I want you to think back to your high school or college days. For some of us, that won’t be hard. For others, you might have to dig way back in the memory bank. And I want you to think about your best friends from back then. Maybe one or two or three of your closest friends back in the day. Got those people in your mind?
Ok, now here’s a second question for you to ponder. Are those people still your best friends today? If I had asked you to name your top one/two/three best friends today, would those still be the same people you would name? I’m guessing that the older you are, the more likely you have different best friends now.
Relationships always change – friends that were once close, over time, can become distant. People move away. Your lives take different directions. You just grown distant over time.
And at the same time while you grow distant from some people, there are other people that you grow closer with. You’re always meeting new people and making new friends. And some of them grow to be very close friends.
But relationships always change. Even our relationship with God changes over time. I imagine most of us experience times of our lives when our relationship with God is super close! It’s awesome! You love praying and reading His Word. His presence is very real in your life and you just love serving Him and just being with Him.
And then there are other times, when we just feel distant from God. He becomes almost like a Facebook acquaintance. We know in our heads that God hasn’t gone anywhere – the Bible tells us He’s right there with us all the time… but it sure doesn’t feel like it.
That’s frustrating to me. I hate those times when I feel distant from God. I want a relationship with God that grows closer all the time – not more distant. And I think that’s what God wants too. From everything I read about in the Bible, it sure seems that God wants to have that close relationship with us too. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me so that I could feel distant from Him. He didn’t send the Holy Spirit to empower and dwell right within me so that our relationship could grow cold. No! God wants to be my closest ally and my most faithful friend.
So how do we live in that continuously close relationship with God? Can we avoid or at least minimize those times where we feel distant? How do we make sure we’re growing closer – and not moving apart? How do we do that?
Well, Paul started talking about this last week – in Colossians 2. He wrote in Colossians 2:6-7….
6 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. Colossians 2:6-7
Paul’s really just saying, you’ve got to stay connected with God. You need to continually have that close relationship with Him. We’ve got to follow him, let our roots grow down into him, let our lives be built on him.
And we get that! That’s exactly what we want to do. We want to have that close relationship with God. But how do we do that? What does that look like in real life? Well, now in chapter 3 – where we are going to look today, Paul continues to build on that idea. He gets into some more specifics of how we continue to follow him. How we let our roots grow down into him and how we let our lives be built on him.
So that’s what we’re going to look at today. In fact, that’ll be the over-arching theme for probably the next three weeks as we work through chapter 3 of Colossians.
Our passage this morning is Colossians 3:1-11. And this might seem like an odd way to go about it, but I’d actually like to start in the middle of the passage. Let’s look at verses 5-9 to start with.
“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 thought 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. Romans 7:18.
“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.” Romans 7:18b-19
Can you relate to Paul’s struggle? He wants to do right, but he keeps finding himself doing wrong. I think every Christian can relate. We want to please God, but there is something inside us that desperately wants to please ourselves. Paul continues…. Jump down to Romans 7, verse 21
“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.”
So what’s the deal? On one hand (back in Colossians), Paul tells us “strip off your sinful nature – put it to death” – but yet on the other hand (here in Romans) he tells us that he, Himself, still struggles with sin. So what’s the deal? Is Paul sending us mixed messages or what?
It’s important to realize that being a follower of Christ is not merely 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. That happens the moment you believe – when you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. Salvation is instant. But becoming like Christ is a process. A long process!
It’s just like what we read in Colossians 2:6-7. 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 & death and we are no longer slaves to sin, 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 in Genesis 4:7…
“Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Genesis 4:7
That’s us too. Sin is always crouching at our door. It is eager to control us. But we must be its master. We’ve got to continually strip it off and put it to death.
I think most of us could probably make a pretty quick list of some of the sinful, earthly things that lurk within our own hearts. We need to confess those things to God. Whenever we become aware of a sinful action or a sinful attitude in our life, we have to deal with it right away. We need to confess and repent of that sin.
And that’s also true of our favourite sins. You know, those sins that for whatever reason, we always seem to fall into. Those sins that we re-visit time and time again. Maybe for you it’s pride, or lying, envy, lust, greed, anger, worry, or just plain selfishness. Maybe all of the above!
We’ve got to deal with those sins too! Those are all part of our sinful nature that we need to strip off. But to be honest, we can’t do that on our own. We can’t master sin – we can’t put it to death in our own strength. And that’s why Paul tells us that part of the process of stripping our sinful nature off is also putting on our new nature.
