Please turn in your Bibles to Colossians 3:1-11.
Last week we examined verses 1-11 of this chapter which have to do with putting away or putting to death sin in our lives. This is something that we’ll want to do and that we’re called to do if we’ve really been raised to life with Christ.
That’s because sin is an ugly thing, it’s on account of it that the wrath of God is coming according to verse 6. And it’s what made Christ’s agony on the cross necessary if we would be forgiven. So we are to put it away.
But putting away sin is only half of what we’re called to do as believers. The Christian life isn’t just about saying no to sin, it’s also about saying yes to obedience.
In verses 12 and beyond Paul shifts his focus from what to put away to what we should put on. He moves to the positive exhortations about the kind of life God has called us to as believers in Jesus Christ.
We’re going to read verses 12-17 this morning. So let’s do that and then I’ll pray.
READ COLOSSIANS 3:12-17
This passage is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. There are so many tasty dishes to choose from, and not enough room to eat it all in one sitting.
There is teaching here on God’s plan for and our need for the local church. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” There is a theology of the church in that statement. We are not called into peace with God by ourselves, but together with others in a body.
There is teaching here on the motivation and the manner of forgiveness. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” It is the remembrance of God releasing us from the penalty for our sin against him that motivates and enables us to release others from the penalty for their sin against us.
There is also a theology of worship presented here. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” The content of our singing is to be a rich diet of the word of God that teaches and admonishes one another as we sing.
And we could learn a theology of thankfulness from this passage, which is mentioned 3 times in these six verses. Be thankful. Sing with thankfulness. Giving thanks to God the Father through him [through Christ.]
It is an all-you-can-eat buffet of spiritual food. But we’re going to have to focus on the main course here in the time we have this morning and return to those other dishes another day. The main course in this banquet is Paul’s exhortation for us to put on something.
The Greek for put on can also be translated “clothe yourselves.” Put on as in putting on clothes. Dress yourself in a certain way. There are things that God the Father wants others to see and experience when they are around us. We are to look like something, or more accurately, we’re to look like someone.
And Romans 8:29 tells us who that is. God says those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
God’s will for believers is that we look more and more like his Son Jesus all the time, with each passing week and year. That’s what he wants us to put on. The Father did not send the Son only to rescue us from the penalty for our sin and gain for us a home in heaven, though he did do that. But his will is also that we be conformed to or put on the character of Christ. This passage shows us what it looks like to do that, why we should do it, and how to get there.
So the title of the message is ‘Putting on Christ.’ I borrow that phrase from Romans 13:14, which says put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. So let’s start with the first question:
1. What does it look like to put on Christ?
We have a picture of it described for us in verses 12-15. I’ll condense it somewhat.
Put on then…compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another, …forgiving each other…put on love... let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… and be thankful.
Now time doesn’t permit dealing with each of these in detail. But there are two important observations to make. First of all, these are the character qualities of the Lord Jesus. I made that claim at the outset, but now we can see that this is so.
It was Jesus who said of the multitudes in Mark 8:2, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.”
And according to Ephesians 2:7, God the Father has shown the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. That means it is through Christ and his death on the cross for our sins that God shows his kindness by not giving us mercy rather than wrath.
Philippians 2:8 says that being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus defines for us what it looks like to be humble. And we could find similar descriptions of Jesus related to the rest of these qualities that Paul lists here in Colossians.
It is the character of Christ that we are to put on. That is our goal. These are not just nice things to do because we get along better with others if we do them. These are traits we are to put on because they are Christ’s own qualities, and God’s plan is for us to look like Christ.
But here’s the second observation. Note that these are character qualities, not just behaviors. There is a world of difference between putting on kindness and performing random acts of kindness as the bumper sticker tells us to do. You can do a kind thing for someone like mowing their lawn for them, but that doesn’t make you a kind person if the next moment you are fighting with your brother over who gets to use the computer.
Paul isn’t talking about just putting on external behaviors. He’s talking about developing inner attitudes, new desires of the heart, a fundamentally different way of approaching life, change from within.
He says put on compassion, not just do some compassionate things. He says put on love, not just do some things in the love category and call it day. He says be thankful, not just say thanks.
