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. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Who you are in Christ is the glorious indicative that drives the imperative of how you live in Christ. That’s Paul’s point in Colossians 3 (and I would argue in all his letters). Colossians 3:1-4 speaks to the identity of the believer in Christ (gospel indicative), and verses 5 through 15 address how we are to live in light of the gospel.
Like Col. 1:21-23, Paul talks about the ongoing transformative power of the gospel by employing the “once you . . . but now . . .” contrast (see v. 7-8). The change is so profound in the Christian life that is not just a new mind or a new heart or a new way of living; rather it is a new self. You have died (v. 3). Christ is your life (v. 4). Now it is time to live like it. You are called to put away sin and the old self because God put your sin on His Son on the cross. You are called to put on the new self and all of its virtues because God has put the righteousness of His Son on you. Consequently, verses 5-15 are simply the living out the great exchange of the gospel as those who know sins forgiven and righteousness given in Christ. Indeed, as Paul puts it, Christ is all, and in all (v. 11).
What Paul shows in these verses is the vertical dimension of the gospel reframes the horizontal dimension of the Christian life. As God has forgiven you, so you must forgive others (v. 13). As God has had compassion and kindess to you, so you must show compassion and kindess to others. As God has brought reconciliation to you through loving sacrifice, so you are called to pursue reconciliation with others with the same love, patience, and meekness displayed on the cross for you. This is the knowledge of the gospel in action as we are being renewed “after the image of our creator” (v. 10).
So the Christian life should always be gospel-centered because Jesus lived the life we could never live. And yet we are called to live, not in order to earn God’s favor, but because we are highly favored, chosen, and beloved in Christ (v. 12). In His death, Jesus secured all that we need to put away sin and the old self and live as new creatures continually being renewed after the image of our Creator. And on the horizontal plane of ordinary living, the gospel shines brilliantly when we put on display who we already are in Christ in how we love and serve one another.