Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians Part X: Christian Apparel -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 121:481 (Jan 1964)
Article: Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians Part X: Christian Apparel
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.


Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians
Part X:
Christian Apparel

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

It is a commonplace to point out that Christianity is not just theology, nor simply a system of ethics, but incorporation into Christ. To use one of Denney’s favorite expressions, union with Christ is the “diamond pivot” of Christian truth, when considered from the human side. From the divine side, of course, it is the cross.

If this be true, then it is seen more clearly than ever that Christian doctrine and Christian duty go together. Many years ago P. T. Forsyth, that Aberdonian theologian of such unusual foresight and brilliance, wrote, “The same act which sets us ‘in Christ,’ sets us also in the society of Christ.”1 Acceptance of doctrine about Christ must lead to a decisive modification in duty. Creed should be followed by conduct, it is said, and quite correctly. As Paul puts it, “For ye are dead…. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Col 3:3, 5).

With chapter three, verse five, we come to the beginning of the more definitely ethical, or practical, section of the Colossian letter. Terrible damage is often done to the Christian church by an unethical mysticism. Paul with all his genuine Christian mysticism was eminently practical in his teaching. There was no divorce between doctrine and ethic in him, such as existed even in Stoicism.

The figure, around which Paul builds his opening paragraph (3:5–17), is that of the divesting and reinvesting with apparel. In the eighth verse it is, “put off,” and in the twelfth verse it is, “put on.” The use of the figure may be related to the rite of baptism, as Moule suggests. He says: “This particular language—that of divesting and reinvesting—was no doubt dramatically symbolized by the baptizand’s unclothing before immersion and reclothing after it.”2 Pilots, soldiers, and athletes must dress the part, and so, too, the Christian believer. If the old man has been put off and the new man put on, the moral apparel of the old man must be laid aside and new apparel donned. Clothes do not make the man, but a man is often reflected in his clothes, and Paul would have the new man reflected in new moral attire after the image of Him that created him.

III. Practical: The Practice of the Believer in Christ (3:5—4:6 )

A. In the Inward Life (3:5–17).

1. The n...

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