Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:22a “That ye put off concerning the former conversation”
“Conversation” is Old English for life-style. Describing the Christian life from the vantage point of clothing, Paul says we should lay aside our former behavior patterns as an old garment we would be ashamed to be seen in. The imagery is easy to understand. We are to put off sinful living as a beggar who puts off rags as no longer necessary, as a prisoner who casts off prison clothes as offensive, as a laborer who removes street clothes as encumbering, as a runner who takes off his clothes as entangling.
Certain clothes are inappropriate for certain occasions. Dark, somber colors are out of place at a wedding; light, cheery shades are unbecoming for funerals. Similarly, claiming to be a believer, and yet acting like an unbeliever, is tantamount to wearing the wrong outfit for the occasion.
Some clothes serve as uniforms to identify certain people’s profession (eg. soldiers, policemen). Believers should also be recognizable by a uniform–outward deeds. We are to lay aside the old garments which label the unbeliever. It is not right for believers to wear the threadbare, ragged, and dirty garments of the past life. To be seen in them exposes us to shame.
Graveclothes were appropriate for Lazarus’ corpse, but not for his resurrected body. We, too, have been lifted from death. As we left the grave, we donned new wedding clothes in preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb. We belong to the wedding party, and should act like it.
Eph. 4:22b “. . .the old man,. . .”
“The old man” is the natural disposition we bring with us from our mother’s womb. “It is bred in the bone” (Henry). “The old man,” as old as Adam from whom we derive it, is the original us. This is a stumblingblock in salvation. Conversion requires renunciation of one’s own natural nature.
In a legal and judicial way, we put off “the old man” in conversion. He has been “crucified” (RM 6:6), his tyrannical power over us is broken, he can no longer bring us into condemnation (RM 8:1). Nevertheless, he is alive and harasses us. We have an old nature to contend with. If this were not true, the work of the Holy Spirit would be unnecessary. We need Him because He “breaks the power of cancelled sin” (Wesley). Sin is cancelled, its debt is paid, but it still exerts power in our lives.
Even after salvation, we continue to have trouble with “the old man.” The old garments feel comfortable and natural. We have worn them so long that they naturally fit on us. Sometimes we forget we are wearing them until the Holy Spirit rebukes us through His Word or His messengers. Our dilemma is made even worse by our having to live in a world which bombards us with stimuli which arouse “the old man” and appeal to him.
Eph. 4:22c “. . .which is corrupt. . .”
“Corrupt” is a present participle, and refers to an ongoing process. The old man is “sinking towards death” (NEB). Our old nature is disintegrating, dissolving. Morally decaying, it is already in an advanced state of ruin, and on its way to final ruin. Being under sentence of death, it seeks desperately to drag the whole person down with it into misery. Unchecked, the result is progressive moral disintegration which engulfs the whole self.
Each hour a lost man lives, he is a worse man. Every day it becomes harder for him to repent. Being saved means saying, “I have been wrong for a lifetime,” and the longer one lives, the more he has to say it about. As time passes, convictions die out, habits of neglect become fixed, sins of omission fossilize. Thus less and less get saved in the older years.
If not held in check by the Holy Spirit, “the old man” can drag a believer down into outward sin, and lead him into wearing repeatedly the old garments. The question is, how does the old man spread this moral decay in a person’s life? What is the vehicle through which he rots a life?
Eph. 4:22d “. . .according to the deceitful lusts;. . .”
“Deceitful lusts” is literally, “lusts of deceit.” Deceit is here personified, and pictured as using lusts as its servants and instruments to achieve its ends. Sin is deceitful, from the devil downwards. He is the father of lies, and seeks to manipulate everyone through the use of deceit.
His temptations are always a lie. He ever begins by bewitching. Allurement flaunts a golden mug, but what good is a beautiful cup if its contents are toxic? Sin is a sweet poison which tickles while it stabs. It comes in a grin, but leaves its victim in chagrin. Genuine satisfaction is never found in sin, for it leaves out the one thing man was made for–God.
Sin equals big promises with little performance. The prodigal son thought he would find pleasure and independence, but instead sank into misery and slavery. He, a Jew, had to feed pigs for a heathen master.
Thirty pieces of silver glimmered brightly in Judas’ eyes, but later burned his hands and put a noose around his neck. Absalom rebelled against his father. He thought his beautiful locks of hair deserved a crown, but they instead ended up tangled in an oak tree. And David, oh David! at the top of the wave, riding the crest, thought he saw pleasant days ahead, but heard instead, “The sword will not depart from your house.”
Lies, lies, lies! This alone is what Satan offers. He always begins from a premise of deceit, and then uses “lusts” as his weapons in warfare. “Lusts” are God-given impulses which have been allowed to grow out of control. A lust is an “affection,” a desire, which has become “inordinate” (CL 3:5). Nothing is wrong with the affection itself. The problem arises when it reels out of control. Our physical desires, such as longing for food, for drink, and for acceptance from others, are God-given impulses meant to be the means whereby life is sustained and satisfactory. Our impulses develop into a problem when they become our guides, the driving forces in our lives. They motivate, and force us to consider options, but are not to direct. “They are the wind, not the helm; the steam, not the driver” (Maclaren). God’s intended order is “down there, under hatches, under control, the strong impulses; above them, the enlightened understanding” (Maclaren).
In the Fall of Adam, everything jolted out of kilter. The impulses rebelled, and rose above their station. Rather than serve, they began to dominate. Whenever something meant to be under control takes control, the result is chaos. This is the dilemma faced by every human being, and its only remedy is salvation. At conversion, the Holy Spirit enters a life and restores order. He puts a rein on the beasts. He subdues the animal passions. Impulses return to being controlled by a mind controlled by God.
Only in this way can people find ultimate purpose and satisfaction in life. Our impulses, given by God to help make our lives satisfactory, gratify when controlled, not indulged. “The way never to get what you need and desire is always to do what you like. . . .Whoever takes it for his law to do as he likes will not for long like what he does” (Maclaren).
Whenever our impulses are allowed to get out of control, they become the instruments by which Satan mocks us. He deceitfully makes lusts look like servants, but they are tyrants. They appear harmless, but are ruinous. They promise secrecy, but bring shame. These lusts work upon us without thought for any consequence beyond their own gratification. These passions, unrestrained, become ever more ravenous. One needs more and more of the same thrill to maintain the same previous level of satisfaction.
Do you still wear the old garment often? In the old wardrobe, the chain of command in determining life-style is Satan working through deceit to have the impulses order the mind to enact certain deeds. In the new prayer closet, the line of command in determining life-style is God through truth (v. 21) governing the mind which controls the impulses and deeds. A crude and simplistic line analysis may help see the difference:
Old: Satan, deceit, impulses, mind, deeds
New: God, truth, mind, impulses, deeds
The chain of command is different, and the final result is different. Therefore, let us “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.”