How We Strip Off and Keep Off the Old Personality
“Strip off the old personality with its practices.”—COL. 3:9.
1, 2. What has been noted about Jehovah’s Witnesses?
OBSERVERS have commented on the outstanding qualities seen among Jehovah’s people. For example, regarding our brothers and sisters in Nazi Germany, author Anton Gill wrote: “Jehovah’s Witnesses attracted the especial enmity of the Nazis. . . . By 1939 there were 6,000 of them in the [concentration camps].” Even so, despite the bitter persecution they endured, adds the author, the Witnesses showed “dependability and equanimity [calmness under stress]” as well as “integrity and solidarity.”
2 More recently, observers in South Africa noticed similar attractive qualities among God’s people. At one time, Witnesses of different skin color in that country could not freely associate with one another. However, on Sunday, December 18, 2011, it was a wonderful sight to see over 78,000 of our brothers of different races from South Africa and neighboring countries packed into the largest stadium in the city of Johannesburg to enjoy a spiritual program. In commenting on those gathered, one of the managers of the stadium said: “This is the best-behaved crowd I have ever seen in this stadium. All are neatly dressed. And you people have cleaned the stadium so nicely. But most of all, you are truly multiracial.”
3. What makes our brotherhood unique?
3 Such comments by non-Witnesses show that our international brotherhood is truly unique. (1 Pet. 5:9, ftn.) What, though, makes us so different from any other organization? With the help of God’s Word and his holy spirit, we work hard to “strip off the old personality.” In its place, we “clothe [ourselves] with the new personality.”—Col. 3:9, 10.
4. What will be considered in this article, and why?
4 It is one thing to strip off the old personality, yet quite another to keep it off. In this article, we will consider how we can strip off the old personality, why doing so is urgent, and why change is possible no matter how deeply involved one may be in wrong practices. We will also examine what those who have been in the truth for many years can do to keep off the old personality. Why are such reminders needed? Sadly, some who once served Jehovah have lowered their guard and have slipped back into their old ways. Thus, we all need to take to heart the warning: “Let the one who thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”—1 Cor. 10:12.
“DEADEN” ANY DESIRES “AS RESPECTS SEXUAL IMMORALITY”
5. (a) Illustrate why it is urgent to strip off the old personality. (See opening picture.) (b) According to Colossians 3:5-9, what practices belong to the old personality?
5 What would you do if your clothing became dirty, perhaps even having a foul odor? You would strip off the soiled garment as soon as possible. Similarly, we need to act with urgency in obeying the command to strip off habits that are contrary to God’s personality. We want to heed Paul’s clear instruction to Christians in his day: “You must put them all away from you.” Let us consider two of the sinful practices listed by Paul—sexual immorality and uncleanness.—Read Colossians 3:5-9.
6, 7. (a) How do Paul’s words show that strong measures are needed to strip off the old personality? (b) What kind of life did Sakura live, and what gave her the strength to leave it behind?
6 Sexual immorality. The meaning of the original Bible word translated “sexual immorality” includes sexual relations between individuals who are not legally married to each other and homosexuality. Paul told fellow Christians to “deaden” their “body members”—that is, to eliminate any desires—“as respects sexual immorality.” Paul’s descriptive language clearly shows that strong measures are needed to wipe out such wrong desires. Yet, the fight against sinful desires can be won.
7 Consider what happened to Sakuraa from Japan. Growing up, she struggled with loneliness and a feeling of emptiness. From the age of 15, she began to have sexual relations with different partners in order to relieve her loneliness. “As a result,” she confesses with shame, “I had three abortions.” She explains: “At first, I got a sense of security when having immoral relations, thinking that I was needed and loved. But the more I had sexual relations, the more insecure I felt.” This way of life continued until Sakura was 23 years old. Then she began to study the Bible with the Witnesses. Sakura loved what she learned, and with Jehovah’s help she was able to overcome deep feelings of guilt and shame and to put away sexual immorality. Sakura now serves as a regular pioneer and no longer feels lonely. Instead, as she puts it, “I am really happy to be basking in Jehovah’s love day in and day out.”
OVERCOMING UNCLEAN PRACTICES
8. What are some things that can make us unclean in God’s eyes?
8 Uncleanness. The original Bible word translated “uncleanness” is a broad term that includes much more than sexual sins. It can refer to the harmful practice of smoking or the telling of obscene jokes. (2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:3, 4) It also applies to unclean activities practiced by an individual in private, such as reading sexually stimulating books or viewing pornography, which may lead to the unclean habit of masturbation.—Col. 3:5.b
9. Nurturing “uncontrolled sexual passion” can have what consequences?
9 Those who habitually view pornography nurture “uncontrolled sexual passion,” which may result in their becoming addicted to sex. Research indicates that individuals who admitted to having an irresistible urge to watch pornography show the same signs of addiction as do alcoholics and drug addicts. No wonder the practice of viewing pornography has harmful results—such as deep feelings of shame, low productivity in the workplace, unhappy family life, divorce, and suicide. On celebrating a year of being free of his addiction to pornography, one man wrote: “I have restored a sense of personal integrity that was missing.”
