I think we’ve all had times where we knew what to do but we didn’t really know how to do it.
Sometimes that can be frustrating.
Knowing what to do, but not knowing how. Like when you are taking a math exam. That can be frustrating. And sometimes it can be funny. Like say you are going ice-skating. You know what you are supposed to be doing, but knowing how is a lot more difficult.
Sometimes it can be frustrating when you don’t know how to do something, sometimes it can be funny, sometimes painful, and sometimes, knowing what to do, but not knowing how to do it, is actually a pretty significant problem which can have devastating, long term, negative consequences on your whole life.
Take, what the Bible teaches about sanctification.
If you know what the Bible says you are supposed to do, but you are not sure how, it’s not simply frustrating, and it’s definitely not funny, it’s going to be a significant problem.
With major consequences.
Which is why we’ve been taking some time to look at what the Bible teaches about change, I don’t want to be telling you over and over change, change, without helping you know how, this is supposed to be a series that helps you understand the process of spiritual growth.
And we’ve said first, the very first thing we were trying to stress, is that if we are thinking about changing, the first question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not we are even able to change.
That’s not something we should take for granted.
Or more specifically.
We said need to ask ourselves, whether or not we really are Christians.
If I am sitting down with someone who is stuck in a pattern of sin and is wanting to overcome that sin, I think, it’s important he ask himself, first, am I really a Christian?
Have I seen the seriousness of sin?
And not just as something that bothers me or is a little embarrassing or that makes my life a little more difficult, but as something that is against God and deserves to be punished?
Have I been humbled over my sin and I have turned to Christ?
Am I embracing Christ and the promises God makes to those who trust in Christ as my only hope of deliverance?
I guess to put it another way. Have I been born again?
Because, it’s easy to assume, sometimes, and I know I have sat down with people and we’ve gone over and over certain issues, and yet, there’s been no change, over a long period of time. And they are just stuck, and I realized, after a while, wow, you know, I’ve just assumed, even though we have been talking and talking, I never really thought to ask, is this person even a Christian?
Which is, I am saying, bad counseling, that’s bad counseling, you kind of have to start here, because if they aren’t Christians, they are not going to be able to change, and that’s the bigger problem, obviously, then whatever they are talking to me about, and it’s not until they become Christians, that there really is any hope, and once they are Christians, there really is hope, for sure, because, Christians, I am saying, are not just people who go to church, or just nice people, or anything like that, a Christian is someone who has been given new spiritual life.
They’ve been born again, which means they can change, there’s no question, they can change, but at the same time, it doesn’t mean, it is always going to be easy for them to change, even as Christians, there are going to be obstacles, real obstacles to spiritual growth, which we saw last week, is sort where Paul goes next as he speaks to the Colossian believers, about changing and pursuing holiness.
Are you a Christian? That’s the first question we asked.
But then we turned to Colossians 2, and we saw the second question we need to ask, is whether, as a Christian, you are able to identify and reject, wrong, unbiblical, and unhelpful, approaches to the Christian life? Because, in order to grow, you have to know how not to grow, and you have to know how not to grow, because there really are lots of funny ideas about the Christian life out there.
That don’t do any good. That actually do harm.
Which in fact, it kind of seems like, is one of Satan’s best strategies for tripping Christians up and keeping them spiritually immature, it’s to offer them, approaches to the Christian life that don’t center on Christ, which is basically the problem Paul’s concerned about in Colossians chapter 2. These were believers who seemed to have started the Christian life well, and then, just like with all of us, life seems to have happened, and they may have been struggling with certain sins, and wondering whether or not, they had everything they needed to really live for Christ. And Paul knows at that point, as believers are struggling to apply biblical principles to their life, they are going to be in some spiritual danger, which is why he writes.
Colossians 2, verse 8.
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
It’s obviously a problem to say you are a Christian and not be concerned about holiness, but as a Christian who is concerned about holiness, you also have to be careful you are not taken captive by the false teaching about holiness which is out there, which sometimes seems difficult, because there is just so much of it, all around us, it’s everywhere, and yet, Paul helps us in verses 16-23, by giving us a couple questions to use as we evaluate.
Which we looked at last time.
Is what we are hearing really about trying to earn approval or forgiveness or blessing or you name it from God through my efforts instead of Jesus’?
In other words, is what Jesus did central?
Is it legalism?
