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Seeking the Things that are Above

Colossians 3:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 8, 2018.

Last week we talked about not turning to legalism as a legitimate expression of Christianity.  Yes, there are certain things that Christians should not do and others that they should do.  But lists of things we shouldn’t eat or drink, and special days we should observe in order to be holy has nothing to do with Christ. 

In our passage today we will see that we need to turn to Jesus rather than a list of regulations.  He needs to become our life, to become everything.  When it comes to the Christian life, we must never forget that Christ is everything to us.  He is the foundation on which we stand, the image towards which we are being transformed, the power by which it is all done, and the hope that lies before us.

So as we look at this passage, let us hear the words of life that teach us how to truly live.

We have died with Christ and been made alive with Christ

Back in chapter 2 Paul had reminded us that the fact that we have died to the world with Christ should refute the regulations of legalism.  Here in verses 1-4 of chapter 3 he continues to the other side of this truth.  We have been made alive with Christ.  Thus our life and how it is lived must be connected to Christ and not this world.  This means our focus or concern should be towards heaven where Christ is.  Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father.  His perspective and commands will be quite different from a person who is here on earth.  Ultimately it is the things of heaven, the things of Christ, that should concern Christians.

Now this could give rise to the phrase that a person is “So heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”  However, this is not what Paul is getting at.  He is not talking about ignoring the earth, but rather about looking to Christ for our directions on how to operate in this world.  God is deeply concerned with this earth and the people on it.  That is why Jesus came and died on the cross.  When we look at life with His concerns and walk in His purposes and direction, then it does much good for this earth.  Thus to be heavenly minded as Paul means it, is to live in this life directed by the leadership of Christ.

In verse 3 he mentions that the things that make for our life are hidden from the world.  Christ cannot be seen by the world and His instructions to us cannot be seen either.  His connection to us through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit is not something that can be touched or seen.  Sure they should see how we live and the effects of these things in our lives, but they cannot actually see the influence.  Thus the world will not understand the reasons and motivations, which come from heaven.

In verse 4 we are told that when Christ is revealed from heaven in glory, it will suddenly become clear what we were living for.  In fact the glory of Christ will be our glory too!  It takes faith and trust in God’s Word.  We must believe that He will do what He has said He will do.  Christians are those who walk in the faith that though our life may not make sense to the world around us, it is directed by God Himself and will be rewarded in due time.

We put off the old man

Starting in verse 5 Paul uses several metaphors for the Christian life.  One of these is that of the old man.  It is a metaphor for our old life of listening to our flesh (body, mind, and heart) and following its desires.  We are told to put it off like we would do with the clothes that we sleep in at night, in order to then put on the right clothes to go about our day.

In fact, in verse 5 he opens with an even harsher metaphor- “put to death.”  The terminology can be a bit foreign to us.  The term “members” refers to the parts of us that are centered upon the things of the world.  These are expressed in certain sinful activities and conditions of our heart.  They need to be sacrificed on the altar to God by dying to their pull on us.  Paul lists several things.  Fornication is any sex outside of a committed marriage between one man and one woman.  Uncleanness is any impure desire or motive.  Passion is those afflictions of our mind and heart that push us towards sin.  Yes, passion can be a positive thing, but it is clearly about sinful things in this list.  Evil desire speaks for itself.  Covetousness is called idolatry because we allow ourselves to become a slave to the thing we covet rather than a slave of God.  It becomes god in our lives.  All of these things need to be put to death in our life.  This is something that has to be done daily, as they surface in our hearts and minds.  Like weeds we will not be able to completely remove all traces of them in this life.  But we can keep them from growing and bearing evil fruit in our life.  If we follow these things they will not bring us true life, no matter how alive one may feel when they first give in to them.  In the end these things will leave you empty and hopeless regardless of what Ashley Madison has to say.

In fact in verse 6 Paul reminds us that these are the things that are bringing the wrath of God.  Just in case we thought these were nice suggestions on how to have a better life, we are reminded that those who practice such things are in jeopardy.  This world may be progressing in technology, which gives it the allusion that we are somehow becoming better.  But, morally we are not progressing.  We are wallowing in the same muck and mire that mankind has always wallowed in.  The message of the Gospel is this, “Save yourself from this wicked and perverse generation by fleeing to Jesus before it is too late!”  We will all face the wrath of God one way or another.  We will either be alive when it is poured out at the end of the age or we will face it when we die and come before God.  Believers can face both situations with confidence because Jesus has taken the wrath of God that should fall on us, upon Himself.  We can stand in His presence with confidence because of Jesus and Him alone.

