Do not lie to each other, since 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 … therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
— Colossians 3:9-12
A large chunk of my childhood was spent at Sakeji, a school for missionaries’ children in the North-West Province of Zambia, formerly Northern Rhodesia. Life and customs were rather different in those days, and one of the features of the boarding school regime was that on Sunday we were made to dress in our Sunday best: grey shorts and Persil-white shirts, freshly washed and ironed in the school laundry. Inevitably, however, the pristinely laundered image did not stand much of a chance for, once Sunday School was over, we were allowed out to play in the African dust for an hour. Then, after that, came Sunday lunch with the double treat of the week: ice cream with chocolate sauce, followed by two slabs of chocolate fudge to take away. With that kind of exposure, those clean white shirts — like the overalls of Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons — were doomed. By the end of the day they simply had to come off, and head back to the laundry again for the next round of cleaning.
And so it is with our lives: the “old self”, as the Apostle Paul calls it, is dirty and gets increasingly dirty; it needs to be taken off and we need new clothing in its place. We hardly need to be reminded of the list of the old clothes — the “earthly nature”, as Paul describes it: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed (which, he says, is a form of idolatry), anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying. Better to rehearse the list of the “new clothes” that we need to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forbearance, forgiveness and love.
This re-clothing process has two aspects. First, when we became Christians, God covered over our old sinful nature with new clothing — the “garment of salvation”, as it is sometimes called in the Bible — just like the best clean robe that the loving father ordered for his prodigal son, when he came home from the pigsty, and just like the clean clothes that the Lord put on the High Priest Joshua (Zechariah 3) when Satan came up to accuse him about his past life.
Even so, however clean we were when God saved us, sadly, we live in a sinful world and it is difficult to stop the dirt from rubbing off on us. That is why Paul says we need regularly to take off those old clothes that get so easily dirty, and put on clean ones — the “new self”, as he calls it. This is an ongoing, daily process and something that we need to work at, but it is worth it because, as we do it, we gradually take on the “image of the Creator” and we become more like Christ.
— Walter Raymond, Christchurch