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“Walking in Him”

Colossians 3:1-17
Bob DeGray
July 30, 2017

Key Sentence

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.


I. The Context (Colossians 2:6-7)
II. So then . . .
     A. Set Your Mind on Things Above (Colossians 3:1-4)
     B. Put to death what is earthly (Colossians 3:5-11)
     C. Put on, as God’s chosen ones (Colossians 3:12-17)


I’ve mentioned before the conference I attended this year, “Reformation 500.” Don Carson talked about justification, Kevin Vanhoozer about “Sola Scriptura,” and Al Moehler talked about our topic for today. “Faith alone justifies, yet the faith which justifies is not alone.” Today’s topic is sanctification, and more than almost any other theological word, this is one that is going to walk with you out the door and into next week. In fact a good definition of sanctification would be walking out your faith. It’s faith in practice, God’s work in our lives to make us what we have already become in justification, to make us like Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. He equips us to do his will and his works, good works which we could not do when we were trapped in sin.

Too often we fail in this, fail to live out our faith, fail to become like Christ, fail to even believe that we can change to do his will and his works. Yet this is the clear teaching of Scripture, and one that we need, that this church needs, that the church needs. I’ve been reading J. C. Ryle’s book “Holiness.” Written in 1879, with a little modernization it sounds like it could have been written this year. He says “I have had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and complete consecration to God are not the object of much interest by modern Christians. Politics, or controversy, or worldliness, have eaten out the heart of active holiness in too many of us.” I’m afraid that’s way more true now. So Ryle set out to make holiness clear and practical “True holiness does not consist merely of believing and feeling, but doing. Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations, our conduct as parents and children, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects, our dress, our employment of time, our behavior in business, our demeanor in sickness and health, in riches and poverty, all these are matters fully treated by the inspired writers.”

We’ll only be able to touch a fraction of these things today in Colossians, but enough that you should be able to leave with something you need to walk out. But let’s begin with a few preliminaries. First, the title and key sentence for this message are taken from Colossians 2:6-7 “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Before you think about sanctification, about walking in Jesus, you’ve got to think about saving faith, as we have in this series. Romans 3 taught us that we are given the free gift of holiness and faithfulness, righteousified though faith. Paul’s point in Colossians 2:6 is that once we do receive him by faith, it is followed immediately by walking it out. You’ve received him, walk in him.

This in turn leads to being rooted in him, built up in him, established in the faith, and thankful. So the first point is that faith walks. You are not saved by faith, but a faith that doesn’t walk is not faith. James will say you can’t tell us you believe and not have works to show for it. Paul agrees, and the reformers agree: we are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone.

But notice that it is a process: as we walk in him we are rooted, established and built up, more and more, day by day, as we go along. Sanctification is a process. When you are saved by God, you are as saved as you are ever going to get. But you are not as holy as you are ever going to get. In this life you get more holy, more Christlike, not in little predictable steps, but in a wavy up and down way which nonetheless always trends upward over the long haul. And it does have a sudden transformation at the end, when we see God beyond the veil of this life and suddenly we know him fully as we have been fully know. John says “when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.”

So sanctification is a process. It begins with faith and ends with Christlikeness. But every step is in faith. When you first realize your sinfulness, the awfulness of sin, and the height of God’s holiness, you say “I can’t do this,” and you cling to him by faith for salvation. But as you begin to walk out your faith, to take these steps of sanctification, you quickly realize, “I can’t do this.” I can’t, in my own power, live the life he has saved me to live. Can’t avoid sin. Can’t do good, even if I want to. I have to cling to him and walk with him or there is no walk, no sanctification. Paul often told the story of how God saved him and called him to ministry. But when he told it in Acts 26 he included a detail not mentioned elsewhere. Acts 26:18, God says I am sending you to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Sanctification is also by faith, not by our own righteousness and effort. The power to walk out our Christian lives does not come from us but from God through his Holy Spirit.

