I was the only kid in gym class that couldnt perform a single pull up. Eighth grade was hard enough without the embarrassment of being proven to be the weakest of the group. I was an active child, but very frail in stature. I was bothered for days over the incident, and I realized that I wanted to change. I knew in order to make become stronger, I would need to sacrifice some things. I would have to begin doing things differently. No more coming home from school and plopping down on the couch or playing video games until bed time. I realized that certain habits and routines, although enjoyable, were at the same time keeping me from growing stronger. In order to accomplish the goal of getting stronger, I had to put old habits to death.
I would have to take on a new nature.
I began working out instead of playing hours of Super Mario. My father had an old workout machine that I used. It wasnt long before I had gotten too strong, and he bought a weight set we placed in our basement. From that point forward I became a new creation. While other friends of mine would be outside playing after school, I would spend hours in our basement weight room. And this discipline continued on through out high school and college, and being healthy and fit is still a part of my personality that I carry with me to this day.
When I met my wife I was fresh out of college. I wasnt a bad kid by the worlds standards, but I had become rough around the edges due to the college lifestyle. Just a little over 21 years old, I would occasionally have a drink with buddies at a bar. On my second date with my wife, I took her out to eat and I ordered an alcoholic beverage. Halfway through the dinner, I realized that she was very uncomfortable. Finally, Lacy told me that she had seen alcohol ruin families, and would not be with a man who drank alcohol. She didnt tell me what to do, she just laid out her standards for what she looked for in a future mate. I wanted to be with Lacy. But in order to do this, I would have to sacrifice certain things. Even put them to death.
I would have to take on a new nature.
That night was the last drink I ever had. I put that party lifestyle to death, and it was not a burden. Because my wife was a greater treasure to me. I had no problem sacrificing alcohol in order to be with her. Because Lacy was worth it to me. And to this day, I have no desire in me to drink alcoholic beverages, because I dont need a buzz to relax me. Just spending time with my wife daily is more than enough satisfaction for me.
When we want something in life, naturally sacrifices have to be made in order to attain that which we strive towards. To attain the goal of being a great businessman, sacrifices have to be made in order to climb the ladder of success. To be a great athlete, comfort must be exchanged for daily hours of blood, sweat, and tears to condition your body. Even in the life of a soldier, leisure must be traded in for a very regiment lifestyle. And to sacrifice things when we have a goal is never a burden. Because that which we strive towards is seen as a greater treasure. Otherwise, we wouldnt be striving towards it.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.
The apostle Paul summed it up best by saying to achieve our goals, we must change. The old habits must die in order for the new creation in us to spring forth. But the goal in which Paul writes is the goal of Christlikeness.
In all areas of life this fact holds true; that in order to change, you must be willing to sacrifice. Yet when we look around our world, it seems that Christianity and becoming more like Christ is the most worthy goal we could seek, and it is the only goal that our nation assigns no change required in its pursuit. You see I can look back at the time before I began working out and share a testimony of how weak I was and the things I had to give up in order to get in shape. I can look back at dating my wife and give testimony of how I changed in my love for her. So shouldnt it hold true that in my walk with Christ, upon being asked how God’s grace has changed me, that I should light up with more excitement and zeal than any of my former pursuits, and begin to give testimony to how Christ radically changed my life?
To many people will claim to be follower of Christ with little to no sacrifice in their lives. Christ changed me in many ways, but one of the first ways I changed when I truly began to follow Christ was in the area of entertainment. My preferences changed. Radically. I could no longer stomach movies or television or music that would use the Lords name in vain. I could no longer justify it by saying, “Well its just entertainment and God knows I love him.” It was no longer a game to me, the treasure of Christ in whom I now sought was being profaned, and it began to disgust and even anger me. This new hatred of sin led to me getting rid of our monstrous DVD library because I saw where entertainment throughout my life had become an idol. It had become my God. Was it a sacrifice? You bet. Was it a burden to do this? Not in the least. Because I now viewed Christ as more of a treasure in my life than entertainment.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44.
To anyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord, I would have to ask them, “What treasure did you give up in exchange for Christ?” The parable in Matthew explains the sacrificial mindset. The man had treasures of his own. Things that he had stored up that were important to him in his life. But one day, he found this treasure hidden in field, and he realized that the value of the treasure far superseded the worth of all that he presently owned. The man sold all that he had once considered to be a treasure in his life so that he may have this new treasure. The man had to give up all that he had in order to gain something greater. Christ is that treasure. And if there is no sacrifice in your pursuit of God, then Christ is not your treasure
I tend to squirm when I hear an evangelist call people to come and accept Christ, claiming salvation is a simple process. Changing is not simple. Sacrificing involved effort. The Christian life is anything but simple. Any of the apostles could attest to this. Following Jesus cost many of them their jobs, friends, reputation, and even their earthly lives. Living for Christ is not easy. But it is worth it.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” Philippians 3:8.
The most assured sign a believer can have in their life that they are indeed a new creation is change. It is to begin to hate the sin you once loved, and to love the righteousness of God that you once hated. It is to have a new spirit in you, which in all actuality is very accurate. Think about this for one moment. According to the scriptures, believers in Jesus are given a helper inside of them, God’s own spirit, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within a believer in Christ. So it is impossible to put forth enough effort to make yourself a new creation without the Holy Spirit. That is why salvation is a supernatural work of God. It is not something you can do yourself.
