…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Eph. 4:22-24 NASB
Years ago when the western U.S. was being settled, roads were often just wagon tracks. These rough trails posed serious problems for those who journeyed on them. On one of these winding paths was posted a sign which read: “Avoid this rut or you’ll be in it for the next 25 miles!” “Avoid this rut or you’ll be in it for the next 25 miles!” can literally describe many of us in the daily routines of life. If we are truly honest, all of us, at some point in our lives, have had or continue to have certain things we say, do, or think that make us wish we would have heeded the signs to avoid that rut.
Another name for those ruts in our lives is habits. In the dictionary, we discover that a habit is a usual manner of behavior, a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition. They are learned ways of living. Habits are created when something is done repeatedly until it becomes a pattern…the proverbial rut. They may be actions, attitudes, or patterns of thinking that have become so ingrained they are second nature. Habits are not necessarily evil. In fact they can be considered a gift from God. If it weren’t for habits we would have to continually relearn everything. Learning how to walk is one example. Once it is learned, walking is so habitual that we rarely think about it. Or even our morning and evening rituals are another example. Some things simply become habits because they scarcely require much thought. Habits can be unlearned as well. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 describe people whose lives had been characterized by sinful habituations. The emphasis in that text is on the past tense.
A simple understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:17 teaches us that every aspect of our lives, including our habits, experiences a great transformation the very moment we trust Christ. Your new nature is not added to your old nature, it replaces it. You are not (to use today’s vocabulary) a spiritual schizophrenic. A robust biblical theology recognizes the Bible does not teach that a Christian has two different natures. You have one – a new nature in Christ. The old self dies and the new self lives – they do not coexist. So why do we still sin? We still sin because sin still resides in the flesh. Our flesh inhibits and restrains us from being able to express our new nature fully and perfectly. Our new nature resides in a body that is corrupted by sin. In position you are totally transformed. In practice you are not wholly perfected. Sin still resides, but it doesn’t reign. However, even though sin still exists in our flesh, we cannot excuse it in our lives. There must be evidence of life change. If you are going to claim to be a follower of Christ, then there must be a change in the way you think and act.
If you are going to live like God intends then you have to stop following the example of the world, because the world does not follow God. On the basis of who you are in Christ, you are to be absolutely distinct from the world. It ought to be crystal clear that you now have a relationship with Christ. The image of Christ in your life ought to be the highest definition possible. You are to stop following the example of the world because the world is driven by a feeling orientation. When it comes to spiritual and moral issues, the unbelieving world cannot think straight. It is warped and inadequate and doesn’t produce the kind of thinking that leads to Godliness. It is empty and amounts to nothing. The evidence existent within our culture proves to us that the further we go in pursuing knowledge apart from God, the deeper into sin man plunges. When people turn themselves from a life with God, they become apathetic and insensitive to spiritual and moral things. They reject all standards of what is right and wrong. No care is given to the consequences of wrong thoughts or actions. Worldly thinking is man choosing to determine his own way, to do things his own way, pursue his own destiny, cutting himself off from God. It is a desire to live by feelings that will never truly be satisfied. None of that ought to be true about the real believer.
To get out of the rut it is imperative to start living the way God intended by being centered on Christ. You cannot have a life that is centered on Christ and pursue goals that are contrary to God’s standards. Being Christ – centered means your life has a new purpose, pleasing God. God also wants you to live being truth or principle oriented. Instead of being ignorant of God’s truth you have responded to it and it becomes your rule of life. The Scriptures formulate the boundaries and framework from which we all must filter our choices. God also wants us to be continually growing and changing by putting off the old self, changing our thinking, and putting on the new self. The “old man” exists in those habits that you’ve been developing from the day you were born – it’s those old sinful habits that need to be put off. But if you are going to change – you have to be renewed in the spirit of your mind because change starts on the inside, not the outside. Trying to change my behavior without changing my thinking will not produce lasting change. When was the last time you admitted you had a sinful habit because your thinking was wrong? Putting on the new self means we replace those old sinful habits with righteousness and true holiness. We must put on thoughts, actions, words, and attitudes that measure up to the standard of holiness in Christ.
The pattern for lasting growth for the believer is this: Put off sinful habits…change your thinking to be more biblical thinking…and put on the righteous Godly habits. This is called the principle of replacement. After you’ve identified what needs to be put off, and renewed your thinking to be more in line with what God says about it, you then must also go to work with the power of Spirit, to develop the exact opposite habit of behaving and put it on in its place. If you put off something and don’t put anything on in its place you will go back to it.
As a believer, you have to make a choice of which life you want to live. The choice you make will become evident in the daily patterns of your life, your habits. As you see yourself right now, what would the preponderance of evidence point to? Do your habits communicate you are living out more of the old man with its feeling orientation or are you living out the new man that is principle/truth oriented? The unbeliever is driven by self and wants to make self happy. The believer is to be driven by principles/truth of the Word of God and want to make God happy. If you want lasting biblical change to occur in your life, if you want to get out of the rut of sinful habituation, then you must follow God’s pattern, not the worlds. Employ the principle of replacement.
You have two choices before you. The difference now is that your new nature in Christ enables you to make the right one.
If you would like to know more about this, I invite you to visit Maranatha Bible Church in Van Buren this Sunday as we explore this text in our continued study of Ephesians. We truly are blessed beyond measure. It is time we believers started living like it!