What’s on your agenda

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Colossians 3:1-17

In both the senior youth and young adults’ groups this term we’ve been working through a study series called ‘the course of your life’. The idea of the course is to reflect on the big questions of life – What’s the purpose of our lives, and how do we get on with it?

This is very important isn’t it? Sure, we can’t be thinking about the purpose of our lives everyday over breakfast. But you do need a sense of ‘what is the point of it all?’ Otherwise we can just get stuck in the grind, wondering why we bother… why do I go to work everyday? Why am I studying for this exam? Why am I cleaning up this mess again?

Many of us won’t have a clearly articulated ‘purpose statement’ to our lives. But we do have a general sense of what we think life is all about and what we’re working towards. Whether they are clearly articulated or just at the subconscious level, we have a sense what we are working towards – a set of goals that we’re trying to achieve in life.

And Tony Payne, the author of the course, explains how this is kind of like an agenda for our lives. Whether we’ve planned it deliberately or not, we have a list of things we are trying to achieve with our lives – goals and priorities to check off. And this agenda for our lives is a pretty good indicator of what we think, deep down, the purpose of our lives really is.

So Tony gives us a couple of common examples: If you’re a young woman in your early twenties, your agenda might look a little like this…

  1. Find a job that will kick-start my career.
  2. Save enough to travel.
  3. Find a boyfriend.
  4. Fill my life with memorable experiences.

And if you’re a 40-something year old married man, it might look like this:

  1. Keep wife happy
  2. Get the kids into good schools.
  3. Buy best house in best suburb I can afford.
  4. Earn enough money to do 1-3 in a job that doesn’t frustrate me to death.
  5. Have some fun (although 1-4 will probably prevent that happening!)

Are you aware of what’s on your agenda? What are the goals and priorities that are driving you – giving meaning and purpose to the daily grind? What are you working towards? Does your agenda look pretty similar to one of these? A mix of both?

Now a key question of course is how does being a Christian effect the agenda of our lives? What are the implications for the goals and direction of our lives when we put our faith in Jesus?

This is important for us to get our heads around, because some people have very different ideas about how becoming a Christian affects the agenda of our lives. Tony Payne mentions two common misunderstandings.

First there’s the ‘God as Coach’ model… This is where we think of God as a Coach, who’s there to help us achieve our agenda. Becoming a Christian doesn’t change the direction or purpose of our lives – there’s no sense that maybe we’ve been pursuing selfish goals; it’s just that now we have God on our side as a ‘super coach’ to bless us and help us fulfil our dreams and ambitions.

Then there’s the “God as competing priority” model. We realise it’s not about God ‘blessing’ our own agenda, but we fall into the trap of thinking being a Christian means just ‘adding’ God, church and Christian stuff as another priority on our agenda, in competition with other priorities and goals in life. If we’re really good, then we’ll even try to get God to the top of the list, so that pleasing him and doing ‘church stuff’ gets the most attention, but the rest of the list is determined by us and what we want for ourselves.

But the truth is that both of these approaches fall far short of what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian means letting God totally rewrite the agenda of our lives. It’s scrunching up that first agenda, the one written by cultural values and our own self-absorbed ambitions, and letting God start again with a new piece of paper.

That’s what repentance and faith looks like. If God is God – if he is the creator and sustainer of everything that exists; and if we are his creatures, created by him, as part of his world, for his purposes; then it’s only right that he determines the purpose and direction of our lives. Repenting and turning back to God is a decision to submit ourselves to his agenda for our lives, rather than pursuing our own.

So what is God’s agenda for our lives? How do we know? And how do we get on with it?

Well Paul’s letter to the Colossians has a lot of helpful stuff to say about this. The big picture is that it revolves around what God has done and is doing in this world through his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the centre of God’s universe, and God is working to reconcile all things to himself through him. God’s agenda for this world is to rescue people from the dominion of darkness – life corrupted by sin and destined for judgement – and transfer us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (1:13), and ultimately to transform us to be just like his Son in all his perfection (1:22, 27-28).

