11 February 2010

A bit more thinking on Colossians 3:12-14

by Dan Phillips

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, 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)
"Put on" these eight virtues / attitudes / graces / practices, the apostle says. But he does not merely say that. He says to put them on:

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.

Third, they are "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.

Dan Phillips's signature


...me said...

...how grateful i am to have "stumbled upon" this blog site...i thank God for his faithfulness in continuing to provide witnesses who are unashamed of the testimony of his dear Son...to God be the glory both now and forever!

Johnny Dialectic said...

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.

Yes. Peter would agree. "Prepare your minds for action" and "make every effort."

DJP said...

Absolutely, Johnny. Utterly apposite. It so scrapes my cortex that people try so hard to find pseudo-sophisticated ways around the obvious, plain comport of text after text after text.

J♥Yce said...

Awesome ~ and grateful He "more than suggests" we first "put off" then "put on" to not wear layers of encumberance!

J♥Yce said...

Encumber. Encumbrance. check

trogdor said...

The passage I've been studying lately that makes a similar point is 2 Tim 2:7. "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything."

Perhaps it's just the antinomian legalist in me, but I cannot for the life of me understand the passivists. There are many promises of what God does for us, but there are at least as many commands for us to act and to persevere. A lot of times the promise is the explicit ground of the command.

I'm sure we all have theological blind spots and prejudices, little things in scripture we keep overlooking. But the commands to act are so prevalent, to 'miss' them is similar to reading the New Testament and missing that it talks about Jesus. It isn't a blind spot that just escapes your notice. It requires tremendous effort to be so willfully ignorant.

If the passivists put half the effort into obedience as they do into justifying why we don't have to obey, this world would be a much better place.

Bverysharp said...

I think each time Christ is preached and His act of grace to the 'selected by God' is preached the Spirit that indwells the elected will manifest and cause a stir in the believer to 'put on' this atributes. They can't help it.
The Holy Spirit guides them in love and this same love comes out.

David said...

No, I think Paul was a quietist. Look at his life. He just sat there and waited on the Lord all the time. I mean, if he had actually done something, that would totally undercut grace.

Seriously, thanks for this post, and especially the "abidingly loved" translation. This is one of the most fruitful passages of scripture to meditate on.

Chad V. said...

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. Rom 2:6-11

There's an awful lot of doin' there. I'm just sayin'....

Joshua Allen said...

Seems to be a tough topic for people to get. Good stuff here. There was a really good teampyro post addressing the same sort of confusion back in August: http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2009/08/adorn-gospel-2.html

joel said...

Do you think it fair to say that this clear command and call to action can not be obeyed or acted out by the believer according to his or her own will, but rather is totally a work of God? I guess what I am asking is how should a believer respond to this command. Should he gird his mind and make a determined effort to obey, or should he rest in Christ and say 'Grant what you command and command what you will'?

DJP said...

I guess what I am asking is how should a believer respond to this command.

He should obey it.

joel said...

Come on now. There must be more to it than that.

joel said...

ok, we are also commanded to obey the Ten Commandments, but if you were preaching on them I don't think that you would present them and then say: 'Now obey boys and girls. See you on the other side'.

DJP said...


Well, read this if you haven't, Joel.

The question I'd (re-)ask is, If it's so complicated, how come there's no reflection of that fact in the epistles? The apostles just tell Christians to do things as if these Christians could just read them, and do them.

And remember, these readers weren't college grads, they didn't attend special seminars. They were undereducated working stiffs. A great many of them may have had to have others read the epistles to them.

But still Jesus and the apostles thought it enough to tell them what God had done for them, and what they were now to do, and expect them to get on with it -- without staying snarled in endless navel-gazing.

DJP said...

...or fancy excuse-weaving, for that matter.

Robert said...


I would say that it is only possible for us to do good (in God's eyes) because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. However, it is OUR responsibility to do what is right. To do so, we need to read Scripture and meditate upon how to apply it in our lives. So God equips us, and we have to be responsible in carrying out the work for which we are equipped, all the while making sure we give all glory to Him.

It is much too simplistic to say that God does the good work and we should just count on Him. This is the same type of problem with hyper-Calvinism...the funny thing about that is that Calvin's church/school was very much involved with missions. They even sent two missionaries to Brazil.

So, we should pray for direction, read and meditate upon Scripture to receive direction, and then act upon the direction we are given. God will empower us for the work, but we must be faithful to do it.

joel said...

Is navel-gazing when you stare at your own belly button?

