Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Prayer for Purification

I sin - Grant that I may
never cease grieving because of it,
never be content with myself,
never think I can reach a point of perfection.

Kill my envy, command my tongue,
trample down self.

Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure,
to live for thee and not for self,
to copy thy words, acts, spirit,
to be transformed into thy likeness,
to be consecrated wholly to thee,
to live eternally to thy glory.

Deliver me from attachment to things unclean,
from wrong associations,
from the predominance of evil passions,
from the sugar of sin as well as its gall,
that with self-loathing, deep contrition,
earnest heart searching
I may come to thee, cast myself on thee,
trust in thee, cry to thee,
be delivered by thee.

O God, the Eternal All, help me to know that
all things are shadows, but thou art substance,
all things are quicksands, but thou art mountain,
all things are shifting, but thou art anchor,
all things are ignorance, but thou art wisdom.

If my life is to be a crucible amid burning heat,
so be it,
but do thou sit at the furnace mouth
to watch the ore that nothing be lost.

If I sin wilfully, grievously, tormentedly,
in grace take away my mourning
and give me music;
remove my sackcloth
and cloth me with beauty;
still my sighs
and fill my mouth with song,
then give me summer weather as a Christian.

From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Colossians 10: Live As Christ

Scripture Text: Colossians 3:12-17

Introductory Comments

This is the second of two messages that paint pictures of the two basic ways in which human beings live. We talked about the first painting, which consisted of two panels, last week. You may recall that the first painting presented, as it were, the same person from two different perspectives, in sin, and apart from God. We imagined together that the person in question was wearing the tattered clothing of human, worldly sin: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5). That was the first panel of the first painting. In the second panel, we see another view of the same person, this time with the sin-saturated clothing of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk.” (3:8). Writing to a group of gentile Christians who have received the Gospel, Paul admonishes the Colossians, and us, to be sure that these old, tattered garments have been put off completely so that no remnant remains, not even a thread. Why? Because Christians are those who have been transferred into a new kingdom, the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, and have been issued new garments that are appropriate for a place of marked everywhere with God’s holiness and peace.

This week, we look at the second of the two paintings. This painting shows us the glorious garments of the new life in Christ. The same person is pictured, having been rescued by God from slavery to sin in the world, and transferred into this new kingdom. What does this new life in Christ look like? What are some of the hallmarks that identify a life lived for Christ rather than for the self?  What we find out is that the new life in Christ looks very much like Jesus.

You Have New Titles

Before we get there, though, Paul opens by referring to the Christians in Colossae with some significant new titles. He refers to them as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (3:12).

A couple of truths stand out here. First, Christians are chosen by God. You do not become a Christian by simply exerting willpower. Salvation comes to men and women by the gracious choosing of a totally sovereign, just, and righteous God. No one deserves to be chosen because of sin. Nevertheless God, in his great mercy and out of his steadfast love, chooses those whom will become heirs in the kingdom. R.C. Sproul succinctly captures just how astonishing a thing it is for God to so choose a people for himself. He said: “The question is not, ‘Why is there only one way [to God]?’ but ‘Why is there even one way?’”1 His quote captures the tragic seriousness of the sin that condemns us to eternal separation from God and the gracious love of God that chooses to save people from such just fate.

Second, when a person is chosen by God and given the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, that person becomes “holy and beloved” by God. Christ is called the Holy One of God by Peter in John 6:69. And here it is Christians being called holy. This means that if you are in Christ, if you are alive in him, you are a holy creature in the eyes of God. Moreover, because you have the appearance of Christ, you are beloved by God, even as Jesus is beloved by God.  At the river Jordan, what were the words that God spoke at Jesus’ baptism? “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mk. 1:11). In Christ, you are beloved by God, just as God’s Son is beloved by the Father.

This is what it means to live by grace. For the Christian, God’s choosing puts you into a new status of holiness, and in that status you are beloved by God, just as Jesus is beloved by God. This should come as a great joy to you, because it means you have been totally, fully accepted by God. You have been granted full, free pardon for the sin that would disqualify you from His presence, You lack nothing if you are in Christ. You are co-heirs with him in the Kingdom of God. And nothing in the universe can take that away from you.

So that is the status you have before God when you are saved and granted the gift of eternal life. This is important to know before we get into the details of the Christian’s new clothing. The list we’ll go through assumes salvation from God. The list itself is a overflowing of what God does when you are saved. If you think this is a list of how to be good so as to receive God’s favor, then you need to pray deeply that God will show you the truth in his Word. These next exhortations are for those who have already been chosen for salvation in Christ Jesus. That is precisely what the person in this second painting represents.

As we look at the painting, then, what do we see?
[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.
The New Person Looks Like Jesus

What we see is a new person, putting on news clothes with attributes that are those of Jesus Christ. Therefore, what these verses tell us about is not who we are by ourselves, but who Jesus is and what we look like if we live for Him as Lord.

