Ephesians 4:20-24 Put Off / Put On

… 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… Eph 4:21-24

In verses 1 through 16 of chapter 4 of his epistle to the Ephesian church, Paul emphasizes the relationships and responsibilities toward one another within the body of Christ. In verse 17 he turns to discuss the moral duties of individuals, as we relate to one another in the body. These are first described generally in verses 17-24 and then in more detail from 4:25-5:21. In verses 17-24 the Christian is first characterized negatively, by the statement that we are to no longer walk as the Gentiles, characterized by an unrenewed mind giving no thought to God or eternal matters. In sharp contrast to the Gentiles (v. 20 But you …), the Christians who received this letter did not learn Christ in such a manner so as to condone their old pagan lifestyle. On the contrary, when they received the Gospel, they were instructed that Christian discipleship required the renunciation of all of their futile pagan thoughts and deeds and the adoption and cultivation of Christian holiness. This is what he describes as the truth that is in Jesus. How different is this truth from modern antinomian gospel message which emphasizes that we come just as we are, with no thought or intent to change or be conformed to Christ.

Using the illustration of clothing, Paul reminds us that the truth that is in Jesus is defined by our having put off the old man and put on the new man, in the same manner that one would exchange an old garment for a new one. (Read Rom 6:6 Gal 2:20, and Col 3:9). The old man is not renewed; rather he is dead and in the process of decaying, as he has grown corrupt through the deceitful lusts that compelled his activities. Put off is in the aorist tense and infinitive mood; rather than a command, it states a definitive, decisive and permanent act that has already been accomplished. Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest expands the translation of Ephesians 4:21 as follows: that you have put off once for all with reference to your former manner of life the old self who is being corrupted according to the passionate desires of deceit.

Verse 24 adds the positive counterpart of the negative of verse 22 – that you put on the new man. While the old man was corrupt and degenerating to the point of ruin, the new man has been freshly created after the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness. The descriptions of the old man and the new man are so dissimilar that their total incompatibility cannot be emphasized more clearly. Just like put off, the verb put on is also an aorist infinitive– Wuest translates verse 24 as follows: and that you have put on once for all the new self who after God was created in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Sandwiched between the aorist infinities put on and put off, is another infinitive, but in the present tense, be renewed in the spirit of your mind, which tells us that in addition to the rejection of the old and assumption of the new, there is a daily or continuous inward renewal of the mind that is involved in being a Christian. As the pagan’s degradation is due to the futility of their minds; on the other hand, Christian righteousness depends upon the constant renewing of our minds.

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