Most people want to be someone new. This is why seemingly every cover of the most popular magazines and books, the topics of the most popular radio and TV shows, and the most trafficked blogs and websites are about one thing. Becoming a new you. Most everyone, even if they don’t use the biblical language of sin and redemption, knows something is wrong, that we’re not entirely who we could or should be, and that making changes would be a good thing. Using biblical language, we want to be “saved” from the consequences of our sin. We want to be “justified” or declared good by whomever or whatever we worship, which can range from Jesus to a false deity. We want our friends and co-workers to have a high opinion of us. We want approval from our parents, or even ourselves.
As humans, we are religious by fallen nature, which means we think we can be justified in one of four ways. First, loosely religious people assume they’re good enough and that no spiritual devotion or extra effort is required for God to be pleased with them. Such people make moderate life corrections and learn occasional new life lessons, but for the most part they believe that only really bad people (and not themselves) need to be made new. Basically, they’re already saved and justified in their own minds. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”
Second, secular religious people work very hard at social causes because they think they’re good and need to overcome evil with their goodness. These people tend to see others’ problems more than their own and smugly think they’re God’s gift to the world, here to change it and make it new. They justify themselves by saving the rest of us.
Third, non-Christian spiritual people try to change themselves with vaguely spiritual self-help books and programs, wanting to become new but not understanding how to achieve that in Christ. They follow the trendy books and ideas about loving oneself as the means by which they can unleash their potential and change their life. For them, God provided principles to save and justify ourselves. They add something you will not find in the Bible: God only helps those who help themselves.
Fourth, devoutly religious people work hard at keeping the rules of a particular religion in an effort to justify themselves as good and obedient people in God’s sight. Such people try very hard to do the right thing so God will love them and be pleased with them. This thinking is pernicious, and likely most common for the kind of people who would read books by Christian authors rather than seeking a relationship with Christ.
Paul was a man just like this until he became a Christian. He put off his old religious identity and put on his new identity in Christ. Paul lists his “religious” credentials in Philippians 3:5-6. Paul’s point was that he had a perfect record. By the religious rules of his people, he would’ve been considered nearly perfect. Of course, inwardly he was filled with the sins of pride and self-righteousness. What exactly is self-righteousness? It means being convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others. This type of person is narrow mindedly moralistic. They are not willing to accept opinions, beliefs, or behaviors that are unusual or different from their own. They are completely confident of their own righteousness, especially regarding morals. A self–righteous person acts superior to his peers because he believes his moral standards are perfect.
Though Paul looked perfect on the outside, he believed that his noble birth, impeccable education, tireless work ethic, clean lifestyle, and unprecedented religious devotion to be rubbish compared to his new identity. Having been made new, Paul had righteousness through faith in Christ. The Greek word for rubbish (skubala) means refuse, dregs, or dung. This tells us exactly what Paul thought about his former life. After having a new identity in Christ, Paul found every previous effort and accomplishment to be as worthless as stinky trash, and as disgusting as a steaming pile of dog dung.
Speaking from his own experience and identity in Christ, Paul explains how we live out our new identity in Ephesians 4:14-24, which says, “With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus, and have learned the truth that comes from Him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Holy Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God; truly righteous and holy.” (NLT) Repentance is explained in terms of walking down a different path than we have been, by putting off our old self and putting on our new self. One way to define repentance is a turning away from what was.
Practically, this means we no longer think, desire, or act according to our old identity as someone disconnected from Jesus Christ. Instead, we have a new identity in Jesus, and we become a new person, created according to God in true righteousness and holiness. Of course, we have to learn to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Paul says this new identity has to be put on like clothing. Therefore, it is a good idea every day as we dress ourselves physically to also pray that God would dress us spiritually to live out our identity in Christ as we go through our day. But how do we put off our old self and put on our new self? The answer is found in the effects of Christ’s work on the cross. He made justification, regeneration, and glorification possible for us. Justification makes us externally new. Regeneration makes us internally new. Glorification makes us eternally new in Christ.
While we’re genuinely new in Christ, we’re not yet completely new in Christ. There is still a seed of rebellion in us. There are temptations all around us, and the snares of the devil have been set. In this life, we continually grow to live out of our new identity as new people in Christ through a process called sanctification. In this process, we learn more about Jesus and become more and more like Him by the power of the Holy Spirit as we believe the Bible truths I’ve talked about in this blog post.
One day, we will die. If we die in Christ, we’re made fully, completely, unchangingly, and eternally new. This is called glorification. On that day, your faith will be rewarded as you see the risen and reigning Jesus face-to-face. On that day, everyone in Christ will be made completely perfect as together we rise like Jesus to be like Him forever. In Christ, you are new.