Stefan said...

For a long time, I had trouble with how to understand sanctification, because I thought that if one tries at it too hard, then it's works righteousness.

Which is to say, that not being able to "square the circle" (the apostolic command to obey versus an overwrought understanding of monergism), was in effect an excuse for me to not try too hard at walking in obedience to Christ.

After all, I had my doctrine right, and that's what's more important in the end, right?

(Buzzzzz) "No, wrong answer! Try again!"

We are commanded to obey; we can obey because we have been saved by the grace of God and have the indwelling Holy Spirit; and we have a responsibility to obey...because we are commanded to do so.

Now, if we start thinking that our salvation (or perseverance in the faith) is conditional on the good deeds that we do—or we start thinking that we are doing God a favour or earning His favour by the works that we do—then it becomes works righteousness.

joel said...

DJP- I hear you now. God just brought me to life from the opposite side of death as you. Those boys down in Pensacola used to tell me that all I needed to do was obey, obey, obey, which is just as me, me, me centered as a 'Let Go Let God' introspective Christianity. I guess I have been pushing back against that since I discovered the doctrines of sovereign grace. I am not trying to oversteer in the other direction though. As for the other post you linked to you said.

'So you see, it's still me, me, me. It's just that we've moved the focus from my obeying right, in faith and by grace (which is an explicitly Biblical focus), to my yielding right (which is not)'

I don't think that I disagree with that statement, but do you really think that the bible does not have some focus on 'yielding right'? Wasn't that God's highest OT command represented in the Sabbath?

DJP said...

My brief (and not meant to be unfriendly) response would be, "Find it and we'll talk."

joel said...


joel said...

I am trying to understand this in the context of Hebrews 4. Which says something like this if I understand it correctly.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest.And again in this passage he said, "They shall not enter my rest. "Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience.

Am I way off here?

DJP said...

I think you are, if you take Hebrews 4 as having anything to do whether we can just read (say) Hebrews 13 with any other response than "Yes Lord," and get on with it in gospel obedience.

Hayden said...

The motivation and the power to do it is stated in 3:1-4 translation the Gospel.

Commands for the believer are rooted in the Gospel. (ex. Eph. 4:32)

It really is that simple and hard at the same time :-)

joel said...

No, I definitely did not mean to say that. Just trying to understand if the bible does call us to rest in Christ, in some way, for our obedience. If I understand pastor Calvin correctly. God calls us to obedience and our response should be to quickly obey, however, any success and reward is facilitated by Christ's grace. That is, He crowns His own works in us.


Chuck said...

Coincidentally, Paul helps us to see how these things work out in the verses leading up to and following this passage. (Funny how that works, huh?)

Leading into this list of 'dos' (and the 'don'ts' preceding) is the beautiful promise that our lives are 'hidden with Christ in God' and that when Christ comes back to roll up the carpet on sin and take full (visible and rightful) control of the situation, we get to be there too. And that's what drives our hope, right? That we 'set our minds' (i.e., think hard about/concentrate on/fill our brains with) all the things which the Scriptures unfold about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Enter the 'do's/don'ts' lists we we should be doing and...don'ting?

'But then look what follows: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 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.'

Paul bookends this list of qualities and behaviors with
1. Their basis in our union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.


2.How we can 'do' these things in his power! I think the key here is verse sixteen: God fully revealed himself in his word. Peter seemed to think that it was good enough to equip us for life and Godliness. Whenever we're tempted to 'let go and let God' we should open up His word and see what his Spirit has commanded us to do. The more I read and pray and think about the Scriptures, the more likely I am to obey. It's like getting a tan: the more exposure the darker the skin.

BTW, I am presupposing what Dan already said: that these commands are for believers and everybody else. A pagan could spend as much time in the Scriptures as possible and not grow. But for us believers, the richly-dwelling word is the only springboard for obedience.

I love Colossians.

DJP said...

Chuck - I like it. Thanks.

donsands said...

"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"

Excellent truth for the heart of a genuine child of Christ.

"Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."

God demands things from us, and He grants us His gracious Spirit and Word to desire to keep His demands. And it's love in our hearts, our affection for Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord which causes us to hate sin, and love righteousness.

David said...

Let's take a ferinstance.

There's a man who has been wronged in a big way. God's clear instruction here is to forgive. The man tries to figure out how to obey in the right spirit and with the right motive and in the Lord's time and not in his own strength. When asked about it, he says, "Well, the Lord's really working on me. I'm just really, y'know, waiting on Him, 'cause I know I can't do it myself."

