“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…assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:17,22-24 ESV emphasis added).
To put off fleshly behavior and put on saintly behavior is a central emphasis in Nouthetic biblical counseling. We see this emphasis as more successful on the resurrection side of the Cross (Gal. 2:20), as the context in Ephesians and Colossians indicates. Since we value the clarified message of identification with Christ, it is important to help the counselee discover that the old man has already been “put off” at the Cross.
“knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him…”(Rom. 6:6a)
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Col. 3:9)
Then why does Paul exhort us to put off (present tense) the “old self” in Ephesians? Looking more closely, the text refers to what is “in reference to your former way of life” (NASB). By metonymy, Paul refers to these old patterns as “the old self.” In other words, we are to remove the old, dirty “clothes” that are still in the flesh closet.
Also, see how our new identity is established in the next verse, Ephesians 4:24: “the new man has been created (anew) in righteousness and holiness.” This refers to our new human spirit (2 Cor. 5:17).
Mike Wells illustrates the need to put off the phantom of our old identity:
“I once asked a woman to purchase a rag doll and write on it the adjectives that best described her before coming to Christ, both positive and negative. I then instructed that she set the doll in a chair and adore it, beg it, plead with it to help, and condemn it. When she got sick of trusting something lifeless, I wanted her to go bury it in the garden and then pray to Jesus, the One whois Life. I knew she would have an immediate release, since there is nothing His nearness will not cure. I then warned her that one day she would call me, depressed, frustrated, and in the same condition I first found her. When she called, I would make her go to the garden, dig up the old doll, dust it off, put it in a chair, and begin the whole process anew. Once again when she got sick of it, she could bury it and worship Jesus. However, as the years went by, the trips to the garden would become less frequent, and the doll would eventually disintegrate! When we trust the old man, the Adam life, the fallen nature, our frustration is not coming from a battle between the old man and Christ, but from trusting something that is dead. Again, bury it!” (Mike Wells, Heavenly Discipleship, (Littleton, CO: Abiding Life Press, 2006), p. 23., quoted by John Best in The Cross of Christ, p. 91).
May God give us wisdom to show the good news of identification with Jesus Christ and facilitate “put off/put on” in the proper context with grace motivation and the enablement of the Holy Spirit.