In verse 7 he reminds us that these things should be a part of our past.  It is how we used to live, before Christ.  This is the old life, but now Christ is our Master and Savior.  His Spirit has taken up residence within us.  Let us not fool ourselves.  We cannot continue to follow the ways of the world and the ways of our flesh and find life.  They can only lead us to destruction.  Like Joshua of old we must choose today whom we are going to serve, and may it be Jesus that we chose to serve.

In verses 8 to 9 Paul continues with a list of deeds that many would think of as “little sins.”  We are tempted to coddle them and allow them to remain in our life.  We can justify them in our heart more easily.  But Paul warns against such deeds of the old man.  Anger- I used to get angry about things, but Christ is calling me to leave anger behind.  I am to be directed by heaven, not my anger.  Wrath- My flesh is focused on justice and getting people back, but heaven reminds us that this is not our job and that we must let it go lest we fall under the wrath of God ourselves.  Malice- This is typically a deeper-seated, festering ill-will towards others.  Christians are to root this out and reject its seductive logic.  Blasphemy- It is not just untrue things we say of God.  It basically means to slander or say untrue things about any other.  Filthy language- Our old life learned all manner of crude and vulgar ways to express ourselves.  Such talk should be left in the dust.  We must let the Lord purify our speech.  Lying- How easy it is to lie to one another in order to get what we want or to protect ourselves.  Whether it is active lying where we state untruths or passive lying where we mislead people so that they make the wrong conclusions, lying is a form of manipulation that brings destruction into our life and the lives of those around us.

Jesus was none of these things.  If we have truly rejected the world with Him and are living only for Him, then these things should change.  There is no way around this truth.  Yes, it doesn’t just happen in an instant.  But it does happen nonetheless.

We put on the new man

We will talk more about this next week.  But let’s end on the positive.  If we are to take off the old man then clearly we must put on the new man.  Paul points out in verses 10-11 that the new man is renewed in knowledge.  Knowledge is key to our transformation.  We know that these things hold nothing but God’s wrath for us.  So why would we then hold on to them?  We also know that Jesus is not like these things.  So why would we continue in them?  We also know that Christ died to set us free from these things.  So let’s be renewed in body, mind, and heart.

He also mentions that we are renewed according to the image of Christ.  The renewal is not just a “new me.”  It really is a taking on the image of Jesus.  We are taking Him on and being transformed.  In that sense, Jesus is the new man.  We are all taking on the One New Man, Jesus.  WE are the students becoming like the master, as His Holy Spirit works within us to enable the transformation.

He ends this section by pointing out that the old distinctions are irrelevant when Christ is our everything.  It doesn’t matter what race or station of life a person is or comes from.  A believer in Jesus sees one thing.  Is Christ living within that person as well as me?  Christ is everything and all those distinctions are nothing.  How we interact with people, both believers and the lost, should have nothing to do with race, economic station, gender or what else.  It has only to do with Christ.  What does He think and what does He want.  The power of Christ has come to break all of these distinctions down so that Christ indwells every kind of person on the earth, and we can receive another believer as a brother or a sister in Christ, not because of earthly things, but because of the heavenly reality that Jesus dwells within us both.  Does Jesus dwell within you today?  Pray and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and become your Lord and Savior.  Let us put off the old man and put on the New Man!

Seek the Things Above audio


Faults of the Evil Generation II

Today we are looking at Luke 11:37-44.

We have been looking at the things Jesus pointed out about his generation which evidenced their wickedness.  Their unbelief always wanted more signs.  Also their ability to see spiritually had been lost.  Today we will see how sin had caused them to give greater attention to superficial things over the top of the deeper and more important issues of their hearts.  Such a superficial existence not only fails to do good things, but actually causes us to do evil.  In this passage our favorite bad guys (the Pharisees and the Lawyers) are on the whipping post.  However, we need to ask ourselves today this question.  How am I like this?  Or, at least, how have I been dealing with this reality in my life?

