The opening verses of chapter 3 continue the theme that began in verse 12 of chapter 2. The value of the truth of baptism is taught, beginning in verses 20-23 of chapter 2, where we are brought face to face with the fact that we died with Christ. The apostle here continues the theme, as he brings before us the truth that we are now risen with Christ. This section of the letter deals with practical matters that are demanded by our association with a risen Christ. We find in verses 1-4 that we are linked with the risen Man. In verses 5-9 Paul is dealing with things concerning the old man. Then, in verses 10-14, the new man is before us and, finally, in verses 15-17, Paul extols the spiritual man.
Verses 1-4: The Risen Man
In verse 1 we are presented with the new life that we have in the risen Man, and we are exhorted to “seek”. As risen, we are brought into association with the Lord Jesus, therefore we ought to seek those things that are above, where the Lord is. He is far above the things that would endeavour to entrap us in our spiritual lives, and cause us to be swallowed up by the doctrines of men. It is Christ who must be the supreme object of our thoughts, and the One who should occupy our time here.
In verse 2, the heavenly life is brought before us, and we are exhorted to “set” our affections. The thought is to “set your mind” (Revised Version) on the things which are above. If our ideas are to be controlled by the Person who sits on the right hand of God in verse 1, then here, in verse 2, our ideals are to be controlled by things above. There is nothing of earth that can sustain or guide the believer, for we have been taken out of this sphere through our death with Christ, and we should now be occupied with heavenly things.
In verse 3 we see the hidden life that we have been called to, where we are safe and secure. As far as earth is concerned, we are dead to everything in it, and we have been buried in relation to it. Now we enjoy a life that is “hid with Christ”. The life of the believer is only Christ, always Christ, and nothing of this world, whatever that may be: we are hidden from it all because we are linked eternally with the Lord Jesus.
In verse 4 we have the expectant life. We left the things of earth behind when we trusted the Saviour, so he must be all to us, and the only life that should now be valued and appreciated is the life of Christ. One day we will share with Him the glories of His coming Kingdom, even as we now enjoy His presence. The Lord is not going to sit on the right hand of God forever: He will remain there only until it pleases the Father to make His enemies His footstool (Heb 1.13). The day is fast approaching when the Lord will return to the earth, for it is His appearing in glory that is in view in this verse, not the Rapture. When He appears in glory, the saints will then appear with Him, as joint-heirs of all that He will come into (Rom 8.17).
Verses 5-9: The Old Man
We now come to verses 5-9, where we have “the old man” before us: that is, all that we were in Adam before our salvation. It is very clear from these Scriptures that we had nothing to glory in as far as the flesh was concerned. We are told to mortify, that is, put to death those features that dominated us before God moved in salvation toward us. The first thing Paul would have us deal with are the things that were marked by corruption. These are things that are sensual, and characterised by defilement of the entire man; body, soul and spirit. They are the things that can still defile the believer and, sadly, they are constantly before us. We must recognise them as such, and put them to death.
These things will bring the wrath of God upon a defiled world, just as they did at the time of the flood. The sons of disobedience, who will not respond to the commands of the Gospel, will one day reap what they have sown. Paul reminds us that these were the things that marked us too, before our salvation.
In verse 8, Paul turns from that which is sensual to that which is physical, and teaches that the things of violence must also be dealt with. These tend to be things that debase others. The list manifests that there are three sins that stem from within, being internal, and three from without, being external. These sins will affect God, myself, and others. Well might we be enjoined to put off such marks of the old man. In Romans 6.6 we have the death of the old man as it is crucified with Christ. Here in Colossians we see his deeds are set forth, and condemned, and in Ephesians 4.22 it is his desires that must be put off.
Verses 10-14: The New Man
If there is a robe of ruin as far as the old man is concerned, we now see that a robe of grace should be worn by all who are redeemed. The new man speaks of that which is young and fresh, and there is a continuous creative act associated with it, for it is “renewed in knowledge”. The thought of being renewed in knowledge is that the knowledge we glean from the teaching that has been left to us will have a constant reproductive effect upon our lives, until we are bearing the image of the God that created us. Was this not the purpose of God on creation’s day, for God made man in His own image and in His likeness (Gen 1.26-27)? This is still the divine will, and He has left gifts for the edification of the Church, so that the features of the Godhead will be seen in us as we represent Him here.
Verse 11 teaches that all distinctions, as far as saints are concerned, have been abolished in the new relationship that we have in Christ. There is no national distinction now, neither Greek nor Jew. Religious distinctions, such as circumcision or uncircumcision, have gone. The cultural differences seen in the Barbarian and Scythian, and the social distinction between bond and free, have also all been annulled in Christ. As saints, we are all one in Him, for He “is all” (objectively), and “in all” (possessively).
We are exhorted in verses 12-13 to manifest divine features as we walk through this world, in fellowship with the family of God, seeing that we are the objects of divine choice as the elect of God. With regard to the testimony that we hold, saints are seen as holy and faithful in Colossians 1.2. We are further set forth as being holy and blameless (1.22), demonstrating what the Gospel has made us before God and, in our relationship with God, we are “holy and beloved” (3.12).
In verses 12 and 13 we are to display truly divine features. First, in verse 12, we have those things that are personal and individual, and next, in verse 13, we have collective issues: “forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.” Then we have that which is personal between two: “if any … have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” We must remember that the way Christ forgave was on the basis of confession and repentance. It is not right simply to gloss over sins that are against us, but every effort must be made to put matters right.
The lesson of verse 14 is that all must be circled by love, “which is the bond of perfectness.” The bond is that which ties the joints and ligaments together; the uniting principle. Like the girdle that held the priestly garments in place, love truly unites the saints in their fellowship one with another.
(To be continued …)