Paul has spent most of his letter expanding on the sufficiency of Jesus in order to combat doctrinal errors of the time, many of which we still battle today. Last week we looked at how believers who are free in Christ should respond to man-made religious systems. Today we will look at the only way man is perfectly and entirely reformed—heart, mind, and body—as Paul admonishes believers to “seek the things that are above.”
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immortality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 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.” (Colossians 3:1–17)
Just previous to this passage, Paul told the Colossians how utterly useless self-reformation is apart from the work of Christ. He even says “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (2:23). Alternative to works-based religion, Paul is now prescribing the only way one can truly cut off the diseased flesh, and the method is quite simple: “Set your minds on things that are above” (v. 2). That’s simple living for the new creation: seek Jesus!
After this one command, Paul says, “therefore,” or, in other words, because you’ve set your mind on Christ who is above, “put to death what is earthly in you” (v. 5). Paul knew the natural result of the pursuit of Christ would be a life spent fleeing from one’s sin.
About a year ago our family had to make some major diet changes due to a few health challenges. Since childhood I’ve abhorred black beans, so I had no idea how I was going to survive on this new protein source. Throughout all of our research, I learned that when someone makes a drastic change like we were, the tongue actually takes about six months to reorganize itself and its taste buds so it can actually find pleasure in healthy food again. I had hope! In God’s design and wisdom, my appetites have changed and I actually find myself looking forward to black bean taco nights!
I see a spiritual parallel in this. When we identify ourselves with the earthly behaviors Paul described in verses five through nine—sexuality immortality, impurity, evil passions and desires, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying—our tastes for the supreme pleasures of Christ simply don’t exist. An unbeliever simply can’t fathom giving up part of your weekend to meet with people in community who love and worship Jesus. There is not a taste bud in the unsaved heart that longs for Christ. This is why Romans 3:11 says, “No one understands; no one seeks God.”
We must acquire a taste for Jesus and all that he stands for. So, again, how does one do this? New, heavenly desires accompany the new heart that only God can give. This is the great exchange that takes place in Ezekiel 36:26–27:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove that heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Notice how clearly this passage shows that God is the one doing the work of spiritual circumcision. Because we have new hearts, generously provided by the Lord, we can put away what is earthly in us. We no longer find joy in lashing out at our spouse in anger. We are bothered by scenes in movies that our hearts used to revel in. And this is not a heavy burden Paul is trying to place on us. Again, he knew the natural overflow of pursuing Christ would be the death of all worldliness in the believer and the birth of new habits that he mentions in verses 12–17: compassion, kindness, meekness, patience, love, a disposition to forgive, peace, thankfulness, pursuing God’s word, encouraging one another, and a desire to do all things for God’s glory. Due to the help and resources made available through Christ, believers are actually the only people able to cultivate these heavenly characteristics.
In verses nine and ten he says, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” This brings to mind 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” These verses are reiterating what Paul opened this chapter with, the fact that that our sanctification is the natural result of looking at Jesus, beholding him, enjoying him, and pursuing heavenly, eternal satisfaction. The process of growing in Christ-likeness is indeed a gift that “comes from the Lord who is the Spirit,” not something to be bartered for by way of self-modification.
Logically, this should encourage us as believers to look at Jesus more. Study his enduring love when faced with new opportunities to forgive others. Acquaint yourself with his still, small voice that corrects and teaches us (1 Kings 19:11). Allow the Holy Spirit more reign in your life by heeding to the nudges he gives. As we allow our love for Jesus to compel us, we will naturally see our minds and desires become renewed. Our identity will no longer be found in any earthly behavior, description, or people group, but we will be one with Christ, who “is all, and in all.”
Questions to consider:
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