Living the New Life
Open Your Bible
Ephesians 4:17-5:5, Hosea 1:10, James 3:1-18
BY Jen Yokel
We dress for occasions and we dress for identity. We wear dressy blouses for work and switch to sweatpants at home—or maybe both, for all those who work from home via Zoom meetings. We use uniforms to signify ranks and roles. We choose different looks for holiday dinners, date nights, or a party with friends. And I’m pretty sure we all made some questionable fashion choices as teenagers, while signaling a desire for belonging through favorite band shirts and creative hairstyles. What we put on says something about who we are, sure. It also says something about who we belong to: families, fandoms, teams, or religions.
Paul uses something like a clothing metaphor when he describes the Christian life. “Put on the new self,” he writes, “the one created according to God’s likeness” (Ephesians 4:24). After praising the Ephesians for their faithfulness and reminding them of God’s generous mercy, it’s time to give some practical guidelines to follow.
Many of us may have grown up seeing the Bible as a rulebook, but in this section on living the new life, Paul starts with the heart. While taking off the old self and putting on the new is an active command, the first problem Paul highlights is how the old way is less about action and more about our inner state, our hearts and minds. He uses words like “ignorance” and “hardness of hearts” and “callous” to describe the opposite of life in Christ. And this callousness toward God and each other leads to all kinds of immoral behavior, “a desire for more and more” (Ephesians 4:17–19).
To stretch the clothing metaphor a bit, what are we trying to say when we wear an expensive designer piece? Is it coming from our delight in something beautiful and well-made, or is it an attempt at a status symbol? Is it coming from a place of confidence and belonging or insecurity and scarcity? We can see how good and beautiful things can be warped to darker ends. We could ask the same question about the way we dress to fit in a clique we want to be part of—or the one we want to stand against. At the center of it all, there is always the question of love and identity.
Before we can put on the new life, there are a few things we need to get rid of, like bitterness and anger, wrath and malice, envy and selfish ambition—things that lead to “disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). Instead of giving in to our insatiable greed, we are asked to learn contentment with all we’ve received. This removal is hard work. It means reorienting our hearts, acknowledging the ways the world has shaped us, and asking God to recreate us.
But when we get rid of our threadbare ways of being, we can put on newer, better things: gentleness that comes from wisdom (James 3:13). Kindness, compassion, and the same kind of forgiveness we’ve received. There’s more than enough of this goodness to go around. And then, we start to look a little more like who we really are: beloved children made in God’s image, who are following Jesus, clothed from head to toe in His belonging.