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Clothed in Holiness

Updated: 5 days ago

This week, we move into a different perspective on holiness. In previous weeks we have discussed how God defines holiness, how the Israelites were meant to be the example of holiness to other nations, and how Jesus extended and transformed the Law in his life and sacrifice. See previous weeks posts at the following weeks if you missed one of these or want a refresh!

Week 1 Post | Week 2 Post | Week 3 Post | Week 4 Post

Holy Living in a Secular World

Today we are going to be primarily looking at Colossians 3:12-17. Here is a little bit of background information about Colossians, if you are curious. It was written by Paul during one of his extended imprisonments, and written for a church that he had never met. (A quick side note: some scholars think that it was actually a disciple of Paul that wrote the letter in Paul's name. There is some disagreement on authorship of this text.) Paul had been told by a coworker that this church was full of faith, but also facing pressure to conform to their surrounding community and culture as they attempted to live a life of holiness in their community. Does that sound at all familiar? Colossians is a very relatable text to our experience today.

Biblical scholar Tim Mackie summarizes the basic argument about holy living in Colossians in this way: “No part of human existence remains untouched by the loving and liberating rule of Jesus. AND, We’re invited to live in the present as if the new creation arrived when Jesus rose from the dead.” These are some key ideas that we will return to in this passage. There are three points that we will try to explore in these six verses: We are called as a new covenant people. We are called to holy life in our community. And we are called to holiness in every moment of our lives.

Colossians 3:12-17: 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

New Covenant People

Verse 12 says, Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

The phrasing here is taken directly from the Old Testament descriptions of Israel’s calling as a holy people. Paul is affirming what Susan described for us last week: the Law, although it could lead people to ritual purity, did not have the power to change the heart. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, and he extends it or even transforms it so that we are able to be completely made new in Christ. This invitation is for all people, no longer only for a select few that are chosen. And notice that it is in plural--we are holy people. Not individuals out in the world by ourselves. We are the body of Christ: one body, many parts. You are not called to be alone in your faith.

In this verse Paul uses the metaphor of clothing to help the Colossians understand what this holy living is all about. So basically, we have been transformed by Christ into new people, but we still have to remove some old pieces of clothing (like greed, self interest, envy, pride) in order to put on the new clothing that Jesus is giving us.

A really important idea in this text and in all of Paul’s writings is that we are called by God. Our spiritual older brother, Martin Luther, believed in the doctrine of vocation. That instead of a few people being called to holy living by being priests or monks, we are all members of the royal priesthood of believers, and each of us have a specific vocation to which we are called and that through our work we are supposed to live out the Gospel. Whether it is to be a pastor, or a teacher, or a parent, or an artist, or a social worker, or something else, we are called by God to be holy in that work.

How does calling work? Well, some say that there are three parts to our calling: we are first set apart as the people of God; we are filled in our weekly rhythm of worship and community; and then we are blessed and sent out into the world that our holiness would not just stay in these walls. Holiness is a calling to action, not just belief.

Holy Life in Community

Most of this passage focuses on what life looks like when we live in Christian community. Going back to my earlier point, we are definitely called to live in community rather than in isolation, so what should that look like? Verses 13-16 paint a picture of forgiveness, love, unity, peace, and gratitude. We could definitely preach whole sermons about any one of these virtues, right? The picture that this paints is almost like a mini paradise of life in community. But think about your own experience. Have you ever lived with someone else? Shared a house with a roommate, a spouse, kids, parents? Is that experience always peaceful? Always loving? Always filled with gratitude and kindness? No, of course not!

Paul's metaphor of clothing ourselves with these virtues is helpful, because clothing is something that you have to put on every day. If you don’t, it will be pretty obvious to everyone around you. And some people’s clothing stands out more than others because they make intentional choices to be different. Think of a friend that always puts on the quirkiest, but cutest, combination of colors and prints. Or the person that wears suits to church every week. We all have someone in our lives that have this ability to choose clothes that set them apart from the crowd. But if you think about it, that takes a lot of planning and practice to be able to put an outfit together every day that sets you apart, right? In the same way, it takes a lot of work and practice to put on holy living every day.

When you start to try to find your style, something usually happens. You find yourself trying to wear things that might feel unnatural, like bold patterns or blazers instead of cardigans or even any color other than black. Similarly, our decision to live out our calling to a holy life might feel unnatural, because it goes against the grain of what we are used to. We have to practice holiness, and often we have to make decisions to live out holiness that feel inauthentic to how we would normally respond. It's kind of like a “fake it til you make it” situation, but better because we know we have the Spirit with us to lean on.

Holiness in Every Moment

The final verse that we are looking at today reads like this: “17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

This verse acts as the core of the whole passage. Paul, in his writing to this church on how to act as Christians, has described some really specific virtues and practices, but what does it all boil down to? Whatever you do, whatever you say, do it in Jesus’ name. Wait, whatever I do? That’s a pretty wide range of activities. You mean that when I make coffee in the morning, or take my dog for a walk, or attempt to explain a participle to my students, those things should be done in Jesus’ name? How on earth am I supposed to do that?

It is easy to assume that “holiness” is a place or a state of being that is not possible for us to attain. But something that we need to understand is that God cares about every part of our lives. And Jesus transforms every part of our experience, not just the part of us that goes to church and sings worship songs.

Original sermon & blog post written by Allison Freytes

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