Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost: Put Off & Put On
There’s a saying that I’m sure you’ve all heard before — “Clothes make the man.” But what you may not know is that phrase dates back to sometime around the time of Christ. But it was Mark Twain in his spiffy white suits that made that phrase popular.
Clothing is actually an important Biblical theme from the very beginning!
In Genesis chapter 3, in the story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, their very first action after eating the forbidden fruit was to make clothes out of fig leaves.
And then, God’s first act of grace also had to do with clothes. In preparation for their life outside the garden, God made a better set of clothing for this couple. Not from those flimsy, scratchy leaves…but animal furs, durable and warm. God sends them out of the garden with clothes that are appropriate for their new situation.
And then, in the book of Leviticus, we read about the clothing that the priests had to wear when they served God – fine white linen. In Zechariah chapter 3, Joshua the high priest, has his filthy clothes removed and God gives him a new set of clean clothes.
And, continuing into the New Testament, we read Matthew’s account of the Messianic wedding feast in Matthew 22. In that story, Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as a wedding feast for the king’s son. But then, all the expected guests refused to come, so the wedding was opened up to everyone. The king’s servants “going forth into the ways, gathered together all that they found, both bad and good: and the marriage was filled with guests. ” (Matthew 22:10).
And everyone is having a wonderful time at this wedding feast, but then the parable continues: “And the king went in to see the guests: and he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment. And he saith to him: 'Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?' But he was silent” (Matthew 22:11-12).
What a terrible consequence that came as a result of this man wearing the wrong clothes. But, of course, Jesus’ parable really wasn’t about clothing at all. The point Jesus was trying to make is...
...that it’s not enough to just “get into” the kingdom. Once we get in, it’s important that we put on the right spiritual clothes! We need to dress appropriately. And how we dress affects how we behave.
There’s a documented, psychological trait known as “enclothed cognition.” This principle says that our clothes shape our thoughts and our actions. The idea is that how you dress will affect how people perceive you and it will affect how you perceive yourself. That’s why soldiers in the military have to wear uniforms and it’s why judges wear black robes. So, it’s interesting that, in our lesson this morning, Paul talks about what we need to wear as Christians.
Because if the idea of “enclothed cognition” holds true in the secular realm, it’s even more true in the spiritual realm. Clothes make the man — or the woman — who belongs to Jesus Christ. But I’m not talking about cloth-and-fabric clothing. I’m talking about how we have been clothed with Christ, how we have put on Christ’s righteousness and holiness and character. That’s what we need to be wearing on a daily basis. And so, this morning, we’re going to talk about the need to take off our old clothes and put on some new clothes.
The book of Ephesians Saint Paul spends much of his letter instructing us how to live the Christian life. And, in chapter 4, he says that part of Christian living is learning what to put off and what to put on.
Beginning in Ephesians 4, verse 17, Paul writes: “To put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted through deceitful desires. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Put off the old, put on the new. Paul says we need to take a good look at what we’re wearing. God wants us to throw out the old dingy wardrobe, because it doesn’t go with who you are now in Christ. There’s a new look that is much more suitable for you, that expresses who you really are right now. Clothe yourself with these garments. Wear this new clothing that goes with the new you.
Before we can put on our new clothes, we’ve got to take off the old clothes. Suppose you go to a department store to look for a new coat. You find one and take it into one of those little changing rooms. If you’re wearing a coat already, you don’t go in there and put the new coat on over your old coat. You’ve got to take off the old one before you put on the new one. That’s true spiritually as well. You’ve got to take off the old before you can put on the new.
So, what exactly is it that we need to take off? Basically, it’s everything that belongs to our old sinful way of living. Paul reminds us where we came from and who we were before we came to Christ:
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to lasciviousness, that is sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. ” (Ephesians 4:17-19)
Saint Paul describes here what sinful people look like. The Gentiles here in this passage are the pagans, all those people out there who don’t know God, who aren’t a part of God’s people. But this isn’t just who they are. It’s also who we used to be. As Saint Paul put it back in chapter 2, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world.” (Ephesians 2:1-2)
And here in chapter 4, the Apostle Paul describes that life as living in darkness, wandering far from God, hardening the heart, having no sense of shame, and living for lustful pleasure, which basically means doing whatever you want to do. Being selfish, self-centered, focused on making yourself happy, expecting everything and everyone to serve your desires – that’s the old sinful nature that is filled with “every kind of impurity.”
