“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. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12–14).
Scrap any notions of holiness lived in isolation. You can’t obey Scripture or reflect Jesus apart from relationships. Practicing humility, meekness, kindness, patience, forgiveness, and love doesn’t happen in the mirror. They’re done to and with other flesh-and-blood people; people who are sinners like you. Despite our culture’s anti–organization sentiments, commitment phobia, and infatuation with individualism and autonomy, you can’t follow Jesus apart from other followers of Jesus.
Paul told us to put off our old ways (3:5–9) but he now tells us what to put on (3:12–17). New habits displace old vices. You don’t just stop sinful patterns and behaviors; you must replace them with Christ-like ones. Put off and put on. Put off by putting on. This is the what.
The where, when, and who is we put on Christ in human relationships. A God-glorifying, Christ-centered, Spirit-produced life of holiness takes place in the church (3:12–17), in the home (3:18–21), at work (3:22–4:1), and in the world (4:2–6).
Yes, it would be easier if holiness took place on my couch, in the solitude of peace and quiet, with a Bible in front of me and coffee next to me. Instagram and Facebook might convince us this is the ideal Christian life. But the biblical vision of growing in Christ by imaging Christ happens in the trenches of personal relationships with other stubborn, sinful, stress-inducing, struggling people.
People are messy and difficult. You are messy and difficult. But Christ’s glory shines in the muck and mud of relationships as we image Him to one another. This is the why. The daily sowing of righteousness among our relationships leads to the world seeing the beauty and glory of Jesus.
But what about the how? How in the world can we live out this overwhelming stack of virtues? On my own, I’m anything but humble, patient, long-suffering, and forgiving. Paul offers two sources of motivation. First, as we looked at last time, we take part in the people of God and together share an identity. God chose us, called us to Himself, and loves us (3:12). Paul shares who we are before telling us how to live because actions are rooted in identity.
Knowing who we are (identity) allows us to look into the closet of behaviors to see which clothes fit us. For people showered with God’s grace and love, our old raggedy clothes of pride, grumbling, and self-centered living just don’t fit anymore. But, the clothes of humility, meekness, harmony, and gratitude are the exact outfit capturing our identity, so we put them on. Being His people leads to looking like Him (individually and collectively).
Not only does our new identity motivate change, but remembering how God has saved us helps us love others. God calls us to Himself so He can lavishly love us. He delights in us, and we delight in Him. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2). We fix our minds on who—whose—we are, and only then can we be that kind of person. We remember how God treats us and it transforms how we treat one another.
God’s love for us enables us to love God’s people (3:14). If you know God loves you it makes possible loving the unlovely. Despite how challenging it might be, we can love people as inviting as a cactus because we’ve seen and experienced undeserving love. Paul anchors how we are to live in how we’ve been loved. Belonging to God leads to knowing God which leads to becoming like God. Identity paves the way for imaging.
Colossians is all about becoming like Jesus by beholding Jesus, or reflecting the one we revere. Growth happens as we’re renewed in knowledge after the image of Jesus (3:10). Sanctification is the Spirit transforming us into Christ’s likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). We reflect Jesus by seeking after and following Jesus (Colossians 3:1–2). We put on Christ as we pursue Him (Romans 13:14). Or, if you’re less and less awed by Jesus as other things capture your attention, those other things will become idols you image.
When I was a kid, I looked up to Michael Jordan. I was more than happy to sing along with Spike Lee that “I want to be like Mike.” Basketball was what I thought about all day. If I wasn’t watching it, I played it. I bought Air Jordans (his shoes). I wore Nike clothing. I had the Bulls jersey. Because I idolized and looked up to Michael Jordan, that showed up in my life through my clothes, love of basketball, and in how I tried to mimic his fade-away jumper. I looked like MJ because I looked up to MJ.
This happens for us as we worship Jesus. When you read the Bible and you see Jesus, he shows us what it means for us to be fully alive. He demonstrates in tangible ways how we can image God as human beings. He puts flesh on what it means to be godly.
Jesus does more than provide a model for us, so we don’t reduce the person and work of Christ to only being our WWJD example. But as the incarnate God, He does reveal how to live. We are drawn to His glory and compelled by it. We follow His lead.
His compassion to the hurting moves us (Luke 7:13). His kindness endears us (Matthew 8:1–4). His love woos us and compels us (John 11:35–36). His humility and meekness astound us (John 13:1–20). His forgiveness to the least deserving floors us (Luke 23:34). His patience and long– suffering fill us with gratitude (Mark 10:35–45). We know Him by seeing Him in Scripture.
The more we get to know Him the more we love and worship Him. And it’s in this, our worship and looking up to Jesus, that we look like Him. We put on Christ-likeness by putting Jesus in front of our eyes (3:1–4). Knowing leads to showing. This happens individually as we follow Christ and collectively as churches follow and image Jesus together.
As you read the Bible, be on the lookout for Jesus. Make seeing Him and loving what you see the first priority of your time in the Word. Repent of ways you’ve rejected Christ-likeness. Seek to live out the compassion, humility, patience, forgiveness, and love of Jesus to the people He puts in your path each day. Get to know Jesus, and then help others get to know Him by telling them about Him and showing what He’s like.
This is an excerpt from Dustin Crowe’s new book Finding Satisfaction in Christ: A Devotional Study of Colossians.