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Not the Person You Used to Be


When Callie and I were dating my mom mentioned in passing that growing up she would wash my workout clothes in a separate load, particularly the clothes that I brought home from football practice, for fear that my clothes would forever infect her own. Callie heard this and thought that this was rather offensive and somewhat unnecessary. After all, how bad could my clothes be and how high maintenance could my mom be? As for Callie and I, certainly we could reaffirm our wedding vows and our one flesh union by having our clothes united in the washer and dryer as well, right? Oh, to be so young and naïve.

It wasn’t too long before our laundry honeymoon ended and Callie too requested the same laundry practices, for she too could not bear the mingling of my clothes with hers. Truth is, there have even been a couple decade old items of athletic wear that she has demanded that I put in the trash once and for all. And to be fair, her persistence on these matters in fact says more about me, and my clothes, then it does about her.

Today we’re going to handle some dirty and smelly laundry of a different kind, not the kind consisting of lights and darks or shirts and socks, but rather of our earthly and sinful nature.

And though the imagery of dirty laundry is a bit graphic, I use it because it is the very imagery that Paul himself uses, where he talks about taking off our old self and putting on the new self. And as challenging and as negative as this scripture might be, I need you to keep your heads up, because in the passage next week Paul will get profoundly positive, highlighting so many of the lovely and beautiful traits that ought to characterize us as followers of Jesus. And in fact, carrying the clothing and laundry image even further, Paul will begin next week’s scripture by saying, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves … “ with all sorts of wonderful things …

And I’m excited to share that one of our long time members Bill Knox will be giving the sermon next week. And in a sense, Bill will get to take all the warm and clean and fresh smelling clothes out of the dryer to share with you all. He’ll be a good cop, I guess that makes me a bad cop. Today, we have the somewhat unenviable task of handling some rather dirty laundry.

Now before we wade through all this mess, let’s briefly revisit how we got here. We’ve been studying the book of Colossians this fall, if you’ve got your bibles open, that’s great, if not, I invite you to open up to page 1678. As you might recall, Paul began his letter with a beautiful prayer. And within the heart of this prayer, this is chapter 1, verse 9, Paul prays for this on behalf of the Colossian church, saying, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.”

And in so many ways, this prayer of Paul’s serves as the outline for the entire book. In fact, in midst of all the minutiae, if you’re ever wondering what this book is all about, that really gets to the heart of it. Where in chapters 1 and 2, Paul has been pointing us to Jesus, fixing our eyes on him, who he is, what he has done, who we are in Christ. He’s been trying to fill us with the knowledge of God’s will through all wisdom and understanding, so that, now as we turn the corner to chapters 3 and 4, we may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.

In other words, as we go from mostly information in the first part of the letter, we now shift to mostly transformation in the second half of the letter. From theory to practice, from belief to behavior, from knowing to doing.

This is the basic outline of Colossians and truth be told, many of Paul’s letters. Today, we make the turn. From here’s what God has done for you in Christ 🡪 here’s how we are called to live.

And here’s the big idea for today’s message, I borrow this line from my seminary preaching professor Haddon Robinson, (by the way Jesus + Nothing = Everything was not original to me either) who once said this, “You cannot live the life you used to live, because you are no longer the person you used to be.”

You cannot live the life you used to live, because you are no longer the person you used to be.

This seems to be the flow of thought at work in Paul’s argument here.

That before he begins to handle any of his or our dirty laundry, before he tells us that we cannot live the life you used to live, he first grounds it all in cosmic and unbelievable and glorious reality:

That if you are in Christ, if you are united with Christ, you are no longer the person you used to be.

Notice the multiple ways in which Paul articulates this reality in verses 1-4:

Verse 1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ”

Verse 3: For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”

Verse 4: “Christ, who is your life”

Each of these ideas points back to what we read and reflected on last week – that through Christ’s work and our faith, things change. And by things, I mean you, me, we. We change. We embrace a new identity, we live into a new reality, and the very shape and trajectory of your life is forever transformed.

And notice how here, just as it was in our scripture last week, there’s this movement, this progression, this transformation, from death to life. That just as Jesus died on a cross and rose from the grave, we too mirror and reflect his death by dying to sin and gaining new life in Christ.

Friends, if you are in Christ, if you have put your faith in Christ, if you have died and been raised with Christ, you are no longer the person you used to be.

Now what’s crucial to notice in this passage is the various verb tenses that are being used throughout it all. In some instances Paul uses past tense. For example, you have been raised with Christ (verse 1) or you died (verse 3), or you used to walk in these ways (verse 7), that’s past tense. But then there’s other times he uses the present tense, such as set your hearts on things above (verse 1) or put to death (verse 5) or being renewed (verse 10), which is present tense. And friends, this is not by accident. Paul is not being sloppy with his grammar. Rather, he is being deliberate and is expounding upon a deeply theological and practical point.

That though through Christ’s work and our faith the penalty of sin has been paid for once and for all, though your identity and status before God has been forever changed, the power of sin and the presence of sin is far more stubborn and pervasive in our day to day lives. In other words, though our sin has been paid for, sin still pays us a visit from time to time, sin still dwells within us. In other words, you and I have more dirty laundry than we’d like to admit.

And so, here’s the argument Paul is making here. You are no longer the person you used to be. You are one in Christ, in death and in life. Now, go live like it. Live in light of your new identity. Live in light of your new status. Live in light of the transforming power that now dwells within you through the Holy Spirit.

