“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Introduction: From Wrath to Grace to Joy
As I studied this passage in Colossians it became evident to me that to understand the weight of verse 12 we need to consider weight of verse 6. I’d like to start by letting verse 6 rest on us with its proper weight.
So, Paul, after instructing those made new to put to death what is earthly in them, (sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry) makes this statement:
“On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”
It has been unpopular for some time in mainline Protestant churches to accept the truth of God’s wrath. Worse, in recent times it has become increasingly unpopular even among those calling themselves evangelicals to affirm that God is a God of wrath. Worse still, many of us who affirm, in our creeds and confessions, that God’s holy anger burns against sin, tend, in practice, to avoid talking about the subject of God’s wrath altogether.
Our own statement of faith at WBC says:
“We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath…”
These are not popular assertions in our day. And even as our church documents affirm what the bible teaches about God’s wrath, there is a danger that we might become ashamed of it and avoid talking about it.
But if we affirm the Word of God to be the very Word of God it carries His authority. And if this Word is from God, God has communicated to His people what He in His wisdom has decided we should know and believe and be shaped by.
But even as wrath does not fit very nicely into the way we might like to think about God, here it is before us in the text.
And I want to suggest that without a proper understanding of God’s wrath, we, God’s New Covenant people, will not be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, bearing with one another, forgiving each other, loving one another, and always filled will thanks. We will not be the kind of people God calls us to be if we abandon the reality of the wrath of God.
But let me be very clear: this is NOT because Christians are ever again in danger of being under the wrath of God.
Quite the contrary.
But it is not until we properly understand the weight of the wrath of God that we will understand the weight of the grace of God. And it is not until we understand the weight of the grace of God that we will live as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.
So, we are going to try to better understand what the bible teachers about God’s wrath. After that we will be in a better position to consider the God’s grace. Then we will finish our time together thinking about the marks of God’s chosen ones.
An Unpopular Truth about God: Wrath
First, very quickly, I want to establish that the bible does indeed teach that God has wrath/anger. Colossians 3:6 is not some anomaly. Let me give just two other places where the bible speaks of God’s anger.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.“
“God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation(anger) every day.
If a man does not repent, God will whet (sharpen the blade of) his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.”
Do we know what our God is like? Is our conception of Him shaped by the whole of Scripture? Or just the parts we like?
The bible does not flinch on this subject. It boldly declares that God’s anger is real and His anger is against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. God is angry every day. His bow of judgment is bent and ready.
But, when we say that God’s wrath is coming we need to be careful that we understand what the bible is not saying. The bible is not saying that God has uncontrollable mood swings and one day will inevitably blow His top and burst out in an impassioned rage. No, God’s anger is not random, sudden or unpredictable. God is not one day gentle and patient and the next flaring up in irrational fury with a merciless thirst for blood.
No. In fact, the bible says that God does not delight in the death of the wicked.
“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
“As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
So, it is not as if the delight of God’s heart is to punish and destroy. He is not like us in sinful outbursts of anger. He does not delight to cause pain for its own sake. He is not malicious.
And so, we must be careful that we do not build our understanding of God’s wrath from/out of the distorted picture we see in the wrath of sinful people.
So God does not delight to destroy, and yet He is a righteous Judge, and feels anger everyday and His wrath is coming because of sin.
But what is crucial to see in this discussion is that God’s wrath can only be rightly understood within the context of God’s holiness. God’s wrath is the expression of His holiness as it meets with sin.
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Our God is holy. The repetition of the word Holy is one way in Hebrew to key us in on the fact that God possesses the absolutely highest degree of holiness. He is perfect in purity and utterly distinct from all others in His being and perfections. When Isaiah glimpsed the Holy One he immediately recognized his own unworthiness, uncleanness, and sin. And so it will be for every sinner who stands before the Holy One. Sin is only seen as it truly is when it is seen before the Holy King and Judge.
“...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…“
Because God’s holiness does not change, God’s righteous anger and opposition toward sin does not change.
It is because of who God is in His blinding and unchanging holiness that John Stott wrote that God’s wrath is His, “steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations.”
…Because God is unwaveringly holy and righteous, He is unwaveringly opposed to evil in all its forms. And so Colossians 3:6 tells us that the wrath of God is coming. There is no stopping it.
It is like a freight train speeding down hill without brakes coming straight for all the wickedness of mankind. It is as sure as the character of God. The wrath of God is coming against this world…And the world will be judged because it’s deeds are evil. God will not allow sinners to triumph in wickedness. There is coming a day when His wrath will be fully revealed.
“Enter into the rock
and hide in the dust
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendor of his majesty.
The haughty looks of man shall be brought low,
and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
For the Lord of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;
against all the cedars of Lebanon,
lofty and lifted up;
and against all the oaks of Bashan;
against all the lofty mountains,
and against all the uplifted hills;
against every high tower,
and against every fortified wall;
against all the ships of Tarshish,
and against all the beautiful craft.
And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
And the idols shall utterly pass away.
And people shall enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
In that day mankind will cast away
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
to the moles and to the bats,
to enter the caverns of the rocks
and the clefts of the cliffs,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
Stop regarding man
in whose nostrils is breath,
for of what account is he.”
