11. The Clothing Of The Heavenly Citizen (Colossians 3:5-14)Related Media
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:5–14).
What type of clothes are you wearing?
In our society, typically you can identify someone by the type of clothes they wear. A businessman will probably be wearing a suit. An athlete wears sporting clothes. A policeman wears a uniform. Sometimes not wearing the right clothes can have drastic consequences.
John MacArthur tells the story of one golf club owner who was lounging around his club late at night in drabby clothes. The police grabbed this man and took him to jail, where they found out that he was the owner. He was missing the right clothes.1
Often in Scripture, clothes identify attitudes or actions. We see this in the armor of God passage in Ephesians 6. We are called to put on the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, etc.
Similarly, in this text Paul uses the clothing analogy to describe actions and attitudes a believer must put off and put on. He says in Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
In this context, Paul had been teaching the Colossians about their new position in Christ. Listen to what he said:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1–3).
The believer has been raised with Christ and is now seated with him in the heavenly realms (cf. Eph. 2:6). This happened because at salvation we were all baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This is called the baptism of the Spirit, which sadly has become a controversial doctrine in the church. As a result of this baptism we constantly see Scripture teach that we are “in Christ.” There is no condemnation to those who are “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1). We have received every spiritual blessing in heavenly places “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
We have a new identity because of our relationship to Christ and a new position in heaven. It is because of our heavenly position that Paul calls for us to think on things above (Col. 3:1). We are to be consumed with the things of heaven—mainly God and his kingdom. We are citizens of heaven, consumed with its affairs. Scripture actually calls us citizens of heaven. Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul says in this text that our clothing—our attitudes and actions—must reflect our heavenly position (Col. 3:1). There are clothes that should mark the citizens of heaven. Can people tell that you are a citizen of heaven by the clothing you do and do not wear?
Jesus said, “The world will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another” (John 13:35). Many Christians look no different from the world. Instead of being heavenly, they are earthly. Paul actually called the believers in Corinth worldly because their attitudes and actions did not reflect their new identity in Christ and their new position in heaven (1 Cor. 3:1). In this lesson, we will look at the earthly clothing that is no longer fitting for the believer to wear and also learn how to put on the heavenly clothing that reflects our new position in Christ.
Big Question: How should the believer’s heavenly position affect his or her clothing?
The Heavenly Citizen Must Take Off The Old Clothes Of Sin
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming . . . . But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Col. 3:5–6; 8–9).
The “therefore” in verse 5 points back to the believer’s position in Christ taught in Colossians 3:1–3. Our response to our new heavenly position in Christ must be that of taking off the old clothes of sin. Colossians 3:8 says, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips”
The word “rid” in the original language is commonly used of taking off clothes. We see it used in Acts 7:58, where people are laying the clothes of Stephen at Paul’s feet after they stoned him. Because of their heavenly position, believers should lay aside all clothes representing their earthly life (Col. 3:5).
Observation Question: What types of clothing should the believer get rid of?
1. The Believer Must Get Rid Of Sexual Sins.
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
In the first list, Paul names different types of sexual sin that a believer must get rid of.
- Sexual immorality refers to all types of sex outside of marriage.
- Impurity refers to all types of lustful thoughts, unclean talk, jokes, and actions.
- Lust refers to strong passion for illicit sex.
- Evil desires are very similar to lust. It is an intense, uncontrollable urge for immorality. Perhaps the difference between lust and evil desire is that lust is the physical side and evil desire the mental side of the same vice.2
- Greed could be translated as covetousness. It means to want something that you cannot have lawfully, and in this context it is probably primarily referring to sex or things associated with it. In the Ten Commandments, one was called to not covet his neighbor’s wife. Paul calls it idolatry because anything that takes the place of our worship and pursuit of God is idolatry.
Here, Paul starts with the act of sexual immorality and revisits the causes of it. This was a challenge to get rid of everything that had to do with illicit sex such as thoughts, conversation, passion, and covetousness. One of the things that made Christians stand out in the ancient world was their separation from sexual immorality. This was pretty radical. Most pagan religions required sex as a form of worship. Baalism and the Greek and Roman religions required sex with temple priestesses, and therefore to choose to abstain from sexual immorality was considered strange, as it is today.
