Living “Christ Alone” (Colossians 3:1-17)
It’s good to be back, and what I want to do today is to finish the “sermon series sampler” I began two weeks ago.
Let me remind you about that. Two weeks ago I shared a message I called “Christ Alone” drawn from Colossians 1:13-23. The simple point I was making is this: the apostle Paul sees the Colossians being swayed away from the simplicity of Christ. He hammers away at this: it’s not Christ plus law, or Christ plus ritual, or Christ plus secret knowledge, or Christ plus rules and regulations. It’s just Christ. He’s enough. He’s enough for two reasons: because of who He is (fully God, and with full authority over all things) and what He’s done (gone to the cross and burst the bonds of death by His resurrection). He’s brought us over from the realm of darkness to the realm of light.
Religion is all that junk that gets in the way between us and the simplicity of the good news of Jesus. Paul calls us to change the way we think and the way we live. First, think this way: Jesus is enough. I don’t need to add anything to Jesus to know God, to be forgiven, to be happy and fulfilled. He’s enough.
Do you know how our faith, the Christ-centered faith, is different from every other faith on earth? The theme of every other faith—all those religions—is this DO: do good works, do the ritual, do the requirements, and then, maybe, God will hear you and bless you. That’s do, and that’s religion.
The theme of the gospel is this: not DO, but DONE. Jesus paid it all. He went to the cross. He did the good work we could not do, and it’s DONE now. That’s why Paul could speak of all the things that he does with such absolute certainty. And that’s what was behind what Jesus said just before He died there: “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Colossians 1-2 is all about Paul reminding believers that because of Christ’s total triumph on the cross and by resurrection, He is all we need. Don’t turn back, says Paul—don’t turn back either to Jewish law or to pagan practices.
Now, the second half of the book, chapters 3-4, paints for us just what Christ-centered living looks like. In chapter 3:1-17, he gives general principles which he then gives some specific applications about in 3:18-4:6 to believing households and to prayer.
It’s a big chunk, but today let’s look at 3:1-17. It’s the heart of Paul’s teaching on—what does it mean to live a Christ centered life? What does living “Christ alone” look like?
The basic truth: look to Christ, the Center (3:1-4)
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.
Twice Paul says “set”: set your hearts on things above and then set your minds on things about. These are simple commands with profound meanings. If Christ is Lord, if eternity is real, then live it in terms of your priorities, affections and interests. We are wrapped up in Him; we have been raised with Him; we even died with Him; He is our life, and when He appears in His glory, we will also appear with His glory.
We are “Christ people”—that’s what “Christian” means. All the wonderful things He’s done for us—what does He want in return? Gold? Animal sacrifices? Rituals? All that “religious” stuff? Nope.
So what does He want?
In a word: He wants adoration. A heart set on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. A mind set on things above, not on earthly things.
That doesn’t mean we can’t be interested in the San Diego Chargers or in home decorating or in getting a job promotion. It just means that all these things take a far back seat to this: loving God: loving the Jesus who died for us; loving Him for His own sake.
It means that every believer will see everything in the light of and against the background of eternity. He will no longer live as if this world was all that mattered; he will see this world against the background of the larger world of eternity.
Every believer will set giving above getting, serving above ruling, forgiving above avenging. The believer will see things, not as they appear to men, but as they appear to God.
In some ways, it’s as simple as Exodus 20:3: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Now, why does God want us to live this way? Is there any sense that He wants this in order to restrict or to frustrate or to limit us by these directions? No, not at all; this is how we come to maximum joy in life. Sin is a prison, not an amusement park. Whether it’s the sin of a life without God, or the sin of misplaced religion, it’s all a prison. Here’s how we get free, and Paul gives us specific directions in the following verses.
We’ve all heard, “Out with the bad air, in with the good”, right? Well, v. 5-11 is bad air and v. 12-17 is good air.
So, get rid of… (3:5-11)
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. 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must 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 Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Get rid of these things: Paul expresses that in two ways in this passage: “Put to death” (v. 5), “You must rid yourselves of all such things” (v. 9) based on the fact that “You have taken off your old self” (v. 9).
There are certain things that just aren’t compatible with the Christ-centered life. That’s our motive: they just get in the way of a life centered on Him.
Ever have some kid you because you don’t drink alcohol, or don’t use swear words, or are embarrassed by a dirty joke? They know that you’re a Christian, so they say, “So what? You think you’ll go to hell if you have a Budweiser?” That’s not the issue for believers—the issue is—what’s compatible with the Christ-centered life, and what’s not?
There are two “vice lists” in this passage. Vs. 5 says:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
“Put to death”: that’s kind of violent! Paul’s urging us to take no prisoners here. This vice list is about sexual purity, and I think it’s so interesting that Paul follows this upstream. That is, he works from the outcome back to source. Behind sexual immorality are sexually impure ways of thinking (impurity, list, evil desires and greed), but Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes all the way back to the headwaters: “evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
Follow the stream up to the source far enough, you’ll find idolatry: putting the god of sexual pleasure ahead of the God who gives all pleasures, including sexual pleasure in marriage. It’s sexual pleasure running a life, and Paul says, “Get out a axe, and put immorality to death.” This isn’t “let go and let God”: this is war.
