Is Your "Old Self" Your Old Self? (Colossians 3:8, 9)
Is Your “Old Self” Your Old Self?
Colossians 3:9, 10
(One Lord: What is Man?)
August 18th, 2019
I. Self-Acceptance Requires Sifting
Before Al Franken made his way into politics in the 2000s, he wrote for and appeared somewhat regularly on Saturday Night Live in the 70's and 80's and 90's. The character he's probably best known for is a cheery, cardigan-wearing, self-help coach named Stuart Smalley. In a series of sketches called “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley”, Franken's character would tell himself, then get his struggling celebrity guest to repeat, this self-affirming mantra:
I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with. I’m going to do a terrific show today! And I’m gonna help people! Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!
That was just some of Smalley's self-help advice. He also used phrases like, "That's just stinkin' thinkin!"... "Compare and despair."... "You need a checkup from the neckup."... and "It’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world.”
Yes, Stuart Smalley was a satirical character. But almost 30 years later, these kinds of (what we might call) smalley-isms, these kinds of affirmations, are used to help, not as humor. But what is driving that change? Listen to one writer's assessment: “We can boil down the morality and ethics of Western society into one cliché: be true to yourself.” (Cameron Cole) Phrases like “follow your heart”, “believe in yourself”, and “you do you” communicate this same individualistic ethos.
Now, I do believe there is great value in recognizing, appreciating, and affirming each individual's God-given uniqueness and inestimable worth. The biggest problem with the mantra “be true to yourself” is not its emphasis on the individual. It's the fact we are so often unwilling to face who we truly are.
Hold onto that idea and look with me at Colossians 3.
II. The Passage: "You Have Put Off the Old Self" (3:9, 10)
As we did last time, Colossians 3:9, 10 will serve as our roadmap when it comes to questions about the self. What does God tell us about the self? What does His word reveal about who we are, that is, who you are... who I am? Those are questions of identity, aren't they?
As I suggested in the previous message, “To differing degrees at different times, all of us are on a journey of self-discovery.” If that's true, consider how Paul's words here can help us...
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Now, in the first message, we allowed the closing phrase of verse 10 to transport us back to Genesis 1:27. In that extremely important verse, we were reminded that a right self-image begins with a right understanding of the image in which the self was made. And as that verse from Genesis 1 reveals, we were made in the image of God. Every human being is an image-bearer. That fact has incredible implications when it comes to our value, vision, and vocation.
But what if we start at the beginning of this passage from Colossians 3. What else do we discover here about the self? Well, right away we run into an “old self”. Do you see that in verse 9? Let's see if we can unpack that verse and that idea by exploring what Paul's written in Colossians up to this point. In terms of unpacking, notice that Paul addresses...
1. Lying and the “Old Self” (v. 9a)
The opening words of verse 9 are not cryptic; they're not concealed. They're clear, aren't they: “Do not lie to one another...” Why no lying? Well, ultimately because of the gospel. In the opening of this letter the Apostle writes...
Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,  which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth... (1:5, 6)
As Jesus promised, the “truth” has set these Colossian Christians free. What is this liberating truth? As we just heard, the gospel is “the word of truth”. Wonderfully, it reveals “the grace of God in truth”. As those now reconciled to a God of truth, by a Savior who is “the truth” (John 14:6), how then could these disciples not walk in truth, especially with one another?
Brothers and sisters, even if we are not telling outright lies to one another, we must consider ways in which we are, nevertheless, being false with one another; times we are not being upfront, situations in which we are hiding, or opportunities when should “speak the truth in love”, but instead, our silence becomes misleading.
But also notice how verse 9 connects lying with the “put[ting] off [of] the old self”. That leads us to another idea. The core of what Paul is communicating here has to do with...
2. Dying and the “Old Self” (v. 9b)
Look again at that central phrase in verse 9, “seeing that you have put off the old self”. But how exactly is that central phrase... central? According to Paul, to lie to one another would be inconsistent with the radical change that has taken place in the readers' lives. In the previous chapter, Paul spoke more extensively about this radical change. Look at 2:11–14...
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
In the very first chapter, Paul also spoke about Christ's transforming work. Colossians 1:13–14...
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
What does it mean to put off the “old self”? It means killing and burying “the body of flesh”, that is, the 'fleshly self', by means of the cross of Jesus Christ. Death and burial through his death and burial. As Paul said at the beginning of our main chapter: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (3:3) To put off the old self is be delivered from, to be redeemed from, “the domain of darkness”.
But there's one more phrase in verse 9, and it reveals something about...
