“Clothed with Christ”
Lesson Text: Colossians 3:5-17
Background Scripture: Colossians 3
Devotional Reading: Psalm 107:1-9
Colossians 3:5-17 (KJV)
5Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
6For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:
7In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.
8But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
9Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
10And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
11Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
12Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
13Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
14And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
15And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
17And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
To understand Paul’s instructions regarding conduct that should be a part of one’s new life in Christ.
To always seek to be like Christ by avoiding sinful behaviors, and showing love toward others.
To follow God’s principles for holy living.
Clothes Tell the Story
Clothing announces who a person is, doesn't it? Doctors at the hospital wear white lab coats. Mechanics at the garage may wear blue shirts with their names embroidered in a patch on the chest. Servers at restaurants often wear uniforms that are distinctive to their restaurant chain. What kind of clothing announces that we are followers of Jesus? Our text today tells us.
Place: from Rome
Christians in Colosse faced a choice: whether to continue in their new faith in Christ or to follow some other belief system. Pagan religions surrounded them, as did the philosophical teachings of the day. Judaism was also influential. Whether confronted by a single alternative or several, the Colossian Christians were faced with the temptation to give up faith in Jesus for something else.
In the first half of his letter to the Colossians, Paul points out Jesus' complete superiority. No other belief system can rival His good news. In the second half of the letter, Paul turns to the implications of faith in Christ. If God really did enter the world in the person of Jesus, then our world has been turned upside down and inside out. It demands a different kind of life from us.
Paul discusses putting faith in Christ into practice. He tells the Colossians to settle their thinking on Christ, who reigns from Heaven and who will one day return to receive His people in glory. That way of thinking leads (or should lead) to distinct behavior, which Paul describes in the lesson text.
Put Off the Sinful Nature (Colossians 3:5-11)
1. What shift in focus does the Apostle Paul make beginning with Colossians 3?
In the first two chapters of Colossians, Paul carefully explained what to believe about the Christ, especially who He is and what He has done. This instruction was necessary in view of the gains made by the heretical teaching infiltrating Colossae that minimized the Savior’s person and work. Now, in chapters 3 of his letter, the apostle shifted the focus on how to live in response to who Jesus is and what He has done.
We must keep in mind that the pagan religions of Paul's day said little or nothing about personal morality. A worshiper could bow before an idol, put his offering on the altar, and go back to live the same old life of sin. What a person believed had no direct relationship with how he behaved, and no one would condemn a person for his behavior.
However, the Christian faith brought a whole new concept into pagan society: what we believe has a very definite connection with how we behave! After all, faith in Christ means being united to Christ; and if we share His life, we must follow His example. He cannot live in us by His Spirit and permit us to live in sin. Paul connected doctrine with duty in this section.
2. What metaphor does the Apostle Paul use in his discussion of discarding the old sinful nature? (Colossians 3:5)
Paul teaches that Christ changed our life (3:1-4) and it is up to each of us to change our lifestyle. He uses a metaphor of putting something to death. The Greek word translated “mortify” mean “to deaden.”
Paul instructs the believer to “mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.” The phrase upon the earth focuses on the difference between thinking and living according to earthly powers and pressures in contrast with the reign of Christ in Heaven. In a survival-of-the-fittest world, people get for themselves what they can. But Christ lived differently. He refused to serve himself, instead giving His life for undeserving sinners. If we acknowledge His reign, we will reject the selfish life.
Because we have died with Christ (Colossians 3:3), we have the spiritual power to slay the earthly, fleshly desires that want to control us. Paul called this "reckoning" ourselves to be dead to sin but alive in Christ (Romans 6:11).
We cannot reach any kind of halfway accommodation regarding these things. Rather, we must mortify them; that is, we must put them to death (Rom. 8:13). Just as Christ nailed the law and its condemnation of our sin to the cross (Col. 2:14), so we must let Him nail our selfish desires to the cross as well (Rom. 6:5-14).
3. What list of vices does Paul use to describe the old sinful nature? (v. 5)
Paul begins to characterize the old life with the following list of vices: fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence and covetousness. All the terms in this verse name manifestations of selfishness. Most are specifically about seeking selfish gratification of sexual desire. We can look at each term individually to understand what they mean, remembering that Paul uses the combination of terms to paint a larger portrait.
