Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Becoming Who We Are (Col. 3:1-11)

Col. 3:1 "If then 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 appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." (ESV)

I. Focus: Who We Are in Christ

More literally: "Therefore, if you have been..." (NASB and Mounce Greek interlinear translations).  Paul is connecting everything that he has said beforehand about the supremacy of Christ and our redemption (being set free from the bondage of sin) through faith in Him to the truth of who we are called to be in Him. "Therefore, if" or "Since then" is also setting the stage to compare how different the believer's life now is in contrast to her old life.

Part A - Paul sets the stage for who we are in Christ

1- We've "been raised with Christ" v.1 - Christ has been resurrected and is ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He rules and reigns and sits on the throne presently as our mediator and intercessor. He is still the God-man, truly God, truly human. He intercedes on our behalf as one who was fully tempted in every way we are tempted, but yet He was without sin. When we were saved, we were made new creations in Christ to walk in newness of life, by the power of the same Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead. When Christ returns, we will also be resurrected with Him in glory (see #4 below for more).
Additional cross references: Ephesians 2:4-6 " But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus'
Romans 8:11 "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

2- Our minds and hearts now belong "set on things above" v.2 Philippians 2:8-9 "Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything excellent, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

3- We have "died with Christ" v3a. - Romans 6:4-7 "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin."

4- Our life is presently "hidden in Christ" v3b. Here are some of the ways the scriptures refer to our lives presently being "hidden in Christ" (although everything will one day be brought into plain view)

  • Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39)
  • I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me. I live by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:20)
  • No one can snatch us out of Jesus' hand (John 10:29) 
  • The LORD is our refuge and our fortress, in whom we trust (Psalm 91)
  • 1 Peter 1:3-7: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

5- We will "appear with Him in glory" v.4.
He will bring to light the things that are now hidden in darkness and secret; He will disclose all the purposes of our heart (1 Cor. 4:5) This truth by itself ought to terrify everyone of us!
-- BUT...
(for those who are in Christ) Phil. 3:20-21 " But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself."
We also have the promise that we who are God's children shall be like Him. (1 John 3:2)
Praise God for these graces!

Part B. What We are Called to Put Off v.5
(put to death/mortify/get rid of) 

Now that we are new creations - new women in Christ-- Paul makes it plain that we are no longer under the control of sin. We are called to wage battle against sin by putting to death evil practices, such as:
1. Sexual immorality...This includes prostitution, adultery, un-chastity, fornication -- every kind of unlawful sexual acts. Some of the churches that Paul planted, as well as this one at Colosse, had difficulty abandoning their tolerance of immoral sexual practices because they were so widespread and ingrained in the Greek culture.
2. Impurity... Generally applies to sexual misconduct, but also applies to other forms of moral evil, such as "impure motives" (as described in 1 Thes. 2:3) which denotes an overall lack of integrity.
3. Lust... The ESV states "passions"; however, it seems more accurate to say "shameful passions", since sin depends on the object of our passions and desires. For instance, Paul said that he longed to be with Christ. John Piper says that we are called to be "Desiring God". Instead it is "shameful passions" that is in view as being wicked. Also, it is true that lust does not only refer to sexual passions, but can be the excessive longing for anything other than that which leads us toward the Lord.
4. Evil desires... Similar to lust and shameful passions, the one who even looks on another individual (to whom he or she is not married) with sexual attraction in his or her heart, and especially with a desire to possess that person, must put to death such desires. (Matthew 5:28)
5. Covetousness, which is idolatry (also, Greed)... A covetous or greedy person seeks to lay hold of something that does not lawfully belong to him or her, often in an attempt to wrest personal satisfaction from in ways that only the Lord can provide -- which is why it is considered idolatrous.

All of the above sins are related to one another specifically because in each situation, the sinner is essentially worshiping something or someone else rather than God. All of these are blatant and outward manifestations of sin that are direct affronts to the goodness and holiness of God. The Lord hates sin so much that He cannot abide such evil. Thus, "On account of these (in v.5) the wrath of God is coming(v.6)".

In all of the above, we once walked, when we used to live in them or among them -- (however, we are now alive in Christ - new creations). We are called to put those old things away for good.

But, wait, there's more!
v. 8 says, "But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth." -- Not only the obvious, blatant, outward sins that are so easily connected to the old pagan life, but also "Respectable Sins" (as Jerry Bridges calls them in his excellent book). These are the ones that we as church-people so often justify in ourselves or neglect to root out. For instance, I've been taken back so many times with books that reveal the depth of remaining sin in my life that I hadn't even studied much or thought about. Some examples of these are: Resisting Gossip, Gospel-Powered Humility (sin of pride), Peacemaking Women, Uprooting Anger, The Holiness of God, etc..

