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Colossians (2013)

Set Your Mind

Colossians  2:13 - 3:4

Lesson audio

Change in Nature

Colossians 2:13-17 NASB  (13)  When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,  (14)  having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  (15)  When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.  (16)  Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--  (17)  things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

 

You Were Dead

One of the most distressing points made in the Scriptures is simply this: you sin, you die. The greatest example of this is found in Genesis, with Adam. Here is a man with a perfect heredity and no parents to mess it up. He’s in a perfect environment; he’s given a perfect job and a perfect wife — who seems to have no problem whatsoever going around absolutely naked. The only complication is that he has given one rule that he must follow: don’t eat from that tree. Violating the rule invokes the death penalty, which gives you an idea of just how seriously God takes sin. This is a reflection of the perfection of God, and the consequence of the imperfection of man.

We may distinguish to separate but connected causes.

·         First, we should acknowledge that there are specific and individual sins which our memories will quickly bring to our minds. It is probable that each and every one of us would be somewhat embarrassed if a complete video of our life story was to play at the local theater.

·         In addition to that, however, we have the fact that it appears that people are sinners by nature. In most of Christendom this is referred to as original sin.

It should be noted that original sin carries with it a sexual connotation. Augustine, who first enunciated the doctrine, needed a mechanism to explain how original sin was passed from one generation to the next. He was quite clear on the fact that there is one thing which certainly occurred in creating the next generation: sex between mom and dad. He therefore concluded that the method of passing original sin from one generation to the next came when the father “lusted” after the mother, resulting in pregnancy. The difficulty with this mechanism is that it implies that sex, even sex between a husband and wife, is intrinsically sinful. Please be careful to note that Paul does not create this doctrine; he simply assumes that it’s obvious to you that you were a sinner by nature before Christ changed your nature. The impact of the Greek philosophical idea that the flesh — or anything material — is intrinsically evil might possibly be the connecting thread. At this point we must leave the matter to the reader; the important point is that it is not just your specific transgressions but the fact that you are human and fallen that made you dead.

How Christ Dealt with This

Paul now tells us that Christ made us alive by forgiving our sins. It is an astounding statement. We may well ask two important questions. The first is, by what right did Christ forgive our sins. The second is like it; by what method did he forgive our sins.

Let’s take the question of method first. Paul makes the comparison here to something called a “certificate of debt.” Think about it this way. If you buy a house, you most likely will have to take out a mortgage. That means the bank has loaned you the money for the house and you must pay it back. Members of an older generation will remember the existence of something called a “mortgage button.” Picture a thumbtack with an ivory head which was driven into the lowest part of the banister of a staircase in the house to signify that the house had been paid off. In this view your sins are debt — and Christ paid that debt at the cross.

Of course, one might object that such sins as I have committed were offenses against other people — and therefore only those other people have the right to forgive me. I would make two points in contrast to this:

·         The first is that every sin against someone else is also a sin against God, who has provided us with our standard of conduct. So at the very least Christ is entitled to forgive us on behalf of God, for he is divine.

·         Perhaps more important is this: the people I have sinned against may have no means of exacting retribution from me. God, on the other hand, has every means needed. It is a practical fact: if God forgives you, your enemy’s retribution is pretty much meaningless.

There is a formal aspect to this also. One occasionally hearers of a criminal case in which the District Attorney’s office refuses to file charges for one reason or another. That does not affect the actual guilt or innocence of the accused; but it certainly affects what happens to them. In that same sense Christ at the cross has forbidden the accuser of mankind to bring accusation against his children. Satan has been denied the right to be the accuser of your soul. If there is no accusation there is no trial. If there is no trial there is no guilt. If there is no guilt there is no punishment.

As a side note, it should be noted that this set of facts is what we commemorate in communion. Lately, we have been encouraged to “pause and reflect” during communion, without specifying what we are to reflect about. The older method which commanded us, “let a man examine himself,” points us specifically to our sins. I leave the decision as to whether or not we have improved things as an exercise to the reader.

