Colossians 3

Colossians 3  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 7
This chapter unfolds, in a very complete manner, the character and fruit of the life of Christ in us. The reader may remark an interesting difference between the Epistle to the Ephesians and that to the Colossians, which in some points have much resemblance to one another. Both connect the head and the body. To the Colossians the apostle speaks more of the person, glory, and fullness of the head from whom they were in danger of slipping away through the influence of philosophy and vain deceits on the one hand, and legal, fleshly; Jewish ordinances on the other. To the Ephesians, he unfolds the privileges of the members, and the whole standing of the Church; or, more exactly, its sitting in heavenly places in Christ, and being the habitation of God through the Spirit on earth. The Epistle begins with the highest blessings of the children of God, and goes on to the union of the Church with Christ. The consequence of this order of instruction is, that the Holy Spirit does not see, as in the Epistle to the Romans, the redeemed living in sin previously and convict them of it, and chew how they are to be justified; a subject never spoken of in Ephesians, but looks at Christ first as dead, and sinners dead in their sins, and then the whole is the work of God in an unmixed new creation, and they are raised with Christ and sit in Him in heavenly places.* Hence their state is spoken of in broad contrast with being all children of wrath 'together, and, though there are precepts and directions, Christian life on earth is little spoken of, while the Holy Spirit is looked at as dwelling in the assembly, and in the saint, and they are not to grieve Him; and the development of a worthy walk refers to this calling to have the Holy Ghost in their midst.
(* Hence, the Lord's coming is not spoken of, though the counsels of God as to it are, because the saints are seen already sitting in heaven.)
In the Colossians, as we have seen, they were slipping away, or in danger of it; and Christ is largely put forward, and heaven is a hope. The fullness of the Godhead in Christ is declared; and then, Christ in them the hope of glory is spoken of as the aspect of the mystery which is in the Spirit's mind before them. The Holy Ghost is not spoken of in the Colossians, save in the expression, love in the Spirit, but Christ our life is. It is this last point I would a little bring out. It is a life which associates them with heaven, and is to be displayed in their whole character on earth. Let us turn to the third chapter. The second had already in unfolding the completeness of the saint in Christ, shown that he was dead and risen again by faith of the operation of God which raised Christ. On this ground the apostle calls on them to set their affections on things above, where Christ was sitting on the right hand of God. Christ is more objectively put before them than in Ephesians, still they are associated with Him, but personally. "Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God." They are livingly associated with the position of Christ. He is hid in God. So is their life-for He is their life. There is no display of it in the truth of its glory yet. When Christ appears, for the association is unbroken and uninterrupted, they will appear with Him in glory. It will be remarked that this is not being members of Christ, but our life, following all the phases of His history after resurrection, because He, Himself, is our life. The display of it in contradiction to flesh and likeness to Christ down here is now unfolded. He was in heaven by His divine person, and so displayed a divine and heavenly life in man on earth. We, consequent on redemption, have a place with Him in heaven, and so display this heavenly character like Him on earth-buried into death and risen again; we have put off the old man and put on the new-Christ is our life. We have members on earth, but no life:; we walked in evil things when we lived in them. But that life is not ours now. Practically, we have to take care that everything of the kind is totally put down. Mortify, put to death, your members on earth-they are to be wholly and entirely set aside; they are the doings of the old man, but we are dead and must practically deny all that belongs to it. The wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience for these very things. All fleshly evil is wholly to be put down. But this is not all-there are things which are not lusts, but the unbridledness of the will, tempers. We put off all these also. Anger, malice, &c., are not lusts, but unsubduedness, want of self-government-all this is put off. So untruth as well as violence-Satan's two great characters in Scripture. We have (not ought to do so) put off the old man and his deeds.
Thus far negatively. But we have put on the new also. What is the measure of this new man? To this the apostle proceeds. It is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created it. Its measure of good and evil is its knowledge of God. Innocence had been once in one created in God's image, but no knowledge of good and evil. Then there had been the knowledge of good and evil, but acquired by sin. So that there was anything but what was according to the image of Him that created him. But now Christ being our life we are renewed into this knowledge according to what He, the perfect image of God, was, and that among men and as a man. Christ is our life, so that there is in the very nature of the new man, the elements and principles of these new apprehensions in the living delight in what is good, and horror of what is evil: but Christ is the objective measure of this-the one in whom we see the perfect display of the good we have to know; He is the image of the invisible God; we see in Him how the divine nature displays itself in a man. But this is the measure of good for us in the knowledge our hearts are to possess of it and follow, nothing less than the image of Him that created us. Hence it is said, " Be ye followers (imitators) of God, as dear children, and walk in love as Christ has loved us," where we see the way of God, and that in Christ, our pattern. And this goes to the fullest extent. Hereby know we love, "because He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." And this is the force, too, of what the Lord says-" Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." He does not say, "with." It is not our responsibility for acceptance before God-we are perfect in Christ, but that is another point-but we are to be like our Father, act on the same principles-He is kind to evil and good, so are we to be. We are to be above the power of evil in grace, as He is. For Christ already, then, revealed the Father's name to the men given Him out of the world, and manifested Him so that he who had seen Him had seen the Father. The whole condition of the believer, what characterizes his existence as such, is then summed up in one blessed word, often misquoted. All human distinctions are dropped with the old man they belonged to, which is now put off. Christ is all-the one sole thing which occupies me, is my object, the sphere in which my mind lives-all else has disappeared as motive or ground of thought, He is everything; the form of my life knows nothing but Christ, He is everything, in what forms and characterizes it there is nothing else. What am I? A Christian. I may be, as a fact, a slave or a freeman, a barbarian or a Greek-that belongs to the old man, forms no part of my conscious existence and motives. As a Christian, I may have, in various cases, to act according to the place I may providentially be in, as to the old man, and into this the apostle enters further on. I may be a husband, or a wife, or a child, or a slave. And because Christ is all, I shall behave according to the will of Christ in these circumstances, for my soul it is only a position I have to be a Christian in, where it is one which Christ owns, and hence faithful to Christ in it. But these are details into which I need not further enter at this moment.