10. How did Ribeiro overcome his addiction to pornography?
10 For many, staying free from pornography is an ongoing battle. Yet, as shown by what happened to Ribeiro from Brazil, this battle can be won. Ribeiro left home when he was in his teens and in time began working in a paper-recycling plant, where he was exposed to pornographic materials. He relates: “Slowly, I became addicted. It got so bad that I could not wait for the woman I was living with to leave the house so that I could watch pornographic videos.” Then, one day at work, Ribeiro looked at a pile of books that were to be recycled, and he noticed a book with the title The Secret of Family Happiness. He picked it up from the pile and read it. What he learned moved him to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it took him a long time to break his bad habit. What helped him eventually? He explains: “Through prayer, Bible study, and meditation on what I learned, my appreciation of God’s qualities increased until my love for Jehovah became stronger than my desire for pornography.” Helped by the power of God’s Word and his holy spirit, Ribeiro stripped off his old personality, got baptized, and now serves as a congregation elder.
11. What is needed for a person to stay free from pornography?
11 Notice that Ribeiro had to do more than simply study the Bible to succeed in his struggle. He had to take time to allow the Bible’s message to touch his heart. By prayer and meditation, his love for God overpowered the craving for pornography. Developing a strong love for Jehovah and a hatred for what is bad is the best way to stay free from pornography.—Read Psalm 97:10.
PUT AWAY ANGER, ABUSIVE SPEECH, AND LYING
12. What helped Stephen to put away anger and abusive speech?
12 People who are quick-tempered often express their anger with abusive speech. Obviously, such conduct cannot contribute to a happy family life. Relates Stephen, a father from Australia: “I used to swear a lot and would regularly fly into a rage over trivial things. My wife and I were separated three times and were in the process of getting divorced.” Then, the Witnesses began to study the Bible with the couple. What was the outcome when Stephen began to follow the Bible’s advice? He says: “Our family life improved dramatically. With Jehovah’s help, I now have an overriding sense of peace and calm, whereas before I was a time bomb of bitterness and rage, ready to explode at the slightest annoyance.” Today, Stephen serves as a ministerial servant, and his wife has been a regular pioneer for several years. The elders of the congregation that Stephen attends note: “Stephen is a quiet, hardworking brother, and he has a humble attitude.” They cannot recall ever seeing him angry. Does Stephen accept the credit for this? He states: “None of these beautiful blessings would be part of my life if I hadn’t accepted Jehovah’s help to give my personality a complete makeover.”
13. What makes anger so dangerous, and what warning does the Bible give?
13 For good reason, the Bible warns against anger, abusive speech, and screaming. (Eph. 4:31) Sadly, such conduct often escalates into violence. The world may view angry behavior as normal, but it dishonors our Creator. Many had to strip off these harmful ways before being able to clothe themselves with the new personality.—Read Psalm 37:8-11.
14. Is it possible for an aggressive person to become meek?
14 Consider the example of Hans, who serves as an elder in a congregation in Austria. “He is one of the meekest brothers you could ever wish to meet,” says the coordinator of the body of elders in the congregation to which Hans belongs. But Hans was not always meek. While in his teens, he began to abuse alcohol and, as a result, turned aggressive. In an alcohol-induced rage, he killed his girlfriend, for which he received a 20-year prison sentence. At first, life in prison did not change Hans’ aggressive personality. In time, his mother arranged for an elder to contact her son in prison, and Hans began to study the Bible. He explains: “It was a struggle for me to strip off my old personality. Bible texts that encouraged me were Isaiah 55:7, which says: ‘Let the wicked man leave his way,’ and 1 Corinthians 6:11, which says about those who had abandoned sinful ways: ‘And yet that is what some of you were.’ For many years, Jehovah patiently helped me by means of his holy spirit to put on the new personality.” After having served 17-and-a-half years of his sentence, Hans was released from prison as a baptized Christian. He states: “I am grateful for Jehovah’s overwhelming mercy and forgiveness.”
15. What practice is common, but what does the Bible say about it?
15 Besides abusive speech, the practice of lying is also a trait of the old personality. For example, it is common for people to lie on tax returns or to lie to avoid taking responsibility for their sins. By contrast, Jehovah is “the God of truth.” (Ps. 31:5) Therefore, he requires that “each one” of his worshippers “speak truth with his neighbor” and “not lie.” (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9) Thus, we must tell the truth even if it may be embarrassing or inconvenient.—Prov. 6:16-19.
HOW THEY GAINED THE VICTORY
16. How can one succeed in stripping off the old personality?
16 Stripping off old personality traits cannot be done in one’s own strength. The individuals mentioned in this article—Sakura, Ribeiro, Stephen, and Hans—had to fight hard to put away their bad practices. They gained the victory by opening their mind and heart to the power of God’s Word and his holy spirit. (Luke 11:13; Heb. 4:12) To benefit from that power, we must read the Bible daily, meditate on it, and pray constantly for the wisdom and strength to apply Bible counsel. (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 119:97; 1 Thess. 5:17) We also benefit from God’s Word and his holy spirit when we prepare for and attend congregation meetings. (Heb. 10:24, 25) In addition, we want to make good use of the various means by which spiritual food is now made available to God’s people worldwide.—Luke 12:42.
17. What will be discussed in the next article?
17 We have considered a number of bad practices that Christians must strip off and keep off. But is that all that is required to gain God’s approval? No. We must also clothe ourselves with the new personality. In the following article, we will consider several aspects of the new personality that we need to make a permanent part of our figurative clothing.
a Some of the names in this article have been changed.