Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sermon on Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3, for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, "Look to Jesus"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Modern day races are a great example of sportsmanship and athleticism—of fair competition and achievement. We have a high expectation that athletes in any sport, and certainly runners as well, will fairly compete to the best of their ability, without cheating or using performance-enhancing drugs. We expect that “fair play” means that they wouldn’t stoop to tripping or shoving other runners to get ahead, but win by honest effort and hard training. We’re greatly disappointed when we learn that athletes have cheated or “doped up” on steroids or other substances, and we’re outraged when terrorists bombed the spectators and runners at the Boston Marathon. Not only was it a gross violation of life, but an inexplicable act of brutality. It goes without saying that we don’t expect runners in a race to face willful intent to harm them.
As Christians, you are running in a race that is set before you. It’s a race run by faith, and like a marathon, it’s a long haul. Your whole life as a Christian, you run this race by faith. But this race is not so fair as a sportsmen-like marathon. This race is not without weights or burdens that are imposed on us or that we picked up ourselves. Sometimes we carry tremendous burdens of guilt or shame, unwilling or unable to look to God for forgiveness. Or we’ve suffered wrongs at the hands of others, and feel unable to escape the damage. We think our guilt or shame is ours alone to bear, and the only way it could be lifted is if we suffer enough to make up for our wrongs. Or we consider ourselves unworthy of God’s help. Or we value self-reliance so much that we’re too proud to seek God’s help. It would be as though a giant boulder held you pinned to the ground, and you imagined that it was your duty to lift it, or someone shouted to you that if you just “believed in yourself” you could do it. But this would be impossible without the “burden-bearer” Jesus Christ. He is the One to whom we turn our eyes. The One who beckons the weak and heavy-laden to come to Him and find rest.
The good news, or gospel, shows us Jesus Christ in our place, under that burden, that impossible boulder. And He alone bears its weight to death on the cross, but in doing so, lifts it from us. He alone takes away our guilt and shame, and brings us healing from the devastation of sin. Our eyes really must be fixed on Him, to release our burdens, and the sins that stick to us like a spider web.
Though we scorn hecklers in an ordinary race, and it’s hard to believe there are those who would willfully harm those competing in a race; it should not surprise us that the devil would set sin and temptation before us like traps, or that there will be people who will mock your faith in Jesus. Or that some may even face unthinkable persecution for their faith. Were it not for Christ, who forgives your sins, washes you clean, and sets you free from them—sin would be our downfall. As it is, we must be watchful, and by constant repentance throw off that sin that so readily clings to us. The reality is that life isn’t a fair competition, with a level path and only supporters surrounding us. That’s the reason the writer to the Hebrews warns us in advance of the challenge of running by faith.
But that’s not to say it’s all challenges and discouragement. And we do have a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding us, encouraging us and reminding us that the race can be completed. Those saints of the faith faced vexing situations, insurmountable challenges, fearsome enemies and unseen futures, sin that would entangle them—and many times they failed, were weak, or doubtful. Yet each of them had faith—their eyes also turned to God and Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. They persevered through their trouble, not because they had clever solutions for their dilemmas, or because they could guarantee God’s blessings, but because they trusted in the One who could. They believed for a certainty that God would be faithful in keeping His promises. So does the runner who is approaching the finish line focus his attention on the spectators who cheer him on from the side and the finish? No! The runner focuses ahead, to the goal, the finish line.
In the same way, the focus of Hebrews 11-12 is not to put those “heroes of faith” on a pedestal—but rather to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Their faith too, was not turned to themselves, but to God, and the promised Savior, Jesus Christ. So our encouragement to each other as Christians, and of true saints in the Bible, should always be “Look to Jesus! Look to Jesus!” For He ran that race before us and won. This competition, this race is not won by our strength or training. It’s not only the healthy, athletic, and strong, or even only the intelligent that are able to compete. Even the frail grandmother who is no longer able to speak or move, but who lives by faith, is running in that race. The strength and endurance to finish the race does not come from within us, but it comes from Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. You could say that Jesus “wrote the book” on the subject of faith.