The term fornication is used in the Bible to refer to any sexual activity outside of marriage (and marriage is understood in the Bible to be permanent, monogamous, and heterosexual 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10). Human sexuality is an important aspect of God's creation that is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But God's intention is that sexuality is to be exercised only within marriage. This places sex in a context of mutual commitment of selfless love.
Sex outside of marriage omits that selfless covenant. The sexually immoral person selfishly takes what rightly belongs to another person's spouse (or potential future spouse). Immoral sex is not a violation of an arbitrary rule; it is an act of selfishness that rejects the reign of the self-sacrificial Christ.
The other terms in the list continue this theme. Uncleanness is another term for sexual sin, emphasizing its degrading, shameful aspects. Inordinate affection in modern dialect is “strong desire,” referring to desire for something to which one has no right. That is followed by evil concupiscence, or evil lust—a term reemphasizing desire for what is forbidden (see also Ephesians 4:19; 5:3, 5).
The next term, covetousness, should be familiar since it is part of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17). While this may refer to a selfish desire for sexual gratification, the term is commonly used for the desire to have an abundance of anything—money, possessions, or pleasure. Following the other terms, it may widen the focus on sexual sin to include all kinds of selfish desires.
Paul equates this self-gratifying greed with idolatry. The connection is clear: if our selfish desires control us, we no longer live under the reign of the selfless Christ. We have displaced the true God for a false god of our own making: our own self-centered pleasure-seeking.
What Do You Think?
How do you not rationalize as you wrestle with Paul's list of things to put to death?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
The “between consenting adults” argument | The “privacy of my own home” argument | Other
4. What is meant by “children of disobedience,” and what is the spiritual state of those who are characterized as such? (vs. 6-7)
The Father will not ignore unrepented sins. Instead, He will show His displeasure with these vices on the day of judgment when the Son returns. The “children of disobedience” are those who are outside of Christ and remain in their sinful state and are objects of God’s wrath.
The selfish mindset is utterly contrary to the nature of God, whom we know through Jesus. So God cannot let such things slip by. If He is at all true to himself, if He is at all just, He must bring justice to wrongdoers. God's solemn determination to punish evil is what the Bible calls His wrath. Those whose lives are characterized by rebellion against Him deserve His punishment (Ephesians 5:6). He would not be the God of justice without wrath against sin.
But God does not leave us without hope! God provides through Christ the way for His mercy by taking on himself the just punishment for our sin. His wrath remains, however, for those who refuse that gift, a refusal they declare with their stubbornly selfish existence.
Lest as the forgiven we become arrogant, Paul reminds us that we ourselves know the lifestyle of sin. All of us have belonged to the world's selfish way of life. All of us have participated in the patterns of life that provoke God's wrath.
Having lived the world's life and being surrounded by the world's ways even now, sometimes we might find it hard to overcome the old life. However, when enticements to sin hit us, we have to kill them right away and not even think about indulging them (2 Corinthians 10:5). The things that bring God's wrath have been part of our lives before. They can come back if we forget the Christ who rules over us, the wrath of God, and the cost of our redemption.
5. What list of things characterizing the old life does Paul tell the believers to “put off” (vs. 8-9)?
After warning us against the sensual sins-, Paul then pointed out the dangers of the social sins (Col. 3:8-9). Dr. G. Campbell Morgan called these "the sins in good standing." We are so accustomed to anger, critical attitudes, lying, and coarse humor among believers that we are no longer upset or convicted about these sins. We would be shocked to see a church member commit some sensual sin, but we will watch him lose his temper in a business meeting and call it' "righteous indignation."
Paul instructs the believer to “put off” these things. This list focuses on our attitude and actions toward others: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication and lying.Paul describes these actions as if they were a filthy worn-out garment that should be discarded and not worn again. Those who submit to Christ’s rule should have no place for hostility toward other people, whether in thought, word, or action.
The terms in the list center on that point. Anger and wrath indicate hostility, seeking to harm another. These have no place in the life of a forgiven person who trusts God to bring whatever punishment needs to be brought on evildoers. Malice refers to a desire that others suffer injury, again an attitude opposite that of Christ.
