The Ninth Sunday After Trinity August 8, 2004
234, 387(1-5), 416, 401
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
In the name of Jesus, the only One who can truly make things new, dear fellow redeemed:
Let’s say that you had just finished cleaning out a barn and you are carrying the unmistakable aroma that comes with the job. You come into the house and remember that you were invited to supper at a fancy restaurant. Obviously, a change is needed. So you splash on a little cologne and declare yourself ready to go. That’s not going to cut it, is it? The mess is still there. The smell is still there. It wasn’t really a change at all.
There is not anyone who would think that covering dirt with cologne is a change, and yet when it comes to Christian living we make that mistake all the time. We imagine that our rags of unrighteousness are not that bad and that our sin does not raise a stench toward God.
The truth is that when God talks about His children living a new life, He means a complete renewal—an entirely new man within us and not just a reworking of the old. May the Holy Spirit lead us in this study of His Word. GOD EMPHASIZES THE NEW IN RENEWAL I. The Old Man within cannot be changed II. The New Man is the change that is needed.
We use several different terms to describe our natural state which is opposed to God. They include: sinful nature, sinful flesh, and Old Man. Our text uses “Old Man” and emphasizes the difference between old and new.
In this life old is almost always easier to slip into than new because that is the natural progression of things. Our bodies grow old despite our great efforts to maintain some semblance of youth. Our vehicles and houses grow old and need more and more upkeep.
When it comes to spiritual things the same rule of thumb holds true. Old is easier, but not better. The Old Man, the sinful nature with which we are born, is easy to slip into. It doesn’t take any great effort to sin. That is where our natural inclinations go. In this computer age, one could say that this is our “default setting.” In the text there is a sharp distinction between old and new, between the life of an unbeliever and a believer. It is a distinction that by nature we would rather blur. However, Paul writes, “…you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles (unbelievers) walk, in the futility of their mind…” [v.17]
The walk of unbelievers may look intriguing from the outside, but consider the description that our Lord gives us. Through Paul, God describes their walk as being in “the futility of their mind.” If you don’t have Christ as your focus, then your mind is set on empty, worthless things. It is an effort in futility that will not lead to any permanent happiness. There will be no satisfaction without Christ as your focus.
Paul continues, “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness (literally: “hardening”) of their heart" hardening of their heart.” [v.18]
When we think of certain periods of “enlightenment” in history what is meant? The most recent movement of “enlightenment” in the 1960s consisted of mind-altering drugs, rebellion against authority, and illicit sex. Other times in history as well, those who claimed to be the most enlightened were in fact tolerating and promoting sin.
The Lord, however, is clear about life without Him. It is darkness. It is being alienated from Him, being His enemy. It is being ignorant concerning truth and life and salvation.
The “hardening of the heart” reminds us of the callousness that can build up in the sinful nature. A continued walking against God leads to an insensitivity to sin. Calluses can be good on the hands—it sure beats blisters—but they are deadly on the heart.
The inward mindset and callousness will reveal itself in outward actions. “…who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to licentiousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” [v.19] Which of us has not been on the threshold of not caring about the things of God? The Old Man leads us to that threshold. Each one of us has this nature within us fighting and striving to dominate our thinking, and living and trying to revert to the default setting of sin.
“But you have not so learned Christ.” [v.20] Here is a stark reminder that there is direct contradiction between the Old Man and Christ. We are not to make excuses for sin. We are not to think that we can continue on in a willful disregard for Christ and still serve Him.
It is a continual struggle within the Christian between the old and the new that Christ has taught us. The frustration of the struggle spills over in Paul as he writes in Romans 7, “What I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:15,19).
It is a struggle and one we dare not give up. If we do give up, then the Old Man dominates. The Old Man within us cannot be changed or reconditioned. Newness needs to come from the outside.
In our text we see that there are two different parts of Christian morality. It is described negatively and positively. First, there is the putting off of the Old Man. Secondly, we are to put on the New Man.
Let’s go back to the example of the smelly barn-cleaning clothes. Just because you take off those dirty clothes doesn’t mean that you are ready to go to a fancy restaurant. You need to put on clean clothes. So also with sinful behavior. There is no such thing as neutrality. You are either walking with Christ or walking away from Him.
We are told in verse 23, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” This is a complete makeover on the inside. A change has taken place that is not possible without Jesus.
Two examples come to mind. The first is the example of the Apostle Paul. Before Paul was converted, Jesus asked him why he was kicking against the goads (cf. Acts 9:5). Jesus referred to oxen who would receive a sharp poke on their legs whenever they tried to kick backwards. Paul had made great efforts to please God by persecuting Christ’s Church. Paul thought that he was serving God. Without the intervention of Christ Paul would have continued in darkness and the futility of his mind.
Martin Luther was another one who thought he was on the right track for serving God. Yet, he felt nothing but despair. Outwardly Martin appeared very righteous, but Luther confessed, “Sin was my torment night and day” (TLH 387:2). Martin Luther could not find righteousness and holiness within himself and neither can anyone else.
True righteousness and holiness comes from God alone. That is how Adam and Eve were created and that is the image of the New Man that is created within us when we are brought to faith. The New Man is aligned with God’s will and wants to serve only Him. This creates the struggle within us—the New Man wants to follow God and the Old Man wants nothing to do with Him.
It is important to remember who you truly are. That can be determined by asking yourself which part of you will be around for eternity. Will it be the Old Man or the New man? As a believer in Christ you have the promise of everlasting life in heaven where there is no sin. Therefore, your true self is the New Man.
Because of this we want to strengthen the new while diminishing the old. Being successful in this depends on what you use for food. Filling yourself with a daily diet of the Word of God will strengthen the new. Filling yourself with the wickedness and temptations of this world will strengthen the old. Put off the Old Man with his desires. This is done through sorrow over sin and turning to Christ. On the other hand, when sin is viewed as right and legitimate the old man flourishes.
Change is needed—real change, not just a superficial makeover. In Christ you will find sensitivity to sin. In Christ you will find real power to resist sin. In Christ you will find your source of newness and righteousness. Above all, in Christ you will find forgiveness. Paul assured the Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Forgiveness is what makes you new. Forgiveness makes you God’s child and separates you from this world. You do have a future in which there will be no struggle. You do have a promised eternity of complete newness.
Life gets old after a while. Just when we seem to get one problem licked another one pops up. At those times and always we need to look to Jesus and rely on His righteousness and holiness. Jesus gives you the strength to go on and fight another day. God is not angrily looking back on your past performance. Because Jesus went to the cross God has put away your sin. Even now you are walking in newness of life.
More than going out for supper, we have been invited to a heavenly banquet. We have been given garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness that is necessary to enter such a feast. While we remain on this earth, for Jesus’ sake, put off the old and put on the new. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.