Essentially, it would seem that Paul is telling the church at Colosse that these smaller, less obvious sins also much be mortified and that they lead to the same end as the more blatant ones. In verses 9 and 10, we read that we must put off the old self and "put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator". So, as we grow in God's grace by putting off the old, we will also be renewed to become more like Him. As Dr. Gregory Beale has written, "We become what we worship". If we continue to nurture sinful passions, we will become like mute and dumb idols. If we worship the Lord in all that we do and say, then He will make us more like His Son. Paul is calling us to right worship, so that we - collectively as the church universal - will become what we are called to be -- His body/His bride.

  • In fact, as we will come to see in the next few verses and the next couple of lessons, Paul seems to be saying that to neglect putting these sins to death will impair the mission and unity of the church.

Part C: The Body of Christ -- Unity in Diversity

1. No longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised v.11 - A major division in the early church. Both the Jewish people and the Greeks thought their culture was superior -- Jewish Christians had a hard time accepting Greek Christians who were uncircumcised and who did not keep all of the ceremonial laws. Greeks also had a great pride in their cultural history and often had a hard time associating with Jews.

2. Barbarian, Scythian, v.12 - At one time, anyone who did not speak Greek was considered a barbarian and uncivilized. And Scythians, who had a reputation for brutality, were considered little better than wild beasts.

So, both Jews and Greeks were deeply biased in how they treated others by their ethnicities.

3. Slave or free v.11 -- The class system was just as rigid socially as the ethnic barriers were in the Roman Empire. Roman law treated slaves as subhuman and as property.

Therefore, when Paul tells the Colossians: "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all", this is not a non sequitur, illogical conclusion, or even a new or separate line of thought. This is essentially his crescendo - what he's been leading up to. Why does it matter that we put away malice, anger, envy, slander? Because we're being in-grafted to a body of members who are going to look, act, speak, and relate very differently and who are going to come from all over the earth, not just our own family or neighborhood. Unless we mortify our selfish desires, we are going to be in conflict with each other A LOT, maybe all the time. And that's not God's intent for the Church. He wants to renew us after the image of our Creator - to make us more Christlike.

As Paul goes into detail about what it looks like to "Clothe Ourselves with Christ" in the next Lesson, The Glorious Adornment of the Saints, he is building on this idea -- that we are the Body of Christ in which there is no inequality of persons, since all have been created in God's image and who have all been redeemed by His blood and adopted as His children. No "IN" or "OUT" group or class. No preferential status. We will see this more and more in the next lesson.

Here are two article excerpts that really drill down on the issue of "In" groups and "Out" groups. The first one discusses the negative outcomes of perpetuating the life of "The Inner Ring" and the second one highlights a reversal: what can happen when we forsake our human tendencies to stratify the church and instead model the body of Christ after "things above". Enjoy:

From C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring:
"Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can really be enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one."
There is a ton more in Lewis' article that I commend to you, but the paragraph above was chosen to highlight why the human tendency to have a stratified culture in the Church can be harmful and why we must be diligent to seek things above, rather than earthly patterns for the Church.

The next excerpt is from a testimony on HarvestUSA's website titled Silent Sisterhood. I hope you find it a powerful, uplifting and motivating example of how the Church can be the kind of different that it's called to be (even Women's Ministry!):
"So, as I came to know what I shouldn’t do, my heart cried out to God to know what He was calling me to be! There had to be more, my heart yearned too much for these deep changes to stop there. What was it? What was it I was tasting, glimpsing, that drew me to the cliff edge of choices, and to the realization that I had choices. It was in this place I first began to understand what it was to be a child of God – the child of a loving father.
Though it sounds simple, to move from seeing myself as a child of God to being His daughter was a momentous step... He teaches me in Word and leads me to women in church, in groups, and in friendships who, as in the words of Proverbs 31, are clothed in strength and dignity, who do not fear the future because of Him and who speak with wisdom and faithful instruction. These women move freely and enjoy the respect and confidence of others and shatter my old notions of strength, independence and freedom. These women are interdependent, they do not see themselves as separate, and they are connected closely to others and enjoy it! The connection is neither smothering nor exclusive as I found in lesbianism, but springs from being present to one another even in the hard, raw times that God uses to shape His daughters."
Praise God for that testimony and the example of what the body of Christ is called to be!

Next week's lesson: The Glorious Adornment of the Saints>>

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