Wyatt Graham on What Paul Means When Saying ‘Put on the New Man’

Wyatt is the Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Canada. He enjoys his family and writing. You’ll generally find him hiding away somewhere with his nose in a book. Twitter: wagraham; Instagram: wyattagraham. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

Sometimes familiar language in the Bible loses its meaning because it is so familiar. One example is Paul’s command to “put on the new man” (Eph 4:24). What does that even mean to put on Christ? And why should it be so important for how we live our lives as the context of Ephesians indicates? 

To answer that question, we need to consider how paul uses “put on” language in the New Testament. 

What do we put on?  

If we compare Romans 13:14 with Ephesians 4:24, we can get closer to Paul’s meaning in Ephesians 4: 

(1) “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14)

(2) “Put on the new human being who was created according to God in righteousness and the holiness of truth” (Eph 4:24).

In both contexts (Rom 13 and Eph 4), Paul exhorts his audiences to live holy lives. The rationale for living holy lives arises not out of a pure moral imperative. Rather, it flows out of putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. 

What does it mean to put on Christ?

In Ephesians 4, Paul’s command to put on the “new man” (lit: the new human being) means to put on Christ—because Christ is the firstborn of all (re)creation. By putting him on, we are new creations (2 Cor 5:17).

Now most of us read Ephesians 4, I suspect, as a sort of moral imperative towards good behaviour (and it is that). Yet the underlying reason for our holy behaviour *is* putting on the “new human being” that Christ is. Conversely, we put off the old human being which is full of corruption (Eph 4:22).

Note: Paul claims that Christ’s humanity was created “according to God” (as Gregory of Nyssa observes in his response to Eunomian’s confession of faith). This I think, incidentally, confirms that Christ did not have a fallen nature (contra Barth).

Christ’s nature was fully human—yet without sin (Heb 4:15). And this is because his humanity was created “according to God”—like it was at the beginning before the Fall into sin and corruption.

Christ, the Living Spirit

So while Adam and Christ parallel each other in key respects, they do not parallel exactly. In Adam we all came to life, but in Adam’s fall,  we entered into a fallen state. In Christ, we move from this fallen state into a new creation “according to God.”

Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:45–46:

“And so also it says, ‘The first human being, Adam, became a living psuxan’; the last Adam became a life-giving pneuma. After all, the first (human being) was not pneuma but psuxikon, then followed the pseumatikon.” 

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Source: Church Leaders