This is why, last week, David emphasized that love, joy, peace and these other things are fruit, not from ourselves, but the gift of God, and yet he also emphasized that living by the Spirit is warfare. The relationship between our responsibility and God’s work is mysterious. Colossians 3 will teach us clearly to do things: be kind, be compassionate, and not do other things, don’t be angry anymore, don’t pursue sexual sin. But Scripture also teaches that sanctification is God’s work in us. The Bible doesn’t feel the need explain how these truths work together. Philippians 2:12. Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out, or live out, your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

That’s human responsibility. Verse 13 “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That’s divine sovereignty. The two always go together. It’s always God at work and yet human choice and behavior and attitude and action is real. You have to walk in Christ or walking is not going to happen. Your actions count, a lot, though it is God at work to sanctify you.

So we approach Colossians 3 with fear and trembling, with knowledge of personal responsibility yet a deep dependence on God. That’s where we need to be. Sanctification begins with that mental alignment, that upward look to Jesus, fixing our minds on Him. Colossians 3:1-4 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

The “if” in verse 1 is a Greek clause that can be translated ‘since.’ It presumes itself to be true. You have been raised with Christ. Paul said it in Ephesians. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” By grace, though faith, we have been brought from death in our sins to life in Christ Jesus.

But in response we choose to shift our focus and desires from everything else to Jesus. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Seek is a common but strong word, the word Jesus uses in Matthew when he says “Seek first the kingdom of God,” and the word Peter uses when he describes Satan as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. This is not a casual glance or half-hearted search, the way you might look for a dropped penny. This is a determined effort, the word for the woman diligently seeking the lost coin, and the merchant the pearl of great price. Holiness is no casual effort. It must be sought. A big part of our part in sanctification is to seek it, to seek the things above because that’s where Jesus is, and Jesus is our life.

Verse 2 “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” All of a sudden this is intensely practical. What are you doing with that three pounds of convoluted grey stuff between your ears? What are you letting occupy your attention? Facebook memes of people embarrassing themselves in countless ways? Movies that glorify violence and desensitize killing? Music that promotes drugs and demeans women? Or maybe your mind is occupied with plans and schemes, or worries and fears, about money, about family, about work, about health? All these things are on some level earthly.

But sanctification begins when we lift our eyes up from these things and begin to shape our minds in Jesus. Verse 3 “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” When Paul says “You have died,” he means dying to self and living to him, the death of our former sinful nature as we are reborn in Christ Jesus, with the inevitable outcome of being like him in his appearing. He’s using this ultimate truth to encourage us to start now on this walk of sanctification, this walk in him, in the one who now hides our life in his.

The key teaching of these first four verses then, is Jesus. It is in turning our attention from earthly things, their pains and pleasures, to him that we take each step of our walk of faith. Look up, friends. Look to the light. I read some testimonies this week on a Cru website, Campus Crusade as we used to call it. There was one by a young man named Chris Norman. He says “I grew up in Detroit. My mom and my grandma were really involved in making me go to church when I was younger. I went to church 3 times a week because they told me to.”

“But I really never knew Christ. In college, where I could make my own decisions, I separated myself from the church and lived the lifestyle of a Division I athlete. But on the 3rd play of my first bowl game, I tore my tricep tendon and messed up the ligament in my elbow. Once the Lord took away everything I wanted, I realized it never really satisfied me in the first place. The god I was worshipping was football. My identity was wrapped up in sports. Phil Gillespie, who serves with Athletes in Action, kept asking me about the Ultimate Training Camp in Colorado. The next time he asked, I decided to go.

What I saw was so different from church growing up. I saw people who loved each other, who were nice, and grateful. I knew it had to be because of Jesus Christ, and I wanted what they had. Though it looked like I enjoyed all the stuff the world offered, deep inside I was spiritually dead. But I knew I would have to surrender my life, surrender my will to the will of Christ, and I wrestled with that, until I realized that Jesus was worth it, worth giving up everything for. Everything changed when I entered a relationship with Christ. I submitted my will to His. The more my life is Christ-centered the more I experience life.”

So the first part we play in sanctification is to look away from the things of earth that offer to satisfy us but can’t, and to look at Christ, who hides our lives in his. The second part is to put off and put to death the sinful habits we retain even after our salvation. Verses 5-11 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.

