Ignoring the context for a bit, I find it wondrous to think of myself as holy, chosen by God. How did this ever happen to me, of all people? Or you? Yet we are told this over and over in the Scriptures: Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you….” Paul says that God “chose us… before the foundation of the earth that we should be holy” and “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ.” There are many, many more like this. The word “holy” means, basically, to be set apart for some purpose. We’re chosen, in other words, for a purpose.
Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling… (Hebrews 3:1) Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved… (Colossians 3:12)
I’ve heard this many times in sermons as well, but it still takes my breath away, because I know that I’m weak and easily distracted, my mind cluttered with carnal thoughts. I often see myself as a child, tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there, wishing I were more grown up. So these passages remind me that God has indeed set me aside for a purpose. Besides being deeply loved, I “share in the heavenly calling,” so I’m not rudderless. God has called me heavenward; he is working in me to fulfill his purpose as I seek him. Good news!
In both passages, this astounding good news of our identity as beloved holy brothers (male and female) is mentioned in passing, an “as-you-already-know”; the authors are about to tell us something even more important. What could that be? And is there any overlap in what follows?
Well, there’s not a lot. Hebrews chapter 2 ends with the encouragement that our brother Jesus knows our sufferings and temptations and can help us; then in chapter 3 we’re told, “therefore,” to consider Jesus, to fix our thoughts on him, and how he’s greater than Moses, worthy of greater honor. The author loves to tell us how great Jesus is: greater than the angels, greater than the priests of the old sacrificial system, and so on.
In Colossians, this reminder of our identity stands in the midst of a list of exhortations to live a holy life (3:5–17). In this letter, Paul seems fond of giving us lists of five: put to death sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (3:5); to put aside anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech (3:8). And then:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.There’s more after that, but what I wanted to notice from these passages is that the implications of our identity (as holy, chosen, beloved, called) involve our attitudes and actions (Colossians 3) and also how we focus our thoughts (Hebrews 3). Turning that around, when I remember I’m holy, chosen, beloved, called, then I’m better equipped in my efforts to fix my thoughts on Jesus and to live a holy life.Colossians 3:12–13
In other words, it’s not just the good news itself, but also the remembering of this good news, that enables me to become a good man.