I remember going to the grocery store with my daughter, Aubrey, when she was 10 or 11 years old. I wore an old Cincinnati Reds t-shirt and a pair of red cotton shorts, white socks, and white tennis shoes. As we got out of the car and started walking side by side, I made my mistake: I asked her advice.
Tugging on the tail of my t-shirt, I asked, “What do you say, Aubrey, should I tuck in my shirttail or leave it out?”
She cocked her head to one side, looked me up and down, and answered, “I say you never wear those clothes again.”
Mind you, this was after my wife, the lovely Robin, had been diligently working on my personal appearance and style choices for about 20 years. And I still had to be told what not to wear.
At least I’m not alone. There are enough people in the world like me to provide constant subject material for reality television shows that tell people what to wear, what not to wear, and how to wake up someday to “a whole new you.”
Wouldn’t that be great? To have a brand new start, out with the old, in with the new? Especially if you’re tired of old habits and nagging behaviors. The Bible not only says it’s possible; it tells us specifically what to wear and what not to wear, better than any reality T.V. show could teach us, in a letter written by Paul, the great first-century church planter, to followers of Jesus in the city of Colosse. And just as reality show hosts often give their makeover subjects a few keys to remember (such as, “plaid is bad”), so Paul urges each of us toward “a whole new you” in just three small words.
Word #1: With
Paul writes, “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” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Notice: you have been raised with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God, and you will someday appear with him in glory. Your reality is not the material world you see all around you, this place C. S. Lewis famously called “The Shadowlands.” This present reality, if you have placed your faith and your life in Jesus Christ, is a dim reflection of your real life. Compared to that vivid reality, “Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life” (Colossians 3:3, The Message). Your reality is not this here-and-now matrix of sin and sickness, hatred and heartache; it is a new reality of health and wholeness, love and laughter that can take all of this life and all of the next to fully appreciate and enjoy.
That is how Paul could go on to encourage the readers of his letter to embrace “a whole new you.”
Word #2: Off
Some of us are out of touch with reality. Though we have experienced new life in Christ, we’re thoroughly unconscious of our real life, and we’re not living like people whose lives are with Christ in God. That’s why Paul went on to say to the church in Colossae,
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:5-9, NIV).
On one popular “makeover” show, makeover candidates were required to bring in all of their clothes and go through their wardrobe, piece by piece, throwing out nearly everything. It was comical to see how some people were so attached to ratty jeans, hideous hats, stained shirts, and ugly shoes—especially when they’d just been given a credit card to buy all new clothes, nice clothes, better clothes!
If your real life is with Christ in God, you don’t need your old garments: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies. Tragically, however, many hold on to them. But if following Christ is not changing you, then you are not following Christ. If your real life is with Christ in God, you’re more likely to be spending time in prayer, saying, “Throw it out, I’m sick of it, I hate it, I want to be rid of it.”
In the life you once lived, you did those things because this world, this job, this stuff was all you had, so it was important to you. But now your real life is with Christ in God, so—lying to get a better job? That would be like holding on to that old Grateful Dead sweatshirt that was never in style. Flirting with someone or sleeping with someone or cheating on someone to make yourself feel good? That would be like dressing in old, filthy rags. Paul says, “Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you” (Colossians 3:5, NLT). Toss them, trash them, burn them, “since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9, NIV).
Only then can you be ready for “a whole new you.”
Word #3: On
If indeed you have been raised with Christ, and your life is hidden with Christ in God, you have a new wardrobe, fit for a whole new you. The soul who has truly come under the influence of Jesus will display a transformed life—a new self, a new reality, a new image:
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. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:9b-17).
That would be great, right? But how?
It doesn’t happen by gritting your teeth, trying really hard, and by sheer force of will, becoming compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. If you had it in you to do that, you wouldn’t have needed Jesus and his loving sacrifice for your sins in the first place.
The wardrobe Paul prescribes doesn’t come about by grit, determination, or good intentions. Notice the metaphor he uses: “clothe yourselves” (v. 12).
How often do you clothe yourself? Every day? Often first thing in the morning? Before you leave the house, before you go to class, before you conduct business?
So it is with “the new you.” Notice how Paul talks about the word of Christ, about teaching each other, about accepting admonishment, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and giving thanks. If you begin every day in the Word of God, if you learn from him before learning from anyone, if you sing to him morning after morning, if you pray and give thanks at the start of every single day and not only privately, but corporately, as well, meeting with other followers of Jesus, teaching and admonishing one another, worshiping and serving together, then your behavior, character, relationships—your very countenance and posture, your life here on earth—will begin to reflect your real life, which is hidden with Christ in God.
That’s real life. That’s your life. A whole new you.
Bob Hostetler is an award-winning author of 50 books, including The Red Letter Life and The Red Letter Prayer Life. He lives in Ohio.