Colossians 3 – New Beginnings
Welcome to 2019! I trust everyone had a blessed Christmas and New Year’s! For us as a family, looking back on our first NY Christmas on Long Island-we had a great time-Candlelight Christmas Eve service, Christmas morning, Christmas Day walk at Caumsett and then Christmas dinner. We had a wonderful time-although it wasn’t long enough! Jan 2nd came too quick when everyone was back to school and work! But if you were here last week, we wrapped up our Christmas series talking about less chaos and more Jesus-and we finished our time with the Wise Men. Those scholarly, intelligent, eastern mystics from Arabia who came looking for Jesus-and in Matthew it says that when they saw him they fell down and worshipped Him. And so we made the comment that if you have a nativity set up instead of having the Wise Men standing-you should lay them down because it’s far more accurate. So here’s a picture someone sent me- pic. Isn’t that awesome? These grown men-weathly, wise, respected men-are laying down before Jesus. That picture impacts my heart! These guys aren’t holding anything back-but are humbly surrendered before the King of Kings. Am I bowed to Jesus in the same way? What an image to lead us into the New Year. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about in the weeks to come-seeking Jesus and setting our minds on Him. So to do that we’ll be starting a new series in the book of Colossians. Turn there in your Bibles. It’s entitled Colossians: Deep Roots, New Identity.
I want to start off by asking if you like hypothetical questions? If you had a million dollars how would you spend it? If you could travel anywhere in the world where would go? If you could have your dream job what would it be? It’s fun to think about those things. And I like the weird situational questions-If you had to choose between getting a speeding ticket or a bad haircut which would you pick? If you had to choose between being shipwrecked in Greenland as winter sets in or stranded in the Sahara desert during summer which would you pick? These are the important things to wrestle with-your answers really say a lot about who you are. If there were no obstacles in the way and you could do anything, what would it be? But unfortunately the key word in all those hypothetical questions is if-because we can’t do anything we want, we don’t have a million dollars laying around, we can’t just pick up and set sail for a tropical island, and dream jobs aren’t just for the taking. If often describes the stuff of fiction and fantasy-not facts. If is a word for wishes, however, sometimes if can also be used to highlight the truth.
And that’s exactly what’s happening in Colossians 3. Now I’ve never started a series in the middle of a book before! But today we’re going to look at the first half of Col 3 because this is one of my favorite passages at New Year’s. At the start of every year I always come back to this chapter because it powerfully challenges my thinking and priorities. It’s so practical-and shows us where our theology connects to our daily lives; how what we believe impacts what we do. Next week we’ll go back to chapter 1 and begin to work our way through the book. But today we want to have the words of Col 3 at the forefront of our minds. Look at how it begins-v. 1. And this is not hypothetical or wishful thinking, it’s not talking about an aspiration or a pipe-dream. Paul is saying-If you’ve been raised with Christ-which you have if you’re a believer-then your life will look like the following. Verse 1 is stating an accomplished fact, it’s describing the truth, emphasizing the most important reality in your life. If you have trusted in Christ, then as a believer you have been raised with Christ-no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it; there’s no fine print or disclaimers to read. As a believer that’s now the essence, the new identity, of your life. If you have the NIV it says, Since you’ve been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above. That means being raised with Christ isn’t what you’re trying to one day reach as a believer, it’s the starting place. It’s where the journey begins, the truth you must recognize. As a follower of Christ-Indisputable Fact 1: I am currently raised with Christ.
That’s an awesome and powerful fact, but if you’re like me, you’re asking the question-What does it actually mean? It’s one thing to picture Christ having been raised from the dead on Easter and now dwelling in heaven. He’s alive in a resurrected body and longer in the tomb, ascended to the right hand of the Father, but here we are-you and me-walking around the earth in our same old bodies, we haven’t been raised off the ground or beamed into heaven-so how are we raised with Christ? The verse sounds great, but what does it mean? Quite literally, the idea of the word raised is co-resurrection. It means that through faith you have a relationship, a connection with Christ that began at conversion. When you became a Christian an instant bond was formed between you and Jesus; that what has happened to Him has happened to you. Look back at 2:12-13. That’s describing a spiritual reality for you and me-but it’s connected to the physical, historical reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as He died on the Cross and was buried so your old sinful self died; and just as He was raised from the dead so now your spirit has been raised to new life. Who you are on the inside is new. Of course one day, when this world is over, your physical body will be resurrected for eternity, but for now it’s a spiritual reality. The newness begins inwardly as a new identity. There’s a song by Hillsong called Empires that says, Beneath our skin a new creation. I love that lyric because we’re a new person trapped in an old body. And that’s where the struggle comes from. The new self no longer sides with sin but wants to follow God. Unfortunately, the old body, our flesh, has all sorts of other tendencies and habits and attitudes that constantly surface and keep dragging us down, causing us to sin.
