The following post is the manuscript of a Sunday teaching I delivered on May 10, 2020.
On the opposite wall from me hangs a sign that says “Family — where life begins & love never ends.”
You probably have a few sayings like that hung around your house. Pithy. Inspirational. What would it take for that sign to be true–actually true–not just an idea? It would take a group of people in that home acting on that very conviction. This framework is not unique to the church. Most groups have some sort of mission or aim that it directs its members to achieve or be.
What sets the Christian community apart from other types of community groups?
Right now our world is longing for this answer. When the church understands the character and priorities it possesses innately as the body of Jesus–the world just isn’t a better place for it– it becomes a taste of heaven on earth for it. As we face pressures in our world, we must be reminded of who God has called us to be.
This is the precise place where we find ourselves in today’s teaching text. Let me give you the previously on…Colossians is a letter written to a church that is facing pressure to acquiesce to the philosophy of the world around them. This pressure comes from inside and outside the church.
Paul is writing to a group of believers whom he wants to remind them that their experience can catch up to reality. Paul wants them to aspire to be like Christ because through Christ God sees them as actually like Him. Therefore, they don’t need external practices to make them appear to be what they in fact actually are. Because we know that Jesus is really raised from the dead, then our identification with Him becomes real.
Paul has set this all up to Colossians 3:5. In verse 5, we get another “therefore.” A tip whenever you read the Bible, whenever you see “therefore” you must ask “what’s that there for?”
Paul’s thesis in the section: Live in the present as the kind of human you will become.
Paul gives us two responses to the proposition: Live in the present as the kind of humans you will become.First, put to death, or get rid of sinful behavior.
To describe this new humanity Paul first contrasts their old way of living with their new way of living. Here’s an important piece to remember, Paul has commended these believers for their faith. So he is firmly aware that they know the difference. They have already undergone a change, but current pressures them back to their old way of living. Paul mentions “put off.” This word picture here is that of changing clothes. You wore these desires that drive everyday life. You were ruled by them.
Paul’s lists mostly include a distorted sexual ethic and destructive speech. Paul is fully aware these believers are surrounded by a context and culture. Therefore, they need to be reminded that certain sins the culture around them are guilty of; these sins should not be present with them. Paul makes sure to remind them–the wrath of God comes on them.
There was an image of a dress going around a few years ago. The image divided everyone into one of two groups. People either said the dress was black and blue or the dress was white and gold. While the colors on the dress were debatable, Christian living should be as obvious as two different color of shirts
To this fact, Paul continues “According to the image of Him who created him.” There is no way that Jesus would walk in any of these sins, so if we identify with Him, we won’t walk in them either. We should be eager to get rid of behavior that does not reflect that heavenly mind-set.
At Generations Church, we have a value called Progress over Perfection. Our desire is to become more like Christ. It’s his perfection that lives in and through us. We do not have to be perfect, however, we should see progress marked by increasing Christlikeness in our lives.
Those who are part of Generations Church, we must put these sinful actions off by identifying sin in our own life and naming it to Jesus. This habit individually provides the groundwork for the second response.
Second, the Colossian Christians are to collectively embody the new humanity. The response here is a frame of reference–with the eternal perspective in view, the church community the Colossians are currently part of should have no barriers based on ethnic identity, socio-economic status, background, heritage, etc. The renewal refers not simply to an individual change of character, but also to a corporate recreation of humanity in the creator’s image.
Christians are saved through their union with Christ, and they follow Christ’s model and teaching in faith and ethics. The church as the embodiment of the gospel is an essential form of witness to a watching world.
This community differs from other major religions of the world where one’s ethnicity, place of birth, and family link faith and society, believer and citizen, doctrine and culture, and church to state. The church is composed of voluntary disciples. Biblically, one is not a member of the church on the basis of citizenship, ethnic identity, or birth into a particular group.
This work of the new creation not only deals with the old man and gives us the new man patterned after Jesus Christ; it also breaks down the barriers that separate people in society. Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free: The new man is part of a family, which favors no race, nationality, class, culture or ethnicity. Paul uses these descriptions because they were the barriers in the Roman world that were now broken down because of Christ.
We want people to become like Jesus. The temptation will be to make them like us. This is what Paul has just addressed with the false teachers; people do not need to become like you in order to then become like Christ.
Among new creation people it doesn’t matter if one is Greek or Jew or circumcised or uncircumcised or a Scythian or a slave or a free man. All those barriers are broken down. It only favors Jesus, because in this new family, Christ is all and in all.
Jews are still Jews in Christ; Gentiles are still Gentiles in Christ; black is black in christ; Latino is Latino in Christ; as a white male, I am still a white male in Christ. These earthly identities are no longer what is most important: solidarity in Christ is now the ruling paradigm for the new community.
The Christian who lives in North American should have more in common with His Chinese brother and sister in Christ than the unbeliever in their town. We should never surrender the essence of the Christian faith in the name of a common essence.
So what does that mean for us?
- Identity emerges not from one’s ethnicity, heritage, or status but from Christ. If you are not a follower of Jesus — you are offered a new identity.
- Because of Jesus mustn’t be something we simply say, but something we live. If we are Christ’s body collectively then we must collectively put off sin. To collectively put off sin we must individually put off sin internally and externally while putting on Christ. Paul envisions a new kinship, the family of Jesus, in which Christ brings together what had always been separate. What I want to say–this means that we identity lines that we draw to divide must become lines we cross.
How does this happen? It happens through communion. We develop greater unity with Jesus when we commune with him. When we have a conversation with him. We develop unity with other believers when we commune with them, when we have conversations with them.
Communion leads to care.
As we look at two buzz words in our culture, racism and ethnocentrism. Let’s look to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. His murder was evil. We must call out racism.
The church becomes the locale for healing when we say it and then display it. It matters what you say on social media about something far away because it produces a witness in every day.
Further, we must identify ethnocentrism. It means that we have brothers and sisters in Christ in China and we won’t stand for the belittlement of Chinese Christians and the Chinese people.
Our union with Christ leads to a unity that is displayed in morals and care by a diverse group of people.
What sets the Christian community apart from other types of community groups?
Christ is all and in all.