Ephesians 4:22-24 Put off your old self, which . . . is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit . . . put on the new self, created after the likeness of God.
Medical school and residency were painfully repetitive. We were taught certain concepts over and over in an effort to make them stick. It was frustrating but it worked. Our brains are like that. It often takes repetition for an idea to take hold.
Today’s passage is one such repetitive lesson. In today’s passage, Paul used the imagery of clothing to insist that we must continually take off the old and put on the new. This is the same as Jesus’ command to deny self and follow him (Luke 9:23) and Paul’s previous commands to crucify the old to follow Christ.
In writing this blog, I do not wish to be monotonous, but as I am progressing through the New Testament, I feel compelled to emphasize those concepts which God repeats frequently. There are some lessons I must hear over and over.
In recovery from my addiction, I realized that this command (take off the old, put on the new) is one that I had never really learned. Yes, I knew it, but I failed to live it.
Most of us are in this place. We know Jesus’ command to deny self and follow him, but we have no idea what it looks like to do it. We struggle with things we do not want to do but if they are not too destructive, we never deal with them. We limp along, handicapped by anger, food, pride, lust, greed, anxiety, need for affirmation, or addiction. We do not realize that we are paralyzed in our spiritual life while enslaved to self. This has just become the normal Christian life.
A friend once called my addiction a painful gift. He saw me as the fortunate one as it was only in my profound need for God that I came to understand the necessity of abandoning self to follow him. My friend was right. Though I am not thankful for the pain I caused, I would not give up the lessons I learned through my addiction. It was only through my need that I came to know God.
Previously, I had been unwilling to do what it took to abandon my destructive behavior. I saw this passage as something I would do when I was a better Christian. Abandoning self to follow God though, is not something I do to attain a better Christian life. This is the Christian life. If I am not daily denying self to pursue God, I am not living as a disciple. This is not optional. It is the essence of what it means to be a Christian.
If I call myself a Christian, yet remain enslaved, then I must do whatever it takes to abandon self to follow God. He will repeat this lesson until it sinks in.