10 Steps to Holiness – Six: Who Are You Wearing? (Part 2)

10 Steps to Holiness[1] – Six: Who Are You Wearing? (Part 2)

Colossians 3:1-17

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [2]

 

TAKE IT OFF

We learned last week that Paul is asking the congregation of Colossae, “Who are you wearing?” The apostle is acting as a spiritual fashion coordinator. He tells us what outfit not to wear, what to wear in its place, and how to accessorize it. Today he’s going to also tell us WHY we are to wear the new spiritual garments.

The context of this letter is important because the Colossians had come to believe teachings on how to live a “victorious Christian life” through the Daniel Diet, the Sampson CrossFit Program, and having ecstatic visions of angels that dispense higher, hidden truths. False teachers were selling programs to a kind of experiential upgrade package beyond what the Holy Spirit provides in the ordinary means of Word and Sacrament. After all, who doesn’t want to be the very best ME I can be?

All the spiritual gurus’ self-improvement programs were worse than useless (because they merely offered a way for the flesh to organize its sins). Their programs focused on self rather than the collective new humanity Christ is building. So, how does the Christ follower deal with sin? Paul told us to act decisively to see sin for the heart-level idolatry, the self-absorbed condition it is. He tells us to see it from God’s perspective, to call sin what it is without rationalization, and to understand such evil required God the Son to suffer and die for it.

Finally, he bids us understand something of the new humanity God is creating in Christ Jesus because “Christ is all, and in all.[3] That verse is the hinge of the entire passage. Jesus is everything to the believer. He is not ashamed to dwell in each and every believer. Because he is “in all” he is building one large temple full of living stones – people, who are to be about serving God and neighbor above their own wants and demands.

If Christ Jesus lives unashamedly in each believer, then self-focused idolatrous thoughts and actions such as “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk[4] aren’t simply our private, personal “concerns,” they are our rebellious attempts to deconstruct the New Humanity, the Church in whom Christ dwells. Those anti-virtues tear apart the new temple stone-by-stone.

If YOU are sovereign in all things, then you are perfectly justified to be as angry, wrathful, malicious, covetous, and as vocal as you need to be to get your way and accomplish the goals of your lordship. But if the Lord Jesus Christ is totally and completely sovereign in all things, then you have no right to any of your sinful self-worship in thought, word or deed. Period. No exceptions, no “concerns,” no self-justification. Your self-focus is an attempt to deconstruct what Jesus is building – a new humanity.

The Colossian believers breezed past the fundamentals of their newfound faith and rushed on to teaching they believed would bring them a sense of personal, individual spiritual achievement. But they had missed a very basic truth: sanctification is personal, but it is not individual. Self-improvement is not the goal of the believer; the building up of the new humanity, the church, is the goal. It is a collective process for a collective purpose.

In last week’s passage, Paul gave us a list of anti-virtues: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry[5] and “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”[6] In vs. 12-17, he gives us a list of virtues reflecting some of the characteristics of the new humanity living in the gospel culture. Both the anti-virtues and the virtues flow from the inside out. The bad flows out of the Old Adam, the sin nature; the good flows outward from Christ in us, the hope of glory (1:27).

Last week, Paul told us to reckon (our self-focus) as dead (3:5) and to put …away our self-worship that demands everyone act in ways that please me and complains when I am not being served according to my wants. But the killing and putting off only leave a void of bad thinking. It’s only half the solution. We are not only to take off our old outfit, but we are commanded to put on the spiritual garments created by Christ. Not performing outwardly-sinful acts (don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t handle), as Paul wrote in 2:23, “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.[7] A new identity in Christ requires a new wardrobe – the graces of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So far in this chapter, Paul has told us we need to have a grasp of our new identity in Christ (3:1-4) and take a stand against the me-centeredness of the Old Adam (3:5-11). The graces of the Lord Jesus Christ must displace the traits of the flesh because we have (3:10), “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.[8]

