Chapter 12 Practical Holiness by Conformity to Christ in Relation to Ourselves

Colossians 3:5—11

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (vv. 5-11)

We come now to the consideration of the practical teaching of the epistle where we have emphasized for us the importance of walking in the power of the truth of the new man and our relationship to Christ as Head. And in this section, which includes verses 5-17 and is too lengthy to be taken up in one address, we have, first, that which relates to ourselves, our individual judgment of the old ways, in verses 5-11, which we will consider at this time. Then in verses 12-17, we have rather our relationship to others, particularly our brethren in Christ; or, as we might put it, the claims of Christian fellowship. We must be right ourselves, in our own inner lives, if we would be right toward others. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” What I am when alone in the presence of God is what I really am. What I am before my fellows should be the outcome of this, otherwise my public life will be largely a sham.

There is a very suggestive lesson along this line in connection with the fine linen in the tabernacle. The tabernacle, as we know, was primarily a wonderful type of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was God’s dwelling place; and we read, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (author’s translation). Surrounding the court of the tabernacle were curtains of fine twined linen suspended from pillars. The fine linen, we learn from Revelation 19, is “the righteous acts of the saints” (literal rendering). Therefore the fine linen surrounding the court would speak of the perfect ways of our Lord Jesus Christ as displayed before men on earth. The hangings of the court were visible to all who drew near. But inside, covering the upright boards of the tabernacle, which were of acacia wood overlaid with gold, were ten curtains also of fine twined linen. These were not visible to men on the outside; they were seen by God Himself and, in measure, by His ministering priests. So if the fine linen outside speaks of Christ’s righteousness as Man on earth visible to the eyes of other men, which led them to exclaim, “He hath done all things well,” and which caused even Pilate to declare, “I find no fault in him,” the ten curtains inside would speak of His perfect righteousness as seen by God the Father, that perfection which caused Him to open the heavens and proclaim, “This is my beloved Son in whom I have found all my delight.”

Now how many cubits of fine twined linen were there forming the wall of the court? We learn that the court was 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide. Subtracting 20 cubits for the varicolored gate of the tabernacle, we have 280 cubits, 100 on each side, 50 in the rear, and 30 in front. Inside there were ten curtains joined together, and each one was 28 cubits long. Here then we have another 280 cubits. Note this well. There were 280 cubits of fine twined linen surrounding the court where all could behold it, and 280 cubits of fine twined linen forming the tabernacle itself, where only the eye of God saw it in its completeness! How suggestive is all this, and what a lesson for us. Our blessed Lord was just the same before God as before men. But the fact that the width of the curtains was different to that of the hangings is also suggestive. The curtains were four cubits wide, and four is the number of weakness, and speaks of Christ’s perfect subjection to the will of the Father. The hangings were five cubits wide, and five, we know, is the number of responsibility, and suggests our Lord’s taking the place of responsibility here on earth, as meeting every claim of God that man had flouted. When His enemies came asking, “Who art Thou?” He answered, “Altogether what I have said unto you.” With Him profession and life were in perfect agreement, and this is the standard which God now puts before the believer.

Recognizing, then, our union with Christ, we are called upon to manifest His life. There must be first of all the judgment of the old ways in their totality. In chapter 2 we have learned of our identification with Him in His death; in the cross we were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ, therefore we are to mortify, or put to death, our members which are upon the earth. The believer is never told to crucify himself; he is told to mortify the members of his body. We have been crucified with Christ. Faith lays hold of this, and so it is written: “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” All passed under judgment in the cross, but in order to make this practical the flesh must be kept, by faith, in the place of death and its evil promptings refused in self-judgment.

The apostle insists first of all upon the importance of dealing unsparingly with the sins that were so common in the heathen world out of which these Colos-sians had been saved. Sins, alas, almost as common in the world today, in spite of increased light and civilization. The believer, recognizing his link with Christ, is to abhor all uncleanness. He is to remember that the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body, consequently every tendency to the sins mentioned in verse 5—fornication, lasciviousness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence (or, unlawful lusts) and covetousness, which is idolatry (for in reality it is the worship of self)—all these are to be judged in the light of the cross of Christ at no matter what cost. No excuse must be offered for such sins nor any palliation of their wickedness attempted on the ground of the innate tendencies of human nature. These things are abhorrent to God and abhorrent to the new nature in every believer, and because of them the wrath of God is coming on the children of disobedience; as of old, when God destroyed the antediluvian world because of corruption and violence, and rained fire from heaven upon the cities of the plain because of unbridled lusts and passions.

In these sins, so characteristic of men away from God, the Colossians had once walked, living in them unblushingly, but that was before they knew Christ. Now, as risen with Him, these things, seen at last in their true light, must be refused as dishonoring to God and contrary to Christ. Other sins there are which in the eyes of many are far less vile and abominable than those mentioned above, but these, too, are to be put off. They were the habits of the old man, his old clothes, which are not fit to adorn the new man. And so we read, “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” The old man is more than the old nature. It is the man of old, the man you used to be before you knew Christ as Savior and Lord. In other words, the old man is all that I once was as an unsaved person. I am through with that man. He has disappeared, for faith, in the cross of Christ. But if I make this profession, let me be sure that I do not manifest his ways. Sometimes those who make the loudest professions in regard to the truth of the new creation are the poorest performers of the truth, and thus they give the lie to what they say by what they do. It was Emerson, I think, who said, “What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” It is to be feared that many a Christian has lost his testimony because of carelessness here.

