Seek the Things that are Above

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If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

                                          Colossians 3:1-11

In Colossians 3, Paul calls the church to put away past sins and seek the things of God. He says that since we have been raised with Christ, we must seek the things that are above, where Christ is. He gives a brief list of the earthly things we must put to death. They once walked in them but now they are to put them all away and put on their new self.

When I reflect on the list of earthly things that we are to put to death, I realize how impossible it is for me to completely eliminate them all from my life and behavior. Maybe the first list could be somewhat doable, but he includes things I struggle with almost everyday in the second list. He includes things like anger, obscene talk, and lying. Even the most godly person I know has gotten angry. How do we carry out the call to set our minds on the things that are above and not these earthly things? My initial response to this call would be to shut myself away from the world. If I am physically separated from everyone and anything that could tempt me to sin, then I’d be safe. But this is not what God expects of us and it is obvious in his commands to go out into the world to spread the gospel. He doesn’t expect us to hide from the world and temptation in our own security and works. He expects us to hide ourselves in him.

We can place all of our sins onto him, he takes them all. Paul uses the imagery of taking off and putting on clothing. We are to strip ourselves of immorality and be clothed with grace. Our sins were placed on Jesus and buried with him. Our new selves, our new clothing, is placed on us by Him and we are made new and alive in His resurrection.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17

There is a common misconception that when we hand our lives over to God we will be giving up all the fun parts of our lives that we enjoy and will then have to live a life of boring, righteousness to pay him back. Seeking the things that are above is seeking Christ, because that’s where he is. Paul gives a picture of what it looks like to seek Christ and his life for ourselves. He doesn’t just stop there but he tells us why: because we are his chosen ones, we are holy and beloved. God loves us and knows, better than we do, what’s best for us. He doesn’t simply want to give us behaviors that just look good but he wants to give us the life that he knows we will enjoy the most. Ultimately, he offers us a life of peace, joy, and harmony, all bound together in his love.

What is not to desire about that? Why wouldn’t we seek these things? Without Jesus our sin looks good to us. It feeds our flesh and makes us feel temporarily good on the surface while it eventually destroys us. Paul reveals in his letter to the Colossians that our sin is not good for us. Jesus died so that we could have the power to have it destroyed and that we could receive a better life in Him.  Everyday is a taking of our old selves, our flesh, and giving them over to Jesus and putting on our new selves. Paul says that this new self is still being renewed in the image of its creator. We are not as perfect as Christ yet. But everyday as we take off our old selves, placing them on Christ, and put on our new selves, our lives are being hidden with Christ in God and when Christ who is our life appears, we also will appear with him in glory.

 

 

 

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A Life Alive in Christ

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Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities  and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.     

Colossians 2:6-15

Our gift in Christ is not just a measly gift, It is a treasure; the ultimate treasure. Paul poses a good question and one I think is helpful for continuing in our spiritual maturity. Are we living as if we are alive in Christ? The fruit of spiritual maturity is living the way God called us to. This does not end with following God’s rules. In fact, Paul says to not let others disqualify our faith through burdensome religious laws. Walking in the light of Christ means we will not only live righteously but that we will live joyfully. A spiritually mature Christian “reaches the riches of full assurance of understanding of God’s mystery, which is Christ in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The knowledge and wisdom of God has been revealed to us through Christ and it is not only a gift but a treasure.

Before knowing God we were dead in our sin and through Christ we were made alive through the forgiveness of our sins. Religiosity is not the sign that we have been made alive in Christ. He is not saying,  “You have been made alive in Christ, now live it by following the rules and denying yourself so that you can make yourself “righteous” in your own eyes before God.” He is saying, “You have been made alive in Christ, now live it by treasuring Christ and the knowledge that your old self has been buried with him and you have now been raised to life. You are a new creation in Christ. Do not let anyone burden you with the idea that you can find life in yourself or anyone/thing else, but hold fast to Jesus, the head of the body, who will grow you with a growth that only comes from God.”

