A New Person in a New Community
Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 3:9-11
Colossians 3:9-11 (NKJV) 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
As a pastor I often find myself speaking with disillusioned Christians, and I’ve often said to them, “If the Christian life is easy, you are doing something wrong.” The fact that it’s a battle is actually a good sign. This is because Galatians 5:17 says that the Holy Spirit and our flesh are at war with each other. Therefore, if I don’t feel their opposing tugs, I guarantee it’s not because I am super spiritual, and I have conquered my flesh.
Rather, I probably don’t feel the tug because my flesh is dominating and either I don’t have the Holy Spirit, or I have become calloused to the Spirit’s work by continual disobedience. Therefore, if my Christian walk feels easy, and I am cruising along confidently, I probably need to be shocked into reality and put it into gear.
But other Christians are disillusioned by their failure. They try and try, but they aren’t making the progress they think they should be making. They are discouraged by how hard the Christian life is, and they see themselves as failures. I want to encourage these Christians that feeling the tug is not symbolic of a problem; rather it is a sign that you are on the right path, and that ultimately this path will end in glory.
Whichever category you are in, vv. 5–11 have much to say to you, because they bring together both cutting commands that challenge our sinful tendencies and encouraging words of hope regarding Christ’s mighty work in his people. In so doing they provide important help for the nitty gritty work of living the Christian life.
And so if you care about being godly and honoring Christ with your life, as every genuine Christian should, then this passage has something to say to you about the most important battle you will ever face—the battle for godliness.
Last Sunday we looked at the first 4 verses of the paragraph, and vv. 5 and 8 in particular were pretty cutting. God commands us to put to death a number of sins we often tolerate. And vv. 9–11 will again challenge us to put sin to death. But these verses also push us to our only hope of achieving true godliness. Jesus has made me new person, and he has placed me in a new community. I’d like us to see 4 truths today in vv. 9–11. First…
I. God has changed me.
In vv. 9–10, Paul looks back on the conversion of the Colossians and he makes the wonderful statement, “You have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man.” Notice first that…
The Christian has put off the old man. To appreciate this statement, we first must understand what the old man is. We might immediately assume that it is my sin nature, but this can’t be true because I still have a sin nature, but Paul says that the old man has been put off. It’s gone.
As such, the “old man” refers to the old way of life that marks an unbeliever. Paul already described this life in 2:13. Without Christ, I was “dead” in sin. And notice Paul’s fuller description of this former life in the parallel passage in Ephesians 4:17–19. The unbeliever is separated from God. His mind and understanding are darkened, meaning he can’t see the truth of God clearly. He is ignorant. As a result, he is dominated by sin.
Do you ever get frustrated at how blind lost people seem to be to the truth? Why don’t they see Jesus as beautiful like I do? The answer is that they can’t because they are still living in the realm of the old man. And that’s where you were too until Christ changed your heart.
And so the old man is the lost condition of the unbeliever. It is life under the first Adam, who sinned in the garden and sunk humanity into sin and darkness.
But for the Christian this old way of life is in the past because I have “put off the old man with his deeds” Like v. 8, this verb pictures someone as taking off their clothes. Before Christ I was covered in the dark clothes of the old man, and my deeds or actions reflected the dominance of sin. But not anymore, I have put off the old man and his wicked life. That’s not who I am anymore.
And it’s worth emphasizing that it’s not ultimately me who did this because Colossians has repeatedly described the unbeliever as dead and dead people can’t resurrect themselves. Rather, 2:13 says that when I was dead, “(God) made (us) alive together with (Christ).” And so through Christ, God has put off the old man that once dominated by life. And in it’s place…
The Christian has put on the new man. You could say that I have put off the old set of “prison clothes,” and in their place I have put on a new set of white, royal clothing that reflect the fact that I am a son of God.
Again, the text says that I have put these clothes referring to the fact that I believed on Christ for salvation, but ultimately I didn’t make myself new. No, 2:13 said that God made me alive. And so God has transferred me into a whole new way of life.
