Teaching series from Colossians

The Key to Spiritual Transformation

Colossians 3:1-4

Teaching t21067


Beginning in 3:5 and going through 4:6, Paul describes what authentic Christian spirituality looks like.  In a word, he describes it as a process of a God-empowered renovation so that we come to resemble Jesus (3:10).  This process involves deep ethical change—not just in our outward behaviors, but in our characters (3:5-11).  It involves relating to other Christians—not just by being superficially nice, but learning to deeply and sacrificially love one another the way Jesus loves us (3:12-16).  It involves being a Christ-like servant at home and at work (3:17-4:1).  And it involves wisely and graciously sharing Christ’s love in word and deed with those who don’t believe in him (4:2-6).  We’ll be spending the next several weeks looking closely at each of these aspects of Christian spirituality.

But what is the key to this kind of spiritual transformation?  How do I unleash God’s power to gradually change me to become more and more like Jesus?  Last week, we learned what this key is not (2:16-23)—it is not focusing on ritual-observance, it is not trying to precipitate a dramatic spiritual experience (e.g., vision), it is not simply exerting your moral will-power.  Paul said that these may create a spiritual appearance that impresses others and fools yourself, but they don’t result in real spiritual renovation/transformation.  Then what is the key?  That’s what Paul describes in 3:1-4 (read NIV).  The key, he says, is to “set your heart and mind on the things above.”  What does this mean?  Why is this so important?  How do we do this?

What does this mean?

“The things above” refer to the new identity that we receive from God as Christians.  The moment you entrust yourself to Jesus, you lose your old identity and become identified with him in certain important respects.  So to “set your heart and mind on the things above” refers to making your identity in Christ your mental focus and your greatest treasure.   The term “identity in Christ” is a synonym for what Paul earlier calls “the gospel.”  This passage refers to three different aspects of this new identity.

 “You have been raised up with Jesus... to the right hand of God.”   You used to be an orphan, without a Father to watch over your life.  But now you are God’s child, with personal access to God and his authority over sin and Satan.

“Your life is hidden with Christ in God.”   You used to be alienated from God.  But now you are spiritually alive—your alienation from God has forever ended, and your reconciliation with God is utterly secure.

“When Christ... is revealed, you will be revealed with him in glory.”  You used to be destined for God’s judgment for your sins.  But now you are assured of a glorious eternal destiny—to enjoy Jesus’ glorious presence in his glorified universe with glorified bodies.

No matter how new you are as a Christian, no matter how weak your faith in Christ is, no matter how inconsistent your behavior is—all of these things (and many more) are true of you because Jesus gave them to you.  This is how God sees you, this is how God relates to you—therefore, this is who you really are.  When you think about who you really are, do you think along these lines more often, and are you more personally thankful for who you are in Christ?

Why is it so important to do this?

This is real work, as anyone who has tried to do this knows!  Why?  Because many factors conspire against this focus (e.g., OLD “IDENTITY GROOVES” [negative or positive] FROM FAMILY LIFE, LIFE EXPERIENCES, etc.).  That’s why the verbs translated “set your heart/mind” imply a conscious and ongoing effort on our parts—a long-term project.  But this work is well worth it, because it unleashes God’s power to change you in a deep, lasting and fulfilling way!  It does this in two main ways:

Because only this gets at the root of your sinful habits and addictions.  Religions (including “Christian” religion) try to combat sinful habits mainly by moral will-power, external restraints, and fear of negative consequences.  But at the root of every sinful habit or addiction is a legitimate desire for God’s love that you are trying to meet in an illegitimate way—“looking for love in all the wrong places.”  So the ultimate way to overcome every sinful habit/addiction is to learn how to trust in and enjoy God’s love.

Let’s say you are a shopaholic.  You consistently overspend your income on clothes and shoes—and this is creating serious conflict with your spouse as well as anxiety about mounting debt.  It is right and good to get accountability for your spending budget, to do direct deposit for your pay into an account that is difficult to access, etc.  But this behavior management will not get at the root of the problem.  The question is: “Why are you so driven to buy things you don’t need?”  There are different answers to this question—but one common answer is: “Because I feel so unattractive and unlovable to men.”  This desire is so strong that it overrides sound fiscal judgment.  It is a core need that God put within you—but it can never be met by any man, no matter how attractive he finds you.  You need to know that you are already attractive to the One who made you—so attractive that he died for you.  You need to learn how to rest in the security of his approval of you, and how to revel in his delight in you.  The more you do this, the less you will feel the need to buy apparel.  (MEN WITH PORN; WORKAHOLISM; FINANCIAL SECURITY OBSESSIONS; etc.)

