DOCTRINAL TRUTH THAT EMPOWERS OBEDIENCE (3:9-11)
In the two previous articles we have been attempting to answer the question, “If, for the believer, the ‘old self’ has died (Colossians 3:3) and our sin has been atoned for and forgiven because of Christ’s death on our behalf (Colossians 1:13-14), why does sin and the ‘old self’ continue to plague us?” Colossians 3:1-12 has been chosen as our study passage because here, in these verses, the apostle Paul gives doctrinal teaching and exhortations that directly address this question. On March 1, 2021, I had posted an article focused on the commands Paul issues to the believer because the believer has been raised up with Christ.
We may wonder, however, where we are supposed to find the ability to obey all these commands. Paul has given us these commands, but these are not trivial, especially if we were in the “old self” for a long time. Putting sins to death (3:5) and putting other sins aside (3:8) and stopping my habits of lying (3:9); that is a pretty tall order! How do we do this?
After he issues his commands, Paul then tells of the power supply for obedience. What Paul presents as fact is that, when you were raised up with Christ in salvation, you simultaneously laid aside the “old self” (3:9) and you put on the “new self” (3:10), and the “new self” that you put on is itself being renewed into the image of Christ (3:10; Romans 8:29). Best of all, this renewal of the “new self” is a process called sanctification that continues (Phil. 2:12-13) in every believer from the moment that you are raised up with Christ (conversion) to the day of your physical death. For those who were counting, there were four doctrinal truths given. We will unpack all four briefly.
When you first responded to the gospel by trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, part of the salvation package was that you laid aside the “old self” (3:9). This is not something that you consciously did but was rather something that was done for you because you trusted in Christ. Having laid aside the “old self” (3:9), you laid aside the old self’s love of sin. Since the old self died (3:3), the old self’s craving for the evil pleasures of sin also died. Although it may have taken some time, maybe even a long time, for you to fully experience this death, the doctrinal truth is that, at the moment of conversion, your love of sin was doomed. And this laying aside of the old self is a universal experience for all believers.
Having laid aside the “old self,” you then needed something to put on in its place. Thus, the “old self” was put off and the “new self” was put on (3:10). This “new self” or “new man” is the spiritual counterpart to the “old self” and is also part of the salvation package. As the “old self” loved sin, so the “new self” loves holiness and righteousness. As the “old self” spoke lies, so the “new self” speaks truth. As the “old self” loved self, so the “new self” seeks to love others. All believers have put on the new self.
Having put on the new self (3:10), the believer is ready to begin growing in practical holiness, a process that is called sanctification. When you first trust Christ and when you have just been raised up with Christ, the new self is like a spiritual toddler. But as the believer walks with Jesus and begins to drink the spiritual milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2; Colossians 3:16) and fellowships with other believers, “the new self is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (3:10).” This means that another part of the salvation package (“being raised up with Christ”) for all believers is that we are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
But there is still more doctrinal truth here. This “renewal,” that we also know as sanctification, is a process that occurs in all believers, regardless of any social or cultural consideration. Paul lists groups of people who are as diverse as people can be (3:11) to show that anyone who has been raised up with Christ has an equal opportunity to be “renewed.” All believers without distinction should be growing in obedience and sanctification, whether their “old self” was as uncivilized as a Scythian or as self-righteous as a Pharisee. This is because their “new self” is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16), and this renewal continues in the believer until their race here on earth is finished.
CHOSEN, HOLY, AND BELOVED (3:12)
Finally, Paul states the strongest doctrinal truth of the passage: “Therefore, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved (3:12), put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The doctrinal truth contained in this verse is essentially a definition of a Christian. All Christians are “chosen of God,” they are “holy,” in that they have been set apart to God, and they are “beloved” by God. Because this is true, “therefore” the Christian is duty-bound to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, etc.
What we have seen in the passage is that the doctrinal truths of salvation obligate us to holy and righteous living and compel us to reject our old life of sin. These same doctrinal truths provide the believer with the power they need to obey the demands of a sanctified life.
SDG rmb 3/2/2021