Col 2:20-3:11 – ‘A Different Drum’ (12 Apr 2014)
No doubt you have heard of Zombies – Living Dead, Dead Men Walking. A recurring idea of corpses that in some way are revived to some form of animation, usually by evil means intending to exercise control. It crops up in movies and on TV in cyclic fads. The portrayals seem especially designed for the masochists among us who are drawn to terrifying experiences. Look at the way zombies are represented – never anything attractive about them and they always come to a bad end.
The word is not in the Bible nor is the idea of Zombies as portrayed in literature in the Bible. But the Bible does refer to us as having both life and death at the same time, but it is true life, not some form of animation and it’s a thing of beauty, not of horror.
Start by considering Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was paradise. Heaven on earth. Everything provided. Just go, pick and eat then walk in the garden with the Lord God himself. Perfection! This is living! This is life!
Just one rule: do not eat from one tree only – only one! It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do not eat of it or you will die, God said.
When God created this universe it was good. We know that because God says it was good – and he knows what good means. So Adam and Eve only knew what good was. They had never come across evil so they had no idea what it was. How kind of God, how caring, how loving to put them in paradise and to only know good. It was for their own benefit if they complied with this rule and it wasn’t even a difficult rule with which to comply.
But then along came Satan, the deceiver and the Father of Lies. “Surely, you won’t die”, he suggests. Indeed, you will be better off, he tells them. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil”, he says. And they bought the lie. They did what must be the most foolish act of disobedience of them all. Why would they want to know about evil? They chose not to trust God, to go for their own independence. They rebelled and in doing so they discovered not only good but also evil. The perfection of paradise was shattered and they were expelled from the garden and that moment-by-moment personal companionship of God himself.
That life of relationship with God was gone; dead. What they had left was their physical existence with the inevitability of its decay, its death. From now on there was one thing certain: they and their successors all the way down to us would know the difference between good and evil, between life and death.
Non-Christians on this earth are like dead men walking. They are unable to understand God and what he has done for them in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is a complete mystery to them. They are not only blind to these realities but, worse, they are dead to them.
In Ephesians 2:1 Paul wrote
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient”.
A few years ago, with our children, we lived for a year in England. We spent nearly a week visiting London, staying in the Youth Hostel that used to be the choir school for St Paul’s Cathedral. One morning we decided to walk across to the cathedral and attend an 8 am service there. We took our then 10-year-old daughter, leaving the boys playing on a game machine. The service was led by the Dean who introduced himself to each of us. After the short service he wanted to show our daughter the robes he had recently worn for the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana.
He showed us some other things, gave us a little hand-written note and told us to come back to see the Cathedral when it was open to the public at 10 am. We did this, joined the queue and presented the note to the ticket vendor. With profuse apologies for keeping us waiting we were invited in to visit the cathedral from Dome to Crypt at no charge, being “friends of the Dean!!”
One of the things the Dean showed us was the original of Holman Hunt’s painting, “Christ the light of the world”.
Now this painting is full of symbolism. Hunt explained that Jesus is knocking at the door of someone’s life, a door that has no handle on the outside. It must be opened from the inside.
Some time later I heard Rev John Chapman pointing out a problem with the painting. The question is, “who is inside?” If the person inside is not a Christian then they are dead in their transgressions, and one thing a corpse cannot do is get up to answer the door.
By the way, in Revelations 3:20 we read that Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me”, words addressed to the Christians in Laodicea who were neither hot nor cold but self-satisfied; so much so that Jesus wanted to spit them out of his mouth. As Christians in Shoalhaven Heads if that was the way we were disappointing the Lord we, too, could expect him to come knocking and be prepared to repent and be zealous.
What the door needs is a slot in it like in the Reconciliation Door Neville showed us last week. It needs a slot so Jesus can reach in, open the door and bring reconciliation and new life to the person in need of salvation.
As Jesus told Nicodemus, we must be born again, born of the Holy Spirit, to have that new, born again life.
The Holy Spirit of Jesus works in us to give us the gift of faith, the gift that saves us, we learn in Ephesians 2:8
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” We are new creatures!
In Chapter 2 Paul told the Colossians, “When you were dead in your sins and in the un-circumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us.”
This concept is not easy to comprehend which means it is not easy to live with, to live it out, so it was helpful of Paul to give us some guidelines in Colossians 2:20 – 3:11
In this passage
1. he reminds us to avoid the traps,
2. Look right, look up, look right,
3. Let the dead be dead
4. and live life, not death.
1. Avoid the traps.
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— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23 ESV)
It is almost with a sense of incredulity that Paul asks, “you are dead to this world; you have a new life, you are a new person, so why Oh why do you turn back to the old traps?”
That old temptation keeps rising within us, doesn’t it? The Colossians were tempted to somehow justify their place in heaven by submitting to old rules about what to eat and what not to eat, what to touch and what not to touch, being strict in their behaviour.
You know the sort of things he means – and so many are basically harmless, even useful things, but traps nonetheless.
Do you read your Bible more so as to ensure your place in heaven? Or do you read it so you understand your Saviour more?
It’s fine to believe the earth was created in 7 days, and it’s also fine to try to understand the scientific debate about evolution. Whichever you believe does not make or break you as a Christian. What matters is that you know Christ has died for you.
Pray in tongues, by all means, but doing so does not prove whether or not you are a Christian.
It does not matter whether you are baptised by immersion or by sprinkling but do be baptised and do understand the significance of your baptism as explained in chapter 2, verse 12:
“you have been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
These ideas that something we do helps to ensure acceptance by God, somehow earning credit towards salvation are things that arise from what I call the “Jack Horner Syndrome”
Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating a Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb and took out a plum
And said, “What a good boy am I!”