Anger, which, as we know from Ephesians 4:26, may be righteous, is generally but the raging of the flesh, and even where it is warranted (and we read of our blessed Lord looking round about upon His opponents with anger because of the hardness of their hearts), still this must not be nursed or it will degenerate into wrath, which is a settled condition of ill feeling toward an offender and generally has coupled with it a desire for revenge, and so malice springs from it. We have three generations of sin here: anger cherished begets wrath, and wrath if not judged begets malice. No matter how grievously I have been wronged, I am not to give place to the Devil and malign, or seek to harm, the one against whom I may have been righteously indignant in the beginning. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the devil.”

Blasphemy—this dreadful sin may be either Godward or manward. To impute evil to God or to seek to misrepresent Him, or to pervert the truth as to the Father, the Son, or the Spirit, these are various ways in which men blaspheme against God. But to speak injuriously of one another, to circulate wicked and untruthful reports against one’s brethren, to revile rulers or governors, or to seek to harm, by evil report, servants of God, all these are included under the general term blasphemy, and here how often have sharp-tongued religious controversialists failed even at the very moment that they were endeavoring to meet the blasphemy of their opponents in regard to divine things. When the hyper-Calvinist, the father of William Hone, the one-time infidel, described John Wesley as a child of the Devil because of his Arminianism, he had himself fallen into the sin of blasphemy. No wonder his son turned from such Christianity in horror, and was for years in darkness, until reached by divine grace. Railing accusations ill become those who have been saved through mercy alone and have occasion daily to confess their own sins and sue for divine forgiveness. The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God, and He, the Holy One, is not served by our hard speeches against His saints, nor even against men of the world.

Did we not know the corruption of our own hearts, it might not seem necessary to warn redeemed saints against the vice of using unclean language or relating salacious stories, but this is what is involved in the next expression, “filthy communication out of your mouth.” Questionable stories and the relating of things true or false, the details of which only tend to feed a corrupt nature, these are to be shunned by a Christian. It was a wise answer and a deserved rebuke that a brother once gave to one in my own presence who began a story with the remark, “As there are no ladies here I want to tell you something I heard the other day.” But the other checked him by saying, “Brother, though there are no ladies present, the Holy Spirit is here. Is your story fit for Him?” The first blushed in confusion and accepted the rebuke. We did not hear the story.

Were there any truth in the unscriptural theory held by some that the nature of the old man is eradicated in the case of a sanctified believer there would be no room whatsoever for the next injunction, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” Lying is one of the very first evidences of the carnal nature. Of the wicked we read, “They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” And untruthfulness is one of the hardest habits for anyone to overcome. It is so natural to these vain hearts of ours to try to make things appear better than they really are, to cover up our own failures and to accentuate the sins of others. Yet these are just different forms of lying, and we are called upon to judge all guile—untruthfulness of every character—in the light of the cross of Christ. The old man was judged there in the person of our Substitute, his deeds are to be refused, his habits put off as discarded garments that, as we have seen above, are in no sense fit for the new man.

In the next two verses we are told that we “have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” The new man, then, is the man in Christ, even as the old man was the man in Adam. This new man has a new, divinely imparted nature, and it is to this new nature God by the Spirit appeals. The new nature alone is capable of receiving divine instruction, and as the truth thus imparted controls the life, the believer manifests increasingly the image of Him who is the Head of the new creation. He Himself, as we have seen, is the image of the invisible God. Man was created in the image and likeness of God in the beginning, but that image became terribly marred through sin. In the new man this image again becomes manifest, and the very lineaments of Christ are seen in His people. This is true, no matter who or what they were before receiving the new life, whether cultured Greek or religious Jew; whether within the circle of the Abrahamic covenant marked off from the rest of humanity by the ordinance of circumcision, or whether in the world outside, strangers to the covenants of promise; whether barbarian or Scythian (that is, of the wild tribes outside the pale of civilization); whether slaves or free citizens. All alike were sinners; all alike are included in the term “the old man.”

Now those who through grace have believed the gospel, from whichever of these classes they may have come, are members of the new creation and are seen by God as justified from all things and are possessors of a new and divine life. They belong to that new company where Christ is everything and in everyone. This is not to deny racial or class distinctions in the world—these the Christian must still recognize, and he has his responsibilities as to these distinctions—but above and beyond all these responsibilities is his new place in Christ, linked up with the new Head. It is from this that his new responsibilities flow; because he is a new creation man, he is called upon to manifest new ways and to put on new habits, new clothes suited to his new relationship. These new clothes will come before us in our next study.

In closing let me remark that new creation is not simply individual. It is not merely that I, as a believer, am a new creature in Christ Jesus. A better rendering of 2 Corinthians 5:17 would be, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, it is new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Joyful now the new creation
Rests in undisturbed repose;
Blest in Jesus’ full salvation
Sorrow now nor thraldom knows.

Not yet do we see the manifestation of all this, but “we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor,” seated above all the changing scenes of time. Until He returns, it is as members of the new creation that we are called upon by our new ways to manifest the holiness, the grace, the righteousness, the love, and the compassion of Him who is “the beginning of the creation of God.”

It is not that He is the first being created. This error was exposed in an earlier lecture. But He is the First, the Prince, the Head, the Origin of the new creation where all things are of God. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature [or a new creation]. And as many as walk according to this rule [the rule, the controlling principle of this new creation], peace be on them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15-16). This is the very opposite of legality. It is the spontaneous expression of the life of the Head in the members here on earth!