Sometimes we get the impression that the Christian life consists mainly of negative prohibitions. These are definitely an important part of our spiritual discipline, as attested by the fact that eight of the Ten Commandments are prohibitions (Exodus 20:1-19). We need the prohibitions set forth not just in the Ten Commandments but in all the life-application sections of the New Testament. Indwelling sin needs the constant restraint of being denied its gratification.
The Christian life, however, should also be directed toward positive expressions of Christian character. All of Paul’s ethical teaching is characterized by this twofold approach of putting off the old self and putting on the new self (as in Ephesians 4:21-24).
I like to think of this twofold approach as represented by the two blades of a pair of scissors. A single scissors blade is useless as far as doing the job for which it was designed. The two blades must work in conjunction with each other to be effective. And we must work both at putting off the characteristics of our old self and putting on the characteristics of the new self. One without the other is not effective.
Some believers seem to focus on putting off sinful practices but give little attention to what they are to put on. Too often their lives become hard and brittle and probably self-righteous, because they tend to equate godliness with a defined list of “don’ts.” Other believers tend to focus on putting on certain positive traits such as love, compassion, and kindness, but they can become careless in morality and ethics. We need the dual focus of “putting off” and “putting on”—each should receive equal attention from us.