On the other hand, this man could read this verse, realize that he's at least as much a sinner as the guy who wronged him, and Christ has forgiven him for all his sin, which by the way has started to creep up on him because of the bitterness he's harboring. So he turns that over to Christ, and forgives the man who has wronged him in every tangible way that he can.

One of these is obedience.

Michael said...

I've been working on this passage for what I am speaking on later this month for our congregation. These attributes overlap with the fruits of the spirit and the same Greek word for put on is used by the Messiah to describe what was to take place in the upper room. Our obedience still relies on the empowerment from above to carry it out.

ken said...

This is the first time I've read this blog and I definitely detect the stench of Calvin here.

EKLEKTOI is the verb related to EKKLESSIA, the "called out", i.e. the "church". It doesn't translate "singled out" "from the mass of humanity", as is claimed here, it means "called out" as a group.

trogdor said...

Ah yes, the 'stench' of solid exegesis. I knew there was something I liked about this place.

Rachael Starke said...

Ouch Ken. Is this the way to make new friends at the playground - walking up to them in the middle of a conversation and saying "You stink!!" ??

donsands said...

"..it means "called out" as a group." -Ken

Amen. A group of men and women the Lord loved before the foundation of the world. Men like Peter, Paul, Abraham, Samson, Job, CH Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor, Billy Graham and women like Sarah, Deborah, Ruth, Mary, Fanny Crosby, Joni, and thousands upon thousands of others in that group of God's people.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Dear Ken:

I don't believe in the Arminian's less than sovereign God, either, but I do not say their theology stinks. I believe in a sovereign God,whose electing grace is able to save to the utmost, not a God who tries and tries to save everyone but fails miserably because the will of man trumps God’s will.

At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and **anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him** (Matt 11:24-27).”

Also notice, it **pleased the Son**, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth..."

Sorry for going off topic, Dan.

Ken, please be kinder in your approach and repent of this.

Chuck said...

Well, at least Ken won't be one of those guys complaining about tone.

CR said...

You know, I know people are busy sometimes and certainly I don't have the time to read every one of your blogs and even less time to comment, but I don't know why this topic isn't bursting forth with 150 to 200 comments praising God on this topic.

See, a lot of Christians think all they need to do is to look upon or abide in the Lord (and that is certainly true when it comes to what to trust for our salvation). But that is not all the Christian is to do. In fact the apostle Peter tells us we must supplement our faith (i.e. add to our faith) virtues (2Pet1:5-7).

And here is the other the other error (heterodoxy, heresy) that has plagued Christendom, especially Protestantism after the Reformation and it's this: the opposite of justification by works is to do nothing. That is one of the biggest heresies that has ever come from the pit of Hell and it confuses a lot of new Christians especially those coming out of Roman Catholicism. The opposite of justification is not to do nothing, but to do everything BUT NOT TO TRUST IN WHAT YOU DO.

We are obliged to do this stuff - to put on these clothes. It isn't our works or our putting on these clothes that is wrong (obviously, since we must put them on) it's putting our trust in these clothes for our salvation that is wrong. In our uncomfortableness of works salvation, we've moved to this subtle dangerous ethics of: "well, works doesn't matter, it doesn't matter whether we put on these clothes or not." That's where antinomianism comes, faith only counts they say, my works doesn't matter they say. The apostle Paul and Peter couldn't disagree more.

CR said...

Joel writes: Should he gird his mind and make a determined effort to obey, or should he rest in Christ and say 'Grant what you command and command what you will'?

Joel, I would read the inspired words of Paul in Colossians and the inspired words of Peter in 2 Peter. Peter said to make every effort.... We do not wait on the Lord for this or simply abide in Him. We obviously pray to Him and it is by the power of the Holy Spirit we do the these things, but these things we are to put on are not monergistic acts, they are synergistic. We're to do them, immediately.

We are to rest in Christ in for our salvation. The moment we take our eyes off of Christ and put them on us, for trusting in our salvation, we'll be some of the most miserable Christians that have ever lived.

Incarcerated folks do this in the prisons in trying to lure people out of Christianity after they've been evangelized. They say: "see, you just cussed, or you just lusted, you're not really a Christian, get real, and let's do some gang banging."

When it comes to trust in salvation we are to completely, and utterly rest in the work of Christ alone. But, when it comes to our obedience, we are to diligently apply our greatest efforts in obedience. If you look at some of the greatest saints in Christian history, you will find that these men and women were pedantically disciplined in Christian virtues. We must do the same as the Holy Spirit does through the apostle Paul and Peter.

joel said...

