The last two Sundays (Feb. 7 and 14, 2010) I have been talking on Sunday mornings about the transformation of character that God is catalyzing in all believers. Paul describes it in Colossians 3 as a putting off of spiritual attitudes, habits and character traits that went with our pre-Christian self (vv. 5-9), and a putting on of new spiritual qualities and behaviors that fit with our new commitment to Christ (vv. 10-14). The key section is “you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:9, 10). It is intriguing to note the combination of active and passive verbs to describe what is happening in our lives. I am reminded how Paul in another place combines in two adjacent verses, “work out your salvation…for it is God who works in you… (Philippians 2:12,13). Apparently, this transformation is something God is doing, but also something we need to be active in as well. So what is our part? How do we enthusiastically cooperate with what God is doing in our lives? The answer is very important to our Christian walk.
As I studied for these two messages, I discovered that Colossians 3:15-17 contains a brief summary of five disciplines that are essential to what God is doing in our lives. If we are faithfully practicing these five, they will greatly enhance and enable the Holy Spirit’s work in us. They tell use some of our part in the process. I will just outline them briefly as they are familiar but not necessarily in this context.
- Peace. We are to let the peace of Christ rule in us. This begins with our own peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and then expands into our peace of mind in distressing circumstances and into reconciliation for our troubled relationships too. Jesus gave us the gift of his peace (John 14:27). Certainly when the peace of Christ is coming in, it will be nearly impossible to harbor malice or bitterness. And we will find it impossible to have Christ’s peace when involved in sexual sin, for example.
- Thankfulness. Three times, once in each verse, Paul commends thankfulness. It is not possible to be deeply grateful and sinfully angry at the same time, is it? Yet when we are grateful to a loved one, for example, we are much more willing to “bear with” some small but normally irritating action.
- The Word of Christ. There seem to be two aspects of this discipline. The first is how we are to allow God’s Word to work inside us—“dwell in you richly.” When I think about this, I think about meditating on phrases like this one, about studying passages, about applying lessons from what I read and study to my own life. What does “dwell in you richly” mean to you? The second half of this discipline refers more to the corporate learning and application of God’s Word. Paul continues “as you teach and admonish one another.”
- Active worship. It is not just the activity of singing in church or going through the rituals of a service, it is what happens in our hearts. But while we are engaged, truly engaged in worship, we are intentionally opening our lives, our affections, our minds, to the Holy Spirit. We are putting ourselves in a place where God can work.
- Living life in Christ. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17). Think of your life as a new incarnation of Jesus, not in a proud false-Messiah way, but in a humble understanding that if people around you are to see Jesus it will be because they see his Spirit shining out of you. This is the discipline of submitting each daily action to the test of holiness, to the discernment of God’s will, to the understanding that you are acting on his behalf.
If we were wondering how in the world we would ever be able to put away the old self and put on the new, I think Paul has given us five secrets to help us. Regular practice of these simple disciplines will certainly help us grow into who God wants us to be. These five, I think, are the how-to section of the chapter.