“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…to be made new in the spirit of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the current popularity of TV reality shows is that many of them hold out the hope that we can take charge of our lives and break free from the disappointment and despair that we feel about ourselves. They preach a message of “You can do it if you want to,” reminding us that if we adopt a positive attitude we can take control of the way we appear and want to be. The unspoken message of these programs is that it only requires a simple decision to visit a doctor and sign a cheque before fashion designers and cosmetic surgeons can work a miracle “makeover”. It all sounds so easy. But is it?
Well, it might be when it comes to losing weight, acquiring a perfect set of teeth and being well-dressed. But how about changing our characters and adopting a godly lifestyle? How do we become the man or woman that God intended us to be? Is it as simple as throwing our old clothes into a recycling bin and visiting a department store to buy the latest in high-quality fashion?
Not really. So what’s required? Well, it begins with a radical change at the level of our minds. We have to be “made new in the spirit of our minds” (4:23) Paul is not referring here to a mere superficial change of opinion on points of doctrine or practice. The point he is making is that when a person becomes a Christian, God actually introduces a new spiritual capability into our minds so that the way we think from that moment on is inescapably affected by the Spirit’s work. Non-Christians, no matter how brilliant, don’t have this. While this renewal begins at the point of our conversion, it’s nonetheless an ongoing process. This renewal, which begins in our hearts ineluctably affects our thoughts.
But how? Well, as Christians we start to learn about Christ and the truth that He came to reveal. This happens, not just as we read the word of God, but as we hear it preached and taught as well (4:20, 21). And the impact of this preaching has a dramatic effect on us; it reminds us that when we were converted we actually died to our old, worldly way of life. He also tells us that we were renewed by the Holy Spirit so that we can live as the “new man”, after the likeness of God. In other words, we are no longer bound to our old Adamic nature; we have a new nature which is implanted in us by the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s message to us, then, is that we must think and live according to the new nature. We must realise what we are and be it. After the American Civil War, many of the black slaves in the south found it very difficult to live as free men. Although they were legally free, many of them went on living and behaving exactly as if they were still slaves. The same servile spirit and fear of white people remained. It took many of them a long time to live like free men, so accustomed were they to living like slaves. The same applies to Christians. We are often bound to sinful practices that are the mark of our old Adamic nature. We need to remember that we are now new people who can live new lives following Christ.