And Colossians chapter 3, the passage read out for us earlier, gives us a really clear picture of the ‘what and why’ of God’s agenda for our lives here and now as Christians living in this world, and also helps us understand how we can get on with it.

 

What and Why?

From Colossians chapter 3, verses 1-17, we see that God’s agenda for our lives is to see us embrace the life and character of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives, because Jesus is now our life.

 

1) Embracing Identity

In verses 1-4, Paul explains the fundamental implications of becoming a Christian – our lives are now bound up in Jesus, so we need to set our hearts and minds on him, and who we really are in him.

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. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Notice what he says here about who we are as Christians? If you have put your faith in Christ, ‘you have been raised with Christ’, ‘you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God’, ‘Christ is your life’.

Paul is building off what he’s already said in Chapter 2 – that through faith and baptism in Christ, we have been joined to Jesus, so that we actually participate in his death and resurrection. His death on the cross became our death, so that we, our old selves under sin, died with him on the cross. And his resurrection is our resurrection, so that as Jesus is raised to new life and seated with God in the heavens, so have we! The point is that who we really are, now that we have joined ourselves to Jesus by faith, is determined by who Jesus is. That’s why he says in verse 4 that ‘you’ will appear with Jesus in glory when he appears on the final day. Your true self is hidden from sight at present and will appear with Jesus, because you actually exist in and with him. His reality is your reality.

And so the logic is, since that’s who you really are now – since you have died and risen with Christ – set your hearts and minds on that reality. Learn to identify with who you really are, and stop being caught up in your old life outside of Christ. The foundation for getting on board with God’s agenda for your life is to set your minds on who you really are in Christ – your identity and your future in him.

 

2) Embracing Character

The logical implication of this is therefore to embrace the character of Christ – to embrace the character of our new life in Christ. God’s urgent agenda for our lives is to see our motivations, attitudes, character and the way we relate to others transformed to be like Jesus, because that’s who we are now and that’s what he has gone to great lengths to achieve in us.

Verses 5 opens with the statement, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.”

We were discussing this language in growth group. Putting sin to death feels like a strange way of phrasing it, because we know we will always struggle with sin. Why ask us to put it to death, if Paul knows it won’t really die until Jesus comes back?

It’s because no matter how frustrating and lifelong the task is – putting whatever belongs to our sinful nature to death is the only acceptable approach as people who have already died to their sinful nature.

Do you see the logic? Verse 3 – you have died; therefore, Verse 5 – put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature. Your old self, your sinful nature, died with Christ on the cross. It’s not who you are anymore – it doesn’t belong. So get rid of it. Put it to death.

Just because weeds keep popping up in our garden, and just because they always will!, doesn’t mean I stop pulling them out. My yard has been designated by me as a place for grass, flowers, herbs and vegetables – not weeds. And so I put weeds to death, even though it can feel like a losing battle!, because they don’t belong.

 

And Paul gives us a pretty good list of examples of things we are to put to death because they don’t belong in our lives any more. We are to put to death sexual immorality – any kind of sexual behaviour outside of the loving commitment of marriage between one man and one woman. We are to put to death all kinds of impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry – that is, the worship of things (like money and sex!) as if they were all important.

And along with putting to death all kinds of lustful, greedy behaviour, whether we’re grabbing at sexual experiences for our own self-gratification, or possessions and money to satisfy our desires, we are to get rid of all forms of violence in our speech and relationships. Paul explains we must rid ourselves of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies. God’s agenda for us as we go about our lives is to be ridding ourselves of these kinds of attitudes and behaviours, which just hurt others and destroy relationships.

