Friday, July 21, 2017

The Language Of "Putting-Off" And "Putting-On" For The Practical Christian Life

Image result for lacing up running shoes
Ephesians 4:21-24 "if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."


When I started running three years ago, I had to come to grips with getting rid of some old ways of thinking. For one thing, I learned that one cannot run for a long period of time in jeans, a long sleeved shirt and worn-out tennis shoes. Such articles of clothing do not lend well to improving in one's ability to run. I also had to learn how to change my diet, get my mind disciplined to accept certain pain levels (sore knees are common among runners). In short - I had to "put-off" the mindset and trappings of being a "non-runner" and transition into "putting-on" the clothing, mindset and lifestyle of a runner. 

The significance of "putting-off" the old life and "putting-on" the new life

When we read of the Christian life in the New Testament letters, we meet this language of "putting-off" and "putting-on". Christian conversion is a radical, life-altering change. Not only are we changed on the inside (2 Corinthians 5:17), but how we think and our conduct ought to follow such change. Notice some passages (like the opening text above) that speak of "putting-off" the former life and "putting-on" the new life in Christ.

1. Ephesians 4:25  "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."

2. Ephesians 4:31 "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."

3. Colossians 3:8-10 "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him."

4. Hebrews 12:1-2 "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

5. James 1:21-22 "Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves."

6. 1 Peter 2:1-2 "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation."

This language of "putting-off" and "putting-on" speaks of one's initial positional standing in justification at the beginning of salvation. At the moment of saving faith, God credits me with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In justification, I exchange the tattered robes of self-righteousness and moth-eaten trousers of unrighteousness for the seamless robe of Christ's righteousness, earned for me in His perfect life and substitutionary death (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Following one's salvation commitment, a process of experiential growth in practical righteousness begins to take place in what the Bible calls "sanctification" (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3). 

It is in the day-to-day Christian life that one is constantly exercising "putting-off" the leftovers of the principle of indwelling sin, the world and the influence of Satan's parasite kingdom. Old habits, old ways of thinking - in short - self, must die. 

Now, in putting off the old habits, thought patterns and ways of life, the Christian must "put-on" better and lasting replacements. This can only be done by regular meditation upon and investment of one's time in the Old and New Testament scriptures (see Colossians 3:16). Additional spiritual disciplines that encourage the "putting-off" and "putting-on" pattern are prayer (Luke 18:1-8) and church attendance (Hebrews 3:12-13; Hebrews 10:24-25). Putting on the Christian life on a daily basis is practically and pictorially represented by "putting on the whole armor of God" as spelled out by Paul in Ephesians 6:11-18. 

Just as in learning how to run properly, the process of changing one's mindset and body becomes a lifestyle and a delight. The struggles and temptations to go back to the way one used to eat, not run and dress are still there. However, the influence that such things used to wield in comparison to the growing impulse to do the necessary disciplines to keep on running diminish to a minimum over time. As long as one attends to a regular regiment in running, the impulse to run will only grow. The Christian life operates in a similar fashion. I think this is why Paul uses athletic imagery to compare the the Christian-life, as seen in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 "

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

Closing thoughts:

There is no rear-view mirror in the Christian life. We must look ahead and not look back, pining after "the way it used to be". Only by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who teaches the Christian and empowers them to "put-off" and "put-on" can such a process be regularly practiced. This pattern for the Christian life is not easy. At times, one can get frustrated at their apparent slow-progress or even occasional set-backs (I know I have experienced such things). Nevertheless, "putting-off" the old life and "putting-on" the new life is well-worth it. Thankfully, the Christian is not left to their own devices to figure it out. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit, His Word and the fellowship of the local church to urge us on to persistence.

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