Having demolished the false claims of speculative philosophy in chapter 2, Paul now develops the implications of our true relationship with Christ. As those raised with Christ, we are to seek and set our mind on spiritual realities (vv 1-4). We are to detect and destroy the moral vices and attitudes of fallen man (vv 5-9), rebuilding ourselves with the beautiful character supplied by the indwelling Christ (vv 10-17). His presence and character are also to control how we fulfil earthly relationships (vv 18-25).
3:1-4 The Christian’s Position, Passion, Perspective, and Prospect
“Dead with Christ” (2:20) and “raised with Christ” (3:1) refer to the benefit His death and resurrection have brought to us. Cleared from judgment, and granted new life, we are born anew in His image. This resurrection life is ours in union with Christ enthroned in heaven. It is realistic to pursue now our spiritual inheritance to be enjoyed in perfection when He comes. “Your life is hid with Christ in God” (v 3) captures the essence of a Christian living in the present world. Just as Christ in glory is presently hidden from the world, so our life is a mystery to them. As one with Christ, the true source and sum of our life is Himself. We are “in the same bundle of life” with Christ in God! All His power and purposes focused upon Christ also guarantee our security in Him. “Christ our life” (v 4), expresses our joint sharing of life with Him, as part of His body. When He is manifested in majestic glory, we will be associated with Him in His vindication over the world that rejected Him. This requires that we be previously caught up to meet Him.
3:5-9 The Christian’s Annihilation Program: Moral Vices, and Vicious Attitudes of the Old Man
As members of Christ, we must acknowledge the demand for correspondence of behavior. “Mortify (put to death) therefore your members which are upon the earth” (v 5) links our physical bodies on earth with sin. We must detect and destroy immoral desires and deeds of the body. Especially with the breakdown of societal barriers against sexual perversions, it is vital for us to remember that God’s wrath will overtake those who rebel against His principles (v 6). We are all capable of stumbling into any of these vices listed, though past experience may expose us to the danger of letting down barriers again. On the other hand, the bitter experience of sin’s slavery and destructive effect may give us greater determination and discernment to never again stray into its path (v 7). But we are also challenged to cast off every unsuitable attitude that belongs to the fallen man, Adam, including anger, malice, evil speaking, and lying (vv 8-9).
3:10-17 The Christian’s Reconstruction Program: Spiritual Qualities of Christ in the New Man
At conversion, we renounced our old selves, and accepted the judgment of God against us as sinners of a fallen humanity. We were created in Christ as newborn ones by the power of the Almighty according to the image of God, which is Christ Himself (1:15). He is the great pattern for the new creation. While it was clearly an act of God, we also are credited with having cooperated in putting on the new man. Now there is an ongoing process of development, of growth. A new character is being formed (v 10). All former distinctions between us are dissolved by the gospel. Now “Christ is all and in all” (v 11). This expression sums up the whole epistle, encompassing His deity, His pre-eminence, and His sufficiency for all our need. His indwelling presence also establishes a preciousness as God’s chosen ones, “holy and beloved.” As such, we are to sincerely cultivate His character, choosing to act in harmony with what is of God within us.
What shall we wear? A compassionate heart produces sympathetic kindness to others in need; a humble mind and meek behavior fit together, and are part of the essential dress of the holy ones of God (v 12). “Longsuffering” is the quality of being slow to anger, slow to retaliate under provocation; “forbearing one another” is restraint in our attitude and handling of one another. It is obvious that Christ took the initiative in forgiveness and reconciliation. We are called upon to take the same attitude of love and gracious forgiveness toward those who have wronged us.
Remembering His daily forbearance and forgiveness toward us is also healthy for us. It involves the willingness to extend forgiveness, to have a forgiving heart. It may not be possible to formally forgive the person until he acknowledges his guilt; it requires discernment to know what will be effective to bring about repentance and reconciliation (v 13). Love is foundational, and essential to all the other virtues; nothing else would be complete or strong without it. Love binds together all the virtues, and makes us complete. Spiritual maturity would be meaningless apart from love (v 14).
What does it mean to “let the peace of God rule in your hearts?” Some translations offer “preside” or “arbitrate.” This suggests peaceful relationships, and peaceful outcomes, rather than simply a peaceful inner feeling about our action or decision. This is confirmed by the following expression, “to which also you were called in one body.”
Thankfulness is also vital to our spiritual strength and stability, and strengthens trust for the future (v 15). Christ is the living Word, the mind of God revealed. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” suggests we are to be a dwelling place for His presence and principles, equipped to teach and counsel one another with true balance and insight, accompanied by inner grace and joy springing up through song (v 16). Indeed, our whole life is to be lived out in grateful subjection to Christ, and in harmony with Himself. Are we living up to His Name (v 17)?