Second Reading: Ephesians 4: 17, 20-24
Always Put On The New Man
17 I tell you this, along with the Lord. Do n't live like you did before! Don't live like the pagans do! Their thinking is so shallow and vain.
20 You didn't learn about Jesus this way! 21 No! You learned about him and were taught to live with him, because he speaks the truth. 22 So, turn away from your old self, your old habits. The desires that fueled your habits were built on lies. 23 Start over in your mind and heart. 24 And, put on your new self, the one God created for you. It is built on the desire to follow God's ways and to live close to him. That desire is true and dependable.
17 So, I say this and testify in the LORD to you (to) no longer walk (throughout life), like the Gentiles walk (throughout life) in the vain emptiness of their minds...
20 You did not learn the CHRIST in this way, 21 if indeed you heard (about) HIM and were taught in HIM, as the truth is in JESUS, 22 (for) you to set aside the old man according to (your) previous way of life, the corrupting (ones) by false passions, 23 but (for you) to renew the spirit of your mind, 24 and (for you) to clothe (yourself) into the new man, the (one) having been created by God in the righteousness and holiness of truth.
4:17 "Gentiles" is literally the nations.
4:17 is part of a longer sentence that continues through 4:19. 4:18-19 described the condition of life without God: a dimmed moral intelligence, a hardness of heart to God and others, a wanton life of greed and pleasure.
4:20-24 This long sentence is actually two sentences combined. 4:20 should stand alone. 4:21 is the main clause of the second sentence with three adverbial infinitives in 4:22, 4:23, and 4:24; "(for) you to set aside" (4:22), "to renew" (4:23), and "to clothe (yourself)" (4:24) modify "learn (about) HIM" and "were taught in HIM." In other words, to truly hear and receive the Good News in one's heart requires one to turn away from sin in a former lifestyle, to change one's mind about life, and to become a new person. The power of the verbs ("hear" and "were taught") give the infinitives the force of commands ("Set aside," "renew," and "clothe!"). See the popular translation for an example.
This brief passage focused upon the contrasting themes of baptism. False belief vs. the true faith. Laxity vs. high moral standards. The old man vs. the new man. The ways of the world vs. the ways of God. All of these themes were part of the instruction given to neophytes and were the expectations the Christian community had upon those who joined its ranks. These themes explained the concept of "metanoia," the change of mind, heart, and life.
Two clues pointed toward this passage as baptismal in character. First was thematic. Just as Jesus died and rose to new life, the neophyte joined with Christ in that new life. The death and resurrection of Christ was the root cause of metanoia in the life of the neophyte. When the new Christian received the faith, the community assumed such faith would have an effect in the life his or her life. If it did not (the new believer "backslid"), his or her faith could be questioned.
The second clue could be found in 4:24: literally to "put on (the clothes of) the new man..." This was a reference to the white baptismal robes the neophytes wore. But, what did the white robe represent? The life of Christ, the "new man having been created by God in righteousness and holiness of truth." In other words, when the new Christians clothed themselves with the white robes after baptism, they were to clothe themselves with Christ himself!
One last point should be made on this passage. The author gave this instruction to the community of new and seasoned believers. In other words, he clearly inferred that baptismal themes of faith and moral change were life-long endeavors, for the recent and old-timers. Metanoia was to be a continuous call, not a "one-time shot." Baptism was to relived every day of a Christian's life.
How have we celebrated our baptisms recently?
Take the above question to heart. How have you tried to change this week? How has the Lord strengthened your faith? Where do you see Jesus at work in you?