Live as if Christ is with You (December 31, 2017)
Live as if Christ is with You
At times of change, sometimes we also like to recompose or remake ourselves. Along with a new home, a new job, a new age, or even a new year, we like to dig deep, identify some improvements to make, and refresh ourselves. But identifying what exactly you would want to change, or boiling it down to specific principles, can sometimes be difficult. Do you take a philosophy of life from one of your idols? Do you take on a set of characteristics from someone you look up to? Do you follow a set of tips given in a book that you recently read?
With Christmas still fresh in our minds and standing on the verge of a new year, I’m going to suggest this mentality for your new year: Live as if Christ is with you. And to get you started, I’m going to read part of Colossians 3. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone” (Col 3:12-13).
I’m not going to talk about each of those in length, but I would like to highlight a few. Compassion. It’s what the Samaritan felt toward the man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead by thieves on a desert road (Lk 10:33). It’s what Jesus felt as he looked out on the crowd of more than 5,000 people and saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd. Our English word comes from Latin and literally means to “suffer with” someone – share their burden. The Greek word means that your “heart goes out” to them; you are deeply moved at the core. It’s a mentality that is focused on the needs and hardships of someone else. A mentality that is then put into action as you do anything you can to help that person out of their desperate situation. For the Samaritan, it meant cleaning the man up, paying for his stay at an inn, and promising that when he returns he would pay any additional expense. For Jesus, it meant taking the time – even though he was already exhausted from a long day – taking the time to teach the people, and feed them spiritually and physically. Living in a “me first” society, how are you going to clothe yourself with compassion? How are you going to “suffer with” someone else as you put their needs before your own? How are you going to live as if Christ is with you?
Gentleness. Perhaps we don’t think of this one as a characteristic, but more of a way you would handle an object or a situation. But in speaking of it as a characteristic, it could be described as an attitude or behavior which negates harshness or anger. It’s a characteristic which Jesus ascribes to himself (Mt 11:29), which makes his followers willing to come to him and learn from him. It is a magnetic quality that attracts cautious people rather than polarizes them. We could definitely use more of that in our country, couldn’t we? Bringing people together rather than polarizing them. Especially in a day and age when it seems everything you do or say has some kind of connotation, some kind of charge to it. How can I live with such gentleness that brings people together?
And patience. Really, it’s what makes us willing to “suffer long.” I guess sometimes we have no choice in this. We are still in this world, and this world is still filled with evil and sin. I guess we just have to endure it until Jesus returns or takes me to be with him. But you know, Jesus chose to suffer in your place. He willingly chose to come to earth, take on flesh, and then suffer the pangs of hell for you. And he chooses to continue to be patient with your sinfulness so that he can craft and shape you into the person he wants you to be. Clothed with all these virtues which we learn from him.
It’s a tall order… to clothe yourself with such virtues. How many sets of clothing have I gone through as I hulked out and destroyed the virtuous clothes that Jesus gave me? As I look at this list, struggling to be renewed, I realize that I can never keep any of these virtuous clothes on for very long. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Sure I can don these for a little while as I put up with others. But sooner or later their attitude, their sinful actions are going to grate on me until I rip apart the virtuous clothes and let the real me shine through. And do you see what I did there? Blaming my own sinfulness on others. It’s easy to do that. Because, the truth is, all my life I have been stained with sin. All my life I have had this sinfulness living in me. Yes, it can be covered. Yes, it can be drowned. Yes, it can be subdued for a time. But it always seems to come right back up. To live as if Christ is with me is a tall order. I feel like he would be judging my every move. I don’t think I can ever bear with others, forgive, and love them as Jesus would have me do.
Well, that’s because we’ve been looking at it all wrong. You can’t start with these virtues. You can’t just say I’m going to put on these virtuous clothes and live as if Christ is with me. There’s something very important that has to be done first. And actually, in this passage, it all hinges on one word. One often overlooked but very important word that I skipped. “Therefore” (Col 3:12). It’s really just a connecting word, a transition. I don’t usually make any note about my transition in the bulletin outline, but this time I did because it is so important to this text. I can remember a teacher telling me, “Whenever you see a ‘Therefore,’ ask yourself what it’s ‘there for.’” This one connects this section, verses 12-17, with the two preceding verses.
“Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col 3:10-11). It all hinges upon Christ. It all hinges upon Christmas. Jesus is the one who does the heavy lifting for you. Living perfectly in your place. Taking away your sins. Having gone through that cleansing sacrifice, you come out changed. You come out with Christ living with you. In fact, not just living with you, but living in you and through you. He is the one who renews you. He brings about the change in you. He renews you to the image of your Creator – that image of holiness and perfection. So live as if Christ is with you because he is! Not in a judgmental sort of way, but in a redeeming and renewing sort of way. Having been renewed on the inside by Christ, then you can clothe yourself with virtues on the outside. He changes your heart. You reflect that change in how you choose to live.
If all those virtues I mentioned earlier seem too numerous, or too difficult to keep track of, the second half of this section from Colossians 3 perhaps helps whittle the list down a bit as you live, not just pretending that Christ is right there with you, but knowing that he is indeed with you and living in you. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col 3:15). Let the peace of Christ rule. Think of the peace of Christ as the umpire or referee of your heart. As one with correct judgment, let him make the call. He knows the situation. He knows the games we play. But when he makes the call, his decision stands. He calls out actions that promote peace among one another.
And notice, this is a peace that lovingly builds one another up. It’s not a peace that turns a blind eye to falsehood for the sake of keeping the peace. It doesn’t mean agreeing to disagree just to avoid an argument. It says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col 3:16). There is going to be teaching and learning involved. There is going to be admonishing and growing involved. True peace, peace that lasts, is one that is worked hard for and continues to grow. This peace is accomplished by teaching and admonishing to build one another up in a loving way. Helping and supporting one another even bearing with each other and forgiving them in their weakness. And the only way you can live like this is to live with Christ in you. Maintain continual contact with the gospel of Christ where he teaches you to bear with one another and forgive one another by bearing with and forgiving you.
So then, also, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). God first displayed all these virtues in dealing with you. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, as he worked to make you his own. God sent his Son for you! Jesus lived a life perfect in every virtue in your place. Through the Word, God enters your heart and establishes his peace within you, and then lives through you to spread that peace. Be thankful for all of this! Be grateful for all that God has done for you – in your spiritual life, in your physical life, this past year, and the many years that have gone before it. And now live as if Christ is with you because he is!
If you were looking for someone to emulate this next year, look to him. If you were looking in a book for tips on how to make this next year great, look to his book. Clothe yourself with these virtues. Bear with one another and forgive one another. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and be thankful. It’s a tall order, yes. But it’s one that Christ has already done for you. So that now it’s done out of gratitude that God graciously lives through you. Amen.