At the beginning of Colossians chapter 3 the apostle Paul says some things about the Christian life which are very exciting and at the same time very challenging.
3 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.
These are not difficult ideas to grasp. We are united with Jesus Christ in his death and in his resurrection. Paul says much the same in Romans 6.
Romans 6:3 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
The theology is simple. We share the blessings which Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection bring because we have died with him and have been raised with him. The problem is not the theory but the practice. These passages are difficult because our experience doesn’t square up with our theology. I don’t feel dead. I don’t feel raised. My old life MAY have died with Christ – but it doesn’t feel dead. It’s dead – but it’s kicking!
I remember an early episode in the television drama NCIS – the Navy Criminal Investigative Service. In it David McCallum plays the forensic pathologist Donald Ducky Mallard. As he is conducting a post-mortem he often talks to the body on the slab in front of him. This episode began with the biggest surprise of Ducky’s career. As he was about to begin his examination, the “dead” body woke up. The man wasn’t dead at all! He was alive and kicking! That isn’t supposed to happen. Dead bodies usually stay dead. “We have died to sin,” says Paul. As far as sin is concerned we should be as dead as a body on a slab. Sin should have as little effect on us as the pathologist’s knife on a dead body. That’s the theory. We should be dead to sin.
But our Christian experience often turns out opposite to the theory. The struggle we all face in living the Christian life is to live the new life God has given us instead of keeping on living the old life. It’s a daily battle.
The battle begins in our hearts and our minds.
Colossians 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.
It’s a battle of the will – “set your hearts on things above”. In Hebrew thought the heart is the centre of the will and decision making, not the centre of our emotions. It’s also a battle of the mind.
2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Hearts AND minds – it’s a daily struggle to live the new life Christ gives us, and not to go back to live the old life you used to live. To occupy ourselves with heavenly things and leave earthly things behind forever. This is the challenge we all face as Christians. It’s a very, very difficult battle. But the secret of victory is very simple. It is indeed in those words of verse 3, “you died”, “you died”, “you died,” “you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
J.B. Phillips translated this, “For, as far as this world is concerned, you are already dead, and your true life is a hidden one in Christ.“
Your old life is dead and your new life, your real life, is hidden with Christ in God. This sounds simple in theory but we all know that it is so much more difficult in practice. The first challenge is to recognise that we have died when we don’t feel dead. The second challenge is to realise that we have been raised with Christ when we don’t feel any different from what I felt like before I became a Christian. But these are two very definite statements. You died. Aorist once and for all past tense. A historical event. You have been raised. Aorist once and for all past tense. Historical event. The challenge is to live our lives in these amazing truths.
The tragic fact is that many Christians do NOT live brand new lives. The reason for that is that they don’t live in the truth that their old life is actually dead! That’s why Paul has to command us to keep on putting our old life to death.
Colossians 3 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
The Bible says that our old life is dead. We must live in that truth.
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.
We have taken off our old life, taken off, like an old set of dirty ragged tramp’s clothes we take off and throw away and burn! And we have put on our new life, put on like a spotless new suit we can be proud to wear. “Exchanging for my wretchedness your radiant robes of righteousness.” Past tense. We have taken off the old self, and put on the new self. But there are elements of our old life we must keep on getting rid of.
Verse 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.
Verse 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these.
We have died with Christ but we have to keep on and on working through the implications of that death, time after time after time after time. In Romans 6 Paul puts it like this.
Romans 6 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
Count yourself dead to sin. Reckon yourself to be dead. Consider yourself dead to the power of sin. “Think of yourself as dead as far as sin is concerned.” (Good News Bible)
John Gregory Mantle wrote, “There is a great difference between realizing, ‘On that Cross He was crucified for me,’ and ‘On that Cross I am crucified with Him.’ The one aspect brings us deliverance from sin’s condemnation, the other from sin’s power.”
Our victory over sin comes from remembering that we share in Christ’s death. We have been crucified with Christ. He has paid the penalty for our sin and sin no longer has control over us. That is the truth, even though we still experience the fires of temptation. Our old self may be dead, but it is dead and kicking!!
