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Colossians 3:1–14  (ID: 2501)

The sincere declaration that Jesus is Lord of your life will inevitably change the way you behave. What does it really mean, though, to live a life of obedience with Christ as your focus and foundation? Behaving as a Christian is not about embracing certain regulations, Alistair Begg teaches. Rather, it’s about submitting to Christ, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and being conformed by God to the image of His Son so that we desire and are enabled to do what His Word commands.

Series Containing This Sermon

Christian Basics

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, help us now as we study the Bible, as we think about our behavior as Christian people. May we hear your voice and obey it. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, here we are in Colossians 3. We actually are back to the same chapter in which we spent some time in the previous month dealing with rules for Christian households. And I think on each of those occasions we made mention of the fact that what follows in verse 18 and on is built on the foundation of the first seventeen verses. And for that reason and for other reasons, I thought it would be appropriate to come back here to Colossians 3 as we think about this matter of behaving as Christians. We began looking at the question of what it means to become a Christian; what it means, something of our belief, beliefs as Christians; and now we come to this matter of behavior.

 To be a Christian is to declare that Jesus is Lord.  To declare that Jesus is Lord is not so much an affirmation or an expression of personal devotion as it is a statement of fact: Jesus is Lord, and his lordship not only affects our minds, teaching us what it is we are to believe, but it also affects our morals, changing the way in which we behave. And the real test of our submission to the lordship of Jesus is not the devotion of our singing—although it is good to sing in a devoted way—not the exuberance of our expressions in relationship to that. They differ very much with background and personality and so on, and they can so easily be a smoke screen for what’s going on underneath, either whether they are quiet or profoundly loud. But the real test is not either of those things. The real test of our submission to the Lord Jesus Christ is our obedience —is our obedience. Pure and simply, our obedience. Jesus, in John 14, remember, said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”[1] So, the great test of our love for Jesus is to be found in our obedience to what Jesus has said and taught. And since he is Lord, we have no right to believe anything other than that which he has taught us, and since he is Lord, we have no right to behave in any other fashion than that which he demands of us.

 Now, of course, we could have gone to a whole host of passages in order to drive home this very important principle. We could, for example, have gone to Titus, a book that we’ve studied in the past, and have dealt with verses 11 and following of chapter 2: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed … [and] glorious appearing of our [Lord], Jesus Christ.”[2] We could have gone there. We could equally well have gone to Hebrews 13, where in these final exhortations he hits many of the practical areas of life—the great importance of loving one another, of caring practically for the needs of those whose lives are different from our own, “fellow prisoners,” and “prisoners,” and so on[3]—then the importance of marriage and the purity that is involved in that, the issues of sexual immorality, the great pressing issue of consumerism and money and how it seeps into our souls and draws us away, and so on. We could have gone there too. But here we are in Colossians 3. You can go back and backfill, if you like, by making reference to some of those other areas. A good concordance will get you all the way through the Bible.

 Now, we read all of it here in Colossians 3, all that is before us. We actually read more than we need, because we’ll only go as far as the fourteenth verse. But, quite frankly, that’s quite a daunting prospect, as you will recognize. And we’ll deal with it, and probably as our time runs away we’ll have to leave some, perhaps, for another occasion or for future study.

 But there are three paragraphs as we have them in the NIV—and I think most of us were reading from the NIV—first of all in verses 1 to 4, then in 5 to 11, and then, once again, a briefer section in 12 to 14. We’ll look at each of them in turn, and somewhat selectively—we cannot do it exhaustively—but hopefully with enough of a consideration that we don’t miss the central aspects that Paul is teaching.

Living the Risen Life

Verses 1 to 4 can be looked at under the heading of “Living the Risen Life”—“Living the Risen Life.” Because you will see that that is what he’s referencing here: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ….”

