It’s graduation time! Students all over the world put on the graduation robes they worked so hard to earn. This accomplishment may have required a lot of external, physical work—sprinting to class, carrying heavy books, straining your eyes to read one more page. But the external robes mainly indicate an internal change.
Your mind is stronger than it was before. You carry more knowledge and more critical thinking skills than you had when you started. It is this internal change that qualifies you to put on the external robes. The Hogwartsian robes do not make you smarter—the change comes first and the robes second.
The Christian life, praise God!, is the opposite. Salvation comes from Jesus’s accomplishment—not ours. And, the Bible says we can put on the robes he earned. In doing so, we are transformed into his likeness. Here are three words that the Bible uses to describe how we can receive the transformation Christ’s work offers us.
For the death [Jesus] died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. (Romans 6:10-12)
The first thing we do as Christians is a mental, spiritual act. Puritan writer and preacher William Perkins often discussed the importance of persuading oneself of the saving promise of Jesus Christ, and Paul is saying the same thing here. We must consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
You might say, “But there is still sin in my life! I want to forsake it, but I cannot seem to get rid of it.” Romans 6:10-12 is for you, friend: Accept Christ, and consider yourself free from sin.
We are called to consider ourselves dead to sin because it is true if we are in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died, “once for all,” and if we do not consider sin dead, then it will “reign in [our] mortal bod[ies].”
2.) Put On
“…put them all away: anger, wrath, malice… seeing that you have put off the old self… and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator… put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (Colossians 3:8-10, 12)
Christ’s perfect sacrifice brought forth a special kind of robe—a new self. If we are in Christ we can put this robe on. We “clothe” (NIV) ourselves with this new self. And the amazing thing about this robe, unlike a graduation robe, is that the robe changes us!
Paul says here that the new self is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” In other words, put on this robe that Christ’s work accomplished, and it will put you on the track of holiness. If we put on this new self, we are set in motion aimed at the image of our creator.
What I’m trying to show is this: Our being renewed happens as we dress up like the image of our creator as we see it in Scripture. All of this happens solely because of God’s grace.
Putting on the new self may direct attention toward you. Others around you might say, “Why are you acting like that? That’s not you.” But you can say, “It is not who I was, but in Christ it is who I am becoming.”
In a world that says “Be yourself! Find yourself!” the New Testament calls for a different, more edifying way to live. We are called to a life of imitation as part of our sanctification.
The New Testament has much to say on the importance of imitation. Paul encourages Christians to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:16) because he was imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul highlights his readers’ imitation of the Lord and the Apostles (1 Thessalonians 1:6) as well as their imitation of other godly churches (1 Thessalonians 2:14). The author of Hebrews, too, encourages Christians to not be sluggish, but to imitate “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).
And, of course, we are to be imitators of God. Jesus himself alludes to imitation in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (see also 1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44).
Different from what the world’s appeal to individualism, Jesus says how you live your life is not only up to who you think you are but who the Bible says God is.
The Creator God’s attributes are imperatives to his creation.
We are not God, but we are commanded to live like God: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). The word imitate is so important here, because the action it describes is an act of repetition, of doubling, by a person who knows perfectly well that they are not the original.
When we imitate God, we do not suppose we are God. How could we? In imitating God we learn of our own sin. And besides, Jesus, who was God, in his unmatched humility, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6).
Jesus knew that it was right for God the Son to submit to the will of the Father. And we know we are the creation, not the Creator.
Don’t be Conformed, But be Transformed
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Romans 12:1-2)
As we all think about the nature of graduation, let us marvel at Christ’s accomplishment than is applied to us. We did not do the work—Christ did. But let’s receive the blessing by considering ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ, putting on the new self, and imitating our Lord.
Due to his grace, we are being made more like Christ every day. This was not our choice, God put us on this track. What we can choose now is this: to act like the world and conform to it, or to imitate Christ, putting on the robes we could never earn which will transform us into a holy people.