A life in Christ is a rich one in which we are continuously rejoicing in his life, death, and resurrection. Religion and legalism is a spiritual struggle and one of the most deceiving ones because it looks like righteousness. But God has disarmed the spiritual authorities and rulers by canceling our debt and nailing it to the cross. Satan lies to us by saying that we are still the accused, that we are still guilty. He makes us think that we need to atone for our own sin and get rid of our shame. But Jesus did this for us and we need to live like it. We need to rejoice, we need to give thanks, we need to treasure Jesus. This is essential and foundational to our spiritual growth. If we can’t find joy in our spiritual walks we are missing the crucial point. Jesus does not give us a new burden, he has lifted it. Let us reflect on the fact that we are made alive in Christ and now let us live like it.

 

 

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The Gift of God

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The Gift of God

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“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”   –Ephesians 2:1-10

Christmas is known to be the season of giving and in an effort to bypass secular holiday traditions Christians are always reminded to make Jesus the reason for the season. How are we to use this holiday to highlight the gospel truth of Jesus? We are reminded that the point of Christmas is not shopping for gifts to share with one another but to reflect on the gift of Jesus Christ coming into the world.

Paul explains to the Ephesian church that they were once dead in their sins. Being in that state they walked in the fruit of sin; following the course of the world and carrying out the desires of the flesh. In our sin, we are children of wrath. He then says that God saved them from this state and brought them into a new one by raising them to life through Jesus because of his rich mercy and love. Paul explains that God has given this gift of salvation that cannot be earned through works. He has freely given immeasurable riches of grace and kindness in Jesus. He is our gift.

This passage gives us insight to help us reflect on the gift of Jesus during this season. Paul says that salvation through Jesus is the gift of God, which is enough to let us rejoice and give thanks but he elaborates on our gift even further. The richness of the gift does not end with our salvation from our state in sin. The gift is not merely an avoidance of punishment but it is everything we have received in Christ. We are also saved from the fruit of sin and have been given the gift of walking in Jesus. Paul explains that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus FOR good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. We were created to walk in the things of God and through Christ we have the gift to freely walk in the things that we were destined to but unable to do because of sin. God has given us the gift of freedom. Jesus does not just give us an example of this but he is the vessel and power by which we can walk in it.

Sometimes, we forget that sanctification (the process of becoming more holy) is part of the gift that we can receive in Jesus through the Spirit. We have been rescued but we are also being restored. Without this perspective, holy living can be motivated by guilt. We rely on ourselves to make it up to God for our great gift of salvation, but everything we are called to be cannot be achieved without God. He is the great giver of gifts. Sometimes Christmas ends up being a time for Christians to reflect on how to give back. We think things like, “How can we be better at doing the things we haven’t been doing all year for the sake of Jesus?” or “What can I present to God to show my appreciation like the Wise Men in the Bible?” But just like the rest of the year, Christmas is not about giving, it is about receiving.

This Christmas let us reflect on and rejoice in the fact that God has given us the most precious gift in Jesus Christ and all we are called to do is receive it.

 

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Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual Maturity

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And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks  to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:9-14

What does it take to become spiritually mature in Christ? Scripture is clear that we are called to become mature Christians and gives a plethroa of descriptions of how we should behave. But how are we to achieve spiritual maturity?

Paul lets the Colossians know that he prays that they will continue to mature in the Lord and lays out what that looks like. Maturity means knowing the will of God; which is to walk in a manner that he sees fit. God calls us to behave a certain way as Christians and Paul elaborates on what that behavior looks like. We are to bear good fruit and increase in our knowledge of God, be patient and joyful in endurance, and give thanks to the Father.

The church in Colossae were dealing with false teachers that taught that wisdom and power could be achieved elsewhere. Upon reading Paul’s desire for them to grow in wisdom and power, they had every temptation to rely on false teachings and even themselves to achieve the lifestyle that Paul said they were called to live.

