Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV): Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
There is staggering import in these words of Paul. The reason that people become a new creation when they trust in Jesus for salvation is that this trust leads to a real death of the old person that was, and a real resurrection in Christ as a new person, clean, fresh, and recast in the very image of Jesus. It is this death and resurrection, not of Jesus, but of the new believer, that is represented in baptism, and that is pointed to in Romans 12:1-2, where believers are to live in this death of the old self and in the new life in Christ by continually considering themselves to be living sacrifices to God.
But, sadly, little of this imagery, and even less of this truth, remains today. The formality of saying a “sinner’s prayer” has largely replaced the real death to the old life that is to be the hallmark of the redeemed. And so we tend to spiritualize Paul’s words instead of living them out, and congregations are full of people who have prayed the prayer, but have not been resurrected as a new creation.
But Paul, when he surrendered to Jesus really did die to who he had been right up to the moment when the risen Jesus appeared to him outside of Damascus. He had the same body, but the old person who had inhabited it died, and there was a brand new person living in there – a person who had a heart of love and compassion instead of hate and anger. A person who wanted to glorify the name of Jesus instead of stamping it out.
Some may say that Paul was an exception – that normal, everyday Christians usually don’t experience that kind of huge turnaround in their lives. But the question must be “why not?”. Paul clearly expected that death to the old life that was focused on earthly things was the norm, and obviously had seen it happen in the people that he had helped to receive Jesus. Likewise, he clearly saw the new birth, the new creation, as normative as well. I believe that a key part of the answer is that we don’t teach the people whom we are leading to Jesus about the completely new life that they are to receive. Our focus is merely on forgiveness of their sins, so that is all that they expect.
The person who receives Jesus as their Lord and Savior receives much more than mere forgiveness of their sins, as important as that is. If forgiveness of sins was all that was needed, the sacrifices of the Old Covenant would have been sufficient. But when a person turns away from their old life to God, when we intentionally die to our old earthly-focused existence, God grants us a new life in Jesus – a life that is qualitatively different, a life with a completely different focus and feel from the old life that we surrendered. And then He, the God of the universe, comes and lives in our hearts, continuing the molding, shaping, and reprioritizing, to remake us into His very image. THAT’s the difference that the New Covenant makes!
Father, as one who has experienced this death to my old self, and the new person that You made me into, I say a hearty AMEN to all of this. After having experienced all that life in You is, I will never turn back, never return to the old way of living that I died to. Thank You, not just for the gift of life, but for the new life that You have given to me. Amen.