–By Elizabeth Ahlman
But that is not the way you learned Christ!—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 (Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV).
Just before this, Paul tells the Ephesians: “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. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18 ESV). “Hardness of heart.” How that phrase jumps out at me. I think of our middle son, who at 3.5 years old, often does not say the prayers with us (the ones he knows all the words to) either at meal time or at devotions. And the look on his face when he doesn’t say them. Sometimes it’s blank and defiant. But other times, it’s a look I know well. A look that speaks to the fight within. He isn’t saying them, but he’s not quite sure WHY he isn’t saying them. He’s fighting in that little body between that old self and that new self.
I recognize it because it’s a struggle I, too, have, and have always had. I can remember especially certain childhood years where I was resistant to my mother’s instruction and prayer. Even in adulthood, there are times when I can feel that old Adam rising up and pushing back, and I don’t really know why. I don’t want to have annoyance and hate well up in me when I am asked to pray, and yet, there it is.
But I do know why, really, and it’s that Matthias and I, and all of us, are really just like those Gentiles deep down. We are all born into sin, corrupt through and through, “in the futility of [our] minds.” All is darkness and rebellion and pushing back.
Then God takes hold of us in the waters of Holy Baptism — me, Matthias, you — and He kills the old Adam, that old self which pushes and fights, and He clothes us in the new self, created in His likeness, righteous and holy in Him. So the battle does rage. The new self fights the old, who likes to rise up and assert himself over and over again. And that look of pain and confusion comes across Matthias’ face, that look which bespeaks the war within, and I cradle him and by-and-by we pray. We are baptized, and daily, moment upon moment, that old self drowns, pushed back by the new self, cradled in the arms of a loving God, forgiven and renewed. And on that precious last day, when Christ comes again to resurrect the dead and renew the living, the victory we have already in Him will be made manifest. There will be no more warring with the old self, but only the new self praying and praising and confessing the One who made us new with every fiber of our being and no holding back.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, You are perfect and sinless, without spot or blame; thank You for giving to us Your righteousness even as we struggle with the Old Adam. Help us to put to death and drown the old self daily in the waters of our Baptisms so that we may ever rise anew and renewed in You to serve You in Your kingdom; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.