We have found these past weeks that man-made religion is always focused on doing things to get God's approval -- and that God does not want us to try and get His approval in the first place, and in the second place these acts of "self abasement" are of "no value against fleshly indulgence" (Col. 2:23). Paul is saying that religious self-righteous, external acts do NOT change our basic sinful self. Then what does God want?
The way God has devised for us to come to Him is completely different -- Man devised a religion based on works -- but God has devised a relationship -- based on GRACE. God has found a way to give to us eternal life as a free gift -- complete acceptance, complete forgiveness -- He did this at great expense to Himself through the death of Christ -- Christ took our punishment because He loved us so -- now He is prepared to offer to each one of us the free gift of eternal life, unconditional acceptance, and total forgiveness. We are created personal beings by a personal God to have an intimate personal relationship -- so that's the first step.
In the second place the religious approach to changing our bad habits is always to work from the outside-in. Religion always admits that we need help, we need to change, but the religious answer is that if we can get ourselves focused on external things like ritual then perhaps it will rub-off on us, so to speak, and seep down into our hearts. Example: The First Century Jews - Pharisees had this idea about food - the old "you are what you eat" of the present Eastern religion which is so prevalent here in the West today. The Pharisees attacked Jesus about his eating habits and said He was defiled - made sinful by what He ate and how He ate.
Jesus rejected their false religion - He said, don't you know that what you eat can't defile you spiritually - no - the problem is on the inside -- the heart is polluted with all kinds of sins because our innermost being is all messed with "evil thoughts, fornication, thefts, murders, adulteries, coveting, deceit, slander, pride and foolishness." That's what produces problems on the outside of man, and his problem is all backwards -- it is false spirituality.
Here in Col. 3 is True Spirituality. It is just the opposite from man's religious efforts. God says the way to true change in our lives is to get at our hearts -- what is often called the "Inner Man". To effect change there at the inner level, naturally, over a period of time, a metamorphosis must take place. Metamorphosis is when a beautiful butterfly comes out of the cocoon which was originally an ugly caterpillar. The word in Greek in the Bible is literally meta-morphosis -- which we translate "transformed".
This is how god deals with us from the first -- when we receive Jesus Christ we are changed. We are re-born. We are New Creatures. We are so radically altered in our hearts that we are starting all over again. Isn't that an exciting and radical way to handle our innermost problems?! Not a bunch of do's and don't's, and trying to change, but a completely new innermost being. "Old things are passed away - you are a new creature." (II Cor. 5:17). All things are new.
Since this is a true fact (if you are a believer), how is God going to change us from the inside-out so that our outside actions reflect this new life on the inside? God goes to work on our minds first, on what you fill your thoughts with. God begins with our mindset - with our whole way of thinking, and as we cooperate with Him in re-orienting our minds, (Roms. 12:2) "the renewing of our minds", the result is a profound change in our actions and motives - especially as we relate to other people. Instead of hating, hurting, and ripping off other people because we are so evil and self-centered, we can now love and serve.
Read Col. 3:1-4 which focuses on the mindset. Notice vs. 1&2 "keep seeking things above". This means "be intent on". Hold your place here in Col. 3 and turn to Rom. 8:4-6, another passage that teaches this very same truth. This truth is that true spirituality begins with the mind - how we fill our thought life - and then it flows outward from that to change our whole life-style and life experience.
Rom. 8:4-6. God's ultimate Purpose is that His righteous law be lived out in our lives. Now the first four reasons for the O.T. Law are:
- To show us God righteousness.
- To show us our sinfulness.
- To prove to us that we are rebellious and unable to keep God's law.
- To drive us to God asking for His help and forgiveness.
But God still asks us to keep His law (i.e. that we love Him and love others with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.)
So how can we do it? God says, Christ says, Paul says here in Romans that this law can actually be fulfilled in our lives to a substantial degree IF we go about it in God's Way with God's Power. (vs.4) "The requirement of the law will be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit."
What does it mean to "Walk according to the Spirit"? (v.5,6) Col. 3 to "keep seeking the things above" is the same as "setting your mind on the things of the Spirit." He goes on to lay out this correlation. Rom. 8:6 The correlation is that "the mind set on the flesh is death." "But the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace." What my "mind set" is will lead to what my lifestyle and experience is.
What does it mean to experience "death" as a Christian? It means alienation and defeat - a hating the Christian life. The promise is, however, that if you "set your mind on the Spirit" you will experience a lifestyle of peace and new life effectuality experiencing the life of God flowing out through you - knowing in your experience what it really means to be a new creature.
Is this some "airy-fairy" new version of positive thinking? NO! Absolutely not. We are not dealing with manipulating our minds - playing mind games with ourselves. We are dealing with the unlimited power - with the infinite intellect of your creator. The creator of the universe who by His seeking love and creative wisdom has made Himself available to live within our innermost being and He will change us using His power, intellect and love.
BUT, and this is crucial to any change, He requests our permission - He asks us to be willing. He limits Himself to our free will because He did not create us as robots, but rather as fellow personal being with whom He desires a free-will love relationship, the only kind of relationship which is enjoyable, meaningful, and fulfilling.
Let's go back to Col. 3 and get practical. Things of the "flesh" = things of the "earth". These are things which make up our thought life when we live a life alienated from God. What is it that makes the world system in rebellion against God? Some are obvious - others are subtle. Here is a list, not necessarily comprehensive:
- LUST - You all think sexual lust, that is true, but what about your continual lust for things - shopping and drooling over catalogues? To "covet" is to have a driving desire for something we don't have. That belief that anything apart from God is going to make us happy and fulfilled. That we have to have it is what the Bible calls lust. Power, money, sex, things, it is of the flesh, and of the earth, and it does not fulfill us. The world and all it's lust do NOT fulfill - they frustrate.
