Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website.
“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 things that are above, not on 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.” (Colossians 3:1–4, ESV)
Can people really change? We tend to be skeptical don’t we? We seems to be pessimistic about people’s ability to change, including Christians.
That lady in our Sunday School class who continually gossips and complain, seems to be destined to do so forever.
That Negative friend who always tears everyone else down always tends to be negative forever.
That brother who is enslaved to the brown bag of liquor seems to never be able to break away from his slavery.
The prideful pastor who thinks so highly of himself continually looks down on others as inferior.
The teenager who seems addicted to pornography and just can’t seem to break away from the enslaving pictures on his computer screen.
The husband who seems unable to love his wife because he lusts after other women seems to forever do so.
As we encounter these people and even ourselves it is easy for us to just throw up our hands and say, “He’s just being who he is, people never change!”
Yet, the Bible teaches us that people can change. A prideful punk kid named Joseph becomes a humble obedient servant of God. A weak and cowardly man named Gideon went on to be a mighty warrior for God. The bloodthirsty Paul who made it his life work to kill Christians became the world’s greatest Christian missionary. Change is possible and the Bible is filled with stories of men and woman who change when they encounter God.
Yet, we tend to be very confused about the Christian life often thinking we can do it ourselves within our own might or we tend to just throw up our hands and give up! How do people truly change? How can we really grow in our Christian walk? How do we deal with these sins that seem so enslaving to us?
The key to true change rests in our identity in Christ. As we study Colossians today we will see that, We must have our identity in Christ if we hope to live the Christian life.
Colossians So Far
To understand the significance of these four verses at the start of Colossians 3 we have to understand the rich theology and doctrine that Paul has been teaching us so far. He begins the body of his letter by celebrating Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. He highlights Jesus as the divine creator who is pre-eminiant over all. Just like our series title states, Christ is Over All. He rules and has authority.
Paul has also been teaching heavily on our union with Christ. Paul emphasis that the identity and life of the Christian is tied to the person of Christ. By faith we are united to Christ and we live our life in him. We are saved by the blood of Christ as he reconciles us back to the father. Through Jesus’ life and death we are united, wedded to him by grace.
Therefore, we should not go back to worldly rules and regulations for they are of no value and unable to truly change. Paul has addressed the false teaching happening in the church warning them and condemning these false teaching as worldly and of no value. Rules and regulations cannot get us any closer to God and rules and regulations cannot change us. Behavior modification seems to be all the rage today as we try to manage our vices through will power, but Paul tells us that its an empty pursuit. You can’t change your heart by managing your external behavior. True change must go deeper. We can’t truly kill the weeds in our life by mowing them down. We must get on our hands and needs and allow the Spirit to pull up our sin by the root.
The puritan John Owen said it like this, “mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world…all other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”
Colossians 3:1–4 serves as a pivotal change in the book of Colossians. Largely what has been taught in Colossians so far is deep teaching and doctrine. These first four verses mark the transition from Paul’s teaching of doctrine to his applying it in the Christian life. Christian Doctrine and Application are not two separate ideas. Christian thinking must always lead to Christian living. Paul takes these four verses in Colossians 3 in order to help demonstrate how our union with Christ fuels the ethical teaching he begins to teach in chapter 3. True change results from finding our identity in Christ. The more fully we understand our union with Christ the more our life is filled with Christ’s life. Paul in these verses actually is going to make an even bolder claim - You cannot live the Christian life without first being united to Christ by faith.
Two Great Mistakes When it Comes to the Christian Life
Many Christians tend to be confused over the essence of the Christian life. From my observations (and also from Paul as we’ve seen in Colossians) there tend to be two opposite but equally dangerous understandings of the Christian life. Before we talk about what the Christian life is, lets first talk about what it is not. Here are the two mistakes in understanding the Christian life.
1. The Mistake of AntiNomianism
AntiNominanism is simply the idea that as a Christian we simply don’t care about holiness or the Christian life at all. AntiNomianism literally means “against the law”. The first dangerous mistake about the Christian life is to not care about the Christian life at all. These so called Christians will point back to some point of time in which they made a decision for Christ but then go on to live completely apathetic to Jesus. These people really don’t care what Jesus says about their lifestyle. “Who cares if I sin, I made a decision twenty years ago”. These people continue to live in sin, unrepentantly thinking Jesus doesn’t care about their sexual sin, their materialism and selfishness, and their entertainment choices. Those who reject the Christian life think of salvation as simply a get-out-of hell free card like you’d pick up in the monopoly game. Salvation for them is just fire insurance, something to pick up before they die, but completely avoid the Christian life. These are the professed Christians who refuse to belong to a church, refuse to repent from sin, and refuse to live out there faith in any visible way. These are those who claim to be healthy trees but who produce bad fruit, not good fruit.
