Paul reminds the Colossians that true believers have put off the old man and put on the new man (vv. 9-10). What does he mean by old man and new man? One answer often given is that by the old man he means sinful tendencies and by new man he means godly tendencies. The problem with this suggestion is that Paul does not indicate that putting off the old man and putting on the new man are gradual activities. Instead he says that they are decisive.
What is wrong with this answer is that it is based on Christian experience rather than on doctrine. Every Christian is aware of continual changes is his spiritual life, of inner conflict with indwelling sin, of desires after holiness. They then assume that here indwelling sin is the old man and desires after holiness are the new man. The consequence is that they fail to realise the radical transformation that occurs at regeneration.
The contrast between the old man and the new man is that between what is earthly and heavenly. Paul describes the earthly in verse 11: ‘Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, ’ and he does so in words that describe groups of people. He mentions ethnic, religious and status distinctions that mark the way people live, and which are very important in their self-perceptions as well as being the cause of troubles in life.
Yet Paul does not regard them as significant for Christian living. I suppose he is saying that earthly privileges and earthly restrictions are of no consequence in living the Christian life. It was not any easier for a circumcised Jew to live the Christian life than it was for an uncircumcised Scythian; nor was it any easier for a free Gentile to advance in holiness than it was for an enslaved Gentile. Instead the Colossians had to realise that a more radical change had happened when they became Christians. At their conversions, each of them became new creatures in a new community, and this new community is the new man.
The old man is life lived in union with Adam and the consequences of his actions when he rebelled against God. If Adam had not rebelled, then the various groupings mentioned in verse 11 would not exist and the sinful lifestyles of each group would not have happened. When a sinner trusts in Jesus, he ceases to be united to Adam, he has new power in his life through being now united to Christ, he becomes a member of a new humanity, and therefore he should live a heavenly life on earth.
What does life look like for those who belong to new man? Paul goes on to tell his readers in verses 10 and 11 and we will think about his description tomorrow.