And do you see how the same basic reasoning keeps popping up along the way? Verse 6, we need to put this stuff to death, because God’s wrath is coming on these things – they belong to the world of sin that brings God’s judgement. We used to live like this, Paul explains, before we died. But that’s not who we are anymore. We’ve died to our sinful nature. Verse 9, we don’t lie to each other, because we’ve taken off our old selves, with its practices, and have put on the new self, which being renewed in knowledge in the image of our Creator.

It’s like we were homeless orphans; living on the streets, raised in a world where anything goes and you do and say what you need to survive. We’re filthy, in tattered clothes, with our sentences littered with swearing. But then, incredibly, for no reason that we can understand, we are adopted into a prosperous, healthy and loving family. We have a new Father, a new family, a new life, a new way of being. And all of our old ways don’t belong anymore. There’s no need to steal and grab. No need to react with aggression and distrust. No need to sleep outside on the ground.

It would be crazy to get up in the morning, and instead of taking a seat at the table and enjoying the good food provided for you, you sneak out and steal food from the local bakery.

In Christ, through his death and resurrection, we have a new identity, a new future, and we need to get on board with it. We need to embrace who we are in Christ, putting death all the old ways and clothing ourselves with the life and character of Christ.

It’s really important for us to appreciate this logic of the Christian life. Notice that Paul doesn’t say, make sure you put sin to death and behave like Jesus so that you can get into heaven. No, he says, because you already are in heaven – since you have been raised with Christ! – therefore, set your mind and heart on where you belong, and start behaving accordingly. The orphan doesn’t get his act together so that he might be adopted. His life is transformed because he IS adopted. Behave like you belong in heaven, because you really do. That’s your home.

 

And so, from verse 12, Paul spells out the positive vision of living as people who belong to God and live with Christ in heaven. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” In other words, clothe yourselves with Christ – with his character and life. As you put off what doesn’t fit who you are anymore, put on what does!

Notice how relational these qualities are? Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And he goes on: bear with each other and forgive each other in the same way that God has been loving, patient and forgiving to us. We are to be bound together in love and humility, allowing the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts and characterise our relationships. And in all this, giving thanks to God. Whatever we do, whatever ‘task’ we are getting on with, it should be an expression of embracing our new identity in Christ, and done in thankfulness to God.

You see God is first and foremost concerned with the way we relate to each other and to him. God’s vision for us is to think, speak and act towards each other with this kind of gracious and gentle concern, and to be characterised by thankfulness to him in all of life. It’s to embody the fullness of Jesus Christ. This is who we are, and it’s what we’re destined for.

 

God’s Agenda

So this is God’s agenda for our lives – to be rescued from the domain of sin and to be made alive in Christ, as a member of his kingdom and family, and be brought to full maturity in him – to be transformed to be just like him. And so God’s agenda for us here and now as followers of Jesus is to embrace the life and character of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives, because Jesus is now our life.

This overriding concern of God for our lives needs to intersect with our own ambitions and goals in life and transform them. It’s not another item for the agenda, just a little above ‘earning my first million’ and a little below, ‘getting married’ or ‘raising successful and well-balanced children’. As we figure out what our actual goals and priorities are with work, relationships, housing, leisure and family, we need to rethink them all through the lens of this overarching agenda to embrace the life and character of Jesus here and now.

In fact, all these other ‘things’ on our agenda are really just contexts and opportunities to live out and pursue God’s main agenda. It’s not that work isn’t important, or that God doesn’t care about us getting married, earning money or enjoying the wonders of his creation. It’s that he wants our work to be an expression of love for our neighbour and care for this world. And marriage honours God when it’s a context for love and sacrifice, not because our wedding day could have been on the front page of “weddings today” or because we make such good looking or ‘advanced’ babies.

 

What’s on the agenda for your life? What goals are you working towards? Are you willing to let God re-write your agenda, so that first and foremost, in all the ‘stuff’ of life, what you’re really working towards is embracing the life and character of Jesus as you wait for your true self to appear with Jesus on that final day? If it hasn’t been already, putting sin to death and clothing yourself with the character of Christ needs to be the overriding concern of your life agenda. You make plans and put effort into pursuing other goals in life… are you planning and actively working towards what God actually wants for you?