You cannot live the life you used to live, because you are no longer the person you used to be.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature … he says in verse 5

Rid yourselves of all things such as these … he says in verse 8

Paul goes on to make two lists, listing a dozen or so sins in total. And though the lists, even when combined aren’t meant to be comprehensive, they are quite representative. In fact, notice just how much overlap there is with our 10 Commandments series from this summer.

Paul’s mention of anger points us towards the 6th Commandment against murder and Jesus’s expansive obedience of it.

Paul’s mention of sexual immorality and lust point us to the 7th Commandment against adultery.

His mention of greed points us to both the 8th and the 10th regarding stealing and coveting, but the act and the motive behind it.

And his mention of lying points us to the 9th, do not bear false testimony.

And so if at any point you were wondering earlier this summer, why are we bothering with the 10 Commandments, we’re saved by grace not by the law, we’ll this is Exhibit A.

You cannot live the life you used to live, because you are no longer the person you used to be.

And so to borrow an illustration from Jen Wilkin, when understood and applied rightly, the law goes from being a roof that is about to condemn us by caving in on us, to now a firm foundation which we stand on, in which we walk on in order to guide and inform our obedience and new found life in Christ.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature …

I want you all to take a look at those two lists. Where are those sins present in you? Though through faith in Christ, each and every one of those sins you may or may not have committed have been paid for through the blood of Christ, where do the power and presence of those sins stubbornly remain? Take inventory, take stock. Take an honest assessment of the sin in you, and I’m asking that of you, because I am going to be honest with you.

I think it’s fair to say I have had each and every one of these sins, in at least some small way, at least at some point in my life, though for today, I’ll share just one with you, actually two. And those two are anger and rage.

As many of you know, my wife Callie and I became licensed foster care parents a few months ago, currently raising a 6 week old baby, and a few months before that we had a short term, four week placement of two brothers, ages 2 & 4. And though I am prone to hyperbole from time to time, I still consider it to be one of the toughest things I have ever done.

And lest I was tempted to think of myself as some wonderful saint, look at my wife and I, welcoming little ones into our home, the Lord burst that bubble rather quickly in reminding me I am far more sinner than saint. Anger, yes even rage, though not physical, bubbled up in me more than I’d like to admit. For here were these boys who weren’t listening, who kept telling me, “no,” which just made me want to pull my hair out, my goodness, I thought, “I’m trying to help you here, listen to me!”

In the midst of this, healing and clarity came from an unexpected source, where during this time, I was reading a book by Pastor Tim Keller called Generous Justice, and in it he talks about the need to love and serve children that come from broken families, families ravaged by abuse or addiction or neglect, and I’m paraphrasing here, but in it, he said, you know sometimes we as a society find ourselves in debates as to how situations like this happen, how families are so broken, how children can be left abandoned. And he says, some will say it’s the parent’s fault, they failed to take personal responsibility, others will say it’s society’s fault, that they set people up to fail, but he says, you know what we all unanimously agree on? It’s not the kids fault. It’s not the kids fault.

And in a moment of anger and rage with these little boys, it hit me. It’s not their fault. And so, why oh why, through the posture of my heart and the tone of my words, am I am responding to them as though it was?

And though it wasn’t perfect or complete, final or forever, in that moment, my anger and rage was replaced with something far better. The compassion of Jesus, the one who said long before I ever did, “let the little children come before me” and who of course, first welcomed me.

Friends, are you going through a tough or difficult season in life? In midst of the many things the Lord may want to do in you and through you in midst of your hardship, might it be that one of the many things he really wants to do is to help put to death the sin that is within you? That is, maybe one of the things the Lord wants to do in midst of your suffering and struggle is to hold a funeral service, a memorial service for your own indwelling sin?

Because you have died with Christ, because you have been raised in Christ, put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature. Or in other words …

You cannot live the life you used to live, because you are no longer the person you used to be.

Alright, before we wrap this up, three quick points of application:

Identify what in you needs to be put to death. Though like me you might readily confess that you’re guilty of many of them, for today, and for this week, pick one in particular that you want to work on, that you want to become more free from. Maybe even share your sin and struggle with a trusted friend. And then work towards removing it. As the Christian author and philosopher Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.”

And then, this is key, ask yourself, how does Jesus embody something better? How does Jesus offer something better? To do that, and to remind yourself of what is true, you may want to reflect back on chapters 1 and 2 or look ahead to the beautiful passage that we’ll be looking at next week.

Secondly, set your hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things. We kind of skipped over this earlier, but we really shouldn’t. Surely, we’ll always have sin to confess and confess we should, but before there’s any sin to confess we should first set our hearts and minds on things above so that we can avoid sin and temptation all together. And so, fill your heart, fill your mind with the things of Christ, reflect on his character, dwell in his presence, rest in his truths. Think about those things that will last for eternity and spend less time thinking about the things that won’t. Read a good book. Listen to beautiful music. Immerse yourself in scripture. Engage in prayer and silence and solitude. Set your hearts and minds on things above.

Finally, though the work of removing sin in our lives will never be finished, rest in the finished work of Christ. As Paul says, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” This strange, yet beautiful language points to our union, our oneness, our life with Christ. That when God sees us, he sees Christ. Shielding us, protecting us, saving us, we are saved in Christ.

So put your sin to death, yes, yet also rest in the one who was put to death for your sin.

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee, let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure”

We finished with a quiz last week. We’ll finish with a quiz this week too. I’ll say the first part, when I point to you, you say the second part. I believe in you, friends. Here we go.

You cannot live the life you used to live, because you are no longer the person you used to be.

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