My husband spent several years in the military. One of the first things they taught him was to salute a superior officer. It didn’t take long before the habit was established, and the salute became almost involuntary after just a few days. Whenever a superior officer entered the room or walked by, his hand would go to his forehead almost automatically in a salute. When he got out of the military after six years, that salute was a tough habit to break. We would see his former superiors at the mall or grocery store, his arm would start to move in that familiar way, and he would have to stop himself.
The same is true of our habits that are sinful or ungodly. Somewhere along the way, we formed a habit or pattern of thinking that became automatic. Now, the Lord has revealed to us that it is sinful or displeasing to Him in some way, and we need to change it. Once out of the military, with no reason to continue saluting, it didn’t take a lot of effort for him to stop. But you and I are probably not going to get out of the circumstance that has brought about this habit that needs to change. We’ll have to put it off, right in the middle of the temptation:
“…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man, which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24
So as I read this, I see three steps to stopping a habit or thought pattern that needs to change: Put it off, renew your mind, and put on a new habit.
The first step is to put off the old habit. The language here pictures putting off a garment you’ve been wearing. Chances are, if you’ve been nurturing this behavior or way of thinking for a while, it’s pretty comfortable by now. This is one of the biggest challenges in the “put off” step. We are comfortable in it. Even when we know that it’s sinful; even when we really want to stop, it is hard because we are so used to it. The key to this step is to remember that, no matter how comfortable it is, the Lord can make the new, godly way of thinking just as comfortable—even more so, because we will be free of the guilt of knowing that we are indulging a sinful habit. So begin with prayer, and ask the Lord to give you a greater desire for repentance and heart change, than for the comfort of that old habit.
Renew Your Mind
The next step, according to our Ephesians 4 passage, is to renew your mind. What does it mean to be renewed in the spirit of your mind? The JB Phillips Paraphrase puts it this way:
...fling off the dirty clothes of the old way of living, which were rotted through and through with lust’s illusions, and, with yourselves mentally and spiritually re-made, to put on the clean fresh clothes of the new life which was made by God’s design for righteousness and the holiness which is no illusion.
I like how he says to fling off the old ways, seeing them as distasteful, dirty, and rotten. This is how we need to see our sinful habits and thought patterns, and it is an action on our part. Notice in contrast though, that being mentally and spiritually re-made is stated in the passive voice—this is something we must submit to, and that God does for us. He is the one who renews our mind, through His Word and prayer. After that, we’re right back to the active verb…
Now that we have flung away those dirty, used garments and the Lord has renewed our mind about this particular habit, we are to put on a new habit. This is a very important part of heart change. If we put off the old habit through the renewing of our minds, but fail to put a new habit in its place, that old garment will begin to look pretty comfortable again, and we may find ourselves picking it back up in moments of weakness. Every sinful habit MUST be replaced with a godly one. That’s why Paul follows up this passage with examples of change:
- Put away lying and speak truth (v 25).
- Let the thief stop stealing and begin to work with his hands (v 28).
- Stop speaking corrupt words and start speaking gracious, edifying words (v 29).
What sinful habit are you convicted of lately? Is it gossip? Put on humility and encouraging words. Is it arguing or dissentions? Put on peace and a gentle, quiet spirit. Self-pity? Put on gratitude and praise. I promise you, there is godly clothing to replace every ungodly garment you are led to fling away from you! With God’s help to renew your mind, through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can (and must) change!
My husband has been out of the military for nearly a quarter of a century now, but he can still remember how quickly that salute could fire. I’d like to encourage you now to examine your heart for just one “filthy garment” you’d like to fling off. Pray and ask the Lord to help you be finished with those rotting clothes; to mentally and spiritually remake you in this area; and to show you His Designer clothes that are perfectly suited to replace the old ones. He is faithful, and will do it!