Summary: We don’t just give up bad behaviors; we put to death the old self.
First Presbyterian Church
Wichita Falls, Texas
March 20, 2011
BAD BEHAVIORS THAT ALWAYS BETRAY YOU
The ABCs of Spring Cleaning: Part 2
Colossians 3:1-17 (NIV)
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 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. 17 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.
The first church I ever served as pastor was a hundred-member congregation in a small central-Texas town. My predecessor, whom I never met, was reportedly very hard on sin. He preached against it with fervent intensity, and, apparently, he viewed many things as sinful that you and I might regard as innocent: things like reading slick-covered magazines, going to movies on Sunday, dancing, or playing cards. These were things of which he disapproved, and he told the people not to do them. Whether they followed his counsel or not, I don’t know.
You might give a name to this approach and call it something like ‘rules-based Christianity.’ Some people call it legalism, a form of religion that requires strict adherence to certain standards of conduct. Those who practice it are often seen as judgmental toward those who do not comply. And despite the fact that the Apostle Paul and other New Testament writers contend against it, it is not uncommon among Christians.
Jesus encountered legalism among the Pharisees. He called them ‘whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones’ (Matthew 23:27). Paul asked the Colossian Christians, ‘Why...do you submit to...the rules [of this world]: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”’ ‘Such regulations,’ he said, ‘have an appearance of wisdom..., but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence’ (Col. 2:20-23).
And that’s the point. The Christian life is an inside job. You can’t restrain ‘sensual indulgence’ by imposing rules. If there is no change within, you can dress up the outside all you want; it won’t make any lasting difference. I heard an old preacher say one time, ‘You can scrub a pig till he glistens and tie a pretty bow around his neck. But let him go, and he’ll be right back in the mud. It’s his nature.’
So, it’s our nature that has to change. It’s the heart that has to be converted. Look again at the passage we read from Ezekiel today, and you’ll see this. When God wanted to restore his people Israel, he focused not on their outward behavior but on their inner status. ‘I will give them an undivided heart,’ he said, ‘and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws’ (Ezek. 11:19f.).
It’s not that God no longer cares about our keeping his laws; he does! It’s not that he no longer concerns himself with what Paul calls ‘sensual indulgence;’ he does. It’s that ‘restraining sensual indulgence’ and carefully keeping God’s laws cannot be established on a foundation of external rules. Jan and I have friends who train their dogs to be disciplined. They can tell them to go to their room, and they will hustle to do so. But they lie in the doorway with their paws just over the line into the outer room. They comply with the demand, but their hearts aren’t in it.