If you choose to wait until marriage to have sex then you will be looked at as strange. If you choose to abstain from pornography and things of that nature, you will be considered weird. In fact, it is even becoming increasingly popular to be unfaithful to one’s spouse. We have TV shows like Desperate Housewives, Scandal, etc., which glorify unfaithfulness and makes it look common. Similarly, in Paul’s day marriage was not exclusively for the fulfillment of sexual desires; it was to provide an heir and to achieve greater power and standing. The king would marry a princess from another kingdom to increase his influence. Mistresses or concubines were for sex. Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 7:2 it was considered revolutionary when Paul told the church to get married to avoid sexual immorality.
Despite the influence of contemporary culture, we must get rid of the old clothes of sexual sin because of our new heavenly position in Christ.
Listen to what he says: “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Col. 3:8).
In this list, Paul reverses the previous order. He goes from the cause, starting with one’s attitude, to the destination of various actions. First, the person is angry, which is a strong feeling of dislike or animosity. This turns to rage, which means an outburst of uncontrollable anger. This results in malice, which is simply evil—a desire to harm others. It includes actions or intentions to get someone back for what they have done, sometimes at any cost. After a person goes from anger, to rage, to malice, he then starts to slander and tear down others with filthy language from his lips.
This sequence can happen in a matter of seconds, from anger to thinking about how to get someone back to tearing down his or her character. Often, this is enhanced because we deceive ourselves by thinking that we can fully know someone else’s heart and intentions. “You did this because you’re jealous!” The problem with this is that only God can truly know someone’s heart and intentions. Paul said,
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1 Cor. 4:5).
God judges the heart’s motives. Let us leave that to God, lest we find ourselves under his judgment for our pride and stepping into his place.
What’s the final sin that Paul tells us to get rid of?
3. The Believer Must Get Rid Of The Sin Of Deception.
Listen to what he says: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Col. 3:9).
One would think that Paul wouldn’t need to tell a Christian to stop committing these sins. However, the fact that he says this implies they were still committing them or being tempted to. They were still falling into lust and anger. They were still deceiving one another. Deception should not be an article of clothing that believers are still wearing, but sadly it often is.
Application Question: Why do people practice deception?
- People lie or deceive to avoid consequences.
When the boss says, “Why did you do that?” the person naturally responds in such a way as to avoid consequences. The student cheats on a test because he doesn’t want to endure the consequences of a bad grade.
Do you still bend the truth to avoid consequences?
- People lie or deceive to feed their pride.
They have a tendency to embellish stories about how well they performed or did something. They lie to make others think better of them than they are. It feeds their pride and need for attention.
Do you still exaggerate stories to make yourself look better?
- People lie or deceive to fulfill their lusts.
Do you still deceive to get what you want?
Interpretation Question: How does a believer take off these clothes of sin that are still in their lives?
1. The Believer Must Hate His Sin To Get Rid Of It.
Again, listen to what Paul says: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Col. 3:5).
To “put to death” means to “kill.” Now, for a person to kill or destroy somebody or something, they typically must have a strong hate or animosity. And this is the very reason most people never take off the old clothes of sin. They don’t hate it enough.
Ask the Christian who cheats on his test or lies on his resume why he still does it. The reason is because he is still OK with it. Lying or stealing is a friend who is called upon whenever needed. He is kept around just in case he is ever “necessary.” However, if one really hated lying and stealing, he would kill it—he would put it to death.
Why does sexual immorality hang around? It’s because the believer isn’t willing to hate it so much that he will do anything to get rid of it. Listen to what Christ said about sin, and especially sexual sin:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell (Matt. 5:28–30).
When Christ says cut off your hand or pluck out your eye, he did not mean this literally. It was a metaphor.
Christ was using warfare terminology. In ancient times, if an army conquered another army they would often pluck out their eyes or cut off their hands and take them as slaves. They did this so that the army could never rise up against them again. This is what the Philistines did to Samson. They blinded him in hope that he would never rise up and harm them again.
Christians must have a similar animosity toward sin if they are going to get rid of it. If it means getting rid of the Internet or the TV to no longer fall to pornography, if it means ending a relationship that is causing us to stumble, we must quickly sever it like a deadly cancer. We must hate sin that much. Puritan John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will kill you.”
Many Christians can never rid themselves of the old clothes of some sin simply because they don’t hate it enough.
What else must we do to get rid of sin?
2. The Believer Must Fear God To Get Rid Of Sin.
Listen to what else Paul said: “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:6).
Paul is giving them motivation to get rid of sin. When Paul says the wrath of God is coming he is referring to God’s discipline and punishment over these things. It is the same thing Christ referred to when he said it is better to enter into life maimed than to be cast into eternal fire (Matt. 5:30). God is currently judging the world because of sin, and one day he will ultimately condemn the world.
Christians who do not have a healthy fear of God lack one of the strongest motivations toward holiness. Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10).
Interpretation Question: In what ways do we see God’s judgment over sin?
We see God’s judgment in many ways. The first way is what one might call a passive judgment. Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
How is this wrath being revealed? Look at what Romans says next: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Rom. 1:24).
In one sense, the wrath is being revealed by God saying, “Do whatever you want and you will experience the consequences of it.” Paul goes on in the rest of Romans 1 to describe further consequences, not only would sexual immorality be rampant, but also homosexuality, idolatry, disobedience to parents, murder, covetousness, etc.
God’s laws are given to protect us and bless us, and sometimes God’s wrath is seen by allowing us to experience the consequences of unbridled sin. Our societies are under God’s wrath for sin, and we see this in the increase of unrestrained evil. Statistically, one out of four women and one out of six men will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen. One out of three women will be sexually abused within their lifetime.3 Our societies are scary. This is part of God’s wrath being revealed.
Sometimes God’s wrath comes in an active judgment, such as the flood that destroyed the earth during the days of Noah or the destruction that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah. We can be sure his wrath is still being revealed in these ways. But ultimately, his wrath will be seen in eternal separation from God’s blessing in hell. Listen to what Paul says:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10).
Finally, every true believer receives discipline in order to promote holiness. The writer of Hebrews speaks about this in Hebrews 12. He says, “Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (12:6).
Every believer receives discipline through trials to promote holiness (cf. Rom. 5:3–4; James 1:2–4; Heb. 12:7). One of the greatest motivations to take off the clothes of sin is a proper fear of God and his discipline. Again, the writer of Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10).
3. The Believer Must Recognize A Lifestyle Of Sin Is Part Of His Past To Get Rid Of Sin.
Paul says, “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived” (Col. 3:7).
The believer must understand that sin brings death. It brings bondage and slavery, and that it is no longer the life he is called to live. Christ delivered him from that lifestyle. Jesus said,
‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (John 8:34–36).
The world does not see sin as slavery but as freedom. For believers, this is not true. They have experienced bondage to their lusts, bondage to wrong attitudes, bondage to the views of this world, and have found freedom in Christ. One of the ways believers stay free from bondage to sin is by recognizing that it is part of their past and fighting to never return to it.
4. The Believer Must Recognize His New Unity In Christ To Get Rid Of Sin.
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col. 3:11–12).
Another way a believer takes off the clothes of sin is by recognizing his new unity in Christ. One of the consequences of sin entering the world was that it brought division. Not only was there division between God and man but division between men. Paul describes some of these divisions.
The Jews did not like the Greeks, as they were divided by ethnicity. The circumcised and the uncircumcised were divided by religion. The barbarians and the Scythians were separated by culture. The barbarians were considered uncultured, and the Scythians were considered the worst of the barbarians. The slave and free person were separated economically and socially. However, when these diverse groups came to Christ, they were made one in him.
The world lives by these divisions. You can’t marry this type of person; they don’t have the right education; they don’t have the right amount of wealth. They are beneath you or this person is above you. The world is characterized by racism, classism, ethnocentrism, and anger toward people who are different.
This is not fitting for those who are in Christ. In Christ we are one. In fact, James rebuked Christians who still lived by the divisions of the world. They were said to be harboring evil thoughts that did not fit their position in Christ. Look at what he says:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1–4).
James said this type of behavior (i.e. clothing) was no longer fitting for Christians. The favoritism that exalts the rich and well-educated and demeans those who are poor is not of God. He essentially says, “Don’t you know the poor and the helpless are exalted and honored in God’s society? They are often people of great faith.”
When a believer understands this, it will deliver him from much of the old clothes that are part of his earthly nature. It will deliver him from the racism and classism that divides and the ethnocentrism that says, “The way my culture does things is the correct way.” We must understand this in order to remove the clothing of this world.
As citizens of heaven, we must be identified by harmonious relationships regardless of sex, class, or nationality. Revelation 7:9–10 gives us a picture of heaven:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’
The citizens of heaven are unified because they all equally share in the salvation purchased by the Lamb of God. Many believers are stuck in sin because they don’t understand their new identity in Christ and their new heavenly citizenship. We should no longer be identified by the corrupt clothing of this world.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced racism, classism, or other types of discrimination in the church (cf. Col. 3:11; James 2:1–5)? How can the church take off these old clothes?
The Heavenly Citizen Must Put On The New Clothes Of Righteousness
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 2:12–14).
The next challenge Paul gives in light of the believer’s heavenly position is to put on the clothing of righteousness. The inhabitants of heaven are identified by righteousness, not only the righteousness of Christ but their own. Revelation 19 actually describes the clothing of the believer:
The clothing of the heavenly citizen stands for the righteous acts of the saints. In the same way, since we have been raised into heavenly places with Christ (Col. 3:1), we must daily put on clothes that match this position.
In this text, Paul first reminds these believers of the blessings they had received in their new heavenly position as an encouragement to clothe themselves. It is because of all these blessings that it only makes sense to put on righteousness.
Encouragement To Be Clothed With Righteousness
Observation Question: What are the blessings that Paul mentions in order to encourage these believers to put on righteousness?
1. Believers Are Chosen By God.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).
Being “God’s chosen people” speaks about our election. Scripture teaches we weren’t saved because of our righteousness or good works but by grace (cf. Eph. 2:8–9)—God’s unmerited election and sovereign choice. Ephesians 1 says,
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Eph. 1:4–6).
Ephesians says that the reason God chose us was “in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace.” Paul is reminding the believers of God’s grace—his unmerited favor that chose them for salvation.
I think Paul’s teaching can be better understood when we consider Christ’s question to Simon the Pharisee about the reactions of two people who were forgiven a debt by a moneylender. One person was forgiven a greater debt than the other. Christ questioned which person would then love more. The answer was the one forgiven of the greater debt (cf. Luke 7:36–50).
Similarly, people who think their salvation is an act of their work, or an act of their strong belief, will love God less. But the ones who truly understand election and the amount of grace they were given will love God more. Salvation could never be achieved by anything we could have done. It was simply a work of God’s sovereign pleasure and grace to save us. Scripture teaches that even our ability to have faith in Christ is a gift of God’s grace (cf. Eph. 2:8–9)—something given to those he chose (cf. John 15:16; 6:37).
This should not only create a tremendous love in our heart toward God but also a tremendous desire to please him. We work not to be saved. We work because we have received saving grace (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:12–13).
If a person does not have a love for God and a desire to please him, it is probable that he never was a recipient of this amazing grace, or that he doesn’t fully understand it yet. It is for this reason that election is a precious doctrine in the Scripture. In fact, it is such a precious doctrine that Christians are simply identified by it. Scripture calls them “elect.”
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1).
The fact that God has saved us and chosen us through election should be a motivation to put on the clothing of righteousness.
2. Believers Are Set Apart To Be Holy.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).
Another motivation to put on the heavenly clothes of righteousness is that we are holy. This means that we were set apart by God for a special work. When Moses approached God on the mountain, he said, ‘“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). The ground had been set apart for holy purposes, to be a place where God resided.
Similarly, believers have been set apart from the world to be righteous in Christ and to serve God. This same thing happened to Israel in the Old Testament. God called them out of the nations to be holy, a priestly nation set apart to worship him (Ex. 19:6). In the same way, the church has been set apart, made holy to worship God. Listen to what Peter said: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
In Colossians 3:12, Paul is implying that the natural reaction to our election and our being set apart from the world to be holy is to practice holiness. We are called to separate from sin and the world in order to practice righteous deeds.
It would not make any sense for a person who was under the death penalty for sin to be pardoned and given the wealth of the world as a co–heir with Christ to go back to sin. That would be unreasonable. Positionally, we are holy—righteous in Christ and set apart from sin—and because of this we should make holiness our daily endeavor.
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Cor. 7:1).