This was so counter-cultural for the people of Colossae. All kinds of sexual behavior were tolerated in their culture (like it is today). Paul’s concern was that lifestyle would suck them back into pagan living.
The other vice list has to do with the way we talk:
8 But now you must 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.
Unlike the first list, here Paul starts upstream and works his way down: from anger on one end (an attitude) to filthy language (an action) on the other. Get rid of it, he says. This is the bad air. This is the junk that just has to go—to make room for good things. The reason is the change of clothes we’ve made—that’s the analogy in v. 9-10: when you came to Jesus, the old self when off and you put on the new self—a new self that bit by bit is being renewed in the image of its Creator. Before he moves on, he makes one more point: it doesn’t matter who you are or what your ethnic background is, or what your status in life is, this is what God is doing in our lives, and this is the call God’s made on our lives (v. 11):
Here [in the realm of the new self] there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Now it’s time to look at the “good air”, the things to add to our lives:
And add this to your life (3:12-17)
Christ-like love (v. 12-14)
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Love is the idea that holds these verses together. Love produces the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Love moves me to forgive in imitation of the way I’ve been forgiven. Love is what unites all these things. Love is the new set of clothes that came with the life in Christ. Love makes a new person. And love “binds them [these virtues] together in perfect unity.”
It’s Christ-like love. Over and over again, in Colossians and elsewhere in his letters, Paul tells us that while love is something we strive for, it’s also something that’s been placed in our hearts—supernaturally placed by the Holy Spirit when we put our faith in Jesus. What the Holy Spirit does is to set about reproducing the character of Jesus in our lives. That’s part of what v. 3 means: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” This is the new person God made us to be, and yes we strive to make it so, but we’re not striving on our own. The Spirit is striving in us to bring forth the life and character of Jesus in us. Now we can resist the Spirit, we can grieve the Spirit and we can quench the Spirit, but He desires to make us like Jesus.
So, the Christ-centered life adds His love; it also adds His peace. Look at v. 15-17.
Christ-made peace (vs. 15-17)
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The final part we look at today says—let the peace, won by Jesus on the cross, rule both in our hearts and in our fellowship together.
Do you see how Paul unites together these four ideas? Peace, thankfulness, the word of Christ and doing all in the name of Jesus—all four. All four are set up as commands: “Let the peace…be thankful…let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It’s not a set of disconnected commands: it’s all of one piece.
It’s one piece with two sides: it’s peace within and peace between—peace within your life and peace between followers of Jesus (“as members of one body you were called to peace”).
It may be two-sided in its effect, but it’s all one in terms of its origin: it’s the peace of Christ. Jesus spoke of this in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
That peace is expressed in thankfulness, in devotion to the word of Christ, and in doing all in His name. If I have His peace, then I am thankful. If I have His peace, then I seek out His word to dwell in me; if I have His peace, then I invite Him into every aspect of my life, doing all—word or deed—in the name of Jesus.
Don’t you find how it is that you let the word of Christ dwell in us interesting? It’s “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Worship and singing especially has a powerful role in making the word “dwell” in us.
Living Christ Alone
So now, what do we do? Well, the real bottom line of living “Christ alone” is set up for us by Paul in 3:1:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
This is not some weird, monastic, other-worldly, kind of thing we’re called to. We are called to be people whose feet are firmly planted on earth, with all its needs and problems and yes, all its possibilities, but to do so not only with eternity in mind, but with a sense that God has called me, and you, to be conduits bringing a little of heaven to earth, right here and right now.
Remember that Paul wrote to people who were a lot like us: people who worked hard all day, who were raising families and trying to make the money stretch, and who fell asleep exhausted each night. And he said to them, set your heart on things above.
Living “Christ alone” means that you believe and act on the reality that worship isn’t just something you do for an hour or two a week: you’re engaged in worship all the time—or at least that’s the idea.
Imagine someone saying, I love my wife. Come rain or shine, I make sure I pay attention to her for a whole hour each week.
That’s not only not love; it sounds an awful lot like--religion.
But the way we have for us here is different. It moves from the heart on things above in v.
1 to the hands engaged in worshipful deeds in vs. 17:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
It starts with a heart and a mind captured by the greatness of Jesus; it finishes with that great Jesus working and doing and loving through you. This is Christ-centered living.
So where are you? Is He at the center of your life, or at the edge? Do you invite Him into your life daily, or just from time to time? Is He working in your life to move you closer to the center—are you allowing Him to do that?
I want to pray now for all of us, that we would turn our hearts toward Him, and ask the Spirit of God to do some spiritual surgery on us. Maybe you’ve gotten caught up in sexual sin. Or maybe in angry language. Maybe we’re being impatient with people, or we’re harboring unforgiveness. Maybe we’re just not letting the word of Christ dwell within us. Come back to Him today. Set your hearts on things above. Let’s live the Christ-centered life.