22. How do I take off one nature and put on another?
Ephesians 4:17-24. “With the Lord’s authority I say this: live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.” NLT
I love the play of tenses in this passage. The Greek indicates that throwing off my pre-Christian ways involves actively turning from what used to be my natural desires and actions. This is something I need to do intentionally, agreeing with God that those ways are not God’s ways, and turning away from them (confessing and repenting). Then, in contrast, Paul instructs us to replace that way of living by a passive response to God* by letting His Spirit change how we think and feel. This is similar to Paul’s instructions to “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” in Romans 12:2. At times I tend to reverse the actions of taking off and putting on. I passively accept God’s forgiveness for my ungodly thoughts, feelings, and actions, and I put lots of energy into trying to make myself better, at least in my own eyes.
So how should I throw off my old nature? Some parts of my old nature are easier to take off than other parts. But I need help on all parts. Some things mentioned in this chapter are fairly simple (but not easy), to take off. For example, “stop telling lies” (v. 25). The simple solution? Just don’t tell them; still easier said than done, right? But other aspects of my old nature are much more complicated. For example, how do I get rid of bitterness (v. 31) that may have developed over years in response to hurts?
I think the point is that all aspects of my old sin nature need more than just my decision to stop, more than just my willpower. They need supernatural intervention. My part is to recognize aspects of my sin nature as I become aware of them through the Holy Spirit, confess, repent, and ask God to remove them. He will help me change, sometimes abruptly, but most often gradually. And God often works His supernatural change through interaction within a relationship with another human being or community. For example, when I talk with my husband Allan about a characteristic needing change in my life and enlist his prayer and accountability help, it is more likely that I will see God changing me internally.
Holy Spirit, please do Your often-painful work of convicting me of my sins and giving me grace so that I can turn from them through Your help. Make me more like my Father. Amen.
*O’Brien, Peter T (1999). The Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, p 329.