And since He is the authority on matters of faith, we should confidently take His Word on all matters of faith. So just surveying the Gospels for a moment, what do you think Jesus taught faith believes or trusts? It believes in Him that He can heal, forgive, clothe us, protect us, move mountains, answer prayers, remove our unbelief. It believes that He rose from the dead, faith believes and is baptized for salvation, believes Christ’s Word, in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Faith believes in Jesus’ name, believes in Him for eternal life, believes that He is sent by God the Father, that He is the Holy One of God, it believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing has life in His name. And again and again, throughout the Gospel of John, and the other Gospels as well—faith simply believes in Him, in Jesus. It’s a solid trust in the One who is able to do all these things.
Faith doesn’t get these things because we can supply them, but because God can. A Christian professor gives the analogy of an antenna, to faith. An antenna doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t produce the signal that makes your TV or radio work, but it simply receives. But you can’t get the signal without an antenna. In the same way, God’s blessings come to us by faith, and we simply receive them—not by our power or strength. And not only that, but God installed that “faith antenna” to begin with, so that everything, even our “reception” is God’s free gift by grace. Faith “tunes in” to the promise and relies on God to supply.
Faith is that sure confidence in what we hope for, and that certainty in what is unseen. Faith looks at what God can do, not at what we can do. And looking to Jesus, we not only have the author of our faith, but also the perfecter of our faith. Jesus who ran the race before us, and by perfect obedience to the Father, secured the whole “prize” for us. It’s not a race we win by moving ourselves by our strength, to the finish line. But it’s a race of dependence on Jesus, won by believing in Him, and following His call. And if ever a race were filled with obstacles, burdens, unfairness, and hostility—it was not our race, but the race Jesus ran. With our sins weighing Him down, with “hecklers” who scorned the faith, assailed Christ’s ways, Jesus was mocked and nailed to a cross. With open hostility and willful intent to harm, Jesus was put to death. But faith sees through that appearance of Christ being a helpless, innocent victim—and hears Christ’s side of the story instead.
And as Scripture tells it, and Jesus tells it—it’s no “pity me” story about how Jesus was an unfair victim. But it’s a story of tremendous sacrifice and great willingness to undergo tremendous personal cost to Himself, out of love for us. It’s the story of Jesus “for the joy set before Him” enduring the cross and despising its shame. It’s a true race of triumph and glory, hidden underneath the shame and infamy of the cross. That Jesus willingly laid down His life for us, and bore the suffering without complaint or bitterness, for the joy of accomplishing the Father’s will, making us righteous—forgiven—by His sacrifice. Though it’s a very pale comparison to what Christ accomplished, we could think of the athletes who played through great pain and injury to lead their team to victory, and barely gave thought to the suffering, for the sake of the ultimate prize. To an infinitely greater degree, Jesus paid the price so He could win us the prize. And it was to His Father’s glory, and to our eternal benefit—not self-glorification. He won His prize for all of us who follow Him and finish the race after. No one who finishes the race in Christ will be left out of His joy and salvation.
Because He is the author and perfecter of our faith, and we can look to Him, we can take courage and be refreshed when we grow weary or fainthearted. We can have faith He will carry us to the finish line. Countless obstacles may lie in our path, to turn us away from God’s plan—if we don’t have faith in Him. Had Abraham disobeyed the test to offer up Isaac, he would’ve demonstrated his faithlessness in God, and wouldn’t have seen how God was going to provide a substitute. Had Moses’ parents not had faith, they would’ve despaired of rescue for their son or cowered in fear at the Pharaoh’s wicked commands. Had Moses not had faith, he would’ve stayed in the safety and luxury of Egypt’s palaces, and scorned the suffering of his people instead. Without faith, the Israelites would not have dared to cross the Red Sea, but instead would’ve resigned themselves to recapture by Egypt. Without faith we could easily surrender ourselves to seemingly impossible circumstances, and think that God can’t save us or deliver us.
