Theme: God has forgiven us, and for the first time we have a desire to genuinely please God out of gratitude in that new relationship that we have with him. But it requires choices that we make in our day-to-day lives.
Well we have been looking at the Book of Colossians across the past few weeks and it’s been a good time of just seeing the incredible things that God has done on our behalf and particularly last week we saw that because of Jesus Christ, we are free from concerns about human rules and religious regulations as being some kind of path to please God. We don’t have to have anxiety about being acceptable to God because Jesus Christ has made us acceptable. It’s a wonderful thing for us to think about, that because of Jesus Christ we are made close to God and we are free, but last week after the service I got an e-mail the next day by a young woman who was checking on a church. She actually lives in California and she is hoping to move here and one of the things that she said is that the next logical step though is “free for what?” We are free. We are free for what? Are we free to do anything we want live any kind of life, make any kinds of choices possible and that’s the kind of freedom that God is giving us in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so. I think it is more complicated than that.
When I was younger I had an aquarium, and I had goldfish in it for a number of years and then finally decided to get exotic so I got a Mexican swordtail. It’s a fun looking fish and for the 24 hours that I owned it, it was quite a lot of fun. They have this habit that I found out about later that they jump out of aquariums because they want their freedom and you are supposed to have a little top on the aquarium. I didn’t know that. And so I came the next morning and there was the fish lying dead on the living room floor. That fish wanted to be free and that fish did what came naturally, but did it get freedom? No, I don’t think so. It got dead. That’s not what it was expecting when it jumped out of the aquarium. When we look at something like a train, we recognized that a train is only truly free when it’s on those fairly narrow defined tracks. When a train decides to leave those tracks, its not freedom, it’s a derailment and people’s lives get hurt. People love SUVs and off-the-road vehicles, but if we are going across country, I don’t think that the off road option is the best option to cross-country. If we are going any kind of distance, we are likely to choose the highways and expressways. Even if we are in a traffic jam, that’s a better choice than driving through somebody’s back yard and trying to make our way in to the mountains. Freedom involves a certain confinement in that sort of case as well. There are certain choices that we have to make.
Well we are free in Jesus Christ, but we are free for a particular kind of purpose. We are free to love and we are free to reach out to people who are different than us. We are free to forgive. We are free to serve. In other words, we are free, but we are free for a very specific thing. We are free to become like God. Be holy. Be set apart. Be special, because I am set apart, different and holy. God invites us to share his character and so that’s the freedom we have, its freedom to become like Christ and so with that in mind I want to read the words that Paul talks about here in giving us a sense of what it means to apply all of this truth about Jesus Christ in to the way we behave. It comes from Colossians 3, and I am going to begin on verse 5.
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Let’s pray. God we thank you for this your Word and we pray now as we think about it together, that you will highlight the things that are important in our lives and help us to put aside anything that stands in the way of that. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well over the past two weeks, I have been pointing out that several times Paul brings us this theme that we have died in Christ and have been raised with him. This is an important theme to Paul and it’s an important theme in this book. It comes up again and again. There are certain foundational things that God has done in Jesus Christ and through faith in him we are connected with the fact that God has ended a selfish, self-centered, Godless part of our lives. That tendency and stronghold has been dealt with in Jesus Christ and that the powers of this world that constantly defeat us, those powers have been defeated in Jesus Christ so that there is a death that applies that has brought us forgiveness and has brought us freedom.
So a new life has begun. We are forgiven. Were we created to be like Christ? To be God-centered people? To be people who really want to please God? And people who have the power to begin to live differently? Because of what Jesus Christ has done, we have died to try to please God through religious activities, through special rules and regulations and special days of the months and months in the year. We don’t have to carry around that anxiety that we have to do something like that to please God. Christ has done it. Everything we need to be acceptable to God has been done and in its place then, of all of these rules and regulations, there is a relationship and we are called to focus on that relationship, to have our eyes on Jesus Christ, to focus on who he is, and where his power is, and how we are in him, and that we share that power in our lives, and that we are called in to a relationship with him, and that we can build that relationship together. That’s the way to grow. That’s the way please God in all that we do.
In today’s passage this pattern continues of death and life. In verse 5 it begins by saying “put to death.” We will come back to that in a minute. But again, this issue of death. Verses 9 and 10 bring up this issue again. It says, “Since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self.” So there’s an old self and a new self, something that’s been put off, something that’s put on. And then in verse 12 this idea of putting on and putting off comes up again where it says, “cloth yourselves with compassion” and all these other things. So this same theme of death and new life comes up again and again. But something is different here. Look at verse 5. “Put to death.” Verse 12. “Clothe yourselves.” What’s different here is that these are active verbs and they are present tense. It means that there is something that we have to do right now. In the other sections it is talking about what God has already done and how the foundation is laid. But in this section we start coming to the fact that all of what God has done, all of this foundation that God has done, the principalities and powers that have been defeated, the forgiveness that has been brought to us, all these things lead to a moment when we have to start making choices. Present tense. Active verbs. It begins in verse 5 by saying “put to death.”
