If you are a Christian you have put off the old man and put on the new man. You are literally a new creation (2 Co 5:17) – made and fashioned by God in true holiness and righteousness (Eph 4:24). It means that you no longer live as you once did (Eph 4:17), in death, as slaves to sin, but are now under the reign of grace. The implications of this reality are monumental as they are worked out in your life.
Having put on the new man – that is to say, on the basis of our saving union with Christ in His death and resurrection, your new life now then flows from this new man. Your new life involves putting away or putting to death everything that is unlike Christ; while we put on or develop graces in keeping with the power of God in us. We are gradually being transformed into His likeness and image (2 Co 3:18, Col 3:10), a process that will not end until we become completely transformed (1 Jn 3:2). Following the description of what has happened to every Christian as a new creation in Ephesians 4:20-24, a lengthy series of imperatives now follows in verses 25-32 describing exactly what we must put off and put on. Progressive sanctification, or progress in holiness, is manifested in the life of a Christian as, on the basis of our union with Christ, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we put off the practices which characterized or old life, and put on that which belongs to the new one.
These verses contain five classes of sins, described first as the rags which belonged to the old man, and five classes of virtues which are the robes that adorn the new man; the contrast of each characteristic is striking. They are:
1) Lying (v. 25) – every kind of deception and dishonesty. This is one of the chief characteristics of the old man. Any missionary in a pagan land will tell you how easily pagans lie. But not only pagans, even Christians need to be exhorted in this area. Instead of lying, the Christian, who is in a new society – a new family, if you will – must now speak the truth with his neighbor. This includes not only overt lying, but leaving out important information that might contribute to the sanctification of another person in the body of Christ.
2) Sinful anger (v. 26-27) – we’ll take this matter up next week, but suffice to say, that there is a right and wrong way to deal with sin in others; and any expression of anger – harsh, selfish, undisciplined, or uncontrolled – is sinful. Instead, anger is not be held on to but resolved lest it turn into bitterness.
3) Stealing (v. 28) – obviously, as this is a restatement of the eighth commandment, stealing has no place in the life of the Christian. Paul rather contrasts stealing with working, as he admonishes Christians toward honest work in order that they might have something to share with those in need.
4) Corrupt communication (v. 29) – Foul-mouthed talk and worthless speech is unbecoming of a Christian. Often one of the first sins that is shed in the new creation is corrupt talk or cursing. Instead conscious effort is to be made that the Christian’s words be used for edification of the body of Christ.
5) A bad temper (v. 31-32) – this links all of the vices listed in verse 31 – a sour temper that always thinks evil, and speaks evil out of the abundance of the heart. Instead we are admonished to become kind, helpful, generous, and compassionate toward one another.
Of course any attempt to do any of these things apart from your union with Christ leads only to failure.