8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Paul’s first command is a strong one: “put to death what is earthly in you.” Kill it off. Sanctification requires a decision to go cold turkey on the earthly desires and even the addictions that have consumed you. First, “sexual immorality." In Greek this is the general word for illicit sexual activity. So pornography and any sexual activity outside marriage of one man and one woman would be included. "Impurity" is an even broader term, which could be thought of as inappropriate thoughts, words, or acts. “Passion,” pathos, means "feeling" or "experience," but it came to be used of violent and uncontrolled emotions, your angers, your hatreds, your rages. Add to this your “evil desires," the next phrase, and he’s pretty much got us all covered, since this term would include not only evil thoughts toward people, but also addictive desires toward alcohol or drugs. Finally, “covetousness,” or “greed.” The Greek word is broader in meaning than ours. It encompasses “greediness, rapacity, and entire disregard of the rights of others.” One commentator says it is “the assumption that all other persons and things exist for one's own benefit." Ooh. That cuts deep. Paul calls this "idolatry" because it puts self and things in the place of God.

Paul pauses to remind his readers that it is just these kinds of sins, and the ones that follow, that lead to the wrath of God. They are rebellion against him and lead to separation from him and punishment deserved. And all of us, Paul says, walked in these things at one time. They were our way of life. But now that we are in Christ, that doesn’t need to be true. So, he says, you must put off, put to death, put away. If you were exposed to ebola, one of the things they would do is dispose of your clothes and everything that might be touched by the virus. In the same way, Paul says, treat these sins like the plague.

His second list includes sins of attitude and speech. Anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk. For many of us these sins come as a package. Anger over some sense of having been done wrong, or having missed out or having been thwarted leads to an outburst, wrath that pours out in verbal and even physical abuse. But when that first explosion passes, anger can easily continue quietly. Malice, is a fixed disposition of intentional, even vicious ill-will. Slander is evil gossip that speaks the worst of a person, often in subtle ways. Finally, the sin of lying is given special attention, possibly because it is a clear imitation of our enemy, who Jesus called the father of lies. So, stop lying.

So how are you doing on all these? Sanctification is a series of choices which we make, in dependence on God. But putting off these things isn’t easy. I’d guess most of us can find our own characteristic sins in this expansive list. Having reminded us that all of us walked in these sins at one time, Paul now tells us that all these are part of the old self which is to be put off so that we can “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Don’t miss the words, “being renewed.” Sanctification is the process of becoming like Jesus. It doesn’t happen in a day, but it can happen.

My example of someone putting off her old life is also from Cru’s testimonies, but Samantha is more open about the sins she was walking in. She says “When I graduated high school and went college, I got involved with people who were not good for me. I started drinking alcohol all the time, almost every day of the week. I was smoking weed and doing inhalants, and partying all the time. I filled my time with all these people who I thought cared about me, and who challenged me to think outside the box, thinking this whole God thing wasn’t even real. So I let thoughts of Him go. But when I wasn’t drinking, not with friends, I was so depressed. I thought, “there really isn’t a point to life outside of this. After I graduate, I’m just going to get a job, live my life, and die.”

But for my 21st birthday, my parents got me a Kindle Reader. They were still under the impression I was a Christian, so they put a Bible on it. I ignored it for a while, but one day I just opened it. I had heard other people got stuff out of it. Soon I got to the point where I was reading it every night. I began to think, maybe this could be real. My hang-up was confessing all my stuff to God. There was no way I was going to list it all out. But during spring break, 2011, my boyfriend and I got into a huge fight. After that I knew life wasn’t turning out as I thought it would. I sat on my bed and looked at this one spot on the ceiling. “Ok God,” I prayed, “If you are there, you can have it. You can have my life. I don’t care what you do with it.” Then I started to confess. I sat there for an hour, listing. I didn’t know if anything would change, but suddenly, I felt this entire weight lifted. It was the craziest thing, incredible. My Bible was sitting there. I opened it and started reading and all the things I’d learned from church now made sense. Suddenly all I’ve done didn’t seem like a good way to spend my time. I began to think “I have to go to church! I can’t wait to meet other Christians!” I got involved with Bible study and started being discipled. I grew exponentially, and I have a new attitude. I don’t belong to sin anymore.

