LANZAROTE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP: 24/4/16
READINGS: ROMANS 6: 1-14 & PHILIPPIANS 4:1-9
TITLE: ‘LIVING OUT THE RISEN LIFE’: KEY NO. 3 ‘PUT TO DEATH, THEREFORE, WHATEVER BELONGS TO YOUR EARTHLY NATURE’
Why are we doing this series? Eater Day 4 weeks ago…. thought about the resurrection… the certainty of it… in spite of what convinced atheists say! We believe it…. know it to be true…we gave out the Easter acclamation…. ! But so what? What difference does the resurrection make to us as Christians? What does it mean to be ‘raised with Christ’?
That’s why this series, ‘Living out the Risen Life’…. looking at the steps Paul gives us to live out this new life in Christ. The steps he gave to Colossian Christians who were struggling to live it out themselves… who were listening to false teachers who were saying ‘you are struggling because you faith in Christ is not enough…. we can help you…. you need Christ plus….. Christ plus asceticism/monasticism/enlightenment/human philosophy/visions/law/spiritual experience’.
No, says Paul, it’s not Christ plus anything…. it’s Christ alone… he is all you need… you are complete in him. Then he goes on to give them these practical steps they need to take to live out this risen life: Key 1 – ‘Set your hearts on things above’. Key 2 – ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things’. This week – step 3 – ‘Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature’ (Col.3:5).
Let’s remind ourselves of what makes all this possible – ‘Since you have been raised with Christ’, verse 1 – what that means is spelt out for us in verse 3, ‘For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God’. In other words he’s saying ‘something has happened to you…. you are not the person you once were…. your coming to Christ has changed everything.
Now it is vitally important that we understand this otherwise we might think Paul is exhorting to take these steps in our own strength…. that we have to grit our teeth and ‘be good’….. try to make ourselves better people so that we might become acceptable to God….. drift back into ‘salvation by works’…. ending up in another form of Christ plus…. Christ plus the church….Christ plus good works (very much like R.C teaching).
Paul is not suggesting anything like that… he’s saying ‘I’m giving you these keys…. I’m exhorting you to live the risen life, not in your own strength but in the strength and power of him ho was raised form the dead. You died with him when you came to Christ…. you are now raised with him. That’s the change Paul is talking about here…. everything has changed because of that…. you are now free to ‘set your hearts’, to ‘set your minds on things above’.
Let’s be really clear on what Paul is saying here. He’s saying to the Colossian Christians and he’s saying to you and me, that if we have come to faith in Christ then we are dead and buried. It is no longer we who live, but Christ now lives in us. Mind boggling isn’t it?! But that is what Paul is saying. We are now dead to our old selves and the world governed by sin. We are not the people we once were….’Since we have been raised with Christ’….’…we died and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God‘ Hard to get our heads round this isn’t it?
There is a lovely picture given to us in the O.T. which may just help us. You remember the story of David, Nabal and Abigail. Nabal, a mean, surly man, treated David and his men very badly…. very unfairly. David and his men were going off to avenge the injustices they had endured. Abigail hears of thus, and goes off to meet David to appease him – she says to David, “Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God” ( 1 Samuel 25:29).
Now what does that mean? Well, Abigail is assuring David that the Lord will preserve his life in the midst of danger…. it’s a metaphor of placing a valuable possession in a carefully wrapped package for safe keeping. David was special…. was precious in the Lord’s eyes…. he’s wrapped up in the Lord’s love and care and protection – nothing could alter that. He was safe.
A beautiful picture of what we are in Christ….before we came to Christ, we were in Satan’s grip….he pursued us, he oppressed us…. we believed his lie and he took the life we should have had. But when we came to Christ our lives were hid in Christ, as Paul says. We are precious in God’s sight…. valuable even, in his sight, we are safe and secure in him for all eternity. When we come to Christ, we are hidden in Christ – that means God doesn’t see Adrian with all his faults and failings, he sees Adrian hidden with Christ. We are valuable, not because of any merit of our own, but simply because we have embraced his Son…. we’re all wrapped up in him – and he in us! Amazing.
That’s what we are positionally, says Paul…. God has given you new life…. everything is in place for you to live that new life…. nothing more needs to be done….. nothing more can be done – now live it out. Become what you are!
When we come to Christ, we die to self… to self-will…to our own ambitions… to our own ego… to our own pride…. and we say ‘Christ is all…. Christ is all I need…. he is Lord and I submit to him. I want to live a life that pleases him…. that honours him as my saviour and Lord.’ We have to say ‘no’ to self…. ‘no’ to selfish desires.
How do we do that? We ‘put to death…. whatever belongs to our earthly nature’. And what does that mean in practice? It’s something that is often misunderstood…. misapplied. Go on YouTube and you can see Muslims flagellating themselves as punishment for their sins…. admittedly they are Muslims, but even so called Christians go in for that sort of thing…. wear a belt with nails in to rip the flesh around their midriff… to kill the flesh. Still others have taken Jesus literally and torn out their right eye because they don’t want to look lustfully upon a woman. Does that solve the problem? No, because it’s a heart problem that Jesus is talking about.
It’s not about the killing of the body…. it’s about killing off the deeds of the body…. the deeds of the sinful nature… the deeds of the flesh.
Now this isn’t easy… it’s a battle… it’s a real struggle. It’s a battle between the old nature and our new nature in Christ. We want to live the new life, but something hold us back…. old patterns of thinking and behaviour are still very strong…so the answer is to ruthlessly kill them whatever belongs to our earthly nature. Although we have a new nature on the inside, we have to struggle with the old nature on the outside – that’s our flesh…. our sinful nature…. and it’s a battle royal!
Preparing this sermon, I was reminded of some studying I did many years ago….
When I was a Curate….had to do further theological training in the diocese….very liberal… bible not taken seriously…very frustrated….learnt I could do some study through University of Manchester on a theological subject of my choosing….started Masters Degree…. Subject? ‘The Christian’s Conflict with the World, the flesh and the devil in the theology of John Calvin’. Google it! If you can’t sleep at night, read it? 60,000 word dissertation for my MPhil.
Why that subject? Many Christians placed great emphasis on the works of the devil…. impression in some circles that he was more powerful than God! Christians constantly ‘under attack’…. emphasis on need for prayer to deliver from demonic powers
Seemed to spend more time focussing on Satan than on God! Saw a T shirt I the 70,s – ‘The Devil made me do it!’ – It appeared to me that even Christians were saying the same thing…’ Not my fault…. I was powerless’.
I came across another example of Christians not taking responsibility, this time not blaming the devil, but expecting God to do it all – no consideration for their part in the struggle. This story comes from a back issue I happened to come across of Selwyn Hughes’ ‘Every Day with Jesus’. He tells the story of a woman who wanted him to pray with her about her anger. Selwyn agreed but said to her, ‘What do you expect to happen after I have prayed? She answered, ‘I expect the feelings of anger never again to rise up in me.’ In other words, she was wanting God to take responsibility for getting rid of her feelings. She was not aware that she had any responsibility in the matter. And what was her responsibility? As Selwyn went on to say, ‘To say a thunderous ‘no’ to behaving in any way that contradicted Scripture. Many Christians think that simply to pray, ‘Lord, take away my angry feelings’, is enough. It isn’t. God waits for you to show him your determination – then he will show you His.’
No accountability… no responsibility taken for their actions. Blame the devil, expect God to do it all – No consideration for the part the ‘flesh’…. the sinful nature had played.
That’s what motivated me to start this dissertation….written in stages over several years. As I studied, I was struck by the emphasis Calvin placed on the role the ‘flesh’ had to play in the Christian’s struggle. Didn’t discount Satan in any way, but he did, based on his grasp of NT theology…. especially the teaching of Paul, place a great emphasis on ‘mortification’ – an old fashioned word that he used over and over again.
That emphasis is clearly there in NT (as I have said) – the work of Satan is never overlooked or downplayed…. but the work of the flesh is always highlighted…is always acknowledged…. the responsibility of the Christian to take responsibility for the ‘flesh’ in his own walk is stressed over and over again – we saw that in our two readings this morning. Virtually every letter of Paul has the same emphasis… ‘kill… mortify…’put to death... whatever belongs to your earthly nature’. That’s our responsibility…. that’s our part to play…. that’s our response of we are to live out the risen life.
Paul list in verse 5 those things that belong to our earthly nature that are to be killed off ….‘sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry’. Now we could a lot of time looking at each of those, but we don’t have time for that this morning – I want to focus on just one, greed, or, as in some bible versions, covetousness. Why this one? Because it could be argued that it is the root of so many other sins that inevitably follow on from it.
I remember reading of a Catholic priest who said that in all his years of hearing confessions, nobody had ever confessed the sin of covetousness. Very interesting that. Maybe because for so many it’s no big deal…. hardly worth bothering about…. a bit of greed here and there isn’t going to cause too many problems… a little bit of what you fancy does you good, and all that! Now the downplaying of covetousness is a real work of the enemy. Covetousness is one of the most heinous of sins. That’s why it’s right there I the 10 Commandments.
To covet is to desire something which is forbidden…. to want something that is not yours to have. If you covet…. if you have a covetous heart, then all sorts of evil desires follow on…. that just take over. That’s what James highlights in his letter (4:1-3 – let me read it to you). You see it…you don’t have it… you want it…. you fight for it…. you’ll do anything to get it.
And Paul says covetousness, greed, is actually idolatry. How can he say that? How are the two linked?
God says ‘no’ to something, and self says, ‘yes, but I want it’. What is a good definition of sin? Putting self first….(SIN – ‘I’ in the middle). We don’t worship God, we worship ourselves.
If we truly worshipped God we would say, ‘What pleases you? God says, ‘this pleases me’ and we say, ‘right, I’ll do it’. If you don’t truly worship God as God, you say, ‘Self, what pleases you?’ Self says, ‘I want that’ – but God has said no to that, it is forbidden. Self says, ‘I don’t care. I want that and I’m going to have it’. You bow at the shrine of ‘self’…. you covet…. and out of this deep seated covetousness is generated the evil desire that flames itself into evil thoughts, that in turn manifests itself in evil deeds…. evil actions.
So if you’re going to kill it off, don’t just hack off the branches – deal with the root cause…. the setting yourself up as someone to be worshipped over God – ‘Covetousness, which is idolatry’.
The Greek word for covetousness is ‘pilonexia’ – ‘pilon’ = more and ‘exia’ to have. = To have more…. to want more, but it’s stronger than that – it’s to want more of what is forbidden…. to must have that which isn’t yours to have. That’s why covetousness is so dangerous because it has an insatiable desire… you can never satisfy it… it demands more and more. One Greek writer described it like this, ‘You might as easily satisfy it as to fill a bowl with a hole in it.’ Covetousness is much more powerful than the rather weak translation ‘greed’ which we so easily excuse. Covetousness is a driving force that takes over the human heart. Covetousness is dangerous because it is so destructive.
So how do we handle it? How do we master it? How do we control any of those things associated with our earthly nature? What do we do with something that has an insatiable appetite?
The answer is actually very simple. Don’t feed it! Stop feeding it! If you want to kill it off, starve it to death…. put it on a hunger strike…. commit spiritual suicide! That’s what Paul is saying – that’s the answer to all those things that belong to our earthly nature. Don’t feed them….. don’t keep on feeding them…. don’t even give them little tit bits from time to time…. little ‘treats’ now and again. You have to be ruthless, otherwise you will never overcome them. Cut off the supply… kill them off. That’s how committed we have to be if we are serious about wanting to live out the risen life. That’s ‘mortification’, that old fashioned word that Calvin was so fond of.
That’s the negative step we have to take, but then we also to take the positive step – we have to feed our new nature with what it really desires – the Word of God….the truths about God and his promises to keep us and sustain us…. the words of the Lord Jesus…. the words of Christ who has promised never to leave us or forsake us….. feed on the word of God…. focus on all that has been made available to us in Christ….. put into practice the practical steps Paul gives us in the NT….. feed on the word of God. When battle rages within us….. when those evil desires threaten to overwhelm us, remember what Paul said in out second reading this morning, ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. (and then the promise that follows….) And the God of peace will be with you’ (Phil. 4:8-9).