|Anyone "In Christ" Is a New Person
March 7, 1999 / Colossians 3:1-17
As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul was never reluctant to remind Christians of their commitment to the Son of God. As with being married, people who have gone through the ceremony and exchanged rings sometimes still need very specific reminders about the meaning of the devotion they have pledged. Since human nature doesnít really change, the challenges he put into these words remain perpetually fresh and relevant to believers.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col. 3:1-4).
Now read these lines as they are rendered in a contemporary translation.
So if youíre serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Donít shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ ó thatís where the action is. See things from his perspective.
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life ó even though invisible to spectators ó is with Christ in God. He is your life (Col. 3:1-3, The Message).
The key to newness of life is nothing other than Jesus Christ himself. New life is in him, focuses on him, and is hidden with him in God. The old things about us are dead, and everything real and meaningful is defined by Jesus. As The Message renders it: "He is your life!" This means that we have to readjust the focus of all things and see things through Christís eyes and from his perspective.
Do you see this big empty bowl? Watch me fill it up with these big rocks. (Put eight fist-sized rocks into a clear glass bowl.) Itís full now, right? Wrong! Watch this. (Pour several dozen pieces of gravel into the bowl and shake them into the spaces between the big rocks.) Now itís full, right? Wrong again! (Pour a pound or so of sand into the bowl and let it fill the spaces between the big rocks and the gravel.)
Is the bowl full now? Big rocks, little rocks, and sand to the edge. Surely itís full now? No, it isnít. (Pour water into the bowl until it is completely full.) All right, now it really is full! But what is the point?
If you donít put the big rocks in first, youíll never get them in at all. And itís precisely the same with life. If you donít make what matters most matter most, the things that matter most will never matter enough to make a life-altering difference. Or, put another way, the main thing in life is to make the main things the main thing. Or, put another way still, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:33) or "Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Donít worry about missing out. Youíll find all your everyday human concerns will be met" (Matt. 6:33, The Message).
The "Big Rocks" of life are the spiritual realities that make the difference between life and death, heaven and hell. Jesus is the Rock of Ages, and Scripture, prayer, worship, the life of the church, Christ-honoring integrity, God-honoring family relationships, and Christian relationships for fellowship and accountability are the things that truly matter. If you put them in place first, there will be room for everything else you will need in the course of a lifetime ó an education, your career, your financial concerns, personal projects important to you, teaching and mentoring others. But you must put the Big Rocks in first, or you will never get them in at all!
These words are from Paul, but are they your words as well? "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). He put the Big Rocks in place first. His experience on the Damascus Road settled that. The other things had to find their place in relation to him. Anything that couldnít fit into a life dominated by Christ just didnít belong in his life. "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ . . ." (Phil. 3:7-8).
Get Rid of These
In order for a human vessel to hold the Big Rocks of life, a fundamental shift of affections has to occur in a personís heart. Legalism with its infinite variety of fine-tuned regulations ó one to cover every possible situation! ó is of no help here. Paul had already dismissed that at Colossians 2:20ff. "Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body," he said, "but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (v. 23).
Conversion is not signing on to a list of rules. It is giving your heart, mind, and body to Jesus. It is like getting married. One human being who truly loves another one does not negotiate a list of expected behaviors and get the other to sign a contract to perform them. That is prenuptial property protection or indentured servitude. In a loving relationship, two people give themselves to each other freely and grow into the relationship they have accepted with love, respect, and commitment. Conversion is much more like that.
If Christ has genuinely captured your heart, you will protect it from things that would seduce your love away from him. On the other hand, if you have truly given yourself to him without reservation, there are some things that are characteristic of him that will become increasingly important to you.
The negatives are named in two short five-item lists. The first list focuses on sexual impurity and greed. "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" (Col. 3:5-7). The second points to misuses of the tongue. "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" (Col. 3:8-10).
Reading these two lists should confirm something I said earlier about human nature being unchanged from the first century until now. Sex, money, and power are the three avenues Satan has used from Eden forward to take people away from God and holy things. He is frighteningly effective in his work. Maybe a story I heard recently will put his basic method of operation into perspective. A well-paid, recently-promoted young executive dreamed he died and stood at the Pearly Gates. Peter asks: "Do you want to go to heaven or to hell?"
