The new you part 1: Put on love
Topic covered: How do we now live as Christians?
Glossary: sin; fruit of the Spirit; forgiveness; love. Now-but-not-yet.
Which do you think is better: to be told what not to do or what to do?
In the first half of his letter, Paul has proclaimed Christ to be above everything else. Christ is the source of life and Christ is the only way to or eternal hope. In Chapter 2, he hopes that his readers have ‘died with Christ’ so that every other reality is subordinate to knowing and following him. He has said that we are to continue living our lives in him, established and built up in the faith.
In the next section of his letter, we will hear examples of what this all looks like. Paul will give us some solid applications of what he has laid down in Chapters 1 to 3. What follows is not new thoughts on unrelated issues, but what flows out of our true knowledge of the gospel.
Read Colossians 3:1-17
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
What did you see?
- Set your hearts on eternal hope (1-4)
- Walk away from your old self (5-9)
- Put on love (10-14)
- Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly (15-17)
Set your hearts on eternal hope (1-4)
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” Paul begins his second half of the letter with this brief reminder of what he has been saying so far. Remember that the letter is one flowing argument based on the truth that Christ is the source of life and the giver of eternal hope.
“…you have been raised with Christ…” This is another little gem statement about the gospel. If the free gift of salvation was not complete, then Paul couldn’t say that we HAVE been raised with Christ. He’s not talking about a future resurrection but about a reality right now for those who have already DIED with Christ. Our identity is now paired with him. Our status in life for all eternity is as alive and qualified because we are with Christ.
“…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” In 2:20, Paul said to stop allowing everyday things to have eternal meaning. He now says it in the positive: set your hearts on what is eternal. The King is on His throne and our destination is with Him. What matters most is to make what matters most matter. Christ, the eternal King, is all that matters. So, lift your eyes sinner. Set your horizon higher dreamer. Give your goals an eternal perspective. Our hearts are our loves and passions. What is it that you desire and long for? Take your eyes off what is fleeting and place it on the eternal and true. Fall in love with the hope that is in you. Believing that Jesus Christ is really seated in heaven at God’s right hand will change your life!
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Not just what we love but our thoughts. The bible speaks to both parts of the person which work together. What we know, we will train our hearts to love. And what we love, that is what we will pursue. Earthly things, refers to everything that is passing away. Our generation (as all that has preceded us) is so fickle and rejoices in short-lived shiny things. But this is the essence of the fight within all of us to sin no more. Sin is about grabbing hold of things that are not worth loving but we do anyway.
“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” This is not a new thought but embraces 2:20-3:2. Picture this like boarding a lifeboat. We have boarded the boat, which is Christ, because we see that we need saving and this is our only real option. But boarding the boat means leaving the water or the sinking vessel. Your only future is to stay in that boat and not play around with the danger that you have left behind.
“When Christ, who is your life, appears…” So, this is an important point of view of the Christian. Although we have not seen Christ, we love him and although we don’t see him now, we believe in him and are filled with the joy of knowing him now and anticipating seeing him face to face (1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 3:1-2). A day will come, maybe in our lifetime, maybe not, when Jesus will come again in the flesh and wrap up this earth which is temporal. We live for this future and it affects the way we deal with everything in this world. We are in Christ now, but we will see him for real in the future. This is called the now-but-not-yet reality of now. We are hidden with Christ but we are not yet with him in sight.
“…then you also will appear with him in glory.” It’s easy to talk about God as the glorious one and that Jesus is the one to be glorified and praised but we are also told that there is a future version of us that even we don’t know the reality of. One day, the person who God is working in you to be will be revealed in glory. We will see ourselves for what God, by grace, has made us. On the last day, we will be united with Christ and both he and we will be seen for who we really are. This is what we live for now. So, don’t have a short view of the future. Think about eternity!
Walk away from your old self (5-9)
“Put to death…” Sit on this phrase and soak it in. What follows are things that we need to do away with and not put on a shelf to come back to but to end our relationship with them. Christ is our life, and we are to begin our discipleship by murdering. The examples that follow in verse 5 are about sex.
“…therefore…” This word tells us that what follows comes out of the work that Christ has and is doing in us. Christ is our life…therefore. We are hidden in Christ…therefore. You will appear with Christ in glory…therefore. This is the power of the gospel. We will put to death only because of what Christ has done. Without his work, we are incapable of putting these to death.
“…whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” This phrase in with Verse 2 when he told us not to set our minds on earthly things. But he then goes on to list what they are.
