Put Off The Old Self

Text: Ephesians 4:22-28

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Perhaps one of the biggest misunderstandings in the Christian Church – and even among us LCMS Lutherans – is the belief that our old sinful nature is changed to a good nature when we become a Christian. In other words, it is often believed that when a godless pagan is converted, their sinful nature is changed into a pious nature.  

For example, I can recall a certain individual from childhood who was known as the town wild man. Let's call him Jason. Every weekend, the town would hear how Jason would smash it at the bar, sleep with a bunch of women, and speed around the countryside. That is until he found God – or we could say – God found him. With a snap of the finger, things changed in Jason's life. He quit drinking, cussing, and womanizing. He settled down, as they say. He got married, had some kids, and became very quiet, tender, and kind. The town marveled at his change! Jason went from a wild man to a docile man in months. Here is the catch: his old Adam – the old corrupt nature – did not change into a good nature. That is to say, when Jason became a Christian, his old Adam did not change into a new man. The old Adam still exists beneath Jason's quiet, kind, and tender disposition. He still has the same lusts and the same desires. All the traits of the old Adam's behavior – the putrid, crumbling, and inflated like rotting, wasteful old Adam – is still present in Jason.  

So, why did it appear that Jason no longer had the wild old Adam? The answer is that Jason continually put off the old Adam. Instead of letting the old Adam have full reign, he battled the old Adam.  

Baptized Saints, all of us here have renounced the Devil, with all his works and ways. We did this either in the confirmation rite or when we became a member of this church. However, we must also renounce our old Adam – all the dark works and perverted ways of the sinful nature. You see, the sinful nature – which we call the old Adam – is like a dirty garment. It is found in every single person in this church.  (If you think you do not possess the old Adam – if you think you are free of sin – the Bible says you are fooling yourself. A claim like that is errant nonsense.)  And so, each of us has this filthy garment that continually leads us to perform evil. The sinful words that rise to the tongue, the evil thoughts that pop up in our minds, and the desires that emerge in our hearts are all due to the old garment… the old Adam. Constantly every single day, this old Adam will work to corrupt you, me, and our neighbors, which is why the Apostle Paul says in our reading from Ephesians, 

"Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires."

In other words, Paul is telling you and me to daily take this rotten and dirty garment off. 

But how are we to take it off?  

Dear friends, putting off this old Adam is violent, painful, and frankly – not much fun. In fact, the Apostle Paul calls it a crucifixion (see Romans 6:6).  

But again, how do we practically take it off?  

In a word – repentance.  

It is like this: we come to the Lord's church often and regularly to confess that we are poor, miserable sinners. And when we do this, it is like we are taking this old garment off and dragging this sinful old Adam before the throne of grace. Indeed, when we confess our sins, we are throwing ourselves upon the mercy of the Lord. And then, right here in the sanctuary, the Lord does not pour out wrath but His grace, forgiveness, and salvation through His Word of Absolution.

This is why Martin Luther said that the life of a Christian is daily repentance. In other words, the posture of the Christian is daily repenting – daily taking the filthy garment off through the confession of sins. But again, this is hard, and it is painful. It is hard and painful because we don't like to admit when we are wrong. We don't like to apologize. We don't like to confess our sins before each other and before God. We don't like to admit that we often wear the dirty garment of the old Adam.  

Regardless, the fact remains – the old Adam is constantly working to corrupt you as a Christian and us as a church. And so, this life as a Christian is a constant conflict between the old Adam and your new nature in Christ. The greatest cross and suffering that you will have in this life is with your sinful nature. The biggest problem in Matt Richard's life is my old Adam. The biggest problem in your life is your old Adam. This is the fight that we will endure in this vale of tears. 

But aren't we supposed to get better and better and better as Christians? Haven't we been taught in American Christianity that mature Christians supposedly sin less and do more good, that mature Christians have done away with the dirty garment and only wear a new garment? Aren't we taught in American Christianity that as we mature, we become more independent and powerful and have sin under more control?  

There is a theologian who talks a lot about this. I have found him to be most helpful. He comments on this subject, saying, 

"[In this Christian faith], we move away from pride in ourselves and our own achievements to a gradual awareness of our spiritual failure and Christ's work in us, as we entrust ourselves to Him. We move away from the conviction that we are self-sufficient to the repeated experience of spiritual bankruptcy. We move on from delusions of our spiritual importance to a growing sense of our utter insignificance and the glory of God. We move on from delight in our own power to the painful recognition of our spiritual weakness. We are brought from our self-righteousness to the increasing consciousness that we are sinful." (John Kleinig)

In other words, as we mature spiritually, we realize how much we wear the filthy garment. And as we realize how much we tend to put on the filthy garment, we find ourselves repenting more.  

And so, dear friends, the older you get and the more that you mature in this Christian faith, the more that you understand the tactics of the old Adam, which results in you repenting more and more and then finding your refuge in Christ. 

Dear friends, keep in mind that the Apostle Paul does not say in our reading from Ephesians, 

"Dear Christians, the more you mature, the more you won't have to worry about the filthy garment of the old Adam."

He also does not say, 

"Dear Christians, take off your old self and then get busy trying to be good little pious people by following a list of small-minded rules."  

No! He says, take off your old self and clothe yourselves with the new self. In other words, repent of sin and its deceit and return to your baptisms where you belong. In other words, remember who you belong to. Rest in Christ's grace. Receive His gifts. Trust the Gospel. Sit at His table. Depend upon His Word. Have a clean conscience in His forgiveness. Put on Christ and do not give an inch to the old Adam, for you belong to Jesus, not darkness.  

Baptized Saints, you already have the righteous garments of Christ. And so, the fight is not to obtain new garments. But instead, the continual battle is to take off the filthy garments in repentance. That is the battle of the Christian faith. That is what the Word of God calls for today because you do not belong to the Devil, the world, and especially the old Adam. But instead, you belong to Christ.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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