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DEVOTIONALS ON COLOSSIANS

The Christ Life in an Alienated World

The Beauty of Holiness in Character and Conduct (15)

Colossians 3:12-17

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

A Summary of Paul's Unique Colossian Argument

From Paul's treatment of our new life in Christ which began in Colossians 2: 9, he has affirmed constantly our union with Christ, our circumcision [death to sin and a sign of faith], our burial with Christ, our full forgiveness and freedom from law keeping. To cap it all off, he announced the total defeat of our adversary (vv.11-15).  He then spells out our full freedom from rules and regulations, a legalism that only promotes false humility and self effort, resulting in a greater hypocrisy (vv.16-19).

Our death with Christ and our standing in Christ is God's ultimate answer to the gratification of the flesh (vv.20-23).  On the assured basis of our resurrection with Christ, Paul enjoins us to set our affections, our mind on things above where Christ is enthroned. Ours is a hidden life with God in Christ (3:1-4). What a heritage is ours now and without caveats!

After establishing our position in Christ, he squarely confronts the sins of the flesh, fornication, uncleanness, sexual perversion. He is fully aware of the vestiges of the old life that Christ "crossed" out once and for all at the Cross (vv. 5-7). There must be zero tolerance toward the former lifestyle; it should have no place whatsoever in the believer.  But now he deals as directly with the seldom faced sins of attitudes and relationships, sins of the tongue and temperament. These were equally judged at the Cross (vv. 8-11).

A new man, a new dynamic is now at work in us. It is not our doing but His having done it at the Cross. Ours is only to believe, trust, cordially obey and give thanks.  The Holy Spirit is now ready to provide the grace. It's ours to trust and commit our will as per Romans 6: 10-14.

I never tire of assessing the key features of these verses, the very quintessence of the "how" of daily victory. Paul states Christ's triumph. "For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives unto God (v.10)" We fully embrace without question that fact with reference to Christ.

But in the very next verse Paul makes it apply as directly to us as to Christ. "Likewise you also, reckon [consider, count] yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Take note of the identical wording with that of the believer--¿"How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:2).What was true of Christ is equally true of us who also died to sin [the sin nature, not sins-plural].

What follows logically is: "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body . . ." (v.11). Sin remains in the believer, but sin has no right to "reign." The "therefore" is critical because His death suffices in itself to let simple faith alone break the power of the sin nature. It is not our faith plus what we may do for Him-read our Bible, pray and try to follow Christ--as is so often heard.  Our justification was by grace through faith alone and our sanctification is by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8,9)). God has only one way of salvation so all the glory is His alone.

What logically follows is the end of the thralldom of the sin nature resulting in not presenting the members of the body as instruments of unrighteousness to sin but rather to decisively present the believer's will as instruments of righteousness (v.13) These are the three results of the faith principle. What follows is: "For sin shall not have dominion [lord it over] you, for you are not under law but under grace" (v.14).

With this summary behind us, Paul will define what constitutes holiness, not the absence of sins, but the presence of the gentler virtues that Christ in us brings as an expression of His life, not ours (Colossians 3:12-14).  Self righteousness consists in what we think we may do for Him, but Christ's righteousness is who He is and what He does in us.  There is a world of difference in essence and quality of life. The former produces hypocrisy, the later yields genuine humility.

What Christ-likeness Looks Like in Life

"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies . . ." (v.12). We are immediately struck by the virtues that reveal Christ in us.  Paul does not mention  miracles, signs and wonders, not power encounters but rather tender mercies, gentleness, simple kindness, lowliness of mind, meekness, graciousness and patience.  In sharp contrast Paul had denounced the harshness of anger and wrath, slander and filthy talk and deceit (vv.8, 9). 

What constitutes Christ in you and me is holy character and conduct. Holiness is the litmus test of Christ in me.  How I am before His all seeing eye; how do I treat my wife, my neighbor and my critic. This is the true test of my standing before God.  My abilities, my gifts, my reputation – my assets don't appear on God's check list, His definition of holiness. Out of my brokenness in His presence has come a new standard of values that are genuine and carry the stamp of Christ's full approval.

In the days of my adolescence we used to sing heartily:

"Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,

All His wonderful passion and purity.

Oh Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus is seen in me."

David, a man after God's own heart, expressed it well: "Give to the LORD the glory due to His name, bring an offering and come before him. Oh worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness" (1 Chronicles16: 29; Psalm 29:2).  Where does the beauty of holiness shine most brightly? " . . . bearing with one another, and forgiving [yourselves] one another, if any have a complaint (a debt to be remitted, a cause of complaint) against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do" (3:13).