Is it mysticism?
Is it based on someone’s spiritual experiences, like visions or prophecies they claimed to have had, instead of or even over what we find in God’s Word?
What am I being asked to focus on, week after week?
Is it someone’s visions, or is it God’s Word? Is the Bible being accurately explained and taught?
And then, I guess finally.
Legalism. Mysticism. Asceticism.
Is it more about external religious activities, things I do to look spiritual, or feel spiritual, instead of internal stuff, like helping me deal with what is actually going on in my heart?
In other words, is the answer, I am being given, as a solution to my problem, an external ritual, some activity that has more to do with physical things, that are here and than gone, than really, what’s going on in my soul? And these, is it legalism, is it mysticism, is it asceticism, are important kinds of questions to ask, we are not just trying to be difficult, because Paul says in verse 23 that while all these approaches might have some appearance of wisdom.
They just won’t work.
To quote him,
“They are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Which is what we want, you know as Christians, we want to fight against sin, and you are obviously never going to stop giving in to sin, you are not going to overcome, if you are using approaches that don’t work, which is why we started with making sure we know what not to do.
But while that is a place to start, it’s obviously not really a good place to stop.
Because, while it’s good to know what not to do, you clearly also need to know what to do, if you are going to know how to change, which is where Paul goes at the beginning of Colossians 3. After identifying some of the wrong approaches, he gives us a more biblical approach.
And you’ll notice he begins where I think Paul almost always does actually and that is by talking about our new identity in Christ.
And the first thing, we might say, we need to do, if we are going to change, is appreciate this new reality.
And I stop there.
That quickly. Like that. Because, when, you read, if then. You know. You are in the middle of an argument. Obviously. And I don’t mean argument, like, you are in the middle of two people debating something, but argument, meaning, a long drawn out explanation.
In other words, we are starting here in chapter 3, but Paul’s not, he’s been talking for a while now, and he’s here he’s busy making a point, and he’s making this point in connection with a whole long explanation he’s already been giving about us the Christian life.
Was all based on this one fundamental reality that has absolutely gripped Paul’s heart, which is the fact we as Christians have been united to Christ. There’s this connection between us and Christ that is so tight, the only preposition you can use to describe it, is in, Christ is in us and we are in Him.
Or as he says it here,
“If then you have been raised with Christ…”
And verse 3.
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ.”
And verse 4.
“When Christ is your life.”
It’s tempting to look at yourself as if you were by yourself, but when God looks at you, if you are a Christian, he never sees you by yourself, but always as being connected to Christ, and that’s the point, Paul’s been making all throughout chapter 2.
Which he’s summarizing here.
In other words.
He’s drawing out the implications of what he’s said, and this is one of those implications, we’ve been raised with Christ.
That’s a reality for us.
Verse 20. Of chapter 2. “If with Christ you died.” And verse 1 of chapter 3. “If then you have been raised with Him.” Which I think should sound kind of familiar to you, because in Romans 6, Paul says almost the same thing.
“Do you not know.” He says in Romans 6, verse 3. “That all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that jus as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.”
Which is actually also very close to what he has already said up in Colossians 2, verse 12, as well.
“…having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Which he’s repeating because it’s so important, and unfortunately, so easy for us to miss.
As a Christian.
You are someone who has been immersed into Christ. That’s buried with him in baptism.
Immersed, chapter 2, verse 12.
And obviously water baptism, illustrates that, but this being immersed in Christ is fundamentally something more than that. It means you are connected to Christ, and as a result, you participate in a way, with what happened to Him.
When he died, you died.
And when he was raised, you were raised.
And the thing is, and this is why Paul’s repeating himself, and I am too, that’s not just some out there idea, that you kind of think about at church, it actually has all these implications for how you live.
And so what you are supposed to do as a Christian, is go back to that new reality, it’s your identity, you are not on your own anymore, Jesus death was your death, and his life is your life, this is you, and you start trying to work through how you think about what’s going on in light of that.
In other words.
You are like.
If this is true of me, I’ve died with Christ and I’ve been raised with Christ, then how does that impact how I think and feel and how should I understand what people are saying about life and my relationship with God in light of that?
As an illustration.
If we go back to Romans chapter 6, you remember. This is how Paul works.