3. Believers Are Dearly Loved.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).
The final motivation for us to put on the heavenly clothes of righteousness is the gracious love of God bestowed upon us. Love is always a motivation to activity. A man who loves a woman starts to pursue her, writing her letters, emails, calling, serving, etc. It is a natural reaction. A person who loves video games devotes a large amount of time to playing them. Love is a motivation.
Also, someone’s love and affection for us often drastically affects us. A person may have a specific future in mind, but because someone who loves him says “Yes,” it changes his future trajectory. Scripture says that when we truly know the love of God, it will change us as well. One of the great problems with the church is that we really don’t comprehend God’s love. Listen to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17b–19).
He prays that they may know the depth, the height, and the width of the love of Christ that they may be filled with the fullness of God. To be filled by something means to be controlled by it. Paul says be filled with the Spirit, which means for the Spirit to control us (Eph. 5:18).
When people truly know the love of God, God starts to fill them. They start to be controlled by him and he changes their lives. That was Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and it should be our prayer as well: to comprehend God’s love for us. When we know this love, it motivates us to put on the clothing of righteousness. Listen to Paul’s confession: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Cor. 5:14).
Why did Paul do all he did? He did it because of God’s love. God’s love overwhelmed him and motivated him. It should motivate us also. It should motivate us to change our clothes. We are God’s “dearly loved” ones (Col. 3:12).
Clothes Of Righteousness
Observation Question: What are the specific clothes that God calls believers to put on?
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Col. 3:12–13).
“Clothe yourselves” can be translated “put on” or “envelope in.”4 We must daily put these clothes on. Every day when we wake up, we should put on clothes that represent our heavenly position in Christ.
1. Believers Should Put On Compassion.
What does compassion mean? It can be literally translated “bowels of mercy” as in the KJV or “compassionate hearts” as in the ESV. It is a combination of two words in the Greek: splanchna and oiktirmos. Splanchna is a physical word referring to the “loins” of a person. This is the place where a person often feels pain, passion, or anger. It’s like when somebody says they are “sick to their stomach.” They feel so emotionally distressed that they feel it in their loins. This physical word was often used in the New Testament to speak figuratively of the seat of the emotions.5 Oiktirmos means mercy, sympathy, or compassion. Believers are to put on a deep, heartfelt compassion.
One of the things that Scripture would advocate is that every believer should practice compassion. It is an ethic of the church. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
A person who is truly saved will have a religion that demonstrates the clothing of compassion. Religion our Father accepts is a religion of mercy. It cares for those who are poor, hurting, and struggling. It forgives those who have harmed us. A religion that does not show compassion and mercy is not acceptable to God. It is no surprise that in many nations around the world, Christians have started hospitals, orphanages, crisis pregnancy centers, etc. Compassion is a Christian ethic.
In fact, Jesus gave mercy, a reflection of compassion, as a characteristic of those who are a part of the kingdom of heaven in the beatitudes. Those without it are not part of the kingdom. Listen to what he said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
Are you putting on compassion? Are you caring for those who are in need or struggling?
Micah said, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).
Christians should not only practice mercy but “love” practicing it. This is what God requires of us. We should love helping people who are in need, opening our homes and our hearts to care for those who are discouraged. Every day when we wake up, we must put on compassion. Let it be our garment throughout the day.
2. Believers Should Put On Kindness.
This Greek word for kindness was used to describe wine which had grown mellow with age and had lost its harshness.6 The word is used to describe Christ in Matthew 11:30. “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The yoke of Christ is “easy.” His leadership is without harshness. When we fail, Christ does not beat us over the head. He is kind and gentle in ministering to us. Even his discipline comes from his kindness.
Are you kind in your treatment of others?
You can tell by how you react to people who fail you. Do you respond with harshness, anger, or pride? Every day you should put on kindness toward your family, friends, and co–workers. This is the adornment of a believer.
3. Believers Should Put On Humility.
Humility is having a proper estimate of oneself in view of God. Humility is not thinking less of yourself in view of other people, but thinking less of yourself because you see God. Paul called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:16), not because he really was the worst sinner in comparison to others, but because he was in comparison to God. He had a strong view of God and who he was in light of God.
Isaiah saw God and it affected how he viewed himself and others. He said, “Woe to me! . . . I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty”‘ (Isa. 6:5).