Now this could have said, “let the old man die,” but that’s not what it says. It says “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” It would be so nice if it was just “let the old guy die,” you know as if he were on life support and this old man, this old sinful thing was just begging to die, just stop paying attention to me and I will die and I will fade away. But that’s not what it says. It doesn’t say “let the old man die.” What does it say? “Put to death.” It’s a much more active picture, because here in this picture we actually have to pull out a sword and kill something that might be kicking and screaming when we do it. Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature. We are in a battle. Christ’s work doesn’t end our battle with what the Bible calls sin; this self-centered, this godless, this willingness on our part to do whatever it takes to grab things for ourselves no matter what it does to other people. That part of our lives just doesn’t disappear. Christ has done the work, but he has engaged us now in a battle and it’s only when Christ works in us deeply that the battle begins in earnest.
If God has just given us some new rules then we would be hearing these new rules and we would be saying, “Uh-oh, in order to please God I have to obey these rules” and so out of self interest and fear, we would be trying to obey God, but that’s not what God has done in Jesus Christ. He has freed us. He has forgiven us and he’s put us in a position, a way for the first time we could have from the inside, a desire to genuinely please God out of gratitude, out of joy and in that new relationship that he has built between us. But it requires choices that we make in our day-to-day lives. It’s not easy. There’s a battle that begins, a battle that continues. One of my seminary professors was fond of saying, “Grace does not make things easy, but it makes things possible.” It is now possible to live differently even in the weakest places of our lives, but it doesn’t mean it will come easily. We are to put to death some things in our lives, to take an active role at facing it and trying to cut if off. We are to take off some things. We are to put on some other things.
Now I am not going to go in to the specifics. There are long lists here. Positive lists of things like compassion, kindness and patience that we are to put on. Negative things like rage and malice, and evil desires that we are to take off. You can look at those lists on your own and kind of struggle with which ones really apply most to you in your struggle. I want to take a bigger look right now at the big picture of what this means. How does this sort of reality have a practical effect on the way we live? I would like to look at verse 12 for a moment.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves…”
As God’s chosen people holy and dearly loved.” Now there’s a foundation to our liberty that’s happened in the heavenly’s, that’s happened in reality that’s out there where Jesus Christ has defeated our enemies and has won for us a forgiveness and that the law can no longer speak against us because we have died in him, that this is the true fundamental reality of what it means to have new liberty as a Christian. This has been done on our behalf. But in terms of our experience of what it means to follow Jesus, one of the fundamental things is that we have to know that we are loved, chosen, holy people. We have to know this. That God has really reached out and chosen us, that he wants us, that he loves us and that we are not just tolerated, we are embraced, that we are holy people and that word means that we are set apart. That God has taken people who have responded to Jesus out of the crowd and has put us in a special relationship with himself where we get to participate in his nature and share in his spirit and God delights in this. We are chosen and dearly loved.
Statistics show that particularly with young women that their success in being able to stand up for themselves and to live a moral life, particularly the area of sexual morality, that those choices are directly related to how good a relationship they had with their fathers, in particular. That there is something that happens there that gives them strength, that gives a security, that gives a momentum for obedience that’s just hard to have otherwise. That same thing is true for all of us when it comes to our relationship with God. That our sense of being truly intimate and acceptable and accepted by God and loved by God is a foundation for us to face the realities of what it means to follow God in our day to day lives; to give us a strength to face these challenges. We need to know that we are loved.
Now do you have a voice in your head that’s telling you anything otherwise? If you have committed yourself to Jesus Christ, is something in your head telling you that you are not loved, you are not chosen, you are not holy. It’s a lie. You’ve got to know this. If you belong to Jesus Christ, you’re loved. Dearly loved. Loved to the point that God is willing to die for you. Know that. We need to know that.
The next thing that we need to look at is that we have been called into a battle, but that battle is not won as we face the challenges in our lives. Often the battle is won earlier. Keith will be talking about this more next week. Keith Wright as he preaches. But I want to talk a little bit about prayer today too. Because it talks here about putting on the new, taking off the old. These are not things that happen just when we face a temptation and we face a situation. Often that these are the things that we struggle with in prayer ahead of time. God has done everything we need to lay a foundation for a new kind of life, but it’s in prayer that we start to wrestle with what exactly does that mean for me right now in my life here. So long before we face a sexual temptation, long before we face the challenge of forgiving somebody that we really don’t want to forgive, we need to be praying about it. And God honors those prayers.
