Note from CM: Back in 2011, we did a series called “Easter People.” I’ll be re-posting these for a few Sundays during this Easter season.
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“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
During Eastertide, we are examining texts from Paul’s epistles that discuss the “newness of life” that it is ours through our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. We are beginning in Colossians 3, where in our last post we considered Paul’s statement of the new identity Christians have in Christ (3:1-4).
In these verses, Paul reminds the church that we are to live out of our baptismal identity. We have died to sin and all false ways of trying to relate to God (2:6-23). We have been raised up and our life is now “hidden with Christ in God.” Our day to day life in this world is lived out in the light of our union with Christ in glory.
In Paul’s next paragraph, Colossians 3:5-11, the Apostle begins to lay out what this looks like at ground level:
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. (NASB)
Baptismal imagery continues in this passage, as Paul speaks of “putting off” and “putting on.” This metaphor of changing clothes reflects the early church practice of replacing the old clothes of the baptized with a new white robe after performance of the rite.
Note that Paul refers to something that has already been accomplished in baptism: they “have laid aside the old self with its practices,” and have “put on the new self.” He is not exhorting them to do this — this is what is already true of them because of their baptism. They are new people in Christ. They are no longer the people they were before. They have escaped the realm of disobedience that is under God’s wrath and have been made anew in God’s new world. God is re-forming them and renewing their minds in true knowledge, and one day they will be fully renewed in his image.
Because they are new people, Paul urges them to live as new people. He does this by identifying two groups of negative “old life” behaviors that Christians should avoid. In verses 5-11, the Apostle sets forth two lists which describe attitudes and actions that are contrary to love.
- The first list describes corruption in the sexual realm: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed [covetousness], which amounts to idolatry.”
- The second list describes corruption in the realm of speech: “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another…”
Paul then concludes the paragraph with what at first appears to be a curious reminder of the inclusive nature of the new creation in Christ. He ends his exhortation to put aside sexual and verbal corruption by appealing to the fact that in Christ, “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”
Why this emphasis?
Because Paul is not writing so much about “personal holiness” as he is about relationships. The ethical emphasis of the Bible boils down to one word: Love. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love one another. Paul defines the proper response to the Gospel as “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). He says the greatest virtue is love (1Cor 13:13). The fruit of the Spirit is love, with all its attendant characteristics (Gal. 5:22). Christians have been set free — free to love, which fulfills God’s law (Gal. 5:13-14).
Therefore, the two lists of vices which Paul urges the Colossians to “put to death” and “put aside” are sinful attitudes and actions that contradict the practice of genuine love. Sexual corruption grows out of evil desire and covetousness, a self-centered pursuit of gratification that is evidence of idolatry. The “speech” list contains characteristics that are obviously deleterious to relationships. These dysfunctional and destructive patterns of behavior are characteristic of the old creation that emphasizes distinctions between people based on ethnic, cultural, and social class distinctions. However, in the new creation, one’s demographic credentials are not what counts. Therefore, these “earthly” differences should not stand in the way of our practice of love.
Christ is all, and in all. And therefore we are called to love all.
When we live out of our baptismal identity, “setting our minds on things above,” life here below is all about loving our neighbors — living unselfishly not vice versa. And we are now free to do that, as new people in Christ.
We are now free to cast aside sexual preoccupation, brokenness, and corruption. We are now free to put off angry, abusive, and deceptive communication with others. We are free to relate purely and kindly, unselfishly and generously. We are now free to do that in relation to all people, without distinction. These destructive attitudes and actions belong to the “old creation,” which has been decimated by evil, sin, and death. By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, by means of our baptism, we have “put off” that old creation and have “put on” a new life in union with Christ — a life of new obedience in contrast to the old disobedience; a life of love in contrast to the old life of self-gratification, bitter conflict, and surface distinctions.
In a blog article, Patrick T. McWilliams refers to a essay written by Michael Horton about Christian obedience in the light of what Christ has done for us:
If there is no debt to God, but only thanksgiving, where do our good works go? There is only one direction: outward to our neighbor. We look up in faith toward God and out to our neighbor in loving service.
As we remember our baptism, our “putting off” and “putting on” of Christ, let us each day die to the old life of selfishness and practice the new life of loving service. And when we fail, as we will regularly and often, let us run for forgiveness and renewal to him who “put on” our sins and then “put off” death and the grave and rose triumphant that we might be set free to live and love.