But with faith, we look to the One who delivered all these saints of old, and who continues to deliver His people. With faith, we see Jesus run the most challenging and unfair race, and die in the most despairing situation, when all hope seemed beyond lost. But we see that He did it for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. We see that far from being a defeat, this was in fact Christ’s sacrifice and victory for us, to secure us the heavenly prize. We see that by faith, His prize is ours as well. When your way becomes weary, or your heart grows weak—there’s no substitute but to look to Jesus. It is this faith alone, that is well founded and that will carry us through this life to Jesus, our eternal reward. Faith looks to Jesus and receives the promise, in His name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Refer back to Hebrews 11:1 for the definition of faith. Review each of the saints named in Hebrews 11:17ff. What unseen promise or blessings did they each look forward to?
  2. In what ways were those promises at odds with the external situations they found themselves in? Describe in each situation, what they might have done instead, if they had not had faith. How does this demonstrate that faith is the cause and our works are the effect? In this way, the works are the visible proof that faith exist.
  3. Why is faith not turned inward, to ourselves or our heart or our abilities (i.e. “navel-gazing”)? Why is faith not direct at the saints, like Abraham, Joseph, and Moses? Where is the true object of our faith, as well as theirs? Hebrews 12:2.
  4. What hardships and sufferings will faith encounter? Hebrews 11:32-12:4; Matthew 5:10-12. How does faith endure it? By looking to whom?
  5. When faith looks to Jesus, what blessings does it receive? Matthew 6:30; 21:22; Mark 9:23-24; John 1:12; 3:16; 20:31.
  6. Consider the analogy of faith being like an antenna. In what way does this parallel the sending and receiving of God’s promises? Does the antenna produce the signal? Is it necessary to receive “the signal?” Who “installed” the antenna, by which we passively receive God’s works for us? Ephesian 2:8-9; Romans 10:17.
  7. What weights, what entangling sins, what obstacles stand in your way of “running the race set before you?” What promises of God can you rely on to cast off those hindrances?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sermon on Genesis 15:1-6 and Hebrews 11:1-16, for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, "What faith is and isn't"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The strong theme that runs through all three of our readings today is faith, and we’ll look today especially at Genesis 15 and Hebrews 11 (sometimes called the great faith chapter), to better understand what faith is and isn’t. We’ll see what characteristics attend faith, and also consider those characteristics that are contrary to faith. And, most importantly, find how God supplies and strengthens our faith, as He did for the saints of old.
Hebrews 11:1 begins with the beautiful definition, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” These first two qualities of faith—assurance and conviction—quickly show us what the contrasting qualities to faith must be—doubt and uncertainty. That is to say that faith is confident and sure, it is not wavering and doubtful. It is confident and sure because it builds on the rock of our confidence—Jesus’ Christ and His Word. Yet every Christian will share that they’ve had doubts or wrestlings, and times when they wavered. These are most certainly not of faith—but do they mean that one is not a Christian?
On the night of His last supper, Jesus prayed for Peter saying, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus saw that His disciple was going to come to a crisis of faith, but He would pray for Simon Peter that his faith would not fail. Jesus’ Word to Peter, and His own prayer, bolstered Peter’s faith through a crisis. After the crisis was past, Peter was to strengthen others. In the same way, we experience trials and crises of faith, but we listen to God’s Word, we pray, we pray for each other, and the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for us. While doubts and anxieties and worries are certainly not of faith, God’s Word and promises speak faith into our hearts, to give us the confidence and assurance of faith. And prayer brings us to commit our will to God’s will.
This very thing happened to Abraham and Sarah when God renewed His promise to them that He would make Abraham into a great nation, and to be a blessing. Many years had passed since Abraham first heard the promise, and they had already been old and childless, and it seemed even more doubtful that they could have children in their advanced age. But God spoke His Word to Abraham—God’s uniquely powerful, creative, life and faith-giving Word—saying “Look toward heaven, and number the stars if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” God’s Word is not “fluff” or mere inspirational speech, but it’s the very creative Word that calls things into existence, and creates faith itself. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17 says.
