Have you ever stopped to consider how many times a day you say or hear the word 'new' ??
A common greeting - 'What's new'?
A new experience, a new outfit, a new kitchen, new dishes, new hairdo, new technology, new recipe, new toy, new appliance, new décor, new friend, new book, new baby.... the list is endless.
In every instance 'new' is an adjective that conveys to us a sense of value concerning the 'thing' referred to ! It is not something old or worn out. It is something fresh, something desired, something we did not have before.
The word 'new' is also used in scripture, perhaps not as many times as we would guess. It is mentioned 49 times, with 7 of the references in the New Testament.
A very often quoted and one of my favorites is "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new." (II Cor. 5:17)
There is another reference to 'new' in Colossians 3:10 where Paul refers to believers as having put on the 'new man'. Because of something I learned this week about the Roman class system these words 'new man' have taken on a deeper significance of meaning for me.
I always simply understood Paul's reference to 'new man' fitting in with the above quoted verse in II Corinthians but I am wondering if Paul did not have a vivid analogy in mind drawn from the customs of his world.
Paul, living in a world dominated by Roman rule, would have understood their political structure. The Romans had two elite classes of citizens. One of these classes was the Senatorial class from which were elected the members of the Senate and the consul. The consul was a man elected to the highest political office in the Roman Republic.
This Senatorial class was dominated by the nobles. The nobles were distinguished by the fact that they had an ancestor who had served as consul.
The elitism of this class was closely guarded and men were appointed/elected to the Senate or as Consul because they carried birth-rite membership in this class of Roman citizens.
However, on a rare occasion, a man would so distinguish himself on his own merit that he would be elected as a consul even though his family did not belong to the noble class.
When this happened, Romans would call him a 'new man' because he was the first in his family to be elected to this public office. He then consequently qualified his family for noble status.
Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was such a man, who lived in Paul's lifetime.
How does this interesting Roman political tradition magnify the meaning hidden in the reference to 'new man' in our passage in Colossians 3?
I see several points of parallelism.
1> A 'new man' is not someone who is 'grandfathered' into a position of honour.
For the Romans it was not someone who could lean on ancestry.
We also cannot depend on our family connections or heritage in seeking relationship with God. We cannot take for granted that because our parents, grandparents or uncles were godly believers, we automatically belong to the 'noble' class and are part of God's family in the Kingdom of God.
2> A Roman 'new man' came on his own merit, as must we to become one of the elect.
What is our own merit ? Unlike the Roman man who distinguished himself by his mighty works or exemplary achievements, we must come on the merit of our own repentant hearts recognizing our personal need of a Saviour.
"..the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15)
3> The Roman 'new man' was elected by man. The 'new man' believer is 'elected' by God. Paul admonishes the believer in Col. 3:12 that as an elected 'new man' the believer must live up to the standard now required of him.
"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
While a Roman elected 'new man' could lose favour with the people, the believer 'new man' need not fear the opinion of man, only the opinion of God matters. "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies". (Rom. 8:33)
4> A 'new man' leaves his old 'class' behind and steps into an entirely new identity.
Looking at verses 5- 9 in our Col. 3 passage , we see that the 'old man' belonged to the class of sinners (fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, idolatry , anger, wrath, malice , blasphemy, filthy language, lying)
But the 'old man' has been put off -- the Roman citizen could not belong to two classes at once. He could not belong to both the common class and the elite noble class. He had to leave one behind and embrace the 'new' .
So the believer, becoming a 'new man' steps out of his sinner class and steps up into the heavenly noble 'elect' class!
Col 1:13 "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, (1Th 2:12) "that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory."
5> The 'new man' believer, just like the Roman 'new man' who qualified his family to belong to the noble class, has an great influence on others.
" whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (I Cor. 10:13) becomes his motto. He lives in such a way that his life will honour his new class and make others want to become one of the 'elect' as well.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:16)
6> There is one difference in the Roman 'new man' and the believer. The Roman 'new man' had to prove that he was independently wealthy - he had to be able to prove that his personal worth was at least one million sesterces (about 2 or 3 million dollars in today's currency) There was no monetary salary offered with his elected position so he had to have his own resources.
The believer, on the other hand, is offered the riches of the kingdom for his support !
"And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
The invitation to become a 'new man' in the Kingdom of God is open to all ... not those born into the 'right' family, not those who earned it by their works , but ANYONE may come and receive the status of the elect 'new man'.
In the words of Jesus, hear His invitation .."And the Spirit and the bride say 'Come!' And let his who hears say 'Come!' And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires , let him take the water of life freely." (Rev.22:17)