Like the Colossians, we are susceptible to think that we can rely on the strength and power of others or ourselves to live the way God has called us to live. We strive to live out passages like these and treat them as grocery lists of good behavior, thus breeding in ourselves self-righteousness or self-defeat. When we rely on ourselves to become spiritually mature, we miss the point of what God is calling us to in the first place. This is why Paul does not just give us a list a rules but expounds, quite poetically, later through the chapter on the supremacy of Christ (Col. 1:15-23).

We must first ask ourselves why he holds us to such an impossible standard at all.

Paul says that we must give thanks to the Father because he has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. As believers, we are not only saved be grace from wrath but we have gained an inheritance. This inheritance includes the ability to walk in the light of Christ, in a manner that is worthy of and pleasing to the Lord. God does not burden us with rules that we could never achieve on our own. He invites us to share in the inheritance of holiness. Spiritual maturity is not a goal but a gift. It is the fruit of a life rooted in Christ that we are able to enjoy with God.

The Fruit of the Spirit

God does not give us a list of behaviors that we must achieve in order to be worthy of him, he gives us Jesus who through the power of the cross is able to deliver us from the domain of darkness and transfer us to his kingdom.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Colossians 1:21-23

Paul assures the Colossians that if they do not shift from the hope of the gospel, then they are able to live in the way that God has called them.

In the same way, we are called to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God. We have the example of Christ in scripture to show us what that looks like. But we must not forget that we are only able to do it through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not grow weary in our striving toward spiritual maturity but give thanks to God that through Jesus we have received the gift of righteousness.

 

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Loving your Enemies

Loving Your Enemies

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43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.                                    Matthew 5:43-48

One of the most difficult commands God gives us in Scripture is to love your enemies. How do we love people who not only get on our nerves but who have seriously wronged us? God says that there is no reward in loving those who love you. What reward do we have in loving our enemies and how does God expect us to accomplish this impossible feat?

Lately, I’ve realized that I’ve been going about loving my enemies all wrong. It feels easier to love the people I get along with and that love me in return. I often look to these relationships to help me learn to love my enemies. When I look at the way I love my friends and family I see affection, generosity, patience, and understanding and try to apply these to my relationships with enemies. At best, this strategy makes me look like a better person. Someone who is nice in the face of adversity. But I don’t love them. I wouldn’t lay my life down for them.

Loving people who love you back does not teach us about the biblical way we are called to love. Loving people who hate us and who have wronged us reveals that love is not based on condition nor emotion.

Jesus showed us what true love was by laying his life down for us ( John 15:13-15). Yes, he considered his followers friends but we forget that he died for us when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). In one single act Christ taught us how to love our friends and our enemies. What did his love look like? Agony, sacrifice, and death on our behalf. True love is not easy, it is painful.

When we are called to love our enemies we must not be mistaken to think that because God commanded it, it will be easy. It seems like an impossible thing to do because it is impossible. He gives us the command with an expectation to rely on him to do it, just as Jesus did.

Jesus loved his friends and enemies (us) in the same way. In the garden of Gethsemane he asked God to take the task from him but God still called him to it. He agonized in the garden in prayer and ultimately relied on the Spirit to bring himself to accomplish his task. Our proof of his love is in the cross and the power for us to receive that love is in his resurrection.

That power is for us today. And we must remember that love is always hard. God does not give us the command to love our enemies lightly and he doesn’t give us the command to love our brothers lightly either. But loving our enemies show us that truly loving someone means that you will suffer. It requires you to die to yourself. To die to your pride, your selfishness, your fear. It means offering all of these to Christ as he leads you to humble yourself before those who hate you and who have hurt you. Just as he did for us.

 

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Facing Failure

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Why are we afraid of failure? The fear of it can keep us from trying new or intimidating things. It can make us do whatever it takes (ethical or not) to make sure we succeed. Whatever way we try to avoid it, failure is something we fear to face.

Why we fear failure

Failure is a reflection of our sin. When we fail at something, we’re being reminded of our inherited sin. From Adam, all of mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but not all have faced that fact. Our individual failures are echoing reminders that we have failed on an eternal level. This can make us hide away, avoiding our failure as Adam and Eve did in the Garden after eating the forbidden fruit. It can also make us go to extreme means to “defeat” our failures as Cain did when he murdered his brother for bringing the better offering to God. The truth is, we can neither hide from nor fight failure. At some point, we all must face it and facing our failures reminds us that at some point, we must also face our sin.