And the fact that I am a “new man” has two major implications in context. First, it means that I am a new creature with a new power to live for Christ (3:1). I have been “raised with Christ.” I have the power to pursue genuine godliness. I don’t have to live under the dominion of sin anymore. I actually have hope that I can put to death the sins in vv. 5 and 8. This is a wonderful gift.
But in this context, the fact that I have put on the “new man” doesn’t just link me with Christ; it also links me with his people. I am part of a new humanity. The reason I say that there is a corporate aspect to the “new man” is because of the application that Paul makes in 11. He says the new man is a place “where there is…” Therefore, I live in a new realm, a new community that is marked by a very different spirit from the world around us.
To use the wording of Romans 5, I am no longer part of a community under the headship of Adam that is marked by sin, darkness, and ultimately selfishness. Rather, Christ is the head of my new community. And this community is marked by his resurrection life, a clear vision of God’s glory, and his love and grace. I am a new man living in a new community.
Application: So why does Paul emphasize this reality in a paragraph that is focused on putting sin to death? The answer is that in order for me to put sin to death, I must remember who I am because it totally changes my perspective and my ultimate success.
For example, most baseball fans would probably say that one of the greatest talents of our time was New York Yankee, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod could do everything. He could field, he could hit for average, and he could hit home runs with the best of them. He had an incredible career, but he always seemed to struggle in the playoffs. And when you play for the Yankees, and you are making $29 million/year, this is a problem.
In 2012, he was struggling so badly in the playoffs that he got benched, and Yankee nation was furious. And a reporter asked Kobe Bryant about A-Rod’s struggles because the two of them are good friends. And Kobe had enjoyed a lot of playoff success with the Lakers. And Kobe responded to the question by saying, “We’re different…He’s one of the best to ever play. I think really the difference is, sometimes he forgets he’s the best…Where I don’t.” Kobe knew he was one of best. He believed he could make every shot, and his confidence propelled him to a level of success that A-Rod never reached.
And Paul is making a similar point here. One of the most basic steps to putting sin to death is to remember who you are. You belong to Christ. You are a new creation. The HS lives inside you. You can put sin to death. But so often we forget that. We hang our heads and pout about how weak we are and about how we can’t do it. Folks, having an “Awe shucks” attitude about sin is not humility; it’s deceit. We must remember who we are, and then we must fight sin with confidence knowing that we will win because believing really is half the battle.
But these verses also mean that if you have never been truly born again and you are still the “old man,” that you have no hope of truly becoming godly. God is clear that you are not capable of putting off the old man by your own strength. But the Bible is also clear that if you call on the name of the Lord, he will save you. He will forgive you of your sin, and he will make you a new man. And so you have never been saved, understand that we aren’t simply talking today about moral reformation. We are talking about spiritual change that only God can do, and then come to him today and receive new life. And so the first truth in our text is that God has changed me. But there is more still to be done. The second truth is that…
II. God is changing me (v. 10b).
Notice that v. 10 states that the “new man is renewed…” I’d like us highlight 3 truths about this statement. First…
Change is an ongoing process. The Greek verb translated as “renewed” is in the present tense, which in this context means it is describing an ongoing process. And so I am in the process of being renewed, meaning that I haven’t yet arrived. Yes, I have put on the new man, but I am far from perfect. I still have a sin nature, and I still battle the kinds of sins mentioned in this text. But I am being renewed. Step by step and day by day. Second…
I am being changed into God’s image. This begins with the fact that I am being renewed “in knowledge.” Spiritual growth always begins with changing how I think. As I read God’s Word and the HS applies it to my heart, my mind is being transformed so that I think like God thinks. As a result, day-by-day I am being formed into “the image of Him who created Him.”
This is a wonderful little summary of what the Christian life is. Genesis 1:27 says that God created Adam and Eve in his image, but that image was marred when they sinned, and it is marred in all of their descendants, so that v. 9 calls the life we inherited from Adam, “the old man.” But those of us who are in Christ have put on the “new man,” and now God is in the process of restoring his image in each of us. We are progressively taking on the character of our God.
And so when we put to death the sins in this paragraph and put on the godly qualities we will see in 3:12–4:1, we aren’t just making ourselves into better people; we are growing into the image of God. Therefore, the commands in this chapter and throughout Scripture are not random, useless rules. They tell us what God is like, and how we can be like him. That’s why the psalmist could say that he loved God’s law and that it was sweeter than honey. But maybe that sounds intimidating. “You mean to tell me that I am responsible to take on God’s character. I can’t do that.” You’re right; you can’t, which is why we must see a third truth in this statement.
God is the primary agent of change. We must not miss the fact that the text does not say I am renewing myself; it says I am being renewed. The implication is that God is the one who is renewing me.
This doesn’t mean that I am not responsible to obey God’s commands and to pursue godliness. God wouldn’t give me commands if he didn’t expect me to obey them. But he hasn’t left me alone to do this. The Scriptures say over and over that he is with me, strengthening me to do what I could never do myself. Praise God that he is changing me. I’d like to emphasize two important implications of this fact. First…
Trust the Lord to do what he said he would do. I’m especially speaking here to the person who is frustrated by failure and wonders if they’re doing something wrong because the struggle is so hard. God says to you that if you are saved, he is renewing you, and someday you will perfectly reflect the image of God. Believe that God is going to do what he said he will do. As a result, a second application is…
Be patient. Sanctification is a lifelong process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and there are no shortcuts. If someone tries to sell you on a quick fix, don’t listen because there are none. The Christian life is a lot of hard work, and it’s a long haul. Therefore, strap in for the long haul. And understand that all the hard work and all of the waiting will pay off because God will finish the process, and someday “you will be revealed with him in glory,” and you will enjoy his glory for all eternity. It will be worth it all.
Summary: And so vv. 9–10 lay out two important truths that must serve as the bedrock for spiritual growth. First, God has changed me. I am a new man in a new humanity. Second, God is continuing to change me, and he will finish the process. So Christian, remember who you are. The third and fourth truth I’d like us to see have to do with how we must respond to these realities. The third truth is…
III. We must be honest with each other (v. 9a).
Verse 9 begins by commanding us not to lie, and it’s worth emphasizing that he is especially concerned that we are truthful in the context of the new community of the church. Pretty much anytime you see “one another” in the NT, it’s speaking about the church.
Of course, there are plenty of other times where the Bible forbids lying, so I’m not saying you can lie everywhere else as long as you don’t lie to fellow Christians. But this context is especially concerned with life in the church, and God says that lying has no place within the community. We must be able to trust each other to speak truth and to not manipulate the truth selfishly.
Of course Paul has already told us to put to death a number of other sins that are contrary to the old man. But notice that Paul sets lying apart. It has it’s own command, and grammatically, this command is an important piece of the paragraph’s structure. Therefore, Paul clearly wants to emphasize the need to put off lying.
It’s impossible for us to know if Paul set lying apart because he is thinking of a particular situation at Colossae, or if he just wanted to emphasize the evil of lying. But for us the implication is very clear for us. It’s right after this command that Paul goes on to say that we have put off the old man. So why should a Christian not lie? The answer is that lying is associated with the old man, not the new man. And since the old man is in the past, lying must stay in our past. Christians must love the truth and speak the truth.
And this is a challenge that we need in our day because our culture values truthfulness less and less. It’s a statistical fact that today’s teenagers are far more comfortable lying than previous generations. Most people really believe that if lying can help me get ahead, then there’s nothing wrong with it. And we can easily be shaped more than we realize by our culture’s disinterest in truthfulness.
Now I do believe that there are some narrow circumstances where God values a human life, for example, more than he values truth. For example if someone wanted to kill my family, I would absolutely lie to protect them because God values life.
But folks, sometimes we can take the fact that there are some narrow exceptions and we bust through the crack in the door with a bulldozer. And we need to be very careful that we value the truth like God does. And in our day parents need to make it an emphasis with their kids.
