A 'New Self' Being Renewed

(Colossians 3.10)


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In chapter three of the Letter to the Colossians St Paul carries on what he began toward the end of chapter two, namely, working out the implications of his teaching about who Jesus is and how he has 'saved' us. Chapter three is rich indeed, but for my brief word this morning I want (as I've done in weeks past) to focus on a single verse where he says: you 'have clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the Creator's image'.

Attention to St Paul's phraseology helps us avoid a main pitfall and grasp the actual character of Christian experience. The pitfall I mean is the idea that a believer, owing to her or his belief in Christ, ought automatically and immediately to be (as we often put it) a 'better person'. St Paul's knowledge of himself, and his knowledge of his own congregations, impressed upon him the fact that while we are, at our deepest level, renewed and different through our faith and trust in Christ, yet at the level of our conscious daily life and in the rough-and-tumble of business and relationships, we're still very much works-in-progress.

St Paul knows this about himself and about his fellow-Christians. Having already put on the new self--he's probably referring to baptism here --the believer is then being renewed. In other words, there's the one-off experience of being claimed by Christ and acknowledging that claim in baptism, then there's the subsequent, on-going experience of owning Christ's claim in all the dimensions of life. Another version of the Bible emphasizes just that point when it say that the 'new self' is 'being constantly renewed'.

There are various ways to put that.

In our parish's baptism preparation we use the images of a point and a line. The point is the event of baptism, when God in Christ claims a person and abides in him or her. The line is the rest of the person's life through growth and all life's changing seasons.

Today's collect uses gardening ideas: grafting in, like the baptismal act; then increase and nourishment, in other words, the process of Christian living in the course of which we aim toward spiritual growth and betterment through the Holy Spirit's action within and upon us.

In both ways of speaking the 'root' of the interior life is 'abidingness in God'; from that abiding comes whatever growth toward perfection we experience over time.

The practical advantage of this perspective is that we can be patient with ourselves, and with others, as we live the Christian life. St Paul in fact encourages such patience in verse twelve. We can hold on to our commitment and resolve even in the face of set-backs and failures--and all of us have those. I find that encouraging; I hope you do too. So, this tenth verse of the third chapter of Colossians is an insight worth holding on to as we seek to live our faith and as we consider in practical terms what 'putting on' Christ means for us.



The Revd Dr Charles Miller, Team Rector
St Helen's Church, Abingdon-on-Thames
August 4th 2019, the Seventh Sunday after Trinity