Colossians 3: The Hidden New Life
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Last week, we talked about the different competing ideas and philosophies that present alternatives to God’s way. And, at the bottom of it all, Paul says, “They just don’t work.”
That’s how he rounds out chapter two (read v. 23). He was talking about the religious folks, and he says, “What they have to say has the appearance of wisdom, unfortunately, it doesn’t work!”
To be specific, these various alternatives to God don’t work when it comes to changing people. Think about what it means to actually change people. When you look today at our culture, you might think that people are getting better, right?
Example: After all, we are now the richest country in the world. And now, people have ?
On the other hand, by a lot of measures, we aren’t getting better at all.
Example: Consider the measure of mental health . . .
Example: Consider the measure of family hapiness . . .
Example: Consider the measure of violence and crime . . .
The consistent thing about all these measures is that they have to do with how people are doing. Other measures, like the increase in techology, the economny, etc., are measures of things.
So, in spite of our great learning, in spite of our progress in many areas, we still have to admit, it is hard to change people.
What does work?
And this is what Paul turns to next. He is turning to the question of what does work. What changes people?
Isn’t it amazing how he starts here? Think about this. If you were going to tell someone how to change, where would you start? This is just average advice for people. What would you say?
I think I would begin by telling people the kinds of things they needed to do in order to see change in their life. In fact, I know this is what I would do.
Example: If someone came to me, and said, “Give me a general blueprint for change,” I would say something like this: “Well, you need to get in with the right people. You need to start praying. You need to start searching the Scriptures for what God has to say to you . . .”
And all of that is true! But Paul, the apostle and largely the founder of Christianity, doesn’t do that. Where is starts is here with all this vague, etherial stuff about being raised with Christ, seeking the things above . . .
The thing that bothers me about this kind of language is that it doesn’t seem realistic! I get the feeling that I don’t know what Paul is talking about. Now, I know that some people don’t agree with me at all about this. They have an instant attraction to this kind of language.
Example: I remember one guy that I used to talk to a lot about spiritual growth. When I would have a question, I would often come and bounce it off him. My questions were questions about every day things, like, “How do you deal with drugs?” and “How do you get into the Lord when you don’t feel like it?” And his answers would be like this: “You need to focus on who you are in Christ! You need to see that you have been raised with Christ. You are a new person!”
And that kind of answer puzzled me no end. I don’t sense any newness here. I don’t see any new person in the area. How can you say that I’m a new person . . .?
So, some peole, when they see sayings like this, say, “Aah, yes! Focus on the things above!” And they have instant attraction to this picture.
But others have a feeling of confusion when they see things like these.
What I want to point out is that the more theoretical, etherial picture that Paul has in mind here has very practical elements. And he gets into those. But, at the same time, those practical elements would not work or make sense apart from the foundation that Paul lays here in the first four verses.
The big picture is . . .
Let’s think about what the big picture is . . .
Paul says there are a couple things which are true about us. He says that we have been raised with Christ.
Since you have been raised with Christ . . . you have died
What he is saying here is that he Christian has a new life. Just as Christ was raised from the dead after his crucifixion, the Christian has a new life available to him.
He is saying roughly the same thing when he says that our old life has passed away. Our old life is finished from God’s perspective.
But even as I say these things, I realize that they are kind of unclear. What do I mean when I say, “New life?” What do I mean when I say, “our old life is finished?”
Our life is hidden
And the reason this terminology is so hard to understand or envision, Paul says right here in this passage: He says, “this new life is hidden with Christ in God.” That is to say, it is obscured. When something is hidden . . .
So, the fact is, the new life God has for us is actually kind of a secret.
And the next thing he says here is that it will be revealed later, when Christ comes again. So, the picture is this: We have a new life. Paul says it’s ours. But, it is hidden and will be revealed when Christ comes again.
All the good things God has for us
This is a consistent picture we see in the Bible. God has a life for us, which we call “heaven,” or the “afterlife.” And this life is beyond our wildest expectations.
The Bible portrays heaven as a place which is so awesome, it is virtually indescribable. It uses metaphors of beauty, happiness and prosperity to try and communicate what it is like. But clearly, it is so different and great, that it is very hard to explain.
We know in heaven that there will be perfect love between people (I Cor. 13).
We know that there will be responsibilities (Luke 19).
We know that there will be good times and things to be enjoyed.
But just how all these things fit together, we don’t know. We only know that it is so great, that Jesus, for example, said that to be part of it is worth selling everything you have.
Example: He tells the story of finding a pearl . . . If only you know how great it is, you would sell everything you had to have it.
But it is free!