And so Abraham heard God’s Word and renewed promise and he believed. God credited Abraham’s faith as righteousness. Hearing God’s Word, Abraham was granted certainty—assurance—that is a hallmark of faith. He knew, without yet seeing how, that God would deliver on His promise to give them a child. Hebrews 11 tells us by faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
As you’ve heard me teach before, the power of faith isn’t in itself, but in its object—who it looks to. “She considered Him faithful, who had promised.” Because God was able to do it, He rewarded their faith by keeping His promise. And, the greatest blessing Abraham received, above and beyond having a child, was when God counted his faith as righteousness. Paul uses this verse, Genesis 15:6, multiple times to show that we are justified by faith (that is declared righteous by God). Our faith too lays hold of God’s greatest promised blessing, the righteousness of Christ. This is your forgiveness, your innocence before God—Jesus’ own righteousness. Trusting in Him, your faith is placed on the One who is able to save you and keep His promises.
Turning back to Hebrews again, what else does it tell us faith believes or trusts? It understands that the universe was created by the Word of God. We believe and know by faith in His Word that God created the universe. His Word is the only account of how the world came to be written by the only One who was actually there at creation! Here again, faith is placed in the unseen, what is beyond our limited human power to understand. And, as verse 6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Faith believes that God exists and that God created, even though we can’t see God. Now this doesn’t mean faith is absent of any evidence or reasons to believe. While we can’t see God, His fingerprints dot the whole creation.
Webster’s dictionary defines the word “credulity” as “a readiness or willingness to believe on uncertain or slight evidence.” That is emphatically not what faith is. The Word of God doesn’t encourage willingness to believe just anything, but rather urges us to have wisdom and discernment and knowledge. In fact, Proverbs opens by saying “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” And neither is faith “blind”—as in “blind leaps of faith.” As we’ve said before, faith is conviction and assurance. It’s a confident trust in God who is faithful to His promises. And while faith is not “blind”, neither is it “sight.” There would be no need for faith if we had full sight and complete knowledge of everything. We can’t forget that faith looks to unseen realities, and puts its confidence in God, even when we can’t fully see His plans, or how He will carry out His promises.
Some have said that the Hebrews of the Old Testament entered their future by facing their past. That they couldn’t know all the future held in store, but by looking back to God’s faithfulness to previous generations and by trusting in God’s promises, they could go into the future He held in store for them, content not to see, but to believe. Likewise, our faith is a well-founded trust in God. Mindful of salvation history—remembering these saints of the faith in Hebrews 11, and many more faithful believers who through the ages have trusted in God, and seen His faithfulness in their lives. Our own families, friends, and Christian mentors that showed us the way to live by faith. We learn and come to know that while God does not operate according to our timetables and our plans, that He never abandons His promises, and that even death cannot separate us from Him.
Even our faith in the most important thing of all, Jesus’ death and resurrection, is not unfounded blind trust, but believing the actual historic events in a particular time and place, with an empty tomb, eyewitnesses, and resurrection appearances. The apostles again and again called attention to the fact that they were eyewitnesses of these things, and had to testify to the truth. They died for it. Faith is not the mere knowledge of these historical facts, but it is the confidence and assurance that Jesus in fact died and rose for you. Faith incorporates knowledge, but it is not mere knowledge alone. And the knowledge that faith holds above all else is the revealed knowledge that God tells us in His holy Word. Faith doesn’t belong in one isolated sector of our life (i.e. our heart or our intellect or our emotions) that we give over to God, while He remains absent from the rest. But rather it encompasses the whole of our life. Our heart, soul, mind and strength are to be committed to the Lord.
Faith is a personal trust and willingness to follow Jesus Christ, as pilgrims and travelers journeying through a foreign land, like Abraham and the others who followed God by faith, to promises yet unseen and yet to be received. Faith recognizes that this life isn’t a final destination, and that our trust in God determines our final destination. By faith we outlive death, like Abel, whose life still speaks beyond death of the righteousness of faith—God being pleased with his worship or sacrifice, because it was done in faith. And so faith waits for those rewards that come beyond the grave, looking forward to the heavenly city God has promised. Like we said last week, this upward, heavenly calling leads us to live life differently in the here and now, making use of what God has given us on earth for His purposes, and not selfishly for our own. We live in the world, but not of it. Our attitude is as travelers who have not reached our final destination.
