Our New Life in Christ
August 6, 2017 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Colossians: "Look Nowhere Else! Christ Is Everything"
Scripture: Colossians 3:1–3:17
How do we live our new life in Christ? We focus on Christ. We put off our old selves. We put on our new selves.
As most of you know, Katie and I were in California the past couple weeks. We spent seven days hiking and two days in San Francisco. When we traveled from Yosemite National Park and arrived in San Francisco, there was a noticeable change in clothing. We went from everyone wearing athletic clothes, hiking boots, and Camelbak water packs to people wearing business suits, jeans, and dresses. There was a distinct change in what people were wearing because there was a change in what people were doing.
The clothes we wear can say a lot about who we are and what we are about, can’t they? Sometimes we wear clothes to represent a cause we believe in. Sometimes we wear clothes of things we are interested in (LOTR for me). Sometimes we wear clothes to fit the occasion: nice clothes at a wedding, pajamas to bed, shorts and tank top and flip flops at the beach. You can look at what someone is wearing and make immediate assumptions about them: she’s a business woman, he’s a priest, they’re on vacation.
Today we are continuing our series in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. Paul was an early follower of Jesus and he is writing a letter to other followers of Jesus in Colossae because he has heard they are feeling pressure to trust in something besides Jesus. There are a group of people in their city who are telling them they need more than Jesus to experience spiritual fullness and a new life. To that, Paul says, “Look Nowhere Else! Christ Is Everything.”
Paul has been reminding them of who Jesus is and what he has done in their lives. Jesus is the hero of their story and they should not succumb to pressure to turn away from him.
In our passage this morning, Colossians 3 verses 1 through 17, Paul is going to use taking off and putting on clothing as a way to explain how our life should change when we receive Christ as our Lord.
The big question this passage answers is: How do we live our new life in Christ? How do we live our new life in Christ? The passage has three parts, each of which gives us an answer.
Let's take a look at the first part by rereading verses 1 through 4.
We focus on Christ (3:1-4)
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
This passage, just like our passage from last time, connects back to chapter 2 verses 9 through 15. There we learned about how when someone trusts in Christ - when someone surrenders their life to him as their King - he does a spiritual heart surgery on them by uniting them with him in his death and resurrection. We die with him to the power of sin and Satan and we are raised with him to new life through God’s power. These verses are giving us more implications of this spiritual heart surgery.
Paul says, “If then you have been raised with Christ”, that should change things for you. Now you should seek the things that are above, where Christ is. Jesus was raised to new life and ascended to the right hand of God to rule as King. So since you have been raised to new life with him, you should seek the things that are above. In verse 2 he says we should set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. The point isn’t that things of the earth are bad and we should avoid them. In our last passage Paul made clear that abstaining from foods and drinks has no value in stopping our sinful nature. What he is talking about here is having a kingdom mindset - a heavenly mindset. Jesus has defeated the powers that held us in slavery - sin, Satan, and death. He has brought a new kingdom and now he sits at the right hand of God as the King of that kingdom. Therefore, since we have been united with him and identified with him, we should set our minds on his kingdom. We should seek to align our lives with the values, priorities, and agenda of our King and not with the values, priorities, and agenda of this world. We ought to have a heavenly orientation to our lives rather than an earthly one.
The big question this passage answers is: how do we live our new life in Christ? The first answer we get is: We focus on Christ. We focus on Christ. The way we live our new life in Christ is by focusing on him. We seek the things that are above where Christ is. We set our minds on his kingdom.
Why is this? Verses 3 says it is because of our present status: we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. Our life - our future, our destiny - is hidden - it is kept in a safe place - with Christ in God. We have been united with Christ and that means our life has been locked away for safekeeping in God. We have been bonded with God himself and thus our life is totally secure and safe. The Old Testament often talks about God being our refuge and our rock in whom we can hide for safety. Here we see that truth come out: our life is hidden with Christ in God, our rock and refuge.
There is a second reason we should focus on Christ. Verse 4 says it is because of our future status: When Christ who is our life appears, then we also will appear with him in glory. Jesus will return in glory and when he does, we will also appear in glory.