Act As Judge

Just as Christ has prevented the process of accusation from occurring in the spiritual realm, we are in this passage forbidden to allow this in the physical realm as well. We are not to let someone accuse us on the basis of such things as what we eat and drink. This warning is not something which is lost its effect with time. The most recent instance of such an accusation concerns alcohol. Before the twentieth century most Christians considered that consuming alcohol was a normal part of life. For a variety of reasons the temperance movement arose in the United States, and Christians were told that drinking alcohol was absolutely sinful under all circumstances. We were persuaded that the apostles used grape juice instead of wine for the Last Supper. (This, by the way, is false.) Throughout Christian history there have been various pious prohibitions proclaimed.

To get your thinking straight, there is nothing wrong with having a personal rule which forbids alcohol — or pork, or meat in general, or mashed potatoes for that matter. An alcoholic will do well to prohibit himself alcohol. What is forbidden here is judgment on that basis.

What’s interesting is the reason that Paul gives for this. He could certainly justify this based upon Christ’s prohibitions on judgment. He does not. He points out that such self-restraint, such a set of rules is nothing more than a foreshadowing of what is to come when Christ returns. At the return of Christ, sin and death are destroyed. There is therefore no known reason for such a rule to last into that era. The particular reason for this is that the “substance” belongs to Christ. The Greek word used for substance might be translated in the vernacular as, “the real thing.” (The Greek word is soma, which is also the word that is used for “body.”) So we are allowed to have such rules as temporary expedients to get us through this life, but we are not allowed to judge our fellow Christian based on such things.

False Humility

Colossians 2:18-23 NASB  (18)  Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,  (19)  and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.  (20)  If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,  (21)  "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!"  (22)  (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?  (23)  These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

 

Keep Defrauding

Of course, most of us don’t think of ourselves as being particularly judgmental. In Fact, these things usually arise from people of the position of leadership of one sort or another. So the question naturally arises, who are these people and how do I know what they look like?

The first thing to look for is what Paul refers to as an inflated, fleshly mind. Pay particular attention to the phrase, “keep defrauding.” It means that this action is something which is continually done. When not looking out for somebody here who makes a mistake; that’s going to happen to all of us. We’re going to have dumb ideas. What we are looking for is someone who continually does this. There are two symptoms in particular that Paul points out:

·         The first is a delight in “self abasement.” Other translations are a little more helpful here, using the phrase “false humility.” This is the guy who informs you that he is, shucks, just a good old boy, one of the people who happens to be gosh awful humble. Remember, overstating how little you are is a form of lying.

·         The second is rather specific: the worship of angels. This is a specific instance of a Gnostic heresy — the idea that you had some sort of revelation brought to you by an angel just specifies the delivery method. A good example for most Americans is Mormonism; Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by an angel named Moroni.  It’s hard making up good biblical names.

The Solution

Of course, practically any teacher can — and will, at one time or another — get the idea that he has come across something that is radically, wonderfully revealing and obviously correct. The question then is what do you do with it. You need, as a teacher, to have the humility to say that this may be very brilliant but also wrong. You need to test it, and testing it is done against the word of Christ. As Thomas à Kempis put it,

The teaching of Jesus far transcends all the teachings of the Saints and whosoever has His spirit will discover concealed in it heavenly manna.

You go off track when you get disconnected from Jesus. It’s that simple. But if you are connected to Jesus, then you are connected to his church. Paul tells us three things about this kind of connection:

·         First, it is a source of supply. Again and again the teacher finds that he must go back to Christ. There is such a thing as writer’s block; there is such a thing as teacher’s block. The solution is in Christ.

·         Second, everything holds together in Christ. If you’re comparing two sections of Scripture and wonder how they can possibly both be true, the answer will inevitably be found in Christ. It usually will not be found in cleverness.

·         Finally, as the teacher will tell you, if you are in Christ you are growing.

Identify the Problem

There are three things in this passage I would point out to you as dangerous.

·         The first is self-made religion. My son gave me an interesting distinction in this; he compared natural and synthetic religion. Synthetic religion is focused around the man in the pew; it’s designed to move, motivate and bless that man. Natural religion is designed to worship God. Religion that God designs does this, as it should. Religion that man designs must therefore focus on something else — and making the man in the pew feel good is usually the most profitable.

·         The second is the danger of false humility. We have been taught so much that humility is a virtue, and a rare one, that any manifestation of it appears quite charming. But remember that false humility is just that: false. If you’re lying about your humility, you’re still lying.

