Out with the Old!

We begin our worship service with words of welcome. But now for some words of exclusion — if you are not a sinner, you are welcome to leave. Why? Because Colossians 3:5–11 calls sinners to repent, and Paul’s letter is addressed not to agnostics and atheists (though if anyone listening is struggling with those concepts, you are welcome to keep listening), but to the holy and faithful ones at Colosse. Before you get up and leave, remember that Paul has just told you some pretty heady stuff in Colossians 3:1–4. Since you are united with your Savior, your life really belongs in heaven with him. Don’t forget that there are some very practical implications! You need to put your sin to death.

Out with the old! Get rid of what belongs to the earth, to the old self.You have been raised with Christ. Recognize that sinful activities contradict that relationship with him. Note Paul’s pastoral approach: he does not say, I hear that there are certain serious sins among you, I’m wondering if you are really regenerated? Instead he tells you who and where you are as you are untied to Christ by faith, and then points out what follows from that. These things must be removed from your life. Spot these sins for what they are. Don’t minimize or justify them. We recognize some of these sins as very evil. But we tend to overlook “minor” things like greed and lying. These sinful activities bring the wrath of God down upon those who practice them. God’s people are not free from sin. Look at David’s terrible sin! Temptation in his heart led to horrendous abuse of his royal power, exploitation, and then to murder. Luke 18 records Jesus telling the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, both of whom went to the temple to pray. The tax collector confessed his sins — and was forgiven, while the Pharisee, who saw no need for repentance, was not justified. You need to be busy about the business of the slaughterhouse. The struggle against sin is not easy. (That is one of the reasons Christ gave you the sacraments—to assure you of his sustaining grace.)

“Paul is saying in ef­fect, do not practise those sins which are after the pattern of the old man but be­have as new men, as indeed you are.”

John Murray, Princi­ples of Conduct, p. 214

You have become a new person in Christ. Once you used to walk in these things that deserve judgment. Now you have taken off your old self. Note the sartorial language, looking back to Genesis 3. The Christian is not a split personality, with an old and new man struggling together. Sometimes the concept of “the old man” is used as an excuse for sinful behavior. Paul pictures the old man or old self as having died, see Romans 6:6, 11; Colossians 3:3. The influences and habits of the old, however, tend to hang around, and need to be consciously removed from your life. Doing good works is the purpose of your having died and been raised with Christ, Ephesians 2:10.

Christ is all and is in all. You are being renewed in the image of your Creator.Genesis 1 emphasizes that Adam and Eve were made in God’s image. They reflected the character of God. It is mankind that is God’s image, not just certain characteristics of man. Fallen man continues to be God’s image (thus the penalty for murder.)

Originally man had true knowledge (Colossians 3:10), righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:11). As part of the work of redemption you are being renewed in these aspects. This renewal involves putting on, sartorial language again. Look back through the OT: Genesis 3:7, 21; 37:3; Exodus 39:1–31; Psalm 65:12–13; Isaiah 52:1-2; Zechariah 3. Look at the new: Revelation 1:13; 3:5 (Sardis); 6:11; 7:9; 21:2; 22:14. In Ephesians 4 Paul carefully contrasts what you put on with what you take off. Similarly here in Col. 3:12–17 he commands you to put on the new. Your justification is monergistic, but in your sanctification there is a wonderful, mysterious working of the Spirit in you, enabling you to do what Christ commands.

Because you are being renewed in the image of your Savior, Christ is all important. The differences that separate people are secondary. In fact, they are done away in Christ. (This doesn’t mean that nationalities, social differences, freedom, etc., disappear, but rather that they are irrelevant as far as your relationship with Christ goes.)

“And he [Christ] is this, Word and image incarnate, it bears repeating, not merely for his own sake or for aspirations he has in isolation. Rather, God’s purpose is that there be others who might be ‘conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom. 8:29). In view here is a brotherhood, a family, where, with all the differences among them, each bears a common likeness a quite striking resemblance, as bearers of the true image they are now images of the truth. Even now, what could otherwise never have been expected or even hoped for is in fact underway: reclamation of the divine image disfigured and debased in humanity, the removal of our shame and the restoration of our lost glory. Even now, believers ‘beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord [Christ] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18, my trans.). Our shame, our image-bearing shame, is being replaced with his glory, our being conformed to his glory-image.”

Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Speech and the Image of God,” Word and Spirit, pages 340–341

There are no second class citizens in the kingdom of heaven. All who trust in Christ belong to him. All have their lives hidden with Christ in God. The very centrality of Christ adds to the urgency of removing the sinful habits which used to characterize your life.

Paul tells you the mysteries of theology, far richer than the false teaching in Colosse, that you have died and been raised with Christ. But this is not esoteric speculation, but solid comfort that makes a profound difference in the way you live.