17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
The first three verses are quite dark! Paul is explaining how our whole existence is affected by sin. Sin has caused our minds to think useless thoughts that are disconnected from the essence of God, disconnected from love, life, holiness, purity, joy, goodness, and kindness. Sin has made us isolated from God and we are therefore ignorant of His desire for us. Our heart, the very essence of our being, has become hardened towards God. If we are hard-hearted then we will act in a totally selfish and self-centred way towards other people.
In the Old Testament God frequently warns about hard hearts. Proverbs 4:23 warns that we should guard our hearts because out of them springs our motivations and desires. At the time of Moses, the Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to acknowledge that the Lord God was almighty and that he needed to turn from his evil ways to the Living God. Pharaoh’s heart became hard as he refused to listen to the word of God revealed to him through Moses (Exodus 7:13). Eventually Pharaoh’s mind was set, he had chosen his course and would not repent so God honoured Pharaoh’s choice and allowed him to reap the consequences.
Jeremiah encouraged the people of Judah and Jerusalem to “plough up the hard ground” (Jeremiah 4:3-4) meaning to soften your heart to be receptive to the good seed, the word of God. Jesus used this imagery in His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18, Mark 4:16-17, Luke 8:11). The hard ground could not receive the seed. A hard heart cannot receive the word of God like the old saying “in one ear out the other” the words do not stay but are easily forgotten.
People are darkened in their understanding. Jesus claimed to be the Light of the World (John 8:12). He said he came into the world as light so that whoever believes in him would not remain in darkness (John 12:46). The only way to really perceive what is going on in this world is to see it through the lens of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. John called Jesus the true light which gives light to everyone who believes (John 1:9). If you are in total darkness you cannot see what is in front of you, it’s there but you can not perceive it. If you live in spiritual darkness you cannot see that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour who wants to have a personal relationship with you.
To be alienated from the life of God is another illustration of how people who do not believe the word of God live in a totally different place than God. An alien is a person who is from a different land. Jesus said he was not of this world (John 8:23). Jesus came into this world (which he had made) but the world did not understand him (John 1:10), as John explained it:
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
Some translations say the darkness has not “understood”, “grasped”, “comprehended”, “extinguished” or “overtaken” the light, due to the broad meaning of the Greek word used. Basically, the world system does not understand how God has revealed Himself through Jesus Christ, but those who believe in Christ have their understanding opened by the power of the Holy Spirit and can learn of Christ.
Learn of Christ
Jesus claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is the only way to approach the Father and come into His presence. From the early biblical stories, we learn that humanity was cast out of the presence of God because of sin (Genesis 3:23). Being separate from God equates to being “dead”, to not having life. Paul called it being dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:5). But also we are alive in Christ (Romans 6:11) for we all die but all those who are in Christ shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). We have to learn of Christ, learn what it means to be a believer in Christ, learn that we are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3) and His righteousness is now given to us (Romans 3:22) so we can stand in the presence of God free from our guilt and shame.
Put Off Your Old Self
What does Paul mean by our “old self” versus the “new self”? There are several terms Paul uses to describe the basic human nature versus the nature of a born-again believer; the old man versus the old man Ephesians 2:15), the flesh versus the Spirit (Romans 8:5; Galatians 5:16); in Adam versus in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22). The old self is the life led before believing in Christ, which was corrupt through deceitful desires. In Christ, believers become a new man, a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17) former things are to be put off (Ephesians 4:22) and will pass away (Revelation 21:4). But Paul encourages us to put on the new self.
Put on the New Self
If you have badly damaged your coat and bought a new one why would you want to put on the old one again? If your car is written off and you bought a new one, would you want to be in the old car? Not brilliant illustrations but, the new life Christ offers us in Him is so wonderful why would we ever want to return to the old life? Well, sadly we still live in a body with a heart that is sinful and corrupted with sinful desires. A battle rages within us between our old nature and the new nature (Romans 7:24) and this will continue until we pass on from this life. But to learn Christ is not to learn about Him but to have a relationship with Him that guides you in your new life. People study the Bible to an incredible degree and yet can miss the point that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah who offers salvation to all who believe in Him. Knowledge can lead to pride (1 Corinthians 8:1; Proverbs 16:18) but trust and faith in God leads to salvation.