Remember Paul’s transparent confession from Rom 7:18-21. Who hasn’t felt like Paul? Clearly there’s the battle, trench warfare with our old selves. It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-or if you’re thinking Avengers-Dr. Bruce Banner and the Hulk. One person at war with two different selves. The Hulk wants to get out and cause havoc-just like our old selves do! Haven’t you done something and thought, Why do I keep doing this? Why do I keep acting this way? This isn’t me anymore. So the new self needs to take control of the old self-but look at where that battle is fought-the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind. Your old self, the flesh, is one smart enemy and he knows exactly what to attack-and that’s your mind. In those moments when your anger is ready to explode, when you’re really frustrated and want to take it out on your spouse or kids, when you’re in the midst of temptation, or caught up in pride or self-centeredness, or your tongue is ready to drip some juicy gossip the flesh says-Of course you ought to say that and act that way-it’s who you are, it’s normal. Everyone else in your shoes would do the same so don’t worry about it. Those are the words of the flesh-and when your mind believes them you live it out. But that’s not the truth. Go back to Col 3:1-3. We’re back to Indisputable Fact 1-I am currently raised with Christ. That is who you are-and that’s what you have to remember. One of my favorite quotes says, What you do flows out of who you are. If you’re a musician than what you do is play music; if you’re an athlete what you do is train and work out; if you’re a bookworm you read; if you’re a foodie you cook, if you’re a golfer you golf, if you’re an investor you’re looking for something to invest in and make money. What you do flows out of who you are. So if you’re someone with a new identity in Christ than what you do is live out that new identity. So it begins keeping that identity in the forefront of your mind.
But let’s be honest, isn’t this what we often forget? In the middle of the day, when you’re all stressed out and starting to feel worried you need to remember, I’ve been raised with Christ, I don’t need to be consumed with anxiety I need to trust Him. Or at home and the kids are wearing you out and you’ve lost all patience and are ready to start yelling out of irritation to remember, I’ve been raised with Christ, I don’t need to be controlled by anger, I can show patience. When you become bitter towards someone, or start holding a grudge and want to build up a wall and write them off to remember you’ve been raised with Christ which means you need to be someone who mends relationships not tears them apart. Life is totally different when you remember who you are. You no longer need to cling to your rights, demanding that other people serve you and make you happy. You no longer need to cling to your pride or put your interests in the center of your world. When you remember who you are life stops being about you and your wants.
And that leads us to say-As a follower of Christ-Indisputable Fact 2: I don’t need to depend on my “old ways” for my identity. Too many of us as Christians still try to walk both roads. We’re trusting Christ-yet still trusting in money and possessions, fearful if they’d ever go away. We want to surrender our lives to Christ but we’re still clinging to our pride, searching for worldly success, or defining our worth on what other people say about us. Maybe we desire to give to others but we still make personal comfort our number one priority. Maybe we want to love others but only do it on the condition that they’ll love us back. Or maybe we try to seek righteousness, yet still cling to our sinful habits or hang out with our old friends who take us down bad roads. It’s easy to keep holding onto all our “old ways” so tightly-success, possessions, pride, pleasure, comfort, the praise of man-and allowing those things to define us and create our identity, but as a follower of Christ our source of identity has ceased to be our “old ways”. Col 3:1-3 and v. 4.
