In that epic encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 about what it means to be born again, Jesus explained, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6).
Every person on the planet has been born of the flesh, but the life of the flesh only produces death and destruction. The only true hope of humanity is new life in Christ, the spiritual life that produces a whole new nature.
Just as children inherit the nature of their parents, so those born of the Spirit inherit a spiritual nature. Just as our human nature determines our appetites and actions, our spiritual nature evokes new tastes and desires manifested in new behaviors.
Peter describes this as becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and further states that we have been given everything we need to live out this new life (vv. 2-4). Yet as
Nicodemus’ life underscores, being deeply religious doesn’t guarantee our understanding of the spiritual life. Thus the invitation to come and see our new life in Christ.
So let’s begin by considering some of the spiritual realities that become true of us the moment we are saved through the profession of faith in Christ.
According to Scripture, we are
- redeemed and forgiven of our sins (Ephesians 1:7);
- brought into spiritual union with Christ (Romans 6:3;
- given a new nature (2 Peter 1:4) and new identity (2 Corinthians 5:17);
- free to live above sin (Romans 6:5-11);
- loved with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3; John 3:16);
- God’s workmanship, created to do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10);
- justified by faith and have peace with God (Romans 5:1);
- given a hope that goes beyond this life (1 Corinthians 15:19);
- gifted to serve as members of Christ’s body (Ephesians 4:
And that’s just for starters!
Wise minds have therefore crafted succinct language with which to capture it all. One is rescued, redeemed, and restored, based on Colossians 1:13, 14. Through Christ’s deliverance, we’ve been rescued “from the power of darkness.” Through His blood, we are redeemed (bought back by the blood of Jesus). Through the forgiveness of sins (set free from guilt and shame), we’re restored to a personal relationship with God through Christ.
But our new life in Christ comes with personal responsibilities. Paul turns the corner in Colossians 3 from talking about putting off the old nature and putting on the new.
For instance, we are free to live above sin, but we don’t always exercise that freedom. The hymn writer therefore reminds us that Jesus “breaks the power of canceled sin,/He sets the prisoner free.” What are canceled sins? Those we’ve been freed from but are still dominating our lives.
So Paul tells the Colossians to exercise their freedom in Christ by putting off the old nature, marked by anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy language (v. 8).
As Calvin Miller notes in his book Into the Depths of God, “Christians are not to be so much quitters as starters. They do not endear themselves to God because of all they lay aside at conversion. Rather, it is what they take up that catches heaven’s esteem.”
So Paul quickly moves on to instructions about putting on the new man, which he describes in verses 12-14:
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
As various ones have noted, this is more than an old guy getting a new wardrobe. This passage has in mind a total makeover, experiencing a whole new quality of life.
This affirms the construction of the text in the original Greek. The Greeks had two words for new: neos, concerning time (young, recent, the latest), and kainos, concerning quality (initial, brand new, fresh).
In his command to put on the new man in Colossians 3, Paul uses kainos, suggesting a new way of life. He further describes it in verses 15-17:
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Through supernatural rebirth, we’re given a new nature along with everything we need to live out the Christian life. This includes the freedom to cooperate with the sanctifying work of the Spirit in putting off the old nature and putting on the new.
The result is a vibrant, winsome, abundant life that triumphs over the brokenness of this world (2 Corinthians 4:7-9). And it explains the indomitable spirit of first century Christians. Rome had a vested interest in putting Christianity out of business and applied the cruelest forms of persecution possible, but that only served as fuel for the fire of the gospel. For the forces of darkness cannot prevail against the evidence of a changed life.
This also explains why, long after Jesus died, His disciples willingly accepted martyrdom for the sake of the gospel. The explanation is simple, yet profound: They were compelled and richly supplied by the spiritual realities of their new life in Christ!