Colossians 3: Leaving the Old Life: Where Change Begins
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An extreme attitude
Last week we talked about an attitude which is absolutely essential to growth and change in the Christian life: seeking God. Paul conveyed this attitude in terms of “seeking the things above” and “setting your mind on the things God has for you.”
When we seek God, it has to be virtually an obsession. He is found when we really want him. Some people would say, “Yeah, I seek God.” But in reality, all they do is show up at church now and then or say a prayer before meals. That’s not seeking God. That’s called tipping your hat to the old feller . . .
God’s life remains a mystery
Paul went further with this. He said that the reason it is so important to seek God is that your life is hidden away (v. 4). In other words, God has a life for us, he has a will for us, but we have to seek it out in order to find it. We said that when, and only when, you set your mind on God’s will for you, then you will start to see what it is.
In other words, when we decide that we want his way in our lives, and we want it so bad that we are virtually fixated on it, like Paul says here, then we will begin to get some insight into what he has for us. But until that time, as Paul says here, God’s ideal for your life remains a mystery! It remains hidden.
As we pointed out last week, God has a life for you, a life that is beyond what you can imagine. And with each of us, God’s life takes a unique shape. Each of us is different, and God has different things he can do with us.
We see this time and again with people–turning into things that you never would have imagined . . .
Example: I look at my own life and can’t believe what God has done. How can I take credit for what he has done? Here is a guy who used to sit for 9, 10, more hours on end and just listen to music! If it were up to me, I would be one of those guys who just sits around and watches TV all day, and then wonders where he can find some food. But God has come into my life and given me so much.
And I’m not alone. I could tell story after story of people here who God has really changed . . .
See, with God, change really is possible. We talked about how it is not happening in the world around us. But with God, it is happening . . .
Seeking = relinquishing control
But, in order for God to come an unlock what is stored there, he requires that we really seek him. This kind of total seeking we discussed last week . . .
And we said last week that the reason God waits for us to have this attitude of seeking is because there is a conflict between God and us. This is the very nub of the issue between mankind and God. Humans want to run their own lives, and be gods of their own lives, but God says that is his place.
So, his position is simply this: If you want to be god in your life, then fine. Have things your way. In that case things will be your way and not God’s way. But if you want God to have his way in your life, then let him be God and not you. That is the simple choice before us.
And this is where vs. 5 picks up . . .
Put to death your sins . . .
I like the way the NIV says it better:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry . . .
The same idea, in the negative
When he starts out here, “put to death,” he is using very graphic imagery to say essentially, “give up” or “relinquish control” of the way you lived your life. This is basically the same idea as completely fixing your mind on God and what he wants, but in the negative. Now he is saying, “Totally let go of your old way of life.”
And that is the choice before us. We can say, “I want to run my life my way.” In which case, certain things will typify our lives. Or, we can do what he is suggesting here and turn our life over to God. That what this extreme language is all about.
I know that one of the questions that came up last week was that it seems very extreme. It’s like, either you live God’s way or you live your way, and there’s no middle ground. Is that the way it really is?
And the answer is, in one sense, yes. In our attitude, in our focus, we are either turning our life over to God or not. What I’m talking about here is the general direction of your life. And that’s why Paul uses such extreme language, like, “Put to death the old way of life.”
On the other hand, the Bible recognizes that change does not happen all at once. Change is a gradual thing. And so, even though the general direction of my life is toward God, from day to day, I may do many things that aren’t his will at all.
As you go on in your Christian life, you get more and more sensitive to this reality. “Even though I’m going for God, and I want his way in my life, I stray from that every day in many ways.”
Example: I can tell you honestly that I don’t know if I could even keep track of how many times I sin in one day! I would go nuts trying.
But often young Christians or even non-Christians don’t understand that. They think that to start going for God means that everything in my life changes right away. My attitudes change. My language changes. My thought life changes–all right now!
I think that one thing that assumes is that our problems are fairly shallow and easy to deal with–as if they could be dealt with today, or tommorow, or even next year!
Example: I don’t know if I get this more than most folks or not because I’m a public speaker. But other Christians tell me they run into this all the time too. Here I’ll be sitting around with some folks, and I’ll sin with my mouth. Or I’ll sin in my actions somehow. And people will approach me later, sometimes real serious, “Don’t you think that was a sin?” And I’ll say, “Well, yeah.” And then the look on their face is like, “Well, then why did you do it?”
I’ll tell you what my constant reaction is, whether I say it or not. “If only you knew the truth! You wouldn’t be shocked by what you heard or saw if only you knew the real truth!”
And this is the way for all of us. We look at others and say, “Well, if he is following God, how could he do that?” But let me tell you, if just for one day, just one day, our thought life could be projected up on that screen for everyone to see. We would never have the nerve to ask that question anymore.
This has got to be, by the way, one of the strongest testimonies for God’s love for us. People think it’s so terrible for non-Christians to see Christians sin. “Oh, if they see us sin, then they’ll think we’re no different than they are and they won’t want to be Christians!”
That’s hogwash. You know what keeps people from becoming Christians? It’s not that they feel like we aren’t righteous. Although some feel like we’re hypocrites . . .
It’s that they feel like they can’t change and become righteous, like they know Christians are supposed to be! So they feel like they should just steer clear of things till they’re ready to get righteouss.
And that image is aided and fostered by many Christians who believe they need to hide their sins and weaknesses.
Example: I was talking to one guy about going to bars. And he said he was afraid of going to a bar with a non-Xian because then the non-Christian would see that he lusted. So, I asked, “Do you lust?’ He said yeah, but he wouldn’t want him to know that. Why?! How will it hurt? I told him that non-Christian will either see right through him . . . Or, he will believe him and think that’s what it means to be a Christian!
