For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. -Colossians 1:13-14 NIV
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. -2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
In Sunday’s sermon, John challenged us to “imagine if we lived from our hearts what we know in our heads”. He explained that the “old” that has “passed away” is the power of sin and the practices of self. I love the verse that he used to illustrate this point. This is how Romans 6:6 reads in the Message paraphrase:
Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call!
We were reminded that God sees us through what Christ did for us on the cross. The blood of Jesus did not merely “cover” sin, like the blood of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament had done. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross completely removed our sin, so that when God looks at us, he sees us as “holy, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22).
John then outlined that the “new” that has come includes these four things:
- A new LIFE
- A new IMAGE
- A new SPIRIT
- A SECOND CHANCE
A myriad of thoughts swirled as I listened to verses and truths that I have known in my head-but perhaps never fully realized in my heart. It would take far too many pages to discuss all of the things that came to mind, but one in particular stands out to me.
When John spoke of the new Spirit we receive in Christ, he read Ezekiel 11:19-20 (ESV):
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
As I listened to the words of this verse, three immediately grabbed my attention:
“that they may”
These words took me to another verse that I love that includes the same three words.
1 Peter 2:9 reads:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
In both verses these words serve as connecting words and it’s easy-at first glance-to miss their significance.
Imagine if “that they may” in the Ezekiel verse was replaced with “so they must”. It would change the tone of the entire verse. The same is true in the 1 Peter verse. It is the three connecting words that show us God’s heart-and his deep love-for us. The fact that God promises to give us His very own Spirit would, on its own, be sufficient to show us His goodness. Then He tells us that He removes our hearts of stone-essentially DEAD hearts, because stone isn’t alive (see Ephesians 2:4-5)-and give us the hearts we are meant to have, living hearts of flesh. Again, what a promise! But what comes next is what shocks my heart to its knees…
“that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them”
What’s the big deal? Why does this have me so hung up on the goodness of our God? Isn’t this another verse about obedience and rules?
Friends, this is GOD. The God who made us, grieved when we turned from Him, sent His very own Son to make a way for us to come back to Him. He is the Almighty, the Holy One. He holds all of time in His hands.
And still, as He did in the very beginning, He lets us choose. He gives us our freedom.
Knowing our propensity to turn to other gods and our inclination to wander, because of His great love for us, God gives us the freedom to choose to live His way, to live into His very best for us…
…or not to.
1 Peter 2:9 details our identity in Jesus. We are told we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” that we may declare His praises. Not that we “should”, “must”, “ought to”. He doesn’t demand it.
We get to choose. My mind can’t well comprehend a love that big. God is, well, GOD. He could demand our obedience, demand our allegiance, force us to do life His way. But because He desires authentic relationship with us, He instead gives us the ultimate gift of love: freedom.
God has “delivered us out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son”, but we can choose to live with the burden of our sin on us. Just as “we may” choose God’s way, “we may” also choose to continue trying to live in our own power (which really isn’t power at all), as inhabitants of the Kingdom, but still covered in the darkness we refuse to let go of.
John asked a question, and I will put it before us again here:
“Would you like to live in a whole new way?”
If your answer is yes, as mine is, there is great news for us:
I love what Laura pointed out…that we may… we have a choice.
John also pointed out “choice”. He reminded us of Romans 6:6 which states, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” John highlighted that a slave has no choice.
Before we come into relationship with Christ, we are mastered by sin. After we come into a relationship with Christ, God allows us to choose whether to live in His freedom, or remain stuck with one foot in the dominion of darkness and one foot in His kingdom. Galatians 5:1 tells us that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Like Laura said, the freedom is there, but it will not be forced upon us. God does not want to coerce us into a false love; He desires authentic relationship with us in which we choose Him because we love Him.
So, how does the freedom thing work? It’s certainly not in striving to be good. That’s just another heavy weight. Just as I can’t deal with sin on my own, I also can’t live a life worthy of Christ on my own. In order for me to live in freedom, I have to submit myself to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, AND believe that what God says about me in His word is true.
As John was speaking, many of the scriptures he was sharing were swirling and intertwining in my mind, forming a picture that I hope I can put into words.
Colossians 3:9-10 “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”
Ephesians 3: 17b-19 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Colossians 1:22 “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
Going backward through the verses I just typed out…The name Satan means “prosecutor”. He is constantly throwing accusations at us. We can choose to believe him, whose other name is the father of lies (John 8:44), or choose to believe our Defender, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)
God, our Defender sees us as holy and without blemish because Christ lives in us. My role, your role, in all of this is to have faith to believe it’s true. To live by faith. Not faith in myself or my behaviors, but faith in the completed work of Christ on the cross. My sins, your sins paid for–once for all. His holiness, His perfection given to me, to you. He “loved me and gave himself for me” and the key to this freedom life is “to know this love that surpasses knowledge”, to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep” is that love and to live “rooted and established” in that love. If I am rooted and established in that love, I am putting on “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge” (knowledge of His love) Do you see that verb tense? Being renewed. It is an ongoing action. And what is the ongoing, renewing knowledge doing? It is causing me to become more like Him.
He has done the hard part. My part is to draw close to Him, to know His love, to love Him in return, to allow His Spirit to work in my life, to let Him challenge and change me, and to follow Him wherever He leads.
I used to try to “behave” myself into being godly. It was exhausting and ineffective. We cannot “try” ourselves into change. Only God can change us, and He does it through our relationship with Him as we draw near, as we listen to His voice and respond in obedience to the prompting of His Spirit. I don’t know how He does it, but I do know that I am not who I used to be, and I know many others who would say the same. As we abide in Him, our lives become different (John 15:4-5), and it is beautiful.
How about you? Have you tasted His freedom? Have you experienced His transforming power working in your life? Are you being renewed in the knowledge of His love? Can you look back and see that you are not who you used to be?
We have been rescued–moved from one place to another, one reality to another, death to life. We have been made new. Are we living like it’s true?