Over the years, I have benefited from Colossians 3:1-17 more than even I know. One of the main reasons for this is that it so clearly displays how God works with his people; he is always seeking to transform our hearts and shape our motives rather than just modifying our behavior. Human religions, including Christian legalism, try to change or control people by imposing rules upon them and demanding conformity from them. That is, they seek to work from the outside in. But while their approach has an appearance of wisdom and spirituality, it has no value in suppressing the flesh and addressing self-indulgence (Colossians 2:23). Indeed, human religion has no power to transform even a single life.

In contrast, God seeks to shape godly behavior in us by getting to our hearts, by helping us see and feel that we’re loved and accepted by him without reservation through faith in Christ, by helping us understand why he instructs us in the way he instructs us, by inviting us to join him in his work, and by giving us the power of his Spirit to do what’s glorifying to him, best for us, and beneficial to others. He issues the “what” of his commands on the foundation of the “why” of the gospel, and Colossians 3:1-17 displays this well in the space of just a few verses.

Seek the Things Above (3:1-4)

To begin with, we see in verses 1-4 that God, by his eternal grace, made us alive with Christ when we put our trust in him so that our past, present, and future blessings have been eternally secured for us. As for our past, Paul states that we died, which is to say, our old selves died with Christ when we believed in Christ. As for our present, Paul declares that our lives are hidden with Christ in God, where our Good Shepherd faithfully and ceaselessly intercedes for us and protects us from all threats within and without. As for our future, Paul prophesies that when Christ returns and his glory lights up the sky, then we who have put our trust in him will also appear with him in glory.

Friends, for those who believe, this is our reality and destiny, and nothing or no one can change, corrupt, or snatch away what God has done for us! And since this is so, doesn’t it just make sense that we would spend our lives seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God? Doesn’t it just make sense that we would set our minds and fix our eyes on the things above, and not on earthly things? In verses 5-15, God calls for a number of things from his people, but all of these things are built upon this “why” of our lives in Christ. Why should we rid ourselves of certain things and develop a way of life characterized by other things? Because God has done all of this for us in Christ, he wants us to come into the fullness of his joy by cooperating with his work in us.

Put to Death the Earthly Things (3:5-11)

With this in mind, God gives us some negative instructions in verses 5-11 and some positive instructions in verses 12-15. He calls on us to seriously and severely rid our lives of certain things and passionately and persistently clothe ourselves with other things. But I say again, and we must never forget that these things flow from the “why” of the gospel as God revealed it to us in His Word.

On the one hand, God calls us in verses 5-11 to put to death everything that’s still earthly in us, things that aren’t pleasing to him and don’t reflect his heart and character. Specifically, he mentions sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from our mouths. Paul warns us that because of these things, the righteous judgment of God is coming upon all who refuse to humble themselves and receive the grace, forgiveness, and life of God in Christ. But for those of us who have believed by God’s grace, his best desire for us is that we let go of, and in fact kill, our old self along with its way of life and put on the new self, which most beautifully images Christ.

As Paul says in verse 10, God is renewing us in knowledge after the image of our Creator; in other words, he’s transforming our lives by first transforming our minds, hearts, and wills. Since this is so, let’s cooperate with him and kill everything in us that’s working against him. You see, this is yet another part of the “why” of Colossians 3:1-17—God is working in us, he’s renewing us in his image, and for this reason, he’s calling us to die to what’s already dead in us. He’s saying, My Children, trust me and cooperate with my work in you.

Put on Godly Things (3:12-15)

On the other hand, in verses 12-15, God calls us to clothe ourselves with the kinds of things that reflect his heart and character. Things that are honoring and glorifying to him. Things that give rise to the greatest joy in us. Things that bless and build up other people. But before he does that, he adds even more to the “why” of his instructions in verse 12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved.” Friends, these things are facts of our lives through faith in Christ, and there’s simply nothing we can do to make ourselves more or less chosen, holy, and dearly loved. Of course, our behavior still pleases God (if we obey His Word) or displeases God (when we sin), but the fact is that he’s completely forgiven and accepted us through faith in Christ and counts us as his chosen ones, his holy ones, his dearly loved children. This is the reality of our lives.

On the foundation of this “why,” God then invites us into the privilege and joy of being like him. He graciously calls us to cooperate with his work in us and develop a way of life that best magnifies him, amplifies our joy, and equips us to be a blessing to others. He instructs us to clothe ourselves with things like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, the willingness to bear with or put up with one another, the desire and discipline to forgive one another by the same grace with which God forgave us in Christ, the passion to live lives characterized by the love of God, the peace of Christ, and constant thankfulness to him.

Be Rich in the Word of Christ! (3:16-17)

With this glorious and gracious calling in mind, Paul then addresses an implicit question in the text to this point, namely, “Practically speaking, how are we as a people, as families, and as individuals to go about cooperating with the work of God in us from day to day?” He answers in verses 16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Here we find one primary charge and several implications.

