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 on with the new.”  In verse 9 we met the “out with the old.”  Now consider how the Apostle tells us we can live out the new life Jesus Christ offers.

“… 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—” (Colossians 3:10)

Paul now adds (“and”) a second participial clause (for the first see the previous post), providing the second ground upon which the imperatives of verses 5-9a are based.  Corresponding to the first participle (“since you laid aside the old self,” v.9) Paul tells us we “have put on the new self.”  Once again the tense is aorist – signaling decisive action.  The verb will be used again in verse 12 where it is clear that what is “put on” are new virtues and actions.  Paul has emphasized the change of position and identity with regard to “the old man” (v.9) and now he intends the same here with regard to “the new self.”  This is a change both of regeneration to new life with a new heart individually and of transfer from being counted “in Adam” to being established “in Christ” corporately.

While such a change will be manifested clearly in one’s outward behavior (vv.9, 12) it is fundamentally an inward change for such a one is he “who is being renewed to a true knowledge.”  The participle itself is a compound word comprised of “again” and “make new.”  The word is used only here and 2 Corinthians 4:16: “. . . though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (emphasis added).  The present tense underscores the continual nature of the process (cf. Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18).  The passive voice emphasizes that the accomplishment of this renewal is the doing of another – God Himself.  We are, by His grace, not what we once were in Adam.  Yet He is ever and always working to make what He has effected in us true of us in every dimension of our being, He is thus always making anew, actualizing a new quality of life here and now.  In this there is constant hope, for we are, by His grace, not what we shall yet be in Christ.  This ongoing transformation is “to a true knowledge.”  This is now the fourth time in this letter that Paul has used this noun (1:9, 10; 2:2; 3:10) and he employs the cognate verb in 1:6.  It is a compound word (“upon” and “knowledge”) which intensifies the root and points to fullness, depth and completeness of knowledge.  He has been using the word in a thrust against the false teachers in Colossae.  They were emphasizing their knowledge of things spiritual (2:4, 8, 18), but Paul makes clear that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).  In the earlier usages Paul prays or longs for the realization of this knowledge in the Colossian believers’ lives.  In 1:9 the knowledge Paul desired for the Colossian believers was “of His will,” in 1:10 it was “of God,” and in 2:2 it was knowledge “of God’s mystery,” a “mystery” which is “Christ Himself.”  The preposition is directional—God is ever moving us “into” this full, true, complete knowledge that is found in Christ alone.

This renewal is not nebulous or without form.  It has a pattern, a goal, a destination.  It is “according to the image of the One who created him.  The word translated “the image” immediately reminds one of Genesis 1:26-27: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Yet closer to home here in Colossians the word was used by Paul earlier to say that Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (1:15a).  This is a theologically rich and significant word as it relates to one’s Christology.  The same word that in 1:15 stresses not just similarity, but shared essence is now used of the pattern after which the believer is being remade.  While Christ is the image of God (1:15), we have been and are being remade “according to” the image of Christ (3:10).  This is holy ground and we must take off our theological sandals and walk softly.  This does not say that we are the “image” of Christ as He is the “image” of God, but that we are being remade “according to” (“in accordance with, just as, similar(ly) to”, BAGD, 407) His “image.”  It is not that the believer ever shares in the divine essence itself, yet the union of the believer with Christ is indeed real.  So real is it that Paul has been able to speak of “Christ, who is our life” (3:4).  “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ” (Col. 2:9-10a).  Peter asserts that we “may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).  To be sure—and to emphasize once again—we do not and never will share in Christ’s divinity or Godhood.  Yet the writers of Scripture speak of the union of the believer with Christ in the most intimate of ways.  Paul speaks elsewhere of the body of Christ coming to a place where we attain “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) and that together we may actually become “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:23).  This is a mystery, the subtle nuances of which are difficult to draw out in detail (and which we attempt at our own peril), but the parameters of which are clearly drawn (and which we ignore to our own spiritual detriment).

The image after which we are being remade is “of the One who created him.”  Here in Colossians it is Christ who is pictured as the Creator.  He is “the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created” (1:15b-16a).  The personal pronoun (“him”) finds its antecedent in “the new self.”[1] Since inwardly we are being remade after Christ’s image (v.10b) we ought then to put on new outward actions to reflect this inward change (vv.8-9).  This inward-to-outward movement of logic confirms our understanding of the vice lists in verses 5 and 8 (see this post) where we saw Paul logically moving from inward impulse to outward action in his description of sin and in implicitly outlining a strategy for overcoming these sins.

[1] Harris, 153.