After being reconciled to God, Paul dedicated his life to the work of reconciling others to God through his preaching and letters. Among his missionary travels was a three-year stint in Ephesus, during which a man named Epaphras was converted to Christianity. Epaphras, in turn, journeyed to Colossae and helped to plant a church. Like many young congregations, internal and external forces threatened to distort the gospel and dissolve their fellowship. Epaphras returned to Paul and asked for guidance. In this context Paul wrote a letter to the struggling church that we know as the book of Colossians.
Paul doesn’t directly or systematically address the problems in the church, but contextual clues suggest that the Colossian heresy was a mixture of an extreme form of Jewish legalism and early stages of Gnosticism (a heresy that elevated the spiritual realm over and against the material world and often involved a denial of the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus). To refute these positions, Paul’s letter underscores the complete adequacy of Christ’s work for salvation. In chapter 3 Paul describes an ethical vision in light of this truth: trade vice for virtue.
Just as when restoring a car you must sand off the rust rather than paint over it, the logic of conversion moves from darkness to light. Paul urges his readers to rid themselves of immorality (vv. 5–11) so that Christ’s will have full sway on their hearts and minds (vv. 12–17). As one commentary notes, “For [Paul], morality is a matter of what sort of person one becomes in Christ, where one ‘puts on’ the capacity for doing the good that God has willed. Therefore, believers are transformed by the working of divine grace into people who have the character to do God’s will.”