“You must not lie to each other, having stripped off the old man with his practices and having put on the new, being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it.” (Colossians 3:9-10)
Did you notice the subtle change in tense that Paul makes with his participles in these two verses? He moves from “having stripped off” and “having put on” to “being renewed.” Here we have two past participles followed by a present participle. Now, while this is not meant to be a lesson in English grammar, or more properly, Greek grammar, this transition is incredibly important for theological purposes. Here is one place in scripture where we have the framework for the difference between God’s act of justification and God’s work of sanctification.
When God begins to work faith in our heart, first he regenerates us, breathing new life into a sin-dead soul, then he gives us faith, drawing us to himself. In our coming to Christ in faith, God declares that we are justified in his presence. This, of course, is legal language reflecting not only that we stand in God’s presence fully pardoned of our sin debit, but we also stand before God’s presence in the righteousness of the one who redeemed us, namely Christ. This is a declarative act of God. We did nothing to earn it—that was Christ’s work—and it is not an ongoing process. God declares it to be so and no one in heaven above or earth below can undo what God has declared to be so.
Beloved, there are many in our culture who would say that you can lose your salvation by backsliding into sin. They have a theology that envisions you getting on or off the bus of salvation at your own discretion. Oh, how we should reject those ideas! Do you think that God is going to allow you to undo what it cost him so dearly to do in the first place? Do you think so highly of yourself that you consider your own will to be superior to God’s? Do you believe that while no power on heaven or in earth can remove you from God’s hand, you can yet do it on your own (John 10:28)? How arrogant is this theology that would hold such things? What God begins in you, he will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6)—beloved, that is a promise that you cannot undo.
But, do you see what Paul is expressing in these two verses as he transitions from the past to the present. In God’s act of regeneration, you have put off the old man, and in His justifying act, you have been declared righteous before God. Both of those take place once in the life of the believer. Yet, the renewing is a present participle, this is ongoing, it is a continuing work of God that will continue in your life until you pass from this world into the next. This is the work of sanctification in the life of the believer. This is the difference between justification and sanctification. Justification is a once-only act of God declaring us fit for his presence because of the work of Christ and sanctification is the ongoing work of God making us fit for an eternity in God’s presence as the bride of Christ. What a wonderful theological statement is buried within these verses!
But there is one more note that must be made of a very practical nature. And that is the command that Paul gives: do not lie to one another. Oh, how often we fall into this trap. It so often seems easier to lie than to be honest, but if we are to reflect Christ in our lives, how is it that we can allow lies to pass from our lips? Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and if we allow ourselves to be known as liars, then we allow Christ to be identified with Satan by our actions. Loved ones, flee from lies—even those “little white lies,” for they do not belong to you and they certainly do not belong to the one you serve. Beloved, let your “yes be yes and your no be no” says our Lord (Matthew 5:37) when dealing with oaths—let it be that you are known for telling the truth in every area of your lives so that you might reflect the truth of Christ in every way.
Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do,
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee;
For Thou, in thy atonement, Didst give Thyself for me;
I own no other Master, My heart shall be Thy throne,
My life I give, henceforth to live.
O Christ, for Thee alone.