Volume 29, Issue 10, December 2023
by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel
In contemplating what God’s people need to know about the Christian life, we find ourselves flooded with biblical data. All of Scripture informs us to some degree about how the Christian is to live, so narrowing down all that could be derived from the Bible on the Christian life to a few pages is a daunting task. This article is an attempt to offer a thumbnail sketch by turning to a single passage from the New Testament—Colossians 3:1-17.
One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons starts with Lucy at her five-cent psychology booth, where Charlie Brown has stopped for advice. “Life is like a deck chair, Charlie,” she says. “On the cruise ship of life, some people place their deck chair at the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been. Others place their deck chair at the front of the ship so they can see where they’re going.” The good doctor looks at her puzzled client and asks, “Which way is your deck chair facing?” Without hesitating, Charlie replies glumly, “I can’t even get my deck chair unfolded.”For those who identify with Charlie, the book of Colossians is a breath of fresh air. As we come to this section of the letter, we must understand that it is a book all about Christ, for life for the Christian is Christ. Paul writes, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). Of all the revelations in the New Testament, Colossians is perhaps the most Christ-centered. If I have counted correctly, there are 77 direct references to Jesus Christ in this short four-chapter epistle. As a matter of fact, we could outline the letter this way:
- Moving toward maturity in Christ (1:1-14).
- The Person and work of Christ (1:15-23).
- The mystery of Christ (1:24-2:7).
- Distractions from the centrality of Christ (2:8-23).
- Life in Christ (3:1-4:18).
As we focus our attention on chapter three, we are coming to the fifth major section in the epistle. Paul turns at this point from theology about Christ, His person and work, and from distractions from the Christian faith to application, which constitutes the remainder of the book. As Paul progresses toward the end of the letter, his applications get more and more specific. In the text before us, the apostle begins with general application and then unfolds how these truths work out in our walk of faith. As he does, we are given a short course on what every child of God must know about the Christian life.
The Christian Life Is Totally Centered on Christ
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (3:1-4).
Everything for the Christian begins with his relationship with Christ. If we get this wrong, we get everything else wrong. What we seek will determine where we end up. What we set our minds on will determine how we live our lives.
As Paul details practical application of biblical truths in this text, he wants us to understand three aspects of our new life in Christ:
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ…” (3:1a). The first thing we need to know is our identity and position in Christ. For example, on the day a woman gives birth to a baby, she is a mother. That is a role she now has. It does not matter if she feels like a mother, acts like a mother, or even wants to be a mother—she is a mother; that is now part of who she is. The right thing to do now is to accept this reality and become a good Mother. Not everyone does so; still, any hope of being a good mother starts with knowing that you are one. As Christians, we need to know that we have died to what we used to be and have been raised up with Christ—that is, we have been raised to newness of life (3:1a, 3). We are now new creations in Christ. We have been transformed. But you say, “I don’t feel very transformed; sin still has a strong grip on me at times.” This may be true, but it is important to begin with the truth and work from there. If we are saved, we have been raised with Christ. We don’t base our lives on who we feel we are, or who we think we are, but on the truth of who we really are.
“Keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:1b-2). These verses call for two responses: first, keep seeking the things above where Christ is (3:1b). “Keep seeking” is a present imperative. It is a commandment to continuously seek, but seek what? None other than Christ and His concerns. After we are converted and have discovered the great treasure that is Christ, we continue seeking more and more of Him. We can’t get enough of Him. We seek things above because that is where Christ is.
Next, “set your mind on things above” (3:2-3). We must not only seek Christ; we should think Christ. This may sound difficult at first, but consider: we always think about the things that are important to us. For example, if your heart is set on a new car, then you have no problem thinking about cars. You get magazines, search the internet, and stop by the car lots. No one has to force you to think of cars because you have your heart set on a new car. The same is true when you fall in love. Your thoughts are now consumed with your new love. No one has to make you think about him or her. You don’t have to read books to convince yourself to think about this person. You do it naturally because you are in love. If you are truly seeking the things of Christ, and better yet, Christ Himself, it will be a natural thing to think about Him and His ways. It would be foreign not to think about Him.
