I have met quite a few sincere people who try their best to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:12). Despite attempting everything humanly possible to succeed, they ultimately fail. And in their failure, they come to the conclusion that it is IMPOSSIBLE for them to “put off [their] old [selves]” and “put on [their] new [selves]” (Ephesains 4:22-24), and, as a result, they assume that their lifestyle must be an acceptable Christian lifestyle since everyone sins (Romans 3:23) and no one is righteous (Romans 3:10). But the problem is that when one accepts this line of thought, he or she has given up on searching for the truth and has deceived himself or herself into believing that he or she is saved. I have also met a few sincere people who didn’t stop seeking the truth, who wanted to study the Bible, and who finally obeyed the gospel and found the way to put off their old self and put on the new self in Jesus Christ.
What is the difference between these two kinds of people? Why did the former people fail, and what made the latter people succeed? I believe that the ultimate difference between these two groups is whether or not they obeyed the gospel. Sadly, we live in a world where many false teachers teach doctrinal errors and give approval to futile religious beliefs. In so doing, they deceive people into believing that they have done ALL things that are necessary in order to be saved. It is true that many have done most things that are necessary in order to be saved. However, one has not done ALL things if one has never obeyed the gospel by being baptized, that is immersed, in water for the forgiveness of their sins exactly as the word of God teaches (Acts 2:38). And Scripture clearly warns that those who do not obey the gospel in its entirety will be condemned (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
Why does obeying the gospel make the difference in a person’s life in regards to their ability to put off the old and self and put on the new? The difference is that salvation is all God’s work. There is not a bit of human work that earns salvation. Some people never understand this. The only thing that man can and should do is obey the gospel. That makes all the difference. Obeying the gospel is not a work that earns salvation; it is the condition that a person must meet in order for God to give him or her salvation. This means that it is God who not only makes our old self die with Jesus’ death when we obey the gospel, but also gives us the new life through the resurrection of Jesus when we obey the gospel (cf, Romans 6:3-4). The simple truth is that God saves people by His grace when they obey the gospel just as His word teaches. In other words, it is never the person himself who makes his old self dead with Jesus. How can a physical man do the spiritual work? And it is never the person himself who makes the new self alive through the Holy Spirit. Everything related to salvation is by God’s grace, and the only condition that the person has to meet to receive His grace is to obey the gospel.
Therefore, those who have never obeyed the gospel are not able to put off their old self and put on the new self because they have never received God’s grace, which is the only way for a person to be born again. However, those who have obeyed the gospel are different because God works in them through baptism in which He puts their old selves to death with Jesus’ death and gives them new life through Jesus’ Spirit. And, after baptism, He works in their lives vigorously (Philippians 2:13), leading them into all truth (John 16:13), sanctifying them in the truth (17:19), and growing them “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). These are the ones who succeed in dying to sin and living to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). And the difference has to do with whether or not one has obeyed the gospel.