Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:23a “And be renewed. . .”
The Christian life is ever in danger of stagnating. We must continually work at it, always having as our goal to “be renewed.” Re-new means to make new again. It refers to returning repeatedly to a previous state, to one’s “first love” (RV 2:4). Whereas the old man is rotting (4:22), the new man is ever “renewed,” remaining in a state of “undying youth” (Barry).
Eph. 4:23b “. . .in the spirit of your mind;. . .”
Though this section of Ephesians deals primarily with behavior, Paul is still talking about our inner selves. He always dealt with the root of problems. If we merely try to change the outside, we drop from the spiritual level down to the moral level, which is what the world has to do.
To change the outside without dealing with the inside is to put sheep-skin over a wolfish nature (Goodwin). Before there can be new living, there must be new thinking. Right Christian behavior hinges totally on thinking which is initially altered and then continually renewed.
As Christians we let God fill our heads as well as our hearts. He is to be our teacher every day. The lost live “in the vanity of their mind” (4:17), but a believer’s mind is ever being “renewed in the spirit” by God.
Notice, the renewal is not done in the mind itself per se. In regeneration one does not receive a new brain. The mind, our faculty of understanding, feeling, and determining is a functioning organ which remains essentially the same. Natural powers of memory and perception are unaltered. We receive new moral and spiritual traits, but retain the same basic cognitive abilities. If a genius before conversion, one remains a genius. If one has a bubbly personality before salvation, the personality usually remains bubbly. If reflective and introspective before conversion, one tends to remain the same afterwards. Paul the Apostle had the same intensity and zeal before his Damascus Road experience as he did afterwards.
Then where does the change take place in us? What makes us “a new creature” (2 C 5:17)? The alteration is in the disposition, in the governing part. Whereas before, things were led in a wrong direction, now they are led in the right way. The change takes place in “the spirit” of the mind, in that which controls the mind. The spirit of the mind is “the bosom” (Trapp), “that central centre” (Parker), the guiding principle which gives the mind its bent. Spiritual renewal is not a psychological change, or a change in basic mental cognitive functioning. The change is not a convincing of the mind of a few errors here and there. It is not merely an altering of certain opinions. The alteration is not something limited to one particular part of the mind, but something which, when changed itself, radically alters the whole sphere and business of the mental mechanism. The ruling, motivating power which governs a mind is changed. This renewed spirit directs a mind’s bent and energies Godward, and furnishes the mind pure, proper impulses and motives whereby it acts and determines behavior.
Eph. 4:24a “And that ye put on the new man,. . .”
As we are constantly renewed in the spirit of our mind, we put off the old man (4:22), but this is not the only result of our being renewed. It also enables us to put on “the new man,” our new nature, “the happy cluster of heavenly graces” (Trapp). The old man is rooted in Adam, the new in Christ. We receive the old man when born, the new when born again. The new man entails the new position and power we gain in the new birth.
It is never enough to put off the old. We must substitute new virtues in place of the old vices. Christianity is more than renunciation. It is also appropriation. Some deal solely with the negative and thereby lead themselves into pessimism, depression, and legalism. Their whole walk with God is measured by deeds; communion with God, relationship, and warmth are overlooked. Be not obsessed with your sins. Never ignore or condone them, but do not see them only. To do so leads to being morbid and self-centered.
We are not to put off and put off until we are naked and comfortless. The goal of Christianity is not emptiness, nothingness, or a wasteland. For everything we are called on to give up for Christ, new worlds open to us of fresh interests and pleasures. Put on “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3).
We can all learn a lesson from the oak tree which sheds its leaves in the springtime. Winter cold and wind cannot dislodge the old leaves. The latter are pushed away only when new life begins to pulsate within, producing new buds which push off the old. In like manner, evil is best removed by displacement. Sometimes amputation is needed, but more often than not, they need to be supplanted, pushed out by new affections.
Do not constantly stress the negative. Our faith emphasizes many a “do” as well as many a “don’t.” If you have prayed about a certain sin for years without success, experiment. Try a different approach. You obviously have little to lose. Dwell on the evil less, emphasize the positive more. Enjoy God. Highlight communion, relationship, and warmth. Let His new life permeate your being so fully that the sin is squeezed out of your life.
Eph. 4:24b “. . .which after God is created. . .”
“After God” means according to what God is in Himself. The new man is patterned after what God is like. Being right with God results in our being like God. Regeneration restores to us what we lost in the Fall of Adam. The new man is like God, “created” as man was originally.
This cannot be accomplished in human strength. Man needs a radical transformation, one which penetrates to the bottom of the soul, an abyss God alone can reach. The new man, accomplished only by God’s almighty power, is as much a new creation as was creation in the beginning. A new man is ever “put on,” never evolved from within. “Our task is not to weave it, but to wear it. It is made and ready. . . .The garment with which He clothes our nakedness and hides our filth is woven in no earthly looms. As with the first sinful pair, so with all their children since, “the Lord God made them” the covering they cannot make for themselves” (Maclaren).
The new man is God’s gift to us, a garment made at huge expense and offered without cost. Here on earth, God the Father initially puts on each of us the best robe to replace the rags of the returning prodigal. This foreshadows a time when He shall in Heaven clothe us with fine linen clean and white. Heaven has no nudists. Its saints wear robes to remind us our salvation was something we donned, not something inherent within us. Our robes will be white because Christ’s is red. We shall thus be reminded for ever and ever that His blood made our blessed state possible.
Eph. 4:24c “. . .in righteousness. . .”
“Righteousness” here refers to doing that which is right. God’s inherent righteousness, imputed and imparted to us in conversion, manifests itself through righteous deeds. We work out what God works in. “Put on the new man” means be what we are. The new man is implanted in us. Now let us put him on, don him out in the open for everyone to see. In our daily living, we need to make an emphatic statement for God.
The outer man is extremely important because it is the only part of us others can see. Lost people judge God and the Church by how we act. This is unfair, but nevertheless a fact of life. The influence we have on others entirely depends on our public life. When God is renewing our mind, when we are putting on the new man, it will be obvious in our conduct.
Eph. 4:24d “. . .and true holiness.”
“Righteousness” points to the squaring of conduct according to a given law of duty. “Holiness” stresses not so much a code of conduct adhering to law, but a consecration adhering to a Lord. In the Greek construction, both “righteousness” and “holiness” are to be “true,” springing from truth. Our consecration is to be “true,” as opposed to outward and ceremonial.
Taken together, the terms “righteousness” and “holiness” express the all-encompassing nature of our faith. We cannot vacillate, opting to put the old off, and the new on, from time to time. Nor can we opt to wear both at the same time. We want only the new man all the time. We desire the old man gone and forgotten. Our choice must be absolute.
This is one thing I always appreciated about Dad. He raised us to believe every little particle of life had to do with God. To the farthest corner of every room, to the bottom of every drawer, to the remotest recess of the attic, to the essence of every soul, all was to be consecrated to God.
God. God! GOD!! Everything unto Him, nothing apart from Him. The desire to put on the new man for God’s honor and glory should be the obsession of our lives. There should be among us a panting after God, a craving for His smile. We preachers should never have to beg our people to do this. We should only have to exhort them. Rather than pleading with our people to begin “the race that is set before us” (HB 12:1), we should be cheerleaders urging on people who are running the race with all their might, seeking to be encouraged by the cries of their pastor.