“Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices . . .” (Colossians 3:9)
In Colossians 3:9 and 10 the Apostle Paul lays the foundation for how we may, in actual practice, declare “Out with the old and in with the new.” First, “out with the old.”
Our old, pre-Christ life was a lie. Deception is out of bounds among believers (“one another”). Not that this permits lying to non-believers, but simply that the boundaries of Paul’s present discussion relate to the interrelationships of Christ-followers. In the absolute sense of the word lying is a sin of the tongue and might be grouped with the five vices listed in verse 8. Yet the word describes not only verbal utterances of falsehood, but also deceptive actions (Acts 5:3, 5). Thus Paul may have in mind not simply lying words, but the lying lifestyle of one who claims the name of Christ but continues to live after the old, sinful nature. Such a one may be “living a lie.” This the Christ-follower must not do. When he demands “Do not lie to one another” the preposition may indicate direction (“to one another” as in most English versions) or opposition (“tell lies against someone, i.e. to his detriment”). The former seems the more likely of the two understandings.
Paul now gives support for the prohibition (and probably all the prohibitions and commands of vv.5-9a) in the form of two parallel participial phrases, the first here in verse 9 and the second making up verse 10. The first picks up on the imagery of tasking off one’s old clothing (v.8), though using a different word: “since you have laid aside.” This word is used elsewhere in the New Testament only in Colossians 2:15: “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities . . .” (though the cognate noun is found in 2:11). The basic notion of the verb is that of stripping off clothing. This is a stronger term than that of verse 8 (“put . . . aside”) and indicates something even more fundamental, something foundational that make that action possible. What Paul demands here is possible precisely because of what God did there through Christ in the cross. Because Christ disrobed (and thus disarmed) the demonic powers that once sought to hold us in bondage to sin and through sin we have “laid aside” the old life of slavery. Here the aorist tense views the action as decisive. But just when did this action take place? Is this synonymous with salvation? Or is this an event of one’s sanctification subsequent to salvation? Given the corresponding expression of the next verse (“and have put on the new self”) it seems best to understand this as descriptive of the change wrought by repentance and faith at the time of salvation and witnessed to in one’s baptism. Subsequently the believer must “Put to death” (v.5, esv) the sin that continues to cling to him in this life (in a quest to become in experience what he is by gracious declaration of God). The participial form is to be understood as indicating the grounds upon which the imperative is expected to be obeyed (“since you laid aside,” as with most English translations: e.g. esv, net, nkjv, niv, nrsv). In view of the fact that we have, through repentance and faith, taken off and cast aside the old life and (according to verse 10) “put on the new self” we ought no longer to live a double life, lying to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
That which is laid aside is “the old self”; or more literally “the old man” (net, nkjv). The precise phrase is used elsewhere only in Ephesians 4:22, and that in a similar context. But nearly the same expression is used in Romans 6:6 which will aid us in understanding just what Paul is referencing here. There he speaks of both “our old self” and our “body of sin.” The first, he says, “has been crucified.” The second “might be done away with.” From Paul’s discussion it seems best to understand “our old self” to refer to our old, unregenerate person, prior to conversion. This “old self” has now ceased to exist, for I have been made a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Yet my “body of sin” continues to harass me, though its power has been broken. It continues to shout, demand and woo me toward sin, but it can no longer compel me to sin. The translation of the particular verb in Romans 6:6 is somewhat unfortunate (“might be done away with”). The idea might be better expressed as “rendered powerless,” as opposed to ceasing to exist. Thus, when Paul says here, “you laid aside the old self,” he is speaking of the change wrought in regeneration at the time of conversion. It is through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ that a person lays aside their former life and receives new life in Jesus Christ, becoming an entirely new person. This is a truth which has both individual and corporate aspects to it. Individually, my pre-conversion, unregenerate life has ended and I have been born again to new life in Christ, having been given an entirely new existence. Corporately, I have ceased to exist “in Adam” and now exist “in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22). In this latter sense I belong now to a new humanity.
In such a state one lays aside “the old self” along “with its evil practices.” It is precisely because the “old self” has ceased to exist through co-crucifixion with Christ on the cross and because we have been brought into union with Christ our head that we are able now in the present to set aside the “evil practices” that once characterized our life without Christ. Our word praxis is brought over directly from the Greek word translated “practices.” It variously describes an activity, function, way of acting, etc. Here in the plural is refers to evil or disgraceful deeds (cf. Rom. 8:13). Presumably this term gathers up all the vices listed in verses 5, 8 and 9 along any others that might be added to them. Once again Paul is stressing that we must become in practice what we are by profession of faith.
But all of this is only half of the equation of freedom. Watch for the next post, “in with the new.”