Colossians 3:1-4 - Be who you are in Christ - 22nd February 2015 - John Cooper

A man drove his son to church and left him there. He collected him after the service. He asked the boy “What was the sermon about?” The son said he thought it was about sin. All at once interested the father asked “What did the vicar say about it?”. The boy replied “I don’t think he approved of it”.

I apologise that it was an old joke but I think it truly highlights something. Non-Christians think that Christianity is all about sin (particularly sexual). It is not. Christianity is about Christ. Actually His death removes the punishment for sin from us. As Christians we are a new creation designed to change the world about us.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently said that many sermons when boiled down say “Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we are all a bit nicer”. Obviously that is a fine sentiment. But being nice to each other is rather trite.It reminds me of the Miss World contestants saying they wanted world peace. There is nothing like aiming for the impossible! The Archbishop said we should expect more from a sermon. At Christ Church we have got used to the Bible being explained and that is what we really need.

St.Paul was very concerned that this new church in Colossae might lose its way. Frequently in his writing he starts with rather profound teaching and then gives practical applications of it. In this chapter he explains how the Colossians, and ultimately us, can be strengthened in our faith by resisting temptation.

So what is sin? I find it helpful to think of sin in two ways. Firstly there is Sin which I designate with a capital S. This is the state of sin which is our basic sinful nature. Christ dealt with this on the cross by overpowering it and making us a new creation. However we are still prone to commit individual sins which is the second way I think of it. We find it so difficult to resist the temptations all around us. It is hard for us to live as new redeemed people. We are merely forgiven sinners.

God judges us as though He is using a taperecorder. Everytime we say ‘should’, or ‘must’ or their opposites God records it. Then, in judgment He plays it back and we can see how we have not followed even our own sense of right and wrong. This idea is found in Matt.7:2: “…in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. And of course God has much more stringent moral rules than we have.

In verse 5 to 11 there are two lists of sins (and their opposites appear in verse 12 but that is another sermon). These sins can be outward displays or inward desires. It is easy for us to be condemning of one particular sin in our own life, such as sexual immorality (v5) yet ignoring another such as malice (v8). Even worse when we see sins in other people but ignoring the sin in our own life. Jesus Himself said: “…take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Mat.7:5). It is only when Christ returns will we be sin free.

 

Why is it important that we deal with sin in our lives? Temptation is all around us and if we give into it it will lead our faith astray. And Paul was worried that this new church in Colossae was being led into their old ways. The ancient Greeks thought that what matters was your soul. That was the good part of you. The physical body was essentially bad and in a way irrelevant to spiritual well-being so it did not matter what you did. The Colossians probably had a temptation to syncretism which is to hold a mishmash of different religious beliefs. And syncretism can be a real problem today. Take for example the New Age Movement. It can be found in the mysticism of  various Christians. For example I have delighted in going to various Biblical sites but I do not think it makes me a better Christian. It merely gives me a greater insight into Biblical times. Going on pilgrimage has no spiritual merit in itself.

 

So how do we resist temptation? It is not a matter of making good resolutions or promises to behave differently. It is the reflex action that is all important. As Jesus Himself said: “…anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt.5:28). The Ancient Greeks had a  saying: “Know yourself” and I think this is helpful. We need to understand the temptations we ourselves are prone to and the possibilities arising from our new creation in Christ.

As Christians our minds and ambitions should be focussed on Christ. But it does not come automatically so a continuous effort is required. The godly person will regularly assess where his focus lies. Our lives, unlike practioners of other religions, should not be based on mystical experiences. Our lives are now “hidden with Christ” (as it says in v3). Our salvation is secure but is basically invisible to those around us and to a large extent ourselves. Our ultimate revelation will be when Christ returns.

We need to get to the root of our sinful nature and not just the symptoms and so we need to make a clean break with our old natures. In v2 it says “set your minds on things above”. Paul is not talking about empty wishful mystical thinking but an effort of the will. Sin must be got rid of like a set of worn out clothes (v9) as we need to put on a new set, a new self (v10). And that means preoccupying ourselves with a Christ-like life.

Experiencing temptation is not sin in itself but the idea of illicit gratification in the mind must be immediately put to death. It is self-deceiving to bemoan one’s inability to resist the last stage of temptation when earlier stages have gone unresolved or even welcomed. When a tide of sexual passion or a surge of anger is felt it must be dealt with as the alien intruder it really is, and turned out of the house as having no right to be there, let alone being master of the house. We cannot always prevent sinful thoughts springing into our heads, but they should be dealt with firmly before they turn into action.

 

 

How is the life of the local church relevant to sin? By becoming a Christian we become a new person, an identity we share with all Christians whatever their race. Before Christ there are no differences as Paul points out in v11: “ no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free”. Prejudices are ultimately a denial of the creation of man in the image of God. Wherever one looks one can see Christ’s creation. When an elderly or black person is ignored or snubbed, Christ is ignored or snubbed. Once something unpleasant has been said or done it can never be undone. No Christian must allow prejudices from his pre-Christian days to distort his fellowship with other Christians. The issue is not one of toleration but of reconciliation.

The believer who is truly heavenly minded will be of maximum use to Christ We are saved not by doing good works but for good works. And helping others more should result from knowing Christ better. Working for Him distracts us from temptation.

Christian conduct is the result, not simply of the effort to be good, but of incorporation into the body of Christ. And that body is found in the local church. Christian behaviour should be reinforced and upheld by the friendship, company, leading, counselling and loving criticism of our fellow Christians knowing that we are all merely forgiven sinners. In America there are groups of men called ‘Samson Societies’. These allow Christian men to encourage one another over their temptation to pornography and prostitution in much the same way as Alcoholics Anonymous works. I suspect British men are far too reticent to talk about such things even though the Apostle Paul pointed out that  all temptations are common (see 1 Cor.10:12). But this highlights another problem: women tend to have many more friends of the same sex than men. British men are basicaly loners. We try and give an image of being Superman but in reality we are the wimpish Clark Kent. One can even argue which was the real persona of that superhero. I am told that in America you can hire a Best Man for friendless bridegrooms.We must learn to chat more with other men and then be prepared to open up to them. Sometimes going to church is like going to the cinema – we don’t talk to the person next to us.

Ultimately our Sin has been dealt with on the cross but giving in to temptations leads us away from Christ and that is something we need to resist at all costs.

I would like to conclude by reading two passages I have already referred to. In Matt.7:1-5 Jesus talks about sin affecting our relationships.

Matt.7:1-5

Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

In 1 Cor.10:12-3 Paul talks about how we can resist temptation.

1 Cor.10:12-3

If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.