PUT IT ON

Paul writes, “12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts….”[9] The descriptions chosen and beloved (having been loved) are assurances that believers have always had an eternal membership in the new humanity. The word holy means we are set apart for God’s service (see 1 Peter 2:9; then Isa. 5:1; Hos. 2:23; cf. Rom. 9:25). [10] Membership in the new humanity comes not from our goodness but His grace, not from our lovableness but from His love.[11] God promised Old Covenant Israel he loved them: I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you (Jer. 31:3).[12]

These titles (chosen, holy, beloved) are not only descriptions of God’s people, they are also NT titles used to describe Messiah Jesus. Jesus “the ‘chosen’ one (1 Pet. 2:4, 6), the holy one (John 6:69; Acts 4:27, 30, etc.), the one supremely beloved by the Father (Matt. 3:17; Eph. 1:6, etc.).”[13] Because believers find their identity in Christ, what Paul has said of Jesus personally in chapters 1 and 2 applies corporately to his people, to all those united to Christ by trust into his perfect, law-keeping life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension.

Christ’s Affections

What comes to your mind when you hear the words “God’s chosen ones”? If you’re a big fan of sovereign grace and divine election what words do you associate with that doctrine? Would you think of the words Paul uses here? Do you think of divine election in the same sentence as “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”?[14] Do your Tweets, Facebook posts, web page comments, and personal conversations reflect those characteristics? If God’s choice of us preceded our choice of him, then all those descriptions are first descriptive of God’s compassion, kindness, and patience and of Christ Jesus’ meekness and humility as our Suffering Servant.

Having the fig leaves of the Old Adam stripped away, believers are dressed in “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience….”[15] Think of the prodigal son, returning to his father in soiled, tattered garments, asking to earn wages as an employee. Instead, the father adorned him with the family’s signet ring as a symbol of authority and the best robe as a sign of sonship and inheritance (Lk. 15:22).

Of course, these descriptions of the new humanity run deeper than clothing. What the ESV renders as compassionate hearts is literally “guts/bowels of compassion” from the ancient idea that the seat of one’s innermost intense feeling was in their gut. Paul is describing “an understanding sympathy with others that affects one’s innermost being.”[16] Do you see how these characteristics of the new humanity are personal to you but not private, not individual? These new affections are Christ’s affections for all his people. We see them countless times in scripture:

15 The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people …. (2 Chron. 36:15).[17]

36 When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).[18]

We are to “wear” Christ-like responses to one another: “13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.[19] Sin is inward-facing. Holiness is outward-facing to God and neighbor. When I am exercising gospel sanity, I have a proper view of myself in relationship to Jesus’ humble service that gives me gentleness (meekness) and patience, that bears with the sins of others and eagerly forgives them as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven me. How presumptuous of me to not forgive someone whom Christ has completely and eternally forgiven!

Gospel Sanity

When I am exercising gospel sanity, I throw away my scoreboards – the one that tells me how much good stuff I’ve done AND the one that tells me how much bad stuff you have done to me and how many things you have failed to do for me. Gospel sanity only keeps track of what Jesus has done – not just for me, but for all his people. Jesus’ forgiving grace displaces my scorekeeping (3:13). A tiny view of God’s grace produces a constant focus on who owes ME an apology rather than on who I must forgive.

The apostle sums up these graces by writing, “14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”[20] Love is that fundamental link in the chain of graces binding the entire congregation together in perfect harmony as one body. Using Paul’s wardrobe analogy, we can say, “We are to wear the love of Christ as our belt.

There is no “I love you but…” in the sanctified culture of the new humanity. In the South, we don’t say “I love you but….” Instead, we say “Bless your heart….” It sounds polite, but the intent is the same because it spills out of the abundance of a self-focused, score keeping soul. When we are being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Christ,3:10), then we focus on the love of Christ.[21] Remember how John described Jesus’ love right before the cross?

