Colossians: Living Out Your True Identity


Steve Jobs, the co-founder and late CEO of Apple, was known for wearing the same outfit.  Do a quick google search, and you'll find him making appearance after appearance in a black turtleneck, jeans and comfortable shoes.  I don't know if he ever changed up his brands at all, but I'm almost positive you could go to his closet and find a collection of turtlenecks and jeans.  Now, imagine for a moment that Steve Jobs woke up one morning, got dressed and came out to make a presentation for Apple wearing something completely different, an orange polo and khakis perhaps?  People would have been shocked!  They would have said, "What is going on here?  This isn't the Steve Jobs that we know!"

In chapter 3 of Colossians, Paul begins to switch gears.  He's developed a wonderful theological understanding of Christ and the gospel, imploring the church in Colossae to rest their faith solidly on that truth, at which point he uses the transition, "If, then" to indicate that those beliefs should mean something for their actions.  Because of who they already are in Christ, their identity, they should be putting on behaviors and actions that reflect their new heart, putting sinful earthly practices to death.

What Paul is saying is much like Steve Jobs and his closet.  Steve Jobs had a wardrobe filled with black turtlenecks and jeans, and this is what he put on each day.  He dressed in a way that reflected what was already in his closet.  If he had changed and decided to buy something completely different, people would have noticed and shockingly accused him of not being true to his identity.

Pretend with me for a second that our closets are like our hearts (not a perfect metaphor, but hopefully helpful).  When Christ gave us a new heart, he filled those proverbial 'closets' with a new nature and new desires.  He gave us all new, pure white garments of righteousness.  They reflect things like love, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Each day, as a follower of Christ, we have access to those things, and we can chose to put them on, because they are already ours.  We live out our true identity as we dress in a way consistent with our closets.  But instead of clothing ourselves and putting on qualities that we already possess in Christ, most of us do one of two other things:

1.  We go dig clothes out of an old closet.  I don't know about you, but I have a second closet.  It's not in our bedroom, but in another room across the hall, hiding things that don't really fit my 'new' mom body anymore (but I just can't bear to give up).  These are clothes that I look at over and over, wondering if I should finally throw them out once and for all, never being able to let go completely.  And sometimes, I even put on those clothes and wear them out in public...knowing that I'm a bit uncomfortable and probably not wearing something that fits my new figure.  We can do the same thing in our hearts.  Instead of putting on our new qualities given to us in the person and work of Christ, we can run to our old ways and clothe ourselves in ill-fitting acts of unrighteousness like sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, idolatry, gossip and anger.

2.  We ignore the clothes we have and shop for new ones.  The other thing I often do is grow bored and discontent with the clothes I already have.  It seems too easy to just pull something out of my own closet, so I determine I can come up with something better at the store.  There, I try to purchase things that I want to reflect my identity and my style.  This is also like our hearts.  Instead of resting on the free grace and identity we have already been given, living that out, we want to add to our salvation through good works.  We think, "These garments Christ has given me are good, but I can do something better."  Thus in this scenario we are also failing to live according to our new heart, and instead we adopt a works-based mentality.

Again, this is not a perfect metaphor, but I hope it illustrates this truth that Paul was trying to communicate to the Colossians:
Live according to who you are in Christ.  Put on your new self, hidden in Christ with God and put to death your old self.

Why should we live according to our new identity?
Here is the foundation of Paul's argument.  It's not that we should live this way so we can obtain heaven, please a God who is angry with us or look like good people on the outside only.  We should live according to our true nature because of what Christ has ALREADY obtained on our behalf and it's who we ALREADY are.  Our closets are already full of these Christlike garments.

(Paraphrase from Colossians Chapter 3)
We have been raised with Christ in new life, who has been seated in a place of honor at the right hand of God.  Our old selves have died, and our new lives are hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ appears, we will also appear with Him in a glorified body.  This promise is already ours!  Our minds are being renewed after the image of our creator, and we are completely free in Christ who is our all in all.  We are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, and God has forgiven us in Christ.  Finally, we were called to the peace of Christ, and to do all things in His name.

If you are in Christ, if you have believed and trusted in Him for the forgiveness of your sins and the hope of new life, then you have already obtained a new heart.  As Paul says, "IF THEN, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."  (3:1)

And in Ephesians 4:1, "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called."

Clothe yourself from the right closet
Let's go back to the closet metaphor.  How often do you find yourself pulling garments out of an old closet or working your way to a different wardrobe?  Could this be playing itself out in your life?
Here is an example situation (one that I've experienced myself) using the metaphor, and one of the qualities Paul described in Colossians 3:

My new self or new identity has the desire and ability to be patient in Christ, and I desperately need patience with my children.  Each day, situations arise where I have the opportunity to display patience as my children argue over toys, ask the same question over and over again, tug at my pants, fail to nap like I planned, and disobey my authority.  In those moments I often do one of two things.  One, I go to my old closet and pull out a quality of my old, earthly nature (that no longer reflects my new heart) to put on display, namely anger.  Anger is a passionate outpouring of my wrath when my children fail to perform and meet my standards according to my kingdom purposes.  Anger takes the form of avoidance, laziness, raising my voice, rash discipline or harsh words.  Anger clouds my judgement and impedes my ability to display the qualities of Christ to my children and share the gospel.  Secondly, sometimes I attempt to gain a new garment of patience for myself, outside of what Christ has already done.  I wake up in the morning and decide I am going to will myself to be more patient.  When those moments of frustration arise, I try to master my self-control with all my might, and stand on my own strength to respond appropriately.  This works for a while, and it looks good on the outside, but ultimately it's exhausting and it sucks the joy out of life.  The only thing that helps me have TRUE patience is when I've been doing 3 things:

1 - fixing my eyes firmly on who Christ is and what he has done
2 - preaching the gospel to myself, praying it daily
3 - relying on God to give me strength and pour out His love through me in practical situations

There is no lasting hope to be patient with my children unless I'm humbled by the vast patience God has undeservedly shown me.  As I dwell on God's patience in my shortcomings, I can forgive the shortcomings of others and display patience.

Can you relate to this example?
Feel free to insert any one of the positive or negative qualities Paul described, and think about what causes you to live that way.
Do you struggle to live with a thankful or peaceful heart?
Do you often find yourself in contentious situations with your husband?
Do you have a bitter or hardened heart against family or friends?
Do you regularly experience bouts of anger or use your words for gossip and slander?
Do you find yourself passionately pursuing worldly things, while avoiding the 'things above' where Christ is seated?

The answer to these struggles isn't try harder to change, but run to Jesus, behold Him and live according to your true identity.  This type of outflow not only gives glory to God, but can give you real joy.

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Other posts in this series:
Colossians: The Supreme Treasure of Christ
Colossians:  Holding Tightly to the Gospel Message

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