Now I am not talking about the prayers that say, “bless me God and help me to forgive so and so.” That’s not the kind of wrestling that I think is meant here. There is a sort of soul-searching prayer that needs to happen sometimes. When we start to recognize that “God this is the way that you want me to live and I don’t have it in me to live this way. Not only that, right now I don’t want to live this way” and you bring this to God in prayer and you pray about that and say, “God I want this to change or maybe I don’t want this to change. God help me to want this to change” and you wrestle with this in prayer and you work this through and you come to the point when you recognize that you have nothing to bring to God except this burning fire of desire to somehow be the person that he wants you to be. And when you get to that place in prayer, we have begun to win a battle that we haven’t even faced yet, face to face.
I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed the cheap sort of prayer and failed. Just slammed in to my habitual failures. But how many times when I did this work, Jesus said to his disciples, “Get up and pray so that you won’t be tempted.” I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed and done that work of really trying to lay it before God and seen the results in my life that day, that week and not just because of the fire inside, but because of God’s sovereign protection and mercy and the help of other people. Man it’s amazing the way God pulls together all of the universe to help us in our battles when we have prayed about them first. So, we need to learn to pray. We need to learn how to put on this new and take off this old as we struggle with God and struggle with ourselves in prayer.
Another thing we can see in a passage like this, is that Paul lines up a bunch of behaviors that he points out are good behaviors, a bunch of behaviors that we know as bad behavior. Something else is that in most of these struggles, it’s not going to be a question of what’s right and what’s wrong. We are going to know, because we have in the scriptures a model of what righteous life is all about. We have Jesus Christ, a model of that. We have the confirmation of the Holy Spirit in our lives nudging us in the right direction and then we have that burning desire that starts to come to flame and then the power to actually do it. So yes, there will be these times that we really don’t know what to do, but the vast majority of life its going to be clear and that’s something else we can see in a passage like this. That we have some clear choices and this internal desire to begin to chose the right things.
But finally in looking at a passage like this, we have to recognize that eventually it comes to a choice. At some point or another all this that God has done comes to a choice and we have to chose to put off the old way and to put on the new. It’s right there in the passage: “put to death.” “Clothe yourself.” It’s an active moment. It’s a choice we have to make. And then this new life we put on is not a static thing because it talks about this new life as being renewed in the image of its creators. So even this new self is being renewed day by day through the choices we make, through the experiences we have. Even that is a process and a change. It’s a journey. It’s not a step. So yes we have a victory at one point, but then there is another step the next day and we will have a momentum from past obedience, but there are always new things to face.
Now the problem is that most of us are willing to have God work this way in some areas of our lives, but we are not real happy to have God do it in every area of our lives. Yeah, God we want you to remodel the living room or in my case remodel the basement, okay? But leave the rest of the house alone. That will cost too much. Jesus is not satisfied with that. He wants to tear the shack down and he wants to build a dwelling worthy of the life of the Holy Spirit in us. And that, that gets hard because there are things that we want, things that are hurting us and we would be glad to have God do that. There are other things that we are holding on to because they are kind of nice you know. They are kind of comfortable. We don’t want to let those go. C.S. Lewis talks about that kind of struggle and there’s a passage from the book, “The Joyful Christian” by C.S.Lewis and I want to read to you this section. It talks about this struggle about letting God do the whole work.
“When I was a child I often had a toothache. And I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something, which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get sleep. But I did not go to my mother, at least not until the pain became very bad and the reason I didn’t go was this. I did not doubt that she would give me the aspirin, but I knew that she would also do something else. I knew that she would take me to the dentist the next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain, but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right and I knew those dentists. I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth, which hadn’t yet begun to ache. They wouldn’t let sleeping dogs lie. If you gave them an inch, they would take a mile. Now if I may put it that way, our Lord is like the dentist. If you give him an inch, he will take a mile. Dozens of people go to him to be cured of some particular sin, which they are ashamed of like lust or physical cowardice or which is obviously spoiling daily life, like a bad temper or drunkenness. Well he will cure it all right, but he will not stop there. That may be all you asked, but if you once call him in, he will give you the full treatment. That’s why he warned people to count the cost before becoming Christians. Make no mistake he says. If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourselves in my hands that’s what you are in for. Nothing less or other than that. You have free will and if you chose you can push me away. But if you do not push me away, understand that I am going to see this job through.”
God wants to see this job through. He has done everything we need to make us be the kind of people we were created to be. Let’s not push him away.
Let’s pray. God, we know that in so many parts of our lives we do push you away. And so we pray now that we will have the wisdom and desire to pull back and to not push you out but to invite you in, to all the corners of our lives, so that you might work out in us things that will bring us joy, bring other people joy and bring you joy, as we become more like our savior and Lord Jesus Christ for it’s in his name that we pray. Amen.