In a recent Sunday message on chapter 3 of the Letter to the Colossians, we explored the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the ways God calls us to live as Christians. Paul goes into considerable detail, and does not mince words. As Christians, we are to “put to death…sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (v.5). We are to “[put away] anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (v.8). We are not to lie to one another (v.9), and are to “put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…” (vv.12-13).
In the message, we came to understand how the power to live our lives this way—especially the power to keep going when we stumble--comes from our identity in Christ. Our knowledge that, as Christians, our “old self” with its sinful practices has been buried, and we have put on a “new self,” through faith in Christ, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (v.10). This old-self/new-self transition is not something we are called to do. It is something that has already happened. What we are called to do is to live out its implications.
But one aspect we did not discuss in detail was practical application. How do we actually go out into the world and, empowered by our identity in Christ, live according to the precepts of Colossians 3?
Obviously, we can and should practice these attitudes and behaviors with our friends, family, classmates, and co-workers. But we will only learn and grow in them from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Why? Because living godly lives does not come naturally. If it did, Paul would not have to write a letter exhorting us to do it! Because our identity in Christ is the power for us to live godly lives, we will be most able to harness that power in Christian community.
If your house is on fire, how successful will you be in putting it out if the people around you do not believe it is on fire? They may not actively hinder you, but neither will they help you. After all, putting out a fire is hard and sometimes dangerous work. Likewise, how successful will you be in “putting to death” certain attitudes and behaviors if the people around you do not believe them to be worthy of death? What God calls sexual immorality or obscene talk, the world may call healthy self-expression. How successful will you be in “putting on” certain attitudes and behaviors, if the people around you do not believe them to be worthy of putting on? What God calls humility or forgiveness, the world may call weakness or fear.
Our self-knowledge as Christians, as sinners saved by God’s grace, is our most important identity, more important than our identities of nation, race, social class, or occupation (v.11). Through it, God calls us to live as we would not otherwise choose to live, and to grow as we would not otherwise be able to grow. Our identity in Christ gives us both an assignment and the tools to complete it. Brothers and sisters, let us use those tools! Let us actively seek out and embrace Christian community, knowing that through it, we grow in the knowledge of both our God’s call to us and his empowerment of us. And, thereby, do we grow in the knowledge of him.
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