the supremacy of Christ /// 3:1-11
“Christ is not valued at all unless he be valued above all.” — Augustine
“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”
— Corrie Ten Boom
If the chromosomes in one of your cells were uncoiled and placed end to end, the DNA would be about 6 feet long. If all the DNA in your body were connected in this way, it would stretch approximately 67 billion miles! That’s nearly 150,000 round trips to the Moon.
IF YOU ARE RAISED WITH CHRIST
Chapter 3 opens by saying, “If then you have been raised with Christ…” It is very important to note that the beginning of chapter 3 is a turn in the entire book. Paul, after detailing a clear presentation of the gospel, is now going to explain to Christians how to live in light of that gospel. The first two chapters are all about Jesus and all about the Gospel. You can say Paul hammers out the gospel so that we will be 100% clear about what the gospel is. And the gospel is a news, it’s a message, about something that has been done in space-time history for you. In fact, it is sometimes called “good-news” because it is news about what Jesus has done for you to save you from all of your sins and to give you full and eternal life. The gospel is not about what you need to do but it is about what he has already done.
Paul also wants you to be 100% clear about what the gospel is not. So, in chapter 2 he pits the Gospel against religion and legalism, which is a system of rules that good religious people know they’re supposed to follow. Paul completely destroys that checklist. He warns us, “You cannot just check the list, you cannot follow external rules, because that is just chasing after shadows.” Instead he tells us that we must pursue the substance that casts that shadow – or the body that casts that shadow and that body is Christ. He is the substance. Religion (or legalism) is spelled D-O, “DO” – the gospel is spelled D-O-N-E, “DONE”! It is finished, it is complete in Christ so don’t chase rules, cling to Jesus.
In fact – in the last few verses of chapter 2, Paul gets pretty hostile towards religion and legalism. He says, “These rules that say ‘do not handle and do not taste and do not touch’ all referred to perishable things that have no substance. He adds, “And rules like those may have the appearance of wisdom – may seem on the outside like a good idea – but they have no value in controlling the indulgences of your flesh.”
So Paul is very clear – legalism and religion is the exact opposite of the Gospel. The pursuit after a legal set of rules and regulations, although it seems like a wisdom, actually nullifies the cross. (Gal. 2:21). Jesus is supreme over all things. Not just our salvation, but also our sanctification. The gospel doesn’t save us from hell only, it also begins to actively work in our lives to make us holy. That is what sanctification means “to be made holy”.
Now, that all that has been said, let me play devils advocate for a moment. If even our progress of being made holy is completed in us by Christ, then what are our responsibilities? Do we have any? And if there are responsibilities how do we pursue those in a responsible way so as not to fall back into a check list of legalism. I mean – it almost seems as if there’s this fine line between Gospel and religion and how do I know if I’m clinging to the gospel or if I’m falling off into religion. I almost feel like I have to walk the tight rope and it’s exhausting – and that alone feels like some sort of religion or at least like some sort of trick. One can easily get confused. What are we supposed to do?
For instance, and this is just a simple example, if it is my responsibility to read the Bible so that I can be closer to Jesus, then how do I make reading the Bible not a thing that I simply check of a legalistic list? And for some of you that may seem like a no-brainer – it might seem easy, but for others of you that is going to be difficult.
Here’s a little more complicated example – if it is my responsibility to not lust, Jesus said in one of his sermons that we shouldn’t even lust with our eyes. If it’s my responsibility then to not lust, then how can I cease from lusting – unless I remove every television from my home, disconnect my Internet, and force myself to never take my eyes off the road when I am driving, because I can’t even look at a billboard. And, let me just be real with you – even if I stayed home all day so that I would not have a single possibility to see anything that could cause me to stumble in my pursuit of not lusting, and then did nothing but read the Bible or books about the Bible – I’m not so sure that I would still not lust. In fact, I am confident that I still would. That’s why Paul says, it seems like it might work but it wont. Because those rules and efforts can’t change your heart.
What are our responsibilities when in regards to holiness?
Well, let me just say this, we do have a responsibility. Always. As humans we’ve always had a responsibility. But it’s extremely – extremely – important that we understand our responsibility in the context of all it’s been said in chapters 1 and 2. We must see our responsibility in light of 2 important facts. First, Jesus does it all – he is supreme and sufficient over all – and second, all religious efforts to maintain our flesh have no value in actually controlling the urges of our flesh. So then what? What are we to do?
Well lets look at the rest of the verse. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is.” What are we to do? We are to set our hearts and to set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is. Or, to put it another way, set your mind on Jesus! Set your heart on Jesus! Cling to the Substance – not the shadow! If you want to stop lusting after women – then stop thinking about women and start thinking about Jesus. If you want to stop being angry at your brother, then stop thinking about how your brother has wronged you and consider how much Jesus has forgiven you.
We need to transfer our affections. There is power in a new affection. A new affection can help you forget the old one. I’m certain you know this is true. When I was in college we called this rebound dating. When you are hurt because one special friend has ditched you, you go find a new special friend to help you take your mind off of the old special friend. Can I just say that there is power in a new affection. Now I’m not condoning rebound dating I usually advise against it but it’s what we as humans already know be true about how to release ourselves from an old affection.
There once was a very famous Scottish preacher names Thomas Chalmers. His most famous sermon is entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” You can still download it from the internet today. Think about the title. Expulsive means to expel something. If you want to expel an old affection, go and get another one. That is the expelling power of a new affection. Listen to this quote for Chalmers,
The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil. Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness.
(Thomas Chalmers, 1780-1847)
He goes on to say that this is the secret of Christianity. It’s the secret of the gospel. When you see the gospel correctly, that it is about grace – that it is about forgiveness – that you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone and through no works of your own, then the gospel will have power to change you. But, when we perceive the gospel incorrectly, if you think, “Now that Jesus has saved me – I need to be better and try harder”, then it will not change you. It will only make you seem changed on the outside while on the inside you will still have a heart that is drawn to your old impure affections. Chalmers then quotes an old Scottish hymn:
“Do this and live,” the law demands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
A better word the gospel brings,
Bids me fly and gives me wings.
And this is exactly why I believe we need to preach the gospel every week. Why we need to be a Christ-centered, gospel-centered church because we too often forget that the gospel gives us wings and it is too easy to get sucked into the trap that the gospel says we must do this in order to live.
SET YOUR MIND ON CHRIST
Now I want us to look at verses 1-4 because in those 4 verses we can see a very theologically correct way of understanding our responsibility towards holiness. And that theologically correct way is that it’s all centered on Christ. It’s all found in Christ. First, Paul begins with if you’ve been raised with Christ, first you must be born again. Secondly, set your mind on Christ. You must first be raised with Christ – you must first be born again in order to set your heart and mind on Christ. If you don’t know Christ you can’t set your heart and your mind there. Paul will explain what that looks like over the next six verses. Third, Paul ends be reminding us all what we have in Christ. We have died, been hidden, and glorified with Christ.
So it’s important I think that we see this outline because it’s a sandwich. When I was growing up I was taught that if you ever need to give anyone some criticism you should always sandwich it with 2 compliments. Paul here sandwiches our responsibility with Christ’s responsibility. Our responsibility (which is to set our minds on Christ) is sandwiched between 2 powerful reminders of what Christ has already done for us. 1- he has raised us with him and 2- our lives our hidden in him so that one day we will look just like him.
So if that’s not clear enough I don’t know what will be. He has given us 2 entire chapters where he hammers out the gospel so that it’s as clear as a bell. Then he opens up chapter 3 with a “so then, here is how you should now live.” But before he gives those instructions he sandwiches our responsibility with 2 powerful examples of what Christ as already done. Then, he begins to unpack our instructions. Lets look at them.
“Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you.”
In order for us to properly place our minds or set our affections on Christ, we must be diligent to put to death all that is earthly in ourselves. Now this term earthly is really not the best translation because it puts a false dichotomy between earth and heaven or between our flesh and our spirit – that’s dualism. Our flesh is not necessarily bad, one day our body’s will rise. And the earth is not inherently evil, God created the earth. Literally it could be translated members or limbs. So we are to put to death our limbs that are focused on old lusts and passions. This is a metaphor – much like the metaphor that Jesus used when he said, “If you’re right eye causes you to stumble then pluck it out.” The point is that we should be hostile towards our impure passions. You should see these limbs as gangrenous limbs that will eventually destroy you. They will eventually kill you – so before they kill you – you better kill them. Put to death is most literary translated murder. “Murder your impure limbs!”
Next Paul is gonna list out the gangrenous limbs and we will see that they are passions of the heart. They are passionate affections, they are intense emotions. In fact, as we look at the list it will be obvious that they fall into 2 categories. The first category is sexual and the second is anger. Again, these are clearly heart passions. These intense emotions have an amazing ability to over take you and control you and to make you do things that you never thought you could do. Before you even know it, it’s too late – you’ve done things and you’ve said things that you can never take back. And all you can say is, “Well I was overcome with anger – I was burning with lust and didn’t mean too.” Lets look at the 2 lists:
Evil Desires (lit. desire or urges)
Greed (lit. unchecked hunger)
Anger (constant state of)
Rage (anger in action)
Malice (to cause hurt)
Slander (lit. blasphemy – image of God)
Filthy Language (fowl – hurtful)
Now, let me say this, Paul is not talking about temptation. Temptation is a completely different thing. You can’t control temptation – you cant stop it from entering into your heart, you can’t control those thoughts that pop into your mind or the words you want to say to your coworker, or when your blood starts to boil and your tempted to throw a punch. That’s temptation and Paul is not talking about temptation. Listen, if you human your gonna be tempted. If your man you’re going to have lustful thoughts and if you’re a woman you’re going to get jealous. If you’re a human being you’re going to get angry. The Bible teaches that temptation is not a sin. Jesus was tempted. Temptation is not a sin.
