In the second half of his letter, Paul calls his Colossian readers to life transformation. In 3:1-4 he had reminded them that they live in union with Christ. Although they cannot see him, they are linked to him and experience the effects of that union in their lives on earth. These effects will be visible, so it is not surprising that Paul, in explaining how union with Jesus shows itself, focuses on visible effects. He urges them to deal with actions and attitudes that are common to unconverted people but which are not to be found among God’s people. The sins that he mentions can be classified as forms of immorality (v. 5) and wrong forms of speech (vv. 8-9). Such sins are visible in their effects and reveal a failure to deal with inner sin. So in dealing with these sins, the apostle does not only mention the sins, he also gives reasons why they should be dealt with.
Right away we can see that Paul stresses the responsibility of the Colossians to work out the heavenly life they now possess through their union with Christ. We need to remember our responsibility because we may assume that since we are united to Jesus spiritual progress will occur without our involvement. That is not the case. We are responsible for dealing with personal sins, and we can see this responsibility in the illustrations Paul uses. One illustration is to execute such sins as enemies (v. 5), another is to discard them as dangerous items of rubbish (v. 8), and another is to put them off (disrobe) as unsuitable items of clothing (v. 9).
It is important to observe that Paul does not suggest a gradual reduction in these sinful practices. He does not propose that his readers should focus on the worst of their sins initially and then deal with less repugnant ones. Instead he demands instant rejection of them. For example, he does not say that one should cease obscene talk first, and then deal with lies. Nor does he indicate that we should gradually reduce the number of times we misuse our tongues. Such a response would be to leave one’s enemy half alive, one’s home half-filled with rubbish, and one’s attire half-unsuitable. Rather, Paul requires a comprehensive renunciation of such sins.
What reasons does Paul give for his call to life transformation? He mentions several, and we will think briefly about two of them today. The first is that the wrath of God is coming because of sin. Persons will be judged by God on the basis of what they have done and said. A professing Christian will be judged on the same basis. If such a person lives an immoral lifestyle and fails to use his tongue in a right way, God’s wrath will come on him. Of course, if such a person repents of sinful living, he will be forgiven. But if he does not, he will suffer God’s wrath.
Sometimes we can give the impression that believers should not think about the wrath of God (v. 6). It has been observed that often Jesus spoke to his followers about hell. He told his disciples not to fear those who could destroy the body, instead they should fear God who could destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). It is a wonderful truth that a believer in Jesus is saved from the wrath of God; it is also a sobering truth that causes true believers to cease behaving in ways that incur the wrath of God.
Secondly, Paul urges the Colossians to use their memories and recall that they too had once lived immoral lives (v. 7). He uses another word picture, that of walking, to illustrate their habitual way of life. Their lifestyle had been constant in sin, they knew that they were under a strong power which they willingly obeyed. Personal experience confirmed the awfulness of such a lifestyle. Often a few minutes’ reflection on what life was like before conversion becomes an impetus to live a different way.