Last week we began looking at this text using an analogy to physical fitness. I suggested that getting physically healthy involves ceasing behaviors and habits that are detrimental to our goal and engaging in behaviors that lead to our goal. For example, we stop eating fatty foods and start a daily exercise program. I suggested that this is what Paul is doing in Colossians 3. He tells us what to stop doing (last week’s message) and now goes on to tell us the things we should begin doing.
I want to warn you of a very common frustration. As with any exercise program, it seems overwhelming at first. The idea of keeping up an aerobic exercise for better than 20 minutes seems impossible when you find going up the stairs to be exhausting. But the key is to build up you endurance gradually. It is the same in the spiritual realm. As we seek to be spiritually fit we can be overwhelmed with the standards that Paul holds before us. But the key is to remember that we must start with a goal of making progress. Most of these standards will not be met fully on this earth . . . but we should be getting closer. So, with this caution in mind, let’s find out what it means to be spiritually fit.
The first thing Paul gives us is a command to stop lying to each other and start telling the truth.
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (V. 9-10)
This of course is not a new command. It’s been around since the Ten Commandments where we are told, “do not bear false witness”. We could go throughout the Old and New Testament and list the commands to “speak truthfully from our heart” (Ps. 15:2c). But we know this is what the Bible teaches. We do not have to be convinced of the need to stop lying and speak truthfully. Our problem is doing it.
Why Do We Lie?
Paul begins with an assumption. He begins by telling us to “stop lying”. This means he is assuming that we are liars by nature. Many might be offended at that but I believe his assumption is correct. Why do we lie?
- To Escape Consequences. From the early days of our lives we learned that when we those in authority over us discovered we had done something wrong there would be consequences to face. So early on we learned that one of the ways to escape the consequences (spanking, rebuke, argument) was to lie. The problem is that we became very proficient.
The Police office stops us and asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?” and we say, “I didn’t realize I was speeding.” Our spouse asks if we made the phone call they asked us to make. We respond, “I tried, but the line was busy.” (Even though we really forgot about it altogether.) We are asked if we will do some job around the church. We say “sure” even though we have no intention of doing the job. We are asked to sign a contract and we don’t even read it. The list could go on. In each of these cases we lie in order to spare ourselves consequences. Have you ever lied to a telemarketer just to get them off the phone?
- To Promote Ourselves. How could lying promote us? Simple. You are filling out a job application and you exaggerate your experience. Or you lie about how much responsibility you had for a certain positive outcome. Perhaps you might lie about how well you know a certain person. Have you ever embellished a story? You know, the fish became a little bigger. The crowd a little more enthusiastic. The praise a little more profuse? Our counsel to someone seasoned with a little more wisdom than we actually shared? We all have. In those cases we were lying to promote ourselves.
- Because We Don’t Think God will Meet our Needs. This is the most sobering and basic reason for our lies. We are afraid that if we tell the truth we will get “burned” or taken advantage of. In other words, we are afraid that God won’t protect us. The 30 year old tells God that she will trust Him for the right mate . . . but then heads off to the bar to see what she can do herself. Why? Because she doesn’t trust God. We see the bills piling up. We’ve told God that we trust Him to supply all our needs but . . . we spend our tithe money to pay our bills. Why? Because we don’t trust God. We tell God that we are willing to follow Him anywhere . . . but then we refuse to go. Why? Because we don’t trust Him. We seem to feel that if we trust Him we will miss out on something.
Why We Should Tell the Truth
Paul’s argument is this: lying is inconsistent with our new nature. In John 8:44 Jesus tells us that the Devil is the Father of lies. He tells us that He and the Father are part of the truth. When we lie we follow Satan. When we are truthful we are acting like God. This is Paul’s primary argument. He says, “do not lie to each other since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Paul argues that the believer is a new person. The Holy Spirit now resides within us and we should be living more and more like our Father. We used to resemble the Devil . . now we should be resembling the Savior.
There are other reasons to tell the truth,
- It frees us from having to live a lie. Think how much better it would be if we could be honest about our struggles and not pretend that we had everything “all together” all the time.
- It guards us from false teaching. Once we begin to lie to others we begin having trouble distinguishing truth from error. Then we are prey for deception.
- It keeps us from the pangs of guilt. If want to escape the pangs of conscience we need to tell the truth.
So how do we begin? Let me suggest two things.
First, immerse yourself in the truth of God’s Word. The better acquainted we are with the truth, the less attractive a lie will be.
Second, be truthful in the little things. Honesty is a habit we must develop. If we are ruthless in our honesty in little things we will find it natural to be honest in the big things. So, make sure you are telling the truth about
- what time you got up
- how much time you really spent on a project
- who deserves the credit for a success
- how much weight you really lost
- how much you really made at the job
- how fast you really ran
- how big the fish really was
- what your source really was
- why you were really late
- As we begin to be honest with the little things, the big things will follow suit.
SEEING WITH NEW CLARITY
The second area where we need a change in our life is in the area of the way we view other people. Paul says, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (V. 11).
Paul here speaks to the prejudices of his day. People then, as now, were divided on the basis of nationality, race, gender, and social class. Paul’s argument is simple: there is no place for such divisions in the body of Christ. We are one in Christ. The barriers are demolished. So Why is prejudice so prominent?
The Reality of Prejudice
Philip Yancey’s tremendous book “What’s So Amazing About Grace” points out that the church has often been the home of prejudice. In the past we condemned blacks as those who were cursed back in the days of Noah. Ku Klux Klan members served on church boards. Like it or not there exists within us certain prejudices. We may not see the color of someone’s skin. We may not categorize people based on their gender . . . but we may have a prejudice based on their social class. We may be prejudiced against people because of their reputation, their educational background, their vocation. Prejudice doesn’t show itself in the same way in all people, but it’s often there. Why?
Subtle prejudice is why the church has trouble attracting certain people. We are comfortable with some folks and would rather not be around others. Why? Because of their background, grooming or social position. Most of our judgments are made on surface issues. I wonder how often someone has come into our church and felt that they were not welcome here? In James says,
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Such narrow-mindedness is based in ignorance.
A Chinese man and a Jewish man were eating lunch together. Suddenly, without warning the Jew gets up, walks over to the Chinese fellow and smashes him in the mouth, sending him sprawling. The Chinese man picks himself up, rubs his jaw and asks, “What in the world did you do that for?” And the answer comes back: “For Pearl Harbor!” His response is total astonishment: “Pearl Harbor? I didn’t have anything to with Pearl Harbor. It was the Japanese that bombed Pearl Harbor!” The Jew responds, “Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese–they’re all the same to me. With that they both sit down again, and before too long the Chinese man gets up, walks over to the Jew and sends him flying with a hard slap to the jaw. The Jew yells out, “What did you do that for?” And the answer comes back: “The Titanic.” “The Titanic? Why, I didn’t have anything to do with the Titanic!” Whereupon the Chinese man replies, “Goldberg, Feinberg, Iceberg — they’re all the same to me!”
The story is admittedly silly and stupid but . . . so is prejudice.
The Difference the Gospel Makes
The Gospel of Jesus Christ was revolutionary and continues to be so. In Paul’s day the doors were opened to the hated Gentiles. Women were treated with respect and honor. Slaves were welcomed as brothers in Christ. The church was at the forefront of knocking down barriers.
You see, the Gospel declares that we are sinners in need of a supernatural work of grace. It doesn’t matter what we look like externally . . . inside we are all rebels against God. We have a common need.
Not only are we all in the same predicament . . . we get out of it in exactly the same way. The Lord does not offer one salvation for whites and another for blacks. It doesn’t offer one type of grace for the young, another for the adult. It is the same. There is salvation ONLY through faith in Christ’s work on our behalf.