Paul has told us what is true of us without Christ - we are alienated from God, hostile toward him, slaves of the domain of darkness, and dead in our sins. But in Christ we have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into his kingdom. We are reconciled to God and we have been given a new heart that beats with love for him. We now belong to Jesus and thus our life is presently hidden with him in God and we have been given a future hope of glory because when he returns we will appear with him in glory. Thus we are to focus on Christ - we are to set our minds on him and his kingdom and we are to seek his values and priorities in our lives. He is our Master to whom we belong and we are no longer owned by sin and Satan because we have died to them.
Think of it like playing for a sports team. We used to play for the kingdom of darkness - for Satan and sin. They were our head coach. But we have a new head coach now. He calls the plays, he calls the shots, we orient our game plan around him, as the head coach goes so goes the team, he is in charge. Jesus is our head coach and we play for his team so our values, priorities, and agenda need to reflect his values, priorities, and agenda. Our life is not our own, it was bought with the precious blood of Jesus.
Know that you belong to Christ and in him you are safe and secure. If you have surrendered your life to Christ and submitted to him as your King, then you belong to him. Christ died for the church and he calls us his bride. We are his. Who we are is no longer defined by what we do. Who we are is defined by whose we are. We belong to Jesus. Our life is hidden in him. In him we are safe and secure. He is our rock and our refuge. Our whole lives - our past, our present, and our future - are dependent on him. He has saved us from the penalty of sin - we’ve been forgiven and our debt has been canceled. He is saving us from the power of sin - we are no longer slaves to sin and Satan - we have been set free. He will save us from the presence of sin - when he returns sin and Satan will be no more. Jesus has brought salvation to our whole lives - past, present and future.
But we have a hard time believing this, don’t we? Instead of looking to Christ to define who we are past, present, and future, we look to ourselves. Instead of focusing on him we focus on us - me. When we are focused on ourselves, we aren’t living the life Jesus has purchased for us. Focusing on ourselves robs us of the joy and peace that Christ gives. We keep asking: “Are my needs being met? Am I going to be ok? Am I getting the respect I deserve? Am I getting the free time I want? Am I getting the praise and approval I desire? Are things going my way?” When we focus on that, it brings a crushing weight on top of our lives. We are going back into slavery. Jesus says that when we put ourselves at the center of our lives, we actually destroy our lives. The essence of sin is living for ourselves (2 Cor 5:15) - living to advance our kingdom, our agenda, our priorities, our plans, our values. But that is suffocating. God has so much more for us. He gives us himself.
Something you can do to turn your focus from yourself to Christ is asking: Jesus, what do you want me to do today? We belong to Christ. He is our Master and Lord so our priorities should match his. We should get our agenda for the day from him. If we want to orient our lives around Christ and his kingdom, we need to ask him what he wants to do with our life. He’s the head coach, right? He calls the shots. He calls the plays. Start asking Jesus: what do you want me to do with this day you have given me? What do you want me to do with this week, this month, this year? What do you want me to do with this moment? Then I write them down. This is how we can start to develop a lifestyle of focusing on Christ and his kingdom.
Our default mode after sin entered the world is to call the shots in our own life. People who have not trusted in Christ want to call the shots in their life. The problem is that us calling the shots leads to brokenness. It alienates us from God and others. It leads toward death and destruction. Wouldn’t it be good news to hear that Jesus calling the shots leads toward life, safety, security, hope, inheritance, and a future with God? That if you give your life to Jesus, your past, present, and future is totally secure in him?
The big question this passage answers is: how do we live our new life in Christ? The first answer is: we focus on Christ. We focus on who he is, what he has done, and who we are in light of that. We get our second answer in verses 5 through 11. Let’s reread those verses.
We put off our old selves (3:5-11)
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:5-11)
Here Paul tells us we need to put to death what is earthly in us. It is true that we have already died with Christ to sin and Satan’s power, but we still need to put to death practices in our lives that belong to our old selves - our old way of life. This is made possible because we are no longer slaves. We are free so we can stop sinning.
Paul gives two lists of things we need to put to death. Each list has five items in it. The first list deals with sinful sexuality and the second deals with sinful speech. When someone first starts to follow Christ, these are two of the big areas that Jesus changes in them. Think about what difference there is between our cook outs on Friday night versus hanging out at a bar on a Friday night. Or think about how movies are rated. R rated movies get that rating usually because they contain sexuality and foul language.
