Let the Word of Christ Dwell Richly Among You!
As we learn to meditate on the meaning and application of the Word, every believer ought to grow in the grace of actually applying it to life. You see, it’s one thing to prayerfully discern how to put a passage of the Bible into action, but it’s another thing to do it. And we must press on to actually being doers of the Word because that’s where the truth comes to life for us, and that’s where we bear the kind of fruit that glorifies God, amplifies our joy, and blesses other people.
Over the years, I have benefited from Colossians 3:1-17 more than even I know. One of the main reasons for this is that it so clearly displays how God works with his people; he is always seeking to transform our hearts and shape our motives rather than just modifying our behavior. Human religions, including Christian legalism, try to change or control people by imposing rules upon them and demanding conformity from them. That is, they seek to work from the outside in. But while their approach has an appearance of wisdom and spirituality, it has no value in suppressing the flesh and addressing self-indulgence (Colossians 2:23). Indeed, human religion has no power to transform even a single life.
In contrast, God seeks to shape godly behavior in us by getting to our hearts, by helping us see and feel that we’re loved and accepted by him without reservation through faith in Christ, by helping us understand why he instructs us in the way he instructs us, by inviting us to join him in his work, and by giving us the power of his Spirit to do what’s glorifying to him, best for us, and beneficial to others. He issues the “what” of his commands on the foundation of the “why” of the gospel, and Colossians 3:1-17 displays this well in the space of just a few verses.
Seek the Things Above (3:1-4)
To begin with, we see in verses 1-4 that God, by his eternal grace, made us alive with Christ when we put our trust in him so that our past, present, and future blessings have been eternally secured for us. As for our past, Paul states that we died, which is to say, our old selves died with Christ when we believed in Christ. As for our present, Paul declares that our lives are hidden with Christ in God, where our Good Shepherd faithfully and ceaselessly intercedes for us and protects us from all threats within and without. As for our future, Paul prophesies that when Christ returns and his glory lights up the sky, then we who have put our trust in him will also appear with him in glory.
Friends, for those who believe, this is our reality and destiny, and nothing or no one can change, corrupt, or snatch away what God has done for us! And since this is so, doesn’t it just make sense that we would spend our lives seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God? Doesn’t it just make sense that we would set our minds and fix our eyes on the things above, and not on earthly things? In verses 5-15, God calls for a number of things from his people, but all of these things are built upon this “why” of our lives in Christ. Why should we rid ourselves of certain things and develop a way of life characterized by other things? Because God has done all of this for us in Christ, he wants us to come into the fullness of his joy by cooperating with his work in us.
Put to Death the Earthly Things (3:5-11)
With this in mind, God gives us some negative instructions in verses 5-11 and some positive instructions in verses 12-15. He calls on us to seriously and severely rid our lives of certain things and passionately and persistently clothe ourselves with other things. But I say again, and we must never forget that these things flow from the “why” of the gospel as God revealed it to us in His Word.
On the one hand, God calls us in verses 5-11 to put to death everything that’s still earthly in us, things that aren’t pleasing to him and don’t reflect his heart and character. Specifically, he mentions sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from our mouths. Paul warns us that because of these things, the righteous judgment of God is coming upon all who refuse to humble themselves and receive the grace, forgiveness, and life of God in Christ. But for those of us who have believed by God’s grace, his best desire for us is that we let go of, and in fact kill, our old self along with its way of life and put on the new self, which most beautifully images Christ.
As Paul says in verse 10, God is renewing us in knowledge after the image of our Creator; in other words, he’s transforming our lives by first transforming our minds, hearts, and wills. Since this is so, let’s cooperate with him and kill everything in us that’s working against him. You see, this is yet another part of the “why” of Colossians 3:1-17—God is working in us, he’s renewing us in his image, and for this reason, he’s calling us to die to what’s already dead in us. He’s saying, My Children, trust me and cooperate with my work in you.
Put on Godly Things (3:12-15)
On the other hand, in verses 12-15, God calls us to clothe ourselves with the kinds of things that reflect his heart and character. Things that are honoring and glorifying to him. Things that give rise to the greatest joy in us. Things that bless and build up other people. But before he does that, he adds even more to the “why” of his instructions in verse 12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved.” Friends, these things are facts of our lives through faith in Christ, and there’s simply nothing we can do to make ourselves more or less chosen, holy, and dearly loved. Of course, our behavior still pleases God (if we obey His Word) or displeases God (when we sin), but the fact is that he’s completely forgiven and accepted us through faith in Christ and counts us as his chosen ones, his holy ones, his dearly loved children. This is the reality of our lives.
On the foundation of this “why,” God then invites us into the privilege and joy of being like him. He graciously calls us to cooperate with his work in us and develop a way of life that best magnifies him, amplifies our joy, and equips us to be a blessing to others.