It is always fun to wake up just a bit more refreshed the first day or two after gaining an hour through daylight savings time. It is sad though how quickly that extra hour seems to get spent! The demands of life catch up again, and that fleeting time of renewal is quickly gone, like a morning mist.
What does true renewal look like for a Christian? It moves beyond simple refreshment to the experience of Christ’s life within us. How then does Christ bring about this renewal, and what is our responsibility as believers for our own renewal?
In Colossians 3:1-14 Paul presents a lasting renewal in Christ. In the passage, Paul describes:
1) The foundation for renewal.
2) The process of renewal.
3) The outcome of renewal.
4) The community of renewal.
First, the foundation of renewal is Christ and our union with him. In Colossians 3:1-4, Paul further develops the logic of being united with Christ. Paul has already established the reality of a believer’s union with Christ in Colossians 2:10-13, where he proclaims that we have been made complete in Christ (2:10), we have been buried and raised with Christ (2:12), and we are now “alive together with him” (2:13). Christ’s death and resurrection is something believers share in, through faith, so that we are now dead to sin and alive to God. In chapter 3, Paul continues to press the full implications of our union with Christ. Believers are even “raised with Christ” and “hidden with Christ in God” (3:1-3). Paul sums up union with Christ by saying that Christ “is our life,” and that we will one day live together with him in his glorious existence (3:4). In other words, a believer’s identity and destiny are now shaped fully by Christ.
Second, the process of renewal consists of putting off the old, putting on the new. But for Paul, growth in Christ is not simply about behavior modification or sin management. Maturity and renewal in Christ is the outworking of being united with Christ.
What does this process look like? This putting off the old and putting on the new is developed against the backdrop of a series of contrasts: the contrast between earthly things and heavenly things (3:2), between the old self and the new self (3:9-10), and between a current world marked for judgment (3:6) and a glorious destiny for believers (3:4). Given these contrasts, Paul calls for a clean break in which the believer abandons the old life of corruption and embraces the new life of renewal and holiness. Putting off “earthly things” and the old self means leaving behind things that belong to a world that recklessly resists God. Putting on the new self and heavenly things means embracing things that are a preview of the glorious new creation yet to come. But this process flows from union with Christ. The resulting script for a believer’s obedience follows along the lines of “because I am united with Christ, I will put off X and put on Y.”
The beauty of this teaching is that the obedient process of renewal always stands on Christ’s foundation of renewal. When I lived in China, a five or six year-old boy was playing with his friends beside a murky pond near our apartment complex (see picture). All of a sudden he lost his balance and fell backwards into the pond. He began flailing his arms, with a look of fear on his face. As several bystanders prepared to jump in and rescue him, the look on his face abruptly changed. He calmly planted his feet on the bed of the pond, stood up, and walked to dry ground. The pond had turned out to be shallow, with solid ground underneath. In the process of being renewed in Christ believers can remember that Christ is our solid ground beneath us. Instead of flailing about on our own to grow in Christ, we can plant our feet on the firm foundation that Christ provides for us.
The theological principle for this is known as “the indicative and the imperative.” In grammar, the indicative mood presents fact and reality, while the imperative is the mood of command. In Paul’s letters, he first establishes the indicative (what Christ has done to bring us salvation and life) before he delivers the imperative (commands to live consistently with what Christ has done for us). The pattern of indicative first and imperative second means that Christians are growing into the renewed life that Christ has already secured for them. We are being renewed into the person God designed us to be, in Christ.
More to come next time: the outcome of renewal and the community of renewal.