By Sam E. Stone
In the first two chapters of Colossians the apostle Paul demonstrated the fact that Jesus is superior to any person or god. In the last half of the epistle, he calls on believers to understand and obey all that the Lord is expecting of them. He contrasts what they are to put off and what they are to put on.
What to Put Off
Paul emphasized the role baptism plays in a person’s coming to Christ. Earlier he spoke of “having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through . . . faith in the power of God” (Colossians 2:12, NIV, 1984). He continues this theme in 3:1-4 showing how the Christian’s new life must be set on things above.
Such a change calls for death—a death to sin as one lives for Christ after being baptized into him. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature. Michael R. Weed notes, “Baptism has two sides: it is a death and a rebirth, an end and a beginning.” This must affect the believer’s lifestyle. “The new life is now theirs, yet they are to actualize it—not in order to gain it but because they already have it. . . . They are to become what they are” (see Galatians 5:25).
Paul next lists various vices to explain the kinds of things from which Christians must sever all ties. The first, sexual immorality, is a general term. Specific types of sexual sin include impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. Clearly it is not simply the outward immoral action that is forbidden, but the underlying lust. F. F. Bruce noted, “In moving from the outward manifestations of sin to the cravings of the heart—from acts of immorality and uncleanness to their inner springs—Paul proceeds in the manner of our Lord, who in the Sermon on the Mount traces murder back to the angry thought and adultery to the lustful glance” (Matthew 5:21-24; 27-30). Greed means covetousness (Exodus 20:17), and can include desiring money or possessions, as well as sexual pleasure. All these things characterized their life B. C.—before Christ!
Paul next lists other sinful qualities of which Christians must rid themselves. Anger and rage reveal a hostile spirit that would do harm to others. Malice and slander are not permitted. Filthy language includes vulgar talk, insults, and gossip (see Ephesians 4:25-31; 5:4). Lying is specifically condemned. Their old self with all its practices should be considered dead and gone. In contrast, when one is raised from the waters of baptism he puts on the new self. Human distinctions such as race, nationality, or class no longer matter. Christ is all, and is in all.
What to Put On
A Christian isn’t measured just by what he doesn’t do, but what he does do as well. God chose us to be holy people. Just as the Israelites were his chosen people in Old Testament times, so those composing the church are his family today. Dearly loved, they are set apart to serve him. As Paul begins listing their qualities, it is not surprising that he names the same traits as he did when listing the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22, 23). The Message translates vv. 12, 13, ”So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.”
Bearing with each other is one of the biggest challenges for Christians. The principle is clear, however. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. The perfect example of Christ is our model. The apostle John also commanded this spirit of love (1 John 4:11). Even when one is unworthy of such forgiveness, we are to forgive him. After all, this was the example of Christ. Clothed with him, we live like he did. The Christian is a new creation. Being loved by God leads to peace. Note that in Ephesians 4:3 peace itself is the bond in which the unity of the Spirit is to be maintained.
The change in a believer’s condition at the time of his baptism was achieved by God, not by man. Even now the Christian is being renewed each day. Speaking and singing the truth of Jesus, we encourage each other in the Christian life. The text is summed up in v. 17—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.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.