Fashions for the Soul

Fashions for the Soul

Colossians 3:12-17

Dr. Jim Denison

Spring Break has just ended for most of us, so it must indeed be Spring. With the new season comes the new season’s fashions, or so I hear. One website says, “This year’s look is flirty, fun and fabulously feminine. Have it both ways with trim, tailored silhouettes or soft, flowing lines and indulge yourself with a little fresh couture with all the frills.” I don’t even know what any of that means. And I have no idea how to say “couture.”

Not to be deterred, I asked Minni to help me find Janet a new spring wardrobe. She located an Oscar de la Renta beaded dress for $3,800.00; a “turquoise stone tote” for $1,975.00; and “leather espradrille sandals” for $937.00. What is “espradrille”?

By contrast, a website for men’s spring clothing says, “The classics still hold sway when it comes to men’s fashion.” I think that means that nothing changes for us. Since I’m wearing the same kind of suit I’ve worn all my married life, I guess that’s a good thing.

Last week, Paul showed us the winter clothes our souls are supposed to strip off if we want to experience all of God there is. Now he displays the spring fashions we are to put on. How we are to be with others, and with ourselves. This is a crucial conversation, for the health of our souls and the salvation of our society. It’s my privilege to explain why this subject matters, and how it applies to our lives and souls today.

Why relevance is so relevant

You and I no longer live in a world which believes it needs what the church provides. We can be “spiritual” without being religious. I can believe in Christ without going to church. Most non-churched people say that’s exactly their position on the subject.

Only two percent of Americans are afraid of going to hell. So long as I’m sincere in my beliefs and tolerant of others, my spirituality is as good as yours. “The Bible says” is no longer the answer; for many, it’s not even the question. We must show that our faith is relevant, before anyone will consider the fact that it might be right.

This is precisely how it was in first-century Colossae. Paul doesn’t quote much of the Old Testament in his letter to this Greek culture, because they wouldn’t care any more than you care what the Koran or the Book of Mormon says on today’s subject. If the Colossians cannot prove the relevance of their faith in their relationships and their own character, their witness is lost. But if they can, they can reach their world. So can we.

What follows is one of the most complete descriptions of external and internal spirituality to be found in all of God’s word.

At issue is not our salvation. We are already “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” He has already “chosen” or “elected” us to be his children. We are “holy,” set apart for him as his special people. We are “dearly loved” by our Father today. All that was true of Israel in the Old Testament is extended to these Gentiles in Colossae, and to you and me today.

So we are not learning how to merit his favor, but exhibit his grace. Measure yourself by these standards. Then we’ll learn how to put on the spiritual clothing our Father offers us today.

How to be spiritual with us (vs. 12-14)

Here’s what is in style with God this spring: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v. 12).

“Compassion” means to “feel with,” to empathize with others, to put ourselves in their position. “Kindness” refers to kind deeds and actions. “Humility” requires that we serve others, not because they are superior to us or we are superior to them, but because we are their brother or sister. “Gentleness” is strength under control, submitted constantly to the Spirit. “Patience” means “long-suffering,” refusing revenge or retaliation.

Now comes the test: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (v. 13).

“Bear with each other” means to endure one’s sins against us. “Forgive whatever grievances” means to pardon whatever has been done to us. We cannot forget it, but we can choose not to punish it. Do this to the same degree that Jesus has forgiven you, without condition.

How? “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.” Love is to be the outer garment which “binds together” all the others, which protects them and keeps them in place. “Agape,” selfless, sacrificial love which puts the other first, is the foundation virtue of all the rest.

There appears to be a progression here in our relationships. Think of the person who last hurt you, or who has hurt you the most. Have that person in mind, and think about what he or she did to you.

Begin your response with “compassion.” Ask God to help you feel what they feel, to see things as they do. Why did he do this to you? What insecurity, false information, or past experiences motivated him to act in this way? Let’s assume that he mistreated you out of his own need to feel secure.

To respond unkindly, returning hurt for hurt, only makes things worse, reinforcing his insecurity. Kindness means that I find ways to help him feel secure. I look for actions which respond to his need in grace.

Humility means that I do so while understanding that I am an insecure person as well, that my needs are no greater than his. There but for the grace of God go I.

Gentleness means that I submit to God, asking him to help me give this person the security and compassion he needs. I seek God’s leading and strength continually.

Patience means that I do this for a long time, whatever the person’s response. I am not responsible for what he does to me, only for what I do to him.


It’s All in Your Mind

It’s All In Your Mind

Colossians 3:1-4

Dr. Jim Denison

During the Great Depression, an impoverished widow stepped into the foyer of an insurance company. An agent asked if he could help her. “Yes,” she replied. Taking out a yellowed, weathered insurance policy, she said, “I’ve lost my job and can’t keep paying this. What happens if I let it expire?”

The agent examined the document and said, “This is a valuable life insurance policy. I urge you not to let it lapse. What does your husband think?” “He died two years ago,” she answered. The agent looked again–the document was a policy on his life. For two years his widow had been paying premiums when she should have been collecting them.

Paul has been telling the Colossians that they can experience all of God there is–not just a God confined to church or “religion.” He would say the same to us. Rather than pay religious dues each Sunday, we can experience life-transforming joy each day.

Now the apostle turns from the theological to the ethical, from the theoretical to the practical. What does all this mean in the most common-sense terms? What steps are we to take to experience all of God there is today? What we’ll learn this morning is so simple each of us can all do it, and so crucial each of us must.

Learn the facts

Paul begins with some foundational facts. First, you have been “raised” with Jesus, “co-raised” in the Greek.

The tense indicates an event completed in the past which bears present applications. If I tell you that “I have been married to Janet,” I make the same point. The event happened 25 years ago, but it still affects my life in wonderful ways today.

This is passive, something that happened to us which we did not earn or deserve. It occurred at the moment of our salvation. In that event we became the “new creation” of God (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Second, “you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3).

“You” is plural, something which is true of every believer, no matter our past or present circumstances. “Died” is a past event, a completed action. It happened when you asked Christ into your life–the old person died, and you were “born again.”

Now you are “hidden with Christ in God.” The tense again indicates a past, completed event. We are now sheltered in Jesus, hidden from our enemies; we are personally and privately with him, where none can go; we are identified with him, so that others see him in us.

Third, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (v. 4).

Now Jesus “is your life,” not just your faith or your religion. He will “appear” when he returns, and we will “appear with him in glory.” This world will pass away, and we will spend eternity with our Father in his perfect paradise.

Past: you died to your old life when you invited Jesus to be your Savior and Lord, and you have been raised to new life with him. This happened at your salvation. Future: you will be glorified with him one day when he returns. Present: he “is your life” now. Not just your church or your religion–your life.

Do you experience these facts every day? Is the sinful person you were before you met Christ now dead and gone? When people see you, do they see Jesus instead? Is he your life all the time, every day in every way? If not, let’s keep talking.

Make the choice

We’ve seen the grammatical “indicatives”–the statements of fact. Now let’s turn to the “imperatives”–the commands of Scripture which result.

We are ordered by God to “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (v. 1). “Set your hearts” translates the Greek word “seek.” It is in the present tense–something we must do continually. We did not settle this once and for all at our salvation. We choose it every day.

The word translated “seek” describes a person who seeks diligently, passionately, the way a man dying of thirst seeks water. We are to value them above all else.

In the next verse he tells us to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (v. 2). “Set your minds” means to fix your attention constantly, to think about these things all the time. We are to value and think about these things above all else.

The imperatives show that this will not happen unless we choose to make it so. This is not the inevitable consequence of a salvation experience, or God would not ask us to do it.

We are to set our minds and thoughts on “those things which are above.” We are to think about them constantly, to value them above all else. What are these “things”?

God himself: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5); “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

His word and will: “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times” (Psalm 119:20); “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (v. 97); “I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly” (v. 167).

His daily worship: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4); “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:1-2).

Ultimately: Jesus himself. We are to seek those things which are above because that’s where “Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” We are to seek to know and value him above all things, people, and priorities. We are to live for him first and always, practicing his presence all through the day.


Spiritual Oncology

Spiritual Oncology

Colossians 3:5-11

Dr. Jim Denison

The other day I got interested in domain names. There are some strange ones out there, like menwholooklikekennyrogers.com. It’s just what the name implies, available to anyone with too much time on their hands.

