Tuesday I mused on the formal clash between a sermon introduction (can't change a drunk by dressing him up) and part of the text it introduced (Colossians 3:12-14 — which tells us to dress up!).
Let's take up with my ad hoc translation of the text itself:
"Put on" these eight virtues / attitudes / graces / practices, the apostle says. But he does not merely say that. He says to put them on:Put on, therefore, as people selected by God, holy and abidingly loved, compassionate affections, kindness, humble-mindedness, gentleness, long-suffering, 13bearing with one another and freely forgiving one another if one should have a complaint against someone; just as also the Lord freely forgave you, thus also you should do. 14And on top of all these things put on love, which is the unifying bond that leads to maturity. (DPUV)
First, as those "selected by God." This translates ἐκλεκτοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ (eklektoi tou theou), identifying them as those who in eternity past had been singled out by God from the mass of humanity, and thus made objects of His saving grace, and bequeathed to Christ for salvation (cf. John 17:2, 6; Ephesians 1:3-14). This massive exertion of divine power brought life to the dead and light to the darkened, through sovereign, creative, powerful grace (2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 2:4-10; 5:8).
The next two descriptives may modify this alone, but each will be taken in turn.
Second, they are "holy," which is to say that they are set apart for God's ownership and service. This is accomplished once for all by the offering of the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:10), is also a work of sovereign grace (1 Corinthians 1:30), and is why all Christians without exception are dubbed "saints" — holy ones (ἅγιοι, hagioi). We are not what we were — or, put another way, in Christ we are what we were not.
abidingly loved," which is my way of trying to catch the perfect passive participle ἠγαπημένοι (ēgapēmenoi). They became objects of God's free love, were objects of God's free love, would remain objects of God's free love. This is not a weak, wimpy love of good intentions, but a mighty powerful love that sees to it that the deepest needs of its objects are met (cf. John 13:1; Romans 8:28-39).
So this is the frame, the setting for the call to "put on" the graces Paul then enumerates.
To go back to the pastor's illustrations, they are not still unreformed drunks, plucked from the street for a merely external makeover. They have been transformed by God's mighty, redeeming love. They are not what they were, could not ever again return to what they were.
So now that they are new, what of their lives? What should characterize their lives? The same smelly, rancid, repellent garments that once suited them perfectly? Never! That was then, this is now (cf. 1 Peter 4:3).
What's the deal here, then? The deal is that we have been fundamentally changed, true. But note how Paul cuts the heart out of all quietism. There is no suggestion that I am to "wait on the Lord" to add these graces to me, or put them on me, or even to work them into me.
The idea is I am different, I have a different wardrobe — and I am both spiritually able and morally obliged to put it on.
This is a command. It is not a statement of fact or a prediction. It gives me something to do, and tells me to do it.
This command is addressed to me. It is not addressed to the Holy Spirit, it is not addressed to the Lord Jesus. It gives me something to do, and tells me to do it.
So it is not inward transformation from without, it is outward transformation from within. If I were to massage the "drunk" illustration, then, I would say it is taking the drunk out of the gutter and transforming him — then saying, "Look, those clothes don't suit you anymore. These do. Here, put these on."
And so we should, and so we must.