Paul wrote because some form of deceptive teaching was threatening to destabilize their heavenly calling. While what was being laid down had the “appearance of wisdom in promoting self made religion,” to pick it up provided no help whatsoever “in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” So Paul wrote to remind them that their new life was to be realized not through impotent practices, but through a new power.
The power that came by way of relationship with Jesus, the preeminent One. The Lord of creation having also become the Lord of re-creation through His finished work of redemption. The power that was found through the reconciling work of the cross. A power received by faith. A power which imparted the fullness of deity. A power able to make those who were once dead in their trespasses alive together with Christ. The power to forgive sins. The power which imputed righteousness.
And in and through this power, Paul exhorts these saints at Colossae to shed what was “earthly.” To put off the “old self” and to put on the “new self.”
And here’s what grabbed me this morning, Paul knew of no other way to do that than to do it together!
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. . . . you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. . . . seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. . . .
Put on then, as Gods chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
(Colossians 3:5-14 ESV)
Is it too much to assert that putting on the new self can only fully happen as we are fully active in new community? That the church is our training ground for putting on the character of Christ? That only as we live in close family union do we really learn how to put off the old self and put on the new?
I read this passage and I ask myself, when’s the last time I forgave someone in my fellowship? When’s the last time I bore with a brother, or put up with a sister, as I sought to put on the love and compassion of Christ?
Instead, our propensity today in the church is that when the going get’s tough with others, well then, “Tough! I’ll get going . . . and find myself another group of believers to not enter fully into community with.”
Not to be hard on the church, but, if we are honest, if we are all learning by God’s grace to put to death what is earthly in us, shouldn’t we expect that at times it may be hard in the church? That while God’s sanctifying work isn’t finished in me yet, it’s also not done in my brothers and sisters? And, when you get a bunch of works-in-progress trying to work it out together, shouldn’t you expect friction every so often?
But it’s that very friction which becomes the field of play for putting on the new self, the self who is in Christ, and has the mind of Christ, and the power to exhibit the compassion and love of Christ. The love which “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
How we need to see ourselves as part of a family which God has called us to so that we might grow in Christ, and not just a bunch of consumers, engaging in church as long as our needs are being met and it doesn’t get too hard.
Face it, putting to the death the old self is gonna hurt. And it’s gonna hurt as we do it together. Oh, but the reward when, together, we find the power to put on the new self. And together, as God’s chosen ones, we start seeing the compassion and kindness of Christ oozing out of us. When, together, the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us is manifest in kindness, patience, and the supernatural enabling to bear with one another. When, together, we extend, and we experience, the forgiveness that was extended to us, and experienced by us, when Christ said of us, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” When, together, we put on divine love and know in practice the unity of Spirit which Christ has promised.
So let’s do it . . . together!
Because of God’s grace. By God’s grace. And for God’s glory.