Perhaps one more comparison and contrast to faith is “fear.” In our readings today, fear is used in two different ways—both positively and negatively. In the positive way, it’s a synonym for faith—“by faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” In reverent fear. “Fear of the Lord” is a more common expression in the Old Testament, and is a synonym for faith. It means to have a deep sense of the holiness and awe of God. Respect for His power and might, that He holds life and death, judgment and salvation in His hand. So when Noah built the ark out of reverent fear, this moved his dutiful obedience. He was not willing to offend or disobey God. Contrast that to whether or not we fear God, or tremble at the thought of offending Him. How casually we take His name in vain, or disregard His commands. Yet this reverent fear of the Lord is not contrary to love of God. Rather it trusts that God exists and rewards those who seek Him.
In the negative use, fear is described as the opposite of faith. For example, God tells Abraham, “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great”; or Jesus tells us “fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In these cases, fear is like the doubt, uncertainty, apprehension, that doesn’t trust God or that He can keep His promises. Consistently throughout the Bible, Old and New Testament, God uses His comforting word of Gospel, “Fear not!” to drive this kind of fear away. God wants us to know Him as our Heavenly Father, One whom we can love and trust as always having the best plan for us. Whenever fear or cowardice takes hold of us, God’s Word speaks faith and strength to our heart.
We’ve heard many examples of what faith is not. We’ve seen that faith isn’t doubt or uncertainty, isn’t cowardice or fear. It isn’t blindness, and yet it isn’t physical sight either. Faith isn’t ignorance, nor irreverence, nor a host of other things that would threaten our trust in God, or set us against Him. Rather, faith is conviction and assurance, it is confidence and trust, it is the knowledge of God’s faithfulness, and the knowledge of God’s Son Jesus Christ, who makes God known to us. It’s a holy fear that knows God’s power, but a deep love that knows He exercises that power for our protection and our good. It’s the confident trust that if everything, even death should stand against us, that nothing can separate us from His love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Whenever any of faith’s “opposites” try to grasp us or creep into our life, God’s faith-giving remedy is always the same—“faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of Christ.” The powerful Word of God always speaks faith and life into our sin-darkened hearts. It speaks forgiveness to repentant souls that have doubted or been afraid. And it establishes in us the trust that will never let go of God’s promises, as we “greet them from afar”—knowing that God has “prepared for [us] a city”—the heavenly city that is our eternal homeland. By faith in Jesus Christ who will bring us there, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Our three readings today present many contrasting qualities to faith. See how many you can identify. (hints: Genesis 15:1, 3; Hebrews 11:15; Luke 12:22, 25, 29). Can you add to your list other things that are the opposite of faith? Why do these qualities or feelings exist or persist in us? 1 Corinthians 2:14; Genesis 6:5; James 1:6-8.
  2. Now list as many descriptions or synonyms of faith that you can find in the three readings. How is faith described? What does it believe or trust in? What is it able to do, and by whose power? In what contexts is “fear” a positive synonym for faith (ex. Hebrews 11:7; Psalm 34:9; Proverbs 1:7) and when is it a negative contrast to faith (Genesis 15:1; Luke 12:32)?
  3. The Bible teaches that faith is a gift of God, and doesn’t come by our works, so that we cannot boast. Ephesians 2:8-9. How does this faith come to us? Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2, 5-6. How does this hearing the Word with faith, drive out doubt, fear, unbelief, etc?
  4. Why is it therefore vital that we stay connected to God’s Word and Christ Jesus, to supply and strengthen our faith? John 15:5-7.
  5. What does faith receive from God? Find as many answers in the three readings as you can, but especially Genesis 15:6; Heb. 11:7.
  6. What gives faith the confidence to trust in God, when things are unseen? How does the history of God’s people through the ages testify of His faithfulness?
  7. How does a Christian “greet from afar” the promises of God, and when do we see and experience them in fullness? Hebrews 11:13-16. How do we live differently by faith in this life, when realizing that earth is not our ultimate home?      