Lying belongs to the old life. It’s manipulative, and it’s earthly. Typically, it reflects a lack of confidence in God. I’ve got this problem, and if I speak the truth, it’s going to hurt. And so rather than trusting God to resolve my problem or resting in the fact that suffering may be part of his good purpose, I take matters into my own hands, and I lie. Christian put off lying. It’s not who you are. Speak the truth, and trust the Lord to do what is good. And then notice in v.11 another implication of the fact that I have put off the old man and put on the new man. The 4th truth in this text is…
VI. We must overcome normal social barriers (v. 11).
The New Rule for the New Community: Verse 11 begins with “where,” which refers back to the “new man” of v. 11. Remember that the new man is not just about me. Being a new man means being part of a new humanity—the church. And v. 11 says that that in this new humanity the distinctions he mentions no longer exist.
Now one of the pairs here is “slave nor free,” but Paul will go on in 3:22–4:1 to give instructions to slaves and masters, so Paul is not denying the practical reality of distinctions. He also gives instructions to husbands and wives even though in Galatians 3 he says in a context very similar to v. 11 that there is no “male nor female” in the church. Therefore, Paul is not denying the reality of social structures or the need for order.
Rather, his point is to say that in the church, these kinds of things are no longer what is most important, and they certainly must not divide us. Rather, we are all equal before God, and we must love each other equally and pursue unity across these lines.
And folks, Paul is not talking about insignificant lines. First, he says that in Christ there is no “Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised.” These were big lines in Paul’s day. We all know how Jews generally looked down on Gentiles, and the feeling was mutual. Just a few years earlier, the Roman Emperor Claudius kicked all the Jews out of Rome for a time. There was serious animosity in the culture at large between these groups, but in Christ, there should be none of it.
Paul then adds that the new obliterates the significance of being a “barbarian” or a Scythian.” The Greeks called anyone who wasn’t a Greek a barbarian. It wasn’t a compliment, because the word was intended to mock their lack of refinement. Their speech was “bar, bar bar.” And a Scythian was even worse. Scythia was a region north of the Black Sea, and the Scythians were considered the epitome of unrefinement and savagery. We have similar terms today for people we deem to be inferior, like “white trash,” “redneck,” and racially charged terms that I won’t mention.
And finally Paul adds that Christ obliterates the significance of “slave” and “free.” Aristotle once said a slave is “a living tool, as a tool is an inanimate slave.” In other words, a slave is like a shovel that breathes. That’s how Greeks saw their slaves.
In light of all this, v. 11 is making an incredible claim. Through Christ, all of these distinctions that were so filled with animosity are eliminated. Christ gives peace and equality among groups that typically despise each other.
And folks if we had time, we could park on the implications of this verse for us for a very long time because it confronts our culture and the church a lot more than we sometimes like to think.
Let’s just talk a little about the kinds of categories that Paul mentions. He begins first of all with race. Folks, I hope that we would all affirm in the strongest voice that racism is evil. White supremacy, black supremacy, or any other kind of supremacy other than the supremacy of Christ opposes the essence of our new life in Christ.
This means that when we look at the people of AV and the nations, we shouldn’t primarily think in terms of politics or selfish interest but in terms of the gospel. We want to see people saved because Christ died for every people. And we must view people who are saved simply as brothers and sisters. And if someone walks into Life Point from a minority group, we should let them know we are glad they are here, and we want them here.
And so race distinctions have no place in the church, but the last 4 terms Paul uses also indicate that there is no place in the church for animosity among economic groups or cultural groups. Far too often we just assume that everyone who is poor is lazy, irresponsible or stupid, and everyone who is rich is greedy and oppressive. Sometimes those things may be true. And if there’s sin, you deal with the sin. But if that person is a Christian, he or she is my brother or sister first and foremost, and I must have a heart of compassion and grace that sees him or her first as a Christian and only secondarily for where they might need to change.
And so here’s my summary of this text and this sermon. We must be who we are becoming. If you are a Christian God has changed you and he has placed you in a community that is unlike any other in all the world. Jesus said that our conduct toward each other will be one of the greatest vindications to the world of the truthfulness of our profession. We are something new, but we aren’t perfect yet. But God is slowly renewing us until Jesus receives his bride without spot or wrinkle. That’s who we are becoming.
And so let’s be encouraged that we will get there, and in light of that let’s be challenged to be who we are becoming.