We have this affection for ourselves, for our old life. We do not really want it to die. We want to help it, to change it, to rehabilitate it, and we want God to share our sympathy with self. This is as when Abram prayed that God would bless Ishmael, the fruit of his flesh (Gen. 17:18). Or, like Samuel, we continue to pity and to pray for Saul in us when God is altogether done with him: “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king?” (1 Sam 16:1). When the people of Israel were past reform, God told Jeremiah, “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you” (Jer. 7:16). God’s plan is not to rehabilitate the old self. He crucified it and is finished with it. He wants us to leave it, to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is seated, where our life is now hidden (Col. 3:1-4). Rather than wrestle with the old, we can just walk away from it. God wishes this to be simple for us, but our affection for self makes it a struggle. We mourn and pray for ourselves. We cry and beg God to covenant with our flesh. And yet if we saw how many of our tears flow from self-love we would cry less and believe more. God does not answer prayers for the old self. Christ is our new self, and He is ours without struggle, without tears. God would not have us try to change the old self (which is like a leopard changing its own spots) (Jer. 13:23). He would merely have us change clothes: “[Y]ou have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self,” which is Christ (Col. 3:9, 10).
—Excerpted from my booklet, “Reflections on Colossians 3“