Monday, August 05, 2013

Sermon on Colossians 3:1-11, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 4: "Hidden with Christ"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Colossians 3 & 4, some of which you heard today, are Paul’s instructions to Christians on how to live. Like the book of Galatians, they focus on sanctification—the Christian life. And they build on the Gospel laid out in the preceding chapters. Just to recap the themes of our 3 previous sermons—1) we have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, and by virtue of what Christ has done, we have a new citizenship in Him. 2) We’ve received the mystery of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ is in and with His Church to bring it the forgiveness of sins, a clean conscience, and the life that lasts. 3) We have died with Christ in baptism, and are raised together with Him, so that our life is in Him and with Him. As we come to Paul’s instructions for the new life, we must remember these foundational realities, which Paul sums up in 3:1, “If then you have been raised with Christ…” So, because this is who you are, because Christ has raised you, what follows is true. We must remember this foundation, that everything in our new life goes back to and owes back to Jesus Christ, because as Martin Luther observed, “The law says “do this” and it is never done; but grace says “believe in this” and everything is already done” (Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 26).
If the Christian life boils down to a list of new demands and laws, then it will never be done, and we’ll end up despairing over our failure to live up to it. But if God tells us that our life is hidden with Christ in God, or that we can “put on Christ” or “put on love”—then these realities are already ours by grace! That is to say that the new life of love is not an impossibility that we can never attain, but rather a present reality that God has gifted to us by faith. The good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He has already perfectly lived and obeyed in our place everything the law of God demands. And it is this life of Christ that is gifted and joined to us.
But even so, doubt and uncertainty lurks in our minds. “But Pastor! I don’t see the results, I don’t see the glory, my life still seems weak, beset with sin, and short of the goodness I aim for. My life seems a far cry from Paul’s description of the Christian life. Last week at work my frustration boiled over and I lost my temper with my coworkers, and said some slanderous words I now regret. At home my patience ran out with my family, and I was too harsh with the children. I’m struggling with temptation, and my eyes are wandering to websites I know I shouldn’t be visiting. My friends all laugh when I tell crude jokes, and it feels so good I just can’t help myself. For months I’ve been filled with envy over my friend’s situation—their salary, their car, their house, their clothing—and I’m desperate to have those things too, asking myself why them and not me? Lately I’ve been in some trouble and it all started with some little lies I told, but now they’re getting bigger and bigger, and I know it’s going to come back to bite me.” You can fill in your own story, with your own temptations and sins. And you would be right to recognize that none of these things are the makings of the Christian life. It’s self-evident that these are earthly passions and sins. They’re all the practices of the old self—they’re the sins and temptations of the way in which you once walked.
So what must we do? We must put to death what is earthly in us. Put them away and put off the old self with its practices. Seek forgiveness from those whom we have wronged. Confess that we’ve sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. Crucify the old sinful nature by repentance, and return to our baptism, to put on the new self that is being “renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” And that “knowledge” is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what He has done. Dying and rising with Christ is the foundation of our new life. He erased the debt of your sins in His cross. They no longer have force against you. The life you now live, you live hidden in Christ.
And so again, the way forward to the Christian life that God calls you to, is not through the demands of the law, which are never done, but by believing the Gospel, in which Jesus Christ delivers to you His ready and finished gifts, won for you. The way forward to the Christian life is putting to death the old self, putting on the new self. Jesus is at work in you, creating this new self, renewing God’s image in you. Our master craftsman, the very Creator who made us in His image, is joyfully at work in Christ Jesus restoring, renewing that image in us. Removing our sins and impurities, chiseling away the defects, restoring us to His likeness. But we don’t see the finished product—yet. Whenever we look in the mirror of the law we still see the work in progress that we are. But we’ll see the finished product one day, and we’re told when: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
And until then, don’t suffer doubts and worries that your life doesn’t measure up. Take the old self and its earthly ways, bound by repentance to the cross, and rejoice in the new life promised you in Christ. Why is it often so hard to see this new life in you? Because your life is “hidden with Christ in God.” It’s part of the unseen realities of faith, that Pastor Roschke preached about. The glory of the Christian is still hidden, and waiting for that day when Christ will appear and reveal it.