 

How?

But even assuming we’re on board with God’s agenda, how do you go about it? What does that look like? It’s one thing to say we need to ‘put sin to death’ and ‘clothe ourselves with compassion’… but it doesn’t seem so easy in practice!

Well, whilst in one sense we do need to simply get stuck into it and ‘put off and put on’, there are three key things that will help us: 1) minds shaped by God’s word, 2) people to encourage us in embracing our life in Jesus, and 3) praying for God to work by his Spirit.

God works in us by his Spirit to transform us into the likeness of Jesus by renewing our minds with the truth of his Word. And this happens particularly as we have fellowship together – as we speak the truth of God’s word to each other and model lives of repentance and faith to each other, and as we pray for God to work amongst us. God’s Spirit transforms us with God’s truth, revealed in his Word, amongst his people.

 

1) Renewing our minds with God’s Word

So the core thing that will lead to our lives being transformed to be like Jesus, is for our minds to be renewed and shaped by the truth of God’s Word. This is actually the logic of Colossians 3 itself. Paul calls us to put sin to death and clothe ourselves with the character of Christ… how? By setting our minds and hearts on who we really are in Christ. Paul understands that the more our fundamental beliefs about who we are and what we’re destined for are shaped by the truth of the gospel, the more we will live according to it. Behaviour follows belief.

As human beings, what we do is shaped by what we desire and value, and what we desire and value is shaped by our beliefs about the world. So when our fundamental beliefs are shaped by the narratives of our world, such as ‘you deserve the best’ and ‘happiness comes through prosperity’, then we will value and desire things like financial success and security, and so we will do things to secure them. If our minds are shaped by the cultural narrative of ‘personal fulfilment requires freedom of sexual expression’, then we will desire and value the fulfilment of our sexual appetite, whatever that might be, and we will pursue relationships and experiences that get us there.

But when our minds are renewed and shaped by the truth of God’s word; when we understand who we really are in Christ because of what God has done for us and will do for us in him… then we value and desire the life that God has created and redeemed us for.  We see the beauty of patience, self-control and forgiveness. We appreciate the goodness of God’s wisdom for our sexuality, our approach to money, work and study. And when we value and desire this life we have in Christ, we make decisions to pursue it. We put sin to death and clothe ourselves with his character.

So what’s filling your mind? Is it the cultural narratives expressed in 27 different TV shows? Or is it the truth revealed in the Bible? What practices do you have for filling it with the truth of God’s word so that it is renewed and focused on the reality of who you are in Christ? There are lots of ways to do this! Of course, we want to be reading the Bible, ideally every day. But we don’t want to just be ‘reading it’, so that the words go in and out and we move on to the next thing. We want to dwell on it, ponder the truths we discover in it, and consider the implications. You can listen to Christian music – assuming it is true to God’s word! – so that you keep remembering and thinking over gospel truths. You can read Christian books, listen to podcasts, memorise verses and summary statements from the Bible. Whatever practices you adopt, the idea is that it should help you to set your mind and heart on ‘things above’ and renew your mind with the truths of God’s word.

 

2) People to help you know, trust and live out God’s Word

Secondly, you will be much more effective in pursuing God’s agenda for your life if you do it alongside brothers and sisters in Christ. We need each other to speak the truth of God’s word into our lives – not just ‘reciting Scripture’, but encouraging, rebuking, reminding, and applying the truth in the context of daily life. And we need to see others embracing God’s truth and striving to live it out.

In Colossians 3:16, towards the end of our passage, Paul urges the church to ‘Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.’

 

God’s word dwells amongst us richly, so that it does in fact shape our hearts and minds, as we ‘teach and admonish one another’ with the truth of Scripture. And, as Paul points out, one of the ways we can do that is by singing good, biblical songs together (and doing it with a bit of feeling!).

