How Can I Change?
1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
We all want to be the person described in verses 10-15 don’t we?
Even if you don’t love God, my guess is that list of characteristics still sounds really good to you. They are virtues that we’d all like be known for.
And you would probably agree that the things in 5-8 sound pretty bad, and you don’t want to be known by those.
This passage answers the question, “How do we become that person?”
New Year’s Resolutions
You’ve probably made some New Year’s Resolutions in the past to help you become a better person.
In Britain, an article from The Guardian revealed that 66% of people typically break their resolutions in the first month. When it comes to change, statistics are against you.
Neurologists discuss the habits of our lives in chemical terms. Habits form brain wiring, and it’s very difficult to unwire it. When it comes to change biology is against you.
A recently concluded 70 year Harvard study determining the changeability of people over time said we should almost always plan for failure to change. We are terrible at it. It seems even time is against you.
People resist being changed.
The Christian Expectation.
Christians have some pretty lofty expectations, don’t we? We are supposed to be the image of God on the earth. Colossians 3:10 says we have the “new self, renewed to the knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”
So how is this supposed to work?
- God Has To Kill You
Notice vs 1: “keep seeking.” That’s what you have to do. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
What comes before it is the phrase “if you have been raised.” You can’t raise yourself. The work before your work is God’s work on you. For you to be even the least bit successful at seeking the things above, first you have to be raised.
Notice verse 2: “Set your mind on things above.” But there’s a condition that comes before it. Verse 3. “You died, and your life is hidden in Christ.” You died, and somebody gave you a new life (verse 4): Christ is our life.
So, in other words, before you can become the person in 9-15 and seek the things above, you have to be killed and then raised with Christ.
Let’s take this in parts. First, let’s talk about the killing. You have to be crucified with him.
Jesus died a long time ago. How could I do that “with him”?
You and I deserve God’s judgment (3:7). And the mercy from God is that He offers to accept Jesus’ death as your own. In other words, the beauty of the gospel isn’t just forgiveness. It’s forgiveness based on justice. Christ died to take away your sin, yes! But he he also died to take YOU away. YOU Have Died.
Jesus endured the cross, but not so that we could escape it. He endured the cross so that we could join him there. I don’t like the idea of dying, but I am grateful that I can crucify my jealousy. I enjoy the truth that old Ben Stubblefield’s greedy, foolish, wayward heart has a cross to get nailed to. And as sure the sky is up, God promises that it gets destroyed, scourged, spear-pierced, and buried. And God’s justice on Ben Stubblefield, and the righteous ire of the holy judge, is satisfied. The first born Ben Stubblefield gets taken, like the sons of Egypt, by the angel of death. And it’s good. And, in Jesus’ words, that death is now a way of life. Put to death pride, anger, arrogance, laziness, cowardice. (Die daily).
That’s what happened to me. So you know what? I’m dead to verses 5-8. That’s what got pinned to the beams of wood. I, with Jesus, bore that curse once. Never again. Don’t you want a place to kill your greed, lust, hatred, emnity, and malice? Don’t you want a place to die? What a joy it is to get loose of my scheming, selfish, wretched body of death.
- God Has To Raise You.
2:13, 3:1. If you died with him, Romans 6, you will be raised with Him.
The life of Christ is your life. 3:4. What is true of Jesus’ death about you is also true of his resurrection. Jesus’s resurrection lopped the head off of sin and judgment. He defeated sin and paid for it.
Which means he didn’t bring Ben Stubblefield back to life. That died. Instead I am born again. It’s not like the first me. Not born in Adam. But born in Christ. Not born in weakness, but in strength. Not born in unrighteousness, but again in righteousness. I am born to live in the power of Christ’s resurrection. He’s new, unshackled by sin, death, and judgment. And because I died with him, that is my life too.
You may say: “Ben, all you’ve said is kind of passive. You haven’t told us to do anything, just talked about what God has to do to us. And I’m an active person. I want to take control of where I’m headed.” Let me say two things to you.
- You’re exactly right. All I’m saying is that to change, you have to invite, plead with God to do his crucifying/resurrecting work for you. That’s your first job. Come to the end of yourself, once and for all, finally and fully.
- If you get this backwards, you’ll never really change. If you can’t let God work on you first, then you’ll still be stuck in the old man. Let me say it this way.
Do you know anybody that dresses up their dog? You can put a suit and tie on a dog, and it is still gonna find fleas and roll in dirt.
At the end of the day that is what will happen with us. Look, you can make some habit changes. Save more $, lose more lbs, volunteer once/week. But those things aren’t going to make you a verses 9-15 person. I’ve known plenty of skinny people who are awful. You try to become these things, without the transforming power of Jesus, and you’ll be back to fleas and rolling in the dirt.
That is not how Christian change works. You have to find Jesus, and let him put you to death, so he can bring you to life again.
Some of you may say, “Ben, I’ve already done this. Your whole sermon has been about everybody else but me. I’ve already been put to death and made alive in Christ Jesus. So this whole message has been totally unhelpful.
Let me try an analogy on you and take you to the Silver Chair. Prince, Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum (the Marshwiggle) come under the enchantment of a powerful witch. And they forget their mission, they forget their names, and all is almost lost – the entire kingdom is nearly destroyed. Not because they’re evil, but because they were forgetting who they were.
Paul’s writing to Christians. He is reminding them and grounding them in who they are, so they never forget or lose focus. Friends, you will never outgrow the gospel.
Where was Abraham, right after the covenant? Fooling around with Hagar. Noah, right after the flood? Getting drunk and shaming himself in front of his sons. Where was Peter? Denying Jesus at his trial. Adam? Eating forbidden fruit. Don’t tell me you’ve outgrown Colossians 3, or we might as well reserve you a place of worship next to the golden calf. You be killing sin at the cross, or it will be killing you. Be walking in righteousness, image of God, or unrighteousness will be walking you.
It is the great work of the devil to lull the Lord’s people to sleep. To thinking they are beyond the simple gospel. We must be reminded to claim the promise, that as I’ve laid down my life, he will take it up again. Dead to sin, alive to God.
Dr. Ben Stubblefield is the Pastor of of FBC Jackson in Jackson, AL, and graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Auburn University.