Here, as well in Philippians 3:19-20, Paul was showing the moral contrast between heaven and earth. In Philippians he accused the Church of “setting their minds on earthly things”…which was demonstrating the unethical realm of fallen man and the world under the power of sin. In both occasions, Paul was urging the Church towards holy living…a putting on of their new self under Christ, and a putting off of their old self dictated by the sinful world. And even today Paul’s message rings loud and clear to all of us…for where our mindset goes, the rest of our body will follow.
This has to be one of the hardest verses in the Bible to do, and do well. This verse says that if we want to follow Jesus we must make a conscious decision to renounce our old self and instead follow the example of our crucified Christ. And no one, including Jesus, Himself, ever said it would be easy, for there is a tremendous cost to following the Lord. Considering it takes daily getting our priorities right and properly arranging our lives so that Jesus ranks supreme in everything we do, carrying our cross becomes a trial of faith and obedience.
What does it really mean to be crucified with Christ? Again, we have this picture of putting off the old and putting on the new self. It starts at the moment of redemption when as Romans 8:10 tells us, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” But it also becomes a lifetime journey of deliberate and intentional decisions on our part to subdue our worldly and fleshly lusts and desires. And in doing so, our old self is crucified together with Christ so that sin cannot have preeminence in our life. (Romans 6:6)…as we purposefully live for the Will of God. (I Peter 4:2)
To move towards loving one another…we must move away from hate, anger, and bitterness. Here in Ephesians we are told to get rid of these negative traits and emotions. Interestingly enough, the Greek word for “get rid of” in this verse actually means to put away vices. Vices, a word you don’t hear often…a word that according to the Dictionary means habitual faults or undesirable behavior patterns. Sadly, too many children take into adulthood bad behaviors that were first modeled for them by their parents. They watch as their family inappropriately handles conflict and confrontation, and listen as others are slandered and vilified around the dining-room table. We learn what we see and hear, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put off our old fleshly nature and move away from adverse behaviors that are causing us pain and resentment.
It was Roman custom to have the condemned person carry the cross on which he was to suffer through the streets as a means of spectacle, humiliation, and as a deterrent for others. But Jesus is calling us to follow Him…to purposely take up and bear that figure of shame. For on that cross our sins were brutally nailed…on that cross our redemption was sealed in blood. To the Romans, the cross was a symbol of shame…but to Believers, it’s a symbol of salvation.
Ephesians 4:22 tells us to put off our old selves…or rid ourselves of our old ways. But it’s almost impossible to do if you’re still hanging out with the same wrong friends… at places that got you in trouble before. Putting aside our old ways means we have to disarm our sins…exposing them to God’s truth and confessing them, but then ridding ourselves of whatever necessary to make a clean break from the past.