What Does It Mean to “Put on the New Self”?
It sounds a bit like throwing on an overcoat or shawl, the concept of “putting on the new self” that is emphasized repeatedly in Scripture. “Is it really that simple?” we might scoff, as if transformation happens as easily as changing our clothing.
But that is exactly what the apostle Paul advises Christian believers to do in Ephesians 4. As he wrote, “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 4:22-24).
What does it mean to “put on the new self” from Ephesians 4:22-24? It means exactly that — to exchange the old self for the new, the old ways and life of sin for the new creation we all are in our lord and savior, Christ Jesus.
Let’s take a look at the context, how we can put on a “new self,” and why it is so important that we do this.
What Does This Verse Mean?
When talking about the new self, Paul is referring to a renewed or regenerated person, one who has turned away from old ways to a new and improved state of being. This new self is a holy and pure self, striving to be like God and free from sin. It’s much like the “new humanity” Paul refers to in Ephesians 2:15, when he speaks of Jews and Gentiles coming together in the body of Christ – a beautiful, transformative version of what once was so imperfect and flawed.
We are to put off, or get rid of, the old version of ourselves — slaves to sin and walking in darkness, destined for death — and instead allow our minds and very souls to endeavor to be like God himself, righteous, true, perfect, and holy. This new self has Christ as our head (Colossians 1:18).
In the original Greek, “putting off” or “putting away” is translated from apotithēmi, which Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament says means “to lay off, lay down or aside, as garments.” The term “put on” comes from the Greek endyō, meaning to clothe oneself.
In essence, just as we take off an old, worn-out cloak and put on a fine, pristine new one, we are to do the same with the new, Godly self, the self that strives to be sin-free and in perfect alignment with the Lord.
For old and new self, the original Greek used is palaios anthrōpos and kainos anthrōpos. Anthrōpos refers to body, or human frame, specifically the “spiritual frame of the inner man,” according to Mounce’s dictionary. Palaios means “old” and kainos means “new,” or “recently made.” Kainos can also refer to new as in renovated, improved, made better or of higher excellence.
It is clear here that Paul is indeed saying that, like a tattered old coat, we should take off our old self and put on the new and far-improved one — our “Jesus cloak.” We do this by striving to be like Jesus, our God-given role model, God and man in one.
What Is the Context of Ephesians 4?
Paul is writing to the first-century church in Ephesus, largely comprising Gentile followers of Jesus. Much of the entire book of Ephesians is an instructional letter to the people urging them to embrace their identity in Christ.
Paul teaches here that salvation comes only by grace through faith, and he urges the people to do what they can to embrace this new identity so they can join other members of the body of Christ and bring about God’s eternal plan on earth.
Once, these Ephesian believers had been squabbling, ununified fools who worshipped idols and engaged in immoral behavior. But now they had a fundamentally, drastically new character.
Be that new person, Paul is urging his audience. Turn from the old and embrace the new.
As part of this, Paul also in Ephesians 4 encourages the people to draw together in unity and try hard to be mature and responsible, not immature, fickle infants. Indeed, he doesn’t want them to be “Gentiles” or “Jews” at all but God’s own children, precious and good. Don’t do wrong things, like lie or steal. Don’t “give the devil a foothold,” he says in Ephesians 4:27. Encourage each other and focus on kindness and righteousness.
Why Do We Need to Put Off the Old Self?
The old self is like the pile of weeds Jesus himself said was destined for the fire. But the new self, as it is part of the body of Christ, has a higher purpose and is part of God’s plan.
John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
That light came into the world, but we didn’t recognize him. Yet, John wrote, “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).
This is what is meant when Jesus says in Revelation 21:5, “I am making everything new!” Those of the earth, who love the things of the world, are destined for death. But those who belong to Christ are set aside and saved.
Jesus said this in John 3:5 when he indicated we must be born anew in order to enter the kingdom of God, born of water and the Spirit.
Otherwise, when it comes time for the harvest, destruction awaits. For, as Jesus taught in Matthew 13, “At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
The old self is the weeds; the new self is the wheat. We are not to get tangled up with the weeds lest we get dragged down and not flourish, grow, and sprout like the wheat.
Is This Something We Do of Our Own Power?
But we do not do this on our own. God wants to help us put on this new self.
As Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” And as he adds in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” He’s referring not only contentment and peace, to surviving hardship, but to the process of sanctification.
In John 15:2, Jesus talks about how the Master Gardener “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
We, his followers, can bear fruit as long as we remain connected to him, the vine. He’ll help us as long as we keep the faith and stay connected with him.
What Would This Look Like for You Today, to Put on the New Self?
For some of us, this is a perspective shift — learning to turn our sights from the distractions and worries of the world and set our minds on things of the eternal. For others, it’s a practical, intentional, daily striving to overcome temptation to commit sin and heed fleshly desires.
Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 that the fruits of the Spirit include love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Therefore, doing and thinking things that lead to these spiritual fruits can help us wear the cloak of righteousness, the cloak of the “new self.” Use Jesus as our model and love others. Remember that the Son “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Perhaps that looks like volunteering to do menial or undesirable work, or to sacrifice your own comfort for the comfort of someone else. Perhaps that looks like extending forgiveness and kindness to an enemy so God can be glorified.
Putting on the new self is different for everyone, but it always looks like Jesus.
So shrug off your old cloak. Indeed, toss it in the trash. Grab your Jesus clothes and wear them with honor so that all can see God’s glory at work in your heart, mind, soul, in all you speak and do.
As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Praise God.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Edwin Tan
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.