The Old and New Man – Colossians 3

Read the Passage: Colossians 3

Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Colossians 3

The Old Man (3:1–11)

In Col. 2:16–23 Paul taught against the false teaching in Colossae, which largely focused upon human works, law-keeping, and the material realm in general. In contrast to such ideas, in Col. 3:1–2 Paul exhorted the church, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” The idea that believers have been raised with Jesus means that they have a new quality, new character, and new principles of life (cf. Rom. 6:3–4; Gal. 2:20). Since this is a reality for all Christians, they ought not to be consumed with the things of earth but should focus on spiritual and heavenly truths (cf. Phil. 4:8). Yet, embracing and embodying this concept is difficult for many; thus, in Col. 3:5 Paul identifies six specific sins believers are to crucify, for they each invoke the wrath of God.

As was noted above, in Col. 3:5 Paul lists six sinful acts that Christians are to avoid: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, and idolatry. While these sins are each unique, a commonality between them is that they tend to be internal in nature, at least in their conception. In Col. 3:8–9 Paul catalogs six additional sinful acts that believers are to crucify: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, and lying. A similarity between these sins is that they are mostly external in nature. Observe that in this passage Paul describes the lost and the saved with the two phrases “old man” (Col. 3:9) and “new man” (Col. 3:10). Paul gave a similar teaching in 2 Cor. 5:17, as he wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” This newness ought to foster unity in the church.

The New Man (3:12–17)

Whereas he listed six internal sins in Col. 3:5, and six external sins in Col. 3:8, in Col. 3:12–14 Paul catalogs eight characteristics of the new man, which include: mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, patience, forgiveness, and love. Note the similarity of this list to the more well-known eight fruits of the Spirit recorded in Gal. 5:22–23. The overlap between these two lists is not coincidental, as in both passages Paul is describing the character of the Holy Spirit manifest in the life of a maturing believer. Furthermore, observe that these attributes present in the new man are not called the fruit of a believer who is trying hard to be godly. Rather, these traits are commonly called the fruit of the Spirit. Indeed, if someone is truly a believer, and therefore is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16), then God’s character will inevitably be manifest in their life.

The result of manifesting the fruit of the Spirit described in Col. 3:12–14 will be that “the peace of God [will] rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15). This peace is not an extra-biblical event that guides believers to embrace the traits of the new man that are described here; rather, when the characteristics of the Holy Spirit who indwells Christians are welcomed and evident in the life of a believer, the follower of Jesus will experience the peace of God. In Col. 3:15 Paul teaches that believers have been called to such a life of peace in the church and ought to be thankful for it. Col. 3:16 is parallel to an earlier teaching of Paul at Eph. 5:18. A important parallel between these two verses is that in Eph. 5:18 it is “being filled with the Spirit” that produces spiritual flourishing, while in Col. 3:16 it is “the Word of Christ dwell[ing] within you richly” that results in the same.

The Christian Home (3:18–25)

In Col. 3:18–25 Paul gives directions on the Christian home. It is important to observe that this passage, which is parallel to Eph. 5:22–33, is not an isolated teaching. Rather, in the context of his instructions to the church in Colossae, Col. 3:18–25 is an extension of the character of the new man that Paul has been addressing all throughout this chapter. In this passage Paul teaches how husbands and wives are to interact (cf. Col. 3:18–19), how parents and children are to interact (cf. Col. 3:20–21), and how employers and employees are to interact (cf. Col. 3:22–4:1). It is interesting that few people question the teaching that husbands, parents, and employers ought to lead, to provide, and to protect others; yet, many people object to the teaching that wives, children, and employees ought to submit to and to obey their authorities. Clearly sin has affected all aspects of human relationships.

Application Questions:

  1. What are some of the most obvious changes that a person undergoes when they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior?
  2. What does Paul mean in teaching that believers currently have died to sin, have life hidden in Christ, and have been resurrected with Jesus?
  3. What has helped you to “put to death” (Col. 3:5) or to “put off” (Col. 3:8) the old man with his sinful desires and actions?
  4. Which of the eight characteristics of the new man that Paul lists in Col. 3:12–14 is the most difficult, and the most easy, for you to manifest?
  5. How can we explain the fact that Paul views the filling of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18) and the indwelling of the Word of Christ (cf. Col. 3:16) as synonyms?