“…sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” We could say that these 5 items here relate to passions of the flesh. Most fall in the category of sex. Greed is related in that it is about taking what we feel is needed even though it is not. John Woodhouse, former Principal of Moore Theological College, argues that all of the items are under the umbrella of the first item: sexual immorality. It is easy to see that the items are to do with passions of the flesh. We see, we want, we take.
Sex contained inside marriage is a very Christian idea. At the time of the New Testament writers, this was not common sense nor the norm. We live in an age again when this is no longer normal. Saving sex for marriage and containing it in marriage seems a very odd thing to do in these days. If one believes that there is no God or that God does not wish to judge us, then we are merely creatures doing what creatures do. But Colossians 3:5-7 teaches us that there are immoral approaches to sex.
“…which is idolatry.” Feeding the passions of the flesh is akin to self-worship. It places sex above God. Just in case someone reads this and thinks I am suggesting God hates sex, clearly the passage is about sexual immorality and impurity, and not everything about sex.
“Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” When we read the bible, we understand that sin is about feeding the flesh in self worship. God’s anger is against his creatures who saw, liked, took and ate – despite the clear instruction against it. The wrath of God is judgment day.
“You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” Remember that Christians are not good people, they are sinners saved by grace. We used to walk in these ways. We can never look on a Christian and presume that they know nothing of the ‘wild life’ or rebellion and so on. They just don’t tend to brag about them!
“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these…” First we were to put to death sexual immorality. Now there is something we are to put away. Like you put the gun back in the holster. What follows is a list of things that we do with our mouth.
“…anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” A lot goes on between the eyes, the brain and the mouth. It can happen extremely quickly, but self-control is an outworking of the gospel. In the book of James we are taught that if you can control your tongue, then you can control your whole body! See James 3:3-12!
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.” Here is a great summary of 3:5-8. The old self used to look out for number one. Child development experts note that lying is a normal stage of mental maturity, indicating intelligence. Could it not also be a kind of evidence that sin is in all of us?
The power of the gospel is transformed lives, desires and a trained tongue. We transform our thinking by growing in our knowledge of the gospel and of the true meaning of God’s grace. We reflect on the eternal hope stored up for us in heaven and that alters our wants and desires in the immediate.
Put on love (10-14)
“…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” We don’t simply kill and put away the old self but we replace it with knew thinking. We learn more and more about our great and perfect Creator. God is referred to as Creator here to remind us that he has made us for a purpose and a reason. We are not made for lies and malice and anger and sexual immorality. We are being transformed to the likeness of God. Sin has turned his creation into a wild mess but grace will win in the end.
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew…Christ is all, and is in all.” Paul rounds out this paragraph under the theme of being images of God in that everywhere around the world, every race and human culture are one when in Christ. We lose our divisions and call one another brother and sister. In the church, there is no division according to race or anything, but we are all being transformed to the image of our one Creator in Christ Jesus.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people…” The title of God’s chosen people originates in the Old Testament when God called Abraham and his descendants to follow Him by faith. This is an element of the doctrine of election which says that we are not saved because we first came to God but that he first chose and called us.
“…holy and dearly loved…” What a way to speak of the people of God! We are not called to be enslaved to God and to serve Him for His own selfish gain – but we are holy because of the sins washed away from us and we are dearly loved, demonstrated by the sacrifice God made for us in Christ (Romans 5:8).
“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The gospel produces fruit like this (Galatians 5:22-23). There is a decisiveness to this in that we are to clothe ourselves. Christian growth does not happen entirely by the work of the Spirit but by the cooperation of us with the Holy Spirit.
Compassion: to feel concern for others.
Kindness: often demonstrated with the way we use our tongue but always when we think of how our speech or actions will affect someone else.
Humility: the opposite of boasting and pride. Even an expert in a subject can demonstrate humility toward others – making them feel important too.
Gentleness: a soft word, a quiet approach and a soft touch all stem from compassion, kindness, humility and patience.
Patience: Don’t let your time be the most important. It could be that someone else needs more time to come to an answer or to learn a new skill.
“Bear with one another and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.” This is a truly remarkable difference that the gospel can make. Bearing with one another is about letting things slide at times. It comes from patience. We give others room to make mistakes because you ain’t perfect either. I love it when others bear with me while I work things out or while I have time to repent of my anger or pride. Nobody rebuked me but knew that I had stuff to work on. So, don’t jump on one another every time someone does something wrong. This really helps with road rage! And then there’s forgiveness. After a recognition of sin or fault by someone else and a ‘sorry’, we run to forgiveness. The gospel must teach us this. Just like the gospel itself, forgiveness follows repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness of sins (Jeremiah 5:3; Ezekiel 18:32; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 11:18; 2 Corinthians 7:10).
