Have I been transformed? Have you been transformed? In both 2 Corinthians 5:17 ("so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!") and Galatians 6:15 ("for neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!"), Paul indicates that a transformation has taken place, past tense, for those who were baptized into Christ. The same sense emerges from 1 Corinthians 6:11: "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."
When I read Ephesians 4:17, 20-24, however, I have a different sense, the sense that whatever has taken place, much remains to be done, especially due to these verses:"You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24; NRSV).
To be taught something does not mean it has been accomplished, as any student or teacher knows. The passage in Ephesians indicates that clothing yourself with "the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" is a task which awaits fulfillment, something we ought to do, which has not yet been fully completed.
Where does that put us? Have we both been transformed - we are a new creation - and yet still await transformation - we need to put on the new self? I think this is the meaning that can be found throughout Paul’s letters, as he encourages all Christians to grasp the reality of their transformation in Christ and still strive to grow from infancy to maturity in Christ. Every child, for instance, is a new creation, complete and whole, but growth and development still await. I think it is the same in the spiritual life.
This can be a frustrating reality, in life in general, as anyone who can recall living out their teen years in particular remembers, but it can be so even more in the spiritual life. The claim that one is a new creation imposes certain demands on the Christian, but every step away from God and to foolish sin can lead to a kind of despair that one is no closer to the new self, or living in righteousness and holiness. Every stumble can either encourage us to pick ourselves up and keep on walking down the trail, or, sometimes, lead us to a decision to simply get off the path and try to go back. But the spiritual life, like life in general, imposes the reality of growth and development. As frightening as it is, we are either going to move forward in maturity or step back and cling to infancy, to comforting truths or half-truths, which ultimately leads to a failure to thrive. There is this tension in the Christian life between what is and what ought to be. I find it frightening sometimes to realize how often I have turned from my new self to claim the cold comfort of an unreconstructed old self, "corrupt and deluded by its lusts." I can convince myself that nothing will ever change, until I look around and see how much God has done for me and how far God has brought me. I do see indications of maturity. I am far from infancy. The new self is what God wants for us, for all of us, and he encourages us to keep pushing forward, no matter how many bruised elbows and skinned knees we carry along with us. Have we been transformed? Yes and...we will be.