“he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:22–23, ESV)
2. The Mistake of Legalism
An equally dangerous mistake in the Christian life is to think that the Christian life is what causes us to achieve salvation. This is the mistake of legalism. Its the complete opposite of antinomianism. While antinomianism says I’m saved so who cares how i Lives, legalism says “I care how I live, so that I can be saved”. Legalists put up rules and regulations and intensely pursue good Christian living in hopes that they might be good enough to garner salvation. Legalism rejects grace and salvation by faith in exchange for a works based righteousness. The legalist thinks that what saves him is his own goodness, not the grace of God. Paul also addressed the danger of legalism in colossians too doesn’t he?
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—” (Colossians 2:20, ESV)
So the Christian life is not anti-nomianism meaning Jesus doesn’t care how I live at all, and the Christian life is not legalism meaning I have to live the Christian life to earn my salvation. What is the correct way to think about the Christian life?
The Correct Understanding of the Christian Life
The Christian life results from understanding who we are in Christ and we live our life out of that identity of being in Christ.
It is important we understand the order Paul gives us. He first lays out the indicatives of the Gospel, before ever giving us the imperatives. What are indicatives - Well those indicative verbs are those that express meaning and identity. The indicatives tell us who we are. So in Colossians 1–2 Paul has been outlining who we are in Christ. At the start of Chatper three he tells us “If then you have been been raised” or “For You have died”. In other words, Paul says that before we have any hope of living the Christian life we must first and foremost understand who we are in Christ.
Paul is preparing to outline for us so very practical ethical teaching of the Christian life. He is going to spend most of chapter three telling us how the Gospel impacts our life. How it tells us to put off an old sinful morality in exchange for a new morality and new life in Jesus. However, it all hinges on this important clause at the start of the chapter. Paul only admonishes us to attempt to live these things out because we have been united, and thus raised in the new life of Christ. “If then you have been raised with Christ”
So the indicatives of the Gospel - Who we are in Christ always come first. The imperatives are the commands - Do this, do that. So Paul says if you have been raised (indicative), seek the things that are above (imperative) the imperatives always come after the indicatives. This importance is crucial and the antidote to the mistake of anti-nominanism and legalism. It corrects both of the mistakes. When we are truly born again, saved by faith in Jesus it changes who we are. We have a fundamental change in identity. That identity then leads to new behavior and a new life.
So our identity in Christ leads to new action. Just what is our identity though in Christ? Who are we know that we are in Jesus?
- In Christ, I am perfectly righteous, given the righteousness of Jesus I now stand before God blameless before him.
- In Christ, I am a blessed given all the inheritance of heaven as my possession and given new life.
- In Christ, I am adopted into the family of God. I live my life as a son or daughter of the king of kings.
- In Christ, I am accepted though other people might reject me or mock me, in Jesus I have the full and permanent acceptance of God.
- In Christ, I am reconciled through the blood of Jesus God has brought peace to my soul and I am no longer an enemy of God, but his friend.
- In Christ, I am new. My old life has passed away and I am now a new Creation in Jesus Christ. My past no longer enslaves me because in Jesus I have his new resurrected life.
- In Christ, I am protected from the powers of darkness and my own sin. God holds me in his hand.
- In Christ, I am victorious as I live my life in the resurrected victory of Christ, though sorrows and defeats may come in this life, my life is sealed in the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- In Christ, I am loved greater than I ever hoped to be because God saw me at my worst and still choose me to be his child.
You see, when we understand our identity that is in Christ, when we grasp the indicatives of the Gospel then we have the Spirit’s power to enable us to live out the imperatives of the Gospel. True change in the Christian life results of seeking to live our life out of our new identity in Jesus Christ.
- Because I’m righteous in Christ, means that I seek to live righteously because that’s who I am.
- Because I’ve been made holy by Jesus, this means I hate my sin and loath it and long to rid it from my life.
- Because I’m God’s child, it means I want to live in a way that bring honor to my Father seeking always to obey his will.
- Because I am a new creation, its foolish for me to go back to an old sinful way of living.
- Because I am victorious in Christ, sin no longer has an enslaving hold over me and can be put together by the Spirit’s power.
- Because I am accepted in Christ, I can live my life without fear of failure. Though I may fail in defeating my sin, God in his grace covers my failure in Christ’s acceptance.
This is why Paul gives the indicatives “You have been raised” before he gives us the command “Seek the things that are above” or “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”. As we seek to live our Christian life we must always seek to live out our identity that comes from our union with Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Our Life is Christ
Another principle from this passage that is hugely important from this passage is that all of our life belongs to God. If we understand that the Christian life is a change in our identity and a change of who we are, it means that all of our life must be lived out in that identity. If we are joined to Christ by faith, it means all of our life is his!
We tend to compartmentalize our life so much as Christians. We have our life broken up into neat little segments that should not intersect with one another. I have my work life, family life, entertainment, life, church life, spiritual life, financial life all separated in individual containers that don’t interact or touch. This is not a correct understanding of the Christian life. The Christian understands that Jesus is the center of everything he does. All areas and compartments of our life come under his authority. Our identity in Christ must be evident in every area of our life. From what we say to what we watch, from what we read to how we spend our money. Christ is Lord over every inch of our lives. Christ is over all your life, not just a segment of your life. Christ is either Lord over all, or he is not Lord at all.
“If God be God over us, we must yield him universal obedience in all things. He must not be over us in one thing, and under us in another, but he must be over us in every thing.” - Peter Bulkeley
What areas of your life is not under Jesus authority?
Understanding the Christian Hope
Paul fleshes out this idea that if our life is in Christ, if we have both died and raised with him then our life is hidden with God. The idea behind this word hidden is not so much a secret, but God’s protection. When we turn our life over to God and place our life in his hands. When we by faith make him Lord over all, we place our life in good hands.
Al Parish was a professor from my college Charleston Southern University. He was an economics and business professor who garnered quite a lot of prestige in the community. But, it came to find out that Parish squandered nearly $90 million from about 460 investors in what the government called a massive Ponzi scheme. His personal wardrobe alone was valued at $2 million. His chartered-jet travel bills ran as high as $1 million, authorities said.
Many in the Charleston community had put their lives savings in this man’s hands to manage for them. The investment and trust in this man proved to be incredibly tragic.
How opposite is this from us trusting our lives to God! When we hide our lives and place them in his hands, he will not lose us and he will not disappoint us. Rather, by the power of God we will be preserved continuing in Christ as we seek to live the Christian life. When we are united to Christ it is a permanent union that cannot be separate though we fail in stumble. If we have truly been born again and if our identity has truly changed by the grace of God, our life is hidden with Christ.
When Christ appears, this Christ who is our very life, we too will also share in his glory. How amazing is this! We who were sinners, who were enemies with God have now been brought into share in the very glory of Christ. Because we are connected and united to him by faith when Christ comes again we will not only be saved from our sins but we will share in his glory.
God in his divine power will make sure we become who God says we are. As we seek to live the Christian life we struggle and its often tough killing our sin and living in obedience. Yet, When Christ our life appears this long pilgrim journey called the Christian life will come to fruition. In a twinkling of an eye we will be changed. The process of our sanctification will be made complete and those whom God has justified he will glorify!
Can We Change?
So can people really change? Yes, but true change only comes by having a change in identity. True change can only come by receiving a new heart.
Do you want to change? The first thing you have to ask yourself is do you know Christ? Have you turned from your sins and given Christ your life. Have you put your faith in Jesus and trusted him as your savior and as your Lord? If not, change will continue to be an impossible task. Sure you may be able to change a behavior here or there by your will power, but you cannot change your heart. Only God can do such a thing. If you do not know Jesus, I invite you to come and put your faith in him and experience a new identity that gives you the power of God to truly change.
For those of you seeking to live out the Christian life, remind yourself of you who are. Remind yourself of your identity with Christ, and let the incredible transforming love of God shape you and mold you into his image. Yes, the Christian life can be difficult. Putting to death our sin is tough work as we will see next week, but it is possible and it is possible only because God has given you a new identity through Jesus. Christian, Christ is your life. Do not put the imperatives before the indicatives. Today in your struggles remind yourself of who you are in Christ and rest in the fact that when Christ is your life, by the power of God when he returns your journey will come to an end and you will appear with Christ in perfect glory.