And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… (Romans 8:28-29a)
All those whom God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s a mighty big undertaking: from sinner to saint; from wretched to righteous; from villainous to virtuous. It almost seems impossible! No wonder it takes a lifetime. But if you’re like me, you probably know the ultimate destination—to be conformed to the image of Christ—but aren’t sure what the path looks like. Well I think Colossians 3:5-14 provides some highly practical advice.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
There are two simple–simple, not easy–tasks in this passage!
- Putting off.
- Putting on.
While incredibly simple, this is a challenging process that, by the Grace of God and with the power of the Holy Spirit, will take you the rest of your life. In Christ Formed in You, Brian Hedges calls this two-step process ‘mortification’ and ‘vivification.’ Hedges devotes an entire chapter to the concept of mortification, and he defines it by saying, “Simply put, mortification is killing sin. This includes putting to death both sinful actions (deeds) and the sinful motivations (passions and desires) which produce them” (Pg. 135). He also devotes an entire chapter to vivification, but he very simply defines it as “a lifelong, active, imitation of Jesus” (150).
Thus, the idea is that we mortify—or put to death—everything that has to do with the flesh and we vivify—or bring to life—everything that is of the Spirit. With those two categories in mind, look at this list from Colossians 3:5-14:
Mortify or put off:
- Sexual immorality
- Evil desire
- Obscene talk
Vivify or put on:
- Knowledge of God
- Compassionate hearts
Now, here’s where the idea of putting off/putting on actually gets practical. It starts with a simple realization: For every vice, there is an equal and opposite virtue. Here are a couple examples: lust vs. purity; greed vs. generosity; selfishness vs. serving others; gossip vs. discretion; anger vs. patience, etc.
A common problem is that many Christians only focus on their vices. We try over and over to ‘put off’ those vices only to find ourselves discouraged and backslidden. They become frustrated because they seldom (if ever) focus on the corresponding virtues, which is why they fail to see progress and become discouraged.
It’s as though their goal is to “not be fat.” They focus their complete attention on “not being fat” all the while forgetting that they should instead focus on proper diet and exercise. Jesus told a parable about this that used to really confuse me. Both Luke 11:24-26 and Matthew 12:43-45 record this parable and essentially Jesus tells the story of an unclean spirit that a person kicks out of their house. The spirit later returns to find the house has undergone some home improvement projects but is still empty. So he settles back in and the house is in a worse state than it was in the first place. This is how it is when we try to just kick out a vice without filling our house with the corresponding virtue.
So here’s a two-part challenge:
- Instead of only focusing on putting off impatience, also focus on putting on patience. Instead of focusing only on putting off lust, also focus on purity. Instead of focusing only on putting off being greedy, focus also on putting on generosity. Take the time to write down the name of a specific vice you’re struggling to put off, and then write down the specific virtue you hope to put on to replace it.
- Confess that struggle to a fellow Christian and seek their accountability. You have nothing to be ashamed of because we all struggle with our own sins. If you believe you’re the only one struggling, you are believing a lie. Destroy the power of the flesh by bringing it out into the light.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col. 3:15).