Putting Off and Putting On
At our church here in Edinburgh, we just finished a sermon series going through the book of Colossians. I have always loved that book. There is so much packed into just a few chapters. In fact, when Taryn and I did our premarital counseling the first passage we studied with the couple doing our counseling was Colossians 3. There is this beautiful outward motion in the passage. It starts by looking at our reality ‘in Christ’ and then how that reality changes all of our relationships.
Chapter three of Colossians has this easy to miss word picture. Paul talks about ‘putting to death’ or ‘putting away’ certain actions and attitudes and ‘putting on’ other actions and attitudes. It reminds me of what I see every day as I walk to New College to work on my thesis. During my walk I see children running off to school. Each of these children has a uniform. The uniform identifies the school that they attend. The uniforms are freshly pressed and cleaned. This uniform tells everyone around about this student. It speaks of the school. It witnesses to a particular reality in this student’s life.
That being said, at New College right now there are some massive renovations on in our dining hall, Rainy Hall. (It is really quite a beautiful part of the building. It will be quite amazing when it is completed.) However, the workers that are doing the construction also where a uniform. They have a particular set of trousers on. They all wear shirts telling us which company they work for. They wear high visibility vests and hard hats. Often all of these clothes look dirty before they even start working.
A uniform tells us about a person. I can see a person and know if that person is a student or a construction worker immediately. We can look at people and based on the clothing they have on have a pretty good idea of the type of profession in which they engage. This is the imagery that Paul is picking up on in Colossians 3. Paul tells us that we are all wearing a uniform, the question is which uniform are we wearing?
Thus, Paul calls us to ‘put off’, ‘put to death’, or ‘put away’ the old dirty clothing that we inherited from Adam. However, he does not just say put that off, but he says also, ‘put on’. Paul makes clear that putting off the old clothing isn’t enough for holiness. To put off that old clothing only leaves us naked. What Paul knows we need is new clothing, and, thus, in his call for holiness, he says ‘put on’.
Now here is the important point of all of this. Paul tells us that in ourselves we don't have the power to do any of this. We can’t force ourselves through shear power of the will to put to death ‘sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness’. This is why the first four verses of chapter three are so crucial. In those first verses Paul points to the fact that Christ even now sits at the right hand of the Father. He also includes us in this reality. In all of this he is pointing to our new reality. We are hidden in Christ. We are connected to the Triune God. It is on this reality, the reality of the Triune God that we are to set our minds and in setting our minds on that, setting our minds on this true reality that we are given the power to put away ‘anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.’ Thomas Chalmers put it this way:
We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our heart, than to keep in our hearts the love of God - and no other way by which to keep our hearts in the love of God, than building ourselves up on our most holy faith.
The call to holiness is not just about taking off an old uniform. It is also a call to put on a new uniform. Colossians 3 shows us this. It starts by pointing us to the new reality of our location ‘in Christ’. He calls us to set our mind on this heavenly reality then it calls us to put off our ‘old self’ and put on ‘compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive…. and above all these… love.’ Putting on this new uniform marks us out in the world as who we are. We are ‘in Christ’. We are ‘God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.’
Because we are seated with Christ in the heavenly, old dirty rags of Adam must be put off. However, we don’t just put off leaving ourselves naked, but we put on. When we put on Christ, it changes how we relate to each other and the world around us. The Gospel is true and that changes every area of our life.