- VIOLENCE - We all agree that whipping our a gun and shooting someone else is awful. Beating someone to death is gross. But how about our thoughts as we fantasize ripping someone apart verbally who has hurt us? Or how about holding bitterness and planning revenge against someone who you feel has some how failed to live up to your expectations? Jesus says tht is mental murder and you will never be mentally transformed as long as you run those "scenarios" through your mind.
- PRIDE - The world says this is good to be proud, to out do the other one in building muscles, or in beauty, or in brains, or in business, and it is very easy to fantasize other people come to us and saying, "How do you do it?" "I really admire you." We are encouraged to work for this pride-building reward. But as a Christian I don't have that problem, or do I? Isn't is easy to compare my good works or my ministry to another brother or sister, and get off on a self-righteous mind trip? Or how about just simply thinking about yourself all the time? What could be more prideful than to think of your own needs, desires, relationship 18 hours out of every day? "Setting your mind on the flesh." The flesh is Biblically equivalent to self-centeredness. How I am feeling bad. How I need someone or something to make me happy - that's pride.
- ANXIETY - This is so common in the world. Everyone thinks it is normal to worry about getting ahead, getting a guy or girl, getting money, keeping money, getting things, avoiding unpleasant circumstances. That is man's way. Satan keeps the world system in a turmoil financially and politically so that people will be under the tension of anxiety and have heart attacks, and ulcers, and fight wars. God's way is to seek Him, and His righteousness, and He will look after us in our daily lives. "Be anxious for nothing" just make your "requests know to God".
Or in the area of Christian work, do we fret and worry and finally give up because it is not worth the hassle and failure and sacrifice? If you "set your mind on the things above" you'll know that Christ promised His Power and Authority. Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Where do you set your mind? Do you follow the leadership of Satan and worry, or do you follow the leadership of Christ and trust?
- SELF-PITY - People in the world have an "I deserve" mentality. I deserve to be treated in this certain way. I deserve this set of circumstances wherever I go. However, because people didn't treat me the way I deserve, and because my circumstances didn't work out, I feel disappointed; I feel resentful; I feel put-upon, ripped off. God is against me, etc. etc. It is possible to gorge ourselves on this diet of mental negativity - feeling sorry for ourselves and blaming everything and everyone else. This can become so habitual that we can hardly envision any other response to people and circumstances in our lives. But God says that is "setting our minds on the things of the earth", or the "things of the flesh", and God has an alternative to that.
- FAILURE - Some people compare themselves continually to others and program their own failure because they can't be the President of the Bank, etc. As Christians we can insure our own failure by setting our mind on our outer flesh - our inadequacies, our long list of failures to reach people for Christ, our lack of ability to teach, our temperament, our weakness and on and on. God says that is a sin. He wants to use us exactly as we are, if we'll only set our minds on the Spirit.
I wonder, if a mental tape could be played back of your thought life today, I wonder if it would fit into those six areas? If your thought life fits into those and other categories it shouldn't be any surprise to you that the resultant lifestyle, the quality of relationships, the effectiveness in serving Christ and others, and your relationship with God Himself is going to be affected very negatively. Garbage in - Garbage out. We get to decide what we thing about. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."
It is important for us to focus on "the things of the Spirit". What are these things practically speaking?
- PRAYER - In addition to regular time we need to maintain an attitude of constant awareness of God's presence in our lives; His constant availability; His constant involvement in every aspect of our lives. (I Thess. 5:17) A mentality that lives and recognizes at all times that God is really there - not in an abstract sense - but in a personal sense. This mental attitude leads to a constant personal love relationship. Christ becomes our best friend, our guide, our confidante, our encourager, our strength.
- OUR POSITION IN CHRIST - "Set your minds on the things above" because "we have died, and our new life is hidden with Christ in God." God see us IN CHRIST, and just as acceptable to Him as Christ is. This is true even when you've had a bad day, and failed miserably. This is an eternal position, and you must study the Bible, meditate on the many times and many things which are true about you. (John 3:16; II Cor. 12:13; Acts 10:43; II Cor 5:21; Acts 1:8; Mt. 28:18).
- ETERNITY (v.4) - When Christ returns you are going to get a new body and live forever with Christ. The Bible teaches that we need to meditate on this glorious fact a lot. (Rom. 8:18). The "eternal weight of glory" (II Cor.4) Paul set his mind on truth so that it affected the way he went through suffering.
- PRESENT PROVISION - (Phil. 4:19) God will supply all my needs. I can do all things (Phil 2:13). God is at work in you. (II Cor 12:8) His strength - my weakness. (Acts 1:8; Mt. 28:18-19). Faced with your inadequacies, where do you place your mind? do you obsess on your check book? How about your adverse circumstances? (James 1:3,4) Trials bring maturity. (Rom. 8:28) All things work together.
- OTHER PEOPLE - give considerable portions of your thought life to creatively meditate on the needs of other people. (I Cor. 11:1) (Heb. 10:24). How did you do that? Filling our thought life with other people instead of ourselves.
No change will occur if you just mentally assent to your problem. "Keeping seeking", "set your minds" = volitional choice. If you want to change, it will occur within a comparatively short time, a year or two.