"THEREFORE, AS GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE, HOLY AND DEARLY LOVED, CLOTHE YOURSELVES WITH COMPASSION, KINDNESS, HUMILITY, GENTLENESS AND PATIENCE." — COLOSSIANS 3:12
Not long ago, my youngest son got an award at school. It had his name on it and this one word: kindness. It’s a whole thing at our school—every month they have a new character trait they learn, and every month a handful of students receive an award for displaying this trait. Over the years, my kids have gotten a few of these, and my momma heart swells knowing they’re “good kids” at school. But I always find myself wondering about this curriculum. Don’t get me wrong, I think virtues are virtuous, and it’s a common grace that a secular school would encourage moral goodness in line with Biblical ideals.
I just always wonder “How?” and “Why?”.
How are they going to equip kids to enact these behaviors? And why would they? At school they can only teach them about these traits. Other than giving them head-knowledge, I wonder how kids are supposed to live them out, just try really hard? This brings me to the “why.” This I’ve figured out. Why would a kid want to do the right thing? Positive affirmation—getting a certificate, a handshake from the principal, and a picture with the other “good” kids—all in front of their peers and parents. THIS is a strong motivation to “be good,” isn’t it? As I think about the virtues in our verse, I wonder if these same reasons are what get us to try to be “good people.”
How and why would we live out the moral directive in our verse?
How and why would we be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient? What empowers us to live this way? Is it knowledge? And here’s the money question: Why would we want to live this way? Is our motivation affirmation? Are we good because we want to look good for other people? For God, even?
I know. I’m meddling here. With me too.
When I look at my own heart, so often my virtuous behavior is empowered by knowledge and motivated by affirmation. I do the “right thing” because I know it’s right. And I do it because it feels good to look good (doesn’t it?). But deep down, my heart is not good. I’m not kind or compassionate or patient because I love God and his people. I’m merely good for my own good. I find all my goodness is really selfishness (not a virtue!). I’m in it for me, what I get—applause, a handshake, and a crummy certificate and a photo with all the other “good kids.” Yuck. I need a better “how” and I need a better “why.” I need a right way to live rightly. But how, then? And why?
The answer’s right there in our verse.
And it’s waaay better than mere head-knowledge and applause! We just need to unpack that first part of the verse so we can see how God gives us both the ability and the motivation to live morally good lives. In essence it says this, Because you have been chosen by God and are dearly loved and holy, live like this. It’s telling us that because we are chosen, holy, and dearly loved, we can live rightly, and we’ll actually want to. Let’s break it down, and I’ll show you what I mean.
How? How are we able to live rightly?
Our verse tells us that we’re God’s own people, made holy by him, and dearly loved by him. This is shorthand for the tremendous reality that occurs in all who believe in Jesus. Let me elaborate. God the Father, who is perfectly perfect in every way, sent his Son Jesus to make sinful people into holy people. Jesus did this by living the righteous life we could not live and dying the death we deserved for our wrongs (Colossians 2:13). But Jesus didn’t just die—God the Father ratified this wonderous act by raising him to life. And all who believe in Jesus exchange their death and failure for his life and holiness. This is who we are as Christians: “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” And it is out of this reality that our verse tells us we can live rightly.
In the same way that our salvation is achieved through the power of God (not our own), so too our virtuous living is empowered by God himself! And this is good news for any honest human who struggles to live rightly. It is not by our grit or sense of duty. It is not more knowledge that empowers us to live this way. We live this way because God himself has not only made us holy, but he has given us his Holy Spirit to live in us—convicting us, guiding us, even giving us these and other virtues (Ephesians 4:34, John 16:13, Galatians 5:22-23). This is real empowerment for virtuous living! But there’s more good news. When we fail (and I do, all day long), there is grace. The same God who chose us and made us holy also loves us dearly. He has given us an all access pass into his throne room, where we find not condemnation but mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). This is why the first half of this verse is here. It tells us that we can live rightly, because God himself empowers us to do so.
But why? Why would we want to live rightly?
I think this may be the harder question for me personally. The applause of others is such a strong motivation. But when I think about what this verse is really saying about who I am and what God has done for me, it exposes the ridiculousness of looking good for others. What is the praise of the whole earth in comparison with the esteem of heaven?! When I consider the loving gaze of my Father—who went to unimaginable lengths to make me his own dear child—all the accolades and approval of others falls away. And his gaze is all that matters. In light of his love, I want to do what he wants me to do. I want to show my love for him by loving others in the same way he’s loved me. My motivation is love, not accolades.
So, in this verse, we see that God not only is the ”how” but also the “why.”
God is the one who empowers us to live holy lives. And God motivates our love towards others by the love he gives us. This is the glory of our verse: it not only commands us to live rightly, but reminds us that we’ve been equipped and motivated to do so by God himself.