Sunday, July 13, 2008

Battling Sin with Superior Pleasure

Battling Sin with Superior Pleasure
Colossians 3:1-4
The Expulsive Power of a Higher Affection

Scripture Introduction:

Last week we talked about one of those disputable matters in Scripture. We closed by giving a list of questions to ask yourself in decision making when something is not specifically dealt with in Scripture. We gave these suggestions:

Is this expressly commanded or forbidden in Scripture?
Is my motivation to make Christ the only boast of this generation?
Is this done in faith?
Does this glorify God?
Does my conscience condemn me?
Does this promote or distract from the gospel?
Is it permissible but not beneficial?
Is it necessary?

One of the questions asked was, “Is it okay to kiss your girlfriend”. We ran through this list and came to discover that it does not follow biblical principles for you to kiss your girlfriend. But this list begs a question. This list only helps you to define what is right and wrong. We learned last week that lists have no power to change your heart and keep you from sin. This week we will, by the grace of God, address that very issue; how do we conquer sin.

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you.” In other words there must not even be a hint of those things. What will give you the power to overcome this sin when everything within you is crying out to submit to its pleasure?

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them”. How do we follow this when everything within us screams for revenge—and revenge quickly?

“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving”. How do you have a heart of praise and thanksgiving when that joke or insult is bubbling within you? When the crowd would be laughing at your crude joke what will quiet your vulgar mouth and replace it with a mouth of praise?

“Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” How, when everything cries out within you to usurp his authority and lead on your own? “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.” How, when all of the selfish desires of the flesh creep up? How do I love my wife like Jesus did?

How do you spread Christ to the nations when silence is comfortable? What will motivate you to serve in the church when it seems so fearful? What will open up your pocketbook and cause you to be faithful in giving? What will create a holy people that love what they should love and hate what they should hate and do what they should do and not do what they should not do?

“Be holy as I am holy”. How? How can we be holy? We saw last week what is NOT the answer to these questions: we will not be holy by “just say no” campaigns, nor will we be made holy by building fences. No, I submit to you tonight, what Sam Storms does in his book Pleasures Forevermore—but more importantly what God says through the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3, the key to holiness is falling in love. Or as Paul says here in Colossians 3:1-4


Sermon Introduction:

Now before we begin really looking at this I must mention that many of these words are in the imperative. That means that these things are a command. What Paul is saying in these four verses is not a mere suggestion. It is God’s Word and it is a command. This is not something that we can just throw off and consider as a potential way of living. This is not a suggestion for a higher experience of Christianity. This is vital—if you do not heed this you will, in a spiritual sense die. Your soul will be ate up by the things of the world and shrivel up and die.

Listen to what John the beloved disciple said in his first letter. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world (or substitute Paul’s words “things that are on earth”), the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”. This is a matter of life and death. To not heed what God is saying in these verses will lead to us not “continuing in the faith, stable and steadfast”. It will cause us to “shift from the hope of the gospel”. To put this bluntly; follow this text or die. It is to our great peril not to heed this text. Sin will eat us up if we do not.

But that is only one side of the coin. It is not only the prospect of future and even current punishment that ought to motivate us to listen to this text. It is also what you are missing out on. Paul is pointing us to the source of all joy and pleasure. Sin is not a lasting pleasure. Holiness is. C.S. Lewis said it well when he said, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered [to] us…We are far too easily pleased.”

To not heed what Paul is saying is to miss out on the “fullness of joy” that is found in God’s presence alone. To go our own way and reject God at this point is to abandon the “pleasures forevermore” that are found at His right hand. Therefore, we must heed what Paul is saying in this text.