We are preoccupied with the things that we love, the things that matter to us, the things that interest us. For the Christian, that should preeminently be Jesus Christ. In time, however, we tend to get distracted by other interests, and our love can grow cold for even the things that are important to us. Therefore, we must set our minds on the things of Christ. I have lost interest in many hobbies that once consumed my attention when I became engaged with other things. There is only so much time and energy that can be spread around. So naturally, as other desires move into focus, they crowd out former attractions. The same thing, sadly, can happen with Christ. It is easy to lose our grip on the wonders of Christ as other things rise to, eclipse, or at least cast a shadow on His splendor. Add to this normal set of distractions the fact that our great enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, do all they can to draw our attention to anything but Christ. Therefore, we must be alert, choosing to set our minds on Him. Such thinking should be natural when we consider that we have died to our former way of life and are now in Christ (v. 3).
“When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:4). In this verse, we are given a twofold motivation. First, we are motivated by the centrality of Christ in our life. For the believer, Christ is to be the essence of our lives. He is to be our treasure (2:3), our everything. Without Him, we are nothing. Paul Tripp is correct when he writes, “If I am seeking life outside of the One who is my life, I am effectively committing spiritual suicide.”
We are also motivated by our future when we will be revealed with Him (v. 4b). We often speak of the revelation of Christ when He comes again; however, this is not just about His revealing but ours as well. At that time, not only will we see Him for who He is, but we will see ourselves as well. And when we do, we will not see ourselves as we are now but as we will be throughout eternity. And what will we do then? I think we will stand amazed at what Christ has done with worthless sinners such as ourselves. Charles Gabriel was right when he wrote his great hymn, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene and wonder how he could love me a sinner condemned unclean.” The last verse reads, “When with the ransomed in glory His face I at last shall see, Twill be my joy through the ages to sing of His love for me. O how marvelous! O how wonderful! And my song shall ever be: O How marvelous! O How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!”
The Christian Life Is Marked by Progressive Transformation (3:5-11)
Paul next turns to a careful examination of the believer’s personal life to determine if they are becoming in practice what they are in position. Once again, he starts with the Christian position in Christ, who they are, then moves to their walk.
Our Position—Who We Are
“Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (vv. 9-10). We have already seen (v. 3) that as believers, we have died to our former life; now we are told we have laid aside the old self with its evil practices, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (v. 9). What we were before salvation is gone, and it will never return. Replacing the old self is the new self: “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (v. 10).
Paul is continuing the metaphor of clothing. Our sinful, worn-out self has been removed and tossed aside, and our new self has replaced it. We are brand new creations in Christ. It is important to note that this is a stated fact. It is not something we are to do; it is something done for us by the power of the Holy Spirit. But our new self needs to be renewed in true knowledge just as physical infants do (v. 10). Our new self has the capacity and the need to grow in knowledge, but that knowledge is not simply about biblical information; it is the knowledge that changes our everyday life. What does that look like? In general, we are being transformed into Christlikeness. Let’s turn to the specifics.
Our Practice—How We Live (vv. 5-9)
Since we have laid aside the old self (v. 9) with its evil practices, we are now to consider or determine that our physical body will cease participation in things that are no longer part of who we are. “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead” (v. 5a). The body is not itself evil, but it is susceptible to the influence and power of sin. As an example, Paul begins with moral issues: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (v 5b). None of us has to be convinced that we have a moral problem in our world and that immorality has found its way into the church as well. We no longer live in a Victorian era but in a Corinthian one, much as the early church did. It is more important than ever that we not allow the world’s morals to influence and corrupt our own. Paul immediately moves from sins in the realm of morality to the sins of evil desire and greed (v. 5b). Greed is the ruthless longing for and the seeking after material things. It is the assumption that all other persons and things exist for one’s own benefit. Greed is self-absorption. It is considered idolatry because it elevates self-interest above God. It is the worship of self instead of God; the substitution of self for Christ.
In verse 8, Paul turns from moral sins and greed to anger issues. Why do we get angry? For the same reason we are greedy—we are self-centered at the very core of our being. Things don’t go our way so we get mad; someone steps on our toes and we react; someone else messes up our plans or hurts us or gets in our way and we throw a little fit. But anger is an alarm system that tells us what is going on inside. Joseph Stowell illustrates how anger is much like a warning device:
Early one Sunday morning as I arrived at the church, I went to the business office to look through Saturday’s mail. Without thinking, I turned the key in the door and to my surprise set off the burglar alarm. I almost had a coronary right on the spot. Clanging bells began to blare both inside and out. I panicked—the entire neighborhood would now be awakened at 7 a.m. Sunday morning; the police would probably be called; and I had no idea how to shut it off!
Anger works in much the same way as a warning device that something in our heart is not healthy and needs some attention.
What is going on inside us will ultimately be revealed in our speech: “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another,” (vv. 8b-9a). These are the kinds of sins, these remnants of our former life, that we are to lay aside.
Our Christian Life Will Be Exposed in Our Relationships (3:10-17)
It is not enough to self-evaluate. Who we are, what we have become, and what we are becoming will best be revealed in our relationships, first with God and then with people. But we must never deceive ourselves—we can’t be right with God and at odds with people if we can help it: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).
One of the most important things for us to know is that although we are new creations in Christ, our new self needs renovation in knowledge, “Renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (v. 10b). As we grow in the knowledge of Christ and His Word, certain evidence of this knowledge should result. Paul gives several:
We have replaced our prejudices with Christ. “A renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (v. 11). This seems at first to be the easiest verse to ignore in this whole chapter. I mean, who cares about these distinctions between people and classes? Yet it is at the heart of Paul’s whole argument, going back through chapter two. There was conflict among the brethren at this local church because of these very differences; as each group tried to bring into the church their baggage, traditions, convictions, and ideas, they clashed with others who were doing the same. The result was conflict, hurt feelings, and church wars. They needed to be reminded that all these human divisions have been swallowed up by a new relationship with Christ and with fellow believers. The way the Lord has put the local body of Christ together is an amazing thing. We come from different backgrounds, races, employment, interests, neighborhoods, economic status, etc.; but when we gather as a church, we all come together as people saved by the blood of Christ. We are all one in Him. And if we forget this and insist on our own way, we begin to fracture.
We have a gracious heart. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (vv. 12-13). Verse 12 contains several characteristics that boil down to putting on a gracious heart toward other people. The picture given is of conflict with someone, and rather than standing your ground and insisting on your way, you humbly, gently, kindly, compassionately, and patiently deal with the person and the issue. More than that, you put up with people even if they are difficult at times (v. 13a). More than that, you forgive those who have caused you harm (v. 13b), and you do so as the Lord has forgiven you. One author offers a good illustration of ridding ourselves of baggage we carry toward others:
In the township where we used to live, there was a community activity we celebrated called Junk-away Day. All the residents were invited to place anything they wished to discard in the alleys: refrigerators, broken-down washing machines, and unappreciated pieces of furniture. All the flotsam and jetsam of living could be piled to await special garbage details that were assigned to remove it. “Junk-away Day is tomorrow,” my neighbors would say, an eager gleam in their eyes. We particularly anticipated the Saturday pickup assigned to the north end of our town. Here posh homes, many of them refurbished samples of “prairie architecture,” dotted the wide lawns. It was an opportunity to take a car and roam up and down the alleys in the hopes of spotting a find. The children were especially delighted with this community treasure hunt. “You remember,” my daughter reminded me, “when I found that little old stove, and you painted it black and put it on the front porch with geraniums in it?” I’ll admit—I often profited from Junk-away Day. Finally, however, I was forced by the accumulating clutter to establish a firm rule. Junk-away Day was for getting rid of things; it was not for discarding our old hoards and then gaining new rubbish.