It is Jesus, the holy and beloved one of God, who in his ministry exemplified the perfect compassionate heart. He cared for other people, he healed the sick, he gave sight to the blind, and he cast out demons. It is Jesus who showed the perfectly kindness of God. He showed tremendous mercy and forgiveness to sinners, Jew and Gentile alike. It is Jesus who lived with perfect humility and meekness before God the Father. Paul writes in Philippians 2:24 about Jesus this way: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He humbly served his disciples in the upper room when he washed their feet. Jesus showed perfect patience, keeping his disciples close by even though they at times seemed totally clueless as to who Jesus was and what he would do. Finally, does not Jesus show us the perfect picture of bearing with us by granting perfect forgiveness to us through his death on the cross? Though he was totally without sin and innocent before God, he nevertheless willingly took the punishment that was due to us for our sin so that we might be preserved from God’s wrath. As he did this, he said these words, in the midst of the pain and agony, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).  That is the picture of perfect forbearance and forgiveness rooted in perfect love. It is available to you if you have not already received Jesus and believed in Him.

The picture we are looking at then, of this man wearing these new clothes, looks remarkably like the person and work of Jesus our Lord. And we are charged with living life in Him. And so Paul admonishes Christians to live into this new life they have already been granted in Christ.

As the Holy Spirit works sanctification in the lives of the saints (that’s you) your life will increasingly take on these attributes. Not because you think that by doing them you’ll advance in spiritual sophistication, but because God is working in you, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). God desires you to live in such a way as you will please him and bring him glory, and it is God who does this work in his children. This was the plan from before you were born. Most people know Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But you can’t interpret that verse without verse 29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Your salvation was part of God’s eternal plan from before you were born, but so also was your sanctification. If you are in Christ, you will be conformed to the image of God’s Son. And that image looks like the image of the man clothed in Christ here in Colossians 3:12-14.

Is Your Life Peaceful?

[15] And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. [16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
As those who confess Jesus as Lord live with one another, Paul charges them with letting Christ’s peace rule their hearts. You can’t very well live as Christ’s body in unity unless Christ’s peace dwells within. We often want to resist this peace, especially when we become angry with one another. If there is a disagreement between believers, the sinful response will be an overriding desire to win the argument at the expense of the other believer. But Christians are called to let peace reign over theirs hearts. When this happens, when you now the peace of Christ, you are enabled by grace to seek reconciliation first, rather than victory, because you already share in victory of Christ.  This kind of reconciliation and peace can only be experienced if truth faith in the Lordship of Jesus is present throughout the body of believers.

Paul continues with his exhortations, this time regarding our worship: “[16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”  What does it mean to “let the word of Christ dwell in your richly”? It means to deeply drink from the word of truth, the bible, which is the key to developing a deeper understanding of the implication of the gospel - of what Jesus accomplished for our salvation.  How do we drink deeply from this well? One way is here in worship when we submit before the word of God with thanksgiving and praise. Another way is through the self-discipline of daily bible readings. The word of Christ cannot dwell deeply if we watch three or four hours of television a night, followed by three minutes in the scriptures.

The word is necessary for life in this new kingdom into which we have been transferred. The book tells us who the king of the land is, what he is like, and what he commands. Paul also tells believers that they are to teach and admonish others with all wisdom. This kind of think cannot happen unless believers, and especially church leaders, drink deeply from the blessed font of God’s Word, in worship and at home. Paul indicates that we actually show our thanks to God when we do this.

Paul concludes this section of the letter in verse 17 this way: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Christians live all life in a state of gratitude and thanksgiving. If God did nothing else for you other than bring you to a saving knowledge of his Son, Jesus Christ, the rest of your life can be lived with gratitude. This thanksgiving finds its expression first of all in preaching and worship: “[16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Do you listen to the word of God with thanksgiving? Do you sing hymns and spiritual songs without fearing what your neighbor will think, instead singing out loud to the God who has saved you, and who saved you for the purpose of giving him glory? Some of you may be dismayed to know that this text precludes your silence in worship. Silence can actually be interpreted as a sign that you are worried more about the opinion of your brother or sister than with giving God thanks for your salvation.

Verse 17 also means that all of facets of life we are to give thanks to God. When you get up in the morning, give thanks. Before every meal. Before going to work. During work. As you finish the day’s work. As you share time with friends and family. And as you prepare for sleep. For your next breath. All of life is a precious gift, made more precious for the Christians because it is eternal. Let it always be said of this congregation and of the Church of Christ, “Boy, that is a thankful bunch.” People will want to know why. If they ask, tell them - It’s because of everything Jesus has done for me. Jesus is glorified when we live in a state of gratitude. Amen.

1As quoted in a tweet from Reformation Trust.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
May 29, 2011
Sixth Sunday in Eastertide
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew