to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lent, day 31: New Humanity

…having stripped off the old human with its practices and having put on the new human which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it, a renewal where there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all and in all. Col 3:9-10 (my translation)

The perplexing parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22 ends with an encounter between the host and one of his guests. The king notices that the guest does not have a wedding garment on and so inquires, “Friend, how did you get in here without a robe?” The guest was speechless, and the host has the man bound and cast out into the darkness, where men weep and gnash their teeth. My understanding is that the wedding garments were provided by the host; it is his party and his expectation is that those who come, come to participate fully.

It is never enough to be set free from something; we must be free toward something as well. God does not rescue us from the darkness just because; he rescues us to bring us into the light (Col 1:12-13). Hence, he expects us to enter into that light, to be what he has made us, or in the words of Colossians, ‘to put on the new human, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

The language of clothing is the first thing that strikes me. ‘Strip off’ (apekduomai) reflects such removal of clothing and, interestingly, is also found at Col 2:15 in the ‘disarming’ of the powers and authorities. As they are stripped of their potency, so is our old humanity (as manifested in the vices we talked about yesterday). But in its place we are given new attire which we are to put on (enduō). This language shapes (or perhaps is even shaped by) ancient baptismal tradition where people were baptized naked and then clothed with clean, white clothing, reflecting their new life.

The second thing to strike me is that we exchange the “old human” (a literal translation of palaios anthrōpos) for the “new.”  We remove the wrecked, deficient, sinful humanity and replace it with a pristine version. This reminds me of the point made earlier, how God fights flesh with flesh. God is not out to end humanity; our humanity is his gracious gift, and he will have our humanity fulfill its purpose, even if he must do it himself.

This takes us to the language of renewal. I love the ambiguity; we discard our human nature and yet it is renewed. As with Jesus’ death and resurrection, our humanity must die in order to live. Out of the ashes of the old, the new rises. This renewal is not our work; we don’t renew our humanity, God does. And he renews it in knowledge (literally, ‘toward knowledge’). The goal or purpose of our renewal is knowledge - knowledge of God, of Christ, of the heavenly things. The new human is renewed toward goal of knowing, of discovering, all God intends for us. As Sumney says, “God continually grants heavenly knowledge and spiritual renewal to believers; they do not have to attain exalted spiritual experience to attain it.”

The pattern being used to renew our humanity is the same that God used to form our old humanity. As the Greek version of Genesis 1:27 puts it, “God created anthrōpos according to his image.” Since the image of God is his Son (Col 1:15), it is right to affirm that Jesus defines humanity. Do you want to know what it means to be truly human? Look at Jesus, the one who, lovingly trusting and obeying his father, gives his life for all. Jesus is the image of God and the image we are patterned after; he reveals God to us and reveals what God intends for us. We are created through him and to him. We are reconciled through him and to him.

Our new self is not just the perfect human, it is the universal human. Since Jesus is the standard and the goal of humanity, we can no longer use artificial criteria to judge ourselves or our fellow humans; we cannot, we dare not label people by race, social status, economic status, etc. The only the way to look at each other is to do so through in the light of the image of God, the source and goal of our humanity. In this way, Christ is all and in all, and so reconciles all to himself.

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