Let’s talk about the first list on sinful sexuality that we see in verse 5. Sexual immorality, impurity, and passion are near synonyms. They have to do with any sort of sexual behaviour outside of God’s design. God designed our sexuality to be expressed in the context of marriage between one man and one woman. Everything else is off limits. This is his good design. Paul ends by listing evil desire and covetousness. Covetousness could also be translated as greed and both point to an inappropriate desire for more. This is idolatry because it is means we love something more than we love God and are willing to go beyond his limits to get it. This greed or covetousness leads to evil desire which leads to sinful sexuality.
Let’s move onto the second list on sinful speech that we see in verse 8. This sinful speech is about talking in a way that is harmful to relations with others within the body of Christ. Anger, wrath, and malice are about the attitude we have towards others. When we are angry toward other people and have ill will toward them, that leads to the last two items in the list: slander and obscene talk. The actions that arise out of anger and ill will towards others is basically gossip. You are slandering and defaming another person’s name. You are belittling them with coarse and obscene talk, calling them things and saying things about them that are inappropriately rude and abusive.
Both sinful sexuality and sinful speech, Paul says, belong to our former way of life. God will judge people for these actions and condemn those who are not forgiven in Christ for acting in this way. The wrath of God is coming because of all of these. One thing we need to be careful of as a church is to not think of sinful sexuality as worse than sinful speech. Both deserve God’s judgment. Both behaviors must be put to death. It’s all too easy to make sure people clean up their sex lives while letting them keep their mouths dirty with sin.
Paul continues in verse 9, saying do not lie to one another. Again, this deals with sinful speech. We are to be truth tellers. We are not to be one way to a person’s face and another way behind their back.
Why are we to do all of this? Paul continues in verse 9: "seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." We have put off the old self and put on the new self. And our new self is being renewed after the image of its creator. The image of God in us that was marred and tainted by sin is being renewed once again. We are being renewed in knowledge - our knowledge of God is growing deeper and deeper. We are seeing who he truly is.
In verse 11, Paul emphasizes the fact that there are no distinctions in the body of Christ. Yes we are different people, but there are no factions in the body of Christ. No one is better than anyone else. All of our earthly distinctions are relativized. Why? Because Christ is all and in all. Jesus is everything and Jesus is in everyone who trusts in him.
The big question this passage answers is: how do we live our new life in Christ? The second answer is: we put off our old selves. We put off our old selves.
I’m from Wisconsin so I am a Packer fan. I’ve gathered that a lot of people around here are Bears fans and don’t like the Packers. It’s well known that the Bears and Packers are rivals. You can’t be for one of them if you are for the other. Now, imagine if the Bears were to trade for a Packer player. A Packer was going to switch teams and come play for the Bears. What would be the reaction of the head coach and other players if that former Packer player showed up to practice wearing their Packer jersey and said, “Is it fine if I wear this instead of the Bears jersey?” There would be outrage! Of course you can’t wear your previous team’s jersey when you belong to this team. You need to take on this team’s identity. You are no longer a Packer. You are a Bear now. You have a new head coach. You play for a new team with different values, different plays. This team is completely different from your old team. You need to put off that old jersey - put off your old self. You are no longer playing for that team.
We used to be part of the other team - we were alienated from God, hostile toward him, playing for the kingdom of darkness. We were dead in our sins. But we don't play for that team anymore. Jesus has rescued us and he is our head coach now. He has stripped us of that old raggedy jersey and he has put a new jersey on us - his jersey. We play for his team now.
Know that Jesus has freed you from a life of slavery to sin and that you are being renewed. At one time, the gravitational pull in your life was toward sin. You were a slave to it. You couldn’t help it. If you trust in Christ, the gravitational pull in your life has been reversed - from death and destruction toward life. You are no longer a slave to sin. You are free to serve God and live for him.
Even though this is the case, we still sin. We are free from it, yet we still do it. We believe that God isn’t that good so we chose sin over God because we don’t believe he is better than sin. We don’t believe he is more satisfying. We believe being angry with others is better than God. We believe that putting someone else down is better than God. We believe sex outside of marriage is better than God. We also believe that sin isn’t that bad. When we sin even though we have been set free, it’s like returning to hang out in the prison cell we were released from. When we don’t believe sin is that bad, we return to it. We leave the freedom God has given us and return to slavery.