·         The third concerns the severe treatment of the body. If you have someone who is constantly working up passion over the issue of fasting, the prohibition of certain foods or drinks, or anything else which relates to the idea that what you do to the body is the most important thing you can do, you have somebody who is missing the point.

Set Your Mind on Things Above

Colossians 3:1-4 NASB  Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  (2)  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.  (3)  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  (4)  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

 

Diversion

The reader will note we have consistently used the New American Standard Bible in this lesson. If you will look at verse two, you will see why. The opening phrase is, “set your mind.” If you examine this same passage in the New International Version you will see the phrase, “set your heart.” It is a cautionary tale. An examination of the Greek will show you that the translation we have used is correct, and that heart is the wrong word. The translators of the NIV knew this as well as we would. But Bible translation is not an exact science. Where did the NIV get this phrasing?

The answer, simply, is that this phrasing came from the King James. That translation uses the word “affections.” Where did the King James get it? From the agreement in the two most prominent translations which came before it: the Geneva Bible (the Bible used by the Pilgrims in America) and the Bishops Bible, the official version of the Church of England at the time. The King James being somewhat of a compromise in translation, this fortuitous agreement was adopted as correct. The NIV simply carried it forward into modern language. Their argument would be that it is easier to understand; the NASB typically strives for a more accurate, literal translation. There’s a reason you have more than one translation on your shelves.

The difficulty, of course, comes in today’s anti-intellectual attitude in the Christian churches. It is a common thought in the brotherhood which your teacher espouses that intellectual Christians are, by definition, hypocrites. “Check your brain at the door, because God wants your heart.” Translating the Scriptures is not for the faint of heart.

Raised up

In an oblique reference to baptism, Paul points out that you have been “raised up.” The key thing to note is that your new status is not because you have volunteered for baptism, but because God has done something for you. It’s not something you did for yourself. A common parallel used is that you have accepted a gift. If you’re going to brag about it, you have to state that you are smart enough to have seen the obvious.

So what should you do about it? You had a change of direction when you become a Christian; more importantly, you had a change of destination. Focus on the new destination, or as Paul puts it here, such your mind on things above. Let me give you some examples.

·         Consider your marriage. If you’re not a Christian, marriage is a balance of power arrangement — and you want the balance of power to favor you. Once you become a Christian, your model for marriage is no longer balance of power, but the relationship of Christ and his church. Space does not permit a full explanation of this — but it’s definitely different.

·         Next, look at what you’re ambitious about. Most of us have enough ambition to at least get by; some of us have a lot more. That’s not so much the problem as the direction of the ambition. Director ambition to being the kind of Christian you should be.

·         Perhaps the most telling of all is this: pride. The world considers pride a virtue; arrogance is to be treasured. In the church, the comparison is between you and Christ — which does tend to greatly diminish pride.

Hidden with Christ

When you do this, the world around you isn’t going to “get it.” They do not see what you see — the truth of Christ. As a result, they’re going to be puzzled by your actions. In particular their going to wonder why you don’t do the things you used to do. To them, you are “hidden.”

There are three primary areas in which the Christian’s conduct changes.

·         The first is with regard to the flesh. At the time of this writing American society is absolutely fixated on sex. It is inconceivable to the average American that you would not act in a manner which would maximize the number of people with whom you have sexual intercourse. The Christian, on the other hand, looks at the relationships of this world as either practice or the beginning of relationships in eternity.

·         The second is with regard to the world — things like your car, boat, house and so forth. The world sees this as being a case of bigger is better. The Christian sees things as opportunities to spend money — some of which fit in this world, some of which are on things above. It’s a great moment in Christian growth when you give up something the world thinks is wonderful (for example, that cruise ship tour) in favor of giving someone else in the world a chance to hear the gospel.

·         Finally, there is pride. As we mentioned above, arrogance is considered a virtue in this world. If you can shout down your opponent, if you can humiliate those who are of different opinion, the world considers you a wonderful, successful person. It’s just possible that you are a wonderful, successful jerk.

Ultimately, the source of your actions will be revealed. At the very latest this will happen when Christ returns, and the things that are spiritual will become the things that are obvious. The problem is, it’s too late to do anything about it then.

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