The New Self

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Colossians 3.5-11 'The New Self'

I have a confession to make; last year I watched some of Big Brother. I can't remember much of it, it was fairly forgettable but I can remember after a particularly nasty, snide argument one of the contestants excusing her obnoxious rudeness by saying;

'I've just got to be true to myself, that's the way that I am people just have to deal with it.'

I remember thinking really! You can be rude, selfish and hurtful but it's ok as long as you are remaining true to yourself – why would you want to remain true to that? There seemed to be this unwritten fatalism that meant that you were only capable of behaving like a normal human being if it fitted in with your personality and feelings at that particular moment in time.

Is that true? Are we slaves to the identities we create for ourselves? Do we all just need to be true to ourselves? Well Paul gives us some answers in Colossians 3. He tells us that in fact we all need major surgery on our identities but that if we are trusting in Christ we have already had that surgery. Our identities are now bound up with Christ and when we realise that it has a radical effect on our lives. The result being that we can kill sin because it no longer has anything to do with who we really are.

1. The problem with who we are

2. The solution

3. The result

1. The problem with who we are

We are all wretched idolaters who deserve to face God's wrath.

Take a look at v5 and 6;

5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Paul gives the Colossians a list of 5 vices; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed.At first glance these seem like a simple list of things for the Colossians to avoid and in one sense that is true but there more than that. This list is a bit like a doctor working his way from the presenting symptoms back to the underlying cause.

So Paul observes sexual immorality and impurity which are a form of lust, springing from evil desires. But notice the next clause in that sentence; 'evil desires and greed, which is idolatry'. Paul is making the connection between sexual immorality and idolatry. Sexual immorality is the result of a decision to worship, to find meaning and satisfaction in sex rather than in God. Paul says that is idolatry. This is not a unique connection. In Leviticus 8 God makes clear that sexual conduct is evidence of a person treating God as Lord. Paul himself makes a similar argument to the one here in Ephesians 5.3-5.

Greed; whether is sexual or material, whether it is envious of another's status, looks, humour or relationship is in reality idolatry. It is the exact opposite of Paul's command  in v1 to set our hearts on things above. Instead we set our hearts and our worship on earthly things and value them above our creator. When we do this we are saying to God; 'You should have done things differently, I know better than you what is the best for me' we act like petulant toddlers.

The truth is that all of us have done this. None of us can read the list in v5 and say; 'Not me!' because it is not a tick list of rules to follow but a diagnostic tool which lifts up the bonnet of morality to reveal the engine which drives our wills and passions. None of us can say that we are driven by the pure worship of God all of the time. We are therefore idolaters and v6 shows us the consequences of our idolatry; 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Our idolatry is serious. It is serious because it is against God who is infinitely good and holy – he deserves all of our worship. It is the greatest injustice that he does not receive it. We struggle to get our minds around this; we are tempted to think that if we cover up our sin, if we avoid hurting others then they are small things. But as J.I.Packer put it 'there are no small sins against a great God'. When we begin to glimpse the majesty of God we see that our sin is black. It's less like carelessly bending the corner of a print of a famous painting and more like us walking up to the original punching our fist through it, returning it to the artist with a note saying; 'I could have done better'.

This is our true identity and the real problem; we are all wretched idolaters who deserve to face God's wrath. Paul in this passage is at pains to remind the Colossians of this fact not as a criticism but as reminder that this is who they used to be. But it isn't who they are now v7 ;'You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.'

Something fundamental has changed; this is no longer who the Colossians are. It is not the life they now live. The problem has been solved – how? That brings us on to our second point; The Solution.

2. The Solution

Christ has dealt with God's wrath and is making us new

How can Paul say to the Colossians; 'You are now living a totally new life?' The answer is in v3;

3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

When Jesus died on the cross, the Colossians identity as idolaters deserving God's punishment died too. The same is true for us if we trust in Jesus. Paul explains it like this in chapter 2.13,14;

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,[b] God made you[c] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

The punishment we deserved fell on him, justice was done. And so God has made us alive in Christ, our life, our identity is now totally bound up with Christ. We are free from the slavery of idolatry and able to live in truth. Christ is the solution – not by ignoring our idolatry or excusing it as part of our personality but by dying for it, taking on himself the wrath we deserved. And so Paul can say this in v8-10;

8But now {i.e. now that Christ has dealt with our sin and our identity is tied to him} you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Paul again gives us a list of vices; anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. Again these characterise the idolater, the one out of relationship with God. Then in v9 Paul commands the Colossians not to lie to one another; since you have taken off your old self with its practices. It seems slightly strange after Paul's warnings against sexual immorality, lust, greed, rage, malice and slander for Paul to say oh and by the way don't lie to one another either. But it's not so strange when we remember that these lists lift the cover on what's going on beneath. Lying is not characteristic of a person who's identity is in Christ but lying is characteristic of someone else, listen to Jesus in John 8.44;

When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Jesus is talking about Satan. Lying, falsity and deception are his language.  This doesn't mean that the Colossians will never lie, no. But what Paul is saying is that lying as well as anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language are not just things to avoid but things that are incompatible with who they are.

