Summary: Jesus has not only washed us clean from our sins, he energizes us for continual service.
You’ve seen these pictures in newspapers and in magazines advertising some procedure to make you look younger. They’re “before” and “after” pictures. But to tell you the truth, the only difference I see between some “before” and “after” pictures is that in the “before” picture the individual is scowling while in the “after” picture she is smiling. Otherwise, as far as I can tell, there has been no change to the individual, which makes me wonder about the product they are pushing.
Is the same true for Christians? If we were to look at spiritual “before” and “after” pictures of ourselves, would we see any difference? I mean it’s not like you can go to the farmers’ market and pick out the Christians just by the way they look. There is a difference between Christians and non-Christians assures the Apostle Paul. Let’s find out what those differences are as we ponder our spiritual “before” and “after” pictures.
Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired “before” picture of us begins with this description: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Colossians 1:21). It’s not a pretty picture but is Paul exaggerating? Those of you who can remember a time when you were not a follower of Jesus may insist that you were never an enemy of God; you just didn’t think he was very important. It’s a bit like how I feel about the Oilers. I’m not against the Oilers but I’m not exactly a fan either. I just think there are more important things to do with my time than to follow that team.
But this attitude, that there is something more important than God and his Word is exactly what makes us his enemies, for this self-centered attitude will show in our thoughts and actions. Later in his letter to the Colossian Christians Paul defined evil thoughts and actions like this: “…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” (Colossians 3:5b-9).
Let’s just pick out two of those sins: greed and filthy language. The sin of greed is no stranger to boardrooms because it’s well practiced in toy rooms. Children whose toy boxes are bursting with playthings think nothing of insisting that a visiting friend hand over the one toy he brought. If greed doesn’t manifest itself there, it will at snack time when Mom has to carefully count out the number of crackers each child gets lest there be a wail of protest over the extra one another received. Greed. It’s a sin because it shows lack of love for others and only concern with oneself. But this world thinks nothing of that sin. Oh, they say that greed is not a virtue but they often excuse it by calling greed: “Getting what I have coming to me.” Do we Christians too struggle with this “entitlement” mentality?
And what about filthy language? Why do we fling half-truths and groundless accusations at one another often punctuated with four letters words? Perhaps we see it as a necessary outlet – better to scream than to punch and kick we suppose. But harmful words often leave scars that linger longer than the sting a slap to the face causes. Or why do we ignore the kind things others have done and report only the slights? Kids, when is the last time you went running to Mom or Dad to tell them how your sibling helped clean up your room or do something else that was kind? Don’t we usually run to Mom and Dad only to report the “bad” things our sibling has done?
Although Paul tells us that this is our “before” picture, it seems to accurately describes us right now. If we’re not greedy with money, we’re greedy with time. Like the priest and Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we think we have better things to do than to help someone who probably won’t thank us anyway. Our language is filthy because, even though we may not curse and swear, we often fail to encourage and instead flatter to get people to do what we want them to do.
What can we do about this? Nothing. God has to intervene and he did so through Jesus. Paul went on to write: “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22). This is our spiritual “after” picture. Look at how beautiful it is! Paul says that through Jesus’ death, we are without blemish. No matter how white-hot the spotlight, God declares us clean of sin. And because of this we’re promised a wonderful future in heaven. But death doesn’t seem like it could bring cleansing, does it? Consider Mt. St. Helen’s. When it erupted, countless animals were covered in ash and died. When biologists went back, they were amused to find clumps of wildflowers growing in the shape of elk and deer. The seeds of those flowers had found nourishment in the decaying bodies of those animals. We don’t just find nourishment in Jesus’ death; we find the cleansing that we need from our sins so that we also take on the “shape” of our Savior.