Big Idea: Work on fixing your wanter. Kill sin. And engage in practices that help you to grow.
The movie City Slickers is a comedy about a man who’s 39 years old and in the middle of a mid-life crisis. He’s friends with two other guys who are also experiencing a mid-life crises, so they go on a cattle drive in Colorado. There’s a fascinating scene that goes something like this:
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [points index finger skyward] This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean [anything].
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: smiles and points his finger at Mitch That’s what you have to find out.
That’s a pretty good point from a pretty goofy meaning. One thing ultimately matters in life, and we need to find out what that one thing is and then do it.
Two weeks ago I told you what that one thing is. We looked at Deuteronomy 6, and I told you this: we exist to know and love God. That’s it. That’s why you’re on this earth. It’s what you were meant to do. If you do this, you will have accomplished your purpose in life. If you don’t do this, you will have failed. We said this a few weeks ago in the New City Catechism:
How and why did God create us?
God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.
That’s why you exist. Everything else is secondary.
But then we saw that we’re prone to forget God. And the main reason why, according to Deuteronomy, is because of God’s gifts. It’s because of this:
…great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full… (Deuteronomy 6:10-11)
And so Moses taught us that we need practices — I’m calling them habits — that will remind us of our purpose: that we exist to know and love God.
Last week we built on this. We talked about three core habits that we need:
- to participate in worship and fellowship within a church
- to pray
- to immerse ourselves in Scripture
These are simple and yet costly practices. It matters that we do these consistently rather than perfectly. I don’t know anyone who’s grown who doesn’t engage in these three practices. Everyone I respect who is mature practices these three on a regular basis. And I don’t know anyone who practices these three from the heart who hasn’t grown. They are essential for our growth.
I want to stop here and emphasize this. My hope for you as your pastor is that you know and love God. And I believe that these three practices or habits are essential for all of us. We need them! So I want to ask you — urge you — to take this seriously. I want you to walk about of here saying, “I exist to know and love God. And because I’ll forget him, I need to prioritize worship and fellowship, prayer, and reading or listening to the Bible.” These are three habits I want all of you to develop. You won’t do it perfectly. You will struggle and fail. That’s okay. But keep practicing them, because they will help you to accomplish your main purpose in life.
So this is the foundation. Know and love God. Practice the three core habits. But today we’re going to build on this as we look at this passage. Once you build these three core habits, it’s time to start building other habits too.
Let’s look at Colossians 3, because it will take us where we need to go. Paul gives us three instructions in this passage.
Work on your wanter. (3:1-4)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
Hmm. This sounds a lot like what we just talked about: your purpose is to know and love God. Paul remind us in this passage that our purpose in life is simple: to seek the things that are above; to set our minds on them. It’s a call to be preoccupied with Jesus presence and agenda.
I used to live seven kilometers from here in a bungalow. We lived there for 20 years. But then we bought a condo in Liberty Village. I was both terrified and excited out of my mind. I had downloaded all the photos from the real estate listing and kept them on my phone. I would look at them pretty regularly because I was excited about the day that I would move in.
I think that’s what Paul is saying here. If you have put your faith in Christ, you’ve been raised with him. His resurrection life and power is now yours. Your future is with Jesus. The old you is gone; your new life is hidden in Jesus.
Verses 3-4 contain the good news that we all need. In the past, Jesus died, and when he died and was raised, we died and were raised. His death and resurrection became ours. Our lives are so intertwined with Jesus now that everything that we are in Christ: his life has become ours, and we are hidden in him. In the present, we are completely different people. In the future, our heavenly identity is real and secure. You don’t see it now, but it will be revealed one day. This is the reality that everyone who trusts in Jesus gets to enjoy now and in the future.
So live in that reality now. Become preoccupied with it right now, because this is way more valuable and relevant than anything you’re enjoying today!
The word “seek” is set in the present imperative. You could translate it, “Keep on seeking…keep on setting your minds on things that are above.” What we seek, what we set our minds on determines the direction of our lives.
It’s like we all have spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder. We’re continually being distracted by other things. And God commands us here to keep redirecting our attention. Paul is saying, “Hey! Back here. You just got distracted.” We need skills to catch when we lose our focus and to bring ourselves back. The fact that this is given as a command implies that we’re able to keep this command. We can figure out what to do to keep bringing ourselves back to Jesus, even though we’ll continually struggle with the temptation to lose our focus.
God wants to change us, not at the level of our behavior, but at the level of our desires. God wants to change our wanters. Since the purpose of your life is to know and love God, one of the most important things you can and must do is to keep on setting your desires on God. Keep on focusing on him as your greatest goal.
That’s the first command. Don’t be seduced by lesser desires. Keep your focus there. Work on your wanter.
But then there’s more.
Kill sin. (3:5-11)
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” (Colossians 3:5). What’s interesting is that Paul gets very specific about what he’s talking about, and everything he mentions is more than acceptable today: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…” There are a whole lot of behaviors that don’t even look bad anymore. But Paul says that we need to put them to death. This is a license to kill. It’s permission to be violent with our old way of life. Don’t put it in the corner and tell it to behave. In the words of John Owen, kill it, or it will be killing you.
There’s a myth out there that we just need to focus on Jesus’ love and not worry about things like sin. That’s dangerous. That’s a lie. Paul’s already told us that we died with Christ. That means that we need to kill anything in our lives that doesn’t match our new lives. Get rid of any behavior that doesn’t match who you are in Jesus.
Notice verse 6: “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” Read that again. Whoa. You thought that God’s wrath was something that belongs to the Old Testament? Not at all. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you’ve been saved from God’s wrath. Romans 5:9 says, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” But Paul reminds us here: persistent sinful behavior will bring God’s judgment. Don’t worry about sin so much out in the world. Let’s worry about sin here! “Paul tells us in Romans 11: 22: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God.” You don’t have a complete picture of God until you see both.
Look at the mercy of God and the wrath of God. Look at the tenderness of God and the toughness of God. Look at the salvation of God and the judgment of God. Look at the assistance of God and the opposition of God. Look at the friendship of God and the fierceness of God. Don’t look only at his gentler side. It will be bad for your faith. (John Piper)
I watched a horror movie recently called A Quiet Place. It was about these monsters that couldn’t see you, but they could hear you. The moment you made a noise they would come after you. This woman lost her child and her husband to a monster. And so when that monster came after her and the rest of her family, she didn’t hesitate. The movie ends with pumping the shotgun and getting ready to shoot any monster that comes her way. She’s ready to kill, because if she doesn’t, the monsters will kill her and everyone around her.
Sin is like that. Sin isn’t cute. Sin isn’t harmless. Sin will destroy you and everyone you love. God takes it seriously, and we must too. If you’re aware of any sin in your life, kill it! Don’t coddle what will kill you.
Work on your wanter, and one more thing as we close:
Engage in practices to help you grow. (3:12-17)
Verses 12 to 17 unleash a series of behaviors that are compatible with our new identities. He lists a series of practices that we must put on. The one thing that they all have in common is that they all foster Christian community. We need to build new habits so that we can grow together. He lists a set of practices that will change us, and that fit our new lives. He calls for unity in the local church. If we’re going to grow, we need each other. And we need to do certain things together. The church is essential for Christian growth.
Here’s the sum of what I’m trying to tell you today. Work on fixing your wanter. Kill sin. And engage in practices that help you to grow.
There’s only one thing that matters: that you know and love God. But that doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s why we need habits. We need habits that will help us to kill sin and to increase our community. We also need supporting habits.
Friends, I want to call you to practice the three basic habits. And then, once you have those down, I want to call you to begin to supplement with supporting habits. Take this seriously. Your life depends on it.
Work on fixing your wanter. Kill sin. And engage in practices that help you to grow.