These past few weeks we’ve been looking at Christianity in a Nutshell as we’ve examined Paul’s letter to the Colossians. And we’ve been talking about some good stuff. Stuff like who Jesus really is. Stuff like what Jesus really did for us when He died on the cross and rose from the grave. Stuff like what it really means to be a Christian. And if you’ve missed that or just have a poor memory, let me give you a quick 3-point summary: #1. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. #2. He died on a cross and rose from the grave to take away our sin and our punishment so that we could be together with God. #3. Being a Christian means you have accepted what Christ has done for you and now, with Christ living within you, you have life together with God. That’s what we’ve been talking about.
We ended last week on the theme of having a relationship with God. And of course, that leads to the question: How? And not “How do we begin a relationship with God?” – we’ve talked about that already. It begins by confessing with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. That’s how we start our relationship with God – But the question I want to talk about today is, how do we live in continuing, close relationship with God? What do we do? What does God do? How does it all work together? What is life together with God supposed to look like?
I don’t know if you’re like me – but I struggle with this. It is difficult for me to understand how exactly to experience a continuing, close relationship with God. And maybe that surprises you, but I’m just being honest. I don’t have it all figured out – but I’m learning.
And one of the greatest privileges I have as your pastor is to be able to stand in front of you week after week and share with you the lessons that I’ve been learning. That’s not to say that I’ve mastered it all. In fact, if you hear me preach on the same topic several times, it’s probably because God hasn’t got through to me yet. But I’m learning, and I’d love to have you learn with me.
Today we begin chapter three of Colossians. You might have noticed that we skipped a few verses in chapter two and we’ll probably skip some in chapter four as well – but that’s certainly not to say they aren’t important. In fact, there is some really good stuff in there that I’d encourage you to read through and study sometime this week. But for the purpose of our study this morning, let’s start in chapter 3 – verse 1. We’ll read our entire passage and then we’ll work through it bit by bit.
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.”
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”
That’s a pretty full passage, isn’t it? Now this might seem like an odd way to go about it, but I’d actually like to start in the middle of this passage. Let’s jump back and re-read verses 6-9.
“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.”
Now when I read that, my first reaction is “Well, that’s a lot easier said than done.” I would love to put to death all the sinful, earthly things lurking within me. I would love to strip off my old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds and be totally done with sin! I would love to never have to deal with that junk again! But that just doesn’t seem possible. At least – not this side of heaven.
It seems no matter what I do, a bit of that sinful nature stays within me. I can’t shake it. It stays alive and sticks to me. Maybe you’ve got that problem too. No matter how hard you try to stop doing wrong things – you still end up doing them. And it seems that Paul – the very guy who wrote these instructions – had the same problem. In Romans 7 Paul tells us about his continuing struggle with sin.
“I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.”
Romans 7:18-19, 21-23
So what’s the deal? On one hand, Paul tells us “strip off your sinful nature – put it to death” – but yet on the other hand he tells us that he, Himself, still struggles with sin. So is Paul sending us mixed messages or what?
No, I don’t think He is.
Let’s jump back to last week’s message for a minute. Remember what we read in Colossians 2:6-7?
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”
Christianity is not about a one-time event where you ask Jesus into your heart and whamo! Everything is right again. Now of course, forgiveness is instant and being made right with God is instant. But developing a relationship with God takes time. Becoming like Christ is a process. We have to continue follow Him. We have to continue to grow in Him. We have to continue to be built on Him. It’s a process.
So when Paul tells us that we are to put to death the sinful, earthly things that lurk within us – he means we have to do that continually. We have to strip off our sinful nature continually. It’s not a one-time event. The fact is, that even though Jesus has defeated sin and it has no more power over us, it’s still going to continue to fight with us until we reach heaven.
I’m reminded of what God said to Cain just before he murdered his brother Abel. You might remember the story how God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but he rejected Cain’s. And this made Cain very angry with his brother. But God said to Cain…
“Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:7
That’s us too. Sin is always crouching at your door. It desires to have you. But we must rule over it. But of course, that just takes us back to our original question. How? How do we rule over our sinful natures? How do we put it to death? How do we strip it off?
Well, Paul gives us the answer for that too. Go back to Romans 7 where Paul is explaining his struggle with sin – we cut him off earlier and didn’t let him finish his thought. So let’s read just a little further. After saying how he keeps doing what He doesn’t want to do, he says…
24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul hits the nail right on the head. The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Let’s look again at our Colossians passage. We looked at the middle of our passage before – let’s now look at the end. Starting at verse 10 of Colossians 3.
“Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”
Because we have Christ Jesus living within us – the very same Jesus Christ who defeated sin and death by dying on the cross and rising again from the grave – we too, can have victory over sin.
When we accept Christ as our Saviour and Christ comes to live within us, He gives us a new nature – a Christ-like nature. This new nature is completely contrary to our old nature. The old nature is sinful, selfish – and wants to please only itself. But our new nature wants to please God and become like Him.
So as you can imagine, (and as you’ve probably experienced) this creates a huge battle within us – with both natures fighting against each other. On one hand, we really want to please God – but on the other hand – we really want to please ourselves. On one hand we want to be honorable and good, but on the other hand, we just want to be selfish. Isn’t that true?
You see, this is the battle that each of us face every day. Do we follow our old, selfish, sinful nature – or do we follow our new Christ-like nature?
And this takes us right back to our original question of the day. We asked, how do we experience a continuing, close relationship with God? Well, the answer to that is: by continually following our new nature. We experience a close relationship with God when we, as Paul says in verse 10, “put on our new nature, and we are renewed as we learn to know our Creator and become like him.”
You see, the outcome of this every day battle, between our old nature and our new nature, is exactly what will determine whether we’re walking close to God – or walking away from Him. A person that enjoys a close relationship with God is a person who is following their new nature. A person who’s relationship with God is growing more and more distant – is a person who is following their old nature. That’s how it works.
So if, when you look at your life, you see that your relationship with God has been growing distant over the past days, weeks, or years – that’s a warning signal. That tells you that you’ve been following your old sinful nature, instead of your new Christ-like one.
But the good news is this: It does have to stay that way. You can change that in a flash. It really is just a matter of your decision to strip off the old, and put on the new. Remember, the same power that defeated sin at the cross now lives within you. That same power is available to you to conquer your sinful nature.
Now I don’t mean to make this sound easy – because I know it isn’t. It’s straightforward – But it’s not easy. Our sinful nature is not about to roll over and die without a fight. But we can beat it. We can live in victory over our sinful nature. We can walk in close, continuous relationship with God. And Paul gives us some advice on just how to do that.
Go right back to the beginning of our passage.
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” Colossians 3:1-2
When I was talking driver’s ed, back when I was 16 – I learned a valuable lesson that I remember even today. My driving instructor told me that our vehicle follows our eyes. That is to say, we will steer toward whatever we are looking at. For example, if we are gawking out our window at the accident on the side of the road, we tend to steer towards that accident. At night time, when you’re blinded by the oncoming headlights, my instructor told me to look at the white line on the side of the road – and not at the headlights – because if you look at the headlights, you tend to steer towards them and risk a head-on collision. But if you look at the white line, to tend to stay on your side of the road. We tend to follow our eyes.
This is the principle that Paul is applying here. He says “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.” Focus on Jesus. Think about the things of heaven – not the things of earth. Why? Because we tend to follow our eyes. We steer towards whatever we are looking at. We follow our focus.
So if we’re focused on ourselves – on our needs and our wants and our desires – what direction are we going to go? Which nature are we going to follow? It’s going to be that old sinful, selfish nature, isn’t it?
But if we are focused on Jesus – on the realities of heaven – on what God wants, what God desires – what direction are we going to go then? Which nature will we follow? Our new Christ-like nature, right?
There’s a passage in Hebrews that says very much the same thing.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
We have to keep looking towards our goal. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus. That is how we win the race. That is how we live in our new nature. That is how we walk in a continuous, close relationship with God – By keeping our eyes on Jesus – By setting our sights on the realities of heaven.
So where have you set your sights? Where is your focus? Do you spend your time thinking about and working towards the things of earth – things that are here today and gone tomorrow? Or do you spend your time thinking about and working towards the realities of heaven – things that will last forever?
Do you get caught up thinking about how you can be more like Christ – how you can make a bigger impact on the people around you for eternity? Or do you simply think about making those extra dollars to buy those extra toys?
Do you scheme and plan how you can advance the kingdom of God in your community – or do you scheme and plan how to advance your career or your social status?
When you get together with your friends, do you celebrate the amazing things that God has been doing in your lives – or do you simply celebrate the fact that a big guy on skates slapped a puck into the net last night?
Where is your focus? Where have you set your sights?
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.”