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.[22]

Shalom

Paul restates that what Jesus is doing in us individually he is doing for a collective purpose of creating the new humanity. “15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”[23] Paul isn’t speaking about your personal peace. He is speaking about the collective peace, the shalom that is to rule the body of Christ. And it does rule when we toss out our scorecards and look outward to God and neighbor. Are you a gift to God’s people or are you a thorn in the flesh of the body of Christ? Are you willing to deny yourself, to silence insistence on your own way and your personal demands? The “new garments” of Christ command us to pray, “Lord, lead us on whatever path will bring the most glory to your name and the most harmony in our fellowship.

The renewed humanity is governed by the peace that overflows out of gratitude to God in Christ. “And be thankful.” Thankfulness for the Lord Jesus – for His grace, mercy, and peace – is the umpire of the congregation. It moves us to be thankful for one another. If there is any score to keep in the Christian life besides what Jesus has done for us, it is what he does for us through our brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you prize those in your congregation? Are you thankful for them regardless of their social status (3:11, “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free”)?[24]

Word in You All

How does the new humanity practice compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness? Where does it find love? How is it bound together in peaceful thanksgiving? The Apostle has an answer for that. “16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”[25]

Is the word of Christ an alien, an occasional visitor, or the chief citizen of your life? Paul’s command is more than a personal one, however. He is commanding the entire Colossian congregation to be absorbed with the Word instead of self-centered personal achievement programs. Scripture should be evident in the way they deal with one another. They should teach one another the Word. They should correct the ones running around the congregation waving their scorecards and demanding apologies and commanding self-serving performance because those things are destructive to the new humanity. They are thankless, not thankful.

They are to speak the words of God to one another. They are to sing with and to one another the great truths of scripture. Paul is commanding them to be in constant collective reflection of the things he wrote in 1:15-20 of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The treasure of the church is not in its budget; the treasure of the church Jesus, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell….[26]

Thankfulness

Notice Paul bookends this section (15b-17) with “15And be thankful…16with thankfulness in your hearts … 17giving thanks to God the Father.” What is the opposite of thankfulness? The opposite is anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk.[27] The opposite of thankfulness is idolatry, coveting, keeping score, and getting even.

Paul has brought us full circle in these two parts of Step Six, “Who are you wearing?” In verses 1-4 he taught us about our new identity that prompts us to set our hearts on heavenly things. In verses 5-11 he showed us the ugliness of the self-focused lifestyle that is ours by birth in the Old Adam. In verses 12-17 he brought us from the dung heap of sin to the very height of God’s glory. The old lifestyle (the old clothing) is marked by idolatry and self-worship. The new is marked by the resurrected and ascended Christ and our worship of him.

The new humanity understands that God has a score to settle against all human beings. We know that God will either settle that score by pouring out his wrath upon his thankless creatures, or he has already settled it by pouring out his wrath upon his own perfect Son. Those trusting into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the risen Christ Jesus, have EVERYTHING for which to be thankful and absolutely NOTHING over which to be disappointed, angry, or bitter.

If you are in Christ, God is not building you up to be a better you. God is remaking you to serve the Body of Christ and all your neighbors in peace out of thankfulness because the word of Christ dwells richly in you. Sanctification is personal, but it’s not individual. You are part of God’s new humanity. Take off the Old Adam’s fig leaves and put on the white garments of Christ’s righteousness. The Apostle Peter instructs:

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[28]

 

[1] This series, with otherwise-noted sources, is a condensed version of Devoted to God: Blueprints For Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust (2016). This passage is also covered in our series on Colossians, “Little Church, Big Lie” at: http://faithpca.com/little-church-big-lie-part-9-life-in-the-new-humanity-colossians-312-17/

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col. 3:1–18.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:11.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:8.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:5.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:8.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:23.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:10.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12.

[10] William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 156.

[11] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 145–146.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Je 31:3.

[13] Wright, Id.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12.

[16] Wright, Id.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Ch 36:15.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 9:36.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col. 3:13.

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:14–15.

[21] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:10.

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn. 13:1.

[23] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:15.

[24] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:11.

[25] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:16.

[26] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:19.

[27] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:8.

[28] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 1 Pet. 2:1–5.