A Whole New You (Colossians 3:9, 10)
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I. First, Fallen, and... ?
For the past two weeks, we've been talking about this idea of the 'self'. One dictionary defines the word self in this way:
1.) a person's essential being that distinguishes them from others... 1a.) a person's particular nature or personality; the qualities that make a person individual or unique.
Now for some, 'going out to find yourself' is a rite of passage. For others, a 'journey of self-discovery' simply means finding the closest mirror. But whether we do so in a deliberate or a not-so-deliberate way, to different degrees at different times, all of us are on a journey of self-discovery. We are at times considering, at times confronting, at times correcting, at times conforming, at times confirming a specific self-image or self-conception. Each day and every day, all of us function from a particular understanding of who we are.
But (and here's a critical question) is your understanding accurate? Do you really know who you are, beyond your biographical basics? As we talked about in the first lesson, “the question is not which of us has, to some extent, '[manufactured] our self-image. The question is, how close or how far from reality is that self-conception? For a topic like this, one that can be so inherently subjective, what we need is a solid objective perspective.
Yes, trusted family and friends, those who can be honest with us, are invaluable when it comes to the 'good, bad, and ugly' of the self. But what perspective on the self could be more solid and more objective than the perspective of the One who made the self? The One who made you? Over the past couple of weeks, God, our Creator, has revealed to us two critical realities that must inform how we see ourselves; how we understand who we are.
First, we learned something about what we might call the 'first us', or the 'created us'. In that lesson we learned that understanding who we are begins with understanding what we are; and what we are, what you are, what I am, is an image-bearer. We were made in and reflect the image of God. But in the second study, we learned something about what we might call the 'fallen you' or the 'corrupted you'. Though made in the image of God, that reflection has been darkened and dirtied by sin; corrupted by me-centeredness, by pride and rebellion.
II. The Passage: "And Have Put on the New Self" (3:9, 10)
But wonderfully, that is not the whole story. Let's go back to Colossians 3:9, 10, and consider how Paul, how God, helps us understand a third, glorious aspect of who we are. Verse 9...
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.
So there's the third “self” that we've been building toward for the last two weeks. That “self”, that “new self”, is the dominant theme of verses 9 and 10. Let me show you how, and in so doing, let's see if we can make sense of what Paul means when he talks about the “new self”. For example, notice right 'out of the gate' in verse 9, Paul is pointing his readers (and us) to...
1. A Change in Behavior (v. 9)
The moral imperatives in verse 9 are clear; one is specific and direct, one is general and indirect: “do not lie to another” (specific, direct), “you have put off the old self with its practices” (general, indirect). Why are these important for our study this morning? Because they reveal that whatever we believe about the reality of the “new self”, it must include the reality of new practices, new behaviors, new choices, new commitments... of a new lifestyle in which the old is rejected and the new is embraced. Why? Because you “have put on the new self”.
The NT regularly addresses the idea that what is on the outside (our actions, our words, our commitments and priorities, our lifestyle), reflects who we truly are on the inside. Therefore, if there truly is a “new self”, then there will be external evidence of that internal change. We talked last time about how, looking back, vs. 5-8 reveal the “old self”. But if we look forward, we see a beautiful description of the personal and practical changes that come with the “new self”.
[vs. 12-14...] Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Brothers and sisters, that's what the “new self” looks like. But ultimately, those qualities simply point us to a more fundamental fact, confirmed by the context here. The “new self” means...
2. A Change in Identity (v. 10a)
Keeping 3:9-10 in mind, consider with me what the next verse, verse 11, tells us about this change in identity:
Here [Where is here? Here in this realm of the “new self”. “Here...] there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Did you hear that? Did you hear what that verse reveals about your change in identity? Your identity, our identity, is no longer to be defined by, to be driven by, worldly categories. There's nothing wrong with labels like “Greek and Jew”. They are useful, but only to a degree. They cannot be the ultimate identity-drivers in your life or our life together. For the child of God, there is only one ultimate when it comes to who you are: Christ. “...Christ is all, and in all.”
Look at how the broader context emphasizes this: v. 4, “Christ who is your life”; v. 16, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”; v. 17, “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus”; 2:10, “you have been filled in him”; 1:29 speaks of “all his energy that he powerfully works within me”; 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
And what did we hear earlier, from Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia? He wrote...
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27–28)
Similarly, a chapter earlier in that same letter, Paul wrote these well-know and powerful words:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
If the 'created self' sadly became the 'corrupted self,' then, stunningly, wonderfully, by God's grace, the 'corrupted self' can become the 'Christ-defined self'... the 'Christ-covered self'... the 'Christ-empowered self'... the 'Christ-focused self'.
