The Expository Files


True Religion Defined

 Colossians 3

Passages like the third chapter of Colossians should always be read with a heightened sense of self-examination.

The point of your reading and study shouldn't simply be, "do I understand this?" The point is, "am I living like this?" "Have I really started this way of life, and am I following through as God intends?" If I'm deficient in meeting the standard of this instruction, my sense of respect for God should compel me to repent and renew my commitment.

One way to study Colossians three is, true religion is defined here. Not exhaustively but in good essence. Not everything that pertains to pure and undefiled religion is revealed in this chapter. But what is revealed here can help us fix our thoughts on what true religion is. {I'm using the word "religion" to mean, man's appropriate response to God.}

True Religion Starts By Being Raised With Christ: "If then you have been raised with Christ." Paul is addressing Christians; people who had been baptized into Christ and thus "raised with Christ," (see this explained in Rom. 6:4).

True Religion Starts When The Penitent Believer is baptized into Christ; that's how you are "raised with Him." You can't just say, "I'm a Christian." You have to become one! And the only way you can become a Christian is following the instructions given in the Scriptures. Those who are "raised with Christ," are those who have been baptized into Him, in sincere and life-changing response to the gospel.

True Religion Seeks The Things Above: "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."

Remember, this passage is addressed to those who have been raised with Christ: Christians. Two words can help us get this: Seek and Set. SEEK the things that are above. SET your mind on things that are above.

Here's a conclusion it might be tempting to jump to: Because of what this says, I must think only of heaven and God, all the time - without any other thoughts; nothing about what goes on here on the earth. That kind of thinking has a name: Monasticism. That's a religious philosophy that places all the emphasis on being alone; secluded, separated from everybody and everything.

Ancient monasticism - during a certain era - involved monks, going to a monastery, vowing silence, little contact with each other; fasting; virtually against marriage or social relationships. That extreme kind of thinking was justified by referring to passages like this: The monks thought they were doing this; seeking the things above, and setting their minds on the things above.

Examples of real people in the New Testament completely dispel this notion. Jesus lived with people, honored marriage and family and taught His disciples to seek the lost and serve each other. The early Christians we read about in the book of Acts spent a great deal of time together, helped each other and worked at jobs. There is no monk in the New Testament. There are faithful, obedient Christians, engaged in their respective duties and influencing people as a light shinning in a dark place. So this passage in Colossians is not about, and does not confirm the classic monastic lifestyle.

This is about the ambition and affection of your mind; this is about your heart, your focus, your priority as you are engaged with others in the world, and assuming all your responsibilities, while being mindful of God and thoughtful of spiritual things.
The truly righteous person has a heart that is directed toward heavenly things but not neglectful of people, or legitimate responsibilities on earth. The opposite of this is captured by the phrase Paul used over in Phil. 3:19 - minding earthly things. Or, his expression in Romans 8 about "the mind of the flesh."

There are so many people around us who illustrate this. No thought of God, of Christ, of heaven. No clear mental perspective about eternity. They just get up everyday and get all absorbed in this world . . . conforming to it . . . falling in love with it . . . And the sad part of that is - they are doomed to disappointment (see 1 Jno. 2:15-17).

Where is your mind? What is the ambition and affection of your mind? True religion - as described in the Bible - means seeking the things above; setting your mind on the things above. You do things on this earth, but with a heart that is filled with heaven's claim and promises.

True Religion Seeks To Destroy Sin: "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth...," There is nothing more pathetic or apparent than hypocrisy. For somebody to claim to be a Christian - then in their conduct, show contempt for all that is holy; for people to boast of their baptism, implying - that's all that's necessary - is like wearing a sign that says, "I'm a hypocrite." I think people must not realize how transparent they are. Some people - perhaps - just don't get it about discipleship; genuine discipleship that is heart-rooted and life-changing.

In the Bible the person who embraces true religion - who is raised with Christ into fellowship with God - holds dear the sacred duty to live godly and that means, not only verbal but personal opposition to sin (see the strong language of Jesus, Matt. 5:29-30).

This expression, "put to death," is a dramatic statement about the commitment of everyone who has been raised with Christ. It literally means to kill. This is a place where killing is righteous. Kill sin; the older translations say, "mortify." We ought to be a people who are out to kill when it comes to sin. Some of the targets are:

Sexual immorality



Evil desire

Covetousness, which is idolatry

Sinful anger, wrath, malice


Obscene talk out of your mouth

We need to go hunting. We need to be clear about the targets and kill these things. And this is personal; this is individual. I understand there is a sense in which we collectively fight against sin. But in this passage, this is our personal battle. It says, "Do not lie to one another." That's how I kill dishonesty.

And as I engage in this battle against sin in my life I am rejecting the old self and putting on the new man, "which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator."

True religion - biblical religion - use the word "Christianity" if you are comfortable with your understanding of that, must always be about our opposition to sin personally. And one motivation is - as written by Paul in verse 6 - on account of these things, the wrath of God is coming.

Are you seeking the things above, where Christ is, at the right hand of God? As one risen with Christ, through baptism, are you putting to death what is earthly? True Religion is a discipline of life made possible by Jesus Christ whom we serve.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 15.4; April 2008