Now, in a sentence or two, the context for these Colossian Christians is this: There were people around the Colossae valley who—and we can determine this from the way in which Paul addresses things without hanging the problems up on the wall, as it were, for all to consider—but there were people in the Colossae valley who were apparently insinuating themselves amongst the genuine believers and suggesting to them that their Christian lives were pretty good as they had them, but if they wanted to know the true dimension of fullness—the fullness of God—then they would need to pay attention to what these Colossian teachers had on offer. And Paul addresses that; he says, “The fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in our Lord Jesus Christ, and you are complete in him. Nothing that God will ever do for you after he saves you will ever, ever be in the same league as that which he does in bringing you to himself.”[4] He addresses the issue of fullness. And, at the same time, these individuals were proffering to the fledgling Christians the prospect of freedom and liberty, and they were holding out to them the idea that liberty and freedom in Christian living could be found down certain avenues.

To be a Christian is to declare that Jesus is Lord.

And so, it really was a powerful concoction, a bad virus, that was imbedding itself potentially in the Colossian church. It combined doctrinal confusion with moral carelessness. And, of course, there’s no surprise in that in that doctrinal confusion and moral carelessness inevitably go hand in hand . But it was a daunting combination, and they were facing the danger of succumbing to some of these things—for example, embracing, at the end of chapter 2, a form of externalism, a man-made religiosity, what Paul refers to as “the basic principles of this world.”[5] He says, “Why would you submit to the rules that these people are bringing around: ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’”[6] He said, “These are all destined to perish with use, because [they’re] based on human commands and teachings”—“human commands and teachings.” And he goes on to say, “[These] regulations have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility, their harsh treatment of the body”—but notice the crucial phrase at the end of chapter 2—“they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”[7]

Now, we could point, if we had time—and we don’t—to areas of church history where formalism, and externalism, and monasticism, and so on, have been pervasive in the church. And we would be able to identify during those periods, as well, the very truth that is here at the end of the chapter: these things “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

I’ve got to know a few from the Amish community—people whose company I enjoy, who I admire in many, many aspects of their life. But in making journeys with them and having the opportunity to ask questions, I hope, in a courteous manner, what has struck me is the fact that many of the things, at least as reported to me, fall within the category of these external features—which, of course, cannot address the indulgence and sensuality of the human heart. Because you can deal with a television and lock yourself in a box, and your own filthy imagination is enough to bring you down to hell. You can remove yourself from all kinds of things, and yet you deal with the fact of your own propensity towards that which is impure and unholy and untrue.  

So, Paul is tackling that. And how does he tackle it? “Well,” he says, “the way to get to grips with how your behavior ought to be is in an understanding of who you are—what you have become in the Lord Jesus Christ . The true foundation,” he’s saying here in this opening paragraph, “for dealing with sin is found in our union with Christ.” It is because we are now in Christ: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, you’re altogether different.” It’s no new thing for Paul; we find it all through his letters. 1 Corinthians 6, remember, he says—as he’s urging upon them the importance of purity in their interpersonal relationships—he says, “[Don’t you know] that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? [You’re] not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”[8] But he posits the necessity of action on the part of the believer—divinely enabled action, but action nevertheless—he posits it, he founds it, on the fact of their union with Christ. And our new nature in Christ is fashioned for obedience.  

Now, let’s just notice the high points in this paragraph. Look at what he tells them: First of all, he tells them, “You have been raised with Christ.” “You have been raised with Christ.” You may not have thought much about that lately as a Christian, but it is true of you. In the miracle of conversion, a number of things have happened: Our sins have been forgiven. We’ve been adopted into God’s family. We’ve been given the status of sons and daughters. We have been given not only a new status, but we have been given a new nature. And we have been relocated; we have been given a new location. And it is this that he mentions here in this phrase: “Set your [heart] on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”[9] There has been for the Christian a radical change in our spiritual environment.