They Focus on Image over the Inside

Now in this passage there is a Pharisee that asks Jesus to come to his house and eat with him.  During this situation Jesus recognizes something that is going on inside of this man.  There is no indication that the man had said anything openly.  Yet, Jesus is not content to have image without an accompanying inner reality.  That which looks good on the outside but is poisonous on the inside is more dangerous than that which looks bad on the outside.  People will be tempted to accept something into their life that looks good on the outside but can hurt them, whereas something that looks bad is generally rejected outright. 

So why was Jesus invited to dinner?  We do not know the man’s motivation.  More than likely he hopes to find reasons to discount Jesus and thus move up in the ranks of his religious group.  Thus pretended favors always lead to real attacks.  Yet, maybe this man simply wants to have the attention of one who had Jesus at his house.  Jesus was widely popular and to be associated with him in anyway would reflect upon the Pharisee.  Or, perhaps the man is interested in Jesus and wants a closer look.  No matter which of these is the truth, remember this one thing.  When you invite Jesus into your house, he is not going to content himself with only looking good.  Jesus is going to point out those hidden issues of our heart that need to be dealt with.

Now something happens before dinner.  Jesus neglects the traditional washing that the religious did before eating.  Now this washing wasn’t about hygiene.  It was a symbolic washing that represented being spiritually clean from sin.  It seems impossible that Jesus simply forgot.  Even if he didn’t normally observe this washing, Jesus knew the teachings and practices of the Pharisees all too well.  Thus it seems that Jesus purposely neglected washing because he knew it would provide a situation in which he can speak to the heart of this Pharisee’s life.  Although we are talking about the faults of an evil generation, we need to recognize that Jesus is also pointing out precisely where they needed to change in order to be saved.  It is like a surgeon.  Yes, cutting a person is bad.  But if a surgeon cuts a person precisely where they need to be cut then it is actually a good thing.  When God points out our sin it is not in order to condemn us, but in order for us truly to be set free.

Now when the Pharisee sees that Jesus does not do the traditional washing, he “marveled.”  Instead of seeing the heart of Christ he was stuck on this outward act or lack thereof.  We must understand that focusing on the outward without working on the inside is utter foolishness.  Jesus uses the metaphor of a cup to illustrate this.  Have you ever opened the dishwasher to pull out a cup or bowl that looked clean but when you turned it up there was some crud still left in the bowl?  Someone didn’t rinse it well enough for the machine to clean.  Although it looks good on the outside, you are not going to eat from it.  This is how God saw the Pharisees.  On the outside they looked like good followers of God and He should be happy to have them and use them for His glory.  But the problem was that they were full of sinful things.  Jesus points out that God had made mankind both material and spirit, or with outer and inner parts of their being.  Would God be satisfied for his people to clean only the outward?  The Pharisees were right that God was concerned with man’s need to be cleansed of sin.  But they focused only on the outward things.  In fact in this case the washings were merely symbolic.

In Matthew 15:11 Jesus makes the case that we are not defiled by outer things.  Rather we are defiled by what flows out of our heart into our material life.  Thus a person can make their life look good, but if their heart is wicked, it is not only unacceptable, but is even a worse evil.  Are we not a generation that fights against the reality that our inner man is more important than our outer man?  Do we not focus far more on image and material things than on truth, reality, and inner things?  It is an evil thing to focus on the outward and ignore the inner.

In vs. 41 Jesus tells him to give alms of what he has and then he won’t have to worry about washing his hands before dinner.  That is he will truly be clean spiritually.  Notice that it is possible to use external actions to wash internal sins.  This man was guilty of greed and wickedness (vs.39).  He focused solely on the symbolic act of washing, but never actually did anything about the greed and wickedness in his heart.  Did he not know he was greedy?   That is unlikely.  By his actions he was testifying that he would rather live in shadows and hide from the Truth than walk in the light of God.  Not all who come to Christ and go to Church seek His light and life.  Many are merely looking for shadowy places in which to hide themselves.  But where Jesus is there will always be a confrontation which such wickedness.  We must wash our hearts by actions that crucify those inner sins.  Are you proud?  Then take a humble position and seek no credit for it.  Become a servant of others and in so doing crucify the pride in your heart.  Such a person will be seen as clean by God.

