The New You
Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz, once said, "We're not what we want to be, and we aren't what we ought to be, but praise God we aren't what we used to be."
There is much truth in that statement. We're not what we want to be--we are not yet perfect and holy and residing in heaven. That much is obvious.
We aren't even what we ought to be--Paul reminds us of this when he says, "If then you have been raised up with Christ, seek those things that are above "(v.1). Paul repeats this exhortation in verse 2, contrasting what the Colossians ought to be doing with what they were presently doing, "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth "(v.2). We know that we should be focusing on what is eternal, we know we should be focusing on Christ, but for some reason our focus always seems to be worldly. We focus on paying bills, advancing in our career, making the right friends, traveling abroad, and so on.
Paul wants the Colossians to "set (their) minds on the things above " and expects them to have success because they are 'not what they used to be'. Paul says to them, "you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God "(v.3). We are no longer helplessly depraved--that part of us is dead. The new you is "hidden with Christ in God ".
We aren't what we used to be, and because we aren't what we used to be, we should experience success in becoming what we ought to be--that is, we ought to be growing in Christ-likeness .
Not only should we be experiencing success in becoming what we ought to be, but Paul promises ultimate success in becoming what we want to be. Paul says, "When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory "(v.4).
It is noteworthy that Paul frames his exhortation within the promise that we will be "revealed with (Christ) in glory ". Setting our minds on the things above is not how we obtain membership in God's kingdom--Paul says we already have that. Setting our minds on the things above does not earn us God's favour, it is, rather, the proper response to favour already bestowed to us . In contrast to those who insisted on following a certain diet and observing certain days to earn God's favour, Paul wants our devotion to flow from gratitude.
With the word "therefore ", Paul wants to sew together theology and practice. The ethics he is about to prescribe are not pulled out of mid-air: Paul's ethics are firmly anchored in the saving work of God through Christ . "Therefore "--since "you have been raised in Christ ", since your life is now "hidden with Christ ", in light of the fact that you will someday be "revealed with (Christ) in glory ", Paul wants us to "consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry "(v.5).
What may not be clear in the English translation is very clear in the Greek text--the list of things that we are to "put to death " in verse 5 all have to do with sexual sin and represent the various stages of sexual sin. "Immorality ", also translated, "Fornication " is the final stage of sexual sin and refers to any intercourse outside of the marriage covenant. It appears that Paul recognizes what Jesus pointed out--we must not simply treat the action of sin, but we must also "put to death " the attitudes and lusts that cause the sin.
The word translated "impurity " refers to any sexually immoral behaviour that contaminates one's character. "Passion " refers to unchecked, and uncontrolled sexual urges that lead to impurity and immorality. "Evil desires " is the state which logically precedes passion, while "greed " is the more general term for coveting physical pleasure.
Paul insists that we are to "put " all of these things "to death "--not just the sinful action, but also the sinful thoughts and desires that lead to the action. "For it is on account of these things ", Paul says, "that the wrath of God will come "(v.6).
After warning against the stages of sexual sin in verse 5, Paul moves on to address the various stages of anger in verse 8. With the phrase "But now ", Paul is, once again, framing his counsel in the light of our new standing with God. "But now "--since our life is "hidden with Christ ", since we now belong to Christ, we must "put aside anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from (our) mouth "(v.8).
The word translated "anger " refers to a seething hatred or a harbouring of bitterness. If this hatred is allowed to smolder it will eventually break out into "rage "--that is, harsh, damaging words. "Malice " refers to harmful words that are thought out ahead of time and "slander " refers to putting malice into practical effect. "Filthy language " can either refer to the foul association of the words or their abusive intent--in any event, these words contaminate both the speaker and hearers.
Finally, Paul sums up his warnings by saying, "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices "(v.9). The phrase used in verse 8 and 9, "put aside " is a phrase normally used to describe taking off a garment. The picture Paul gives us is that there was a time when we wore sin like a filthy garment, but now we have taken this filthy garment off and have "put on " a new garment--the garment of Christ's righteousness(v.10).
