One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. One of the movies many interesting characters is Miracle Max. Inigo Montoya and Fezzik take Wesley (the hero of the story), who from all appearances is dead, to Miracle Max to … well, see if he can work a miracle. Max, to the amazement of Inigo and Fezzik states, “It just so happens that your friend [Wesley] here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”
In Colossians 3 the apostle Paul writes about how those who are in Christ have been made alive by him. He goes on to provide a laundry list of vices that his readers should no longer be engaged in, since they have “taken off” their “old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (3:9–10). This “new self” that Paul is speaking of is the new status of anyone who has yielded oneself to Christ. If someone is a Christian, then they are a different person from whom they used to be. They are no longer a slave to sin, but freed from it. They are now a servant of God and able to live for him by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
But if this is the case, then why do Christians still sin? Some people, though few in number, bristle at the idea of a Christian being able to sin. If someone is a new creature in Christ and the old self is dead, they reason, then, one no longer needs to willingly sin. Some are even so bold to claim they have not sinned for several years. The problem with this way of thinking is that it doesn’t line up with our experience. Nor does it find any grounding in Scripture. The same passage in Colossians 3 goes on to describe the person who has put on the new self (something that happened in the past) as “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3:10). The phrase “being renewed” is actually a present participle in the original language, which indicates that the renewal of the image isn’t a one time thing, but is something that continually takes place. It is a process rather than a solitary event.
What Christians are then are people whom although new are also being made new. We are, to borrow from The Princess Bride, “mostly new” as far as our everyday experience goes and hopefully, by God’s grace, becoming more and more new with every passing day. Another way to put things, is the way Anthony Hoekema has, “the new self … is genuinely new, though not yet totally new” (Created in God’s Image, 81). This is why followers of Jesus, although different from who they used to be, are still not totally who they one day will be. While we may sin in our present bodies, the time is coming when we will no longer be affected by sin and temptation. A day is coming when we will be made totally new, a complete restoration job of our entire selves will take place at Christ’s glorious return. May we not only look forward to that day, but in the mean time strive with the Spirit’s help to daily be renewed in the image of God.