What are characteristics of a humble person?
Sometimes it is easier to define something by what it is not. Humility means to not practice self–exaltation. A person who is not humble often has a tendency to brag about his accomplishments. A person who is not humble often needs people to know and affirm his credentials. A person who is not humble tends to talk about himself often.
The humble person tends to edify and exalt others instead of himself. A humble person has a tendency to care about other’s needs over his own. A humble person practices secrecy in his accomplishments and credentials.
Christ is the only person who perfectly modeled humility. Philippians 2:3–5 describes his attitude and calls us to develop it as well.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus
Every morning put on humility. Practice secrecy in your accomplishments, exalt and edify others with your conversations, and seek to serve them over yourself. Find ways to lay aside your privileges (cf. Phil. 2:6) in order to advance the interests of Christ and others.
4. Believers Should Put On Gentleness Or Meekness.
The word “gentle” is a hard word to translate in the original language. Sometimes it is translated “meek” or “humble.” It was used of a wild horse that had been tamed. It speaks of “power under control.” A person who is meek is sometimes considered weak by the world, but this is a misunderstanding.
Like a horse, this person has great power. He could get mad, he could choose to fight for his rights, but like a horse that has been tamed, he chooses to control his anger and temper. He is gentle. Christ called himself gentle.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:28–29).
When he was accused and lied about, he said nothing. He had his power under control. But when others were harmed and disrespected, he became like a lion. He went into the temple and turned over tables. He used his power only when it was necessary to honor God and protect others.
Every morning put on gentleness. Hold back the tendency to become angry. Garner your power and use it only to the best possible end: to glorify God.
5. Believers Should Put On Patience.
The next article of clothing that a believer must put on is patience. William Barclay said,
This is the spirit which never loses its patience with its fellowmen. Their foolishness and their unteachability never drive it to cynicism or despair; their insults and their ill treatment never drive it to bitterness or wrath7
Patience in effect is the opposite of one seeking to retaliate or get revenge. How do you treat people who are difficult? We must respond to our brothers and sisters with patience. Every morning put on patience. Paul is probably describing patience when he next says, “bear with one another” (v. 13). We must patiently bear with one another’s faults.
6. Believers Should Put On Forgiveness.
The next article of clothing that a believer should put on is forgiveness. Listen to what Paul said: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).
He qualifies forgiveness by saying that believers should forgive in the same way the Lord forgave us. How did the Lord forgive us?
He forgives us in such a way that he no longer holds our sins against us. Many Christians are historians. They are constantly bringing up what someone did to them last month, a year ago, or two years ago. Their forgiveness is worldly instead of like Christ. They forgive, but only as long as it suits them. When that person offends them again, they bring out the old garment. Paul said love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5).
Believers must forgive like Christ did. Christ doesn’t forget because he can’t forget anything. When Scripture says, “He remembers our sins no more” (Isa. 43:25), it simply means he no longer holds it against us.
Are you holding on to a record of wrongs? Are you holding on to past sins that someone committed against you? One of the things that should identify us as Christians is our Christlike forgiveness. Every day put on the garment of forgiveness.
7. Believers Should Put On Love.
In those days, a belt was used to hold the rest of one’s clothes together. Paul describes love as the belt needed to maintain the rest of the virtues. Look at what he says: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:14).
It is from love that all these virtues flow. First Corinthians 13:4–7 says,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self–seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Paul’s reference to love encompasses two aspects. Both love for God and love for our brothers must be put on. However, if we do not love God, we cannot love our brothers—we cannot bless them. Therefore, we must seek to love God to love others, and from this love all other virtues will flow. Love binds all the virtues together.
Are you devoted to loving God?
If so, you will see it in what you give him. Do you give him your time, your strength, your energy, and even your money? Whatever you love will be seen in your giving. “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Are you putting on love, which holds everything together?
Observation Question: According to this text, how should the believer put on these garments?
1. The Believer Puts On These Virtues By A Continuous Work Of Discipline.
Again, when Paul wrote, “clothe yourselves” in verse 12, it literally reads, “Put them on and keep putting them on.”8 This is not a one–time deal. You will find Satan bringing back unforgiveness toward a person that you have already forgiven, and you will have to commit to forgive again from the heart. You will have to continue to put on the garment of forgiveness.
Sometimes you will be tempted to be angry with someone for how they have treated you wrong. Scripture says, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). You will have to decide, “I am going to choose to love this person and cover his sins.”
You may have conquered your anxieties and anger yesterday, but today you will have to put on patience again. We must choose daily to be a patient person. Paul says, “Put them on and keep putting them on.” To put on the clothing of righteousness takes discipline.
2. The Believer Puts On These Virtues By Being In Intimate Relationships With God’s People.
Each one of these characteristics cannot be practiced alone. You cannot be patient unless you are around people who are difficult. You can’t forgive unless you are around people who hurt you. You can’t practice compassion unless you are around people who are hurting.
Some Christians cannot be identified as Christians because they are not willing to be vulnerable. When there is somebody in pain, they stay away. They can’t put on the clothes of compassion. They can’t put on the clothes of forgiveness because they are not willing to let themselves be hurt by others. They spend all their time and energy trying to protect themselves, which hinders their ability to love.
God put Christ around disciples who constantly failed him and one day even denied him. He put Christ in a family who doubted him and mocked him. He sent him to a people who eventually killed him.
Sometimes the dark place is exactly where God wants you to be: the difficult work environment, the harsh family, the divisive church. The type of clothes God wants you to be wearing is best manifest in dark and difficult situations. It demonstrates to the people around you that you are a child of God and it witnesses to them about God’s grace.
Are you willing to allow God to put you around people who are suffering? Are you willing to allow him to put you around people who will hurt you?
This is necessary for you to put on the clothes of righteousness.
3. The Believer Puts On Righteousness By An Intimate Relationship With God.
“And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10).
One of the primary ways Paul said we put these clothes on is by renewal of the “knowledge” of the Creator. The word for knowledge that Paul uses here is not referring only to an intellectual knowledge, but also to an experiential knowledge.
The primary way we are to put on these clothes is by knowing God. Listen to what Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Essentially, this means we don’t need to chase these fruits individually. We don’t have to chase after love or patience; we are just called to chase after God. As you make your home in Christ through his Word, prayer, and fellowship with the saints, you will find these fruits growing naturally in your life.
If you are lacking these fruits in your life, it means that you need to spend more time “remaining” in Christ. We are often so busy that we don’t remain in him. We are busy with school, family, and serving, and therefore we have no time to remain with Christ so we can bear the fruits of righteousness in our lives. This is what Scripture has called us to do. We must know God so that we can dress like God.
Application Question: Which heavenly clothes did God convict you most about putting on? In what ways is he calling you to practice putting them on daily?
What type of clothes are you wearing?
Again, in our society typically there are certain clothes that one must wear to match his or her position. A businessman might be seen in suits. An athlete wears sporting clothes. To wear an inappropriate type of clothes can have drastic consequences.
After teaching on our heavenly position in Christ, Paul says we must think on things above (Col. 3:1) and also start wearing clothes that match our heavenly standing (cf. Col. 3:5–14). This means taking off the earthly clothes of sexual immorality and taking off social sins such as discrimination over race, sex, or socioeconomic status. The old nature of the Christian died with Christ. The nature that controlled the believer and made him a slave to the lust of the eyes and pride of life (cf. 1 John 2:16) is dead, in the sense that it no longer has power over us. Therefore, we must live in accordance with that reality; we must reckon it so (cf. Rom. 6:11). We must take off these clothes by hating our sin and putting it to death. We must hate it so much that we will do anything to get rid of it.
However, we also must put on the heavenly clothes of righteousness. Only this type of clothing fits our position. We have been raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly realms. We have put on the new man and now have a nature that desires to read the Word of God, pray, worship, and serve others. We must therefore act in accordance with this new nature and our heavenly position. We must put on the clothes of love, patience, compassion, forgiveness, etc.
We do this by a continual discipline. Put them on and keep putting them on. We do this by being in community and by knowing God more. We must put the clothes of righteousness on every day to honor God and represent our heavenly citizenship.
Are you wearing clothes that represent your heavenly citizenship?
Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown
1 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 144.
2 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 138.
4 J. F. MacArthur Jr., Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 154.
5 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 154.
6 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 102.
7 The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. (Louisville: Westminster, 1975), 158.
8 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 104.
Related Topics: Christian Life