He imagines some irreligious person who just wants to do whatever he wants to do coming up to him after hearing the gospel and saying, I think, what you are saying about grace, is awesome, because it means we can do whatever we want to do. And Paul’s like, are you kidding me, I don’t think you heard me right, let’s evaluate that, by going back, what it means to be a Christian, union with Christ, who died to sin and was raised to a new life, which means, we are not going to keep on sinning, if we are connected like that to him since we’ve been released from the power of sin, to live a new life as well. And I am saying that, because that actually in Colossians 2, is the same approach he takes here, only instead of responding to some irreligious person who is coming to him, he’s evaluating religious people instead, who are saying they are serious about the Christian life and they want to be holy, only they are going about it, the wrong way, by trying to add something to Christ, which is why Paul says in verse 20, wait, just like Romans 6, l am not sure you are hearing me right, let’s go back, to what it means to be a Christian, to be a Christian is to be united with Christ in his death, which means, we’ve died to all these worldly, non-Jesus centered ways of coming to God.
Which I think is really profound, if you are following me, or even better, if you are following Paul, in terms of understanding how the Christian life works. Because, we are always like tell me what to do, tell me what to do, and Paul’s always like, wait, yes, you need to know what to do, but before can we talk about what you are supposed to do, we have to talk about who you are, your identity in Christ, because as Christians we have been given a new identity, this is a new reality, we have been united with Christ, and we are in Him, and this new reality has implications for the way we think and live.
It’s kind of like, and maybe you are already tracking with me, but this is just so important, so I want to make sure, it’s kind of like in general.
Just in general.
You know, who you think you are, has an impact on how you live and how you think and what you do, that’s fundamental, but, it’s also one of those things that is so often under the surface, that we don’t actually appreciate how much it impacts us.
It’s like when the lights are on.
If I am trying to teach you how to do something, it’s obviously going to be a lot easier if the lights are on, if it’s pitch dark, it doesn’t matter how good my instructions are, it’s going to be hard to do anything well, but having the lights on, seems so obvious, we don’t even normally feel like we have to mention it.
Like, first you need to turn the lights on.
Knowing who you are is like turning the lights on, it’s so obvious, we don’t even usually think about it, but we have to spiritually, because, as believers, our identity has changed, and it’s easy for us to forget it.
Which honestly is where a lot of our problems come from, we’ve forgotten who we are.
A problem in the United States and probably a problem here, is something called identity theft, where someone pretends to be you, and uses your ATM cards and stuff like that, which is obviously a problem, but imagine, a bigger problem, if they were actually able to fool you into forgetting who you are, which is what so often happens to us spiritually.
It’s like Satan has stolen our identity, we’ve forgotten who we are.
Like and maybe this sounds out there, so let me give a negative illustration which is pretty close to the one Paul gives the Colossians, and then we’ll get a little more positive. But, as we all know there are people who would say they are Christians, and yet, they feel kind of insecure, and so, when someone comes and says, the reason they are having problems in their life, is because there are these ancestors, who are upset with them, and they need to do these things to satisfy them, and they are like, oh maybe, that’s my problem, and they start wearing these little bracelets, or going to these prophets, and I am not sure, how you would handle that, but I think the way Paul would, is not just by saying, don’t do that, but by saying, let’s go back to who you are in Christ, you’ve obviously forgotten something essential, and that’s your identity, because, if you are a Christian, you are immersed in Christ and Christ is God, which means, He’s the head over all rulers and authorities, which means, if you are in Christ, you just can’t get any more complete or any more secure and that’s what makes being intimidated into wearing these little bracelets or doing these little rituals, a very big deal, because it’s basically idolatry, saying someone or something is more important or more powerful than Jesus, and I hope I am not pounding home something that is so obvious, but unfortunately, I don’t think it is always that obvious.
Which is I think where we need to start, as we think about living our lives as Christians, is by going back, and making sure, we’ve really appreciated the depth of this new reality, the fact, there’s been this great change in our identity.
That goes all the way down. As deep as it can go. This is core. A change to our most fundamental identity. Where, we used to be one person, now that we are Christians, we are someone different, and part of how we change and grow as Christians, is by coming back to who we are as Christians.
Because we forget, we are not like everyone else. We are not just out there living our lives by ourselves. We are connected to Christ. We are people who have died and been raised with Christ, and we need constantly be adjusting our way of thinking and living to match up with that, which is one absolutely vital step towards true and lasting change.