They Focus on Trivial Matters over Heavier Things

Similar to focusing on the external is this problem of focusing on trifles over the top of heavier issues.  In another place Jesus used the picture of straining out a gnat, but then swallowing a camel.  The inability to truly face and deal with the inner issues affects how one prioritizes outward actions.  This imagery has to do with light and heavy objects.  Do you remember in the old cartoons how the character would be weight lifting and the two round weights would have 1,000 painted on them?  Yet, later you would find out that they were just black balloons.  This helps us to see several issues.  So keep this metaphor in mind.

Now Jesus had counseled the man to give alms because he knew the man gave precious little that didn’t somehow benefit him.  The Pharisees had developed a meticulous system of rules about tithing (giving a tenth of your income).  Within this system of rules they were able to look like they were lifting a lot of weight spiritually, but in reality they were not lifting anything at all.  Here Jesus points out that they would make a big deal about tithing to the point that they would even give a tenth of the herbs in their herb gardens.  This scrutiny on a trivial area of “income,” became a mark of great piety; as if they had lifted such a great weight.  In another passage Jesus shines a light on some of the things that they were doing.  Under the Law an adult child was responsible to take care of their parents in their old age.   However, a tradition had developed that said if a person had already made a vow to give their extra money to the Temple then they could be excused from having to care from their parents.  Now which is the heavier weight that needed lifting; caring for elderly parents, or donating to the temple?  More importantly which was the greater responsibility for the shirker; caring for their parents or caring for the temple?  Clearly caring for the parents is the primary responsibility.  So why would they do such a thing?  They would do it because they would get more honor and prestige out of giving a great sum to the Temple than out of “merely” caring for their parents.  This is how upside down their priorities were.  God is more concerned that you care for your immediate family than he is to get 10% of your income.  He is concerned that we be clean on the inside, and money /wealth is one of the biggest defilers of man.  Now you may think I just made a case for why poor people don’t have to give.  You couldn’t be more incorrect.  Do poor people have the need to be cleaned from greed and materialism?  Of course they do.  Our greed will always tell us that we don’t make enough to give to God, whether at a Church or directly to others in need.  A person who gives in to such greed will not be condemned because they failed to give enough.  They will be condemned because they embraced greed and nurtured it with false logic.  The Pharisees had trivialized tithing.  It was intended to be a means that broke the back of greed in their life, taught them how to live within their means, and helped those that were hurting.  These are the big weights that God wanted them to lift.  But they turned it into a means of stroking their pride.

In vs. 42 Jesus gives us two “heavy things” God wanted them to work on: Justice towards their fellow man and Love towards God.  The whole time they were coming up with rules and loopholes in the area of tithing they did not lift a finger towards justice for their fellow man and truly loving the heart of God and His ways.  Micah pointed this out in his book (6:6-8), “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God?  Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Today social justice has become a code word for big government programs.  This movement has co-opted the biblical language for its own political gain.  They two are defiled by the lust for power and greed for money.  We do need to care for one another in our society.  But God’s plan has always been for individuals to freely choose to either serve Him or not.  Only then can they truly cleanse their hearts.  But the modern system of turning all compassion over to the State is not only hurting the poor, but defiling all of our hearts.  Ask yourself, what is due my fellow man, and do I love God and His ways more than the things of this world?  You will be cleaned or defiled by how you deal with those questions.

In verse 43 Jesus points out the vain things that they loved.  They wanted the best seats in the Synagogue (those that had the most social prestige) rather than being content with the place God would give them.  They wanted the kudos of their fellow Pharisees rather than the kudos of God.  They wanted people to notice them when they walked through the marketplace rather than to be noticed by God.  Respect, position, and power are not necessarily bad things.  But the love of these things causes much sin and defiles many.  These things are empty if they are sought over the top of God and a clean heart.

Lastly, Jesus points out how our neglected sins defile us and others.  What is the big deal?  Inner sins don’t just stay inside.  They grow and their defilement infects us and spreads into society.  We will end up defiling others by our sinful actions.  Jesus uses the picture of an unmarked grave.  To touch a dead body or grave made a person defiled under the Law.  This is something the Pharisees would have meticulously focused on.  Yet, here Jesus says they are like a person who made a grave but didn’t mark it (through negligence or purposefully).  People who interacted with them thought they were clean, but in fact they were being defiled unknowingly by them.  O friend, are you pretending to be all righteous and clean when in fact you are defiling everyone around you?  Take this to heart.  Begin to clean the inside of your heart in the fear of the Lord for He is the one that you will stand before and give account one day.

Faults II audio