“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…”
There is an exciting image painted in the pages of the New Testament. That image is the idea that you can, at any time, be recreated, setting aside the person you once were and becoming the person that you, and the Lord, want you to be. Jesus assured us that it can happen at any stage of life with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). We are told that we can exchange the guilt of sin and its consequences for a refreshed, free spirit with an eternal hope. We are promised that we can cease our old habits and put on new ones.
But there is a harsh reality that confronts us as we consider these promises. It is difficult and painful to truly change – at any age. And it often becomes more difficult and more painful the older and more established in our ways we become. Aside from the difficulty of breaking old habits, there is also the challenge to our pride of admitting that we spent so much time in the dark. There is also the humbling experience of finding those younger than you further along toward the goals you want to reach.
I’ve had that experience recently, in a secular sense. Although I enjoyed the training I received with the Army, I was sometimes discouraged to see that I was older than many, if not most of my sergeants and even older than the commander of my company, a Captain. In fact, I was only a few years younger than our Battalion Commander – a Colonel. I looked around at my peers in rank and they were, most of them, half my age. And I was forced to recognize that I am pretty old to be a new soldier. If I had started at 19, like most of them did, I would obviously be much further along than I am now. Sometimes I feel like I started too late.
That has made me think a little about how it must feel to become a Christian as an adult, or how it must feel to only begin taking your faith seriously later on in life. I was talking with a young man recently who told me that he was discouraged at the fact that when he went to church everyone else seemed to have a ready knowledge of where things are in the Bible and a firm grasp on the stories in the Old and New Testaments and the messages of the different books. Although he grew up in the church, he admitted that he had spent several years not studying, not praying, and not really taking his faith seriously. Now, in his late 20s, he feels behind the game, wondering if he’ll be able to reach the maturity he aspires to.
I wonder how many others have the same thoughts. I know of several who think that they’re too old to really change their ways or learn any new tricks.
But God promises that it can be done. Not that it’s easy; it isn’t. But He has created all of us with a remarkable capacity for renewal. You can put off the old man. You can see yourself in a new way. You can be recreated with new habits, new knowledge, new dreams, and new hopes. And you can start anytime you’re ready – the sooner the better.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord… …Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Here, the Lord tells us what He did when you were baptized into Christ. He says the old man was crucified. He tells us how you can see yourself now: considering yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. He reveals what you can do now. You are empowered to use your life for righteousness instead of sin and you are freed from the dominion of sin through the grace of God in Jesus.
Does that mean all of that is easy? Certainly not. The curbing of old desires and development of new character is described in various places as work, striving, toiling, combat. But being an old new man or woman in Christ is not cause for shame or discouragement. It’s a reason to rejoice at the new lease on life you’ve been given.