The truth is that our old self will always keep pulling us away from God until EVERY part of our old self is truly dead and buried. And the problem is that we are not always willing for our old self to die.
Soon after Augustine’s conversion, he was walking down the street in Milan, Italy. There he accosted a prostitute whom he had known most intimately. She called but he would not answer. He kept right on walking. “Augustine,” she called again. “It is I!” Without slowing down, but with assurance of Christ in his heart, Augustine testified, “Yes, but it is no longer I.” There is the secret of victory over sin. “It is no longer I.” My old self is dead!
We all want to put to death the old me with its sinful desires and sinful actions. We want to get rid of the obvious sins, the things which make us feel guilty. But there are also other bits of the old me that we quite like. Sins that don’t seem to do me any harm. Each of us has bits of our “old selves” that we are happy to cling on to. And as long as we are happy for those bits of the old me to still be alive, then my old self will still have a pull on me. The old me will not fully die. It will be dead and kicking.
The Roman philosopher Seneca put it well, “People love their vices and hate them at the same time; they hate their sins and cannot leave them.” Until we leave our vices and our sins, our old lives will always be dead but kicking. I’m talking about bits of the old me like ambition. Those parts of my old self such as wanting to be popular, or successful, or happy. All these parts of the old self which may not seem to be doing us any harm. These pulls from the past will be different for each of us. But each of us will have them! And each of these parts of our old life must die! I am reminded of the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus
Luke 18 18 … ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
And Jesus said to him, 22 …. ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
When we think of that story we usually think about money and wealth and possessions. But of course the application is much broader than that. Here is about giving up. Being prepared to give up ANYTHING which could possibly come between us and God. We may have no problems about giving up wealth or possessions. But is there anything else in our lives where Jesus would say to us, “One thing you lack …” and the one thing you lack, the one thing you still have to give up, is this, or that. It could be a friendship or a relationship. It could be a hobby or an interest. It could be a favourite television programme or something else which takes our time and energy away from God. “One thing you lack ….”
Until we have given up that one thing – our old self will always be dead, but still kicking!
In the film “Devil’s Advocate”, Keanu Reeves plays a successful lawyer who moves to the big city to work for the big boss played by Al Pacino. It becomes clear that the boss is no less than the devil incarnate and the film illustrates countless ways in which the devil can deceive and entice people into all kinds of sin. But more than once Al Pacino’ character says, “My favourite sin is vanity.” Pride can lead people to bend the rules or even break the law so they will be popular or successful or famous. Because deep down everybody cares about what other people think of them.
When we are dead we will not care about such things. Other people’s opinions of us. Success. Popularity. Fame. Reputation. Everything which goes together to make up our “image”. There are so many things which matter so much to us in this life which won’t affect us in the least once we are dead! Our old self, “the old me” who has died with Christ, won’t be dead and buried until we have let go of such things completely.
Recent events in politics and even in churches remind us of the deep deceitfulness of the human heart – how so often people’s motives are impure and mixed and sometimes downright evil! Even Christians. Some Christians and even famous Christian leaders can believe they are serving God for His glory, when really they are only serving God for their own ends, for their own glory, for recognition, for financial gain or to meet needs of their own.
Luke 9 23 Then (Jesus) said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
God calls us to put our old self to death. To nail our old self on the cross with Christ and leave it there. God calls us to let go of “what might have been.” To forget forever the other paths our life might have taken if we had not followed Christ. To forget forever what we have given up in order to follow Christ. The can be NO LOOKING BACK
Luke 9 62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’
So what about your old self? Is it dead and buried with Christ? Or is your old self still dead and kicking? How are you getting on in the battle with the devil’s favourite sin, vanity, pride?
A young man went to an old preacher and asked, “How can I get victory over pride and criticism?”
The preacher said to him, “Go to the grave of Brother Jones and as you stand by the grave say all the nice things you can about him. Flatter him greatly.”
He did as the old preacher advised. When the man returned the old preacher asked, “What did he say?”
The answer, “Nothing. He is dead.”
The old preacher then told the young man to go out to the grave and criticize Brother Jones. “Say mean things to him.”
And when he came back the old preacher asked, “What did he say?”
The young man said, “Nothing, He’s dead!”
Colossians 3 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.