Monday, May 4, 2009

New Creation Theology in Colossians 2 & 3

In the last few days, I have been discussing Galatians 3:28 and its role in the New Creation. According to Galatians 6:15, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision profits anything, but a new creation.” Galatians 6:16 makes it clear that New Creation is not a concept but a RULE to live by.

In light of this rule, I’d like to examine in the next several posts passages that show us Paul’s application of the New Creation Rule. If he could hold the Galatians to this rule, then clearly he used it himself in other letters to his other churches (and the church at Rome).

To start off our examination of several passages, let’s begin with Colossians 2 and 3. First, to see the New Creation Rule in its context, let’s look at Colossians 3:

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the OLD self with its practices and have put on the NEW self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but CHRIST IS ALL, AND IN ALL” (Col. 3:9-11, ESV).

The language of Col. 3:9-11 parallels Galatians 3:28 (which we’ve discussed in great detail) as well as 2 Corinthians 5. Let’s look at the language of 2 Corinthians 5—

“17Therefore, if anyone is(Y) in Christ, he is(Z) a new creation.[b](AA) The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God,(AB) who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us(AC) the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17-18, ESV).

The language of 2 Corinthians 5 shows us the contrast between “the old” and “the new” (v.17). Paul then writes in verse 18, “All this is from God.” Colossians 3:9-11 contrasts the old with the new, as Paul tells them to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” (vv. 9, 10). So New Creation Theology runs through Colossians 3 in the same way it does 2 Corinthians 5.

But look back at Colossians 3. Paul tells the Colossians to get rid of the old man “with its practices,” referring to its carnality. Once getting rid of the old, they were to put on the new man, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” In contrast to the old self, which lived by its own desires, the new self will live by knowledge of God. Another noteworthy contrast is that, whereas the old man (human nature) decays and dies, the new man is “being renewed” (Col. 3:10), being restored every day. In short, the new man is experiencing the OPPOSITE process of the old man—instead of dying, it is being restored to “the image of its creator.” The new man gives believers what they need to live up to the standard Adam and Eve should have obeyed in the first place. The new man, then, will be like Adam before the Fall.

But Paul doesn’t just stop here: what he says in verse 11 is the RESULT of taking off the old man and putting on the new—“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” If, as Paul says, believers put on the new man, and the new man is being renewed “in knowledge,” then everyone is viewed the same in the body of Christ. No matter what the social distinction, no man is viewed or treated differently than another. In the body of Christ, the lawyer is treated no better than the mechanic, and the school teacher is treated no less than the college professor or surgeon.

With the information we’ve gleaned from Colossians 3, let’s approach Colossians 2. Much of the message is the same as we’ll see—but what new information we find is that there are those in the congregation who have no idea what it means to say that there is no “Jew, Greek, slave, free, circumcised and uncircumcised…” Look at the text:

8See to it that no one takes you captive by(Q) philosophy and(R) empty deceit, according to(S) human tradition, according to the(T) elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ. 9For(U) in him the whole fullness of deity dwells(V) bodily, 10and(W) you have been filled in him, who is(X) the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also(Y) you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by(Z) putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12(AA) having been buried with him in baptism, in which(AB) you were also raised with him through faith in(AC) the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13(AD) And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God(AE) made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by(AF) canceling(AG) the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15(AH) He disarmed the rulers and authorities[b] and(AI) put them to open shame, by(AJ) triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:8-15, ESV).

First, let’s look at what Paul warns them AGAINST—“philosophy” and “empty deceit” (v. 8), which are both “according to human tradition.” Such things are part of the OLD world order; especially the “human tradition,” which had been around for some significant amount of time.

Paul then reminds the Colossians of what Christ has done for them: he circumcised them “with a circumcision MADE WITHOUT HANDS, by putting off the BODY OF THE FLESH, by the circumcision of Christ…” (v.10). We see here that the circumcision of the Colossian believers (as well as all) occur without having need of circumcision (which is a JEWISH sign of faith), a physical sign of Jewish culture. Notice Paul writes next “by putting off the body of the flesh.” Remember what 2 Corinthians 5 says about “putting off the old man”? the old man refers to the old nature—so circumcision would qualify as a Jewish practice. So to get rid of physical circumcision is to do away with the “old things.” The new thing would be “the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11).

Now, he’s where we line up with Christ: “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were ALSO raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12, ESV). Because of faith in Him, the Colossians (and us) have been raised with Him because of faith. In all honesty, we have experienced an “immaterial resurrection.” But we will also experience a physical resurrection at the end of time, as our bodies will be redeemed and we will dwell on the new earth.

In any case, the new self in us (Col. 3) is being renewed, day by day. This new self is not the same as the old self—it doesn’t decay, it gets younger and better with time.

But this might make someone curious: “okay, if we have been raised with Christ, then “new creation” means I have a new self, right? Exactly. According to Colossians 3, we do. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15, he made the same statement:
“I will tell you this, brothers: FLESH AND BLOOD CANNOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD, NOR DOES THE PERISHABLE INHERIT THE IMPERISHABLE…for this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15: 50, 53, ESV).

Because flesh and blood cannot enter into the Kingdom, we must receive a new body—because the old is full of sin and death. It’s the same way with our inner man—because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden, we are born with natures that are BENT to do evil, BENT to sin against God. But we can’t make it if this is what we keep; in order to grow in Christ, we have to receive a new man, an inner man that will allow us to walk according to God’s standard. The inner man cannot “see” things the same way he did BEFORE CHRIST—he isn’t supposed to look at situations the same.
This new self, then, disregards all the old distinctions as being the DETERMINANT of how to treat people within the body of Christ. Everyone is seen as the same in everyone else’s eyes, and Christ is exalted. Christ becomes everything, and no one is made to conform to someone else’s way of life. In my next post, I will tackle the application of Paul’s New Creation Theology as set forth in Colossians 2.

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