The question is, how should a Christian, one who has been raised into a new life with Christ, handle temptation? You must murder that thing before becomes an action.
When a tide of passion or a surge of anger is felt, it must be dealt with as the alien intruder it really is, and turned out of the house as having no right to be there at all, let alone to be giving orders. This is often harder than it sounds, but it must be constantly attempted, and reliance on the grace which was continually renews the life of the Christian.” NT Wright
My guess is that most of us don’t just fall into temptation or fall into sin every once in a while. My guess is that most of us struggle with one particular sin probably one in this list – and it’s not like you’re falling into it but more like you keep jumping into it. It’s probably a habitual thing. Now, if that is true, then it’s obvious that you’re not viewing that temptation as a rancid, pussing, gangrenous limb that needs to be murdered. If you have a rancid pussing limb and you don’t cut it off it will destroy you – it will kill you – you have to take it off. It needs to be rejected forcefully. We have the permission to murder it. If there’s one thing we should be angry about its temptation that seeks to rob us of the life that we’ve already been given in Christ.
So heres the bottom line, is your affection placed on Christ, or something else. And, when that something else seeks your affections do you want to murder it or do you want to put it in a cage. Religion seeks “to put the wild animals of lust and hatred into cages: there they remain, alive and dangerous, a constant threat to their capture. Paul’s solution is more drastic: the animals are to be killed. The old method of holiness attacks symptoms: the true method goes for the root.” (NT Wright)
Okay so this is what I’m afraid of for myself and and for this church. And I have seen this thing play out so many times and, honestly, I’m afraid of it. And that is this – I’m afraid that a particular brand of Christianity may encourage you to put a lot of energy and a lot of effort in controlling the animal -putting it in a cage and saying I’m not going to do this, I’m going to button it down – I’m going to hold it at bay when instead we should put that same energy and effort into truly knowing Jesus. We need to increase our affections for Jesus, because there is an expulsive power in a new affection. Stop feeding the beast! don’t try to put the lion in a cage. Murder it – feed your new affection.
FOR WITH CHRIST YOU…
Paul ends our section in verse 11 by saying Christ is all, and in all. He’s supreme. Paul brings us back to Jesus. Never forget it’s all about Jesus and so I want to go back to verse 3 – that bottom half of the sandwich, where Paul reminds us that – if this is what you’re going to need to do – then don’t forget what Jesus has already done and promised to do. Verse 3 and 4 tell us 4 things that we have in Christ.
1st, we died with Christ
2nd, we are hidden in Christ
3rd, our life is Christ
4th, we will be glorified with Christ when he returns.
We already know that we have died and been resurrected with Christ – that we have been born again but Paul says that our lives our hidden in Christ. This is powerful because our lives have secret hidden truth about them. The gospel itself is often called the mystery of Christ. It is a hidden mystery that God would become a man to die for our sins. But now, because we have been saved by that mystery, it is a mystery that you and I are saved. It is hidden in Christ. It doesn’t always seem that obvious. You cant really tell just by looking, but there is a special hidden mystery about us. Most of the world can not see that we are saints. That we have been born again. Most of the time you can’t even see it. But you are.
Earlier in Colossians Paul has told us, more than once, that you have been filled with all the fullness of Christ. I cant really see that by look at you, because it is hidden – but it is in there. It is hidden that Christ is in you (Col 1:14 says “this Mystery is Christ in you”), that’s hidden, but he is in there. It is hidden that we have the powerful Holy Spirit filling our very being – but he’s in there.
Not only are our lives hidden in Christ but Paul tells us that Christ is our life. Our lives are so intertwined and interwoven with Christ that we are hidden in him and he is our very life. This is much like saying, “For her, soccer is life” or “Baseball is his life.” For us – Christ is life. He is all and in all. And so, we are hidden in him and he is our very life and when he returns we will be glorified with him. And then at that moment all that had been hidden will be revealed – and when that happens I will see you has truly you are – a holy being made holy by Christ. One author said if the world could see us as were really are, hidden in Christ, they would be moved to worship us. You are a glorious being. In Christ you are given a completely new life, that life is hidden in his and one day the world and you will finally see just what you have become.
Do you know what this means? It means that the activity of putting to death all those affections that are contrary to our lives which are hidden in Christ is not an exhausting activity of trying really hard to make ourselves into a new person. Instead, it is being true to who we already are. We are not trying to change ourselves, we simply need to be the the person we already are, even though we can’t quite see him/her yet. It is already written on your DNA. It is there and it is inevitable, we are just waiting for it to be revealed. We might say that holiness is encoded on your DNA and we are just waiting for to replicate itself.