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Enough said? Well, forgiveness cost God. Forgiveness is not easy but God believes that it is worth the cost. It can hurt to forgive somebody but this is the way of grace.
“And over all these virtues…” What Paul has listed are examples only of Christian virtues – or virtues found in the chosen people of God. We were created to be like this.
“…put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” When you practice any of these virtues you are showing love and exercising love. Ever wondering what to do in a situation? Put on love. Ever wondering what to say to a person? Put on love.
So we have reflected on where our hearts and minds are to be directed (1-4), we have decided to put away the old man (5-9) and replace him with the virtues of love (10-16). Now we look at what gospel itself does in the community of believers.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly (15-17)
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” I love the thought of allowing the peace of Christ to do its thing. Don’t resist what God is doing. Allow the gospel to be communicated and meditated on. Let the impact of the gospel dominate your heart and your passions and desires. Allow God to be the greatest treasure to you. We let that happen by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and putting away the old habits of sin.
“…since as members of one body you were called to peace.” The gospel does not bring people together to be enemies but to be friends. We lose our high views of ourselves and surrender to Christ and all of us are on equal terms – one in Christ.
“And be thankful.” Practice being thankful. Make a point of ticking off the things to be thankful for. Christians ought to be thankful creatures. Thankfulness dominates resentment and discontentment.
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly…” Again, let the gospel flow in the Christian community. Let the church be well fertilized by the word of God.
“…as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…” To teach is to instruct and remind one another of the gospel truth. To admonish is to urge and steer people back to the gospel life. Both are to be done with all wisdom. That means to know when and how to do it. We don’t just speak truth because it’s true. We do it with compassion, kindness and patience.
“…through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…” So, the teaching and admonishing are part of our singing tradition. The songs we sing ought to be filled with gospel teaching which encourages one another in the truths of God’s word. From the Spirit refers to the content of the songs being from the mind of God.
“…singing to God…” So, our songs are sung toward one another because they are for teaching and admonishing and also sung to God as our proclamation of faith.
“…with gratitude in your hearts.” Be thankful.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Paul ends this section also with a great summary of what he has been saying all along. Our tongues and our actions must be changed by the gospel. Christ is the true King seated at the right side of God and our destiny is to be glorified with him. So let’s get busy transforming our minds and actions and words for his glory now! Put on love and do everything because Jesus is your Lord. Not out of resentment but from a thankful response to the kindness, love and mercy that God the Father has poured on us through Christ.
What did we learn?
Paul ends this section, in verse 17, with a great summary of what he has been saying all along. Our tongues and our actions must be changed by the gospel. Christ is the true King seated at the right side of God and our destiny is to be glorified with him. So let’s get busy transforming our minds and actions and words for his glory now! Put on love and do everything because Jesus is your Lord. Not out of resentment but from a thankful response to the kindness, love and mercy that God the Father has poured on us through Christ.
Topic A: Putting to death and putting away. We must remember that our project is not to build up a perfect life but to embrace what God has already done for us in Christ. We are not earning a salvation for ourselves (Christ has claimed it for us) but when we turned to Christ, we became his followers. We are in the race. As runners, we need to get rid of things that don’t fit this life anymore. It is time to walk away from our past habits and embrace new ones. CS Lewis once wrote about Satan’s ploy to convince us that the only was to get rid of temptation is to give into it. This is a lie. Learn to turn up prayer when temptation comes. The temptation will pass and when it does, the deed will no longer look beautiful but pathetic.
Topic B: The fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit of God. They are not good deeds but good character and virtues. The fruit of the Spirit does not grow by focusing on the fruit but by focusing on the foundation which is Christ and His kingdom. Colossians talks about producing the fruit of the Spirit like putting on clothing. In that sense, we can help the Spirit work by practicing and thinking about such things as compassion and kindness. Again, understand that this improvement does not come by building your inner self and strength up but by letting Christ rule in your heart.
Topic C: Forgiving as the Lord forgave you. We’ve heard this before! The Lord’s prayer puts this right at the centre. Praying the Lord’s prayer can help us to meditate on who is the rightful ruler, whose kingdom are we serving and how are we to think about love and forgiveness, temptation and power. The point is to look to God for your motivation and direction. Maturity comes to those who let Christ rule. When faced with the hard choice of forgiving others, ask yourself what Jesus has been willing to do for you.