How does life-change happen? Not by trying harder. Christianity is more than just the best system for self-exertion.
I’ve been talking about brokenness, about the work of God in our soul, about our true identity. Please read the past few posts to get caught up. Paul explains (in Colossians 3) how Christ followers change:
1. Set your hearts on Jesus and heavenly realities, knowing that your real life and self is wrapped up in him.
2. Next, Paul lists a bunch of stuff we’re supposed to put to death, or strip off like clothes we don’t want anymore: Lust, greed, sexual immorality, rage, you name it. Next, he lists a bunch of things we’re supposed to put on like new clothing—love, forgiveness, compassion, peace—the stuff Christ is made of (and remember, your life is hidden with Christ in God, so your new self is made of those virtues too). A few observations:
a. First, think of the imagery here: Death. Murder. Stripping naked. God’s program is intensely painful. You want to change? Something has to die. You want to change? How badly? Enough to strip off the old stuff and stand there utterly naked, humiliated if need be? Cause before you replace the dirty clothing with God’s new stuff, there’s a moment of truth when you’re standing in your birthday suit.
b. This is God-initiated. Remember my “day from hell,” when everything hit the fan and I felt myself break? Satan wasn’t behind that, folks. God was. It’s called discipline, and God disciplines us because he loves us. It’s proof that we’re his children (Hebrews 12). He’s the one that laid down the final straws that broke my stubborn camel back. He’s the one who told me to rewrite my sermon last minute, and he did that because he knew it would break me. Why? Because brokenness is gold, spiritually speaking (Matthew 5:1,2; Isaiah 66:2; II Corinthians 12:8-10). It opens up the kingdom like nothing else. So my “day from hell” was really a “day from heaven.” It just didn’t feel like it.
c. Paul’s list isn’t theoretical. You’re not supposed to read the list and pray, “God, I put to death greed, selfishness, anger, and sin of every kind. In Jeee-sus nam…uh.” That’s useless, however well-intentioned the sentiment may be. No, Paul is describing the moments when we’re confronted with our actual sin, real-time. So I blow a gasket at my kids. NOW is the moment. Put that to death, Paul says. In other words, let it die. How? This is the cool part. What I’ve been learning lately.
Have you ever slogged through moments when the guilt and weight of your sin over a recent and specific failure so crushed you that you literally broke inside? And instead of fighting it, rationalizing it, ignoring it, or forgetting it, you gave in, let yourself break? You have? That’s the death Paul is talking about.
And in the aftermath of that breaking, that death, how did you feel? Personally, when I give in, I feel… “the peace of Christ” ruling in my heart, just like the verse says.
And in the days or weeks or even months following that meltdown, how did you behave? I can tell you what happens to me. Let’s say I blow my stack at my kids, and the shame of doing that crushes me. I confess the sin, allow the breaking, the death… and the peace of Christ washes over me. But the best part is that my temper has melted away almost entirely. When I’m truly broken, patience and compassion and kindness come naturally, at least for awhile. I’m not trying not to get mad, I’m just plain peaceful.
Why shouldn’t I be? Part of my old self has been put to death and the real me, who is like Jesus, is stepping forward!