An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Colossians 3 - it's all about holiness

These are the note and slides for a talk I did tonight. The title was 'It's all about holiness'.

Two cars are waiting for a traffic light. The light turns green, but the man didn't notice it. A woman in the car behind him is watching traffic pass around them and go through the light. She begins pounding on her horn and yelling at the man to move. He doesn't.

The woman is going ballistic inside her car, ranting and raving at the man. The light turns amber and the woman flashes the finger and screams a stream of profanities and curses at the man.

The man looks up, sees the amber light and accelerates through the lights just as they turn red. The woman is beside herself, screaming in frustration.

She is in mid-rant when she hears a tap on her window and looks up to see a policeman.
The policeman orders her to get out of her car. She is cuffed and taken to the police station where she is put in a cell.

Later a policeman takes her back to the booking desk where the original officer is waiting with her personal effects.

He hands her the bag containing her things, and says, "I'm really sorry for this mistake. But you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and swearing at him. Then I noticed the: 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday School' bumper sticker, and the fish emblem on the back of your car. So, naturally . . . I assumed you had stolen the car."

So, what does it mean to be holy? What does Colossians 3 have to say?

First we need to look at the context - the whole context is the scriptures. An important hermeneutical principle is that the scriptures don't contradict each other. The next context is the NT, then Paul's writings and finally the book of Colossians and the cultural, political, economic, cultic context. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to go into all the detail but the immediate context is ch 2:20

20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21"Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22-23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.

Dos and don'ts don't help - so what does Paul suggest?

We have died with Christ – our old selves are dead – so why live as if they aren’t? Holiness doesn’t come from working at it. Holiness is not something we can accomplish.

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

The key words here are since then… we died in Ch2 and now in Ch3 we are raised with Christ.

But then we have something a little strange – forgive me while I make a little but important digression:

One of the things that I’m totally convinced of is that there is no dualism in Christianity. Dualism is pagan contraband imported into Christianity. Nothing is more spiritual than anything else - all of life is spiritual, we can’t split things up into spiritual and non-spiritual.

And yet here Paul seems to he appears to make a dualism of things above and things of the earth. What’s going on?

The issue here is one of direction. It is useful to make a distinction between structure and direction. I know I’ve said it before – but all I’m doing is reminding you. Structure is the way God has made things – he created and it was good. Creation is good. However, then came sin … there is now two directions: the God way and the other way. Direction is all about how we take things.

The distinction here is in terms of the old age of self and the new age in Christ. The kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light.

Paul goes on to expand on what he means by things above and earthly things. One thing he is not doing is decrying the physical this is no hair shirt asceticism that Paul is advocating. He has been at pains to point that out in chapter 2. Neither is he advocating a head/ heat dualism – heart good, head bad. In fact he stresses the unity of the two here:

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

The direction, where we are looking to and where we are going are important.

He defines what he means by earthly things:

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other,


It has nothing to do with culture, art, music, maths, science, business, law or any other aspect of creation. The ‘things above’ do not mean that the physical is decried.

So, what does it mean to be holy?

Look at Amazon data: How many books with holiness, miracle, sex, power in their titles?

It says something about what sort of books Christians will buy. We get the publisher's we deserve!

For many holiness is conjures up asceticism, an attempt to get away from worldliness by abstaining from things. One such acetic was Simeon Stylites. He lived for 37 years at the top of a pillar becasue he wanted to get away from the world. A rather drastic approach!

Simeon became very serious about his religion at the age of 13, at 16 he joined a monastery and beagn fasting for a past-time! He became too austere even for the rest of the monks so they kicked him out. So Simeon went and lived in a hut, he also went without food and water for the whole of the Lent period. It was regarded as a miracle and Simeon gained a large number of followers and crowds came to seek his advice. That's when he decided to live on top of a pillar in an attempt to escape the world and put down the body. This has nothing to do with holiness. It is a misconception of holiness.

Holy comes from the word separate - many Christians see it as a separation form the world and culture an other worldliness. But can we be holy without living in a hole? Without sitting on a pillar and escaping the world - we are not called to an other-worldliness but a worldly holiness, a holy worldliness.

God is holy, He is involved he didn’t try to escape the world he became involved, he became flesh, he became physical.

Holiness is not something that we do - it is something that we are. Herman Ridderbos says ‘it is necessary to recognise that it does not in the first instance have a moral content’.

Colossians 3 we see the source of holiness: new life in Christ. Living in Christ.

We have died with Christ, we are also raised with Christ.

The image used here is that of a garment. The old garment is the old life but in Christ we now have a new garment.

v 5 Put to death
v 6 rid yourselves of all such things A Putting Off
v10 taken off your old self

v 10 put on the new self
v 12 clothe yourselves A Putting on!
v 14 put on

A change of direction.

In Christ we have a more radical solution to holiness than legalism or attempting to escape from the world.

Our old selves have been dealt with - they have been nailed to the cross and in Christ we are raised to a new life. Like an old garment they need to be taken off and discarded. We are united in Christ - we died with him and we are raised with him. We are holy, set apart, because of what he has done.

Being made holy we are called to live holy. We must reject a cheap grace that means we can live as we wish, likewise we must reject a legalistic set of dos and donts.

Gordon Spykman:
The summons to sanctified living calls, therefore, not for superficial moralistic acts of self-exertion, but for a sturdy kind of ‘worldy’ holiness, rooted in wholehearted dedication to the Lord in all our Christian callings. It calls for covenant faithfulness, kingdom loyalty, in full reliance on an unfailing divine initiative. Such a life of obedience is motivated and directed by a faith which finds God's grace its source of strength.

The final verses of this chapter show that holiness needs to be worked out in the house and at work, for husbands, wives, children, slaves and masters.

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

And in case we didn’t get it the first time – Paul repeats himself:

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Holiness embraces all of life - we can have a political holiness, an academic holiness, economic holiness, artistic holiness, business holiness, a workplace holiness. Let’s not limit the gospel … the gospel is for all of life. Holiness is not about what bumper sticker we have, it's about what car we drive, it's about how we drive, how we live and work in the market place, the workplace, it's about the whole of life. It's about the whatever of life.

Let us pray. Father thank you we can be holy without living in a hole or on top of a pole.
Thank you you have done it all in Christ – we are holy because of what you have done for us. Help us to be holy in all areas and aspects of our lives. Help us to put on Christ and to image you and not to restrict your gospel. Open our eyes. Amen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thoughts on the idea of "holiness"