“You are,” he says, “hidden with Christ”—“hidden with Christ.” “Your life”—verse 3—“is now hidden with Christ in God.” The union between Christ and the believer is a heavenly union. That is why it is actually hidden from the observation of our friends and neighbors. One day what is true of us spiritually will actually be true of us physically, but for now no one’s going to come up to you and say, “Oh, I see that you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus.” If they do, you probably have got reason for alarm. Hopefully, they’ll come up and say other things, but they shouldn’t say that, because it isn’t apparent. “The natural man doesn’t receive the things of the Spirit,”[10] so if you go back tomorrow and someone says, “You know, I’ve noticed that you haven’t been swearing the way you used to do,” you probably shouldn’t say, “Well, you know, I’m seated in the heavenly places with Jesus Christ.” Because you’ve just been given a wonderful opportunity to make some headway, and you’re going to take it away, pull the rug out immediately with some great—that you think is classically wonderful, deeply theological—insight that leaves your friend just scratching their head and heading for the coffee machine.

No, he says, we’re all wrapped up in Christ. We’re all wrapped up in Christ. That’s really it. “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” You remember when the children were tiny, sometimes you would wrap them all up—you know, you would gather them up in a blanket, and they would be all in there somewhere, and their little voice would come out, you know. And they were all hidden with you, all wrapped up with you. You do it with your grandchildren, many of you. Well, in a far greater and more significant way, the Christian’s life is all wrapped up with Jesus.

That, you see, incidentally, is what makes our sin so incongruous. That’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6: Are you going to go and join Christ to a prostitute?[11] Your life is all wrapped up with Jesus! Jesus is you, and you are Jesus. You are in him—raised with him, hidden with him. And the very fact that our lives are hidden with Christ is the basis of our security, so that that is what gives us confidence in the face of our own propensity to do wrong things. But the security that we enjoy is never in relation to our morality.

The real test of our submission to the Lord Jesus Christ is our obedience.

I hope you noticed that last week, and if you turn back one page, you can see it again this week. The person who says, “Oh, yes, I am a Christian, and I’ve got nothing to worry about, and I’m going to heaven—and, y’know, sometimes when I cheat on my tax return, when I sleep with my girlfriend unmarried, and when I shout abuse at people, and do all these things, sometimes I just say to myself, ‘It is so wonderful to be secure in Christ!’” I got news for you: you’re not secure in Christ. Because the security that is ours in Christ is not a security isolated from morality. It is not a justification divorced from sanctification. It is that which sets us into Christ in a life-transforming way. Look what he says—Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and [you] were enemies in your minds”—notice, “in your minds”—“because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death…” So that you can go out and do whatever you please! No! “…to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”[12]—that the work of God within the life of the believer is to conform the believer to the image of his Son. Therefore, our behavior will bear testimony, or otherwise, to the life-transforming power of Jesus.

Now, there is a logic—if you go back to chapter 3—there is a logic in this that I hope we won’t miss. It is our place, if you like, in Christ that establishes our priorities. It is because we have been “raised with Christ,” it is because we are “hidden with Christ in God,” that we are then to “set [our] hearts on things above.” We are to “set [our] minds on things above.” In other words, the very epicenter of our existence has to have a gaze about it, a persevering effort about it, that is earnest, that isn’t casual.

I don’t know why it was—it’s just the way my mind works—but as I was reading my notes earlier this evening, I thought about my dog. I haven’t thought about my dog in a long time. Some people think I don’t like dogs; it’s just something that I’ve created for fun. But as I thought about my dog, I thought about how he used to look at you with such expectation after you had mixed his bowl of food. I mean, you couldn’t say that he was indifferent in any way, or that it was a casual glance in the direction. It was an all-consuming expectation. And sometimes he moved, you know, like that—as soon as you put it down, there.

