The Christ-Centered Life

By Tony Merida

What does it mean for your life to be marked by true Christlikeness? The Apostle Paul highlights what genuine devotion to Jesus means in his letter to the church in Colossae.

It’s very easy for individuals to rise to leadership in the church because of their giftings. But there’s more to leadership in the church than giftings. We must always give attention to character as well. Unfortunately, stories of moral failure abound because of this very issue: a failure to grow in Christlikeness.

Ongoing growth in Christlikeness is an absolute necessity for ministry leaders for at least three reasons: (1) Christlikeness pleases God; (2) the qualifications for pastoral ministry revolve primarily around character, not gifting (with the exception of being able to teach); and (3) Christlikeness makes up for a lot of our deficiencies in ministry.

One of the classic passages we should regularly return to for self-examination and repentance is Colossians 3:1–17, where Paul exhorts the church to walk in their new identities and to pursue spiritual maturity.

Our New Identity

Paul begins with “If then” or “Since then you have been raised with Christ…” (Colossians 3:1). This “If/then” statement harkens back to his previous statement in Colossians 2:12–13 on how the believer has been raised to new life with Christ. There are at least 3 implications of our new identity in Christ:

  1. Our new identity means we also have a new priority: “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” (Colossians 3:1b–2).
  2. Additionally, our new identity means we have a new security: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  
  3. Being united to Christ means we also have a new destiny: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). 

When it comes to spiritual maturity, we must always come back to our new identity. Christ is our life! We must remember who we are, what is ours, and all that will be ours in Christ. From this place of holy awareness and profound gratitude, we then seek to put sin to death and put on the virtues of Christ.

Put Off All That is Inconsistent with Your New Life in Christ

Paul describes the type of lifestyle that should characterize one who has been united to Christ in verses 3:5–17. He tells us about the “type of clothes” that we should wear as new creations in Christ. If a football player plays for Notre Dame, then you expect him to not wear the jersey of another team. Likewise, for the Christian, we have a particular type of clothing—or character—that should match our new identity.

He first begins with a vice list that includes attitudes and actions that must not be part of our life (Colossians 3:5–9):

  • sensuality and greed (3:5–7)
  • sins related to sinful attitudes and speech (3:8–9)

This next list of sins generally falls under the relational sin category: “…anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another…” (Colossians 3:8–9a). These verses speak to those who cannot control their temper or their tongue.

Why should we adopt this pursuit of godliness? Because “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (3:9b–10a). Since we are new and are “being renewed” (Col. 3:10), live in a way consistent with this reality.

The Christological climax is this portion of the text: “Christ is all, and in all” (3:11). This is the declaration of one who is growing in godliness. Christ is all to us, and Christ unites us together.

Put on All That is Consistent with Your New Life in Christ

The Christian—and the Christian community—is to be known not only by what we reject but by what we practice. As church leaders, we have the high calling to lead our church in this process of spiritual maturity.

To summarize these verses, the inspired apostle tells us that the character of Christ should adorn us (3:12–14); the peace of Christ should rule us (3:15); the Word of Christ should transform us (3:16), and the name of Christ should motivate us (3:17). It’s helpful to turn these into prayers.

  • May the character of Christ adorn us as we display compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Christ is known for these virtues, and Christ-followers must pursue them.
  • May the peace of Christ rule us. When Christ’s peace rules in our hearts, it will work itself out through cultivating peaceful relationships. As a ministry leader, let the peace of Christ be your goal in relationships, doing your best to be a peacemaker!
  • May the Word of Christ dwell richly in us. “The Word of Christ”—that is, the message of Christ, needs to be at home in us. Don’t let the Word of Christ be an occasional visitor, but let it settle down and transform you.
  • May the name of Christ motivate us. Paul finishes this powerful passage by reminding the saints: 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” (3:17). This means to be conscious of His calling of you.

Christian maturity involves us embracing and rejoicing in our new identity in Christ, and out of this heart, putting off all that is inconsistent with our new life in Christ while putting on all that is consistent with our new lives found in Him. Church planters and ministry leaders are to model growth in maturity and lead others to grow in godliness. Not every leader has the same gifting, but all have this calling to grow in Christlikeness and to spur God’s people on to do the same.

Published January 17, 2024

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Tony Merida

Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C, and is the Vice President of Planter Development for Send Network. He also serves as a Board member for The Gospel Coalition. Tony has written several books including, The Christ-Centered ExpositorLove Your Church, and multiple volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series. He’s happily married to Kimberly, and they have five children.