What then is Paul saying in Colossians 3:1-4? Earlier I used the phrasing of Sam Storms to describe it—the key to holiness if falling in love. Remember that the chapter and verse divisions are not in the original. These four verses ought to go with what we talked about last week. But they also are the foundation for the rest of the book of Colossians. In fact these verses are central to Paul’s argument in the entire letter. These verses are the nail in the coffin to the teaching of the Colossian heretics. This is Paul’s final explanation of doctrine and then he will move to spelling this out practically. But, before Paul talks about Christian living he teaches doctrine. He lets them know what will help them, in verse 5, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you”. He is explaining what it means to “put on” Christ. This is the fountain from which submission, sacrifice, obedience, love, prayer, evangelism, speech, all holy living flows. It flows from a heart that is set ablaze by the beauty, majesty, and glory of Jesus Christ. Holiness flows from a soul enthralled with God. Holiness comes from minds and hearts that are set on and seeking the things of Christ and not the things of the earth. But what does that mean specifically? How do we know what exactly we are to seek and what are we to set our minds on? Namely, it is Jesus Christ that we are to look upon. Specifically, I see two things in this text. Looking at these two things will comprise our sermon this evening.

I. Look at what He has done

Are you sensing a theme yet? Consistently in the book of Colossians their minds have to be drawn back to Christ. This is what is happening again in verse 1. “If then you have been” is another way of saying “Since”. This is not an “if” like it is a mere possibility. It is saying, since you have been “raised with Christ”. Where have we seen that phrase before? Back in verse 12-14 we saw that what has happened is that God has taken us, dead in our sin, and has given us new life—that is what it means to be “raised with Christ”. So, Paul is saying in verse 1, “since you have been given new life in Christ, seek the things that are above”.

Something that astonishes to me…and I say this about my own life…is that I sometimes get bored with God. I get accustomed to Him and can drift into a tired boredom in my relationship with Him. It is not that He is not amazing; it is because I am sinful and jaded. I am not yet fully redeemed. I say this because the truth that I just explained to you is one of the greatest and most glorious truths that have ever been spoken in the history of the world. Yet, we—I—often take them as if it is an everyday occurrence. Do we not believe the gospel? Do we not really believe what is being said here? I was dead and God made me alive.

Brought from death to life! There you lay in the tomb, but a moment away from being cast into hell. Your body already beginning to become corrupt and dilapidated. The marks of the worm of sin were upon our character and the foul stench of actual sin arose from us. Death worked in us corruption. There we laid in death. Totally, completely, irrevocably unable to raise ourselves. Ours were eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear; a heart that could not love and withered hands that could not be stretched out to give the touch of faith. We were even as they that go down into Hell, as those that have been long dead—only we in a worse plight than those actually dead, for we were daily adding to our condemnation. We were, therefore, in a state of spiritual death of the most fearful kind.

But, oh that life-changing conjunction, but, the Holy Spirit visited us and made us alive. Do you remember that first sensation of life? How it seemed to tingle in your soul’s veins with sharp and bitter pain—just as drowning person, when life is coming back to them, suffer great pain. Conviction was worked in us and confession of sin. A dread of judgment came to us and a sense of our present condemnation was present, but these were only the beginning mark of what was to come. That life imparted gradually deepened and opened up until the eyes were opened—we could see Christ! Our hands ceased to be withered and we stretched them out and touched the hem of His garment. Our feet began to move in the way of obedience and our heart felt the sweet glow of love within. Then our eyes, not content with simple seeing, fell to weeping and afterwards, when then tears were wiped away, they flashed and sparkled with delight.

And oh, my brothers and sisters, believers in Jesus, we were not spiritually dead any longer. On Christ you have believed and that grand act proves that you are no longer in death. You have been raised from the dead. You have been given new life. You have been made alive by the mighty power of God which worked in Christ when he raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand. Now, you are a new creature—the product of a second birth, given new life in Christ Jesus. Christ is your life—such as life as you never knew before, nor could have known apart from Him.[1]

This is what the first part of Colossians 3:1 means. Because of what Christ has done by His work, “canceling the record of debt and disarming the rulers and authorities”, we have new life. Feast on this, focus on this. Look to Christ and His mighty work in the gospel. We cannot exhaust this in one sermon. All of eternity will be spent relishing in the benefits that Christ has purchased. But let us look briefly at what we have seen thus far in Colossians:

Because of Christ:
· Those that should have no future but hell are given a hope laid up in heaven
· Those that are most despicable and unqualified for heavenly joys are qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light
· Those that deserved to dwell forever in the despair of the evil domain of darkness are transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son
· Those that have sold themselves into slavery and are harlot are bought back and redeemed
· Those that deserve condemnation are forgiven
· Those that should be estranged from the mighty, powerful, loving, blessed God are reconciled by His cross.
· Those that were alienated and God-haters with no hope of life are now reconciled and will be made holy, blameless, and clean before Him
· Those that are but dust are made to say, “Christ in you the hope of glory”
· Those that are empty and depraved because of sin are “filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority”
· Those that are trapped in a wretched body of flesh are freed and raised from the dead for now and eternity to enjoy pleasures forevermore
· Those with trespasses as long as the eye could see are “forgiven all our trespasses”

And this, brothers, and sisters is but a small sampling of what Christ has done. Focus on Christ and His gospel. Let me quickly add, that we learn from the last part of verse 1 that it is Christ that we are to be seeking—not simply the “things” above. So, what does this look like practically?

1) The battle is won before the war begins

This is not something that you take with you when the temptations are high and you are in the heat of battle. If Christ is not precious to you before the battle then he will not be precious to you in the midst of it. You will have already lost. Nor is this something that you use only when you are picking up the wounded after the battle. The battle is won before the war begins. Preach the gospel before temptation. Preach the gospel to yourself before you turn on the television. Be crazy in love with Jesus before you boot up the computer. Preach the gospel to yourself before you get in the ungodly relationship. Preach the gospel to yourself days before the witnessing opportunity. Preach the gospel to yourself even before you know what the day will bring. Preach the gospel to yourself constantly.

Notice how Paul does not condition this commandment. “Seek the things above” when you are tempted with financial worry. “Seek the things above” when you really are struggling with lust. “Seek the things above” when your boyfriend is pressuring you into doing something you do not want to do. “Seek the things above” when…you fill in the blank. This is a perpetual all day every day commandment. Seek the things above.

2) The battlefield is your desire

In verse 2, Paul gives a little different command when he says, “set your minds”. The word that is translated “mind” refers to “the basic orientation, bent, and thought patterns of the mind, rather than to the mind or intellect itself, and refers more to inner disposition.” Therefore, we are not simply talking about thinking about something. Nor is this simply something that you can do by a mere act of the will—as if that would be following Paul’s command here. What Paul is saying is how the KJV translates it, “set your affection” or “desire” on the things above.
But here is the “problem”—we cannot make our heart love what it ought to love. This must come from a work of grace. So, what do you do? You put yourself in places to receive grace; one way we have already mentioned—preaching the gospel to yourself. This is a stupid analogy, but it will help us to see what we need to do. Imagine that it is a really hot day, over 100 degrees. You are hot, sweaty, and in need of cooling. Up ahead you see a sprinkler system. How do you get cooled off? You stand under the water. You put yourself in the spot for refreshing. It is the same thing in the battlefield for our desires. You put yourself in the path of grace. We call them spiritual disciplines. Reading Scripture. Journaling. Prayer. Fellowship with other believers. Solitude. Fasting. Bible Memorization. Reading. That is only to name a few. Let’s make this simple. You do anything that you can to find Jesus. All of these are really ways to open up for you what Jesus has done—as well as our second point—what Jesus is going to do.

II. Look at what He is going to do

Paul’s point in verse 3-4 is the other side of verse 1-2. Verse 1-2 talks about us being raised to new life with Christ. If we have been given new life then logically we must have also died to the old one. This is Paul’s point in verse 3-4 and he includes with this truth a great promise.

Lest we misunderstand this “being hidden” is not something that he is going to do. This too is something that he has already done. What does it mean to be “hidden” with Christ? It can mean three things—and it is probably a combination of all three. First of all, it is a token of our security. It carries with it the idea that this treasure is stowed away by Christ for safekeeping. Secondly, it refers to our identity being hidden by the identity of Christ. This is kind of what Paul is saying in Galatians 2:20—“it is no longer I who live but Christ that lives within me.” So that when God sees the believer he sees the work of Christ. Lastly, and this is the dominate view is that our life is unexplainable to the unregenerate. Our source of life is hidden from the lost world. In fact it is often hidden from us.