We might like to reduce Christianity to just a list of things to do and things not to do. That’s easier to regulate and compare ourselves to. If we’re doing well, we feel like we’re on top of our Christian game so to speak. If we’re not doing so well, we may feel badly about it, but at least the way forward is clear – start doing the right things.
But God doesn’t work on just the level of behavior. He’s always after the heart. Become compassionate. Become loving. Become thankful. Be conformed to the image of Christ, who did not just do loving things, he loved his disciples.
Let’s just take some examples from the list and flesh this out somewhat. We are to put on… meekness. Now what is meekness? Well in modern times it has come to mean something like a lack of initiative or unwillingness to speak up or timidity – negative things like that. But that’s not what Paul meant.
Meekness is the quality of not being overly impressed about your own importance. It’s about dealing with others by showing gentleness and sensitivity rather than demanding something or taking it by force because of your superior power or position. Some have called meekness power under control. It’s closely related to humility, which is an intentional lowering of yourself.
The meek person doesn’t get bent out of shape if he isn’t recognized and given respect. If your boss doesn’t give you the raise he gave your coworker even though you are just as deserving, you can live with it. If your teen or young adult doesn’t remember to put gas in the car, you don’t resort to yelling, but find gracious means of helping them consider look to the interests of others. That’s meekness. We’re to put that on.
We’re also to put on patience and bearing with one another. These qualities are about not being easily provoked, able to endure difficult situations or difficult people, knowing that God has been patient and forbearing with you. It’s about bearing with the 20th time that your child forgot to wash the dishes, remembering that you weren’t always the model of dependability at a young age. It’s about wanting a particular ministry to start up but waiting until God brings the right timing or the right people to do that, if ever.
It’s about not getting angry if the police officer vents their wrath on you for not stopping fast enough when he entered the street. (That’s a situation I was faced with earlier this week. I couldn’t tell if he was waving me through or waving for me to stop. I found out in no uncertain terms which one it was! And I can tell you, I was battling serious temptations to be anything but patient and forbearing!)
We’re to put on patience. And there is of course love, which Paul says binds everything together in perfect harmony. This is the distinguishing mark of the Christian. In John 13:34-35 Jesus said, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Our love is to be like that of Jesus, who took our punishment in our place, who left the glory of heaven to be treated like a criminal for us, who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. That’s love. It’s self-giving so that others can experience the grace and goodness of God.
It’s sharing the gospel with someone because you see they are going down a dead-end path of life and they don’t know it. It’s planning a date night to make it special for your wife instead of just showing up. It’s using your savings to help your friend pay for a medical bill instead of buy the new snowboard you wanted. It looks like praying for people, sending encouraging notes, looking for opportunities to serve, and a thousand other things. All this and more is the character of Christ that we are to put on.
Now, we barely scratched the surface in talking about these things. And yet my guess is that even what I just described could sound like a whole lot of work. It might sound like miles and miles away from our experience. How can we even remember all these qualities much less make them part of our life all the time?
Well, here’s one source of encouragement. The path for change is not as complicated as it may seem, and is similar to what we do to put away sin. We don’t have to focus on all 300 areas of our weakness at once. If you cultivate one attribute of Christ, you will be cultivating all his attributes because they are related.
As we develop compassion that is part of what it means to be loving. If we are putting on patience, we are developing a heart that is also more ready to forgive and not be quick to condemn. If we are putting on thankfulness to God, the peace of Christ begins to rule more in our hearts as we are aware of having been reconciled to God.
Putting on Christ is a step by step process of cultivating one Christ-like attribute at a time. And God will give us the grace to do this. He never calls us to do something without giving us the power to do it by his Holy Spirit. The Helper is always there to help and to do what seems impossible for us, for nothing shall be impossible with God.
That’s good news if you feel like you can’t change in an area of your life. Maybe you’ve had little success in being patient or forgiving or thankful or something else. And the most you’ve been able to hope for has been to put on a few new behaviors, but never really change at the core level of your heart. But if the Lord tells us to put these character qualities on, then for sure his grace is going to be sufficient for us to do that.
We can change at the root level of our character. We can become more loving. We can become more patient. We can become thankful. The peace of Christ can rule in our hearts.
But there’s more encouragement even than this to keep us moving in that direction, especially if we’re not seeing as much progress in our lives as we would like. So let’s ask a second question.
