spirit and the same fear were there. Now actually there was a proclamation which stated that they were no longer slaves, but were completely free. That was the thing positionally and legally; that was justification. The former slave was no longer a slave; the same man was still alive, but the slave that he once was had gone for ever and was dead. Yes, but the poor man, out of habit and practice and custom, would go on living as if he were still a slave. So the thing to say to him was, Put off the slavery! you are no longer a slave! You are a free man; live as a free man, stop living as a slave, stop behaving as a slave, you are free! Be what you are! Now that is exactly what the Apostle is saying here.
There is no contradiction between Romans 6:6 and Ephesians 4:22. It is because the old man has been crucified and has died that we are exhorted to put him off. Never does the New Testament tell an unregenerate man to put off the old man; it would be monstrous and it would be illogical. But the regenerate man has to do so, and has to get rid of the memories and recollections and habits that belong to him and still tend to persist in him. I do hope that this is clear, because I admit that the teaching is somewhat difficult. It you want to know something still more difficult, read the seventh chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans; there you will find that he seems to be talking about three people at the same time! He talks about the old man, and the new man, and I myself. And he is perfectly right.
Let me illustrate what Paul is saying. When I become a Christian I find myself virtually like a man who is driving a pair of horses. I myself am the driver, with the reins in my hands; there is the horse on the right; there is the horse on the left; I am driving both these horses. The old man, the new man, and I myself! And we operate together and are conscious of doing so. I am conscious of the old man that I once was, I am conscious of the new man that I have become, and yet I myself, as it were, am able to consider these two. There it is. It may help to carry that picture in your mind. And so the Apostle says to me, put off that old man! Put off all that belongs to him, he is not really you any longer, so put off all that appertained to him; and put on the new man.
But there is another difficulty. There are those who are in trouble because they say that in the Epistle to the Colossians (chapter 3, verse 9), the Apostle says, `Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds.' Here he is saying that we have put off the old man with his deeds, and yet in Ephesians 4 he says, Put off the old man with all that belonged to him. Is this a contradiction? Of course it is not. Though I say that this action of putting off the old man is a once-and-for-all action, I do not mean that you only do it once in your life and never have to do it again. The moment a man becomes a Christian, or becomes conscious of the fact that he is a Christian, he is putting off the old man and he obviously arrives at certain conclusions and decisions. He says, Because I am a Christian there are certain things I can no longer do, and I am going to do other things. I am putting off the old man and putting on the new.
In the early days of the Church, when a pagan became converted and asked to be baptised, it was an obvious sign that he was doing this very thing. And that had happened to the Ephesian believers. The profession they had made in their baptism, or in any other form of admission into the Church, was definitely putting off the old and putting on the new. How, then, does it happen that Paul tells them to do this again, when they have done it once for all? The answer lies in what I have just been saying. Though each of them at the time said, I am finishing with the old life and I am taking up the new, yet as the years passed, and perhaps temptations came, and sin, they found themselves forgetting these things, and unconsciously at first drifting back to that old kind of life. So the Apostle writes to them and says, Where are you going? what are you doing? Don't you see that you are more or less back where you used to be? Put off the old man! and put it off once and for ever! So that, although it is meant to be a kind of once-and-for-all action, alas! in experience we find that we have to repeat the action many times. So there is no contradiction! Paul is saying to the Colossians, You are being inconsistent, you said that you were finishing with the old life, but I see that you are still carrying on with it---put it off! So there is no contradiction even at this point. Each time the need arises, there must be a complete and an entire action, without any reservations whatsoever.
There, then, we have looked at one reason for putting off the old man and putting on the new. We are to do so because of the new man that is in us, and because of what has happened to us. Take for instance Paul's argument in Romans 6 which is in a sense an extended commentary on the verses that we are considering. The Apostle says, Why do you not realise these things? why do you not realise that you yourselves are now dead to your past manner of life in sin? `Therefore', he says, `reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God'; then he continues, `Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.' He says, Realise the truth about yourselves! Christ died to sin once and for all, and you are in Him and you have died with Him, and you are therefore dead to sin; put this logic into practice and into operation, `neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God'. And then, you remember, having delivered his great argument, he says---`I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh.' That is Paul's way of saying, I am now going to use an illustration in order to try to make it plain and simple for you. He says, `For as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.' The whole argument amounts to this: because of what has taken place within us and has happened to us, we must now follow it out, and renounce and finish once and for ever with the old man and all his ways and habits and practices. We must realise the truth about ourselves in Christ Jesus. We must remind ourselves of what we have learned in Him. Furthermore, we must remember that we really are members of His flesh and of His bones, that we are parts of His body. And therefore, says the Apostle, everything that belongs to the old man must be forsaken, and must be given up once and for ever. Are we dealing here with what we are compelled to call a theological point? Undoubtedly! But need one apologise for theology? God forbid! It is a failure to understand these things that leads to so much trouble in practice.
So I would put a question to all who are believers. Do you know, do you realise, that your old man has been crucified? Have you risen to the glorious realisation that you are no longer a child of Adam, that you are no longer in Adam? Have you realised that the man that you were in Adam has been blotted out of God's sight to all eternity? That is the meaning of justification by faith. God makes the pronouncement in a forensic sense. He tells us that we are just and righteous in His sight, because we are in Christ. The man I was has gone, has ceased to be. It is the most glorious thing a Christian can ever realise. He no longer thinks of himself as a man trying to make himself a Christian, or hoping that he will be a Christian. This is God's action, it is God who takes him out of Adam and who puts him into Christ; and it is His judicial pronouncement. As slavery was abolished, and the slaves were declared to be free, so it has happened to every Christian, to all who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; God pronounces them to be free from original sin, from all they have inherited in Adam, from all the sins they have ever committed themselves. It is a legal pronouncement from the Judge of the universe Himself. The old Adamic man has ceased to be, the old man was crucified with Christ, he is dead; you are never called upon to crucify the old man, you are not told to try to kill the old man; God alone in Christ can do that, and He has done it! And we are the new man in Christ Jesus. There is nothing that I know of that is so strengthening to faith, so strengthening in the daily living of the Christian life, as to realise that the old man has gone for ever. And it is because of that that I am to put away from me for ever anything and everything that belonged to him or that in any way suggests him. [116-126]
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