I don’t belong to sin anymore. I’ve put off the old man with its practices. Now I’m not saying this happens one time and completely. It’s a continuous putting off. Honestly, growth in sanctification is a bit like whack-a-mole. Old sins keep popping up in new places. And we continue to club them on the head.

But that’s not the end of the story. We don’t just to death and put off the old self. We also put on Christlikeness. Verses 12-17: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing 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. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16Let 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. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Before launching into the list, Paul grounds our new life in the theological truths that we are chosen, holy and beloved. We’re not in this sanctification process by ourselves; God has chosen us to be holy and loves us unconditionally with a life changing love. Only in His love can we hope for Christlike lives. So “put on.” This is more fun but more challenging than ‘put off.’ And the apostles repeat these things over and over. You could almost say these heart attitudes and behaviors are the heart of the New Testament’s teaching.

So, put on compassionate hearts. Jesus was compassionate. He stomach-wrenched for all kinds of people, all kinds of needs. Kindness: he didn’t just feel compassion but acted it out, acts of care and concern in gentleness and love. And he was humble, submissive to the father. He made himself a servant and then a sacrifice. The imitation of Jesus’ humility will not save us, nor anyone else, but is at the heart of sanctification. Patience. This is a hard one. Even after we spend years putting off impurity and evil desires, they can still pop up when God seems to delay. When the time gets long our patience gets short. But Jesus was patient with his disciples and is patient with us. Next, verse 13 is based explicitly on the example of Jesus: bear with one another, put up with one another and if you do have a real grievance against someone, forgive, just as the Lord has forgiven you. Jesus taught that those forgiven much, forgive much. This too is central to sanctification. Verse 14: And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. All these virtues are Christlike, but love is like the conductor of the orchestra, who guides each part to its right moment and keeps them all in place and in perfect harmony.

This is sanctification in a most practical form. In my relationships with other people, believers, non-believers, family, friends, co-workers and church people, am I compassionate? Do I really care? Do I show compassion by kindness? Do I come to conflicts or stress with humility, meekness, trusting God to provide.

Do I sacrifice for others, which is what Christ’s humility led him to. Do I have patience or am I quick to confront? Do I judge with a harshness Jesus never uses with me? As I put on each of these layers, I am growing in love, true concern for others. That outer garment of love is the image of Christ.

Sanctification is deeply relational, but not just in one-on-one situations. We are also called to be holy in community. Verse 15: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” Jesus is not only at work to transform our hearts, giving us inward peace, but calling us to live out that peace in the community, his body. And be thankful. One of the key disciplines of sanctification is to look at circumstances and prospects and give thanks that God knows what you need, and provides even when circumstances are troubling or tragic. One of the reasons I really like our men’s prayer meetings is because we spend the first half of the meeting giving thanks.

Verse 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.” Sanctification, lived out, is as important to a church as any doctrine or teaching. The church that is being sanctified will naturally express this in worship and the word. The word being taught and applied, and worship being enjoyed. Finally thankfulness comes up again in verse 17: 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 we are transformed into the image of Jesus, we attribute every good thing to him.

So this is the discipline of the one being sanctified. You set your mind on Jesus. You put off the old sinful habits and ways. And maybe above all, you put on Christ-like virtues. I want to close with a brief biography of Virginia Milligan, whom Gail and I knew in Illinois. Virginia, born in 1911, grew up Presbyterian, and went to a Presbyterian college in Pennsylvania. I don’t know when she came to personal faith, but she seems to have served the Lord at every stage of her life. For many years she invested in women as dean of women at Carnegie Mellon university, an elite school. She was also the national Secretary for Native American missions of the Presbyterian Church. More than all that, though, she was one of the most sanctified people I’ve ever met. Even in her eighties, she was full of compassion and kindness, even to a little family that she would only know for a few years. She had an incredible prayer life. She loved to worship – you talk about loving the old hymns. Patience, forgiveness and an obvious love which shown in her eyes, in her voice. This is where sanctification is supposed to take you. And if God and you need to work on this until you’re eighty, it will be worth every step, because God will be glorified in and through the one who is sanctified, the one who walks in Him.