 That is the terminology that is used here in the life of the Christian: “I want to know you Jesus. I want to learn about you, Jesus. I want to be like you, Jesus. ‘Lord, I want to know you, to live my life to show you all the love I owe you. I’m a seeker of your heart.’[13] I want to ‘be transformed by the renewing of [my] mind.’[14] I want to, as Peter says, ‘prepare my mind for action,’[15] because you have taken me from where I was, and you have put me in a new place, and you have given me new priorities, and it is this, then, which creates the prospect that is before me.” What is the prospect? Verse 4: “Christ.” Who’s Christ? He’s “your life.” He’s “your life.” Why is it that you will not die? You go through the valley of the shadow of death—someone will pronounce us dead—but on that day, as Moody said, we will be more alive than we have ever been.[16] What is our confidence? That we will live in eternity, that we will have new bodies. Christ is our life. “To me, to live is Christ … to die is gain.”[17] “When Christ, who is your life, appears, [you’re going to] appear with him in glory.”[18] In other words, a day is coming when Jesus will be revealed for what he is, to the astonished gaze of all mankind.

Now, I know a lot of people are very concerned about the Final Four at the moment—whatever that is. No, I’m getting into it. I have a small interest in it. But not the kind of interest that I see in my colleagues. I say to myself, “It must be wonderful to be as excited as this!” And even they’re not really at the apex of it. You meet people and you say, you know, “Sport is his life.” “Sport is his life.” Or, “She lives to read.” “If you removed her garden, you’d kill her. Her whole life is her garden.” Paul says, “Christ is your life.” And listen to me carefully: if he is not your life, Missus, and Mister—your mister—is your life, then when God takes your mister, you’re not gonna have a life. Christ is your life. Focus on Christ. You will stand before God individually.

Dealing with Indwelling Sin

Second paragraph, and quickly; we spent too long on that, no surprise. Paragraph two… and you say, “Well, if you spent all that time on four verses, what do you think you’re gonna do here?” Well, I’m about to show you—show myself, actually.

Paragraph two. If paragraph one is “Living the Risen Life,” paragraph two is “Dealing with Sin”—“Dealing with Indwelling Sin.” “Put to death, therefore….”[19] Notice the “therefore.” What is the “therefore” there for? Well, it ties you back to the first four verses. Actually, it ties you back to the fourth verse. The prospect of the appearance of Christ creates the incentive to prepare for his appearing. If your girlfriend is coming for the weekend, you try and clean yourself up. If you’re a teenager, you get all that acne stuff out and go at it like a crazy person, because it’s something about it: if your girlfriend is coming for the weekend, there is no question but on a Friday morning when you waken up, you’re like… It’s just all… There’s something about it that it happens that way. And so, the whole of Friday till the train arrives, or the bus arrives, or whatever, you’re trying to get it all fixed in preparation for her appearing. “Well,” he says, “Christ is going to come, and you must be prepared.”

Doctrinal confusion and moral carelessness inevitably go hand in hand.

Because Christ is your life, the battleground of verses 5 to 11 is faced not in our own strength but in his mighty power. Now, it’s not an easy section, because the thinking person says, “Well, look, in verse 3, it says ‘you died,’ and in verse 5 it says ‘put to death.’ How do we figure this stuff out?” Well, in a sentence: we have died to sin in Christ. Sin no longer reigns, no longer operates its tyrannical rule over the life of the Christian, because, in the words of Wesley, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, [and] he sets the prisoner free.”[20] I think it’s also Wesley who prays in one of his hymns, “Be of…”—no, it’s not, it won’t be Wesley—“Be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt and power.”[21] And in Christ, as we are justified, all of the guilt that attaches to our lives and to our account is dealt with in Jesus. He becomes “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[22]

That sin no longer reigns and rules, but it still remains, and it still rages. And therefore, as the Westminster Confession puts it, the Christian is involved in “a continual and irreconcilable war.”[23] And that war takes place on three fronts: against the world, against the flesh—our sinful nature—and against the devil. And the devil’s strategy is to bring what is appealing to us in the world to tempt and try us with that which appeals to the sinful propensities which remain within our lives. Because although I have died to sin in Christ, sin has not been eradicated from my life. And if it has been eradicated from your life, we should probably talk later on, because you are in a unique position—an unheard-of position, and an unbiblical position, and certainly a very un-Pauline position! For if that were the case, why would he waste his breath and his pen and his ink going through here and starting off the fifth verse, “Put to death, therefore, what belongs to your earthly nature”?

