21 March 2006

Old Man-New Man

Research is a funny thing. My first year at seminary I did a paper on the “old man/self” and “new man/self” language in Colossians 3. As in all my Pauline studies to date, exhaustiveness eluded me. In fact, I just recently came across a good summary of my take on the passage in Anthony A. Hoekema’s Created in God’s Image. I liked how he says it so much, I’ll give him two posts. (Parenthetical references to the Greek have been omitted.)

At the beginning of chapter 3 Paul addresses his Colossian readers as those who have been raised with Christ, and must therefore set their hearts on things above rather than on earthly things (vv. 1-2). He then urges his readers to put to death whatever belongs to their earthly nature, and goes on to utter a number of prohibitions. In verse 9 Paul tells the Colossians Christians not to lie to each other, “since you have taken off your old self with its practices….”
What does Paul mean here by “old self” or “old man”? According to John Murray, “‘Old man’ is a designation of the person in his unity as dominated by the flesh and sin.” The old self, in other words, is what we are by nature: slaves to sin. However, Paul says to believers at Colossae, since you have become one with Christ you are no longer slaves to sin, for you have taken off the old man or old self that was enslaved to sin and put on the new self. After the analogy of what has just been said about the old man, we conclude that the new man or new self must mean the person in his unity ruled by the Holy Spirit. You ought not to lie, Paul is saying, because lying does not comport with the new self you have put on.
But even the new self is not yet perfect, for, as Paul goes on to say, it “is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (v. 10). If something needs to be renewed it is not yet perfect…. Paul looks upon believers as those who have once and for all taken off or put off their old selves and have once and for all put on their new selves—new selves, however, that are being continually and progressively renewed. In other words, in light of this passage believers should not look upon themselves as slaves to sin or as “old selves,” nor as being partly “old selves” and partly “new selves,” but as those who are new persons in Christ. Yet the new selves believers have put on are not yet perfect or sinless, since these new selves must still progressively renewed by the Holy Spirit. Christians should therefore see themselves as people who are genuinely new, though not yet totally new (pp. 25-26).

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