I told him what I’ve told many, and I’ll tell you, Be honest! Be honest!
People need to know, it’s not that we’re good people. It’s that we’re forgiven people. They need to know God is changing us, but
So, even though the language here is so strong–“consider yourself dead . . .”–God’s plan for change is not overnight. It takes time. And the more we go on with the Lord, the more we see that change is a very sizeable job.
Worth letting go
Then Paul goes on to this list of stuff that typifies life apart from God.
I think Paul’s first point, as he lists these characteristics of our life without God is that it is truly worth letting go of. He mentions here a list of some things that are not too great (read).
Our images are false and naive
As you read a list of stuff like this, you might be tempted to think that some of these things aren’t so bad. But the reason this is is because our image of things is actually quite different from reality.
Example: Here last night I was talking with a friend of mine about fishing. And this is the cold time of year when you start thinking about fishing . . .
And this is the way it is with our image of things. These things right here are often images we are quite confused about.
We were enslaved to them
For one, when it says that we were into these things, we need to remember how. Because here it says we were into things like “greed.” Well, that’s not so bad, is it? Worse things could happen.
But that’s only half the picture. The fact is, we get into something like greed, which means a lust for more, more anything. And we are not satisfied! In other words, it’s not that I’m greedy and I get my sense of greed fufilled. The fact is, that greed always possesses me. Along with the desire, I get a profound sense of hollowness.
Example: I think of fishermen when this picture comes up. I hang around various people who like to fish. And nothing will stimulate fish greed more than a successful fishing trip. You might think that a fisherman would be satisfied once he has gotten a rasher of big ones. But no! Now he’s not satisfied with anything less! Next time it has to be more and bigger ones! And it goes on.
Well, the same thing happens in the realm of money, things, sports, popularity, etc. This is the stuff that drives some people to vice. And it drives others to severe shallowness.
And you think, “passion, that’s not so bad. Everybody needs passion, even the president needs passion.” But I don’t think he is exactly communicating a positive message here. What he is refering to is the sad state where someone’s urges, someone’s emotional cravings run their life.
And once again, this is something that is so true. I look out, and I see this. I saw it in my own life. Either we will become obsessed with various urges, thinking about them and longing for them. Which inevitably leads to a serious frustration. Or, we supress those urges and drives and focus on something else. In either case, we are being run by our passions. Our attitude and behavior is being controlled by our emotional cravings.
Example: I used to paint with a guy I named “Dave Dog,” because he was like a hound. (He didn’t mind the name in the slightest.) Every woman we passed he drooled over. Every other idea out of his mouth had to do with women. And it’s not like this really irritated me that much. What it was is just a profound picture of how hungry people really are.
So, what I’m saying here is that the real thing is completely different from our images. If Hollywood made a real movie, following someone through a day, capturing all his thoughts and feelings, it would be a flop. No one would want to face the real thing. We don’t allow ourselves to truly evaluate the moment-to-moment reality of our lives, much less watch it on screen. So, Hollywood reproduces our images. The more a show fits our image, and reinforces taht, the more we like it.
But let me tell you, if you are so naive as to think that your images of life and yourself are actually true, you will have a rude awakening some day. I don’t know when it will be. But the more you cling to the shallow picture of your images, the more rude it will be.
Example: In Blanky’s teaching last week she talked about a human who reasons like a beast. This is what it is–to think that the piece of grass you’re eating is really where it’s at.
In fact, for many, as they get on to middle age, they can’t handle the discrpancy between what they have always thought about themselves and the meaning of life and what they are actually seeing.
Example: This is what they call a middle-age crisis. It’s when you wake up and start to wonder, “What am I really? What is my life about?” And for some folks, this is so traumatic that they have nervous breakdowns . . .
So the old way is something that Paul says we have been freed from. That does not mean that we are, in fact, completely delivered. Rather, what Paul means is that we have the potential for freedom in these areas. What remains is the process of working through some of the character flaws and problems in our life and actually gaining victory. This is a life-long process that he turns to next.
Areas to start changing
Paul is telling us where to start changing. If you noticed, you’ll see that all these things are things you do with other people. You get angry at someone else . . .
Paul is laying down some real insight here. God begins his work of changing people in the area of how we get along with other people. This isn’t always the case.
Example: Some self-help programs say you have to begin by treating yourself better. Some will tell you that you need to get treated better by others.
But here, Paul is saying that God’s way is to begin changing the way you interact with others.
We are failures at relationships
I said that we fail at relationships. And I know that sometimes we don’t like to accept that.
Example: Here he talks about anger, malice, and slander. But when you look at the Coors commercial, and the guy is sliding through the room, everything is happy, everyone is a friend. Boy, don’t they wish it was really that way. But it ain’t that way. I don’t know any place where it’s that way. What I see are broken relationships. Anger. Bitterness. Failure. We leave people behind and try to move on to other, more happy people. Till we leave them behind. Or, perhaps we settle down to a relationship that is cold and lifeless, but at least it doesn’t bite.
God is saying that he starts by changing that. And it’s fulfilling relationships that people want, more that anything else.
The others were just a ruse
And really, when you think of it, these other things that we get into, they are really just a ruse, a hollow replacement for what we really want: fulfilling relationships with other people. Deep down, that’s what people really long for. But they can’t do it, so they turn to other things.
Example: Do you really think that someone like “Dave Dog” was happy? Do you really think that people who jump from one bed to another are really getting what they want? Not at all. What they would really like, if they could have it, would be fulfilling, close relationships.