Blasphemyis disrespectful speech about God and things associated with God. It is no accident that blasphemy appears in a list of sins against our fellow humans, for if we are willing to treat with contempt those who bear God's image, we show no respect for God himself. Filthy communication is shameful speech of all kinds; it can include vulgar talk, insults, gossip—any of the ways we use words to hurt others (see also Ephesians 4:25-31; 5:4).
Falsehood is obviously inconsistent with submission to Christ. God is truth, so His people must live in truth. We use lies to gain our own selfish ends or to harm others, which is the very core of the old life (Ephesians 4:25).
Paul tells us again that we put off the old man when we became Christians (Ephesians 4:22). Calling on Christ in baptism, we asked Him to cleanse us from the old, putting to death our lives of rebellion and raising us to lives of submission to Him (Colossians 2:12, 13, last week's lesson). What are we saying to Him, and what are we saying about ourselves, if we continue to live as if we had never asked Christ to make us new?
What Do You Think?
What works best in helping you resist the influences that tend to pull you toward what Paul says to “put off?”? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Prayer | Bible study | Accountability to another | Other
6. Why does Paul describe the Christian as a “new man”? (v. 10)
Living as a Christian means more than just avoiding sin. It means acquiring a new, different perspective and lifestyle. That is the new man, a life modeled after Christ himself, who shows us what it means to live out our purpose.
God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26, 27). We are created to reflect who God is. But by choosing sin, we distort God's image, living in contempt of Him. But Christ lived in full submission to God, displaying God's righteousness and mercy. So the life that Christ lived is to be the new life that we live. That life is the expression of humanity as God originally intended, a genuine fulfillment of our Creator's blessed purpose for us.
7. Why should there be no distinction separating God’s children into categories or groups? (v. 11)
Sinful humans like nothing better than to find and exploit differences between themselves and others. People tend to focus on divisions such as nationality, socioeconomic class, etc. This results in giving ourselves permission to look down on others. The Bible's perspective is that such divisions are the consequence of our rebellion against God (Genesis 11:1-8; Psalm 2:1-3). In fact, we are all part of the same family, all descended from our first parents, all equally guilty of sin, and all equally in need of God's forgiveness (Romans 10:12).
So for those who know God's forgiveness in Christ, the old divisions can no longer divide. Belonging to Christ, we are one (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-28). Our identity in Him matters far more than the identities that we used to use as excuses for ignoring or taking advantage of others.
So Paul lists some of the divisive identifiers of his day. Greeks are the culturally dominant people of the time, the people of privilege. Jews understand that they have received the promises of God and so can claim their own privilege. Barbarian refers in Paul's time simply to people who do not speak Greek; they are not utterly uncivilized, but certainly are uncultured. Scythians are a step further down the social ladder. These are people of Eurasia, distant from Greek culture, thought to be primitive and wild.
Bondrefers to Class distinctions separated slaves from those who were free. Christ obliterates these distinctions. God calls His people to lay aside the prejudices by which they have dehumanized others. He calls them to embrace all who belong to Christ as a new family. Christ did not die for one group or another - He died for everyone.
Living as God’s Chosen People (Colossians 3:12-17)
8. What specific examples does Paul give as qualities that the Christian should “put on” (vs. 12-13)?
Completing the command to “put off” in verse 8, we now have the command to put on the attitudes and behaviors that befit the new life. Christians are called to do this as the elect of God, His chosen people (1 Peter 2:9). Israel was God's chosen people in the Old Testament (Exodus 19:3-6), but now Christ has fulfilled what Israel's law anticipated: believers in Christ are God's chosen. They belong to God and so are holy, or set apart. They are the objects of His love and grace and so are beloved. Their lives therefore need to reflect their identity as God's people, made His by His love.
The characteristics named in these verses all express that identity. The phrase bowels of mercies indicates a strong feeling of compassion for others. We are probably more accustomed to calling this a response of the heart, but we sometimes say that we feel something “in the gut.” Kindness likewise indicates a positive, generous, gracious response to others' needs.
