New, Not New and Improved.
Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT
Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross so that you could enjoy a slightly new-and-improved version of the old you. And yet, that’s exactly the view held by a lot believers today. The term used to explain this version of salvation is “behavior modification.” It basically means that by coming to faith in Christ, we have been given a capacity to change the way we live by making a few alterations to our daily habits and attitudes. The formula goes something like this: More good behavior + less bad behavior = holiness. So we try to stop doing some things and start doing others things – all in the hope that it will make us more acceptable to God. But Paul pulls on the emergency break when it comes to that kind of mindset. Why? Because it’s unbiblical and not helpful. Yes, he tells us to “throw off our old sinful nature and your former way of life,” which sounds a whole lot like removing bad behavior. Then he tells us to “put on your new nature,” which sounds like he’s recommending that we add some good behavior. Paul goes on to give a pretty comprehensive list of things to STOP doing. Stop telling lies. Stop letting anger control you. Stop going to bed angry. Stop stealing. Stop using foul or abusive language. Stop grieving the Holy Spirit with the way you live. Stop being bitter, raging, using harsh words, and slandering one another. As a matter of fact, stop all types of evil behavior.
But is Paul simply giving us a list of things to stop doing? Is it all up to us? Is he providing us with some helpful self-improvement tips for a better and more holy life? I don’t think so. Paul is reminding the Ephesians that a life in Christ is a life marked by incredible change, both inside and out. Our new life in Christ should be characterized by new behaviors. We have been given a new nature by God that is designed to be like Him – holy and righteous. Lying, stealing, slandering, hating, cursing – all reflect our old nature. So when they show up, they are evidence that we are living according to our old nature and not our new one. Those things are not godly, holy or righteous. But when we live under the influence of our new, God-given nature, the results are markedly different. Rather than stealing, or taking what doesn’t belong to us, we will work hard and give generously to others. Rather than allow words that abuse and tear down to come from our lips, we will say those things that are good, helpful, and encouraging. Instead of grieving the Holy Spirit by living according to our old nature, we will please Him by allowing Him to control our actions and attitudes. We will live lives that evidence kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. And those things are not self-manufactured, they’re the evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives. He produces them. The love He produces in us isn’t just our human capacity to love on steroids. It’s a completely different kind of love. It’s selfless rather than selfish. It’s sacrificial rather than self-centered. It’s divine, not human. It’s impossible and non-replicable. In other words, you can’t manufacture this kind of love on your own. It’s humanly impossible. In fact, this entire list that Paul provides is impossible if attempted on your own. The key is found in verse 23: “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” It all begins in the mind. That’s the battleground. And the renewing of our minds involves a change in the way we think and perceive. When we come to Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit and, along with Him, a new perspective on life and eternity. He begins in us a slow, steady process of internal transformation that works its way out in outward behavior modification. So selfishness gets slowly replaced with selflessness. Self-centeredness gets replaced with sacrifice. Love of self gets replaced with love for others. As our minds are renewed, our behavior begins to change. And that renewal is the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the Word of God. Paul told the Romans, “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2 NLT). He goes on to say, “Don’t think you are better than you really are” (Romans 12:3 NLT). God gives us the capacity to look at ourselves honestly and realistically. His Spirit and His Word combine to provide us with a new way of seeing and thinking about life. And it should change the way we live our life.
God is out to radically change and transform us, not just slightly improve us. A slightly improved version of the old you is still not good enough. So God gave you a new nature and a new power to live differently and distinctively in this life. We can “throw off” our old way of life with all its sins, habits and hangups. We can daily put on our new nature, which has been created by God to mirror His own character of holiness and righteousness. Simply trying to change our behavior is like putting a new set of clean clothes on top of our old, dirty ones. It doesn’t change anything. It’s a facade, a cover up – that only hides the reality within. God wants to change us from the inside out. So He begins with our thoughts and attitudes. As we learn to think differently, we will begin to live differently. We will understand our need for the Spirit’s presence and power each and every day of our lives. We’ll understand our need to know the will of God by spending time in the Word of God. We will come to recognize the difference between the deeds we perform in our own flesh and the fruit that flows through is as a result of the Spirit of God’s work in us. And the new, God-designed version of us will be far more successful than the slightly improved version could ever be.
Father, I want to be radically changed by You each and every day of my life. But I know I have to have my way of thinking radically changed through time spent in Your Word and through submission to Your Holy Spirit’s leading. I don’t want superficial, non-sustainable change. I want to real thing. And only You can produce it in my life. Continue Your inner transformation of my heart and mind, so that my outer behaviors will give evidence of all that You are doing in me. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men