Because only this motivates you to freely and joyfully love others.  This is what I call the “Scrooge” principle.  Ebenezer Scrooge was a nasty tightwad.  What transformed him into a man who found joy in giving large sums of his money away to the poor?  It wasn’t simply seeing the need of the poor.  Nor was it realizing that he hoarded money as a substitute for being rejected by his father, to protect himself from being hurt.  The Christmas spirits brought him to see that he was a sinner who deserved God’s judgment.  When he humbled himself and begged for mercy, God forgave him—and he awoke alive on Christmas morning.  This experience of God’s undeserved mercy created within him a desire to mimic God’s love by giving to others.  And the joy he experienced in doing this motivated him to embrace a lifestyle of financial generosity.

This is the way God changes our hearts to truly love other people.  Religion presses the needs of others, the logic of ethical obligation, peer pressure, the fear of bad consequences, etc.—but the most this can do is make us less overtly selfish.  In fact, religion exacerbates ill-will and conflict, because in religion you define your identity self-righteously (EXAMPLES).  But if you realize that God loves you even though you are a sinful mess, this creates humility toward others.  And if you continue to grow in your understanding and appreciation of how deeply sinful you are but how amazing God’s love for you, then your heart will actually change into a heart that more and more takes joy in sacrificially giving yourself away.   And the more you give God’s love away, the more the capacity of your heart is expanded to receive more of God’s love!

How do we do this?

What are some practical ways to cultivate this heart and mind-set?  Don’t get the horse before the cart!  Before you can set your mind on the things above, you must first receive the gift of God’s love by receiving Christ.  You must take your place with Scrooge—admitting your rebellion against God, and humbly asking him to forgive you through the death of his Son Jesus.  Then God will forgive you, and make you his child, and send his Spirit to live within your heart so that you can experience his love.

Once you receive Christ, the Bible describes many practical ways to cultivate this habit.  Obviously, doing what you’re doing this morning is crucial—get lots of gospel-centered teaching.  A few weeks ago, we saw that listening to and/or singing songs that focus on the gospel is another very helpful way.  Here are two more ways:

By talking back to yourself with the gospel (2Cor.10:5).  If you ask him, God will begin to make you aware of lies you still believe about yourself.  As often as these lies assert themselves, you must “take them captive”—arrest them by answering them with God says about you.  


By building gospel-centered friendships.  Sometimes you won’t be able to see your old identity lies, and/or you won’t be able to take them captive.  If you don’t regularly open up your mind and heart to other Christian friends, you will be greatly hindered in your ability to set your heart and mind on the things above.  That’s why Paul says Col.3:16a (read).  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” is a synonym for “set your heart and mind on the things above.”  How do you do this?  By “teaching and counseling one another with all wisdom.”  You let friends who know you well wisely apply these truths to your lives, and you do the same for them.  Both of these interactions deepen your understanding and appreciation of your new identity (EXAMPLES).



SUMMARIZE “HOW.”  Who would like to share more about these, or share additional ways to develop this mind/heart-set?

“Appreciating, rejoicing and resting in what Jesus has done for you.” Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Dutton, 2009), pp. 171,172.  “Daily to hold fast to Christ as the center and source of all our joys.” Lucas, R. C.: Fullness & Freedom : The Message of Colossians & Philemon. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1980, S. 135

This is why Paul says in Col. 3:5 – “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature...”

Col. 3:12-14  – “Therefore, as God’s chosen people... dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with... love.”

“...we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing `ourselves' to talk to us! ...Have you ever realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?  Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning.  You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.  Somebody is talking.  Who is talking to you?  Your self is talking to you ... You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself ...exhort yourself, and ... remind yourself of God, who God is, ...and what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do ...Remind him of what you know, instead of placidly listening to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you.”  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), pp.20,21.