“Well,” you say, “I don’t have any of that.” You’re a liar. And if you’ve embraced a form of externalism that makes you look really good to people on the outside, you may only be concealing the darkness of your own heart on the inside. Because all of us know what the Bible says is true. It’s just whether we’re prepared to bring our lives honestly into the searching gaze of the Word of God , whereby we are exposed and we know ourselves to be as much in need of the instruction of the second paragraph as we are in need of the encouragement of the first paragraph.

Well, I have to just go through this quickly. What is the issue, then? We’re in Christ, but we’re also in Cleveland. That’s the problem—not Cleveland per se, but the fact that we live our Christian lives not yet in the position where we are free from the ravages of sin. It’s very possible for us to adopt a way of life whereby we are outwardly conformed to the Christian expectations, particularly of a community like this. If you’re in a church like this for any length of time, you begin to find out what you’re allowed to do, what you’re not allowed to do. There’s not that it’s written down anywhere, but there’s just the kind of consensus view, and so you manage to toe the line in whatever way it may be—I don’t really know what they all might be, but I know they exist as much here as in anywhere else. And you can begin to think that because you are outwardly conformed to these various little idiosyncratic dimensions of a local congregation that you’re fine, when in actual fact you’re inwardly conformed to the world. You see, worldliness is not a list of things that you put at the back of a church constitution. Worldliness is the orientation of our lives against God. The real problem is that in our heart of hearts we so quickly orientate ourselves against God. 

Now, the only way to tackle this—and this is what Paul is saying here—is to recognize that we need to bomb the runway of our lives so as to prevent enemy aircraft landing on that runway , a bit like Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands Crisis many years ago, now, when she sent planes—with the help of Ronald Reagan, bless him—to bomb the runway in Port Stanley. And the reason she wanted to use American and British aircraft to bomb the runway on an island that Britain owned was in order to prevent enemy aircraft from landing on that runway and taking up positions within the island, thereby preventing the rule and authority of Britain over it. Well, the same thing is true here. If you read old books, if you read the Puritans, you know that this is referred to as “the mortification of the flesh”—the mortification of the flesh. Has a real ring to it, doesn’t it? But it is intensely practical. We make a dreadful mistake by thinking that a hair shirt will do it—that’s externalism—a bed of nails will do it—that’s externalism. No, we desperately need Jesus to come and invade our lives, the Holy Spirit to overwhelm us with his wonderful love and fullness, so as to create within ourselves the desire to do that which the Word of God calls us to do. 

I had hoped that just by living life this stuff would settle down. You know, I thought… I mean, when I was twenty-three, I thought, “Goodness, gracious! Maybe when you’re thirty-three it gets easier.” Then I thought, “Well, maybe another decade, I’ll get this cleaned up.” Now I’m at fifty-three, and I understand why Murray M’Cheyne said, “I’ve discovered that the seeds of every sin known to man dwell within my heart.”[24] So, every morning—battle stations! All day, every day.

The way to get to grips with how your behavior ought to be is in an understanding of who you are—what you have become in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And we need to learn not to underestimate the seriousness of sin; to watch out for its subtleties, for its insinuations; to get it at the point of entry, get it before it goes deep. I’ve never hunted for whales, and I doubt that any of you have either, but the word is, in hunting whales—if you’re even allowed to do it anymore—the word is, get them when they’re on the surface. Because you never know when they’re going to go deep. And when they go deep, there is no possibility of getting them. The same is true with sin. Listen, young people, and write this down: “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.”[25] Every sin is an inside job. Every sin starts within, because our whole lives are oriented in the direction of ourselves. 