2. What will keep us motivated to put on Christ?
The answer to that comes at the beginning, in verse 12.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…
Notice that Paul doesn’t just say put on then …compassion, kindness, humility, etc. He says, put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. In other words, he wants to draw our attention to the heavenly realities about our relationship with God as the encouragement and motivation for putting on Christ. The heavenly realities are these:
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has chosen you for salvation. He has determined that you will not suffer punishment for your sins. You will not perish. You will receive eternal life. That is his divine decree.
And not only that, but he has made you holy, holy in the sense of being set apart for him, set apart to be in his presence.
And he has called you beloved. You are loved by God. Loved with an everlasting love according to Jeremiah 31:3, or as the Jesus Storybook Bible says it, ‘God loves us with a never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love!’
According to Paul, it’s the realization of these things that makes putting on Christ attractive and the appropriate thing for us to do. Now how does that work? How does that motivate putting on compassion and forgiveness and all the rest?
Well, consider an illustration of two children and two fathers. One child feels like he’s just a tenant in the house, a servant doing what he’s commanded to do. He doesn’t know his father very well or his father’s love. He just knows what he’s been commanded to do.
The other child knows his father, that he’s a great man worthy of respect, and that he’s compassionate, kind and patient, and full of love for him. He knows that his father is working day and night to give him the best possible life, and he knows that whether he succeeds or fails in his tasks, he will always be the object of his father’s affection.
Which child do you think will be more likely to want to be like his earthly father? I think we would say it was the second child who knows his father’s love. Having been loved so well by so great a man, he aspires to become like him. We have that kind of Father in heaven.” He’s the great God of renown, worthy of respect and honor by all people because he’s the Creator and sustainer of all life. He is compassionate and kind and forgiving of our sin. He causes all things to work together for our good.
And God has loved us more deeply than we can imagine. These terms that Paul uses to describe our relationship with God are exalted terms. He says we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Do you know the only other person God has described that way? The only other person who goes by the description of God’s chosen one, holy and beloved? It’s his own Son, Jesus.
The Father said of his Son in Matthew 12:18 (a quote from Isaiah), Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
And when this chosen and beloved of God cast out the demons, they cried out, “I know who you are--the Holy One of God." (Mark 1:24)
Jesus is God’s chosen one, holy and beloved. And by calling believers chosen, holy and beloved, God is identifying us with Jesus. He’s drawing attention to our union with Christ, with whom we’ve been raised to life, and who is our life.
By addressing us with the terms that he uses with his own son, God is saying, “The love that I have for my Son is the same love that I have for you. I see you the same way that I see my Son. I see you not merely a person who is still sinning against me, but as the sinless person who has been raised to life with Christ. I chose you for salvation. I set you apart for myself. And I have loved you with an everlasting love even as I have loved my Son that way.”
And living in the good of that is what motivates us to be like our Father. And we know what he’s like because he has revealed himself to us in his Son, who said in John 14:9 “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Putting on Christ is becoming like the Father also, and knowing God’s love makes us want to do that.
And knowing that we’re God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved is also a big relief as we seek to put on Christ, because that knowledge protects us from fear of doing a bad job of putting on Christ. We’re already chosen, holy and beloved before we put on Christ’s character. The choosing comes first and the character is what comes after, not the other way around. That’s helpful to remember when we get discouraged at what seems like small progress in becoming more like Jesus.
The Puritan Richard Sibbes offers encouragement along those lines in his book The Bruised Reed. He said, “Let us not therefore be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves as elected to be ‘holy and without blame’ (Ephesians 1:4). …in case of discouragement, we must consider ourselves as Christ does, who looks on us as those he intends to fit for himself. Christ values us by what we shall be, and by what we are elected unto. We call a little plant a tree, because it is growing up to be so. …Christ would not have us despise little things.”
In other words, our hope isn’t in how far we get in putting on Christ. Our hope is that we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. God sees us not just as what we are now in the flesh, but as what we will be in glory – holy and blameless like Jesus is. That’s the promise of 1 John 3:2. When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. That’s where we’re going, and that’s our hope.
Now, we’ve talked about what it looks like to put on Christ, and we’ve talked about the
motivation to do that. But let’s ask one more question.
