THAT LIFE...THIS LIFE
August 1, 2010
Colossians 3:1-17 (NRSV)
1 So if 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 is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things -- anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Schythian, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all.
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with 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 the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs 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.
MOST OF US here today cannot point to a time and place in which we experienced a dramatic conversion from one way of life to another. Some of us can, but, I am willing to say, most of us cannot. There is not for us a clear demarcation, a watershed event so to speak, a moment in time of which we can say, “Before that, I was alienated from God and outside of Christ, and after that, I was reconciled to God and in Christ.” A person of no less stature than Ruth Graham, the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary and the wife of a world-famous evangelist, struggled with this issue. She was raised in the faith and knew that she was secure in Christ, and yet she says she can never recall a time when it was not so. There was for her never a moment when it “happened;” it seems to her that she has known Christ as long as she has known anything.
Whether we can point to a moment of conversion in our life or whether we can’t, there is nevertheless a reality to which we can attest. There are times when we “set [our] minds...on things that are on earth,” when “whatever” is “in” us is “earthly.” There are times when we are clothed, as it were, with “the old self with its practices.” I would be surprised if there were anyone present who would deny such a thing. Sometimes we simply do not reflect “the image of [our] creator,” even if at some point in time we may have experienced a milestone conversion. The truth is, we may need to be converted not just once but often.
But from what to what? I have mentioned, of course, “the old self with its practices,” and that, Paul tells us, is what we must be converted from. And, if we can agree on that, it is not a huge step to take to say what it is that we must be converted to. It is, of course, “the new self.” Paul, in fact, makes this connection in verses 9 and 10, where he says, “...You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self.” If I were to paraphrase these words, I might say something like this: “You have changed clothes. You have taken off your old clothes, and you have put on the new.” Of course, Paul isn’t talking about externals like clothing; he is talking about a change that is much deeper. He says that “the new self...is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” Whenever the Bible speaks of knowledge, it means experience, and what Paul is saying here is that our experience of being created in the image of God is being renewed.
You and I both know, of course, that this is the most fundamental truth about being human, that we are created in the image of God. And what that means is that we are designed to reflect his glory. Of course, we don’t -- or, at least, we don’t do it always and we seldom do it well. We are icons of God, you might say, but we are fractured in places. We are broken representations of the beauty and majesty of God.
But we can be repaired -- healed, if you want to put it like that. Paul tells us that the cross isn’t something that only Jesus endured, nor is the resurrection something that only he experienced. Paul says in chapter 2 of Colossians that “you were buried with him in baptism” and “you were...raised with him through faith in the power of God” (Col. 2:12). And Paul begins chapter 3, our chapter for today, with the words, “So if you have been raised with Christ....” Well, if you have, there is a new quality of life available to you.
You might say that we can live one of two ways. We can live what Paul, in verse 7, calls “that life,” or we can live what Paul, in verse 3, calls a “life...hidden with Christ in God.” Let’s say that you and I want to live this new life in Christ. What would it involve? How could we do that? Paul tells us that there are three areas which we must constantly work at changing. There are three conversions that we need to undergo -- not just once but no doubt often -- in order to embrace the new life that has been given us in Christ.
The first change has to do with the mind. It is a change in the way we think. Paul says in verse 2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” What do you suppose that means? Are we not to give thought to mundane matters like hygiene or paying the bills on time or showing up for work? Certainly, we have to think about these things! So, what does Paul mean when he says not to set our minds on “things that are on earth”?
Well...listen closely to his words. It is not that we are not to think about earthly things at all; we are not to set our minds on them.
Consider it this way: When you set the time on your watch, how do you go about it? Do you just guess at what time it is, or do you try to find a reliable indicator of the actual time? Maybe someone else whose watch hasn’t run down or the announced time on the radio? You set your watch by a verifiable source. Of course! Why wouldn’t you set your mind -- why wouldn’t you focus your thoughts -- on something you can rely on?
You and I are told all day long, over and over, how to think of ourselves and the world we live in. We are told to think of an ideal body in a certain way, or an ideal car, or even an ideal relationship. We are urged to think that we must be richer, smoother, prettier, faster, sexier, and more in control of our lives and others. And so, we set our minds on these things. We need them. We want them. We get them. In other words, these are the things we seek.
But Paul tells us in verse 1: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is....” The Bible isn’t saying that we are not to be practical or that we are to have our head in the clouds. No, it is not that we are to be ethereal or spacey. We are just not to be duped into thinking that anything this world can give us outside of God is of ultimate value. We are to be smarter than that; we are to think more clearly about such things. We are to set our minds on what is truly worthwhile.
So that’s the first change, and, if you’re anything like me, it’s one you are always having to make. My mind has to be converted over and over again to think about -- to distinguish -- what is truly enduring in life and what is only of passing value.
The second change concerns what we do. It relates to how we use our bodies. In verses 9 and 10, we read: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” Here the picture is one we have already noted: that of changing clothes. We are “steppin’ out,” you might say, into a new kind of life, and the clothes we are wearing are not suitable. So, we put on different clothes.
Now, I say that this second change we are asked to make has to do with our bodies, because our bodies are the means by which we do anything in this life. We stand or sit or lie down, we push, we pull, we walk, we run, we listen, we speak, we touch, we feel, we taste. All these are things we do with our bodies.
So also are the things Paul mentions in verse 5, where he tells us to “put to death...whatever in you is earthly,” and then he lists these “whatevers:” fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. All these are bodily functions. “These are the ways you once followed,” he says, “when you were living that life” (emphasis added). “But now,” he goes on to say, “you must get rid of all such things,” and then he gives us another list. And these, too, are lodged in the body: “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” Here, you see, he even makes reference to a part of the body, the mouth. But even anger -- you can see it in a person -- can’t you? -- by the set of their eyes, by their bearing, by the way they carry themselves, by the way they use their voices and their limbs.
Paul says to put these things to death. And the word he uses suggests withdrawing life support from them. In other words, don’t breathe life into them. Don’t perpetuate them. Get your body under control. Strip the old self off like worn-out clothing, and, in Paul’s words, clothe yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
That brings us to the third area of change we will want to make if we desire to live the new life in Christ -- one more conversion we must constantly undergo -- and it has to do with who we are, our being. The first change relates to our mind, the second to our body, and the third to our spirit. Paul says in verse 12, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” In verse 14, he goes on to say, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
The apostle is still using the metaphor of clothing, as you can see. You have “stripped off the old self...and have clothed yourselves with the new self” (vv. 9f.). Only now, he is not only talking about what you do; he is talking about what you are. Your bearing toward others is compassionate, kind, humble, and patient. You are a person who forgives freely, and, above all, you are loving. The peace of Christ rules in your heart, and you are filled with gratitude. In fact, to quote verse 17, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, [you] do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Your being informs your doing.
Is this a vision of the kind of life you desire? Do you aspire to be a person who is consistently being converted in mind, body, and spirit to the ways of Christ? Are you energized by the notion that your thoughts, your deeds, your very bearing in this life could reveal a “life hidden with Christ in God?” You can have this kind of life, and, as Paul says in verse 4, “when Christ who is your life is revealed, you also will be revealed with him in glory.” That is, it will become plain for all to see just who you really are. You are one who is renewed in the image of Christ. You are just like him.