Any time you find yourself doing something which leads you to think, “God will love me more because I have done that”, any time there is that temptation to think, “What a good boy or girl am I”, don’t bother. The action might have been worth doing, but it adds nothing to your security in Jesus.
For example, in this season of Lent, leading up to Easter, what have you denied yourself? It’s a form of asceticism, which means abstaining from various worldly pleasures, often with the aim of pursuing spiritual goals.
If you have been denying yourself chocolate in Lent, then that is good for you. You practice self-control and you might even lose weight. Unless your motivation is because you are looking forward to a binge at Easter. But, like other rule-keeping it is self-made religion … of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. All such practices perish as they are used. Once it’s done it’s over – it does not last. It has no eternal significance.
When Paul writes, “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” he is telling us we have a new, born-again, eternal life. The old person, the old nature is, as far as God is concerned, is dead.
Denying a corpse chocolate will not do it any harm but it certainly won’t do it any good. No wonder Paul was incredulous that Christians turn to such spiritually useless practices.
2. Look right, look up, look right
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)
Jesus does not want us to lead lives of solitude, practicing asceticism like hermits in a cave. He tells us we are in this world but not of it. Of course we have an involvement and responsibilities in the world but we are not caught up in the thinking patterns around us. We are not to conform to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. Christians are the non-conformists.
What’s important is to understand that the new life is the important, eternal aspect of who we are. We have died to sin, to the old ways of behaving, living, and thinking. Indeed, it is only as we have our thinking transformed that the rest of us is transformed and that we will test and prove what God’s will is for us.
Try seeing things the way God sees things, the way Jesus sees them. To do that there is no alternative to reading the Bible, to learning from it how Jesus thinks and how he wants you to think.
So far as God is concerned you have already been raised with Christ. So, do as he does, and set your minds on things that are where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God in heaven. The thing is, you have died and you have a new life that is a mystery to the world because it is held in security and perpetuity with Christ himself.
It’s so often hard to grasp this wonder, but there’ll be no mistaking it when Christ returns in glory because that’s when you also will appear with him in glory.
In the meantime – try to understand what Jesus has given you, learn to think as he does, enjoy the nature of the life he has given you and look forward to it being fully revealed when he returns.
3. Let the dead be dead
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices (Colossians 3:5-9)
You know how to live like a non-Christian. You were one, once. And you don’t have to look far to see how non-Christian’s live. If you don’t like to watch your neighbours just watch a bit of TV. Worse, that old nature still rouses itself frequently and old habits die hard.
It’s actually possible to resist temptation. Once you were a slave to sin but now Christ has set you free. The Holy Spirit lives in and with you to bring that new life to you and to empower you to live the life Christ has won for you.
The hard part is believing it. God tells us here that you have put to death what is earthly in you, the old nature you were born with, and all its faults, weaknesses and temptations has been put to death. It has died. What is Satan whispering in your ear? “But you will not surely die!”
Satan is lying again with the same old lie. The fact is, we have surely died.
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Now, if we start looking to Jesus as to how to think, if we are setting our minds on things above, if we are allowing Jesus to transform our thinking, then we will start to see things the way Jesus sees them.
When God the Father looks at you and me he does not see that old, sinful nature. It’s dead and buried in baptism. What God the Father sees when he looks at you and me is that we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.
[Illustration of Cassock and Surplice]
We are as lovely, as loveable, as acceptable, as righteous as Jesus and as much a child of the Father as Jesus, the firstborn.
We need to let this truth sink in – and then get our breath back. It is a glorious, gracious, loving, merciful, life-giving, breathtaking truth.
If God has such a view of us, then how wrong, even blasphemously wrong, to see ourselves as otherwise. Blasphemous because by disbelieving God we call him a liar.
So if you look at yourself and see that old nature with its tendency to do things you wish it wouldn’t, moving you towards yielding to yet another temptation, remind yourself that it’s dead. Ask yourself, “why am I trying to appease a corpse? What gain is there in a corpse trying to have its way?”
In fact it is completely incongruous, it doesn’t make any sense at all in following any of these practices in which we once walked. In the long run they do us no good. They only bring dissatisfaction at least but also grief, guilt, hurt and harm.
Our new life in Christ is of a completely different nature. It is positive, hopeful, loving, productive in the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. Let’s think about these things the way Jesus does and put off the old self with its practices.
So if that’s how God sees you, and how you should see yourself, how do you see these other people around you? They, too, have died with Christ and they, too, are living the new life and God sees them, also, in the same way he sees you. So that’s how you should see them, isn’t it? Aren’t they wonderful, beautiful people!
That’s why, in verse 11, Paul writes that there is no differentiation between us but Christ is all, and in all. As we are each being changed to be more like Christ then Christ is in each of us and as we spend time with each other we spend time with Christ. That’s why Christian fellowship is so important and such a blessing.
4. Live life, not death
You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:10 ESV)
We live life to a different drum.
The first Adam brought us from life to death. The second Adam, Jesus, brought us from death to life eternal.
We have put on this new self and the joy is that day by day it is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. As we put on the new self, the new Christ-like life, we put off and put away the old nature, regarding it as dead and buried. Who wants to play with a corpse? Who wants to be one of the dead men walking?
But death has lost its sting, its power defeated by the resurrected Jesus. For ourselves we have no fear of death because we understand that we have committed our old nature to be dead so that we can enjoy being blessed with life eternal.
By the power of Christ’s Holy Spirit within us we are being changed to be more and more like Jesus, transformed into his image. Look to Jesus. Learn from him. Read the Bible and let him change your thinking. Pray and let him train your eternal life. Look forward to his return when perfection is re-established and we and all the saints will completely and clearly see ourselves as being just like him.
This is life! This is living! Eternally!
Let me pray in Paul’s words:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV)