The Power of the Gospel for Real Change: Reflections on the Process of Sanctification from Colossians 2:20-3:5 (Part 2)

the_gospel_changes_everythingLegalism is a soul-deadening misrepresentation of Christianity! My wife and I lived for years in a community that was plagued by dysfunctional Christianity, where the perception of most preachers and churches was “God loves you if you do good things and avoid bad ones.” As a result our small congregation was full of many de-churched people who, because their lives were messy, felt they could never be welcomed in more traditional churches. We’ve seen first hand the whole that legalism creates in the soul. But if rule keeping can’t change us, what hope is there? The only real hope for change is the gospel.

We’ve been look at how Paul unpacks the process of sanctification in Colossians 2:20-3:5. We saw last week that he starts by dismissing self-restraint as the primary means of transformation. This week in chapter 3, verses 1-4, Paul encourages us to see that “in Christ” we have a new life. The text reads:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

There is a possibility for transformation, even from life dominating sin, because Christ is our life. This new life gives us a new perspective that can reshape the way we think, and, as Paul says elsewhere, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

Sin deceives us. It convinces us that we need what God himself cannot supply, won’t supply, or won’t supply in our timeframe. So we must seize it. This is certainly true as we look at Adam and Eve. They desired what they did not believe God would give them. Even the knowledge of good and evil, which God desires for us (1 Kings 3:9-10), was seized by Adam and Eve instead of granted by God as part of their growth into maturity. What we need, then, is to consider our relationship to Christ, the freedom we have in him, the new life we have in him. Alasdair Groves writes:

Awaken to reality. We are with Christ. We are in Christ. We are raised with him. It’s a done deal! So it no longer makes any sense to live for things in this world. Because we died with Christ, because we live in Christ, the time that remains is a foretaste of the delightful fullness of righteousness to come. So we are to “seek the things that are above.” This invites application as deep as Scripture and as broad as human struggles range. (“Exposing the Lies of Pornography and Counseling the Men Who Believe Them,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, 27.1. p. 20)

Elsewhere Paul records that we are “dead to sin.” That sin “no longer has dominion” over us. He urges us to think on the things that are above, again and again, to not live for this world. A right perspective goes a long way. It encourages us to expose the lies of sin, particularly the lies that say things like “you have to do this,” “you can’t stop,” “you won’t be happy unless you do this.” A right perspective instead encourages us to see our identity, happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment, and future in relation to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

What does this look like? Applied to our lives this means drawing closer to Jesus to see our sin and temptations more clearly. Again Groves writes:

It means Jesus Christ really is the person that sinners need most in the battle with ingrained patterns of sin! Paul is saying we do not avoid sin by rules. Instead, we fight by pressing closer to the source of our new life – Christ himself. Only a love for Christ that is fiercer than our love of our own comfort, escape, and pride will ever overcome the selfishness of [sin]. And Jesus Christ himself fans that love into flame in our hearts by revealing to us what he has done and is doing for us. (21)

The gospel reshapes us by telling us that Christ is our life!

Sex is not your life. Money is not your life. Boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, children, job, home, fame, recognition, health, nor anything else is your life! If you are a Christian, then Jesus is your life and this realization can reshape the way you approach and handle sin. The rules are not irrelevant. We must fight sin. We must put it to death. But we begin here with our identity firmly rooted in Christ and what he has done for us. We are not changed primarily by what we do, but by what he has done for us and how he now helps us, reshapes us, and works in us to transform us to be more like him.

The gospel changes everything, most notably those of us who believe.

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