All in all, it’s a pretty ugly picture. And that’s our “before” picture. Every time you see an advertisement for a new diet plan, they always show you the “before” picture and the “after” picture to show you what a big difference their plan makes. So, when Paul talks about our spiritual lives, he starts by describing the “before” picture, which is really ugly.
But, thankfully, there’s a new picture, an “after” picture which is truly beautiful. There’s a life that God has created for us that is very different from that old way of living.
One of our problems as Christians is that we have a temptation to go back to what’s familiar to us, to go back to what we’re used to. And it’s so easy for us to look like and act like unbelievers all over again.
And so, Paul says:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to 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 justest and holiness. ” (Ephesians 4:20-24)
Paul says to take off your old self and put on the new self. The Greek words that Paul uses here were actually used for taking off clothing and putting on clothing. It’s like the old self, that old sinful way of living, was an ugly, out-of-style outfit that we really need to take off and get rid of. But if we do that – we can’t just run around naked. So, we need to put on some new clothes — the new self, the new nature that we now have in Christ.
Paul tells us that this new self was “created to be like God in true justest or righteousness and holiness.” When you were baptized into Christ, you were given a new spirit within you. You became a new creature, a new creation. There’s a whole new you, that God has made. And he created you to be like him, to share in his character. God himself provides the model and the pattern for our new way of life. Being a Christian isn’t just about following a list of rules. It’s about being like God. It’s about loving what God loves, and doing the kinds of things that God does.
But I want you to notice that Paul doesn’t say that we “make ourselves new”. He said we need to “be made new”. Ultimately, this renewal is not something that we do; it’s something that God is doing in us. He’s doing it by his Holy Spirit. Back in chapter 3, Paul said that the Holy Spirit is the one who strengthens us through our faith in Christ.
So, when Paul says here that we are to “be made new”, he’s talking about the fact that God’s Spirit is at work in our lives to change the attitude of our minds.
He’s not just giving us a few new instructions. He’s changing our whole mindset so that we see the implication of the gospel for our lives. And that will affect our thoughts, our hearts, our desires, and ultimately, our actions.
But even though this is something that God is doing in us, we’re not told to just sit back, relax and let God get on with the work while we do something else. We’re taught to take intentional steps to change — knowing that God is at work in us. That means we need to examine our lives That means that we need to identify areas in our lives that need to change. How do we do that? James 1:23 says, For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. This is talking about a mirror, For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, talking about God's word, specifically the Spoken Word of God and The written Word of God, and continue with therein. He being not a forgetful here, but a doer of the work. This man shall be blessed in his deed. This passage of scripture is likening the Preaching of Gods word, the teaching of Gods word and The written Word of God unto a mirror that you look in to see your spiritual face, to see what you are in the spirit. You with your eyes have never looked directly into your face. You've always looked at a reflection or a representation, but you've gotten to where you trust that. Well, the word of God is a perfect reflection of what spiritual truth of the Catholic Church is. You can't sit there and say, well, I think that, you know, all my mascara is on and that my face is fixed. My hair is combed and I'm ready to go. You can't go by how you feel. You have to go look in that mirror and then you trust what you see. Well, it's the same thing with the Word of God. The Word of God gives you a perfect picture of who you are in your spirit-what needs to be put on and what needs to be put of. It's the only way. Then when we see what needs to be put off, we need to bring those things to God, praying and asking God for the graces needed to help us to change.
This deliberate discipline of change and growth and maturity isn’t an optional thing for those of us who are Christians. It’s something that must happen, because that’s the very purpose for which God has saved us. And so, that’s what it means to put off the old self and to put on the new.
“To put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted through deceitful desires And be renewed in the spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24)