Teaching series from Colossians

The Path to Spiritual Maturity (Part 2)

Colossians 3:1-4

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Briefly review the setting (MAP). Paul expresses his commitment to help them/us toward spiritual maturity (read 1:28), and then he teaches us the path to it in 3:1ff.

Last week, we saw that this path begins with cultivating a mental focus on what God has provided for us through Christ. As we keep increasing our understanding and appreciation of these provisions, and as we use these provisions to refute and replace lies about who God is and who we are, the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed to gradually transform our lives (Rom.12:2a; Col.3:11 “renovate”).

In addition to cultivating this mental focus on God’s provisions, the path to spiritual maturity also involves embracing a new lifestyle – a new purpose and direction for our lives. This is what Paul describes in 3:5-17. He likens our old lifestyle to an old set of clothes to be “put aside” (3:8), and this new lifestyle as like a new set of clothes to be “put on” (3:12). Let’s begin by reading about the lifestyle we are to “put aside.”

Put aside the self-centered lifestyle

Read 3:5-11. Paul describes many behaviors that characterize this old lifestyle (underline terms in 3:5,8,9a). But at the heart of all of these is a self-centered orientation to life. This is what Paul means by “fleshly indulgence” (read 2:23). “Fleshly” doesn’t mean “physical body;” it refers to our fallen, selfish nature. “Indulgence” means satiating that selfish nature. This may also be what Paul means by “evil desire” (3:5). Desire is not evil in itself (contra Buddhism); it is self-centered craving or lust that is wrong. The old lifestyle is like a sucking vortex or a lamprey eel (PICTURE?) – an empty person who believes he must take from other people and things to become full.

It is this orientation that leads to sexual taking (3:5a). I need to feel pleasure, or I need to be wanted, or I need to needed – so I use my sexuality to get these things through pornography, sexual promiscuity, serial romances, marital infidelity, etc.

It is this orientation that leads to materialistic greed (3:5b). I need to feel materially secure, or I need to feel stimulated by new acquisitions, or I need to feel significant through career accomplishment – so I use money and possessions and career to get these things.

It is this orientation that leads to relational demandingness (3:8,9a). I need people to treat me in certain ways so that I feel secure, important, appreciated, etc. So I explode or simmer in destructive anger to punish those who don’t meet my demands, or I lie in various ways (e.g., posturing; manipulation) in order to extract from other people what I believe I must have.

All these specific wrong behaviors, then, are symptoms of the root problem – a self-centered orientation to life. Human beings have been self-centered ever since they kicked God out of their lives and turned away from trusting Him to meet their needs. That’s when the “sucking sound” in our souls began, and that’s what gives birth to these specific behaviors.

Why should we put this self-centered lifestyle aside? Our culture is not the first culture to be selfish (all have been), but it is probably the first culture (since the 1970’s) to view selfishness as a virtue and a key feature of psychological health. Maybe this is why the Bible’s denunciation of selfishness seems so unreasonable to many of us. This is why we need to understand the reasons Paul gives us for turning away from it:

We should lay this way of life aside because God will judge it (read 3:6). Many teachers use 3:6 as a threat that God will damn Christians to hell if they commit sexual immorality, etc. (Interestingly, they don’t usually threaten this for materialism!) This is a terrible misinterpretation because it directly contradicts 2:13; 3:4, along with many other passages which clearly state that Christians are permanently exempt from God's condemnation. Paul is saying that God’s wrath is going to come upon “the sons of disobedience” – the people who refuse Christ’s forgiveness for their selfishness. His logic is: “You’re headed for eternity in God’s kingdom, not for His judgment. Why would you want to live like those who are headed for His judgment?”

We should lay this way of life aside because we have already tried living this way (read 3:7). Did a self-centered lifestyle ever fulfill you? If it was so fulfilling, why did you come to Christ (Rom.6:21)? Isn’t it true this way of life never fulfilled you, always left you empty, enslaved you and damaged you and others? If one form of selfishness did this, why would another form be any different? If there is now an alternative to this way of life, why wouldn’t you want to take it?

We should lay this way of life aside because it no longer fits who we are (read 3:8a,9b,10a,12a). Paul’s call to “put off” a self-centered way of life is rooted in the fact that Christians have a new identity. I don’t wear clothes that I wore 50 years ago, because they no longer fit who I am. Rather, I wear clothes that fit my present size and tastes because they express who I now am. In the same way, I received a new identity when I received Christ. My old identity as a fugitive/orphan is gone; I am now a child of God who is loved and fully cared for by Him. Therefore, it makes no sense to live a self-centered, taking lifestyle.

We should lay aside this way of life because we now have access to God’s changing power (read 3:10). Before, we had no power to change – we were slaves to selfishness. But now, through Christ, we’ve been released from sin’s authority and God’s Spirit lives within us – and He is constantly initiating a renovation (not merely cosmetic) to restore us to live the way God designed us to live.

