A New and Different Life
One year, when my children were still in school, we took a vacation to the Wisconsin Dells. Have you ever been there? One of the things the Dells are known for is their waterparks, so we certainly had to take advantage of that. I remember being at a waterpark, contemplating that maybe I was just getting too old for water slides called, “The Demon Drop,” and noticing that so many people had tattoos. At the time my daughter commented that going to a water park was like going to a modern art museum. People had their names tattooed on each other, pictures of people, squiggles, shapes and words. Then I notice this fellow in front of me. Tattooed across his back was the image of a big old gnarly cross, and to be even more impressive it was complete with scripture verses etched above and below the image. I would like to tell you what the verses said but they were written in Greek. To read them I would have had to study his back like a piece of ancient parchment and that just wasn’t going to happen. Now why billboard a message on your back that most people will not be able to read, — I don’t know. Having a tattoo was not unique, but his choice of the tattoo was. It was a fairly public and permanent statement of one’s faith. It was different.
It reminds me of the fact that God wants us to be different! God is making us to be unique and different as compared to the world around us.
Colossians begins Chapter 3 “So if 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… When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Do you believe that? Are you setting your mind on things that are above rather than just all the things in the world around you? Do you believe that your life is hidden in Christ and will be revealed in glory? Well if you do believe that and strive to live as you believe, do you know what will become of you? You will be different. You will be different than the world around you, because most people in our world do not believe these things and do not live with an eternal perspective in the decisions that they make.
As a Christian we may look the same as everyone around us, but Christians are not the same. Maybe we do not have a tattoo upon our bodies but we have the mark of God within us and the call of God upon us. Colossians encourages us to live within this off-beat difference as compared to the world. Our lives are hidden with Christ that Colossians calls the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, through whom all things were created, the first born of the dead, through whom life is given, and within whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Christ in you makes you different.
It made the people of Colossae different. There problems and issues were not quite like ours but not so whole unfamiliar either.
Throughout history many people have come up with various views about the nature of Christ and what God wants of us. In Paul’s time the idea of Gnosticism was just beginning to develop. It was a philosophy that believed that which was spiritual is good and that which is material was evil. According to this philosophy God did not create the world, but there were emanations or off shoots from God and the lowest of these spiritual beings created the material world. They then argued that only through a hidden or secret knowledge are we able to separate our material existence from our spiritual existence and thus live life on a higher spiritual plain.
This played out in different ways. Some practices a life of self-denial as a way to separate themselves from the material world. They lived by strict discipline and rules to be spiritual.
Others perhaps went in the opposite direction. They practiced hedonism. They reasoned that what we do in the body is irrelevant to the spiritual life, so they were free to live in any manner they chose. Furthermore, in this line of thought if Jesus were divine then he only appeared to be human, or Jesus was not actually divine at all. Yes, to say the least these miss-directions of thought created a variety of human folly.
In truth we are not sure where the mind of the Colossians was, but it is certain that they were being drawn away from the truth God gave us through Christ. Colossians was written to remind them to stick with God’s basic truth. For the Colossians who may have been all wrapped up in philosophies and secret knowledge and whose lives were being guided by principalities and powers, divine emanations of lesser degree, astrology, occult leanings, strict teachings, or an absence of it all, this letter is reminding them that all they need is Jesus, who is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, the life of all who call upon him.
Christ is all you need to make the difference that you need within your life. Therefore, put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly. The scriptures give us a list to point us in the right direction –fornication, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed. Here this list focuses toward the passions of lust and want that can tend to control our lives from within. It is about living a life that treats others as objects and seeks self-pleasure and self-satisfaction above all else. It is the self-absorbed life. Colossians says put such a way of life to death. This term is a strong word insisting on the complete end of such behavior and desires. It doesn’t say control yourself, but extinguish the problem totally.
Colossians goes on to say get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another.
This is how people used to lived, but now they are to be clothed with a new self –One that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. This is a different life. Seek the things above. Put to death the things of the earth. Hide your life with Christ in glory. Live in unity with those who you once recognized as being different than yourself. Indeed, the challenge here is to live a different way –somewhere outside of the norm. Indeed let love, compassion, mercy, justice, patience, kindness and the like be what rules within your life.
Now we are not able on our own to accomplish this difference within ourselves, but it is Christ who makes us able.
Do you remember the classic fairy tale RAPUNZEL? It is the story of a young girl, imprisoned in a tower with an old witch. The young girl is in fact very beautiful, but the old witch insistently tells her that she is ugly. This was the witch’s way of keeping the girl in the tower with herself.
One day, however, Rapunzel is gazing from the window of the tower. At the base of the tower stands her Prince Charming. Rapunzel throws down the end of her long and beautiful golden hair to the prince. He takes it and braids it into a ladder and climbs up to rescue her.
The point is this. The real prison Rapunzel finds herself in is not the tower, but the fear of her own ugliness which the witch has described so often and so effectively. The witch has convinced her that she is of no value. However, when Rapunzel sees in the eyes of her lover her own reflection and that she is beautiful, she is freed from the real tyranny of her own imagined ugliness.
We need to see in the eyes of the God who created us, sustained us and loved us with an everlasting love the beauty which may be ours. If we see ourselves only through the world’s eyes, we may very well be overwhelmed by our ugliness. But if we see ourselves through God’s eyes. then we see ourselves in an entirely new light. Colossians puts it like this: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.” Can you imagine yourself “in glory”? That is the real you. That is who we are called to be in Christ who is above all things.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “He who has God and many other things has no more than he who has God alone.”
In Christ we have the strength to lay aside the patterns of the world for something different. The strength to kill off the old and to hide one’s own life eternally in glory is found in Jesus. Christ is all and in all. Let us be different. Let us live within him. Amen.