I’d encourage you to pray over these lists of sins and ask God to make you aware of any you need to put to death. If you have one of these sin patterns in your life, put it to death, put it away. It must be taken seriously. A Christian from the 17th century named John Owen famously said: be killing sin or it will be killing you. When God shows you how you are still walking according to your old self, tell someone you trust that you are struggling with this sin and ask them to pray with you and check in on you. Ask them to tell you the truths of the gospel.
People's lives all around us have been wrecked by sin. Sinful sexuality has left deep scars and sinful speech has left people hurt with no one to trust. People look at themselves and see how they have brought pain into their own lives through their actions and how they have hurt others. Wouldn’t it be good news to hear that Jesus can reverse that? That feeling that you are constantly pulled toward pain and doing the wrong thing can be reversed. Wouldn’t it be good news to hear that despite all we have done wrong in our lives, that through Jesus we can put off our old selves and put on new selves? That we can throw our old, dirty, ratty jersey away and put on Christ’s jersey instead?
The big question this passage answers is: how do we live our new life in Christ? The first answer is: we focus on Christ. The second answer is: we put off our old selves. When we come to Christ, we play for his team now. We put off the sinful ways of our old team and we put on his ways. We get our final answer in the third section. Let’s reread verses 12 through 17.
We put on our new selves (3:12-17)
12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 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. (Colossians 3:12-17)
Whereas the previous verses were about putting off the old self, these verses are about putting on the new self. Notice that who we are in Christ comes before what we do. The Colossians and we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. When surrender our lives to Jesus, a fundamental change occurs not because of what we do but because of to whom we belong. We belong to God now. We are God’s chosen people. We have been set apart as his and we are loved. Who we are is changed. Our identity is in Christ. But because that is so, it means a change in behavior.
Just like Paul gave lists of five sinful attitudes and behaviors, now he gives a list of five God honoring attitudes. Let’s run through them quickly. “Compassionate hearts” means we show loving and heartfelt concern over other people’s pain, sorrow, and misfortune. “Kindness” means we do good to others and bless them. “Humility” means thinking of ourselves less shown by looking out for others interests instead of our own. “Meekness” is closely related. It is “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance.” In other words, you don’t take yourself too seriously. “Patience” is bearing up under testing circumstances. If kindness is proactively doing good to others, patience is reactively doing good to others when they test us.
Verse 13 shows what this attitude looks like in action. It looks like bearing with one another” - we tolerate, endure and put up with others. Paul has already listed the different background of people in this community - Jews, Greeks, Scythians, slaves, free (cf. 3:11) - and thus one of the necessary actions people need to take is enduring people different from them. “Forgiving each other” is more active than bearing with others. With such a motley crew, there will be complaints against others and there will be the need for forgiveness. This command to forgive is rooted in the very forgiveness they have received from the Lord. They are to cancel other people’s debts and not hold it against them (cf. 2:14). Forgiveness is one of the most necessary element for keeping relationships together: friendships, marriages, churches, families. We are all going to rub other people the wrong way. And if we can’t forgive one another, bitterness grows and soon anger and soon malice and soon slander and obscene talk. Forgiveness means we release people from paying us back for how they have hurt us. We no longer look at them or treat them as if they owe us something.
In verse 14, Paul says above all these to put on love. If these are attitude we are putting on like articles of clothing, love is the coat that goes over all of them. Love is the ultimate attitude which binds them all together. Love is expressed through compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. If you think of a loving person, imagine taking off their coat of love to see the other articles of clothing underneath. Loving people have an outfit made of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Then Paul says let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. “Rule” doesn’t mean “rule like a king” but it refers to how an umpire or referee would rule in a sports game. When referees get on their microphones in a football game, they sometimes say: the ruling on the field stands. Meaning the original call was correct. In the church, we are to make the peace of Christ be the deciding factor - the rule - in our relationships. Christ has brought reconciliation and peace with God into our lives and now that we have been called in one body, we are to let that same peace permeate our relationships with other Christians. And we are to be thankful in all of it.
