Your life in Christ is like a set of clothes. It seems like a strange analogy, I know, but that’s what Paul says in our text. He says put off the old self, like you’re taking off an old pair of clothes and putting it away. He tells us to put on the new self, like the new set of clothes.
There is a connection, isn’t there, between what you wear and who you are? Maybe Paul’s analogy isn’t so strange. When you are young, you wear clothes that you aren’t going to feel like wearing anymore when you are old. You maybe still have the clothes you wore when you were younger. In the morning when you are getting ready, you might hold up several different outfits and look in the mirror. You hold up those old bell-bottoms, and decide just aren’t your style anymore. You put them away. This is what Paul says we should do with our sinful nature. It’s not us anymore. It should be taken off and put away.
At the same time, we are to put on our new self, which has been created to be like God in righteousness and holiness. As you are going through your clothes in the morning, you pull out the outfit that you just bought last week. It’s your style; it’s your color. It fits who you are. You put it on. Do the same thing with your Christian faith. Christ has given you new clothes, so to speak. He has given you faith, and he wants you to wear it as you go about your life. It works just like your clothes. When people see what you’re wearing, they see something about who you are. When people see what you do and hear what you say, they also see who you are. They should see Christ in you. Take off the old. Put on the new.
Hear these words from the apostle Paul in Ephesians, chapter 4:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him 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 be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Like those old bellbottoms, the sinful heart inside of you doesn’t fit you anymore. It isn’t who you are. Maybe that’s who you were at one time, but now you are a different person in Christ.
Think about the people who are controlled by their sinful nature. They are liars and backstabbers; selfish people who always do what is best for themselves. They do what they want, no matter what God has to say about it. They disgust you. Have you ever gone to buy a used car, and the guy lied to you about the car? Doesn’t it make you mad? People will say anything to get what they want. Sinful people are liars.
These days people who live by their sinful nature are also becoming more bold in their sexuality. So many follow their sexual appetites without any restraint. They are like animals as they go from one mate to the next, pairing up with whoever feels good and looks good at the moment.
Their minds are darkened, like Paul said. They can’t see the truth. It’s no wonder that they are so sinful, because they don’t know God. They refuse to see where their sins are taking them, even though God has made sure that all sin will brings misery before it finally brings judgment. They simply refuse to see, and it frustrates us.
Paul says we must put off that old sinful self, like the old pair of clothes that just doesn’t fit with who we are anymore. You must realize, now, what he is implying. As much as we are disgusted by the sins we see in others, we have the same sins in ourselves. Don’t you lie too? Don’t you sin because it feels good, sometimes without even feeling guilty for it? That needs to be put away.
Think about how you are deceived by the devil’s lies. Just like the rest of the world, you are tempted also to do what is easy and feels good, and to ignore the destruction that follows sin.
You older people, who are so quick to criticize the younger generation for their moral flaws, and so disgusted with society—why is it that so many men and women of your generation are living together but not married? You know why. You know the temptations of loneliness and money. You know how the government takes away some of your Social Security when you marry again. You know how easy it is to overlook the destruction that comes from that sin. Even if you don’t think it is breaking the sixth commandment in any way, what are other people going to think? How will the young know that they are supposed to get married if they see that the older “more religious” people aren’t even doing it? Your generation is helping to break down the institution of marriage. Don’t fall to the temptation of sidestepping marriage, and don’t share in that sin by letting your Christian friends do it. Leave that old sinful life in the closet.
You younger people like me, even though you are disgusted by how far the sinful people of the world will go, don’t you want to be a little rebellious too? It might seem like fun to get drunk and make a sinful fool out of yourself, especially when your friends do it all the time. It might be easy to overlook that you dishonor God by such actions. Behind closed doors it is easy to get into sins on your TV and computer that no one will know about. It can be easy to overlook the destruction and misery that will come from your sin—those sins will ruin your life.
You children, both old and young, if you still live at home—you know that unbelievers aren’t the only ones who disobey their parents. You do that too, but you shouldn’t. You are Christians, and Christ wants you to be like him, and be obedient to your parents.
That old sinful self needs to be taken off and put away. It isn’t you anymore.
In Christ, there is a new you. Remember that this whole discussion of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with the grace of God to you. Paul said that God chose you—that shamelessly sinful person who you are by nature—he chose you to bring you near to himself and make you an heir of heaven. He predestined you—setting out the events of history so that you would be born in a place and at a time when you would hear about his love for you. Then he set out to redeem you, and what I mean is that he paid the price to get you out of that old sinful way of life and have you close to himself instead. It was the price of Jesus’s blood that he paid. Your sins needed to be punished, and Christ paid that price. Now he has also given you the gift of faith through the Baptism you received and through the Word that you have heard, so that you actually believe in what he has done for you. In the same way, through the Word and Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he comes near to you, so near that he can even say that he dwells in you. He can even say that he is your Head, and you are the members of his body. All this, for people who have such a disgusting sinful nature in their closets!
There is a new you. You are not guilty. God has said that you are holy. Now also, Christ is in you to make that holiness show through in your thoughts and actions. He has changed your heart and made it like his own—that is what we call faith. It’s your new heart, a holy and righteous heart. Now, when you get new clothes you don’t just let them sit in the closet. You wear them! Christ wants you to wear your clean new heart like a set of clothes. He wants people to see who you are. Just like people see the clothes you wear and know a little about you, Christ wants people to see your faith and know that he is inside of you. God lives in you. Act like it! Be holy and righteous, because God lives in you. You are with Jesus, like members of his body. I can’t see Jesus helping and encouraging his people, but I can see him working through you. You are like his hands and his mouth to help and encourage his people. Do like Jesus does; speak like Jesus speaks.
There are so many ways that we can put on our new self. Next week we will hear the apostle Paul tell us about some of those ways, but we won’t have time for all of them. I will offer you a few now as a teaser.
Paul tells us to be like Christ, and tell the truth. God has nothing to hide. You don’t either. Why lie about your sins? They have been covered by Christ’s blood, and God says you are holy in spite of what you have done. Now God is going to take care of his holy people, so why lie to get what you need? God has told you the truth, so be truthful in what you tell others. Let them see what God is like in your words.
Be like Christ, and control your anger. Anger in itself is not sinful, it’s an emotion. But don’t let your anger become sinful. Don’t hurt anyone. Don’t let your anger stop you from repairing broken relationships. Don’t hold grudges. Paul wrote, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” and he meant that you should be open about your problems, come up together and admit where you were wrong. Come up with a solution, and forgive any sin. Don’t let it wait until tomorrow. Don’t stay quiet and stay angry. Let them see God in your forgiveness.
Paul tells us to be like Christ in our Christian work ethic. Don’t be lazy, making excuses for yourself and expecting others to pick up the slack. Don’t steal to get what you need. Do something useful, so that you have enough to care for yourself and help others. Let them see Christ in your hard work and your desire to help those in need.
Take off the old sinful self and put it away. That isn’t who you are anymore. You are a Christian, and Christ is in you. Wear that. Let them see Christ in you. Wear your Christian clothes. Amen.