And I found some intriguing website names for sale, like ultimatemoneymachine.com and doubleourmoney.com. Comeonbabylightmyfire.com is for sale; if that doesn’t work, talktomyattorney.com is available.

USA Today is reporting that the most expensive domain name ever sold was purchased just last month: sex.com, for $12 million.

But as we’ll learn today, that domain has been for sale a lot longer than the Internet has been around. In Colossians we’ve learned to live for God’s glory, in his fear, radically and fully devoted followers of Jesus. We do this in his strength, in gratitude for his grace, by fixing our minds and values on Jesus. Now we go from preaching to meddling. This week: what to get rid of. Next week: what to put on.

When we see these sins as cancers of the soul, deadly to our lives and joy, we see them properly. Let’s discover those which are growing in us today, what to do about them, and why the subject matters so much.

Refuse sexual sin

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature”:

This is a present tense imperative, intended for us all. Paul’s syntax makes clear that we are all included here, no matter how checkered or clean our past or present appear to be. The tense is active–something we must do. God cannot do this for us and yet honor our free will.

Something on the lists which follow is the enemy’s special strategy for each one of us. Your temptations may not be mine, and mine may not be yours. But we’re all here somewhere.

We must put it “to death,” not just out of the way to be considered later. Something must die–these sins, or us. Either we kill the cancer, or it kills us.

Now we come to the vice list, five words which all relate to sexual sin. Five stages of sexual cancer, if you will.

The first is “sexual immorality,” porneia in the Greek. Any kind of sexual activity outside marriage and outside God’s will. Premarital sex, extramarital sex, prostitution, pornography–all such acts are included here.

Next is “impurity,” “filthiness” in the Greek. The word relates to immoral thoughts.

Next is “lust,” “passions” in the Greek. The word relates to emotions, feelings.

Next comes “evil desires,” immoral desires and longings.

Last is “greed, which is idolatry.” In this context, wanting something sexual which we should not have. Wanting a person or a picture, an act or a relationship.

The order appears to move from symptoms of the disease to their source. From secondary, metastasized malignancy to the primary tumor.

To reverse the chronology, we begin with stage one: we are tempted by something or someone which is sexually improper. Stage two: we desire what we want. Stage three: the cancer spreads to our emotions. Stage four: it spreads to our minds and dominates our thoughts. Stage five: it spreads to our bodies, and we act on it. Then the cancer spreads to others, and the malignancy multiplies.

James warned us about the same fatal progression: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).

Such sins lead to the “wrath” and judgment of God (v. 6). The cancer is eventually terminal. We all have committed something on this list in the past (v. 7), and we are tempted to go back where we used to be. But the wages of such sin is death.

Consider a few statistics regarding the cancer of sexual sin in America today:

Those who lived together before marriage are three to five times more likely to have an affair than those who did not. The divorce rate for those who lived together is twice that of those who did not.

24 percent of men say they have had an affair. Only three percent ever marry their lover.

“Sex” is the most popular search term on the Internet.

70 percent of porn traffic occurs between 9 and 5 in the day.

Pornographers sell 20 times more movies each year than Hollywood produces.

One in ten who use the Internet admits being sexually addicted.

One in five youth under the age of 17 received a sexual solicitation over the Internet last year.

325,000 children under the age of 17 are prostitutes in America today.

The average American teenager will view 14,000 sexual references on television this year.

Fortunately, there is some good news from our teenagers. The number of boys who are sexually active has declined nearly 50 percent in recent years, and girls’ percentage has declined significantly as well. It is not true that everyone’s doing it.

God’s word is clear: “put to death” all such sins. How?

Where they start. At stage one, when the thought first attacks us. When we first want something or someone we should not. Bring that temptation instantly to Jesus, asking his help and strength. “Set your hearts on things above” (Colossians 3:1) in prayer and praise, word and worship. Bombard the cancer with God’s Spirit.

If you’re already further down the slippery slope into immoral desire, feelings, thoughts, or even actions, it’s not too late to come to Jesus for help. He cannot reverse the past, but he can bless the future. He can heal your guilt and remove its stain. You can begin again in his grace. “It’s too late” is a lie from the enemy. The fact that you’re here, listening to God’s word, proves that his grace is sufficient for you this day.