Why Jesus Christ? Because the first Adam became the fallen Adam. And because of that fallen Adam, all of us desperately need the final Adam, that is, that perfect human being who redeems and restores your image-bearing humanity through His own. Thus Paul writes, “...if many died through one man's trespass (i.e., Adam), much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (Romans 5:15)
Looking back to those qualities in Colossians 3:12-14, isn't that simply a description of Jesus? But that intersection between Christ and the self leads us to one last idea. We also see in verse 10 how Paul directs us to...
3. A Change in Thinking (v. 10b)
This new Christ-defined self does not simply possess you or replace you like some body-switching or body-snatching movie. No. We read in verse 10 that the “new self” is “being renewed”. Do you see that? It's a process of renewal. It takes time. But how does it work? Well, Paul gives us one clue here. We are “being renewed... in knowledge”. Now, if you are familiar with Paul's letters, than that idea should remind you of another well-known verse: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind...” (Romans 12:2)
Your mind, your thinking, is renewed with knowledge. Yes, that's by the power of God, through the Spirit of God. But it doesn't happen apart from knowledge. The heart and habits of the “new self” grow in us as we grow in knowledge. What knowledge makes this possible? The knowledge revealed in God's word. This is exactly why Paul prays the way he does in 1:9, 10...
And so, from the day we heard [about your faith], we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God...
III. The 'How' of the 'Who'
At this point, it's so important to ask yourself, “What is God communicating to me, through this knowledge from his word, about my identity; about how I see myself, or should see myself? Who am I according to the One who made me, saved me, and is remaking me?
Knowing who you are begins with knowing who you are not:
You are not your social media profile. You are not your darkest thoughts. You are not your biggest mistake or deepest regrets. You are not what you've suffered. You are not your best day, or your worst day. You are not the labels others have given to you, whether good or bad. You are not what you've achieved. You are not where you've been... or where you haven't been. You are not your roles and responsibilities. You are not your credit score or GPA. You are not your vocation or your ambitions. You are not your genes or your genealogy. You are not your talents or trade. You are not your diagnosis. You are not your debt. You are not your desires.
Are those things important? In their own way, yes. But who you are is not defined by those things. Instead, who you are helps you decipher those things. Think of it this way, if you suddenly woke up in the body of a lion who had escaped from the Phoenix Zoo, that identity would explain a lot about how people were responding to you, why you felt furry, the smells, your appetite, your inability to operate a smart phone, getting shot with a tranquilizer dart, etc...
A lion is not any of those experiences or feelings. But once you realized you were a lion, you would be able to make sense of those things. Brothers and sisters, when you embrace what God has said about what you are and who you are (your created self, your corrupted self, and your Christ-defined self) you can begin to make sense of your past, present, and future; of your feelings, of your desires, of your priorities and trajectory.
Just this past week I read a short article on Becket Cook. As the article explains,
Cook was a gay man in Hollywood who had achieved great success as a set designer in the fashion industry. He worked with stars and supermodels, from Natalie Portman to Claudia Schiffer, traveling the world to design photo shoots for the likes of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. He attended award shows and parties at the homes of Paris Hilton and Prince. He spent summers swimming in Drew Barrymore’s pool.
But then ten years ago, Jesus got a hold of Becket's life. When asked recently what he thought of the controversial identity label, “gay Christian”, Cook said this:
Defining yourself as a “gay Christian,” even if you are celibate and not active in a homosexual relationship, is wildly misleading. And it’s almost like you’re stewing in your old sin, hanging onto your old self in a weird way. It’s not helpful to have that moniker over you and to continually identify as such. Why would you identify with your old self that has been crucified with Christ? So I flee from that term as far as I can. It’s not who I am at all. If people ask me how I identify, I’m just like, “I don’t identify by my sexuality. I’m a follower of Christ...”
Whatever earthly labels you want to hang onto, whether healthy or unhealthy, whatever traits you are tempted to trumpet, whatever words or experiences you're tempted to replay in regard to how you see yourself, this morning God has defined the self. He's given us knowledge, and he wants us to be renewed in that knowledge.
Yes, there are very unique things that make you you. But you can't truly assess those without the bigger picture that God has revealed. What will you do with the knowledge you've been given over the past few weeks? How will you build on that and reinforce it with God's word? In what ways is your self-image at odds with what God has said? Most importantly, do you truly see yourself, above all, as a sinner saved by a gracious Savior, as the child of a heavenly Father, as a servant of the King of kings, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as a branch connected to and receiving life from the Vine, Jesus Christ? Brother and sisters, friends, will you pray in the coming moments for the eyes to see yourself through His eyes, and the faith to live in light of that knowledge? Let's do that now. Let's pray for the 'identity renewal' only He can give.
More in Self: Who Am I?
August 18, 2019Is Your "Old Self" Your Old Self? (Colossians 3:8, 9)
August 11, 2019Are You a Self-Imagineer? (Colossians 3:10; Genesis 1:27)