We have a committed love. “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (v. 14). In Paul’s clothing metaphor, love is like an overcoat that covers everything else. And as an overcoat, it holds everything else together. It is not just another virtue; it is the supreme virtue.
The peace of Christ rules our hearts. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (v. 15). Peace is the idea of harmony. Paul says this harmony should rule in our hearts. There should be peace in our hearts because we are no longer at war with God; our sins have been forgiven, and we can rest in His sovereign goodness. The word “rule” literally means to umpire, much as a baseball umpire or any sports referee determines the game. When I was a boy, I often played sandlot baseball with my friends. A dozen or so of us got together, divided into teams, and played. But because we did not have an umpire, we often argued over whether someone was safe or out, and sometimes we failed to come to an agreement. However, when I played organized ball, we had an umpire who would make such calls. We did not always agree with him either, but the umpire had the final word, and we had to abide by his decision. In much the same way, the peace of Christ is the umpire of our hearts, making the call, and keeping us in line.
But note carefully that the context of this teaching is not just personal, inward peace but corporate peace. It is about peace between brothers and sisters in Christ. When we have conflict with another person; when we don’t agree; when we have a significant difference and we don’t know how to handle it, let the peace of Christ be our umpire. Too often, the people of God go to battle over the wrong things. They major on that which matters very little, harming one another, and ignoring the big issues of truth and sin, which weakens the church. The peace of Christ is not an invitation to be a coward but to use good judgment and to always keep in mind that we come together to edify, not tear one another down and demand what pleases us.
The word of Christ dwells within us. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (v. 16). “Richly dwell” means to be at home. It is a great compliment when someone says they feel at home in your house or church. It means they are comfortable. In the same way, the Word of God should be at home in our hearts. The Word of Christ should penetrate every aspect of our lives and churches, and it should have transforming power. It should be central to all we do as we teach it with all wisdom, admonishing one another with it (see 1:28). And in one of the very few mentions in the New Testament about music, the Scriptures are designed to inform our singing. New Testament worship music is to be dominated by sound doctrine and used to teach truth. If we are instructing one another in song, our songs must be biblically sound, and they must be sung in Christ-honoring ways. We must not preach truth on the one hand and sing error on the other. Some will learn more about the Lord from what they sing, and hear sung, than from the teaching and preaching they receive—so it must be theologically sound.
We live for the glory of Christ. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (v. 17). This is an all-encompassing command. All we do, in word, in song, and actions is to be done in the name of Christ and for His glory.
Our focus and concern for others rather than ourselves is the burden of this section. It is vital to note that all we do should be done with thankful hearts (vv. 15, 16, 17). I notice that when I lose focus on this truth, I tend to be grumpy and irritable. That is because my attention is now on me—not Him, not people—me. A few years ago, I attended a pastor’s conference. One evening, between sessions, a few of us went to a nearby hamburger joint for supper. While there, I noticed I was still wearing my name tag with not only my name on it but the name of the conference. I immediately became aware that my name tag linked me with the conference, and by extension, with Christ. My behavior at the restaurant would reflect on Christ; and if that was true, I needed to be a good representative. As Christians, we must ever recognize that all we do, in word or deed, is to be done for the glory of Christ. Such is the essence of the Christian life.
 Jim Cymbala, John Ortberg, Gary Thomas, Rick Warren, and Mike Yaconelli, Growing in Christ, Today’s Top Christian Authors Discuss Spiritual Disciplines for Everyday Life (Zondervan Publishing Company, 2003), p. 77.
 Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More, Living for Something Bigger than You (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), p. 117
 Joseph Stowell, Tongue in Check (Tempe, AZ: Victor Books, 1984), p. 101.
 Karen Mains, The Key to an Open Heart (Elgin: David C. Cook, 1979), p. 116.