The charge is this: “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you.” “The word of Christ” refers to the gospel or the good news that was first preached by Jesus himself and then by his earliest followers, and then by the church throughout the ages, And since Jesus and the twelve Apostles preached the gospel from the Hebrew Bible, Genesis to Malichi, and since the Apostles then wrote about the life of Jesus, the life of the church, and the implications of the gospel in what became the New Testament, it’s fair and accurate to say that the word of Christ is adequately contained and explained in the Bible as we know it. So, we should hear Paul’s charge like this: “Let the living speech of God from Genesis to Revelation, fixed on Jesus Christ as it is, dwell richly among you. As God’s chosen, holy, and dearly loved ones, be rich in the word of Christ!”

The word “dwell” means to “take up residence” in something or someone, so the Lord is calling on us to allow his word to enter deep into our corporate and individual lives to set up the permanent City of God within us if you will. He’s calling on us to have far more than a superficial relationship to his living speech. Rather, he wants it to be our abundant wisdom, a source of truth, joy, and light in all seasons of life.

Friends, being rich in the word of Christ is how we seek the things that are above. It’s how we set our minds on things above, and not on earthly things. It’s how God teaches us the “why” of his work in us and the “what” of his will for us. It’s how he empowers us to come into the fullness of what he’s already prepared for us and granted to us in Christ. So, with gratefulness and passion, let us allow the word of Christ to dwell among us as a people, as families richly, and as individuals! And as we do, let us teach and admonish one another toward all truth by the truth of God. Let us sing of the word of Christ in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Let us learn to do every single thing we do in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. O Friends, let us be rich in the word of Christ!

Developing a Life Rich in the Word

So, how are you doing with these things? Is the word Christ dwelling richly in your life right now? In the life or your family or household? In your church? And what does the status of the word of Christ in our lives say about our love of Christ?

I ask these questions not to heap guilt upon you but to help you search our hearts, even as I’ve been searching mine. And no matter the answers we give to these questions right now, the good news is that our Savior stands ready to help us grow in him until his word is overflowing from our lives for his glory and our joy. Part of what’s so amazing about grace is that the one who commands us is the one who empowers us to fulfill his commands. So, don’t be afraid to search your heart, to be honest with the Lord and others, and to ask for help from God and others as you labor to put your old self to death and to put on your new self.  

To help you with this, I want to summarize a few key Bible disciplines and encourage you to prayerfully discern where the Lord would have you stretch and grow in 2023. First, every believer needs to hear the Word of God, by which I mean hearing the Word of God read aloud and hearing the Word of God preached on its own terms. This is a vital part of developing faith and walking with Jesus that never comes to an end in the Christian life, so I’d counsel you to begin with that.

Second, every literate believer on this planet ought also to read the word in order to gain an ever-broadening vision of the whole counsel of God. So, here I’m talking less about reading smaller portions of the Bible and more about reading larger portions of the Bible. I’m talking less about gaining a detailed view and more about gaining a 30,000-foot view of the Word of God. The best way to go about this is by choosing some plan that’ll help you read the Bible in a year, or some portion of the Bible in a year, or some portion of the Bible in less than a year. While you can do this alone, I’d strongly encourage you to find one or more others with whom you can read the Bible, as this is one of the primary ways God forges his people together in faith and holiness.

Third, every believer should also learn how to study the Word and so gain an ever-deepening vision of the whole counsel of God. I advise you to read the Word and choose one place where you read it very slowly and dig as deeply as you can. Learn to study the Word by studying the Word, and again, it’s most helpful if you do this along with one or more others.

Fourth, every believer ought to develop the discipline of memorizing verses, chapters, or books of the Bible. At the same time, I know that this one’s challenging for many people, but I want to encourage you to believe that God can give you the desire, skills, and ability to memorize his Word. Few disciplines have helped me so much as this one because I find it impossible not to meditate on God’s Word as I’m driving it into my memory. And then, once it’s there, I can draw on it any time of the day or night. If the issue for you is that you just don’t know how to go about memorizing the Bible, I’d invite you to visit, where you’ll find some helpful tools provided by the team at Desiring God.

Fifth, every believer ought to grow in the grace of meditating on the Word of God and so gain insight into its meaning and application. While we discern what the Word means through hearing, reading, and study, we discover how it applies to the various aspects of our lives through the process of prayerful contemplation. And again, although this can be done alone, it is better if the lion’s share of our meditation includes others who also love the Lord and happily long to do his will.

Sixth, as we learn to meditate on the meaning and application of the Word, every believer ought to grow in the grace of actually applying it to life. You see, it’s one thing to prayerfully discern how to put a passage of the Bible into action, but it’s another thing to do it. And we must press on to actually being doers of the Word because that’s where the truth comes to life for us, and that’s where we bear the kind of fruit that glorifies God, amplifies our joy, and blesses other people.

Finally, every believer ought to learn the grace and joy of teaching the Word of God to others. You may or may not be gifted as a teacher, but if you learn anything from the Word of God, you’re now empowered to teach someone else what you’ve learned. Oh, how God will bless you as you do!

Please don’t allow this list of disciplines to be overwhelming for you. Rather, just come before the Lord, search your heart and habits, and ask your God and Savior to highlight one or two areas in which he’d have you grow this year. Steady progress over a long period of time will produce the best results, so be rich in the Word of Christ by the grace of Christ, and you will bear much fruit for the glory of Christ!

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