That leads us to the next point. As a follower of Christ-Indisputable Fact 3: I am forever identified with Christ. When Paul says that your life is hidden with Christ he doesn’t mean that you can’t find it because it’s hidden away so well and locked up tight. I’m sure you’ve got things at home hidden away so well you can’t find them. Let me put this here to keep it safe-and you never see it again. That’s not what Paul means by hidden. You’re not hiding the fact that you’re following Christ. It’s never a good thing when someone says-Wow-I had no idea you were a Christian! The change in your life should be evident and on display. So when Paul’s speaking of your life being hidden with Christ, he means your identity is perfectly secure in Christ. It’s not going to change or be lost. Now we all know plenty of people have lost their identity in the world. They make some mistakes, a scandal starts brewing, investigations take place-boom-their reputation is ruined, their identity is tarnished. Unfortunately we’ll forever remember Bill Cosby’s identity, not as a great comedian or famous tv dad, but as someone convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to jail. And lots of other famous people have gone down similar roads where a once famous life is now identified with controversy and ruin. When left to ourselves who knows where our identity may end up-but if you’ve trusted Christ, if you are His, then your identity is forever connected to Him. The winds may blow, trials and tribulations may come, storms might threaten to undo you-but nothing can change the fact that as a believer your old life is dead and your new life, your eternal life, is hidden with Christ. I love what John Calvin about this verse, way back in the 1500s-What is to be more desired than this-that our life remain with the very fountain of life? And that’s precisely the point we have to remember. Who is the source, the fountain of all life? Turn back to 1:16-17 Jesus is the Giver of Life. Remember what He said-John 11:25; 5:21. He’s the source and fountain of life. So Col 3 is saying that as a follower of Christ your life is bound up in Him-the only place where life comes from!
You will try in vain to create your own life apart from Christ, you’ll be banging your head against the wall, desperately searching for purpose and identity in temporal, fleeting things that don’t last. That’s true of the unbeliever, and that’s true of the believer who’s still trying to live with one foot in both camps, still trying to ride the fence between the old life and the new. It’s the idea of living for Christ when it’s convenient but indulging the flesh when you feel like it. You may think that gives you the best of both worlds-but it doesn’t, it’s an illusion. That kind of living will never result in lasting peace or meaning. This passage in Colossians doesn’t describe a half in/half out kind of Christian life. Flip it on when you’re at church and act godly, flip it off when you’re at home and live like you want. If half-and-half living was the answer this is the place to say it. Sort of set your minds on things above. But it doesn’t say that. Col 3 is saying that the only place of permanent peace and joy is found in letting your old self die, in letting your old self be put aside and out of the way. I love what author Phil Downer said about his conversion-Eternal Impact, 107. It’s not about old you-God isn’t interested in old you! He wants old you gone. It’s knowing the truth of who you now are in Christ. Back to Pt3.
So look what it says in v. 5a Kill it, get rid of it, destroy it. Can the analogy be any clearer? When was the last time you killed something? It’s a morbid question-but think about it. I will never forget being at my grandma’s house one time playing Scrabble. She’s an excellent Scrabble player but underneath the table there was a mouse running between our feet. So she got out a sticky trap and we continued on playing. Before too long we saw that the mouse had gotten stuck and dragged the trap halfway across the room. She was grossed out and said, “Oh Jim just kill it.” So I took the little fireplace shovel, scooped him into a bag and then smashed him. Now before you report me for cruelty to animals, I was just being an obedient grandson to my grandmother’s wishes-but that mouse was dead. And whether you’ve killed a mouse, swatted a mosquito, squashed a spider, tried to kill the super fast crickets or accidentally ran over a squirrel, when you kill something it’s dead. It doesn’t get back up, it doesn’t run off, it just lays there. And that’s precisely the picture we need to have for our old selves-v. 5a. Squash it, kill it, let it lie there. And we’re given a list of those things-v. 5b.
How many of us covet or find ourselves greedy for all sorts of things-from cars, boats, a bigger house, a bigger tv, a better phone, a longer vacation? And what do we tell ourselves, Once I have that then I’ll be happy but the stuff never satisfies and Paul calls it what it is-idolatry. That’s a harsh word-but idolatry is substituting created things in place of the Creator. It’s loving the gifts and forgetting the Giver. So here in v. 5 we’re commanded to put to death greed and impurity, which is talking about money and sexual sin. And aren’t those two of the biggest problems in our world today? Scandals are always about either money or sex. Those two things are always at the center of it. If you wonder whether the Bible is relevant-this verse tells us it’s highly relevant. Human nature hasn’t changed over the years; our ways of sinning have just become more subtle and sophisticated. So as a believer we need to put greed and sexual sin to death-v. 6. There’s no denying it. Sexual sin and greed runs completely counter to God and warrant His wrath. You can’t live the Christian life and still dabble in this behavior-v. 7. Maybe those struggles described your life, maybe those things are in your past, maybe you’re still struggling with impurity and greed. But I love how straightforward this passage is-v. 8. This isn’t talking about public slander in the tabloids, it’s talking about the day-to-day conversations with have with one another where we tear people down and talk negatively about them. Did you hear what so-and-so did-and we run them into the ground and get bitter. Or pass on information we have no business passing on. How we speak and what we say is so important-v. 9a. I’ll just bend the truth, it makes things easier, gets me out of a sticky situation-v. 9b-10. Put off, put away, put to death what is earthly in you. Kill it, let it stay dead because that’s not who you are anymore. The Puritan John Own famously commented on this verse. He quoted the KJV which said-Mortification, 5. Walk away from those behaviors and attitudes, leave them alone-kill them-it’s so straightforward.
