Life throws up some surprising transformations sometimes doesn’t it? Sometimes things can change dramatically before our very eyes.
- On TV, for example, Ed Balls has gone from being a rather serious, sombre Labour party politician to a Strictly Come Dancing celebrity. The change has to be seen to be believed!
- Closer to home, my children saw a caterpillar change into a butterfly this summer. Over a couple of weeks it went from being a rather unattractive brown wriggly worm, to a beautiful winged creature. It started its life in a plastic pot on our kitchen table, and ended its days flying freely around our garden.
But the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is nothing compared to the transformation that takes place when someone becomes a Christian. The Bible describes it as rebirth, a renewal, a regeneration. Becoming a Christian leads to a total re-creation of our spiritual state – it marks a revolution in our relationship with God.
Of course, unlike the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly, the spiritual change that takes place when someone becomes a Christian is invisible. No halo appears above our head, and our bodies don’t begin to glow in the dark! As Paul says in verse 3 of our passage this morning, our new relationship with the risen Jesus is “hidden“ from the outside world.
But just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean its not there. Its real and it makes a difference. So as we look at Colossians chapter 3 this morning, I want us to see that Christians have a new status, are part of a new society, and have a new standard for our belief and behaviour. Being a Christian really does involve a total transformation!
But before we go any further, let me pray: Lord Jesus, as we look at our passage this morning, help us to understand and appreciate what it really means to belong to you. In your name we pray. Amen.
- Christians have…a new status
Its fair to say that David Cameron is having to adjust to a new status. A few months ago he was a world leader – a powerful Prime Minister with a safe seat in Parliament, a chauffeur-driven car and the keys to Number 10. But today he’s merely Mr. Cameron. In Brexit Britain, his status has diminished rather dramatically!
In our passage today, the apostle Paul wants the Christians of Colossae to appreciate that their status has also changed dramatically. But it’s a change for the better, not worse. Since putting their faith in Jesus, their spiritual status has soared:
- They’ve gone from being guilty sinners to forgiven friends of God.
- They’ve changed from being objects of God’s wrath to his adopted children.
- And they’ve moved from being dead in their sins, to alive in Christ.
Its this third change that Paul particularly highlights in the opening verses of chapter 3 today. The Colossian Christians’ faith in Jesus has created an intimate connection between themselves and him. Their faith is like superglue, like something that creates a strong, secure bond between them and their Saviour. In fact, Paul suggests that Christians’ relationship with the risen Jesus is now so close, its as if they are literally sitting with him in Heaven – actually seated right beside God the Father.
You may have seen in the news this week that a number of unaccompanied children and teenagers are being rescued from the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp in Calais and brought over the channel to Britain. As I understand it, all those with a relative in the UK are eligible. They have never been to Britain before, but their relationship with an adult already here gives them a right of entry.
In a similar way, every Christian is already a citizen of Heaven. We may not have physically got there yet, but our relationship with Jesus means we have a right of entry into God’s everlasting kingdom. As Paul says in verse 4, our faith in Jesus guarantees that one day “we will appear with him in glory.”
And in the meantime, being a citizen of Heaven should have implications for how we live here and now. Our relationship with Jesus should shape our lives on earth today. As Paul puts it in verses 1 and 2, we are to “set our hearts and minds” on “things above”, on heavenly things – on Christ himself.
In your quieter moments, what do you daydream about? When you take a break, where does your mind wander? Perhaps you thoughts drift to your next holiday, your next night out, your next shopping trip - or maybe just your next meal?!
Well, Paul says today that our heart’s desire should be Jesus. We need to train our minds to dwell on him – to delight in who he is and what he’s done for us. And we are to set our hearts on him. Our heart’s desire should be to serve and please him.
Some Christians wear wristbands with the letters WWJD on them, don’t they? Letters that stand for “What Would Jesus Do?” Those wristbands are designed to help people keep our hearts and minds on Jesus as they go through their daily lives - to help them live for him 24/7.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all need to go out and buy a WWJD wristband, but the principle is surely right, isn’t it? As we walk through life, Christians need to remember our connection to Christ above. We need to love and serve him, and not succumb to temptations down here below. Our ultimate ambition should be to please Jesus, not simply please ourselves.
Listen again to Paul’s words verses 5 and 8 this morning: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” And “rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” In short, Paul is saying that Christians are alive in Christ, so must put sin to death.
To put something to death is a pretty strong language isn’t it? Its pretty decisive, unconditional and non-negotiable language. Christians are to destroy any sin in our lives. With God’s help, we need to ‘weed out’ our sins at their source. We shouldn’t give them any ground in our lives. So in practice this may mean:
- Simply avoiding people or situations that are likely to lead us into temptation.
- Or simply switching off our TV or computer if we know something unhelpful or unwholesome is about to come on screen.
- Or simply by keeping our mouths shut if we know we’re likely to say something unkind or untrue.
