Old Self or New Self
One of the great ideas in Scripture concerns what is termed “the old self” and “the new self.” Consider Paul’s point in Colossians 3. After listing a number of sins, he wrote, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (vv. 9-11).
Similarly, Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they did not learn Christ according to some pagan or ungodly way. After speaking of the Gentiles walking in futility, darkness, and hardness of heart to practice whatever they wanted, he writes:
“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph 4:20-24).
The contrast between the “old self” and the “new self” is striking and significant. The old self is in darkness, lost, futile, and calloused. The new self is renewed, more like God, and created in righteousness and holiness. The old self has no desire to please God. The new self has the aim of pleasing God in everything. The differences between the two carry eternal consequences.
When we put on Christ, there is a fundamental change that will impact how we think and act. In Christ, we are no longer conformed to the world but “transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2). In Romans 8, Paul speaks of this as being either in the flesh or in the Spirit.
“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:5-8).
The world can lure us in and trap us, but we need to keep in mind:
The old self is ugly. He is filled with impurity, jealousy, envy, lust, anger, covetousness, and malice. He is arrogant, unloving, full of strife, hates, gossips, slanders, acts out in ungodly ways, and dwells on things that are evil, immoral, and worthless. He complains, murmurs, and shows little faith. He puts too much stock in this world, in earthly politics, in worldly wisdom. He is lost and needs to repent. He needs mercy and grace. And he can find it in Christ.
The new self has found the forgiveness. He is beautiful, remade in the image of Christ, and reverses the attitudes and actions that characterize the old self. He experiences love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He is faithful, loving, growing in grace and knowledge, and knows whom he believes. How is this accomplished? Think of what Paul wrote again in Colossians 3:1-4:
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”
We must remember what has happened in Christ. We have died and have been raised up with Him. This means we need to keep our minds where He is, setting our thoughts on things above, and keeping before us the fact that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. The glory will come according to His promise, but we must be diligent to be faithful and committed.
Here, then, is a simple prayer:
Father, forgive me for allowing the old self to raise his ugly head now and then. Today, help me to let the new self be what you intend. Help me to follow Christ’s example, to deny self, love others, and trust you with my whole being.