Following this logic, we must define the Holy Spirit. The word Holy actually means separate. So when we bow to the Lordship of Christ and confess him as Lord, a “separate” spirit comes to dwell in us. Separate from what? Well, God’s spirit is separate from evil. So if we claim to be saved in Christ, that means we should have the Holy (Separate) Spirit dwelling in us. Therefore, the desires of our hearts will naturally begin to change seeing that we are no longer driven by our sinful spirit, but now heavily influenced by the Holy Spirit inside of us! This literally makes it impossible to continue living in an habitual lifestyle of sin while claiming to be a Christian.
Christianity is not ‘fire insurance’ from the flames of Hell. Following Jesus isnt something you do just so you can escape Gods wrath. I joke alot with friends and tell them that I believe country music was part of the fall in the garden of Eden. I cant tell you how many country songs I have heard that tout lyrics about fighting, cussing, womanizing, drinking, but will round out the chorus with thankfulness that they are saved. I believe it was the great theologian Travis Tritt who sang, “Baptized in 100 proof, and saved by the blood of the lamb.” And because of such worldly influences, our society has turned Christianity into a pursuit that as the lyrics point out, you can continue willfully living in sin and be saved. And many are being deceived.
Christianity is a dying to self. Paul said this;
“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” 1 Corinthians 15:31.
The apostle Paul claimed he had to die daily! He is not speaking of physically perishing, but of dying to his sinful desires. For even though his eyes are on the prize, the lusts of the world fight for to draw our attention away from our treasure in Christ. We are called to die daily to our old self, to the self that we put off when we cast our burden at the foot of the cross. So what does this putting off of the old self look like?
“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 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Colossians 3:5-10.
Paul lists what we would call major sins first. In order to follow Jesus, these must be put off. Not only put off, but the language used is ‘put to death.’ Sexual relations outside of husband and wife marriage is a practice that is rampant in our world today, even among people who will claim to be Christians. But Paul says that a person cannot simultaneously stay in the old self and be the new creation in Christ at the same time. You must choose one or the other, because sin and righteousness cannot go together.
He goes on to list impurity, which is taking perverting and misusing the good things God gives and making them defiled. For example, sex is a good thing. God invented it! But it was created to operate within the context of man and women united in marriage. Anything other than this is considered sinful and impure. Food is a good thing. But when we binge go to food as our comfort instead of Christ, then food has become sin and is therefore used in an impure manner.
Evil desires are mentioned next. We all would say a hearty ‘amen’ to not having evil desires, but honestly if our weekly thoughts could be displayed on a screen, not one of us would be free from shame. To be free from evil desires is to begin to hope for the best in others, even when they are against us. It is to filter everything through the lens of Christ.
Covetousness is mentioned next. That is to desire what is not yours to begin with. It is to not be satisfied with the breath and life God has bless one with and to begin to tell God that He is not enough. Paul finishes with idolatry, which is taking the good things God gives, and making them ultimate in your life over God. As one pastor said, it’s taking a good thing and putting it in place of God. Idols can be found simply by looking at your life, and pinpointing something that you would say you couldnt give up for Christ.
Paul goes on further to list what DA Carson deemed as everyday sins. Sins that we dont think twice about in our lives. They are just sort of acceptable. Anger, malice, wrath, slander, obscene talk, and lying. Why would the bar be raised to put such menial sins to death?
Think of a terrible sickness. The factors leading up to sickness can be many. Sometimes it is environment, lack of activity, poor diet, family genetics, bad health habits, or just laziness that can add up over time to produce sickness in a person. Individually, these things may not seem like a big deal. But over time, they add up and produce a sickness that can at times be fatal. It was the little things that added up to become a big thing.
Take any big sin. Murder, adultery, sexual immorality. No person simply wakes up one day and decides that they are going to do these things. Its the accumulation of the little things adding up. Stored up anger can lead to violence. Slander, coveting, or thinking bad thoughts about your spouse can lead to adultery. And lying only digs a deeper hole the soon is inescapable without consequences. These things must be put to death in order to seek the treasure of Christ. A person claiming to be a Christ follower while holding on to these idols only deceives themselves. If you continue reading in Colossians 3, Paul then tells us what we must put on once we have taken the old off. And I will address that portion of scripture tomorrow.
Do not simply believe yourself to be saved because you go to church or have been baptised. Examine yourself spiritually. For we know that baptism in itself is not salvation, but only an outward sign of an inward change. Can you look back at your life before Christ and see a change? What sacrifices did you make in exchange for pursuing Christ? Every worthy endeavor in our lives calls for change. Certain things in us must die in order to put on the new self. I saw a bumper sticker on a car that paraphrased this entire blog in four words;
No Change, No Christ
Know Change, Know Christ
If there is no change, no sacrifice, no putting off of the old self, then their can be no relationship with Christ. But if you have experienced change and are familiar with sacrificing old sins in exchange for Him, then you will know Christ. Because he has become that treasure that is more precious than anything this world has to offer.