3. Defying and the “Old Self” (v. 9c)
Notice the last three words of verse 9: “...you have put off the old self with its practices”. We don't have to look far for examples of these “old self” practices. In the prior verse, verse 8, we read about “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk”. A few verses before that Paul gives other examples: (v. 5) “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry”.
Of course, there are many other examples of these practices, many other lists in the NT. But what exactly drives these kinds of practice? Listen to how Paul, in 1:21, describes that “old self” life, a “domain of darkness” lifestyle... “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds...”. What drove these “old self... practices”, these “evil deeds”? A heart alienated from and a mind hostile to God.
The “old self” lies because the “old self” defies... rebels, rejects, resists, spurns... it wages war against God. How? By rejecting his rule, suppressing his truth, and installing itself as ruler. That is who the Colossians once were. Brothers and sisters, that is who we once were. But we off “put off the old self”... or... have we?
III. New Measures Against the Old Self
Friends, think for a minute about the world in which you live and the circles in which you move. For so many of the people we know, sadly, the “old self” simply is not old. It has yet to become old through Christ. That self remains in the “domain of darkness”. That self remains “alienated and hostile in mind”. And as I said at the outset, we are often unwilling to face who we truly are.
Like Stuart Smalley, increasingly, our modern culture is becoming a place in which only affirmations are acceptable. Few deviate because standards are regularly redefined. Few desires are disordered because the order is now relative. Few are morally unhealthy because healthiness has become an extremely broad category.
Think about it: in a world where self-acceptance and self-expression are celebrated as sacred, talking about the self as something that needs to be killed and buried is scandalous. It's shocking. And for many today, it's unacceptable. But it's exactly how Paul, how God, describes what has happened to the Colossians, and what must happen to every single one of us.
According to God's word, the starting point of the self is sickness not health. Yes, humans beings have been created in the image of God. All of us are image-bearers, as we talked about last week. But passages like this remind us that the image of God in each of us has been corrupted, marred, sullied, defaced, defiled, disfigured. The self has become sickened by sin.
Now some may hear that and think, “How depressing. How cynical. How judgmental.” But if a doctor's honest diagnosis of cancer can be understood and appreciated for what it is, in spite of the emotional impact, then how can we reject the diagnosis of the Great Physician. Remember the diagnosis revealed in verses like Proverbs 16:25... There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Brothers and sisters, friends, not everything the fleshly self deems right is right; not everything labeled healthy is healthy; not everything justified is justifiable; not everything celebrated is worthy of celebration. Paul weaves all these ideas together in a parallel passage: ...you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires... (Eph. 4:21, 22)
Maybe you are sitting here thinking to yourself, “Yes, the world is incredibly deceived. Yes, the world needs to accept the sickness of the self, severed from God by sin.” But please... please don't miss why Paul writes as he does to the Colossians. He is exhorting them not to lie because there is a very real danger they will do so, in spite of who they've become; that is, a danger they will choose the “old”, even though they are now “new”.
What am I saying? What do I believe God is saying? Here it is: surrounded by a world steeped in a spirit of self-affirmation, a follower of Jesus must come to grips with the corruption of who they were, and the powerful, daily temptations to return to that corruption. No one can come to Christ without first acknowledging that corruption, that fleshly self. But that acknowledgment, that confession, that remorse and rejection, must continue.
Wonderfully, God's grace in Jesus, that radical change that can be ours in Christ, teaches us to take new measures against the influence of the “old self”. Look again at the verses leading up to verse 9, starting in verse 5...
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Even though we “have died” (v. 3), we must still work, by God's grace, to (v. 5) “put to death”. Even though we have “put off” (v. 9), we must still strive, through the Holy Spirit, to (v. 8) “put them all away”. Do you see that? Please ask yourself, “How is that happening in my life? Have I truly come to grips with the corruption and influence of the 'old self'”? But be careful: that should not lead us into chains of self-condemnation. No, we have been forgiven. We are loved.
The image of God is reflected in every human life, but like a valuable masterpiece dirtied by the years and defaced by fools, a masterpiece recognized and rescued, only in some lives is that image being fully restored. Is that you? How can it be? Well, just as it's true that every single person reflects the image of God, only one reflected it fully and faithfully. Only Jesus can fully be called (1:15) “the image of the invisible God”. Let's pray that both we and those around us would walk in the freedom that comes when we acknowledge the truth about the “old self”.
More in Self: Who Am I?
August 25, 2019A Whole New You (Colossians 3:9, 10)
August 11, 2019Are You a Self-Imagineer? (Colossians 3:10; Genesis 1:27)