But here’s the big question-why do we still go back to those things? Why do we dabble with sin and play with fire? Why do we still think a little bit won’t hurt us? That we can keep on sinning over here and we’ll still be okay? Here’s the final point the morning As a follower of Christ Indisputable Fact 4: I don’t have to resurrect old, sinful habits and attitudes. Because as a Christian that’s what you’re doing when you turn to sin. You’re resurrecting something that should have stayed dead. You’re bringing to life something that no longer needs to see the light of day. You’re giving power to something that doesn’t need to control you. Next time you’re faced with temptation or sexual impurity, or next time your attitude starts to get all sour and cruddy and you’re tearing somebody down, or materialism or pride starts to consume you, think about what you’re doing and tell yourself to drop it and leave it. Remind yourself that there’s no need, no reason, no good can come from resurrecting your old sinful habit or attitude. There’s a reason it was put to death in the first place. If you’ve killed it, leave it in the grave!
I’m sure a lot of us have had some beloved pets over the years-whether it was a dog or a cat or even some fish or a hamster. And we grow so attached to our pets-at least if it was a good pet that liked to curl up next to you. So one of the most difficult things is saying goodbye to our pets when they die. Maybe you can recall having a little family funeral in the backyard as you buried your dog or cat and gave your final goodbyes. Or with fish it tends to be the final flush in the bathroom. And maybe you’re sad for a long time because you really loved your pet. Or maybe you don’t want a new pet because you miss the old one so much. But would it make any sense to go out to the backyard and dig up your dead pet and bring it back inside the house? Would it make any sense to set that dead animal in the living room and say that’s my dog Fido-he’s a good boy. Or when people come over you’re holding your dead cat with it’s decaying fur saying-this is Fluffy! People would be really creeped out if you dragged your dead pet back into the house and acted like it was normal. There’s a reason you buried it in the backyard! It’s because it died and dead things need to stay buried! And it’s no different with our old selves-v. 3, 5. Don’t drag your old sinful habits and attitudes back into your life; don’t try to live with them. Don’t act like it’s normal to still be the same old you. It’s not-because the old you has died-v. 9b-10. I like how Paul phrases it in Rom 8:12-13 NIV. Through the Spirit who dwells within you, with His strength and His power, you can put to death the sinful deeds of the body and let them stay dead. They don’t need to be resurrected or see the light of day again.
So as you’re entering 2019, maybe you’ve been struggling with a sin or a certain attitude for a long time. Maybe you keep resurrecting the same old habit. Maybe you’ve been trying to follow Christ with one foot in both camps-a bit of your new self and a bit of the old self. You don’t have to live that way anymore-because it isn’t who you are. 2019 can be a year of new beginnings because Rom 8, Col 3 isn’t describing wishful thinking. It’s not talking about super-Christians who rise up and with great fanfare and strength and wipe out their sin with extraordinary power. This is describing ordinary, everyday people, like you and me, who believe the extraordinary truth of the gospel which says that as a Christian we’re not who we used to be. That as a Christian you have been raised with Christ. And if you’ve been raised with Christ, if you have died to your old self, if your new self is hidden in Christ-which it is-it’s not hypothetical thinking, then you no longer need to seek the things of earth, you can put to death what’s earthly in you and seek the things above. You have to remember the truth of who you now are. You know what I love most about this chp? It describes 1 person, 1 identity-being raised with Christ. Sure there’s struggle, you’re nowhere near perfect, you’ll have moments of failure as you battle the old nature, but you’re not 2 people-the old self and the new-in Christ you’re 1. A new creation raised with Him-so that’s the life you’re called to live. So let what’s true about you on the inside shine through into all you do on the outside. And there’s no better place to go at the start of 2019 than the communion table where we remember that our old selves died with Christ so that we could be raised with Him.
Colossians 3 – New Beginnings