The result is a unity that is based on a common experience. You see, it doesn’t matter who it is . . . every person you see has the same need and the same opportunity to be part of the family of God. Paul is arguing that there is nothing to divide over in the body of Christ. We should not see differences . . . we should see our common experience in Christ. God’s grace is the same,
- for the tongue pierced teenager and for their parents
- for the former gang member and the kids in rural America
- for the murderer on death row and for the judge who sentenced the criminal
- for the Ph.d as well as for the redneck
- for the girl with the questionable reputation and the person everyone admires
- for the boy who spent more time in the Principal’s office than in class and the Valedictorian
- for the person who wears Nike® shoes and the person who wears Keds ®
- for the “jock” and for the “nerd”
- for the person who has refined “social graces” and those who do not
- for those who are democrat and those who are republican
- the members of the ACLU and the Christian Coalition
We have the same problem (sin), the same means of salvation (grace through faith) and for those who respond, the same eternal destiny (Heaven), the same Spirit within, the same calling for life (do all for His glory). The earthly distinctions are abolished. James Hewitt relates his experience,
I was speaking at the Indiana State Prison. Only weeks earlier, Stephen Judy had been electrocuted there. An execution always creates a special tension in a prison, and I could sense it that day. It was in the air, in the voices of the guards, in the faces of the men.
After my talk, the warden walked us through the maze of cell blocks to that most dreaded of places–an isolated wing where five men awaited their final decree and death. Finally, we were ushered through two massive steel gates into the secure area. The inmates were allowed out of their cells, and we joined in a circle in the walkway while Nancy strummed the guitar and sang. It was a beautiful moment for those condemned men–and for us–as we closed by singing together “Amazing Grace.”
Two of the men, I knew from their correspondence with me, were believers. One of them, James Brewer, had the most radiant expression during our visit, and he sang at the top of his lungs.
As we were shaking hands and saying good-bye, I noticed that Brewer walked back into his cell with one of our volunteers. The others began filing out, but this volunteer remained in Brewer’s cell; the two were standing shoulder to shoulder, together reading the Bible. I was expected in two hours in Indianapolis for a meeting with the governor, so I walked back into the cell. “We’ve got to go,” I called out, beckoning to our volunteer.
“Just a minute, please,” he replied. I shook my head and repeated, “Sorry, time’s up, the plane is waiting.”
“Please, please, this is very important,” the volunteer replied. “You see, I am Judge Clement. I sentenced this man to die. But now he is born again. He is my brother and we want a minute to pray together.
I stood in the entrance to that solitary, dimly lit cell, frozen in place. Here were two men–one black, one white; one powerful, one powerless; one who had sentenced the other to die. Yet there they stood grasping a Bible together, Brewer smiling so genuinely, the judge so filled with love for the prisoner at his side.
This kind of bond comes only through Christ. We live in a world where people make endless distinctions. They are compared, evaluated, ranked, ridiculed, exalted. But in Christ, we are brothers and sisters. We need each other, and we celebrate each other. Paul encourages you and I to learn to see with new eyes. We are to see others not with the blinders of the worldly labels but with the eyes of God’s magnificent grace. The same grace that has set you free, is the grace that can set the most rebellious free. But the only way some will experience that grace is if they see it first from us.
Let me conclude with some practical guidelines
- Remind yourself where you came from and what the basis of your salvation is
- Be a bridge builder. Make the effort to love someone you would not naturally reach out to. Make the effort this week to get acquainted with someone you have never talked to before. Be the one who reaches out to someone of a different race. Be the person who extends a hand to the person from a different socio-economic background. Give an opportunity to the person with the checkered past. Dare to extend grace even when others show hatred.
- Determine to be a truth teller. Begin by telling the truth to God. Be honest about your sin, your motives, your thoughts. God knows the truth so being honest really carries no risk. God will not be surprised when you tell Him the truth. It may startle you . . . but it will delight Him.
Let me conclude by telling you the truth. Friend, these kinds of changes can only come into a heart that has known the transforming power of God’s love. There is only one way to get to Heaven. Before you can find that way you must admit that even at your very best you are not good enough to earn His grace. You see it starts with being honest with yourself. You must stop pretending that you can meet God’s standard by your efforts. And then you must trust the salvation that God has provided in Christ. You don’t deserve it, you can’t earn it. You must simply receive it. Anyone who sincerely desires to receive the new life that God offers . . . will receive it.
There are no strings attached. We’re not looking for you to come to Christ so you can give money to the church. We’re not interested in you because we want to increase our attendance. We’re interested in you because you matter to God! He sent his son, Jesus, to die for YOUR sin. And mine. Without Him we are hopeless. On our own we are headed to eternal destruction. Our only hope of life and life eternal is to take the hand of the Savior. It may not be pleasant to hear, it may not be popular and it certainly isn’t politically correct . . . but it is the truth.