In every interpersonal relationship where tensions rise and grievances are tolerated and remembered, the mark of holiness is a full forgiveness in the spirit in which He forgave us.  The flesh cannot do this; this is beyond its reach. But Christ in you can forebear and forgive and give no ground to the enemy.  These are all the positive virtues that Christ brings.

But Paul has more to say as he climaxes the passage: "and above all these things, put on love which is the bond of perfection" (v.14).  Some see this as an outer robe that covers all other attractive attire or a belt that holds in proper place all other virtues. 

Whatever may be the picture in view, love, ultimately God's "agape" love is the highest, holiest expression of His self-sacrificing love for the benefit of others without distinction. It is not sentiment or emotion but rather the seeking of the greatest spiritual value for the object of God's love and, in turn, ours.

Two further counsels round out the positive message of the beauty of holiness. Its essence is love, gentleness, kindness, humility in God's presence and man's and  meekness or graciousness in all relationships.  This is Paul's equivalent to the nine fold fruit of the Spirit in Galatians: "But [as opposed to the works of the flesh] the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5: 22-24).

Counsels to be Considered

The first counsel is to let the peace of Christ act as an umpire, be the arbitrator of every heart relationship.  The rest of faith issues in the peace of Christ that decides the issues at stake.  It is not our cleverness or discernment but that deep assurance of Christ in me that clarifies what is confused and defines the Biblical course of action.  Above all, the value to be guarded is the community of spirit among those who are members with us in the Body of Christ.  It is not self seeking but others-oriented that decides the issues at stake.

The second counsel is to let the word of Christ become a permanent part of our being in all wisdom.  There is an indirect reference to the Word of God, the truth as revealed in Jesus, but a more direct reference to the abiding presence of the indwelling Christ. He lives in us and wants to become our lodestar, a constant point of departure.  This underscores the role of the Holy Spirit as He glorifies Christ and reveals Him to us (John 16:13-15).

A personal aside in the corresponding passage in Ephesian 5:18 Paul substitutes "Be being filled with the Spirit." No real surprise as he later writes: "The sword for the Spirit which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17). There is equivalence between the two.

The word of Christ will be heard in psalms, an Old Testament reference, hymns or compositions of the saints in the church age and spiritual songs, the freedom of the Spirit to add new dimensions to the beauty of holiness. The word of Christ dwells richly and reveals itself in singing, the expression of the peace and joy that only Christ can give (John 14:27:15:11).

Paul sums it all up in: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (3:17). Life in Christ is a life characterized by two things: song and gratitude.  Victory over sin has been provided and is taken by faith. From that reality will spring the virtues of Christ and provide the grace to face the daily relationships that Paul will later introduce in Colossians 3:18-4:1: marriage, parenthood, children and servant\master.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Paul is convinced that the transformed life springs from the Cross, our union with Christ in death to sin and resurrection life, all ours by the grace of God through simple faith and obedience empowered by the Holy Spirit Himself.

A life of overcoming, A life of ceaseless praise,

Be this thy blessed portion Throughout the coming days.

The victory was purchased On Calvary's cross for thee,

Sin shall not have dominion, The Son hath made thee free.

And would'st thou know the secret Of constant victory?

Let in the Overcomer, And He will conquer thee!

Thy broken spirit, taken In sweet captivity,

Shall glory in His triumph And share His victory.

Then from thy life ascending One triumph note of praise,

(For they who always conquer A victor's song must raise),

Shall echo on unceasing Till Satan's host doth flee

Before our glorious watchword "Lord, victory for me."

Though all the path before thee The host of darkness fill,

Look to thy Father's promise, And claim the victory still.

Faith sees the heavenly legions, Where doubt sees nought but foes,

And through the very conflict Her life the stronger grows.

More stern will grow the conflict As nears our King's return,

And they alone can face it Who this great lesson learn: -

That from them God ask nothing But to unlatch the door

Admitting Him, who through them Will conquer evermore.

Freda Hanbury Allen

God's Check List

Where do you and I stand?  Doing to death the secret sins of lust and desire…………?

The rule of covetousness in any area………………?

A harsh and vengeful inner spirit………………?

A secret malice upon being offended or excluded……………?

A control of tongue and temperament………….? 

More importantly the virtues of grace when others are advanced at our "expense"…………….?

Meekness and humility …………… ?

Full forgiveness for past wrongs………….?

A song in the night………………………?

Thanksgiving in every circumstances …………………?

Christ in you the hope of glory