Change. Don’t just abstain from doing evil!

I don’t know about you, but I tend to stop working on sin too easily. Rather than working on it right through to doing what is right, I think I’m transformed just because I abstain from doing evil! Yet in terms of biblical change, I’ve only done half the work! Biblical change is about more than just abstaining from evil. It reverses evil.

2 reasons transformation requires reversal

Biblical transformation (Rom 12:2) doesn’t end with simply putting off sin, no matter how permanent we are with that putting off. Transformation means both putting away the old ways and putting on new ways. There are two reasons putting on new ways is necessary. First, putting on the new man is necessary because God doesn’t call us to passivity or slavery but to activity. Paul, when he said we are “to walk worthy of the call with which you were called” (Eph 4:1) used an active verb. Our walk in Eph 4:17, 5:2 and 5:8 is also described using the active form of the verb “to walk.” God doesn’t just call us to not walk in an unworthy manner, but to walk in a worthy manner.
God doesn’t just call us to not walk in an unworthy manner, but to walk in a worthy manner.
The second reason is that God calls us to have characteristics that represent Him. The removal of sin is simply making way for new actions. Jesus says that you are to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In Ephesians 4, Paul takes the principles in Eph 4:22-24 and exemplifies them in the verses that follow (Eph 4:25-32) so that we have some concrete examples.

Biblical Examples of transformation

In verse 25 Paul says “putting aside falsehood, speak truth each with his neighbor, because we are members of one another.” This verse follows this 3 step process precisely – we are to put off falsehood (i.e. “put off the former conduct” from Eph 4:22), and put on speaking truth (“put on the new man”). Why? What is the renewing of the mind? “Because we are members of one another” this means that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Cor 12:26). This implies that my ability to benefit from the body to the highest degree possible is dependent on my own interaction with the body. Similarly In Eph 4:28 he uses the example of a thief, “let him no longer steal” (“put off the former conduct”), but “rather let him labor, working with his own hands” (“put on the new man”) and the purpose of his renewed mind is “in order that he may have something to share with the one who has need.”[1]  According to Paul, someone ceases to be a thief, not when they stop stealing, but when they work in order to give to others. Biblical transformation is not just putting to death the old man, but putting on the new man. Let’s use the 3 functions of the heart to consider how “to put on the new man.”

Put on the new man’s mind

First, we can ask, what thoughts do I need to put on? Specifically, we may need to claim and hold on to a promise that the Lord makes in His word. This is particularly useful when we are tempted to try to control our circumstances, or expect the worst. The Lord calls us to trust Him (Prov 3:5-6) and often explains what He will do (Rom 8:28) and we need to let what He says control our thought patterns by actively reminding ourselves of His promise. It may simply be a truth we need to remind ourselves of. When I’m disappointed in a set of circumstances I continually have to remind myself that as a sinner, I’m worthy of far worse than whatever situation I’m in. If I got what I deserve, it would be much less pleasant than what the Lord has given me. Thinking about the grace that the Lord has shown me helps me to grow in thankfulness (1 Thess 5:18). Sometimes we need to ask ourselves where God is in this situation or circumstances. All things work together for good (Rom 8:28) so this also needs to control our thoughts. God brings circumstances into our lives for a good we don’t always see. Often we have our own set of desires and we think that those desires (even if they are ministry desires) are God’s highest goals too. This is often not true. If someone offered you $50 now or $100 in 4 hours, I’m willing to guess that you would wait 4 hours. The same is true with the Lord. Our desires are often the $50 variety, and we can’t even see the bigger picture, but the Lord does, and He is willing to sacrifice the smaller good for the bigger one later on. Don’t forget that the goal is not your or my happiness, but God’s glory, and that we will be most happy when He achieves His goal. Before I move on, let’s consider the example of the thief I mentioned earlier. The change of thought patterns in the thief was not to do something different, but the purpose for the thought, and in this case it was “in order that he may have something to share with the one who has need.” The thief was transformed when their selfish taking was replaced with selfless giving. This came from thinking of others as more important than themselves and determining to act and live for the benefit of others rather than for selfish purposes.
God implants His desires in us through the Holy Spirit making it possible for us to put on His desires.

New emotions and desires

In addition to our thinking, our temperament or emotions or desires or affections also need to be changed. Have you noticed that God commands us to have good emotions? This sounds odd, but you’re familiar with the commandments: rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16), rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15), and many more that we’d often rather not remember. The very fact that God commands our emotions indicates we can control them. This indicates that we can learn to assess and analyze our emotions and adjust them. In other words, our mind is able to influence our emotions. It sounds impossible, but what is behind our emotions is our desires. When we identify our desires and are willing to swap them for new desires, we will find our emotions will follow. Working again with the thief (above), it is not merely that he thinks about giving for the needs of others, it is when he desires to meet those needs. He needs to identify what desires drive his stealing, put them off, identify how He is to think and then to let those new thoughts drive new desires. These new desires are also the desires of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:17). God implants His desires in us through the Holy Spirit making it possible for us to put on His desires.

Act in a manner pleasing to the Lord

Finally, you’ll notice that it was ultimately the deeds of the thief that made him no longer a thief. It wasn’t the absence of the theft, but his giving. Sometimes we hear (particularly in New Zealand) that we shouldn’t do something good unless we feel like doing it. The idea behind this is that if we act without desire we are being legalistic. This is a lie. Legalism is seeking to earn God’s favor by living a certain way. If we are in Christ we already have God’s favor, and we can’t earn any more of it any more than Christ can. If we try to earn God’s favor with our actions, we’re simply misinformed. It is true that we often don’t want to do what is right, but that isn’t a good enough reason to not do it. Don’t get trapped here, doing what is right is always right.
We often don’t want to do what is right, but that isn’t a good enough reason not to do it.
Let me tell you something we often overlook: we can have multiple desires at once. So it may be that you don’t feel like doing what is right at that moment, but you might want to do what is right to please the Lord. This latter desire is the desire of the Holy Spirit, and at that moment, you can allow that desire to overrule your lack of desire. So don’t be afraid to do what is right, even if you don’t feel like it. Doing what is right necessary to complete your repentance and transformation.


We tend to think that if we are not doing evil, we must be good. But repentance goes well beyond abstaining from evil. It means deliberately and comprehensively thinking what is good (Phil 4:8), desiring what God desires (Gal 5:16) and doing what is right in the Lord’s eyes.
What fruits have you enjoyed from ‘putting on the new man’ in your life?

[1] See if you can work out the other combinations in Eph 4:25-32. They get a bit more difficult.

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