When I was little, I often had bad dreams. I would wake up in the middle of the night sweaty and scared, clinging to my stuffed horse, praying that what I had just experienced wasn’t real. As I fell back asleep, I would try to conjure up a dream of my own, hoping that I wouldn’t return to the nightmare. My go-to replacement dream was that of a semi-truck driver because that was what my dad was. I would imagine a truck hauling all kinds of glorious things, from horses to chocolate. And as I drifted off to sleep, I would focus so hard on this dream based on my father that I would forget all about the nightmare that had woken me up in the first place.
“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
As Christians, we are called to put off the old self and clothe ourselves with Christ. In theory, this is an easy concept to master, similar to changing out of our dirty work clothes when we come home at the end of the day. But in reality, the putting off and pulling on is much more challenging because we have to do it constantly and consistently. It’s not an end of the day kind of thing; it’s an every-moment type of action because we dirty our hearts so quickly. Simply by living in a fallen world, we rub up against sin every day of our lives, and if we don’t take the time to wash it off, it starts to form a layer of dirt and deception over our hearts. The enemy will whisper lies and twisted truths like, “You aren’t that bad, not compared to other people” or “You can keep sinning because the Lord will keep forgiving you. There’s no need to change.” And soon enough, we have such a thick layer of grime surrounding our hearts that we struggle to hear the truth. When that happens, we need to be power washed by the Holy Spirit, which is unpleasant but necessary.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to keep renewing and replacing what’s in our hearts and minds. We would do it once, burning the remnants of our old, tainted lives, and live on in freedom and purity. Sadly, that’s not how it works. Every day we need to take stock of the actions and motives in our lives. Are they helping to sanctify us and serve others, or are they leading us down paths of self-serving sin? Just like when I was little and would try to replace my bad dreams with good ones, we need to do the same with our hearts’ desires. It’s not enough to cast off the old self; we need to replace it with something else otherwise, we’re going to keep falling into those same patterns. When you don’t fill the holes with Christ, the enemy will drown you in them.
“We can easily see from the pattern of Jesus’ life that conformity to Him is a lifelong process, and a goal that will never be attained in this life.”Jerry Bridges (The Discipline of Grace)
So what does it look like to put on Christlikeness? It looks like focusing on whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8) because those things will always point you back to God. It also means that we need to intentionally spend time in the Word and in prayer, getting to know our Father’s character and heart. You can’t become like someone else if you don’t even know who they are. The putting off of the old self is often the easy part because it can be summed up in a few words or a simple action. However, the putting on of the new self is much harder because it requires daily effort and moment-by-moment application. Thankfully, God is full of patience and rich in grace towards us, guiding and reminding us as we strive to become more like Christ.
Take heart. You don’t have to find a way to be perfect in a day. The act of putting off and pulling on is one that we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives, and it’s one that the Lord helps us with each step of the way. Start with one area of your life and work your way up from there, and don’t be discouraged when it feels like you’re taking three steps forward and two steps back. Keep pressing on and leaning into the Lord, asking for Him to guide you. And one day, we’ll all have the best clothes to wear for eternity.