(Col 3:8-10 ESV) 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
The phrasing is a bit different, but Paul is plainly speaking of Christians as new creations. But here he offers a bit more detail. It’s a process — not yet complete. We’re being renewed. And the goal is “the image of its creator” — plainly a reference to Genesis 1.
That’s the intended end, but we’re not there yet. Sometimes we’re not all that close, but until and unless God gives up on us, the process continues.
What’s our part of the process? Well, we clean up our mouths. We rid ourselves of malice and anger. We don’t just stop saying angry, hateful things, we stop being angry, hateful people. And it’s sure not easy. But it’s possible, because it’s God acting on our hearts through the Spirit who makes it happen. We need only submit.
But how do we submit to an invisible God when we can’t submit to visible people made in his image? You see, learning submission — to wash the feet of Judas — is an essential step toward submitting to the Spirit’s work within us.
(Col 3:11 ESV) 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Moreover, because we’re all new creations, all being remade in God’s image, we treat each one of us as image-bearers and worthy of love and acceptance. Hence, there can be no discrimination within the gospel. The gospel is just as anti-discrimination as can be.
(Col 3:12-13 ESV) 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Compassion. Kindness. Humility, meekness, and patience. These are not natural or easy for most of us. But these take us toward the image of God. This is his nature, and we won’t much enjoy heaven unless we become like him.
“Bearing with one another” is among the hardest of all commands. We can be really hard to put up with! And we are masters of excuses. And rationalization. But this is gospel at its core, because it reflects the character of God — who puts up with us even when we don’t deserve it.
“As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Ouch! We were forgiven at very little cost to us. It was unmerited favor, you know, meaning, well, unmerited. We don’t deserve our forgiveness. It’s a free gift. And so we must forgive others. Without exception or rationalization.
(Col 3:14 ESV) 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
“Love” means it has to come from the heart. It’s not mere obedience. It’s much, much harder than that. You see, grace is not soft or weak. Grace is harder than legalism, because grace is all about who you really are inside.
Anyone can say he’s forgiven someone who’s hurt him severely, and anyone can pretend that it’s true. But few are tough enough to really mean it.
(Col 3:15 ESV) 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
We were called to peace — that is, God’s cosmic purpose in saving us is that we live together in peace. Really.
(Isa 11:6-9 ESV) 6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
(Isa 65:25 ESV) 25 “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
You don’t need a master’s in poetry to get the message. God’s plan is for us to live in peace — in unimaginably extreme ways. And because the end times have already begun — we’re new creations, remember? — we’re called to live as we will one day live with God. You see, we’re getting ready for heaven.
Finally, we come to gratitude. You see, if we’ll have grateful hearts — even when our green pastures look like desert to everyone else — we’ll be able to control our hearts and our mouths. Unity will be much, much easier.
One final note. Paul promises us God’s help for this to happen for us —
(Col 1:9-10 ESV) 9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Prayer works because God gives power to those we pray for —
(Col 1:11-12 ESV) 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
He also gives endurance and joy — even in patience. Really.
(Col 1:13-14 ESV) 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
When he saved us, the victory was won — so that we would no longer be in the kingdom of Satan and instead serve in the kingdom of Jesus.
(Col 1:15-17 ESV) 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And Jesus has defeated the powers arrayed against us. He has the power needed to create and sustain the universe. He can surely re-create and sustain us.
(Col 1:18 ESV) 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
His resurrection assures us that we too will be resurrected. Jesus was the first to land on the beach of Normandy. He defeated the enemies so we could follow him — not in perfect safety but in perfect assurance that, if we follow him, we’ll share in his victory.
(Col 1:19-23 ESV) 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Therefore, even though we were once enemies of God — and still struggle to submit to his will — Jesus is powerful enough to bring us to the end pure and spotless.
But to reach the end of the war with Jesus, we must follow him, and to follow him, we must become like him. And to be like him is to serve, submit, sacrifice, and even suffer for others from the heart — prompted by a genuine, selfless love.
It would be impossible, really, but for the fact that we have God’s own Spirit living within us to empower us to do exactly that. Our problem isn’t the difficulty of the task. Not really. It’s that we so rarely have the faith to give it a fair try.
(Col 3:1-4 ESV) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
What are the “things above”? Well, mainly, Jesus. Seek Jesus. “Then you also will appear with him in glory.”