3. But how do we go about putting on Christ?
What practically can we do to make progress in this? Paul tells us in verse 16. Having listed the character qualities to put on, Paul gives this exhortation:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
I don’t think Paul’s exhortation for the word to dwell richly is unrelated to what came before it. This isn’t just one more thing in a list of things for us to do. It is in fact the primary means for us to put on Christ, to become like Christ in our lives.
How do you grow in conformity to the image of Christ? What is of first importance in putting on compassion, humility, meekness, love, forgiveness and thankfulness? Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let the written word of the Scriptures, which focus on Christ, dwell in you richly.
How does this enable us to put on Christ? Well, the Scriptures tells us what the character of Christ looks like that we are to put on. It is in the Scriptures where compassion, love, forgiveness and all the rest are defined and reach their highest expression in the person of Jesus Christ. We can’t know what we’re to put on unless it is described for us. And it is described and demonstrated in its purest form in the Scriptures.
And please note the phrase dwell in you richly. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Obviously we’re not talking about just a quick read of our Bibles every now and again. We’re not talking about being sort of interested in listening to preaching.
I think Sam Storms, in his book on Colossians, describes well what it looks like for the word of Christ to dwell in us. He talks about the Scriptures calling out to us. “Don’t just read me,” they seem to say. “Feast on me! Meditate! Ruminate! Saturate your spirit! Let my words wash over your soul like the refreshing waters of a cool mountain stream. Hear them again and again. May they be permanently embedded in your brain, shaping how you think and live and relate to one another. Don’t be satisfied with a surface scan. Dig deeply. Explore me, word upon word, line upon line.”
There is a connection between putting on Christ and letting the word dwell in us richly. We cannot have one without the other. If the word dwells in us richly, we will be well on our way to putting on Christ. And wherever there is increasing Christlikeness in someone, we are sure to find the word dwelling richly in that person.
So consider your own habits of being in God’s word. Would your habit be best described as a surface scan? Would it be described as irregular, or distracted? Do you find yourself looking forward to getting it over with so you can go on to something else?
Or could you say with the Psalmist - My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (Ps. 119:20). Or with Jeremiah “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. (Jer. 15:16).
If that’s your heart, then you are on your way to putting on Christ. And if that is not your heart right now, be assured that it can be. We can put on the character of Christ by the grace of God and the Spirit of God and the word of God.
One practical thing we can do is simply to have a plan for regularly meeting with God over his word. So many things don’t happen in our lives simply because we don’t plan to do it. Putting on Christ is going to take intentionality, and intentionality generally involves a plan because our lives are busy and something else is always going to be competing for our time and our attention.
A plan doesn’t need to be complicated. In our Invest class we just had the assignment to write out a simple plan. It involves just 4 things. I would commend everyone to consider having a plan that addresses these things, and it would take probably 15 minutes to put it down on paper and 5 more minutes to transfer it to your calendar.
• When I plan to meet with God (time of day, length of time)
• Where I plan to meet (location)
• My general plan for meditation (what you will read, any helps you will use)
• My general plan for prayer (what you want to pray about on a regular basis)
Don’t worry about putting down the perfect plan. We’ll never have a perfect plan. Just start with one step and the Lord will direct your paths and meet you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. That’s the critical means for putting on Christ, for becoming more and more like Jesus.
In closing let me just end with Paul’s exhortation in verse 17. Our study wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t end there, because it reminds us of the ultimate reason why we’re to put on Christ in the first place. This is where it is all going. This is what God is ultimately after.
… whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. What does that mean? Well, it means to do everything as a representative of Christ. It means that in whatever we do, our goal is to draw attention to the character and message of Jesus. When we are compassionate, it’s because we want people to see something of Christ’s compassion. When we bear with one another, we want people to experience the forbearance of Christ. When we forgive, we want that to draw attention to Christ’s forgiveness.
The end goal in putting on Christ is so that people can see Christ in us and give glory to him and his saving work on the cross.
We do what we do in Jesus name so that Jesus name will be high and lifted up. We don’t put on humility and patience and thankfulness just so people will like us and think we’re good neighbors and coworkers. We’re to do it so people will see how good and great Jesus is who makes such a difference in the lives of ordinary people like us.
We have the privilege of introducing people to his compassion, his humility, his forgiveness, and his peace, and his love that was shown in dying on the cross for sinful man.
That’s a great calling; an eternally worthwhile calling, and one that all of us have who are in Christ. May we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus that he may be honored and lifted up through us.