But you know, as a fascinating point here, the Bible tells us that even though the afterlife is beyond imagination and priceless, God offers it to us for free.
People have a hard time with this, because the feeling is that nothing is for free, especially good stuff like eternal life. But God’s point of view is that there is no price you could assign to it. It is, literally, priceless.
And, also from his point of view, to assign a price would be sheer insult. Because God is offering the afterlife to us at the price of his own life. Eternal life and heaven is not something that we somehow deserve. God tells us that if we deserve anything, it’s judgment.
I think people feel like after a rough life on this earth, somehow they deserve to be rewarded by bliss in the afterlife–especially if they kind of tried to be nice while they were here. And God’s position is, “No way.” If humans deserve anything, it is to be judged for the way we’ve ignored God and screwed up this world.
And this is why God came in the person of JC . . .
So, now he offers us forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift.
But, back to our passage, here is all this new life God has in store for us. And it is so great . . .
But the question is, what about now? What of this new life do we have now? And that is where a passage like this one is so important. Because the whole Bible is clear that we have an amazing life awaiting us when Christ returns. But here, this passage tells us that the life God has waiting for us is actually something we should seek right now. That’s what he means when he says, “Seek the things above.” It means, seek the things that are coming to you. Seek the next life now.
As we noted previously, this language seems to be kind of etherial. It seems to be talking about the kinds of things you ought to be thinking about.
Example: In fact, I remember once this passage was taught to me that way. The point was being made that our thought-life was key to our spiritual growth. So, if you were going to grow, then you need to “set your mind on the things above.” Well, naturally, someone in the group asked, “What are you supposed to think about? What are the `things above’ that I’m supposed to think about?” And the answer was, “A good thought life would be thinking about things like sitting on God’s lap, looking into his face for all eternity.”
An admirable thought, but not very competitive in the world of images . . .
This is not just talking about what your thought life should be like. This passage is talking about what we should desire in life. It is talking about what we should want in life. “I want the life God has for me.”
Set your mind on . . .
And when he says, “Set your mind on the things above,” he is saying, “long for the life God has for you.”
And the point is, that new life is available now, to those who really want it. It is hidden. It is a mystery, but it can be found. It can be discovered by those who really want it. If you seek it. If you want it. If that is where your mind is at, you can get the beginning of what God has in store for you.
And this is real important for those of us who are Christians and thinking about the Christian life and what God has in store for us. Because if there is one things Christians are concerned about, it’s this right here. What does God have for me?
What we’re seeing is that it is a mystery. It is hidden, and is only revealed to those who unreservedly, completely want it. This is faith. Faith is where you don’t know exactly what God has for you, but you say, “I want it anyway.”
Lots of Christians play games . . .
Just to contrast this attitude of faith, what we see so often out of Christians is an attitude of testing God. Instead of unreservedly, completely setting their mind on what he has for them, they test him, the experiment with him.
There are a lot of people who have a kind of bargaining posture with God. They feel like, “If God lets me do this or that, then it’s OK. But if not, then I’m not sure I’m interested.”
Other people have fears. “If God makes me do this or that, then I’m not sure.”
And this is the approach so many Christians have to God. But the Bible is very clear, without faith in God–a faith which says, “Whatever you have for me, I want it, I’ve got to have it–without that, the life God has for you will remain hidden.
Example: Sometimes when I’m going somewhere with someone, I’ll play a little game. As we get in the car, they’ll say, “Where are we going?” And I’ll say, “Let’s just go this way for a while . . .” And, depending on the person, they just get so uncomfortable! “What do you mean, `this way?!’ Where are we going?”
They want to know where I’m taking them, so that they can see if they agree or not. They want control too. Well, it’s one thing to demand I come out with my plans so that they can see if they agree. It’s quite another to be that way with God. Because, when you’re that way with God, that is the very essence of sin.
The essence of sin before God is to say, “I want to be in control. I want to have the final say in my life.” It is to virtually take the place of God in our lives. It is for this very attitude that Jesus came and died!
It will never work to have more than one God in our life. Never. So, God says, “You can trust me to be God. Give me your life. Seek what I have to offer. Or, you can pursue your own life, in which case the life I have will remain a mystery!”
Example: How many people have I had now ask me in one way or another, “How come, in my Christian life, I’ve never seen God really work? How come I’ve never seen him really change me, like some of the rest of you say you have?” Let me suggest this: Most likely, it is because you don’t want it.
That comes as such a surprise to people. They feel like they do want what God wants. Really? Really? Think about it.
Example: Falling into my Dads’ arms . . .
That’s what we’re talking about here. Are you willing to say to God, “OK, whatever you have for me!” And then, back it up with our actions?