Does Becoming a Christian Mean Rejecting Every Bit of Our Life Before Christ?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22

In yesterday's reflection, I noted that becoming a Christian isn't a matter merely of adding a few new behaviors to your otherwise unchanged life. According to Ephesians 4:22, you were taught to "put off your old self." More literally, you were taught (or should have been taught, at any rate) to take off your "old man" as if you were stripping off an old coat. But does this mean you have to set aside everything about your former way of life? Do you have to do everything differently if you're going to live as a faithful Christian?

Common sense would say "no," as would the example of Paul himself. When he began serving Christ, Paul continued to speak Greek, work as a tentmaker, wear ordinary clothing, and so forth. He also rebuked new Christians who thought, for example, that becoming a Christian meant leaving their marriages (see 1 Cor. 7) or ceasing to work because Christ was coming back soon (2 Thess. 3:6-13).

If, then, we are free to continue in some behaviors from our pre-Christian past, how do we know which aspects of life constitute our "former way of life" that we're supposed to put off? How can we identify the old man that needs to be removed like a ratty old jacket?

The context of Ephesians 4:22 helps us to answer this question (as does the language of the verse itself, which I'll examine tomorrow). In verse 20, Paul spoke about "learning Christ" (literal translation). In verse 21, the new believers "heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus." Thus, the former behavior that we ought to put off, the old man that needs to be stripped off, is that which is inconsistent with Jesus Christ: his teaching, his example, and his death and resurrection, the core of the gospel.

Must we reject everything about our pre-Christian life when receive God's grace through Christ? No, that's neither possible nor advisable. Rather, we allow Jesus, our Savior and Lord, to become our teacher. We begin to weigh everything in our lives in light of him. What he reveals to be evil, we cast off. What he eschews, we avoid. Things we tend to do that are inconsistent with the gospel must be stripped off.

Tomorrow, we'll examine another aspect of the "old man" that is inconsistent with Christ. For now, I'd encourage you to reflect on the following questions.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What aspects of your life in the past, or even today, are inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus? With the example of Jesus? With the gospel of God's grace through Jesus? Have you stripped off these behaviors? How, by God's grace, might you do so even more?

PRAYER: Gracious God, help me to understand which aspects of my life should be stripped off. May I see with greater clarity than ever before ways in which my behavior is inconsistent with Christ, his teaching and living. Show me where my way of life contradicts the gospel. By your grace, help me to see my "old man" clearly so that I might get rid of it. To you be all the glory. Amen.


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Image by Hobvias Sudoneighm. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.