Summary: We can live the new life in Christ by continually working at three changes: in our thinking (our minds), in our doing (our bodies), and in our being (our spirit).
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.