" So it comes down to this: since you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on heaven above, where He is seated at God’s right hand. Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Your new life is now safely enmeshed with Christ, who is in God. On that day when the Christ—who is our very life—is revealed, you will be revealed with Him in glory!" (Colossians 3:1-4)
This is the solution to a life in which we are enslaved to sin (read Colossians 2 to see what that looks like). Awesome! But…how does that work? How do we “set our minds” and “stay focused”? Let’s keep reading (picking up in verse 5):
"So kill your earthly impulses: promiscuous sex, impure actions, unbridled lust, evil desires, and greed (which is idolatry). It’s because of these that God’s wrath is coming, so avoid them at all costs. These are the same things you once pursued, and together you walked in the path of evil. But now make sure you put off such things: anger, rage, spite, slander, and abusive language. And don’t go on lying to each other since you have traded the old self and the evil it did for a fresh new you, which is continually renewed in knowledge according to the image of the One who created you. In this re-creation there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and conqueror, or slave and free because Christ is above all, and dwells in us all. Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let the peace of God control your heart (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:5-14)
In this passage, we see three important principles that should help us find the freedom of new life in Christ.
Identity: Know who you are (1-4)
The Bible gives at least three images to describe our life “enmeshed” with Christ: Getting out of jail, being adopted, and putting on new clothes.
- Getting out of Jail: It used to be the case that we were in chains, slaves to our sinful nature. We could not live freely. We might have moments of good living when we thought we had been set free, but we were just walking in the courtyard. No matter what, we would enter lockdown again. Christ opened the prison door; He set the captives free. Now we can truly walk out of the prison of sin.
- Being Adopted: It used to be that our character, reputation and nature were the result of the Family of the World – priorities, worldview, default reactions, loves, habits, tendencies. Christ brings us into the Family of God, where all these things undergo a process of change. My priorities increasingly reflect God’s, etc. As we go through sanctification, we begin to naturally reflect our new family’s character, reputation and nature. We will fail at times, but that doesn’t mean we get kicked out of the family. In this family, we pull each other closer with the love of the Father.
- Changing Clothes: We make a decision: will I dress with my family colors or not? Will I present myself in such a way that when people see me, they see who I am now? Do I wear a jail uniform even though I am no longer a prisoner? Do I wear the styles and slogans of the Family of the World, or the Family of God? I have to dress myself every day. What will I put on?
We have to remind ourselves of this identity. It won’t necessarily be easy. Old habits die hard. We could keep on our prison clothes and go hang out in the yard. We could pursue our old family and honor their habits. We could keep the old clothes.
Clarity: See who you were (5-11)
In order to make the decision to “kill” our earthly self (stay out of jail, new clothes, etc), we need to understand what is at stake. If we don’t think our old life was that big of a deal, we probably won’t make changes that last. So, why do you need to “kill” these things? Why is God angry? Look at the life that unfolds when you indulge your earthly desires:
- Greed - You have a lust for more, be it sex or anything else. You want what is not yours. If you get it, it’s still not enough. It doesn’t matter who you hurt or what impact you are having on others, you take what you want. It’s relentless; you are driven, you are always hungry for more. Paul starts with an external activity, then moves into the heart – it’s greed, and it’s idolatry. You are worshiping things (at least on the surface); ultimately, you are worshiping self.
- Anger – Of course, you are never satisfied. There is a “slowly building, settled animosity” as your frustration boils over, the rage – you lash out since you have no reserve. If you are a person who struggles with anger, Paul identifies at least one reason for it: greed or lust. You are driven to get something you want but don’t have, and when you don’t get it, or when you do and it fails to satisfy, your anger builds and then spills over onto the people around you. First you used them as simply things to satisfy your demand for more – sex, attention, respect, money, authority, admiration, comfort – then you abuse them verbally and emotionally (slander and abusive language).
- Deception - You live and speak deceitfully. This may simply mean they had a problem with lying, but I wonder if this doesn’t have more to do with the duplicity of their lives. They claimed to be followers of Christ, but they were still living in lust, greed, and rage. The phrase translated as “abusive language” is the same word for “blasphemy” – somehow, they were blaspheming the name of God as the lashed out at other. The Jewish converts knew the commandment, “Don’t take God’s name in vain,” which was actually not an admonition against swearing. It meant don’t claim allegiance to Christ falsely. Don’t lie; particularly, don’t lie by claiming allegiance to Christ while living in allegiance to the world.
What’s at stake? More than just a relationship with Christ. Your relationship with others matters too. That list of contrasts (slave or free, etc) highlights the problem of division, where people tend to reject others with prejudice. This list covers nationality, religion, education, and social status. This is an issue of pride. I am better than you. Why? I am American…I have more money…I have an education or skill set…I don’t work for other people…I have a good reputation…I understand the finer things in life… (All of these have their opposites, I might add. Look how redneck I am! A country boy can survive!)
We might think, “It’s not a big deal if I sleep around. No one is getting hurt. It’s not a big deal if I am greedy – why shouldn’t I want more? It’s not a big deal if I get angry – it’s justified; they had it coming! Slander? I am just telling people what that jerk is really like!” If you don’t understand how destructive these things are, you will never understand why God is angry. If, however, you see the impact they have on you and on others, you will begin to get a little angry too. Your heart will begin to break for the damage people experience.
If you or someone you love has been sexually used and discarded, or experienced the damage that rage can bring, or lived with chronic lying and the untrustworthiness that follows, or had their faith rocked by hypocrisy. - if you or someone you love has experienced this, you know why God is angry. They more you begin to understand the heart of God for those whose lives are wrecked by lust, greed, anger, gossip, and lies, the more you will put that away from you.
Priority: Be who you are (13-15)
"Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts be ruled by Christ’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful."
Here’s the thing: Your identity is given to you Christ. Your clarity will result from the work of the Holy Spirit in you. Your freedom is a gift from God. But you choose your clothing. And how your dress yourself will have a huge impact in how you experience life in the Kingdom of God.
I think we have a tendency to be complacent. “God saved me; He wanted me in His family. Awesome. He can do the work.” So we sit back and wait to stop being angry, or lustful, or jealous, or peaceful. We just expect to start feeling kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, loving, and thankful. That’s not how it works (according to Paul).
You have been freed from the power of greed, lust, anger, lies, and pride. But you must make a choice: Will I dress myself in the clothes of my new identity, or will I put on the uniform of all those things I once was? You didn’t have a choice before; now you do. You are free to become who you are.
- Do you want to be compassionate? Clothe yourself with compassion.
- Do you want to be kind? Clothe yourself with kindness
- Do you want to be humble? Clothe yourself with humility.
- Do you want to be gentle? Clothe yourself with gentleness.
- Do you want to be patient? Clothe yourself with patience.
- Do you want to be forgiving? Clothe yourself with forgiveness.
- Do you want to be loving? Clothe yourself with love.
This is the opposite of the idolatry of self – every action is a sacrifice you make for the sake of Christ and with the help of Christ for others. It will bring freedom from the control of sin and self-destructiveness in your life, and it will bring peace to your family, church and community. It’s one of the beautiful ironies of life with Christ: it’s when we lose our life that we find it. It’s when we offer ourselves in service that we find freedom and bring peace.
We have to connect to Christ. We have to understand our identity. We have to see ourselves and our lives with clarity. We have to prioritize the life Christ has given us. We have to commit to what we have been given. Then we have to choose to dress like a Child of the King.