READ – COLOSSIANS 3:1-11
We’re in a series called F1RST on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul is writing to a community of new Christians. These new followers of Jesus were coming off the initial excitement of their conversion and were starting to ask, “What’s next?” They were still struggling, still dealing with character flaws, and questioning whether Jesus was enough for all of life.
Paul’s main point is that when we see and believe Jesus is sufficient for everything and when you follow Him as supreme over everything, the result will be a new you. Paul is writing to show us that a new you and a new me is possible. That change, not surface level change, but real, deep change is possible. He says that authentic change involves both a “putting off” (Colossians 3:5) and a “putting on” (3:10).
1. PUT OFF THE OLD
Real change involves “putting off” (3:5) the things that Paul lists as examples in Colossians 3:5-9. Paul is getting right up in our personal business. By implication, Paul wants us to understand that putting off the old is characterized by three things.
First, putting off is drastic. It’s nothing short of death. Jesus’ purpose for your life isn’t self-improvement, more religion, or sinning less. Putting off is death – it’s drastic, radical action. The application is: if following Jesus doesn't sometimes feel like dying, i.e. if it’s quick, painless, easy, something you can manage on your own, then it’s probably not what Paul has in mind by “putting off.” However, if what you’re going through is hard, impossible, feels like God is bringing a wrecking ball into your life, then it’s probably an indication that God is at work.
Second, putting off is deep. Jesus isn’t interested in the surface of our actions. Instead, He wants to get at the root, the source from where our actions spring. That’s why Paul in Colossians 3:5 moves from the surface (“sexual immorality”) to the source (“idolatry”). All our sin whether it’s greed, anger, lust, or lying comes from the same source. Sin springs from what we desire and worship. Idolatry is making anything your life that isn’t the God of the Bible. Good desires turned into demands become gods. This isn’t just Paul making a big deal out of personal peccadillos. The Bible makes a connection between personal sin and systems of injustice and oppression. For example, lust and greed shape our lives to treat people as objects, and anger and lying train us to treat people as obstacles. Our personal sin in these areas dehumanizes others and consequently creates systems of dehumanization in the broader culture if left unchecked. So Paul isn’t wagging his finger at us, he’s trying to rehumanize us.
Third, putting off is difficult. One of the most difficult things in life is after a season of changes and turning over a new leaf, we fall right back into the old patterns. Paul is giving us hope here that’s it is not up to us. Don’t be discouraged. God is at work. Yes, change will be hard, imperfect, slow. But take heart, there is great hope for change because God is in the business of creating new things. Paul knows that you can’t put on the new until you’ve put off the old. In fact, you won’t put off the old until you have a greater vision for the new.
2. PUT ON THE NEW
In Colossians 3:10, Paul says that followers of Jesus have put on the new self. He’s providing us with the vision we need of the new to help motivate us to put off the old. Here Paul gives us three truths about the new that should inspire our hearts to do the work of real change.
First, the new is better. The new doesn’t often feel or seem better. Paul is asking us to die to what we perceive as rights – our right to sexual freedom, to material happiness, our right to be angry. Those often feel like the better option. But Paul’s claim is that the new is better. And really, there’s no rule or argument that will convince you of it – you just have to try it. It’s like thinking Olive Garden is fantastic, and then you try authentic, real Italian food. There’s no comparison and you can never go back (sorry, Olive Garden). Another test is considering the results of living completely free of any restrictions. If today we announced a “Free Sins Week” (sin any way you want as much as you want), two things would happen. First you’d be miserable and unsatisfied. Second you’d leave a wake of pain and hurt in other people’s lives. The new is better.
Second, the new is beautiful. The goal of Christianity isn’t morality, but beauty. Following Jesus isn’t repressive, it’s a call to reflect our Creator in all His goodness and beauty. It’s an invitation not to see people as objects, but to see them as God does – made in His image, valuable, unique. It’s an offer not to treat people as obstacles in your path, but people to learn from and love. What if you treated people this way? What if people treated you this way? What would it look like? It would look like Jesus. Paul isn’t actually talking about a new “self;” he’s talking about a new “man.” And that man is Jesus. Paul knows we won’t put off and kill the old, until we see that Jesus is better and more beautiful than the old. And Jesus is precisely better and more beautiful when we are at our worst and most ugly.
Third, the new is not a(B)out you. What do all the “new you” promises of the culture have in common? They’re all about YOU. They’re all about your happiness, comfort, health. Paul is saying that the new you isn’t about you at all. It’s about Christ. Christ is all and in all. As C.S. Lewis said, “Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.”
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Christianity is uncomfortable. It involves death and killing our old selves. Be honest – does that rub you the wrong way? How? Is the Jesus you are following easy, comfortable, and painless?
3. What’s difficult about following Jesus for you right now? How are you doing? What resources does Christianity provide to help you in the difficulty? Pray for each other.
4. Paul talks in Colossians 3 about God’s wrath. Modern Westerners struggle with the idea of God’s wrath. Is this just an outdated way of talking and believing about God? Isn’t God a God of love?
5. Sin – the old self – leads us to treat people as objects and as obstacles. How is that true in your life? What does confession and repentance look like? In other words, what might it look like to treat others not as objects and obstacles, but as new selves in God’s sight?
6. Putting on the new isn’t just putting on new habits or character traits, it’s putting on Jesus. What does that mean? Why is that better and more beautiful than just turning over a new leaf?