Don’t give greed, lust, envy or anger any foothold in your hearts or minds. Don’t let sin shape any of your attitudes or actions. Christians are alive in Christ, says Paul – so put sin to death!
You see, our relationship with the risen Jesus may be hidden and invisible, but our words and actions can show the world that there is something different about us. Our words and actions should reveal that Jesus really does captivate our hearts and minds.
- Christians have…a new society
What society do you belong to? In days gone by, that was an easy question to answer. People identified with the place where they lived. Their first and most immediate loyalty was to their country and their local community. Geography set the boundaries of a society. But in our modern inter-connected world, in our multi-cultural “global-village”, our society isn’t quite as easy to define anymore is it?
- We may speak to people on the other side of the world more regularly than to neighbours on the other side of our garden fence.
- And we may well have more in common with our Facebook friends than with people who share the same street as us.
Our ‘society’ is increasingly defined by the networks we belong to, and the interests we have, rather than just by the geographical area in which we live.
In today’s passage, Paul reminds the Colossian Christians that they too belong to a new kind of society. A society that is also unconstrained by geography or ethnicity or class. A society of God’s own construction – the Church.
In verse 11 Paul tells the Colossian Christians that their ethnic, religious and social background is irrelevant - they are now united in Christ. Look with me at his words: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” I guess if he was writing that sentence to St. Michael’s, he would say “Here there is no black or white, rich or poor, young or old, retired or employed, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Every Christian in our congregation is united by our common faith in Jesus. We are all equal members of his one body. As Paul says in verse 12, every Christian here today is part of “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. We have all been forgiven our sins solely by Christ’s cross. We have all been saved for eternity by God’s grace alone - regardless of our income, employment, age or gender.
In August, the footballer Paul Pogba was sold by the Italian club Juventus to Manchester United for £89 million. The amount of money involved was astonishing, but what wasn’t so surprising is that Pogba began wearing the red kit of Manchester United once he joined his new team. He no longer clothed himself in the black and white striped kit of Juventus. A new team meant new clothing.
The same principle applies to Christians. Jesus has bought us for himself, and now we should ‘clothe’ ourselves in him. That means living like him – adopting a Christ-like character.
Above all, we show ourselves to be Christ-like by loving our Christian brothers and sisters - our Church ‘team-mates’ if you like. Listen again to verses 12 to 14 today: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Take a moment to think how you could better love your brothers and sisters here at St Michael’s:
- Perhaps you could commit to come here more often - week by week rather than month by month - so you can better support and encourage your Christian family?
- Or could you commit to pray for our church more often? Not just on a whim, but regularly – at home, at a House Group and at our Prayer Meeting each month.
- Or perhaps you could commit to serve your sisters and brothers here more? I think its fair to say that about 80% of the giving and 80% of the work at St Michael’s is done by about 20% of the congregation. Are you someone who needs to ‘step up’ and make more of a sacrifice for your church family, I wonder?
We are all members of Christ’s body, dearly loved by God - so let’s make sure we also love one another!
- Christians have…a new standard
We’ve seen this morning that Christians have a new status, and are part of a new society. But our final verse today (verse 16) says our lives also have a new standard. A new standard for our belief and behaviour - and for our praise and worship. Let me read that verse again: “Let the word of Christ dwell among 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.”
In short, Paul is saying here that the word of Christ should now set the standard for our lives. By the ‘word of Christ’, he means the teaching of the Bible in general, and the Gospel message in particular. We are to pay close attention to both, and they will ‘set the standard’ for what we believe about God and how we are to behave towards others.
So how do we actually make the word of Christ ‘dwell’ in us? Well, one essential way of course, is to read the Bible here in Church, and on our own at home. We must make sure we are well-versed in what the Bible actually says.But in verse 16 Paul particularly mentions two further ways we can let Christ’s word dwell in us:
- The first is to “teach and admonish one another” with it. We’re to encourage, guide and challenge one another with biblical truths – not simply with conventional wisdom, common sense or what our secular culture says.
- The second, is by singing biblical lyrics. Whatever our personal musical tastes, whether we prefer “psalms, hymns” or “songs”, we should make sure we are singing biblical truth to one another. Our singing together should be educational and edifying, as well as expressing our gratitude to God.
So let word of Christ dwell in you richly, and let it set the standard for your lives!
As I finish this morning, I hope we’ve seen that becoming a Christian is a serious business – it involves a total transformation! Faith in Jesus offers a new status before God, a new society to belong to, and a new standard for our lives.
If you’re here this morning and not yet a Christian, I hope you’ve seen that Jesus offers you real forgiveness, real community and real guidance for your life. He offers you a relationship with God, and a relationship with God’s people. Do please accept what’s on offer!
And for those of us who are already Christians, I hope Colossians 3 has challenged us to make our relationship with Jesus visible in the way we live our life. I hope its challenged us to ‘clothe ourselves’ with Christ!