You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:9–10
When Jesus invited people to follow him, he didn’t always lead with, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden . . .” Sometimes the good news came wrapped in harder, more troubling words. Take the man in Luke 9 who says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Seems like a reasonable enough request, right? “Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:62).
A verse earlier, he said essentially the same to a man who wanted to first go and bury his father — and a verse before that, to a man who assumed following Jesus would mean earthly comfort and security. Earlier in the same chapter, he waved a banner over all of them, over all of us:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23–24)
How many of us desperately want the life that Jesus offers, but without the death he prescribes?
By ascending the cross of shame and wrath we deserved, Jesus spared us that cross, but he didn’t spare us every cross. If we believe in and follow him, we will never have to bear the awful weight of our sin, but we will have to die, every day, to ourselves. To truly move forward with Jesus, we all have to leave something of ourselves behind.
The apostle Paul describes this same process: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). As long as we live on earth, earth still lives in us. Sin follows us, waiting for a chance to pounce — except it pounces from within. It’s still part of us. A part of us we continually put to death: “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
Because sin is deceitful, though, we’re not always able to discern which parts of us need to die. And so we pray:
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)
O God, is there anything in me displeasing to you? Is there any evil hiding in me? Is there anything in me that needs to die? Then give me the grace to lay it down.
Following Jesus is not merely about killing sin, though; it’s about pursuing him, studying him, living more like him. Yes, we put to death what is earthly in us, but we also put on more and more of Christ. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). For everything that must die in us, something stronger and more beautiful grows in its place.
This process does not mean becoming someone other than you; it means becoming the you that you were made to be, a new and fuller self. “Do not lie to one another,” Paul says a few verses earlier, “seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10). The you that you are becoming is still you; it’s just a you that looks more and more like Jesus. His kindness, humility, and patience are slowly invading and conquering the shadows inside of you.
And by becoming more like him, you get to taste and see more of him. He’s what makes all the change worth what change inevitably requires. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). When we see him, our sins die in the light of his glory — and our love grows under that same light.
Nothing will make us more like Jesus than consistently seeing and hearing from him. So open his word every day, and then open yourself to him.