But singing is of course just one way. Our gatherings on Sunday, and our time together through the week, whether hanging out informally, or deliberately getting together to read and pray over the Bible – it all should be a context for encouraging each other to know, trust and live out God’s word.

If you’ve come to any of the Traction events, you’ll know Sam Chan makes a big deal out of the way that Christian community creates a plausibility structure for believing and living out the gospel. It’s a pretty simple idea, but it’s very important. You are much more likely to set your mind on who you are in Christ, putting sin to death and clothing yourself with the character of Christ, if you are part of a community that is constantly striving to do just that. Whereas if you cut yourself off from Christian community, surrounding yourself with people who have very different beliefs and values, or your only contact with fellow Christians is to pop into a Sunday service once every three weeks or so and duck off quickly at the end of the service… well, you’ll find it very hard to embrace who you are in Christ. And you’re certainly not going to be helping anyone else embrace God’s agenda for their lives are you?

 

3) Praying for God to change us by his Spirit

And finally, we can pray. As we seek to set our minds on our identity and hope in Christ, and as we encourage each other to embrace the life and character of Christ together, we can pray that God would be working powerfully by his Spirit to transform our beliefs, desires and behaviours.

We don’t see this point from our passage in Colossians 3, but it’s there loud and clear in chapter 1, in the passage that Steve Bartlett helped us reflect on for our centenary anniversary service. There Paul explains that he’s constantly praying for them, asking God to fill them with wisdom and understanding from the Spirit, so that they might live lives worth of the gospel and please God in every way. As we pray for ourselves and each other, God’s Spirit transforms hearts and minds with the truth and wisdom of God’s word, which in turn transforms our whole lives. We pray because we recognise that ultimately God is the one who changes us by his Spirit.

I know I need to pray like this more for myself. I need to start and end each day praying like this for myself, and my family, and for you – for everyone God has put in my life. In fact, I can and should be praying like this for anyone I can possibly think of, just like Paul prays for the Colossians, even though he’s never personally met them!

And I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt for you to spend a little more time in prayer like this…

 

Use what God gives you!

So remember these things – minds renewed by God’s word, people to encourage you, and prayer for the Spirit to work in your life. Get on with doing things that will help you embrace God’s agenda for your life and for those around you. If you don’t, nothing much is going to happen.

I can guarantee you that if (a) you don’t do anything to fill your mind with God’s word, and instead you just fill your mind with TV and social media, and (b) you never hang out with Christians, supporting each other as you follow Jesus together, and instead just surround yourself with people who are pursuing personal fulfilment and financial success, and (c) you never pray, and instead just get on with trying to ‘do what seems best’… you will never embrace God’s agenda for your life.

 

Embrace God’s Agenda (for you & others!)

So what’s on the agenda for your life? What has shaped your list? I want to encourage you that if you’re claiming the life that God offers through Jesus, then what you’re really claiming is the life he offers you in him – now and into eternity. He’s inviting you to let him rewrite the agenda for your life, so that you end up living the life he created and redeemed you for. He’s inviting you to embrace the life and character of Jesus Christ in every aspect of your lives, because Jesus is now your life.

And if it hasn’t been obvious from what I’ve already said, God’s agenda for your life is not simply to pursue the life and character of Christ for yourself, but to help others pursue this as well. In fact, our mission as God’s church is essentially to get on with helping others pursue this fullness of life in Christ, as we do it alongside them.

So let’s get on board with God’s agenda for our lives – to embrace the life and character of Christ here and now and to help others embrace it. Let’s set our minds on God’s truth – let’s fill our weeks with all sorts of different ways of filling and shaping our minds with the truth of his word. Let’s spend time together – speaking truth, encouraging each other in it, supporting each other in decisions to live it out. And let’s be praying with and for each other, for God to work powerfully amongst us by his Spirit.