As to the principle of my life, Christ is all. But besides this, He is in all. He is the life and power to live for every Christian; so that He should be all. It is not Christ all in all, but Christ all, and in all-all as an object, in all as life and power. This is the Christian. The apostle now draws the consequences: " Put on therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved." This is my position. It is as such I am to put these graces on. I am to walk in the consciousness that I am an elect one of God; one on whom His full favor and delight rests as a present thing in sovereign goodness. It is not merely the doctrine of predestination, but my present conscious position. I am a chosen one of God in the world. Further, I am a holy one of God, born of Him; and in Christ I partake of the divine nature, and am set apart for Him. Besides this, I am beloved of Him. What a state to walk in the consciousness of! And note, it is laid as the ground of putting on gracious qualities, not the fruit of having put -them on. It is in the consciousness of these blessed relationships with God, which are real living ones connected with the nature of which we have been made partakers, that these qualities grow and are developed. Hence they are gracious qualities, divine ones, such as were displayed in Christ, found in Him and in us, as He is in us as our life-bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering. What a picture of Christ in the spirit =in which He went through the world! Nothing strong outwardly, or shining. God, nor the divine nature in us, does not want to shine nor attract admiration to itself. That nature, con—tent in blessedness, can, without any need to seek itself, act in grace to others; and while ever consistent with itself, does not want a character, but what is good, and the good of others. As Christ did, so have we to do; be the epistle of Christ. We can walk through a world such as this in grace.
But these expressions of the gracious and heavenly nature in man are not all. Love in its own proper and divine nature must be brought in. God is love, and rises in His own perfectness, which nothing can touch, and admits no evil, above all, yet consorts with nothing contrary to itself. I could speak of gracious qualities in man, and of having a quarrel against any in which these qualities were to be displayed. But God rises above all this, acts in the certain consciousness of His own charity. Indifference to evil is not charity. God cannot be indifferent to evil, and God is love. He can rise above it, bear with it, forgive it, put it away at the cost of giving up His own dear Son, but not associate with or acquiesce in it. The holiness of God's nature cannot be separated from His love. I could not call it love in a father, his making no difference as to his children being in evil or not; to be love there must be the holiness which requires that we should get above the sin to be able to love. Else it is mere personal companionship or acquiescence in evil if it be there. Perfect charity is not called for where there is not perfect holiness. Nor could there be perfect holiness without perfect love, for an ungracious feeling or an angry one would not be holiness. Hence, love may be shown in chastening, in holding aloof, in a steady withdrawal of expressed favor, and in our relations with another in the firmness which refuses to associate with evil. Besides gracious affections, the perfectness of God's love is brought in. But here, evidently, the heart is stayed, because God is above all in love. He is never troubled. If we walk in love, His peace rules in our heart. Nothing separates us from it. We dwell in it. And there is thankfulness, for all comes from His love. But there is expansiveness in this nature, and by the revelation of all the riches into the communion of which we are brought, and we enjoy these things together. The word of Christ is to dwell in us richly, and this in the way of joy while helping others on, and communion together. The former traits gave us Christ in us, properly speaking, though the heart be never without an object. This Christ, all to us, and enjoyed in the affections of our new nature. All this, and our passage through a world of temptation, is guarded by a simple but very fine and all-searching test-a joy to possess it if we are true, but detective of all want of truth or heart. Whatsoever ye do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Now, this is perfect liberty as to everything His blessed name can be connected with, and a test which detects everything, however apparently allowable or innocent or good to man's eyes, which cannot be done in that name. To the upright in heart, who seek only to walk as He walked, to glorify Him, to reproduce His character in this poor world, which so needs to know there is such a thing as the grace of it, to the upright heart such a test is invaluable, and links all the best affections of the heart to it. It judges all that would carry a fair appearance, and yet have reserves with God or motives that will not bear the light. This is the closing safeguard and rule which preserves from the deception of the world, and the seductions of the selfishness of one's own heart. I can only give an outline which may introduce the reader into the bearings of the passage. Any such paper as this can only be useful as it leads him to study scripture and the path of the blessed Lord Himself, remembering, if he be a Christian, that he is partaker of the life of Christ, and set to display it in theworld, that He may be glorified.