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 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 continually putting on 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. Perhaps that seems a bit simplistic, but 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 doesn’t have to stay that way. You can change that in a flash. It really is just a matter of your decision every day 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 through Jesus Christ to conquer your sinful nature and to walk in a close relationship with God.
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 live in victory over our sinful nature. We can walk continually in a close 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. 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.” Colossians 3:1-4
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…
“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
Why does he say that? 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 – eternity, God’s love and goodness, 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?
You know, every sin we’ve ever committed was because we were thinking of me. We lie to get me out of trouble. We steal because me wants it. We use unkind words and hurt other people because me didn’t get what I wanted.
Every sin can be traced back to our focus on me. But when we flip that around and we focus on Christ and what He wants and what He desires – that changes everything.
As we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will naturally strip off our old sinful nature and replace it with our new Christ-like nature. Paul says that this will renew us as we learn to know and become like our Creator – As a result, our relationship with God grows closer and closer. And to use Paul’s language, our roots grow down into him and our lives are built on Him.
The trick, of course, is to keep our eyes on Jesus. To set and keep our sights on the realities of heaven. To think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.
Now that doesn’t mean that we aren’t supposed to think about earthly concerns like paying our mortgage or getting supper on the table. Certainly, those things require our attention and energy, but what Paul is saying is that those things shouldn’t dominate our thoughts.
The Old King James version puts it like this: “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.”
And maybe that phrase “set your affections” might help us better understand this. When you’re in love and you set your affection on that girl or that guy – man, thoughts about that person totally dominate your mind. You’re always thinking about them. You replay conversations you had with them over and over in your head. You imagine being with them. Your mind is totally consumed in thinking about them. You guys know what it’s like.
Well, Paul is saying we need to set our affection on Christ. Let thoughts about God and his kingdom dominate your mind.
Imagine what would happen in your life if you were always thinking about God’s goodness and his love for you? Imagine if you were always thinking about how to please God and how to advance His kingdom? Imagine what would happen if you spent your days with eternity in the fore-front of your mind?
Man, if you lived like that, your old sinful nature wouldn’t stand a chance. It would never get its way, because your focus, your affection, was set on things above – on the realities of heaven – on Christ Himself.
Imagine how close your relationship with God would be if you lived like that. There would be no feeling of being distant from God at all. Ever.
I’d like to challenge you today not just to imagine all that – but to actually live like that.
I know it’s not easy. From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep each day, there are a million and one things that demand our attention and our focus. From kids to bills to bosses to everything else…
We have to intentionally and very deliberately choose to focus on Christ. We have to make sure that the practice of our life includes things that will continually redirect our focus off ourselves and on to Christ. Without those constant reminders, our focus just defaults right back to us and we end up living according to our old nature again. So we’ve got to put those things in our lives that help us set our affection once again on Christ.
So what are the things that help you focus on Christ throughout your day or your week. What makes you forget about all the distractions – even for a few moments and helps you to focus on Christ and on his kingdom? What helps you remember God’s goodness and his love for you? What helps you live with eternity in the fore-front of your mind?
Maybe for some people, it’s just having a regular prayer time. Maybe every morning you shower, have a coffee, and spend a few minutes in your easy chair just talking to God. That might be one way that helps you focus on God.
Maybe its something really simple like a verse on your computer desktop background. Every so often, you close your programs and there it is – some verse that is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and love.
And there are so many things you can do to help keep your focus on God. Maybe for you talking a walk at lunch time helps remove the distractions and allows you to focus on God for a few minutes in the middle of your day.
Maybe you’ve got an app that has a ‘verse of the day’ or something where you get daily reminders of God. Or maybe listening to Christian music or podcasts helps you keep your focus on God. Maybe you’re working at memorizing Bible verses. Maybe there’s a Bible study that you’re a part of. Or Maybe it’s just coming to church on Sunday mornings!
One thing that works really well for me is reading Christian books that encourage and inspire me to live a Christ-like life. I’m reading a book on prayer right now and every time I read another chapter, it refocuses me on Christ. It reminds me again about the realities of heaven.
Another thing I do that I find very helpful is I get together with a friend every few weeks and we talk about the things that God is teaching us and the things that God is doing in our lives. We pray for each other and we talk about how God has answered our prayers from last time. It is so good to hear and see real life examples of God in action. It’s such a good reminder for me.
So that’s a couple of things that help me. How about you? What helps you stay focused on Christ and His Kingdom throughout your day? What helps you keep eternity at the fore-front of your mind?
We need as many reminders as we can get. Find those things and make them part of your life!