Second Sunday in Easter: Col. 3:1-11
What is life? What does it mean to be alive?
On the one hand we might define it purely physically, biologically: a heart beat, lungs breathing, a certain level of brain wave activity. When God created Adam, He breathed life into him, and he became a living being.
But one of the claims that we make as Christians is that life is more than just breathing. Life is more than a heartbeat. It includes those things, but it’s not limited to those things.
There could be ways of taking a sermon series called “Jesus is Enough” in an overly simplistic way. Some people say that Jesus is enough and so they don’t go to the doctor. Others may say they believe that Jesus is enough and it becomes the equivalent of little sticker on their Bible. But when we say that Jesus is enough we don’t mean that this is a small thing, like something that might fit in your pocket. Jesus created the world. Jesus rules all things. In Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Jesus is enough because everything worth anything is found in Him. When we talk about Jesus, we’re talking about the one who invented life, the one in whom all life exits: or as Paul puts it, not only are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge “hid” in Christ, now so is our life (Col. 3:3).
What does that mean? What does it mean to have your life hidden in Christ?
The Text: Paul has just finished describing how Christians have already died through the cross of Jesus (2:11-15, 20), and now He turns to insisting that this means they have also risen with Him (3:1). Paul talks this way everywhere, but we shouldn’t miss what he’s saying: He’s insisting that to be a Christian, to trust in Jesus is to make what is true of Jesus true of you. This is why Paul insists that if we are risen with Christ, we must set our mind, our affections on Jesus who is at the right hand of God (3:1-2). If what is true of Christ is now true of us, then that means somehow, in Christ, we have already died and we live in Christ, in God (3:3). If Jesus is God and He rules all things and will one day return and put all things right, our entire life is reoriented to this (3:4). This means, if our affections are set on Him, that our lives are given to making what is true already of Jesus true of our lives and this world through killing sin in our bodies and in our community (3:5). Sin has died in Jesus and therefore in us also, therefore killing sin is just agreeing with that reality.
But apart from life in Christ, apart from the cross, there’s a distorted version of “life” that exists in the world. It’s called life, and includes breathing and beating hearts and bodies, but it’s actually cancer, it’s actually death. This version of life is based on lust and greed, and Paul says that this is actually to experience God’s wrath through idolatry (3:6-7). In other words, people love to hate and exploit, and this grotesque version of life lives off this deformed sort of joy. C.S. Lewis says somewhere that all evil, all sin is parasitic: it always feeds off good things and distorts them. But this isn’t what we were created for. And in the cross Jesus, that old way has been named for what it actually is: death (2:13). The cross is the revelation of the truth about sin, and that’s how it’s also the revelation of God’s judgment against sin: The truth about sin is that it’s shameful, agonizing, it isolates, it separates, it destroys, it’s a killer. We frequently think that sin is only sin is someone finds out. The danger is in being caught. And perhaps we avoid some sins because of what might happen. But in the Bible sin is already punishment. Sin is already to be under judgment. The wrath of God is not God flying off the handle like some kind of abusive father. The wrath of God is God giving sinners over to their sin, allowing them to go deeper into the darkness and confusion. Sin is death, pretending to be alive. And Paul says that this lie is perhaps most insidious, most tempting in sexual sin. It looks alive, perhaps it feels alive
But by the power of God, the cross is also the revelation of God’s triumph over sin. It’s God’s triumph over sin because the resurrection proclaimed Jesus innocent and all the powers of sin, satan, and death ultimately powerless. When we say that Jesus is alive, Christ is risen! We are saying that His life is real life. And all sin is a lie about life. Killing sin is joining God in this truth-telling. And when we put away evil speaking and filthy language and lies, we are taking off the uniform of death and putting on our new uniform of life (3:8-10). Trusting in Jesus is to be on His team, to be in His army. Trusting in Jesus is to say that His life, His way of life is the only true life, the only life. This new man, is a new Adam, a new living being, reflecting God His Creator, and therefore, there are no more ethnic or racial divisions because Christ is all and in all (3:11). All that sin destroys, Jesus puts back together. All that death demands, Jesus overcomes.
Sex & Speech
The catalogue of sins that Paul address fall under the categories of sex and speech. And the common denominators in both lists are anger and greed. In popular culture, sex has been reduced to lust and momentary thrills and jolts of pleasure, but this always results in turning the gift of sex into sadness and grief and pain and shame.
But sexual intimacy is meant to both picture and produce the image of God, the life of God. When God created Adam and Eve, He created them in His image as male and female. Their lives and their lives together were meant to participate in His life. This image is pictured generally in the existence of men and women, but it is pictured specifically in the marriage bed where they become one flesh and practice fruitfulness (Gen. 1:26-27, 2:24). And thriving, joyful children are the ultimate end of this kind of love and live. This is why sexual perversion is an attack on the image of God and is therefore a kind of idolatry. Where there is a sexual relationship outside of the covenant of marriage (between one man and one woman), lies are being told about God’s love, God’s faithfulness, God’s way of life. We do not serve a God of one night stands, a God who uses His people, a God who breaks His promises, a God who selfishly serves Himself. Sexual sin is not just a list of rules made up by a bunch of Victorian prudes embarrassed by the fact that God gave us bodies. No, Jesus invented sex. Jesus invented love. Jesus invented all the best stuff in the world. Sexual sin is God holding something good out of reach. Sexual sin is refusing to listen to Jesus and doing whatever we want instead. It’s pretending that we know better, that we’re smarter, more enlightened. But this is to claim to be gods. And when people claim to be their own god, they must demand to be served and worshipped like gods. And so they do whatever they want, whenever the want. Which means that if you think you’re god, you life your life selfishly. Why wouldn’t you. You demand pleasure, you demand service, you demand love, on your terms, on your timetable. But this is like kids playing on the freeway. And when someone objects and wants to know what we have against freeways, we have to insist that we love freeways and children and therefore we object to the carnage their idiocy produces. In other words, sexual confusion, sexual sin is an embrace of death. But Christian marriage is for the celebration of life. Christian marriage is where the gift of sex is given, received, enjoyed, celebrated. This isn’t to say that marriage makes sex automatically good or righteous. But Christian marriage is a public claim about what would make life good. Christian marriage claims that God’s blessing and God’s ways and God’s life is what makes married life good.
“A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled. Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Pr. 18:20-21) Not only is sex powerful, Paul agrees with the Proverbs that sins of the tongue can be just as potent. We should notice two things here: First, the kinds of sins of the tongue Paul catalogues are lust and greed filled. Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy all based on selfish demands, demands to be served, to be respected, to get your way. Just as there are ways of physically or mentally exploiting others sexually, there are ways to verbally exploit others, frequently charged with fits of anger and cursing. But this is an assault on the image of God too: you are lying with your words – God isn’t like that – which is why Paul ends there (3:9). God doesn’t fly off the handle. God doesn’t blow up and throw things. God doesn’t lose His cool. God isn’t like that.
But you are also assaulting someone else made in the image of God (your children, your wife, your husband, your employee, your employer, etc.). So it amounts to idolatry too. It substitutes your pleasure, your will, your law as supreme – as god – in place of the God who actually made the world. But Paul also says that this kind of talk is like a uniform that Christians shouldn’t wear. Certain words and phrases and expressions are invented in order to give expression to idolatrous lust and greed. Christians should have no interest in knowingly wearing those colors. We are not on the side of death. We are on the side of life. Take your grave clothes off. Jesus is not dead. He’s alive. And if you love Him, believe Him, you are risen with Him.
This is Easter Season, and so this is when we specifically focus on the resurrection of Jesus. But this is something we are called to all the time: set your mind, your desires on things above. This doesn’t mean thinking a lot about clouds and harps and angels. This means thinking about Jesus, His Death & Resurrection, His Word, His Plans, His Life, His Glory, His Mission – which is far bigger and better than we can imagine. God created this world, and the glory of God, the mission of God, the life of God is even bigger and better than all the good things we can taste and see now. This life, this world is just the preview, just the trailer.
And Paul specifically says here that pursuing this glory, this goodness should make us think about reconciliation (3:11). The blood of Christ is for making peace and reconciling all things (1:20). All that sin destroys, Jesus puts back together. All that death demands, Jesus overcomes. Which is to say that in Christ, nothing good will ever be lost because death is swallowed in Life.
And this is to say that we’ve only really begun to experience life. Life is bigger, better, and more mind-blowing than we can imagine. How is it that what is true of Jesus is true of us? How is that we share in His life?
Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life, he that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. Whoever lives and believes in shall never die. Think about that, pray about that, chase after that, talk about that, sing about that. This is what the gospel proclaims that your sin has already been dealt with. Your sin, has already been judged and destroyed. Your sin is all gone because of the death of Jesus. God knows it all, has seen it all, and no one in this room can hid from Him. No one can hide their sexual sin, no one can hide their angry outbursts, their filthy words, their dark deed from Him.
But Jesus has come, Jesus has died, and Jesus is now alive again forever with indestructible life, eternal life. Life that cannot be taken, life that cannot be lost. You cannot hide from God; you cannot hide your sin from God. But the good news of Jesus is that now you can hide in God. You cannot hide from God, but if cling to Jesus, if you call out to Him, if you trust in Him, then the worst is already over, the worst is past, and you’ve already died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Now you have resurrection life, indestructible life, unbreakable life, eternal life.
And that life is for you and for your family and for your neighborhood and for this whole world.