How do Christian’s currently appear to the world? Often people wonder why we do not do some of the things that we do. Why do you not drink? Why do you not have sex until marriage? Why do you stay faithful in marriage? How do you do that? How do you still have hope in the midst of death? Why would you give 10% of your income to the church? Why will you not watch this movie? Why do you spend so much time praying? Why would you want to read the Bible instead of playing video games? We look, to the world—and sadly to some professing Christians—like sticks in the mud. They do not understand our life source.

Why is it that I do not drink? Because I have joy that is not found in a bottle. Why is it that I am faithful to my wife? Because there is more joy in holiness than in infidelity. The unbeliever does not see our life source. What I am saying now even sounds stupid and unappealing. Why is that? Because our life source—Christ—is hidden from the unbelievers view.

But notice what God is going to do in verse 4. But Christ, who is your life…again this is affirming what we just said about verse 3 that Christ is our life what about him? “When he appears”, which is a reference to the ultimate display of His glory at the climax of history when all we see Jesus clearly for who He is. Everyone will see the glory of Christ on that day. Those of you that are unbelievers will see Christ for who he really is and it will astonish you—but it will be too late. The appearance of Christ on that day will be evidence and the confirmation of your forthcoming just and being cast from His good presence for all eternity. If he is not your life source now he will not be your life source then.

For some of us when he appears, we also “will appear with him in glory”. What does that mean? Sam Storms explains it well when he says:
“When Paul says we will appear with him “in glory” he’s not referring to a place but an experience. This is the promise of sharing in the glorified life of Christ. It is the promise of the eradication of evil and every fleshly impulse. It is the promise of everlasting deliverance from greed and pride and lust and envy and unforgiveness. It is the promise that our whole being: body, soul, mind, spirit, and affections will experience and forever live in the power and purity of God himself.”

So, how does this help us in our fight against the deadly rebel of sin? It reminds us of who we really are and what we are really going to be. We are to seek and set our affection on God. Who he is, what he has done, and what he is going to do.

What happens is that when our soul is delighting in all of these things—and we are focusing on Christ the things of earth do not look so appealing. I close with a story from Greek mythology.

It is a very old story it is about a guy named Odysseus. The story starts with Odysseus traveling on his ship back to Ithaca. Odysseus has just rescued his king’s beloved wife Helen. On his way to take Helen back to Ithaca they must travel by the Sirens. The Sirens appeared to be beautiful. They were entrancing. Countless sailors would sail by the island and be enticed to come ashore. Once they got close to the shore however, their boats would crash on the hidden rocks beneath. They would be captured by the demonic cannibals that lived on the island. It was a trap and everyone knew it, but their call was so seductive that it seemed no man could resist.
Odysseus had a strategy. He told all of his crew to put wax in their ears and not look to the left or to the right. But Odysseus wanted to hear their beautiful music. He commanded his crew to tie him to the mast of the ship, and that no matter what he would say or do for them to not untie him until they were a safe distance from the island. Odysseus was completely seduced by the sirens. If it were not for the ropes tying him down, he would have succumbed. His hands were restrained but his heart was captivated by their beauty. Outwardly he had won the victory, but inwardly his heart desired the beautiful song of the sirens.
Now there was another man named Jason that would pass by the Sirens. But Jason’s solution was different. Rather than being tied to the mast or sticking wax in his ears, he hired Orpheus. Orpheus was the best musician in the land. Whenever the crew was passing close to the Sirens he ordered Orpheus to play his most beautiful, alluring, songs. Jason and his men did not even pay attention to the sirens. They were captivated by the beauty of Orpheus’ tune. They won the victory of the Sirens because they had heard something far sweeter, far more noble, far more soothing.

Now this is what we are confronted with. Whenever we stand in battle, whenever temptation is waging war on us, will we be like Odysseus; outwardly rejecting but inwardly craving the pleasures of sin. Will we struggle through life battling with sin not because our hearts have been transformed but because we are shackled by fear and shame? How will we struggle with sin, outwardly conforming all the while inwardly desiring sin? Or will we be like Jason? Will we be so captivated by the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ that sin no longer looks good to us. That is the only way to fight sin. Whenever you are so enthralled, enamored, in love with Jesus Christ will you be able to say “no” to sin, and mean it.

[1] Adapted from C.H. Spurgeon “Following the Risen Christ”

1 comment:

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