Well, our time is gone, isn’t it? It’s just a daily battle. Look what he mentions. What a dreadful list! You hardly want to go to there, do you? “Sexual immorality, impurity … evil desires … greed.”[26] And he says all of this “is idolatry,”[27] because it is. Any time that you choose immorality, or you engage yourself in impurity, and you allow lust to consume you, and you pursue your evil desires, and you become greedy, it’s just preferring yourself above God, and to prefer yourself above God is to make an idol of yourself, and therefore it’s idolatry.

 He says it’s incongruous—verses 8 and 9. That’s what he’s saying. It’s wonderful: he doesn’t say, “It’s impossible that this should happen”; he says, “It’s incongruous that it happens. So get rid of this stuff.” What? Well, “anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language. Don’t tell lies.”[28] Once again, he comes back to first principles. Why? “Since [you’ve] taken off your old self with its practices and [you’ve] put on the new self.” And that new self “is being renewed”—present continuous tense—“in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”[29]

And he says, “Just while we’re at it, let’s just be really clear about snobbery, let’s be clear about academic credentials, let’s be clear about whether you’re highborn or lowborn, let’s be clear about face and race and place: there is no Greek, Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free. Christ is all, and he’s in all.”[30] There is no place in the Christian life for snottiness that is related to your face, your place, or your race.  What control did you have over any of it? Exactly. So cut it out. Of all places, the Christian church—not in any organized, systematized, dramatized, externalized way, but just in an organic way—ought to manifest a behavior that is unseen in any other place in the totality of a culture . Not in a club, not in a society, not in any kind of place other than amongst the people of God.

Putting on the Right Clothes

Finally, let’s just say a word about the last paragraph, and we can only say a word.

Paragraph three is about putting on the right clothes, if paragraph two is about getting off the old ones. What do you think the “chosen” and “holy” and “dearly loved” people should look like? “Therefore, as God’s chosen people….”[31] Who are these people? Well, look back up at verse 11. Is it the Jews? Well, you think Paul would’ve said that, wouldn’t you? He was a Jew—big time Jew. No! No Greeks, Jews, circumcised, uncircumcised—who are these people? They’re the people who are in Christ, in every generation. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people….” And I admire the Hasidic Jews. I actually do. I have far more in common with the Hasidic Jews, with the things in their ears, and the curls. I kinda like that. I would try that if I had the chance. Maybe… I don’t think how good I’d look, but it’s something nice about that, and the clarity of their position. But it’s externalism. They got the beginning, but they don’t have the end. They got the form, but they don’t have the substance. They got the promises, but they don’t have the Messiah. So they’ve got the shell, but they don’t have the heart. No wonder Paul says, “I long for Jewish people to come to Christ.”[32]

But that’s easy, isn’t it? Supposing Parkside said, “What we’re going to do is make an impact on the East Side of Cleveland. So, before you leave this evening, after you’ve picked up your copy of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s magazine, if you’ll go into the commons area, we only have them in small, medium, and large, but we have these beautiful robes for you to wear. We’d like you to wear them now out in the community. And every time anyone sees you, they’ll go, ‘Oh-ho! There’s a Parkie.’” That would be easy enough, wouldn’t it?

We desperately need Jesus to come and invade our lives, the Holy Spirit to overwhelm us with his wonderful love and fullness, so as to create within ourselves the desire to do that which the Word of God calls us to do.

 But that’s not the clothing. The clothing is “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness … patience.”[33] Look at the practicality of verse 13. Don’t you love it? “Bear with each other.” But, you see, there’s a lot of fanciful stuff in the Christian life, isn’t there, about, you know, “Oh, I do love you,” and all these kind of things? You know, frankly, we’re such an obnoxious bunch of people that just bearing with one another’s a real plus, isn’t it? “I don’t ask you to think I’m terrific, I just—please, bear with me, would you? And I’ll bear with you too. And I’ll try and forgive you, if you’ll try and forgive me too.”

