By now the believers clearly understand what has occurred and what has been accomplished for them in Christ. They have died with Christ (2.20, 3.3) and in that death, the old self has been put off (2.11; [3.9-10]). In addition, they have been “raised with Christ” (3.1).
These facts form the basis (“therefore,” 3.5) for the mandates on putting away the old practices and putting on those associated with the new (3.5-9; 3.12-17). The blessings the believers have received are to govern how they live in the present. Essentially, Paul tells them, “Become who you are: those redeemed in Christ.”
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. [b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Verse 5: It’s somewhat surprising that Paul exhorts the Christians to “put to death” all that belongs to their earthly nature since he has repeatedly told them that they have already died with Christ and that the old self has been put off (see 2.11, 2.20; 3.3; 3.9-10). But this simply affirms the reality that God does not provide a one time fix for our lives at conversion. Instead, God invites us into a relationship with him, a daily walk, where we must continually participate and allow Christ’s redemptive work to have it’s way in us (hence “being renewed” in v.10; see also Col 1.20).
The rest of verse 5 is pretty self explanatory. The vice list exemplifies the struggles that a Gentile convert would likely face after coming to Christ. The list culminates with “greed” (or “covetousness”), which gets at the root problem of these sins: the focus is on acquiring more and serving the god of personal satisfaction. God will not overlook such sin (verse 6). God, please help us to be content and not fall into the enemy’s lies when he tells us that we need more or that more is pleasurable. God, we praise you for all the blessings that you have given us.
Verses 7 and 8 return to the “once / but now” motif that we’ve seen several times in the letter. The community once lived in sin, but now, having been rescued from the dominion of sin (1.13-14), they have a responsibility to put off the sins associated with that realm: “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (and lying in v. 9). Notice that these are primarily sins of speech and sins that are harmful to community relationships. Instead of destructive speech and behavior, the Christian community is to be characterized by graces or virtues that bind the community together in unity (see next post on 3.12-17). Let’s examine ourselves and make sure we’re in the right community.
Do not lie to one another… The community was founded on the gospel of truth (1.5-6). Lying therefore has no place in this community; it belongs to the practices associated with the old humanity. This brings us to the old man/new man stuff.
“. . . having stripped off the old man along with his practices and having put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created him” (3.9-10; my translation).
I always thought that this meant that after coming to faith in Christ, believers shed their old nature and were subsequently given a new one to dawn. But this probably isn’t what Paul meant. The “old man” most likely refers to Adam and the “new man” to Christ. We’ve discussed this before, how Adam serves as a representative for the old humanity and Christ for the new (e.g., “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive”; 1 Cor 15.22). And we have also seen that God is forming a new humanity, a divine entity in Christ (Colossians 1.18; Eph 2.15; 2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15). The same point is being made here: the old humanity is no more and the new humanity is being established in Christ. Thus, this text has primarily corporate implications. But that doesn’t mean that we as individuals do not have a critical part to play in the renewal, the formation of the new humanity—far from it. Each of us has a role to play in putting off the practices associated with the old man (3.5, 8). And next we will find that each of us also has the responsibility to put on the practices characteristic of the new man (3.12-17).
That Paul is speaking of a corporate entity (as opposed to individual “natures”) is made clear in the next verse, “Here [i.e., in the new humanity] there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
This is a statement about inclusiveness. In the new humanity, ethnic, social, and cultural distinctions no longer have significance. In the new humanity, things are different. Think of the powerful witness and beautiful picture this provides to the outside world when people who have no reason for getting along come together in loving Christian fellowship (Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos, 295).
I’m not naïve though; I recognize the difficulty of loving those who are significantly different from us. But I strongly believe that if we are faithful to “put on” the virtues mentioned in the following section, we’ll be well on our way to making this picture of the new humanity a reality (ibid., 296). God help us.