Colossians 3:1-14: How to Be Holy

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Colossians 3:1-14: How to Be Holy

July 6, 2023


1 Chronicles 12-14Psalm 129Luke 8:26-39Colossians 3:1-14

Colossians 3:1-14:

So having made it clear in the previous chapter why it is that trying to become holy by religious ceremonies and rules does not work, Paul now shows them how instead they are to become holy.

Throughout these verses he has a simple metaphor. He says that we must “put off” the old way of life, and then “put on” the new way of living – the character of Christ.

But to begin with, Paul establishes a critically important principle. Holiness is, essentially, a spiritual work, and for us to accomplish it, we need to have the power of Christ within us. Since we have been raised with Christ, now we are to set our hearts on things above. But it all begins with the essential requirement: we must be raised with Christ. He is assuming that the Colossians have been. For all their tendency to fall into the trap of the false teachers, Paul has no doubt about the Colossians’ basic spiritual regeneration. And because of that he can appeal to them to go about becoming holy in the right way. But first of all we must be raised with Christ. Have you been raised with Christ? Do you know what it is to have a spiritual regeneration? To be born again? There is no point attempting to change your life or improve your lifestyle if you do not first of all have the power of Christ within you.

Then, second, Paul urges them to set their hearts and minds on the things that are above. This is where all true holiness has its foundation and practical energy: What we think about. What we give our mind to. Where we daydream. It is true that thoughts do sometimes come unbidden into our minds. But, as it was famously said, while we cannot stop the birds from flying over our heads, we can stop them from nesting in our hair. We must make a disciplined effort to think about God, to train our minds and our hearts towards the things of God. If you are struggling to defeat some bad habit or other, ask yourself, first of all, what are you spending your time thinking about? What are you reading? What videos or streaming programs are you watching? You cannot expect to become more like Christ if you do not think about Christ! How can you expect to defeat a habit if you spend your time thinking about things that are likely to lead you towards practicing that very habit! Watch what you think, what you feel, what your watch, what “entertainment” you consume.

Now we come to the “putting off.” And to put off these old clothes, the old way of life, requires a kind of spiritual violence. We are to “put to death” whatever belongs to the earthly nature. It cannot be done without work. It cannot be done easily. It must be done violently. You must look at the sin and dig down to the roots, not just prune that sin by stopping it for a day or two. Dig down to the roots. Why do I do this? What is the sin behind the sin? What am I really looking for? Do I gossip because actually I am insecure and looking for others’ approval? And if that is the case, then why? Why I am looking for others’ approval? Is it actually because I don’t think God’s approval of me is sufficient? If so, then I must fundamentally repent of devaluing God and not worshipping him for who he truly is, and missing out on all the wonders of being accepted in the beloved. Do you see? You’ve got to dig down deep, beneath the surface sin, to the roots – and then dig that sin out by the roots. Have no mercy! Put it to death!

All that is the negative side of it. But then also we are to “clothe ourselves” with these godly characteristics, these characteristics of Christ. Put on these ways of being and thinking and doing. Look at Christ, and seek emulate him. Do what he would do. And in particular, Paul brings it out several ways, “forgive as the Lord forgave you.” It is hard to forgive, but not when you realize how much you have been forgiven. When you are forgiving someone, you are not saying that what they did was ok. Nor are you committing to reconciling with them. They may not have changed, and it may not be safe for you to reconcile with them. When you forgive someone, you are giving up your right to judge them. You are letting God be the judge. And you are released from the bitterness and anger that you are carrying around. And then most of all, the great Christian and Christlike virtue, put on “love.” It is love that keeps all the virtues bound together, and it is love most of all that we must put on.


Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.


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