17-19And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They've refused for so long to deal with God that they've lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can't think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion. 20-24But that's no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (Eph. 4:17-24)
I appreciate Paul's view of what the pursuit of our own self-directed path produces - we lose touch with God and with reality itself. Some people say they have troubles with belief in a God they cannot see - because they cannot prove he is real. If we take Paul's tact, we'd ask, "How do you know what you are living today is real?" When we pursue the same things over and over again without really knowing why or understanding the outcome - is that reality? Probably not, but we term it as "reality" because it something "tangible" we can say we "experienced".
We are reminded that this type of "reality pursuit" is really a perversion of all that God has in mind for us as new creatures in him. Before Christ, we pursued every passion that promised any sense of hope, fulfillment, or joy - just for the sake of the experience. After Christ, Paul reminds us that we need to become cognizant of the choices we make - they have consequences and outcomes that we may not want to embrace any longer.
We all struggle with "getting rid of the old way of life" - it seems to have a hold on us that is beyond our capacity to free ourselves from. We hear ourselves saying things like "I just can't..." or "It never fails..." Instead of living a new life, we find ourselves pursuing the old ways of life very easily. Why? If we hear what Paul is trying to tell us here, there are several reasons. First, it is comfortable - we have done things the same way for so long that we can do them without thinking them through. Second, there is an immediacy to our old way of doing things - we know that our old way of responding will produce some outcome we have a familiarity with (even if the outcome is not the best, we at least know what that outcome is - no guess work here).
Most importantly, we pursue the same old patterns of life because we have not fully recognized that our new life is one of renewal. The actual definition of renewal is to begin again. The outcome of renewal is that we will be brought back to a positive sense of freshness and vigor in our spiritual man. Paul tells us that this renewal begins on the inside and works its way to the outside until it affects our character/conduct.
We get down on ourselves because we don't see character or conduct immediately changed just because we have invited God to renew us again. We may sense that we have responded to his grace in our lives, but when we don't see the immediate change, we are defeated, often falling back into the same old patterns of life we are so comfortable with. I am no by no means an expert on make-up and avoiding the appearance of wrinkles, but I do know that if I don't do the right things on the inside of my body, it shows on the outside! If I don't hydrate my body, my skin is dry, flaky, and appears dull. If I remember to take in the right amount of fluids throughout the day, day after day, my skin is renewed. Old skin cells are shed and newer, healthier appearing ones appear. That dryness and dullness seems to disappear. It really did not disappear - it was worked out of my body by what was positively going on inside my body!
Same thing happens when we allow the Holy Spirit access to our thoughts, our heart intentions, and our inward desires. There is a working within us that eventually shows up in the things we say, do and the way we appear to others. Before we recognize the renewal, it is occurring within. When we are tempted to be defeated by the "lack of evidence" that God is at work on the inside - we just need to hold on - renewal is happening - we just don't see the full results yet!