Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:9-10)We are included in Christ from the beginning and reconciled to God by the death of Christ (see Chosen in Christ for the Unity of All Things). But there is still a putting off and a putting on we must do. We must “put off” our old self, our false self — it does not correspond to who we really are in Christ. And we must “put on” the new self, our true self, which is “being renewed in knowledge” in the image of our Creator (who is revealed in Colossians 1 and elsewhere as Christ). It is a process of becoming what has always been true of us, letting the reality of that truth change us so that our way of life begins to catch up with who we really are and were created to be.
We are “being renewed,” Paul says. There are a couple of things to note here. First is that it is in the present tense, which indicates that it is not yet a completed work but an ongoing one. In other words, this renewal is a process, not a once-and-done event. It takes place over time. Second, it is in the passive not the active voice. That is, it is not something we do to, for or in ourselves but something that is done to, for and in us by another. This relieves us of an impossible burden, for we could no more renew ourselves to the image of our Creator than we could have created ourselves in that image in the first place. But it is a work that God is graciously doing in us by the Holy Spirit, conforming us to image of his Son.
We are being renewed in “knowledge.” The Greek word is epignosis, and for Paul it is not about knowing God merely in our head but in our whole being. We have always been chosen in Christ, but now we begin to realize and experience what it means to be in Christ, to know and be known by him. This growing realization, which comes by the working of God within us, changes us. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Paul says (Romans 12:2). The Greek word for “mind” here is nous and in the context of the gospel encompasses not only the intellect but the soul.
We are created in the image of God is so we may know God, experience God, fellowship with God, participate with God and express God to the rest of creation. This is a divine gift from the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. The image according to which we are being renewed, the image of our Creator, is the image of Christ, who is the perfect expression of God and in whom all the fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 2:9). This divine renewal, then, must be the work of the God by his Spirit:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory into glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)By yielding to this transformative work of God’s Spirit, we “put off,” or let go of the old false self and “put on,” or welcome the true self so that we may become who we really are, the person god created us to be from the beginning, bearing fully the image and glory of God. This is true freedom.