Spiritual formation is the continuous work to spiritual maturity through conforming to the image of Christ. Spiritual formation is the continuous work to spiritual maturity through conforming to the image of Christ. There are several keys to spiritual formation. There are many processes by which this can be accomplished. The main way to accomplish this task is by teaching for behavior change, understanding, and for attitude change. Evan Howard likened Spiritual Formation to a pot molded from clay. He believes that formation, like the forming of a pot from clay, brings to mind shaping and molding, helping something potential to become something actual. Spiritual formation speaks of a shaping process with reference to the spiritual dimension of a person’s life. Christian spiritual formation thus refers to the process by which believers become more fully conformed and united to Christ (Evan 2000). Colossians 3:5-16 presents a Christian’s old and new nature.
Paul revealed the absolute deity and authority of Christ and affirmed that Christ resides in the believers, making them complete and above fabricated religious efforts. Next, he gave specific examples of conduct worthy of the Christians’ salvation.
Paul showed that believers should be dead to old ways and alive to the new (3:5–14). With the “so” in (3:5), Paul made a transition from doctrine (1:1–3:4) to practice (3:5–4:6). The “old evil nature” (3:9) refers, not to the unregenerate nature, but to the flesh’s disposition to follow physical desires and leave God out of the picture. The “brand-new nature” (3:10) refers to the disposition created in the believer by the Holy Spirit to obey God and live consistently with his spiritual inheritance. Paul exhorted the believers to put on new virtues that were more consistent with their new nature in Christ (Hughes and Laney 2001, 613).
MEANING OF THE TEXT
Paul in Colossians 3 now shows us how to grow in a spiritual—and holy—life here on earth.
It is only natural for Paul to emphasize this. He thinks of Christianity in terms of life. In addition, all living things grow. Growth is a natural, gradual process. There is direction to growth, but the change is often imperceptible day-to-day (Richards 2001, 946).
Paul’s call is to “continue to live in Him [Christ], rooted and built up in Him” (2:6). This exhortation helps us resist those tempting promises of instant spiritual maturity. We are to be satisfied with Christ, to accept the growing processes of life in Him, and to resist the glamorous promises of hidden knowledge or special experiences that offer us shortcuts to glory. No wonder Paul spoke of a “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3:10). Renewal is a process; growth is a way of life. Keeping our hearts fixed on Christ, we are to be satisfied with progress—not to demand perfection now (Richards 2001, 613).
In urging them to be heavenly minded, Paul does not suggest that Christians are to be living in the clouds. Rather, setting their minds on the things above will result in a concrete obedience to the following: put to death, therefore, rid yourselves, do not lie and clothe yourselves. In fact, the whole section from 3:5 to 4:6, a piece of early Christian instruction, and flows out of 3:1–4. The believer who is truly heavenly minded will be of maximum earthly use! The warfare between flesh and Spirit still continues until the last day and we are urged by the apostle to press on in our Christian lives, as we all long for the final adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Walvoord and Zuck 1983, 680).
Spiritual formation is also believed to be the growth and development of the whole person by an intentional focus on one’s (1) spiritual and interior life, (2) interactions with others in
ordinary life, and (3) the spiritual practices (prayer, the study of scripture, fasting, simplicity, solitude, confession, worship, etc.). In Care of Mind, Care of Spirit, Gerald G. May believes that spiritual formation is a rather general term referring to all attempts, means, instruction, and its intent is to deepen the faith and further spiritual growth (May 1992, p.6). Paul’s instructions are vital to that spiritual growth.
What To Put Off (3:5–9)
As those who have been raised with Christ, we must let our old life die and allow our new life to reign. As we mature spiritually, we continue to be conformed into the image of Christ and in order to conform, the old man must die.
Paul saw God’s image “is being renewed.” A constant process of reshaping us is going on. In addition, as our “knowledge”—perspective, understanding, attitudes, and outlook—grows the effect is to become more and more like our Creator (Richards 1996,815).
The list of evil activities flowing from man’s earthly nature includes immorality (porneia, “fornication”), impurity (a wider perversion), lust (pathos, “uncontrollable passion”), evil desires (“illicit craving”), and greed (or coveting), which is idolatry (because it seeks satisfaction in things below and not above). Similar lists of sins appear often in Paul’s writings (Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5). Paul added that because of these evils the wrath of God is coming (Richards 1996, 815).
What To Put On (3:10–17)
A Christian is to put on the new self (new way of life or disposition). Hence, his conduct should be in accord with his new position. This “new self” needs constant renewal or refreshing—it is being renewed, in order to keep it victorious over sin. Paul also expressed this idea of continual renewal in 2 Corinthians 4:16 (“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”); in Romans 12:2 (being “transformed by the renewing of your mind”); and in Ephesians 4:23 (“to be made new in the attitude of your minds”) (Richards 1996, 815).
Christians—as God has chosen people (cf. Rom. 8:33; Titus 1:1), holy (“separated to God”; cf. Col. 1:2) and dearly loved (cf. Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:9-11, 19)—are to have several virtues. These include compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, meekness, a lowly attitude toward others, and patience which is self-restraint. The last three of these are mentioned in the Greek in the same order in Ephesians 4:2; and Galatians 5:22-23 in the Greek includes three of them: patience and gentleness, as well as kindness (Richards 1996, 815). 3:13. Furthermore, believers are to bear with each other (i.e., “put up with each other”) with the attitudes just mentioned in v. 12. In addition, they are to forgive whatever grievances (complaints) they may have against others. By forgiving as the Lord forgave them, graciously and freely (Eph. 4:32). Grudges have no place in a Christian’s life for they may lead to the sins mentioned in Colossians 3:8-9 (Richards 1996, 815).
3:14. But over all these virtues Christians are to put on love. Paul wrote elsewhere, that “The greatest of these virtues is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). In one’s catalog of virtues, love should be the cover, because it is of supreme importance and is the perfect bond, holding them all together in perfect unity (Richards 1996, 815).
Spiritual formation is the continuous work to spiritual maturity through conforming to the image of Christ. There are several keys to spiritual formation. There are many processes by
which this can be accomplished. The main way to accomplish this task is by teaching for behavior change, understanding, and for attitude change. Paul revealed the absolute deity and authority of Christ and affirmed that Christ resides in the believers. He also gave specific examples of conduct worthy of the Christian’s salvation.
The new life Christians must “put on” is one in which the Word of Christ dwells richly. Christ’s words were recorded by Spirit-guided apostles ( John 14:26; 16:13; 20:31). The words of the Bible, God’s written Word, are to dwell in believers. That is, by study, meditation, and application of the Word, it becomes a permanent abiding part of one’s life. When the words of Christ become part of a believer’s nature, they spring forth naturally and daily in their lives. This can mean either (a) God’s grace, (b) graciousness in Christian singing, or (c) Christian thanks oneself or others but is to be praise to God. Through this Spirit-filled kind of life (cf. Eph. 5:18-19), Christians can teach (instruct) and admonish (“counsel”) one another (Col. 3:16; cf. “admonishing and teaching” in 1:28) if it is done with all wisdom and not tactlessly (Walvoord and Zuck 1985, 680).
- Howard, Evan. “Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation” Christianity Today, 9 December 2002, Vol. 46, No. 13.
- Hughes, Robert B. and Carl J. Laney: Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.
- May, Gerald, G.: In Care of Mind, Care of Spirit. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1992.
- Mel Lawrenz’s view in Dynamics of Spiritual Formation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.
- Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-1985.