Real, increasing freedom from self-centeredness begins not with moral will power, but with deepened convictions about these reasons for change. What self-centered way of life is arresting your attention right now (EXAMPLES)? Are you willing to judge this as self-centered? Are you willing to agree with God that it is unfulfilling and incongruous with who you are? Do you believe that God has given you the power to be freed from this? Tell Him this, and Him to show you His specific steps to lead you away from this bondage (e.g., confession to a friend; avoid certain situations; etc.).

But “putting aside” is never sufficient. Those who only try to “put aside” – even for all the right reasons – never succeed. Why? Because we all have a fulfillment vacuum in our hearts which, unless it is filled by another lifestyle, sucks us back to some form of self-centeredness (the same one or new ones; EXAMPLE: “growing out of drugs to become a materialist”). This is why in addition to “putting aside” a self-centered lifestyle, we need to “put on” (embrace and pursue) the new lifestyle that fits who we now are in Christ. This is the lifestyle that will deliver the real fulfillment that our hearts rightly desire. This is why “putting on” this new lifestyle will help you to “put aside” the old lifestyle. It will weaken the old habits and desires as counterfeits by delivering genuine life and joy! What is this new lifestyle?

Put on a lifestyle of love

Read 3:12-17. What was at the center of the old lifestyle? Self-centeredness. What is at the center of the new lifestyle? Love (re-read 3:14). “Beyond all these things” means “above all,” “over-arching all” – love is the central lifestyle choice of which the other specifics in this passage are expressions.

“Love” is the Greek word agape – the kind of love that is very different than other kinds of human love, the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated throughout His life and supremely through His death.

It is not just enjoying people you already know and/or who are like you (phileo); it is serving people you do not know and/or who are very different from you (e.g., Jesus serving fallen humans, Gentiles, etc.).

It is not rooted in feelings of attraction (eros); it is rooted in choice and commitment in spite of how we may feel (e.g., Jesus feeding the 5000 in spite of extreme weariness; going to the cross despite great fear and revulsion).

It is not conditional to people treating you well; it forgives and serves even those who treat you badly (e.g., Jesus going to the cross for His enemies).

If you’re thinking: “This way of life sounds crazy,” you’re probably understanding it because it is so utterly contrary to the self-centeredness that seems to normal to us. If you’re thinking: “This way of life sounds impossible,” you’re right – it is humanly impossible because agape comes only from God, not from within us.

Only those who have received God’s love can live this way (3:12a,14). We access God’s love is by receiving Christ’s payment for your sins (EXPLAIN HOW). The moment you make this decision, God’s Spirit indwells your soul and gives you access to His love (quote Rom.5:5). His love toward you is utterly trustworthy (you can always count on it) and inexhaustible (it will never run dry). Because of this access to God’s love, you can begin to give His love away to others without fear of being left empty.

Here is something even more amazing: The more you give His love away to others, the more His love fills your own soul. This is what Jesus showed His disciples (FEEDING 5000 >> 12 FULL BASKETS). This is what He teaches us (Acts20:35). This is so liberating! We no longer have to seek fulfillment by trying to get other people to treat us the way we want to be treated; we receive fulfillment by giving away to others the love that God already gave to us. And no one can stop us from doing this but us!

Do you believe this? Do you believe that God loves you and will meet all of your needs through Christ (Phil.4:19)? Do you believe that true fulfillment comes from giving God’s love away to others? This is the belief-change that will change the whole direction of your spiritual life! Many true Christians never experience growth toward spiritual maturity because they don’t do this.

If you do believe this, how can you start down this path?

Begin to practice in three directions – loving God by cultivating thankfulness to Him (3:15b,16b,17b), loving other Christians by building unified relationships with them (3:12-16a), and loving the non-Christians in your life by showing and sharing Christ’s love with them (3:17-4:6). These are so important that we will spend a week each on the first two and two weeks on the last one.

Cultivate a “healthy addiction” to this way of life. You cultivate this healthy addiction in the same way you cultivated destructive addictions (e.g., choosing to do them, experiencing the “buzz,” building your life around them, etc.). But instead of this lifestyle destroying you, you will thrive off of it because of the increasing joy, fulfillment, etc. it provides. Tell God that this is the kind of lifestyle you want (contra merely dabbling in it as a religious duty, on exceptional occasions, etc.). Ask Him to lead you into it – then get ready! This will begin an adventure that you will never regret!


NEXT WEEK: Col.3:15-17 – Loving God by Cultivating Thankfulness

SUMMARIZE this second step toward spiritual maturity.

DISCUSSION: What else has been helpful in choosing a lifestyle of self-giving love?