And the standard of our forgiveness is the standard of the Lord Jesus’ forgiveness, which was total, complete, no strings attached: a forgiveness that had nothing to do with whether we deserve it or not; a forgiveness that for the Christian is indispensable not only for our souls, but also, I think, for our bodies. One day we will find out just how much an unforgiving spirit has contributed to many of the ailments that some of us endure. And when I fail to forgive you, it’s because I have exaggerated the offense against me and I have minimized my offense against God .

And then he says, in verse 14, “And why don’t we just get a big blanket, and we’ll all get around, and we’ll get inside it, and we’ll get the blanket, and we’ll pull it all around, and over all these virtues we’ll put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Or, I suppose, you could think of love as a solution in some kind of chemical deal, or somebody’ll have an analogy from cooking, I’m sure, where there is a substance in which everything else coheres. And that is love in the Christian life.

Now, what is there not to be challenged by in this? What is there not to love about this? What is there not to realize that we’re all strugglers on the sea of life? What do we find in this that gives us the idea for superciliousness, or judgmentalism, or unkindness? There’s no basis for any of that. Our behavior, in a nutshell, is to be like that of Christ. Totally impossible! Unless Christ would come and live in us—which is, of course, what he promises to do.

Father, help us to take to heart the Bible as it calls to us and challenges us. Help us in our own private lives, known to you and to ourselves, to take seriously the issues of sin, to identify our own weaknesses. Help us to say with David, “Create in me a clean heart … and renew a right spirit within me.”[34] We ask with David, “How can a young man keep his way pure?”[35] And we hear the reply: by paying attention to the Bible. Help us, then, to be in the Bible, help us to be in the company of God’s people, help us to keep short accounts with sin, and help us to bear with each other, to forgive one another, and ultimately to love with that kind of compassion which Christ displayed in reaching out to us. For we pray in his lovely name. Amen.

[1] John 14:15 (paraphrased).

[2] Titus 2:11–13 (NIV 1984).

[3] Hebrews 13:3 (NIV 1984).

[4] Colossians 2:9–23 (paraphrased).

[5] Colossians 2:20 (NIV 1984).

[6] Colossians 2:20–21 (paraphrased).

[7] Colossians 2:22–23 (NIV 1984).

[8] 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (NIV 1984).

[9] Colossians 3:1 (NIV 1984).

[10] 1 Corinthians 2:14 (paraphrased).

[11] See 1 Corinthians 6:13–17.

[12] Colossians 1:21–22 (NIV 1984).

[13] Beverly Darnall, Dick Tunney, and Melodie Tunney, “Seekers of Your Heart” (1987). Paraphrased. 

[14] Romans 12:2 (NIV 1984).

[15] 1 Peter 1:13 (paraphrased).

[16] Paul Dwight Moody and Arthur Percy Fitt, The Shorter Life of D. L. Moody, vol. 1, His Life (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1900), 9.

[17] Philippians 1:21 (NIV 1984).

[18] Colossians 3:4 (NIV 1984).

[19] Colossians 3:5 (NIV 1984).

[20] Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).

[21] Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (1776).

[22] 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV 1984).

[23] The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.

[24] Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. R. M. M’Cheyne, ed. Andrew A. Bonar (Edinburgh and London: Oliphant, Anderson, and Ferrier, 1892), 153. Paraphrased.

[25] Apocryphally attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Original author unknown.

[26] Colossians 3:5 (NIV 1984). 

[27] Colossians 3:5 (NIV 1984).

[28] Colossians 3:8–9 (paraphrased).

[29] Colossians 3:9–10 (NIV 1984).

[30] Colossians 3:11 (paraphrased).

[31] Colossians 3:12 (NIV 1984).

[32] Romans 9:2–3 (paraphrased).

[33] Colossians 3:12 (NIV 1984).

[34] Psalm 51:10 (KJV).

[35] Psalm 119:9 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.