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
I think it is easy for us to forget that the Almighty God is a God of infinite and unchangeable holiness, before whom none of us could stand. God’s unrelenting and holy wrath is coming.
Do we understand the terror of the Lord? Do we understand His perfect holiness? Do we stand in awe of our holy God?
Colossians 3:6 should sober us and cause us to be still before our God.
An Unplumbed Truth about God: Grace
Now listen to Colossians 3:12 and the description of those in Christ:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” How are those in Christ described? God chosen ones, holy and beloved.
I hope you see the radical contrast with verse 6: God’s wrath is presently coming against sinners because of their sin and here you, who are in Christ, are chosen by God, holy and beloved. More precious words cannot be spoken!
Those who have Christ have been chosen for deliverance from what cannot be stopped. Those who are cling to Christ by faith do not stand in the path of the freight train of God’s wrath any more. The bent bow of judgment has been removed. The sharped sword of justice is sheathed. Why?
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (wrath absorbing sacrifice) by his blood, to be received by faith.“
Jesus took the wrath of God in our place. Jesus willingly stood between His people and the freight train and absorbed the impact.
Jesus willingly stepped in front of His own people and took the arrow to the heart. Jesus our Lord received for us the death blow of the sword that could not be stopped because of the unwavering holiness of the Almighty.
Robert Reymond has written:
“When we look at Calvary and behold the Savior dying for us, we should see in his death not first our salvation but our damnation being borne and carried away by him!”
Why has Paul raised the subject of God’s wrath in verse 6?
Was it to scare Christians straight?
Was he trying to get the Colossians to behave through threatening God’s wrath?
No. Instead, Paul was giving us the context of grace. It is only when we face the breath taking reality of who God is, and what our wicked deeds demand, that the kindness of God in Christ will be cherished in our hearts.
Remember that Paul in chapter 3 here is calling those in Christ to seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. We who are alive with Christ are to set our minds on things that are above not on things that are on earth.
So Paul is helping us do just that.
You are no longer under the wrath of God ever! In Christ we are a new creation, chosen by God, holy and beloved.
I want to briefly consider these words that now describe us in Christ.
Take first the word Beloved:
Set you mind on what God is like. Even as He is holy, holy, holy and He has unremitting hostility and opposition toward sin, He is compassionate, kind, long suffering and rich in mercy.
God Almighty set His love on us even while we were still living in rebellion. And because He loved us, He provided a way to make us alive with Him by taking our punishment upon Himself.
Our holy God is gracious. He is humble and meek, becoming a servant for our everlasting good.
How are you to think about yourself in Christ Jesus? Do you know that you are loved by God?
“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not with Him freely give us all things?“
Take next the words God’s chosen ones:
How are Christians to think about themselves? As God’s chosen ones.
God chose to set his redeeming love upon a particular people among whom you are numbered if you have received Christ. Have you ever considered God’s particular love for you? It says here, that He chose you.
Have you ever considered what Jesus said in John 6:37-40
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
There was a Divine purpose in Christ’s work: the perfect salvation of all that the Father had given the Son.
Have you ever considered that God the Father loved you in such a way that He entrusted you to the Son, Jesus Christ, who accomplished everything necessary for your salvation and who even now dwells in His people by the Spirit, and will without fail raise us up on the last day?
If you are in Christ, you are one of God’s chosen ones.
Finally consider the word Holy:
Holy means that you have been set apart, consecrated, made distinct. You are not any longer a common vessel. Because of what Christ has done you are holy. You are a glorious vessel, rescued from the trash heap and set apart to God for His use. You are living stone in the temple of God. You have been cleansed and made fit for the King.
The Unnatural Fruit of God’s chosen ones: godliness
Paul is calling us to fill our minds with these heavenly realities revealed to the saints, the mystery hidden for long ages, now made known, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.
Do you live your life AS God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved? or do you live your life as one against whom the wrath of God is coming?
Paul says in verse 12-15
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
The life of godliness, that should mark the people of God, flows directly out of how we understand and embrace and seek the heavenly realities of the gospel.
As a chosen, holy, beloved vessel put on a compassionate heart…just like your God has for you.
As a chosen, holy and beloved vessel put on kindness as God has been kind to you.
As a chosen, holy and beloved vessel put on humility and meekness as God demonstrated for you.
As a chosen, holy, and beloved vessel put on patience and bear with each other as God bore with us and is patient with us.
Be forgiving, chosen ones, holy and beloved. If you have a complaint against another (and you certainly will) set your mind on the complaints that God could have held against you. You have been forgiven, so you must forgive the wrongs done to you. Chosen ones, holy and beloved, love each other as God in Christ has loved you.
Let the peace secured by Christ control your hearts. Set your minds upon the peace you have been freely given and seek that peace with one another. You have been called out of strife and fear and into peace and safety – think on these things. And be thankful.
Move toward others as Christ move toward you.
Brothers and sisters, if these things do not mark us as Christians it is because we have either never understood and embraced the grace of God in Christ or we are neglecting to set our minds on the these things.
Brothers and Sisters, if we are the people of God who are eagerly awaiting the appearing of our Lord Jesus, let us walk in the light of His glory …and grace. Always abounding in thanksgiving through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys. Visit Windham Bible Chapel.