Put off Flesh, Put on Christ: Colossians 3:5–16

Colossians 3:5-16 is one of those classic pieces of scripture that can be studies and meditated over time and time again. I made this particular post also available in a pdf Put off Flesh, Put on Christ: Colossians 3:5–16 in my writing section.

Colossians 3:5-16 Overview

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 3 starts off with a call to put on a new self.  Paul charges the Colossians to put aside their heresy, and outright immorality, and put on the love and compassion of Christ.  Chapter 3, (Col 3:1-17, ESV) is often separated out into three practical parts.  First, Paul speaks to those seeking spiritual values (v 1-4), second, he calls us to take off the sins of our old life (v 5-11), and finally, we are to put on the virtuous life of Christ (v 12-17).

In our focus here (v 5-16), Paul moves into verses 5-9 and puts forth an argument that is intended to fight the Colossians Gnosticism.  Their Gnostic claim was that the body is seen as evil, and as such, is not able to be redeemed, and therefore one might as well live however one chooses to live.  Paul quickly warns that these things will lead to God’s wrath (v. 6), and by some indications, this has already come (the present tense of “is coming”, erchetai, is used perhaps to indicated God’s wrath is already upon us).[1]

As Paul moves forward in his rebuke of their behavior he moves into the second section, the call to live the virtuous life of Christ.  He uses a reference here to the Scythians, a nomadic tribe of “barbaric” people who were constantly at war (v. 11), and “probably [seen as] the most barbaric the world has ever known”.[2] Even through this type of heathen living, Paul exhorts that Christ is still working among them; “Christ is all, and in all” (v. 11) and calls on the Colossians to put aside their differences, “bearing with” (v. 13) each other, and show the love, unity, and compassion that is available through faith in Jesus Christ.

As Paul closes this section, he tells his audience to “let the word of Christ dwell within you” (v. 16), and for this, we should be eternally thankful in our hearts.  The translation for “word” here is the Greek word logos, the same term John uses in his opening announcement in verse 1, saying, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us”. (John 1:14)  While the phrase “let dwell” is only found in the New Testament here in Colossians (v. 16), in both cases, the logos, the revelation of God, is something we are told to “dwell in” and “live on”.  Scripture is something to be familiar with, to study, absorb, and digest, something that is to become life itself.  A dwelling that permeates our heart and guides us in our life.[3] Something Paul told the Colossians to be thankful for deep in their heart.

What Does this Text Mean, What are Paul’s Instructions?

This particular section of Colossians is one of the more practical sections of the book, having already left the more doctrinal parts in previous chapters, Paul very plainly and directly teaches us to leave the life of sin behind.  Where some scripture leaves the reader questioning the motives and instructions of the writer, here Paul is quite clear.  Prior to our conviction to follow Christ, we were living in unrepentant sin, sins of the flesh as Paul points out.  Every vile and degrading lust is brought out and put squarely on the table before us.  In a life prior to God’s grace, which covered our sin, these actions and lifestyles would have been acceptable to us, or at least, not offensive enough to make any serious adjustments in how we intended to live our life.

Once we claim Christ in our life, as the Colossians did, we may still contain the sin described by Paul, but we are called to a higher understanding (v. 12), and a more virtuous life found through following Christ’s teachings.  Paul points out that since we are covered by God’s grace, we should not lie to each other (v. 9) but instead, love each other (v. 14) by letting God rule over everything in our life (v. 15).  The call to a virtuous life in Christ is fulfilled in love.  All other aspects of the life Paul, and ultimately Christ, are calling us to here come down to some offspring of love.  Beloved, compassion, the heart, kindness, unity, peace, thankful, humility, gentleness, and patience are all listed among the virtues in this section of Colossians, and all are a call to love.

How Can One Do This, How Do I do This?

One of the most difficult aspects of being a Christian must be to take what is clearly shown to us in scripture and apply it to our life.  From a worldview outside the church, we are seen as hypocritical because we do not do this in our daily lives.  In UnChristian, Kinnaman’s research shows that 85% of young “outsiders” conclude present-day Christianity is hypocritical.[4] Kinnaman concludes, “The most obvious reason [for this is] our lives don’t match our beliefs.”[5] The outside world, no doubt, is eager to point out when a Christian fails.

Often the outsider does not understand that claiming to being a Christian does not mean we will never fall into sin, and as such, fail our beliefs, but this does not exempt us from trying to live a virtuous life.  We are not to choose the Gnostic alternative Paul spoke about in verse 5 merely because original sin places our body (the flesh) in a heretical nature of sin.  Obviously this lifestyle cannot be lived out in our own power, but only if we put on the power and hope of Christ, in compassion, forgiveness, and ultimately, love.

In my own life, I continually try to examine those numerous immoral qualities I know still exist in my life, and constantly try to replace them with those found and displayed by Christ.  As this walk continues in my own life, hopefully, it becomes more difficult to exhibit those sinful qualities.  As Paul tells us to put on a “heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (v. 12), it becomes almost impossible to exhibit any of those qualities and “lie to one another” at the same time.  As you put on one, you have to remove the other.

It is an impossibility for someone to have malice intent and show Christ’s love at the same time, so if I put on Christ, I am forced to take off my old self, there is no other way.  In the most practical sense, to put off the flesh is to throw away the sin in our life.  To put on Christ, is to dwell constantly in the revelation, logos, letting the Love and Word of God rule in our heart.

Works Cited

Constable, Thomas L. “Dr. Constable’s Notes on Colossians.” Sonic Light. 2007. http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/colossians.pdf (accessed September 26, 2009).
Kinnaman, David. UnChristian, What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… and Why It Matters. 2st Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.
McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. Vol. V. V vols. Pasadena, CA: Thru the Bible Radio, 1983.
Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, . The Bible Knowledge Commentary. 1st Edition. Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1983.

[1] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, , The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1st Edition, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1983), 681.
[2] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, V vols. (Pasadena, CA: Thru the Bible Radio, 1983), 358.
[3] Thomas L. Constable, “Dr. Constable’s Notes on Colossians,” Sonic Light, 2007, http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/colossians.pdf (accessed September 26, 2009), 43.
[4] David Kinnaman, UnChristian, What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… and Why It Matters, 2st Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 41.
[5] Ibid, 46.

The Complete Egoist by Arthur Guiterman

I have tried over the years to reconcile the whole of what is social networking to how it helps or destroys the effort of devoting one’s life to the pursuit of God.  Reading through a sermon written by a family member in 1976, I came across this poem by Arthur Guiterman called “The Complete Egoist”, who wrote this around 1930 about our pursuit to self. I wonder what he would think of our narcissism in 2010.

A Mollusc who dwelt in primordial slime
Was always himself to the innermost core;
As being himself took up most of his time,
He never did anything more.
Still just as he was, though long ages have flown,
He stands on the specimen-cabinet shelf
A fossil, immortal in durable stone,
A monument raised to himself.

–Guiterman ~1930

Looking at Life from the Outside In


The last few weeks here on my blog I have been trying to decide what shape or form my blog was going to take.  I recently started seminary at Liberty University to work on my MDiv and the time requirements have been incredible.  In additional to school and work I have started getting more into a routine of cycling.  Cycling was something I never intended to get into, and really had no interest in before this past winter, but after riding consistently for the last 6 months I can now say I am diving in deeper.  I traded in some camera equipment for a road bike and have started riding longer in time and distance (26.5 miles yesterday).  That has changed how my time is spent, it has actually given me time [away from the computer], much like running would I guess.

For those and many many other reasons I am going to let my blog breathe for a while and take a break from the daily concerns of stats, postings, new content, creativity, and all that.  The photography I posted on my blog was/is enjoyable, but was one of the most time consuming things I did on a consistent basis.  I am not leaving here altogether, I have been working on this blog since 2001, so after 8 or so years of work on this blog in one form or another I think it is time for a break from the day to day.

I have been giving my obsession with social networking, blogs, and the Internet in general, a close look over the last several weeks and found that once I removed myself from things online that were not necessary for work and everyday communication I had time that could be devoted to many other things.

So with that, I will continue to keep my blog active, but my post frequency will be more scattered, and probably more of just what’s on my mind, which at the moment is my faith, my wife, school, work, and cycling.  Luckily for me right now, my faith, work and school have all come together.  For probably the first time in my life those three things, basically my faith and study of my faith and my job are all focused around the same thing, the Creator God.

The photo above is our Creator God.  This is an image of a place in Colorado I use to drive up to after dinner to watch the sunset when we lived in Colorado.  The silence up here was deafening from this vantange point.  Not another soul was usually within 20 miles, no road noise, nothing.  When I removed myself from the day (unplugged, offline, whatever), I had time to stop and listen, which is what I am going to try to do again.

He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease :: John 3:30

This past Sunday we were privileged to have Brian bring the message to us and he spoke around John 3:30, He must increase, but I must decrease.  It was a thought-provoking message but it left the details on how we are to carry this out in our lives something for us to think about and tackle on our own.  There were and are many applications for this, but I started chasing my rabbit trying to think about why, and somehow landed on the song, “When Love Comes to Town” by U2.  If everything we do and have comes from the Lord, and our actions are to glorify the Lord, then how do we do this.

To do this, we must not take His glory for ourselves.  Not something very easy to accomplish, especially when you take today’s culture and modern technologies into consideration.  We do almost everything for ourselves, with ourselves in mind.

Driven and drilled into us from day one in our great country (for those who live in the U.S.), life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which sometimes seems like the pursuit of ourselves.  The American dream, to own a house, 2 cars, have 2.4 kids, a good career, and a full 401k.  For some reason, “when love comes to town” reminded me of the reason for Christmas and even moving on into Easter, and the love He showed for all of us when He became flesh, and is why He deserves the glory.

The point of this message (at least in my interpretation) was to bring the Christmas season series to a close and bridge into our new and upcoming series on bringing our spiritual life alive, but I think we use the example we were given and use love to accomplish this.  For God to increase, I must decrease, for me to decrease, I must do this out of love.  To me, matters of faith start from the heart.

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that train
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town

As the year comes to a close, I always start thinking about a recap of where, what, when, and how of this year and what is coming up next year.  This year and leading into next year, to bring my spritual life “alive”, I must decrease. [I am not sure why we only do this at year-end instead of all year-long, but it just seems like a natural break where we mark a point in time that has an end and a beginning at 12:00 midnight at on December 31st.]

Some random thoughts on how I can try to extend this into next year:

  • read more
  • do less for my reasons, more for His reasons
  • work as if no one will ever know or see the results of my labor but God Himself
  • remember I am working for His glory, not any one person
  • give more :: time, money, effort, support, attention
  • give up more :: control, of self…
  • don’t give up when… I feel like it
  • appreciate :: time, life more (not to be confused with Time Life)
  • serve more
  • make a don’t do list, and don’t do the things on my don’t do list

I like top ten lists but all the items above can be narrowed down to “love”, and I did what I did before love came to town.  Happy New Year everyone.