Humbleness of mindand meekness both stress adopting a position of lowliness, seeking to serve others instead of asserting one's own rights or privileges. Longsuffering indicates the willingness to wait as long as it takes for others to make the right response, just as God waited for us to respond to Him (Ephesians 4:32). Putting on such “clothing” as this surely identifies a person as belonging to Christ.
Certain actions should result from putting on these Christian attitudes. Forbearing suggests “putting up with.” The person who belongs to Christ will recognize that others' faults are small for us to put up with when compared with what Christ puts up with in His people! Forbearing leads to forgiving, as we do not simply keep our grievances quiet, but actually let them go.
We are called to respond with forbearance and forgiveness when we have a complaint against another; the term translated quarrel indicates any bone to pick, big or small. Paul's words do not give us a basis to withhold our forbearance and forgiveness when we believe our grievance is justified. Christ's forgiving us stands in the center of this discussion. It compels us to forgive (see Matthew 18:23-35). If we refuse to forgive, we treat Christ's forgiveness with contempt.
9. What did Paul say was the greatest thing believers should put on? (vs. 14-15)
The entirety of the Christian's new clothing can be described with a single word: charity (in modern English, love; Romans 13:8, 10). Love is what motivates God's forbearance and forgiveness toward us, so it is also what motivates the same in us toward others. Charity/love is the bond of perfectness, a band that ties all the virtues together.
If all Christ's people live as Paul describes, there will be no conflict among them, only harmony and acceptance. These are the two sides of God's peace: the absence of hostility and the presence of genuine fellowship. This peace begins inwardly, with attitudes remade in the image of Christ. So it rules in your hearts. It changes how we act, so it is observed in the way that the one body functions.
Making us one in Him is what Christ came to do. Sin divides us; His forgiveness unites us. We cannot tolerate division if we are true to our identity as Christ's people. The expression let the peace of God rule does not express something that happens passively. It can also be translated the peace of God must rule. This is not an option, but an imperative.
Thankfulness rounds out this section. Because our new lives are God's work, continual thanksgiving is a hallmark of the new life.
10. What does it mean to let the “word of Christ” dwell in us richly? (v. 16)
We often read this verse as a mandate to worship together in song. It is certainly that, but it is more as well. Christ's Word needs to shape our attitudes and actions. It needs to do so richly as a mighty reality that transforms every aspect of our lives. It puts us in relationship with other believers, compelling us to strengthen them and be strengthened by them.
11. Why should our words and actions be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 17)?
Verse 17 sums up what the entire text emphasizes. If Christ reigns over all, if we are raised to new life in Him, then everything we do must be submitted to His authority—in the name of the Lord Jesus. That means adopting the attitudes that Christ demonstrated and then demonstrating them in our lives (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our speech should be such that Jesus could have said it. Our actions should be such that Jesus could have done them.
In addition, our words and actions should be accompanied by an attitude of thanksgiving toward God. That's the way we thank God for His magnificent gift. Thanksgiving in mere words is hollow and insincere. Thanksgiving in both word and action that reflect our Lord's character and will is true thanksgiving, worthy of the God we know as the Father (Ephesians 5:20).
What Do You Think?
How does living out “whatsoever ye do”manifest itself in different parts of your life?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
During leisure time | While serving in the church | In the workplace | Other
POINTS TO PONDER
1.God’s Spirit provides the strength to say no to wrong thoughts and actions. (Colossians 3:5-9)
2.As God’s people, there are certain qualities that should characterize us. (vs. 10-13)
3.All that we do must be done through the power of God’s love. (v. 14)
4.God gives us peace when we are walking with Him. (v. 15)
5.In all relations of life, act as His representative; obeying His word, trusting in His power, and devoted to His service. We should at all time live Christ-centered lives. (vs. 16-17)
Our Sunday Best
Have you ever had a discussion about the right clothes to wear to church? Standards change, and people have different opinions about “Sunday best.” But certainly today's passage tells us that there is a kind of clothing that really matters—the life-clothing we put on when we join Christ's people. The Christian's real “Sunday best” is simple: to become like Christ, inside and out. He gives us the clothing. It is up to us to continue to wear it, and not just on Sundays.
Lord, teach us daily to make our thoughts, words, and deeds reflections of the love You so richly bestowed on us. In Jesus' name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Exchange your filthy rags for clothes of righteousness.