(Image by Brooke Johnson)
While on an impromptu spring break trip to Greece, I found myself in a boutique trying on a Greek designer dress – one fleeting fancy moment for this Kansas girl. I really had no business buying a dress. For one, I spent most of my budget on Greek food and baklava. Two, I had no idea if the dress would fit in my carryon!
Something happened to me though when I tried on that dress. I zipped it up, walked out of the fitting room to look in the mirror and felt like a three-year-old little girl. I didn’t want to take it off! I looked at my two friends and whispered, “How can one dress fit so perfectly?” For most women, this is a rare and beautiful moment: something brand new fits in all the right places. You feel a newfound confidence usually buried beneath messy buns and athleisure clothing – which is honestly more comfortable than wearing real clothes.
With the encouragement of my friends, I bought the dress. I would show off that dress like a boss of a three-year-old. I’d wear it every day, spinning around for the full 360-degree effect. Shoot, I’d even wear it to bed if I could!
Yet, wearing that new Greek dress required one vital step. I had to get out of my old nubby leggings and stretched out t-shirts. I had to take off the old to put on the new.
As amazing as a new dress feels, we sometimes need a large dose of encouragement to remove old comfortable safe clothes. We need reminders to leave the old behind and put on something new, something better. Paul reminds the believers in Ephesus of a similar concept:
“…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 4:22-24 (ESV)
Paul encourages the believers to remember how they learned Christ. They once lived the lifestyle of other gentiles: strangers to God, oblivious, greedy, hardened, living out every desire and pleasure. These believers use to live focused solely on themselves. Sound familiar? Oh, the number of times my heart has hardened towards God, or I have lived oblivious to my own selfishness, or I have justified my own desires.
The believers in Ephesus heard about Christ and the spirit of God moved in them. As they learned Christ they heard a deeper calling out of oblivion and into a spirit driven awareness.
Paul encouraged the believers to remember where they came from. He also warned them to take off old habits and mindsets, recognizing the ever-present temptation to drift towards old habits. Is the same not true for us? Even today when we declare our life wholly Christ’s are we not tempted to drift back to our old ways? I know I am.
Paul doesn’t just tell the Ephesian believers to take off the old self. He reminded them of the beauty that comes with Christ: a new self. Put on the new self that is like God. For me, this spiritual wardrobe change sounds like Cinderella magic but I want to know what this practically looks like. It can’t be as easy as merely taking off my old nubby leggings and t-shirts to put on a Greek designer dress. What does putting on a new self entail?
Ephesians 4 continues in verses 25-32 describing tangible ways we learn Christ as we put on a new self. We learn something or someone when we move beyond passive listening and observations. Deep learning happens when we apply what we hear and observe. This active learning rewires our hearts, minds and actions.
Whereas the old life was hyper-focused on ourselves, the new life focuses on truth in relationships. Paul emphasizes relationships, especially with other believers, as a tangible way to renew ourselves. The new self freely speaks truth with other people. The new self actively works through anger, while preventing a breeding ground for Satan’s schemes. The new self looks to share what they have with others. The new self speaks to build up and offer grace. The new self acts in kindness with a tender heart towards others. The new self is free to forgive.
Notice many of these descriptions deal with relationships, which aren’t always easy. This new self is not magical. It does not wash away all foul play, jealousy, damaging words, or dangerously competitive assumptions. It does call believers to actively live and respond counterintuitively to their old way of life. This is much messier and taxing than putting on a new dress.
However, it does remind us we are called to actively put on this new self. We can confidently spin and twirl in this new self every day. Shoot, we can even sleep in this new self! We must look and listen for ways the spirit of God nudges us to make changes in life. Look for relationships where God speaks truth and grace that encourages us to shed the old and put on the new. As a result, our minds are renewed. We deeply learn Christ and authentically live Christ when we step into this ongoing spiritual wardrobe change.
Lord, let us be encouraged to see where our lives drift back to our old self. Remind us we are sealed with your powerful spirit. Help us to see tangible ways we can learn Christ through relationships. Let us actively start our ordinary days shedding our old comfortable habits and putting on spiritually renewed minds. These ordinary days come with relationships needing encouragement, grace, and truth even in the messiest of moments. Shake off dangerous complacency; take off the old. Have courage to put on the new; learn Christ daily.