CR: I agree with everything you and DJP are saying and it is the greatest desire of my mind to get under the word of God so that when He commands I quickly and joyfully obey, but having come out of a Fundamentalist self sanctification encounter, some time ago, where everything was obey, obey, obey and don't worry about the inner attitudes or thoughts I am trying to learn how to communicate better. Calvinists say that both Justification and Sanctification are completely the work of God so don't we have to trust in God to bring about obedience in us. Not that we are not supposed to strive with all are being to obey, but ultimatly we have to rest in God's grace to accomplish the good works that He determined before hand that we should walk in them.

There seems like a line between 'put on the good works of Christ' and 'realize that it is God who wills and works through us, according to his good purpose'.

joel said...

Again, I am not trying to be just an argumentative guy. I am really trying to learn how to communicate better what I think we already agree on.

It does not seem in anyway a call to inaction to insist that it is God who works through us in enabling us to obey His decrees. It seems like giving credit where credit is due.

I have heard many very convicting sermons that leave you motivated to go out and obey God with all your strength, but ultimatly that strength always proves unsufficient and you feel nothing but the condemnation of knowing that you failed. It wasn't until I had a certain Pyro draw my attention to God's ultimate control over all matters that I began to realize that my own strength was not going to cut it, and that I had to rely on what God did for me and not what I do for God. Since that time God actually started dramatically changing my attitudes and actions.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Dr. John MacArthur has an article(s) on "working out our own salvation" over at Bible Bulletin Board. It is well worth the read. biblebb.com/index.htm. The article is on the very front page down in the right hand corner. The title is: God at work in you.

And as R.C Sproul says, working out our own salvation is not a monergistic endeavor but a synergistic one.

While your over there, check out Phil Johnson's sermons.... AWESOME!!! Go to the bottom left side of the page, then click on Links to other Christian sites, then scroll down and click on Sword and Trowel Sermon Library. It should bring up a vast number of Phil's sermons. These are really incredible sermons.

I am sure many people here know about this site, but just in case some don't.

Mike Riccardi said...


I know what you mean. You want with all your heart to obey, but then you wind up doing the very thing you hate (Rom 7:14-25). And so when someone says, "Just obey!" It leaves you feeling like, "I am serving the law of sin with my flesh," and like you don't know where the strength is supposed to come from.

I think the key is in (1) DJP's first three points -- that is, that we are addressed as those already holy, chosen by God, and 'abidingly loved,' and (2) in Chuck's comment at 11:56 AM, February 11, 2010.

...the beautiful promise that our lives are 'hidden with Christ in God' and that when Christ comes back to roll up the carpet on sin and take full control of the situation, we get to be there too. And that's what drives our hope, right? That we 'set our minds' all the things which the Scriptures unfold about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So I think Paul gives us oodles of that motivation (or strength) to obey what he's about to command us to do as he sets our minds (affections, desires, will) on things above by recalling that that is where Christ is, and because of our union with Him, that's where our life is as well. Then he further grounds our motivation (or strength) for joyful obedience by calling us holy, chosen, and abidingly loved.

He's calling us to rest in the grace of our justification, and then expects that to energize our desire for sanctification.

joel said...

Thanks Mike, Chuck, and Dan for taking time to give your insight.

Mary, I will check out some of those 'stinking Calvinist' links you referred me to when I get a chance.

Gabby said...

There surely is a familiar odor here - quite delightful and pleasing...

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Eph. 5:2)

SamWise said...

"Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt 28:20)

Funny it's in the Great Commission!

Quite a pleasant fragrance around here. Some one must be using that "Reformation by Calvin" advertise at Angus Duncan's site:


pastorbrianculver said...

disobedience = disbelief
obedience = belief

Do we obey God's Word because it is the right thing to do? Or do we obey God's Word because we believe that what God has said is true? When we obey because we believe Him it no longer becomes a works righteousness.

Great post again as usual here. I haven't been on in several months. Praise God for all He has done!

DJP said...

Good to see you again, Brian.

pastorbrianculver said...

thank you! married life and ministry have my time pretty well taken!

John said...

Joel - as a fellow P'cola survivor, I sympathize. I have gone through the same wrangling you are going through. My God light your path.

Seriously? My word verification is "Pumbuta"?

scrapiron said...

Self discipline!

e.g. Refraining from slandering the brethren. To wit...."you stink"