How God sees our failure

God can see every imperfection in us. He knows our hearts, our actions, and our thoughts. When Christ was sacrificed on the cross he did it so that every one of our sins was placed upon him. When God sees our failure, he sees it upon Christ the sacrificial lamb who was offered up for our sins and bears our burdens.

How to face failure

Is it okay for a Christian to fail? Yes and it is inevitable. We have all fallen short but that it is not the end of it. We must not let the fear of failure hinder us from the things God has called us to nor motivate us to take our lives into our own hands. Let failure come and let it echo reminders of our sin. But let it also echo a reminder that Christ has taken the burden of our sin. Being a sinner who is not covered by Christ is the most terrifying thing you could ever face. But in Christ we no longer need to fear the consequences of failure because the ultimate deserved wrath was taken by Jesus.

“21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”   –  Romans 3: 21-26

We have been justified through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us put our hope in him and his victory. Let us draw near to him in humility and with confidence to face our failures.

 

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The Promises of God

 

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The Promises of God

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In times of discouragement, fear, and doubt we must be able to cling to the promises God has for us.  It is comforting to know that God has promises for his people but that comfort can quickly wane unless we understand in anchoring depth, by the enlightening truth of the Bible, the kind of eternal promises God has for us through Jesus Christ. Romans 8 is one of the most comforting chapters in the Bible because it provides a slew of promises for all believers.

No Condemnation  Romans 8:1-8

The first seven chapters of Romans detail Paul’s argument that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Whether Jew or Gentile everyone is a sinner deserving God’s just wrath. In Romans 8 he assures his readers that because of this, God had provided an atonement for our sin, Jesus Christ, that through faith we have salvation from God’s wrath on our sin. In Christ, we are justified and made righteous before God.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Life in the Spirit  Romans 8:9-13; 8:26-27

If in Christ, we no longer live according to the flesh (our old selves) but according to the Spirit (God). Jesus fulfilled and set us free from the law of sin and death. Through the Spirit we are granted life, peace, and the ability to live out our righteous calling as followers of God. In previous chapters in Romans, Paul stresses the war that believers wage with sin. God sent his Holy Spirit to help us in our struggle with the power of sin.

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”   Romans 8:9

Heirs with Christ  Romans 8:14-17

All who are led by the Spirit and are made righteous through faith in Christ can be called sons and daughters of God. This means that we are heirs with Christ, receiving everything the Father bestows upon the Son and especially the relationship shared between the two. To stress this, Paul tells us that we have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ echoing the words that Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Romans 8:14

Future Glory  Romans 8:18-30

The Kingdom of God is already here but at the same time has not yet arrived. Christ has ushered his Kingdom on earth in that we have life through him and live lives that are ruled by him. But though we are outwardly wasting away we are being renewed inwardly day by day. We (along with all of creation) still long and yearn for the day that God’s kingdom will be fully reconciled here on earth. The hope of future glory shadows the current sufferings we may face.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18

Everlasting Love  Romans 8:31-39

The promises of God do not end with our Justification in and salvation through the blood of Christ but extend to an empowering life in the Spirit, fulfilling and rich relationship with the father, hope for eternal glory, and finally an unbreakable vow of love in Christ Jesus. In him, we can never be separated from God’s love. His powerful, everlasting, love that was displayed for us in Jesus, is for us and can not be taken away. Nothing can separate us from God and he will not leave nor forsake us.

 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

It is important to remember that God does not promise that he will protect us from every difficult circumstance. In fact, Jesus warns that the life of the Christian faces persecution and hatred. But in the midst of our hardships and sorrow, he promises that everything we need is found in Jesus. In every situation, we can rejoice in the riches of our salvation and the hope of glory that is to be revealed to us. Whatever you are facing, cling to each promise and allow Christ to carry you through. 

 

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