Don’t Focus on the NegativeDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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.
In the classic stereotype of conservative Christianity, Christians are people who "Don't drink. Don't chew. Or go with girls who do." You might add to this list of don'ts: "Don't swear. Don't gamble. Don't dance. Don't have sex before marriage. Don't hang out too much with unbelievers. Don't ask too many questions. Don't miss church." If you grew up in a conservative Christian environment, you can probably add to this list.
Ephesians 4:22-24 would agree that there are certain behaviors that you, as a Christian, should not do. You have been taught to "put off your old self" or, more literally, "your old man [anthropos]" (4:22). This old self has to do with "your former way of life," a life contrary to the teachings, example, and gospel of Jesus Christ. (Whether this means all the traditional "don'ts" of conservative Christianity are right, I'll leave for another day.)
But, as we have seen, the Christian life is not simply a matter of "don'ts." It also has to do with being renewed in the core of our inner being, an ongoing work of the Spirit that transforms who we are from the inside out. This renewal involves, among other things, adopting a new mind, a new way of thinking about everything.
Following Paul's metaphorical language, this teaching about the Christian life would leave young believers rather like newborn babies, brand new and stark naked. But Paul isn't finished. According to Ephesians 4:24, they were also taught "to put on the new self [anthropos], created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (4:24). No spiritual nudity here.
Yet, many Christians seem to forget this and to minimize the "putting on" aspect of our life in Christ. We can focus so much on the negative that we neglect the positive. Or, we limit the positive to internal renewal, rather than a complete renewal inside and outside. We forget, as Paul explained in a previous passage of Ephesians, that when we receive God's grace through faith, we become "God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (2:10). Doing these good works is an essential element of putting on our new self.
To be sure, there is a time and place for Christians to be clear about the negative, about beliefs and behaviors that are part of the "old man." Yet, if we put most of our energy into opposing what's wrong, we'll have little left for doing and teaching what is right. May God give us the grace to put on our new self, to live each day in imitation of Christ, whether we're at home or work, whether we're among friends or enemies, whether we're gathered as the church or scattered as the church in the world.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: As you think about your Christian experience, have you been in settings that emphasize the negative more than the positive? Why might this have been the case? What would help you to consciously and consistently "put on" your new self in Christ, to do the good works for which God has recreated you?
PRAYER: Gracious God, as I consider this passage, I'm reminded of how easily I can focus on the negative. I can readily pay attention to what's wrong in the world, in my work, in the lives of my colleagues or my family members. I can spend more time thinking about my shortcomings and sins than considering how I might live positively for you. Forgive me, Lord, for the imbalance in my life.
Help me, I pray, to indeed put off the old self. May I turn away from sin as I turn to you. Yet, help me not to focus so much on what's wrong in me that I neglect to put on the new self, a new way of thinking, doing, and being. O Lord, as you renew me on the inside, may that renewal show forth in new actions, new words, new thoughts, and a new way of living. To you be all the glory. Amen.
Feeling the Love at Work
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Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.