Paul rounds out this section in verses 16 and 17 with two summary commands for the Christian life. First, we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. The New Living Translation makes the meaning really clear: it says let the message about Christ dwell in us richly. In other words, we are to let the good news about who Jesus is and what he has done take up residence in us and fill us. We are to be people where the good news takes center stage and decorates everything we do. We do this by teaching and admonishing one another. You may recall these two words from chapter 1 verse 28 where Paul says his own goal is to preach Christ, teaching and admonishing everyone. Here we are to do the same with one another. We are to teach how to follow Christ and admonish from following different paths. One of the major ways we do this, Paul says, is by singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in our hearts to God. Songs stick in our heads far more easily than printed words do and songs have been a part of worshiping God since the beginning. One of the largest books in the bible is a song book. This is why we sing when we gather - so that we can teach one another and admonish one another with the truths about God. Of course, we also teach and admonish by opening God’s Word together both gathered on a Sunday and during other times. We pray together and we check in with each other.
Lastly, Paul says: "17 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." In all our interactions and with our whole life, we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. We are to speak and act in a way that is in accordance with who he is and what he has done. Just as we received Christ Jesus as Lord, so we are to walk in him. In all of it, we are to give thanks to God the Father through him. The sum of the Christian life is this: let the gospel dwell in you richly and live in line with who Jesus is and what he has done in your life.
If a Packer player were traded to the Bears, they would need to put off their old self - put off their identity as a Packer player. They would need to put on their identity as a Bears player. They need to put on the Bears’ values. They need to learn the Bears’ plays. They need to bond with other Bears’ players. They would submit to a new head coach. They not only stop being a Packer, but they also must become a Bear.
They need to let the head coach’s message fill their life - he’s the one who sets the agenda, calls the shots. You value what he values and you prioritize what he prioritizes.
You also have other players around you who will teach and admonish you. You have a team that is going to teach you the right things to do and steer you from the wrong things. You are working toward a common goal together.
You also have a new playbook you need to memorize. You need to fill your head with it.
And in whatever you do, you no longer just represent yourself. As soon as you put that team’s jersey on, you represent more than just you - you represent your coach, your team, your city
In the same way, we fill our heads with the message of Christ, we memorize his plays, we have a team around us, and we no longer represent ourselves but we need to act in line with the name of Christ.
The big question this passage answers is: how do we live our new life in Christ? The third answer is: we put on our new selves. We put on our new selves.
Know that God has made you new and is continuing to make you like Jesus. He has begun a good work in you and he is bringing it to completion.
We don’t always believe that do we? We believe that we’ll never change and that God isn’t involved in our lives. Or we feel dirty and like we need to clean ourselves up. In those moments, remind yourself that you have put off the old self and you have put on the new self. God has made you new and God is making you like Jesus. Believe that he is working in you even when you don’t feel like it.
When you see the practices of the old self in your life, confess that sin to God and another person and ask God to give you one of these attitudes in verse 12. This passage shows us what repentance is all about: turning the other way. This is the old self. Put those practices to death. Put on the new self - have these attitudes and practice these things. All of this is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives and the Spirit grows this fruit when we are in community with other believers among whom the message about Christ dwells richly. We need each other to grow in these attitudes and most of all we need Jesus.
People all around us are hurting. They are trying to make it in a world ravaged by sin that has brought death, pain, and hurt into their lives. Everyone has a story marred with sin. Everyone has suffered the deep wounds of Satan’s claws in their life. What they need is the good news of Jesus. They need to meet the King who can heal them from the damage sin has done. The way they meet that King is through his people - the church. We are people who tell the good news - faith only comes by hearing the gospel. But we are also people who show the good news. We show people what Jesus is like through our compassionate hearts when we hear what they have been through and say, “That sounds really painful. I’m so sad you had to go through that.” We show people what Jesus is like through our kindness when we proactively do good in their lives by blessing them like God blesses us. We show people what Jesus is like through our humility because we count them as more significant than us and we are concerned for their needs instead of our own. We show people what Jesus is like through our meekness when we aren’t impressed with ourselves and we give them attention and point to God as the one who is really significant. We show people what Jesus is like through our patience when we react to them with gentleness and endurance instead of harshness and criticism.
The big question this passage answers is: how do we live our new life in Christ? The first answer is: we focus on Christ. The second answer is: we put off our old selves. The third answer is: we put on our new selves.
What we wear says a lot about who we are. When we wear sinful attitudes and behaviors, we are showing a mixed allegiance. Is Christ our King or not? Have we surrendered our lives to him? Jesus has rescued us from that way of living and has transferred us into his kingdom. When we put on the character of Christ, we are putting on his jersey and playing for his team. Let’s pray for Jesus’ help in this.