When exhorting us to "put aside " sinful habits, you can see how Paul refuses to isolate sinful habits from sinful attitudes. Sexual sin comes from a mind that fails to root out lust and evil desire. Slander comes from one who harbours bitterness and allows hatred to smolder. In the same way, Paul understands that righteous living will only come with the retraining of one's mind . With our "new self " having been "put on ", Paul says that it "is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created Him "(v.10).
Our identity and actions were once consistent with our filthy garment, but now our identity and actions should be consistent with our new garment--the righteousness of Christ .
It is not simply sinful habits and attitudes that are to be done away with in our "new self ", but also the barriers that divide human beings are to be done away with as well. In verse 11, Paul points to the elimination of racial barriers , he points to the elimination of social barriers , and by removing the distinction between the "circumcised " and the "uncircumcised ", it appears Paul is attempting to remove denomination barriers as well. What matters to Paul is that "Christ is all, and in all "(v.11).
Up until now, Paul has focused his efforts on "putting off " the old self, but now, Paul shifts his efforts to encouraging us to "put on " the characteristics of Christ. Paul, refers to us as "chosen " and loved by God, and admonishes us to "put on a heart of compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience "(v.12). Here again, Paul uses the clothing imagery--we are to "put on " these attributes like a piece of clothing, and as a piece of clothing, these attributes should be plain for everyone to see.
Notice how these 5 positive attributes contrast the 5 attributes relating to anger. When someone does you wrong, how do you react? If you are easily agitated by other people, are you not acting like the "old self" Paul has insisted that you "put aside "? Christians should be people who are marked by patience, "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other "(v.13).
Someone may ask, But what if someone treats me very badly and speaks harshly against me? Paul would say forgive them. Why?! Why should we forgive such undeserving individuals?! Paul's reasoning is this, "just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (forgive others) "(v.13).
As they nailed Jesus to the cross, He prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing "(Lk. 23:34). The reality is that no human being deserves God's forgiveness, yet, that is what we have received. Paul's logic is that, if we have received God's forgiveness as undeserving sinners, should we not also forgive others who are undeserving?
"And beyond all these things ", Paul says that we are to "put on love " which he describes as "the perfect bond of unity "(v.14). With the word "bond ", Paul is likely attempting to have us picture wearing a garment of righteousness that is held together by another garment, or belt. In the same way, "love " is what binds the church together. Individually and collectively we must be marked by righteousness, but we are bonded together by love.
When Paul instructs us to "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts ", I don't want you to simply picture an inner peace. Paul understands the ruling of "the peace of Christ in (our) hearts " to be for the benefit of the church, for he finishes the sentence with the clause "indeed you were called to one body "(v.15).
Our old self was characterized by self-centred anger and lust. Our new self is to be characterized by a Christ-like humility and love for others. While Paul would surely want us to be compassionate and loving to all people, I think it is noteworthy that his emphasis here is on being forgiving and loving towards other Christians.
How will non-Christians see the love of Christ if we insist on wearing our old garments? How will non-Christians see the love of Christ if they observe fellow Christians feuding and avoiding one another? To effectively witness to our community, we must become known as a church where the members have an intense, Christ-like, love for one another .
Paul does not expect the Colossians to instantly become a mature and loving community. Paul recognizes that becoming like Christ, loving the way Christ loved, requires some effort on our part. So once again, Paul sews together knowledge and action, telling us to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God "(v.16).
When you were separated from Christ, everything you did was from self-centred motives. 'Praise God we aren't what we used to be'! Even now, clothed in Christ, 'we aren't what we ought to be'--we still are plagued by a degree of self-centredness. Wanting to summarize what it means to be clothed in Christ, wanting to summarize what the 'new you' should look like, Paul urges us, "whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father "(v.17). Amen.