So until that day, we’re to set our mind on things above, to look to Jesus Christ who’s done all this for us, and who already sits in glory at God’s right hand. Now this requires some careful explanation, because when we start talking about the “spiritual” or “seeking the things that are above”—our mind can quickly translate that to dreaming about heaven. But that’s not what’s meant. Neither are spirituality and holiness for the Christian found in isolating ourselves from the world by entering a monastery—cut off from the outside world. Martin Luther found this out himself, when he realized that with his own sinful heart he brought temptation along with him wherever he went. And neither does “seeking the things that are above” lead us to form utopian Christian communities where we have no contact with unbelievers. St. Paul reminded while we must keep immorality from us in the church, that if we were to try to avoid association with the immoral altogether, we would have to leave the world first (1 Cor. 5:9-10).
As one pastor put it, so that we don’t “over-spiritualize” Paul’s message, his words bring us back down to earth. “Heavenly things are not heavenly because they are somewhere else, but because they are connected to God and right in front of us right now…Paul insists that heavenly things have to do with our relationships, our possessions, our speech, and our physical life. We put to death the worldly things, and live in those relationships and possessions differently.” (Phil Brandt). So to live in this life, this life hidden with Christ in God, is to live differently from the world. A spiritual life is when the Holy Spirit lives in us, in concrete, everyday situations—forgiving one another as Christ forgives us. Living with our fellow family members and neighbors in patience, compassion and love. Controlling our tongue and not using it for lies, slander, or obscene talk, but to speak the truth in love. Using our bodies in a sexually pure and honorable way—keeping sex for the holy estate of marriage between a man and a woman. Committing our bodies, our material possessions, and our daily interactions to God’s purposes and His good designs. This is the way we lead spiritual lives and set our minds on things above. Not by removing ourselves from the world, but to be salt and light in the world, to shine the light in the darkness.
You can see this spirituality lived out in ordinary life if you read further in Colossians 3 & 4, where Paul goes on to say that we should “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” These are all positive descriptions of how we should conduct ourselves in our earthly relationships, with compassion, forgiveness and love. If we have complaints, hurts, or disagreements with one another, that we humbly forgive each other, and approach one another in love. He goes on to give practical instructions to wives, husbands, children, masters and workers. Setting our minds on things above means realizing that God is over everything in this life, and Christ is all in all. Our whole life consists in and owes to Him.
After all, Christ Himself came down to earth and “invested” Himself in His creation—becoming a human being, though without sin. While He had His mind set on things above—always obedient to His Father’s will—His life was fully attentive to our human needs—ministering to the hungry, the sick, and the poor. He lived in this creation free of sinful lusts, greed, malice, or any lies and false speech. He engaged in the ordinary, physical activities of daily life, but obeyed as God directed. And by dying on the cross for our sin, He did not separate Himself from the physical world that He created, but rather He redeemed it and gave us life. He made new what was corrupted and distorted through sin, and is now at work in you, renewing you in knowledge after the image of your creator. And this life of yours remains hidden in Him—hidden till the day of completion, the day of your full renewing the day when Christ who is your life appears, and you appear with Him in glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Why is it vital to remember that Paul’s instructions that follow in Colossians 3, build on the truth in 3:1, that “you have been raised with Christ”? Why can a Christian life built on our keeping of laws never be successful? What instead is the basis for our new life?
  2. Explain Luther’s statement, “The law says “do this” and it is never done; but grace says “believe in this” and everything is already done”. How does grace shape our new life?
  3. What are the signs of the lingering earthly desires and the old self still clinging to you? Cf. Colossians 3:5-9; Galatians 5:19-21. What sins do you wrestle most deeply with? What must we do when our sinful nature rears its ugly head? Colossians 2:5, 8, 10, 12ff; Galatians 5:16, 24.
  4. How is our life “hidden” in Christ with God? Luke 17:21; 2 Corinthians 4. What about our life in Him remains unseen or invisible? When will it be revealed?
  5. How does the forgiveness of Jesus and the reality of the Gospel at work in your life free you from the guilt and accusations of the law? How does it provide a true and deeper motivation to be conformed to Christ? What does it mean to be “renewed in the image” of our creator?
  6. How does the spirituality of the Gospel reorient our perspective on earthly things, rather than float us up out of this world? How does it move us to engage this world for Christ, and to use the good things of this material creation for better purposes and with higher aims? How did Christ Himself invest value in the created world by becoming human and redeeming fallen humanity?