Taking Off and Putting On
Colossians is a short letter but packed full of so much truth. To this point, Paul has tackled the theological issues he wanted to discuss, namely, about who Christ is and what he has done for us, and also that true religion is not about rules and regulations. In chapter three, Paul tells us the wonderful news that the one who is born from above has died and his life is now hid with Christ in God. This person sets his mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Now Paul turns to practical matters, building on what he has written before. He begins with what should be common knowledge to any believer: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” It is true that Paul often begins with sexual sins. In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul reminds the church that sexual sin is different from other sins in that while those sins are committed outside the body, sexual sin is committed against one’s own body (as well as another’s). That was where the pagan world of Paul’s day was (pagan = unbelieving), and it is also where our culture is today. But Paul doesn’t stop with the obvious sins. He then mentions: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from our mouths. These are sins we overlook and even justify. These are the things, among others, that we must “put to death.” There is an old-fashioned word we once used that means exactly this: “mortify.” We must mortify the deeds of the body that we may live (Romans 8:12-17).
I want to be careful to spend time where Paul spends time; that is, with what we must “put on”: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other as we have been forgiven, and above all, loving each other. Furthermore, we must allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, be thankful, and submit to one another as we remind one another of the word that teaches and admonishes, doing everything in the name of Christ. Let no one tell you that the Christian faith is about a bunch of rules and “thou shalt not’s.” Paul shows here the ignorance of such a statement. In fact this whole letter of Paul is written to guard the church against those who would bind her to manmade rules and regulations, that she may be free to serve her Master. This does not mean that there is no such thing as sin; Paul just listed some big ones. Indeed, I am of the opinion that the problems of the contemporary church lean more towards libertinism than legalism. But the answer lies in putting off and putting on, putting to death and living in Him.