These things were to do with the 'old self' which has been taken off and replaced by the 'new self'. What is the 'new self'? Is it a blank-page, a re-set? - maybe. A new leaf?– no it's more fundamental than that. Take a look at v10 again;

10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

The new self is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. In other words those who have been forgiven of their idolatry are being transformed to be like God. We are being returned to our original design – being made in the image of God. We become more and more human because, staggeringly, to be truly human is to image God.

How does this happen? v10 says followers of Christ are being renewed in knowledge. This is not some mystical transformation from the outside but rather one that comes from the inside re-moulding our hearts and minds. 1 Corinthians 2.13-16 gives us an insight into this miraculous process;

14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:

16"For who has known the mind of the Lord

that he may instruct him?"[d] But we have the mind of Christ.

When a person trusts in Christ he comes into their life, working by the Spirit to change us. We are then able to know things that we could not know before; we know that we are forgiven and accepted by God and just how wonderful that is.

I can remember the weeks after I trusted in Jesus going back to church. I was used to going and mildly interested but now the words of the bible concerned me, they told me about the God who had rescued me. I had understood, intellectually before but now the Spirit turned information into my reality, my confidence, my trust.

And so when we sing of God's love or look at creation around us we begin to wonder at the majesty and splendour of God. Our will, our desires become more and more in-line with his, our minds are begin to synchronise with his, as Paul puts it; 'we have the mind of Christ'. That's a draw-dropping sentence; But we have the mind of Christ.

This is what you get if you will just trust Jesus. The punishment we were headed for is not just avoided – it is dealt with permanently. We call that being justified or 'just – as –if I'd' never done it. But actually that's only partially true. We aren't left just as we were but instead we are being renewed daily to become more like Jesus.

Christ has dealt with God's wrath and is making us new.

3. The Result

So what does this mean for us? That's what I want to spend our final point thinking about.

Paul gives us three direct commands in this passage;

1. In v1; 'Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature : sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.'

2. In v8; 'But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.'

3. And in v9; 'Do not lie to each other'.

Seems like the application is simple enough then? However, at first glance it doesn't seem like Paul is giving us much help in answering the question; 'How do we do this?'

We already said that the two lists of vices in v1 and v8 were something more than simply a list of things for us to avoid. In fact back in chapter 2 Paul says that rules by themselves; 'lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.' So why does Paul use them? I think what Paul is doing is helping the Colossians to examine, to probe their hearts. He wants them to see the significance of what has already happened to them. He wants them to understand that they're identity has fundamentally shifted and use this as the tool to help them live truly Christian lives.

In Paul's mind there is no dis-connect between knowledge and action, doctrine and life, orthodoxy and orthopraxy. In fact he's just told the church that they'll be; 'renewed in knowledge'

A couple of weeks a go I was watching one of our favourite programmes CSI, which is about a group of Crime Scene Investigators. This episode, however, I knew was going to be a tough watch from about 30 seconds in. One of the team had been kidnapped by a serial killer who was now beaming back pictures of the captured colleague to the rest of the team via a webcam. The rest of the episode was spent trying to find this guy. Half-way through the episode the kidnapped CSI who had previously been calm started screaming. Why – this became clear when they eventually found him, buried alive and being eaten alive by flesh-eating ants. Eventually of course he was rescued it turned out that of course the coffin was sat on high explosives so a rope had to be tied around him and then he was yanked free. Do you think they kept that rope tied around him just in case he decided to get back in? No of course not.

The most powerful tool stopping that officer from being buried alive again is not a rope around him but the memory of the awfulness of his situation. The same is true of sin one of our most powerful enemies against it is the memory of its rottenness. That's why in v7 Paul pro-actively reminds the Colossians of the sin they have been saved from.

If you haven't dealt with that sin then turn to Jesus, ask Him to forgive you and change you, do it tonight. I'll be here after the service, speak to me or to Rod or to friend who's already following Jesus. If you're a Christian - stop getting back into the coffin. Stop it.

Instead grasp on to the incredible truths in v9 and 10;

9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

If you're trusting in Jesus this evening then you have died. You've died and been raised with Christ – YOU ARE NEW. You are being made like Jesus. Accept your new identity and live and fight from it. Put sin to death – expect to win.

Followers of Jesus have had their identities radically altered. We are no longer slaves to our sinful, earthly natures though we haven't escaped them totally yet. Our identity lies here between what Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection and what he will achieve when he returns. So we need to fight, we need to put sin to death. Tonight we've been given two tools to do that;

1. A reminder of the rottenness of the sin we used to live in.

2. Confidence that Christ has nailed that sin to the cross and is now at work in us to make us who we really are – Children of God.

Fight sin – expect to win. It has nothing to do with who you really are.

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