Ephesians 4:20–24 (NIV)
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
This continues the thought in verses 17-19, where Paul told the Ephesians to no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind. Here he notes, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”
But this time Paul adds a new dimension. Instead of instructing them to behave differently, he says they should be someone new – or at least put on someone new. That’s a different view of the process of sanctification.
The old self and the new self are both there – like the classic devil-self on one shoulder and angel-self on the other. Paul describes this conflict as putting on the new self and putting off the old one. Those seem like strange verbs for this, but the NKJV and ESV also translate the Greek words (apo-TI-thay-me and en-DOO-oh) the same way.
Paul is warning us that there’s a struggle going on inside of us and we need to recognize it. Ignoring this fight is choosing to lose it. Paul describes his own struggle in Romans 7:14-25. He ends the description with this stark portrait of his frustration.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. —Romans 7:21–25 (NIV)
Note well that this is in the present tense in the Greek. The fight never ends, even for an apostle.
Paul’s warning in today’s passage is usefully specific. We can learn a lot by considering the old self and recognizing how it is being corrupted by its deceitful desires. That’s in the present tense too. The old self is still being corrupted.
Paul isn’t telling us (or the Ephesians) to try to stop this corruption of the old self. That’s impossible.
It’s to put that old self off and put on the new self. Be a better person by being a different person.
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