Putting off immoral behavior can seem a lot like legalism. So, how do we reconcile that we were saved by grace not works and that we need to put off immoral behavior? In this sermon, Greg shows that we need to trust in God’s reality instead of how we define our own reality.
Last week, we saw that when Paul adopted the reality that God gave him, he began to look crazy to those that didn’t understand God’s work in his life. Living out God’s reality doesn’t align with the wisdom of this world. Giving extravagantly and loving your enemies is not seen as a wise choice, but that is God’s reality for us.
As we get back into Colossians, we encounter a verse that most people see as a list of rules. When we follow the rules, God gives us blessings and if we don’t follow the rules, God’s wrath comes down on us. This is a lot like a cosmic Santa Claus. In this viewpoint, God is always watching us and is writing down everything we do wrong or right. He then blesses us or gives us his wrath based on his naughty or nice list.
Some people counter this viewpoint by saying that our bad behavior doesn’t matter at all. People believe in Jesus but keep acting in immoral ways because they’re saved by grace. This is a cheap grace theology. When people accept this grace but don’t change their lives to align with God’s reality, it doesn’t show the beauty of grace but rather it shows grace as cheap. But just as the Santa Clause viewpoint can’t make sense of being saved by grace through faith, cheap grace can’t make sense of Paul’s injunction here in Colossians to put away immoral behaviors.
Both of these camps miss the boat. We are absolutely saved by grace through faith and not of our own works. And that statement is not inconsistent with Paul stressing the urgency of putting off immoral behavior. For Paul, God’s reality shows us the path to living. Trusting the reality of God is why we should shed these immoral behaviors.
Paul tells us to put off immoral behavior because that is trusting that what God says is true is indeed true. We need to get real with God’s reality because our reality fundamentally changed when Jesus died and rose from the dead. The old was slain and a new creation was made. This is not a far off reality either. This is present here and now. Many want to say that our new creation is in the future when Christ returns, but Paul writes that it is here now. By rejecting this true reality, we begin to believe other viewpoints that are not God’s.
When we reject reality, we eventually crash up against true reality. A person can jump off a cliff and decide that they will reject the reality of gravity, but reality will eventually catch up to that person. In the same way, when we reject God’s reality, it eventually catches up to us. This is how the Bible defines God’s wrath. It’s not God up in the sky with a big stick. Rather, it’s the consequences of our actions when we reject God’s reality and choose our own. We eventually hit the ground because of our choices.
In Paul’s writings, we see a call to accept God’s reality as true. Paul usually states what is real, as God’s grace defines it. He then tells us to get our minds to conform to it and then tells us to get our behavior to line up with what is real. This passage in Colossians is no different. Paul spent many verses explaining the new reality that we have because of Jesus. And then he tells us to live out that reality by shedding our immoral behaviors. It’s not a way to become a part of God’s community, but rather it is accepting a new reality that God made for us on the cross.
It all comes down to who we’re going to trust to define reality. Will we trust ourselves and those around us for reality? Or will we trust God and the reality that he has created? We are to be a people that agree with God about what is real. This is faith. And living out that faith is living out the reality that God defines. It is believing what he says about himself in Jesus. It is believing what he says about us in Christ. And it’s about believing what he says about others in Christ. By living what God created, we will shed our immoral behaviors.
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