Sir Isaac Newton was a very brilliant scientist who lived from 1643 to 1728. Among his many contributions to science were his laws of motion. The first law of motion states that an object at rest will stay at rest unless some outside force acts upon it to change it. In other words, a ball will go nowhere unless someone picks it up and throws it. This is Newton’s first law of motion. It is an excellent analogy to what happens in the spiritual realm. A soul at rest in its depravity and sinfulness (spiritual death) will stay in that state of depravity unless some outside force acts upon it. If, however, that outside force does act upon it, that soul will become alive and will live and move in the presence of God.
Last week, we saw how we were, what we were like before our conversion to Christianity. There was hardness of heart, darkness of mind, alienation from God, and a givenness to sin. Paul now contrasts what we were with what we are now. He says, “But you have not learned Christ in this way.” What fellowship does light have with darkness? What fellowship does a hard heart have with a living heart that is tuned to the heart of God? What fellowship does adoption have with alienation? And what fellowship does the Holy Spirit have with a person given over to sin? These are the questions of our text.
Verse 20 is unusual, in that we are said to have learned Christ. The NIV says “know Christ,” but a more literal translation would say “learn Christ.” Normally, we learn some thing about someone, or we learn some kind of knowledge, or we learn how to do something. Here, however, we are said to learn a person, Christ Jesus. This learning of Christ Jesus is in direct contrast to the style of living that is opposed to Christ, that dark, unenlightened, alienated-from-God existence that we used to have. If we have learned Christ, then things are different.
The NIV translates verse 21 well. Paul does not mean to instill doubt in the minds of the believers in Ephesus as to whether they had actually heard the truth. They heard the truth about Jesus, that He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended into heaven. That truth about Jesus has the most profound consequences for our lives.
Notice the close connection between learning about the truth of Jesus, and learning about the truth of the necessity of putting off the former life. If Christ is crucified and resurrection and ascended into heaven, and we have that new life in Christ, particularly the Holy Spirit, then we need a change of clothes, and a change of life.
Paul tells us to put off our old way of life. This metaphor is that of putting of old worn-out useless clothes, and putting on instead clothes that fit, that are useful, and that are beautiful. That is the metaphor that Paul uses here. The old way of life is like a worn-out garment that will not keep out the wrath of God from a person. Literally, Paul calls the old way of life “the old man,” or “the earlier man.” Paul uses this language quite a bit in his letters. The old man is that naturally evil, depraved sin nature that we have by virtue of being descended from Adam. It is closely connected to the old age of the world. The old age and the old man go together.
But now, something different has happened. There is a new age, brought in by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. All things are being made new, starting with the human heart. That is the new man. The new man and the new age go together. Of course, we are not using the term “new age” to refer to “New Age Philosophy,” which is basically pagan mysticism. Rather, we are using the term as the Bible does, which refers to the new age that Jesus’ resurrection has ushered in. The spiritual world of fallen human sinners is changing one life at a time. That is part of the new age.
This new age is characterised by a renewed mind in the believer. That is what verse 23 says. A lot of people think that our minds, and what we think are somehow neutral. As we saw last week, that is not so. In our natural state, our minds are darkened. Nothing is neutral. In the new age, a believer’s mind is renewed to do what it was always intended to do: think about God, giving praise, honor, and glory to God. That is what the renewed mind is supposed to do. That is what we can now do by the power of the Holy Spirit residing in us. That is putting on the new man, as we put on the new clothes of Christ’s righteousness, our inner man is being renewed. We have been newly created, as it were. We are new creatures, created in righteousness, and holiness, as Paul says in verse 24.
So here is the question: have you put on that new man? Have you been renewed in the spirit of your mind? Have you put off the old man?
Now remember, these things happen in two ways. The first way is a definite, one-time occurrence, where we become believers. That is our conversion. It is darkness to light, death to life, old man to new man. However, there is more to it than just that. There is also the struggle in the Christian life. Yes, we have put off the old man and put on the new man. But, in another sense, we are still putting off the old man, and putting on the new man. The second sense in which we do this is a continual process throughout our lifetimes by which we become more and more holy. Is that happening to you? Are you becoming more holy or less holy? Do you enjoy the things of God more over time or less? This is a vitally important issue for Christians. We do not need an apple to fall on our heads, as Newton did, to understand this law of spiritual motion. The old man acts like gravity, trying to drag us down. The Spirit acts like a trampoline, trying to keep us in the air, in motion, constantly going in one direction. These two forces in our lives are opposite. Fortunately for the believer, they are not equal. You know, Newton’s third law of motion says that for every motion, there is an equal and opposite motion. If you were in space, and pushed against someone else who was exactly the same weight you were, then you would both move. You would move in opposite directions. However, it does NOT work like that in the spiritual life. The Holy Spirit is more powerful than our old man, our old way of life. The Holy Spirit’s motion in our lives causes the old man to move. And that should be an encouragement for us. We were taught Jesus Christ. We have the new man, if we but trust in Jesus. We have been made new. We have the perfect righteousness of Christ. And we are being renewed so that our own righteousness is becoming greater and greater.
Therefore, we should be what we are. We have seen this before in Ephesians. We were dead in sins and transgressions, but now we have been made alive. Therefore we should live as people who are alive and not dead. The world will tell us that living as Christians is dull, boring, and pretty much dead. The reality is that the world is wrong, and that a life enslaved to sin is real death and slavery. We often hear about how bad slavery was in the Civil War. But as bad as the descriptions are, and as bad as it often was, that is nothing compared to the slavery that we have under sin. That is the very worst kind of slavery there is. And countless people are enslaved to it. But what is even sadder is that they do not acknowledge that they are enslaved. They do not even see it. They are blind to their own blindness. But we have been enlightened not because we are so bright, or so worthy, but because God decided to exercise His grace and change us. Therefore we ought to live as people of the light, and not as people of the darkness.