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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Putting on the New Self (Colossians 3.1-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 7, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Communion" (Susan Slade, flute) (Vierne)
Hymn of Praise: "Blessed Assurance" (ASSURANCE)
Hymn of Praise: "O For a Heart to Praise My God" (AZMON)
Offering of Music: "Own Me" (Ginny Owens)

Song of Sending: "Holiness" (Underwood)
Postlude: "O For a Heart to Praise My God" (Anna Laura Page)

"Putting on the New Self"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Colossians 3:1-17

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Sometimes the spoken sermon varies more than other times from the manuscript, which is an early version of the sermon.  This is one of those times.  The content is mostly the same, but I organized it a bit differently and would commend the audio version for that reason and it's connection to previous week's sermons.

During the month of September, we looked at what it means to be a Christian.  More specifically, we looked at what it means to trust Jesus.  We had several comparisons: it is like being born again; it is like being reconciled to someone – all debts paid; the old is made new and with that God gives us new names to remind us of our new identity in Christ.

For the month of October, I’d like to move from what it means for an individual to be a Christian to what it means for us to be gathered together in community.  The Bible is full of the language of community and part of God’s redemption is not just to life and a new start, but to a people and a group and a gathered purpose.  I think you will hear the connection today with what we have been talking about with old becoming new and identity.  But I hope you will also see and hear the move toward one another as the gathered community of Jesus Christ.  Let’s look together then at Colossians 3:1-17.

It turns out there are ten commandments in this passage.  It’s not THE Ten Commandments; but there are ten imperatives or exhortations or challenges to all those who have been born again, who have a new identity and a new name.  I’m going to group them in two sets of five to look at with you today.  In addition to what this says to each of you individually, listen for each time these words are joined to “one another” or those in community with us.

If You Have Been Raised (vv. 1-11)

The first five commandments or instructions come in verses 1-11.  I’ll name each one and briefly say something about it.

1.    Keep seeking the things above (v. 1)

The first challenge is to “keep seeking the things above.”  So you’ve trusted Christ; don’t pack him up in your “that was a good experience” box; rather, keep seeking him out.  Keep learning and growing and following.  When Jesus talked with Nicodemus, he spoke of the “things above.”  We noted that you can’t understand your way to God, but must first trust.  But THEN, we do grow in understanding.  So keep asking questions and seeking.

2.    Set your mind on the things above (v. 2)

The second challenge is like the first, but this time is “set your mind on the things above,” and there is quite a bit more elaboration that follows.  The things above are contrasted with the things that are on earth.  And then comes this interesting statement: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (v. 3)  And then, when Christ is revealed, we will be revealed.  We talked about this last Wednesday night at Bible study and what it means that Christ is hidden and our life is hidden.  In this context, I think it simply means that the things of this earth easily grab our attention because they are visible, loud, and distracting, right in front of our face.  But Christ is in Heaven, is invisible, is seemingly “hidden.”  And there is a sense in which our Christian identity, even those names we handed out last week, is “hidden.”  We have to keep reminding ourselves of what is really true and real.  And that’s the question, isn’t it?  Which is more real… your favorite TV characters breaking up, or wondering if the neighbor down the street has a secret crush on you, or the truth behind the declaration that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”  It’s easy to focus on the things of earth, but our challenge is to set your minds on the things above… not to check out, but to have an eternal and godly perspective.  The verse ends by saying that Christ and our true identity is only hidden for a time.  All will be revealed.

3.    Consider yourself dead to immorality (v. 5)

Third, we are to consider the members of our earthly body as dead to immorality” …and a whole list of other sins – impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed.  All are false gods that amount to idolatry.  Okay, that’s straightforward enough.  But look, this is interesting.  It is because of these things that God’s wrath comes down… ON OTHER PEOPLE.  Isn’t that just what we like to do with God’s wrath?  We either deny it, saying that God loves everything and everyone, or we displace it on somebody else.  But Paul reminds us that this is OUR story.  This is just where we were before we were rescued by God.  Don’t forget; and don’t live in that past.

4.    Put them all aside (v. 8)

And then this is also interesting.  The fourth commandment begins with “but now you also.”  It is an extra reminder that God is not done working on you either.  It’s not just the really disobedient folks, but you also need to put aside sin, particularly sins of judgment and speaking against others in anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abuse.

5.    Do not lie to one another (v. 9)

And fifth, do not lie to one another.  This list builds on itself.  Yes, it walks us through our own personal salvation from old to new.  But it doesn’t let us forget those around us.  They are neither abandoned nor left behind.  That John 3:16 love wasn’t “God so loved each of you” but “God so loved the world.”  God even loved the non-Jews, the uncircumcised, the barbarians (apparently the Scythian’s were extra bad!), slave and free.  This Good News of new birth, a new start, reconciliation and a new name is for ALL who believe and trust Jesus.  Do you hear it building in there?  God doesn’t save us to individualism, but to community for the sake of the world.

Now look back at verse one.  These five commandments all fall under the opening statement, “If you have been raised up with Christ.”  These are words for those who trust God for all that we talked about in September.  You trust God’s love shown to you through Christ and have been born again, reconciled, made new, and given a new name.  If that’s not you or you don’t understand, don’t worry, but let’s talk.  If you start with the to do list without the trusting relationship, this can easily turn into a religion of lists and laws.  It’s not that.  This is all part of your identity – who you are.  It’s like the names; a reminder of where you’ve come from and where God is leading you.  And God is leading you toward one another and into the world as His own people.

As Those Who Have Been Chosen (vv. 12-17)

Five more commandments or instructions come in verses 12-17.

6.    Put on a heart of… (vv. 12)

Here is the list of good things to correspond to the list of sins and vices in the earlier verses.  We are to put on a heart of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness.”  Those remind me of the spiritual fruits we studied this summer!  And look, the reconciliation is in there from a few weeks ago: “…just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (v. 13)  And wait, there’s more!

7.    Put on love (v. 14)

Adding to the previous list, there is this, which is “beyond all those things” and is the “perfect bond of unity”: put on love.  That also reminds me of the summer study: faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest is love.  What also strikes me in this 6th and 7th commandment is the visual image of “putting on” these traits.  This summer the image was that of fruit growing.  But now, it’s more like clothing; you put it on.  It’s a choice and it’s a daily choice, if not a moment by moment choice.  Are you dressed?  Have you put on these traits?  That’s the challenge; that’s the command.

8.    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (v. 15)

Then there are two more commandments that sound alike.  They both have a “Let the ____ of Christ ____ in you.”  Number eight is “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  And here the image of all Christians being part of one community, one BODY, is emphasized.  If the old pattern (v. 5) was to feed the desires of our own body, the new pattern is to serve the community which is Christ’s body.  He is the head; he is the ruler.  And notice the extra command tucked away at the end of the sentence: “and be thankful.”  That’s part of what being in community cultivates… a sense of grateful participation.

9.    Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you (v. 16)

And so number 9 is similar: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.”  That is unpacked in terms of scripture and singing and thankful worship.  And the community is again invoked: “teaching and admonishing ONE ANOTHER.” And again, with thankfulness.

10.    Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17)

Finally, as a kind of summation of all of it, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  No part of life is exempt from trusting and following him.  Last week we gave out some of the names by which God describes and calls you.  But our most fundamental name, as those who trust in Jesus, is to carry his name – Christian… “little Christs.”  We belong to him and his name is attached to all we do.  Notice, too, for the third time: “giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

Now look back at verse 12.  Just as the first five commandments were headed by the phrase “if you have been raised up with Christ,” so the second five are governed by the statement, “…as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved.” (v. 12)  Not only has God rescued all who trust in Jesus to a new life, God has chosen and named you ‘holy’ and ‘beloved’ in Christ.  And that shapes who we are and how we live.  God has chosen you in Christ; we love because God first loved us.  We are thankful because God has pursued us in love.

Mindset, Choice, and Submission

What can we take away from these ten commandments?  What does it mean to be born again, reconciled, and renamed?

It means having a certain mindset, making certain choices, and submitting ourselves to God.

Our MINDSET is one that seeks and focuses on God, on heavenly things, on hidden but real things.  Our CHOICES involve putting aside the old ways of speaking and living and putting on a new way of being.  SUBMISSION means allowing Christ’s presence and power to govern your heart and life, with perhaps the most telling indication being a profound sense of thankfulness to God. 

And God steers all these interior, personal, and powerful realities into the presence of others in community.  That’s the church.  That’s this family.  That’s God’s family and it’s a family God has put in the world with great purpose and intent.  Amen.

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