Football is a hugely popular game, with millions of supporters in the UK (it’s pretty much our national sport, whether it’s official or not), and everyone supports their own team. How can you tell which team someone supports? Well, they go to the matches, they wear their team’s shirt, and they follow them in sports news. My brother is an avid supporter of what was our local team, Oxford United. He asked for a new shirt for his birthday whenever the strip changed, he had a season ticket and went to all the home matches before he moved away to university – actually, he still makes trips home to watch important matches! He spends hours on their website, and watching them on the local sports news when he can. It is beyond me why he bothers with such devotion over a game – or of OUFC for that matter cos they’re no Premiership side at the moment, it has to be said – but he undeniably is a supporter of the ‘U’s through and through, because of how he lives. His motivation for his fanaticism is his love for his team; and in a similar way, we are called to reflect our status as children of God in how we live, because we love God:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will appear with Him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favouritism.
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
– Colossians 3:;1-4:1
At first glance, it looks like the writer, Paul, is giving a list of rules to follow, just after he has said in the previous chapter that there is no need to follow rules for salvation. But we will see that here, his motivation for action is different – it isn’t “works for salvation”, but “works because of salvation”. We will see that our identity in Christ should motivate us to live in a way that reflects who we are.
So, what is our identity as Christians? We are raised with Christ to new life, as it says in verse 1. We are dead to sin and the rules of this world, and are hidden in Christ (v3). Christ Himself is our life, and we await the time when we will appear with Him in glory (v4). We are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, as it says in verse 12. We are members of the body of Christ, with a promised inheritance. So, who are we? We are the chosen, beloved, people of God. We have been made holy by Jesus Christ, who is our very life now that we are hidden in Him. And we expect and hope for a heavenly inheritance and an eternal, perfect life with God Himself.
If you notice, throughout this chapter Paul gives this identity as being the reason for doing the things he encourages the Colossians to do. Since we have been raised to life with Christ, we should set our hearts and minds on heaven (v1). Verses 3-5 say that we should put to death our sinful nature because we are hidden in Christ and will appear with Him in glory. As God’s chosen people, we should clothe ourselves with such things as love, kindness, and peace (v12-15). And 3v18-4v1 give the Lord as a reason for their instructions – whether it’s for the sake of pleasing Him, worshipping Him, or remembering that He is our Master.
Let’s explore what Paul says it means to live in a way reflecting our identity in this passage. In verses 1-4, Paul says that we should set our hearts and minds on heaven, because we are dead to the world, have been raised with Christ, and our lives are hidden in Him. We will share in His glory in the future, so we should live lives that glorify Him now. Verse 5 says that we should put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature. Here Paul lists two lots of five characteristics that we should put to death or rid ourselves of: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil practices and greed in verse 5; and anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language in verse 8. These are characteristics of the earthly nature – of how we used to live before we were saved. But now, we are God’s people, and so need to discard and put to death these aspects of our old nature and embrace the righteousness that we have been given. We still sin, granted, but sin’s power over us is broken, and now we desire to please God and live righteously. After he has described what we should get rid of, Paul describes what we should “put on” as God’s people. In contrast to the old self, we should clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace. Everything we do is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him,” as it says in verse 17.
Can you see what this means for us? We are called to live in a way which reflects our status as God’s redeemed people. We are God’s chosen people, all of us who are saved. He loves us greatly, and has made us holy. He has forgiven us for our sins. And so, we can show the same forgiveness and love to each other. Or should do, rather, because each and every Christian is God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved child (v12). The characteristics of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience that Paul lists are seen throughout the Bible in the character of God. So as God’s people, we are called to reflect who God is in how we live.
Paul gives some practical applications of what living like people of God looks like in 3v18-4v1. His applications are based on what households were like at the time, but we can still learn from what he says. Wives are asked to submit to their husbands, honouring and obeying them freely, and affirming their husbands’ leadership and supporting his role in the family. In parallel to this, husbands are called to love their wives and be gentle with them. In Ephesians [5:25-33] Paul gives Christ’s sacrificial love for His Church as an example to follow. Children are asked to obey their parents, and parents are asked not to provoke their children so that they don’t become discouraged. Why? Because this “pleases the Lord” (v20). The instructions to slaves and masters seem a bit removed from how our society works today, but a similar relationship does exist between employees and employers today. So, slaves, or employees, are called to obey their masters, or employers – not only in ways which their masters can see, but also in ways that go unnoticed. Their service should be wholehearted, and as if God Himself were asking them to do it, because they know that they have an inheritance in heaven and that God will reward them for their fruitful work (v24). Everything we do should serve God, and that implies serving those on earth who have authority over us, since God put them in that position. Paul’s address to masters in 4v1 is short, but contains a serious warning to masters to treat their slaves fairly.
All of these relationships share the motivation of pleasing God, or of having God as their Master. And ultimately, this should be our motivation for how we live as well. Yes, we should live as people of God, reflecting our identity in Christ, but what is our underlying motivation for this? Is it to keep God on our side so that He will be nice to us? Remember, we are already God’s dearly loved people because of our new status in Christ, so whether we do or don’t get it right as being Christians doesn’t change the fact that God loves us and wants the best for us. We should live the way we live in order to please God, not appease Him. We should act out of love for Him, as part of our worship to Him. And when we do this, when we live as compassionate, kind, gentle, patient people, this reflects who God is. It brings Him glory when people look at us and see Christ! If we were to live like God’s people fully, it would be a refreshing foretaste of heaven! Such love, respect and honour would glorify God to all who see.
Living in this way is part of setting our hearts and minds on heaven (v1). As we look forward to future glory, to meeting Jesus face-to-face, to everything being made right, we should reflect what we look forward to in what we do now. We live in the time between Jesus’ act of salvation and the time when He will return to take us home – the time of “now and not yet”, where we live in the now looking forward to what is to come. We cannot claim our righteousness for ourselves, because we know we’re not perfect, but we can point to Christ. We need God’s help to do this, to fight against our sinful nature and actively seek to act in a Christ-like way. So let’s wear the shirt, sing the songs, and walk the walk that honours God and isn’t ashamed to be His.