1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now 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, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
–Colossians 3.1-11 (NIV)
I have spent quite a bit of time this Easter season (you do know that we are still in the Easter season, don’t you?) writing about our Easter hope, the hope of New Creation of which Jesus’ resurrection gives us a preview. We have seen that not only does our Easter hope give us a future hope, but also provides us with marching orders for the living of our mortal days. We who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ have the privilege of imitating Jesus in his Messianic work. We are empowered by the Presence of his Holy Spirit living in us to offer Jesus’ healing love, and mercy to his broken and hurting world. We have the opportunity to turn heads and make folks ask us by Whose authority we do all this. And as we have seen, in doing so, we learn how to live life with real meaning and purpose. The catchphrase for this kind of living is having a “transformative faith,” a faith that makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others with whom we come into contact.
In today’s lesson, Paul reminds us about the prerequisite for having a transformative faith so that we really can make a difference in bringing Jesus’ healing love to his world. In Chapter 2 of Colossians Paul tells us how we are made alive in Christ. In today’s lesson, Paul reminds us what being made alive in Christ is all about, about how it changes us fundamentally and equips us to be his agents of New Creation.
We can never hope to bring Christ’s power to his broken world if we are not fundamentally changed in and through our relationship with him.
Hence, transformative faith starts first and foremost with our relationship with Jesus. It is also important to remember that Paul was writing this letter (Colossians) to a community of believers on the ground. Paul was writing this to the Church because Paul envisioned the Church to be the main vehicle in which to bring God’s plan of salvation through Christ to the world. There are certainly lessons for each of us in this letter, but we dare not forget that Paul had in mind a community of redeemed persons whom he believed would serve as the primary human agency through which God would bring his healing love in Christ to the world.
And this should all make sense to us. Without being changed fundamentally by our relationship with Jesus through the power and Presence of the Holy Spirit living in us, we have no hope of being an agent of New Creation because if we are not changed, we are still part of the old, broken creation. Brokenness cannot heal brokenness. It all starts, therefore, with having a solid and life-changing relationship with Jesus and here Paul fleshes that out a bit for us.
When Paul speaks of setting our minds on things above and about our life being hidden with Christ, he is not talking about some kind of ascetic, other-worldly kind of faith in which we withdraw from the affairs of the world and wait to get raptured up to heaven (the latest doomsday prediction notwithstanding). After all, God did not pursue that strategy himself! Instead, he became human and lived among us to defeat evil and begin the work of restoring his broken and fallen creation and creatures. What Paul is talking about in today’s passage, then, is to remind us to keep our bearings and our orientation straight. He is reminding us to build our life on the only foundation for real life–Jesus. When that happens, we have Jesus as our primary identifier instead of some lesser thing such as race, gender, nationality, or ethnicity, and we demonstrate we are his first and foremost by how we behave (i.e., our obedience).
Paul also reminds us here about our Easter hope, the hope of New Creation, when he talks about us appearing with Jesus when he returns again in power and glory to finally restore his good but fallen creation.
The Easter hope is not about dying and going to heaven forever because that is not the Easter hope contained in the NT. It is about New Creation and Paul alludes to that here.
It is this hope that must sustain us and serve as motivation for everything we do in this life. If we don’t have a real Easter hope that is built on a firm biblical foundation, we can never expect to be transformed by Jesus because in the back of our minds there will always be a doubt about our future and we are therefore more susceptible to fall back into the ways of the world. It’s that old, “eat, drink, and be merry” thingy because tomorrow we die. There’s no hope or potential for transformation to be found in this kind of thinking.
But when we have a real Easter hope, we are fundamentally changed. This, in turn, makes us willing to do our part in our relationship with Christ so that he can use us as palpable and tangible examples of what his healing love looks like and can do for humans. We put to death those things in us–only with the help of the Spirit, of course–that cause us to remain hostile toward God and each other, and here Paul gives us a list (not to be read as a comprehensive list) of some of those things.
When we put on Christ (i.e., when we imitate him), we can offer healing, reconciliation, and hope to others. When our enemies curse us and want to destroy us, we bless them and pray for them. We seek to alleviate need and suffering to the extent we are able. When we see injustice being done in our neck of the woods, we speak out against it and try to replace it with God’s justice. We treat others with integrity and honesty so that they can trust us. And when we have Christ in us, when we see ourselves and others through his eyes, this gives us new perspective. For example, it makes it a bit harder for us to get angry at folks who do us wrong because we understand we are all in the same boat–we are all profoundly broken people who desperately need Jesus’ healing love.
You can’t do any of this stuff if you let your fallen nature, your old creation, rule the roost. If that happens, it will be business as usual–an eye for an eye (or worse), cursing our enemies when they do us wrong, refusing to be reconciled to them, turning a blind eye to injustice or worse yet, being part of injustice because we will personally benefit from it. You get the idea.
Moreover, Paul is not telling us to not have any fun in our lives. He is simply inviting us to consider what constitutes real fun and real living, and having our fallen nature rule the day isn’t it. I used to think the former when I was a young man. The things Paul talks about in today’s lesson sounded like a bunch of arbitrary rules to me. But that’s not what they are and through much sorrow, pain, and emotional suffering over the years, I have come to realize that fun and meaning in life isn’t to be had by self-indulgence and self-worship. When we are transformed and healed by the love of Christ, we are freed to be real humans and this, in turn, leads to real fun because we are living life as God intends for us. But here’s the thing. You’ll never discover this until you take a chance and try it.
Finally, this should make us understand why Paul has in mind the community of believers when he wrote this letter. We are human and need the human touch. None of what I have talked about is easy to accomplish, even with the Spirit’s help. It involves blood, toil, tears, and sweat, and it takes a lifetime to accomplish. Our fallen nature is deeply ingrained in us and won’t go down without fighting like hell to be preserved. Anyone who has taken his or her Christian discipleship seriously understands this. That is why God provides us help and support in our fight via Jesus’ body, the Church. We can never hope to be an agent of New Creation by ourselves because we will certainly get picked off along the way, either by our own selfishness or by the Evil One (or both). There’s no such thing as an isolate Christian and we ignore this truth at our own peril. The Christian life is intended to be lived together.
Here, then, is what discipleship training looks like. Transformative faith is a wonderful and achievable thing, but it takes great effort and faith on our part and it all starts by taking our relationship with Jesus seriously. We can only be in the position to be agents of God’s New Creation if we are changed ourselves and there are no shortcuts in doing this. It starts by taking our discipleship seriously and doing what is necessary to make that happen. First and foremost it means that we stop making excuses about why we only make a half-hearted effort to grow in our relationship with Christ and get busy doing it. We make this priority one above all else, and we will never do that without a real Easter hope to motivate us.
But there is a real Easter hope and we do have a Savior who is willing to meet us where we are, to take us by the hand and help us get to where he wants and needs us to be. The ride isn’t easy or linear. But it is the most important ride we can ever take and we have God’s very promise to be with us every step (and misstep) of the way. When you allow Jesus to work on you, you will discover you have real hope (not a hope that whistles through the graveyard) for the future and real meaning and purpose for the living of your days right here and now. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your gifts and talents are. God can and will use you to help him in his work of New Creation if you will let him, and it all starts by saying yes to Jesus’ invitation to you to have life and have it abundantly.
Do you have this kind of Easter hope? Do you have a real relationship with the One and Only Source of all life? Is your faith making a difference for you and others? If not, what are you waiting for?
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!