"Let me know my options," he says. "Show me hell." Up pops a giant screen with a video playing. Girls in bikinis and well-built guys are playing volleyball on the beach. Coolers are iced down with beer. Everybody is wearing brand-name clothes and driving a BMW. Then, just as he is about to ask for a glimpse of heaven, he notices the video is still running. It pans upward and shows a park filled with old people sitting on benches feeding the birds and playing checkers ó with angels singing in the background. "Uh, very nice," the guy mutters, "but I think I prefer hell."
Immediately he is plunged into molten lava! In agonizing pain, he hollers at Peter. "Hey, whereís the beach and the babes? What about the beer and the cars?" "Sorry," he says. "What you saw was the demo tape sent up by Satan."
The story of the young man at heavenís gates really only compresses the time factor from 70 years to a few minutes. Everything else about it is real. The conspiracy of our time has been to convince young and old alike that "the good life" is defined by things shallow or evil and that anything connected to God is dull and tiresome. What a bunch of suckers we humans have been!
Do you have a besetting sin somewhere in this Pauline catalog? Is it fornication or pornography or lust? Is it greed and the gotta-get-more mindset of our consumer culture? Is it a tongue gone berserk that gets you into trouble again and again? There is no list of rules that will change your behaviors. There must be a reorientation of your heart and personality in relation to Jesus. If you love him and put the Big Rocks of a spiritual life in place, there will simply be less vulnerability to Satanís seductions.
Get More of These
When you give yourself to Christ and begin seeking heavenly things, the Big Rocks of spirituality begin to be very much in evidence. "Therefore, as Godís 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" (Col. 3:12-14).
Again, though, I have to remind myself and possibly you that this is not a self-help course by means of which you make certain things happen by willpower. This is the transformation that takes place in someone who has fallen in love with Jesus and in whom the Holy Spirit is working to transform personality, character, and behavior. It is what takes place in the life of someone who is being made into a new person in Christ.
Satan is the arch-enemy of our souls. He does not go quietly when one of us declares himself or herself to be a Christ-follower. He pulls out all the stops and does everything within his evil power to undermine and overthrow that decision. So here is what I counsel anyone to do who wants to win the final and permanent victory over him.
First, set your whole heart on seeking God. No pretending, no half-hearted religion, no doing what you think would please parent or mate ó but, as someone raised with Christ, set your heart on pursuing the things over which he rules. Davidís words would be a good watchword here: "I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands; I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (Psa. 119:10).
Second, pray for God to keep your vision clear about truth and error, good and evil. Our culture has learned to "call evil good and good evil" and knows how to "put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isa. 5:20). It is easy to play mind-games with our own hearts in such a culture. If you are serious about being transformed by the power of Godís Spirit at work in you, pray daily for God to keep your vision clear and to give you spiritual discernment.
Third, renounce and make a clean break with the particular sins that have had you in their bondage. In the early centuries of the church, it was a common practice for someone about to be baptized to publicly renounce his or her former way of life before going into the water and to be received with a white robe after the ceremony. In ancient Ephesus, people who turned to Christ burned the trappings of their pre-Christian lives and burned them publicly (Acts 18:18-19).
Fourth, within a small group or with a trusted Christian friend or two, share the things that are most challenging in your spiritual life. Ask those trusted people to pray for you and to hold you accountable in love for dealing with them. This is the true meaning of these words from Jesusí half-brother in the flesh: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (Jas. 5:16a; cf. Prov. 28:13).
Is your spiritual life too chaotic? Is there too much on-again-off-again passion for God in your life? Do you lack the personal relationships with other Christians you need for nurturing and mentoring? Then maybe youíve not taken that single decisive step into Christ that will confer his peace and fill you with joyful gratitude. Maybe youíre hiding sin in your heart. Maybe youíve not yet made the main thing the main thing yet by putting the Big Rocks in place in your life.
"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" (Col. 3:15-17).
Peace and a worshipful heart, total dedication to Christ and constant thanksgiving ó they are the inevitable result and the beautiful fruit of being made new in Christ.
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