Grow in Faith: Putting on the New Clothes

Good Morning Journey.  I’m Phil Human, one of the pastors here at Journey, and today we’re continuing our series on learning how to grow in our faith.

So last week we talked about getting rid of the trash in our life.  And it was an admittedly awkward topic,  as we focused on last week about maintaining sexual purity as we fight the good fight against lust.

And I just want to start by saying thanks to the many of you who reached out with words of encouragement, and the many who wrote to express thanks that Journey is a church that will not judge someone who is fighting against the old selfish nature.

If you are fighting – then we will fight with you, not against you.  We will stand with you as you fight the good fight of faith.

We were in the book of Colossians chapter 3 last week, and we’ll stay there again this week.  The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church that met in Colossae -where he likens spiritual growth in Jesus to putting on a new wardrobe.

The idea of taking off the old life and putting on the new is one of Paul’s go-to metaphors of the Christian life.  For instance in Ephesians 4

 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 

And here in Colossians

I heard a story once that purports to be a true story, about two brothers who lived in San Francisco in the early 1900’s.  The older brother was hard working, honest, full of integrity, compassionate and loving.  The younger brother though was always finding trouble.  He drank too much.  Gambled too much-  Ran with the wrong crowd – living a promiscuous and selfish life.

Very late one evening, the doorway burst open in the apartment where the two brothers lived.  The younger brother burst through the door – and his clothes were covered in blood.  “Help me – he cried to his older brother – I was out gambling with a group and got into an argument with a man – we fought and I killed him.  the others called the cops and they are fast on my heels – what shall I do.

The older brother said – quickly, get out of those bloody clothes – leave them on the floor – go into my room and find some clean clothes to put on.  Just as the younger brother has entered back into the living room – the police came knocking on the door – when the door opened – out of the younger brothers room walked the older brother, wearing the younger brothers clothes that had been stained with the blood of his victim.

Being about the same size and age, and looking very similar – the police arrested the older brother, and the next day – there was a quick and hasty trial, the older brother was sentenced to die for the crime of the younger brother, and they quickly executed him.

Afterward the younger brother was filled with remorse and went to the judge to explain that in his own selfishness he allowed his brother to be tried for his crimes – but the judge told the younger brother – there is nothing that can be done.  The crime has already been paid for.  You are free to go,

The younger brother went home and decided – if my brother died for me – I will live for him – and he began to wear his brother’s clothes as a reminder of the tremendous love that saved him from death and gave him a new life.  And he indeed turned a new leaf out of respect and admiration for his brother.

Does that story seem too incredible to be true?  Oh but it is true – for Jesus did just that for us.  He put on our bloody clothes – a wore our guilt and shame – he was judged and executed in our place – that we might go free.

Jesus says take off those filthy rags you once paraded around in – and Paul gave us a list of such things as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed.  Having nothing to do with anger, rage, malice, gossip.

Jesus says – give me those clothes – and he put them on and was executed in them.  Our guilt died with Jesus that day.  But Jesus does more for us than simply removing our sin.  Jesus is more than a guilt remover.

He offers to swap clothing with us, so to speak – and now we get to put on a new nature – his nature –  and as we are transformed over time we begin to become different kinds of human beings – who live thankful and meaningful lives out of thankfulness and respect for Jesus, and His sacrificial love for us.

So let’s talk about putting on the new.  What does it mean when Paul tells us to put on the new nature?

This morning we will answer three questions.

Who gets to wear the new clothes? 

What do the new clothes look like?

How do we go about putting them on?

The first question – who gets the privilege of being able to put on the new clothes that we will read about shortly?  Who gets a shot at a new life?

Col 3:11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free.  Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Now in some of your translations – the word Scythian is translated and “uncivilized,” but the word is Scythian, and it’s an awesome word.   Uncivilized sound like such a lame-o word.

Are you drinking Port out of a wine glass?  You uncivilized beast.  Good news for you – there’s room in the Kingdom for uncivilized swine.

No!  The word is Scythian – and here’s the deal – like, if you were to call someone a barbarian – that’s insulting.  If you go out on a first date and your date says – has anyone ever told you that you eat like a barbarian – I’m not a barbarian!  So I dress in bearskin and I love a good turkey leg!  Sue me!  But don’t call me a barbarian!

Let me tell you – you probably aren’t going to go on a second date with her, are you?

Now here’s why I love it – if you were able to back in time and find an actual barbarian – and if you were call that real barbarian a Scythian?  The barbarian would say – okay – stop right there – you’ve crossed the line.  There’s no need for insults.  Sure I’m a barbarian – but I’m no Scythian.

I think this is a hilarious little jab by the apostle Paul.  I mean look at how Paul compares and contrasts – they include everyone.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a gentile.  Circumcised or uncircumcised – and you are one or the other – it doesn’t matter if you a slave or free – and you were one or the other.   But the only two options he gives for culture is bad and much worse.  You are either a barbarian or a Scythian.

Wait Paul – I’m a decent feller – where am I listed?  Oh you’re in there, Mister Rogers.  But compared to God himself – we are all Scythians.

But the good news is that it doesn’t matter – because faith in Jesus ushers us into a new kingdom and offers us a new life.

Who gets to take off the old and put on the new?  Anyone who places their faith in Jesus!  Jesus is offering to take the bloody clothes from you and he will gladly wear them – he already has – and now falls to us a decision. Do we think highly enough of him to trust him with every aspect of our life? Once we place our faith in Jesus – our very identity changes.

Paul puts it like this…

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with…   

In week two of our series we spoke about understanding that our very identity has changed through faith in Jesus.  We are now adopted by God as his beloved sons and cherished daughters.

And I love how Paul is rooting the change in clothing to the change in our identity.   In other words – what changes us is the fact that God loves us.  The clothes that Paul will list don’t cause the change – they are a product of the change in Status through faith in Jesus.

Think back to the story of the two brothers – what changed the younger brothers life?  Was his life changed because he wore his older brothers clothes?  Was there power in putting on his older brothers clothes?  Of course not, right.    No – what changed his life?  Only the sacrificial love of the brother.

So let’s keep reading – what do the new clothes look like?

Before we read the rest of this verse – First – I want to show you a picture of what my bible looks like.  I’ve owned this bible since 1987.  It is an New International Study Bible. And here is what the page where Colossians 3.

Now I want you to notice that I adjusted the heading.  The editors of the book tried to help me out by putting handy titles over sections, but they messed this one up.  Because they wrote over this section, “Rules for Holy Living”.  These are not rules for Holy Living.

You know why – because if they were rules they would crush us.  For one thing – anytime you stand up and say, “People, we have some rules to follow!”, the crowd responds with – cool – let’s break them.  Let’s break all the rules.

And the result is either we are in constant worry mode that we broke a rule, or we feel really really good about ourselves for being able to keep the rules – and we get caught up in self-righteousness.  Either way, we push God out of the picture.

No – instead of looking at this as a list of all the ways I’m falling short – or all the ways I’m rocking it!  Let’s look at this list as – a Description of the kind of person God is turning me into.

This is a vision statement!  It’s a vision – that – if I put the effort into the process – and if I collaborate and cooperate with the Holy Spirit, I will see growth in my spiritual life.  Slow and steady, like an Oak Tree – my faith will grow strong and healthy.

I will become the kind of person who…

…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 

We get to be clothed in the attitudes of Jesus.

Can you envision yourself being a more compassionate, more kind, more humble human being?   It is God’s desire to turn you into the kind of human being from whom flow compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Can you envision being the person who naturally and easily is able to…

13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

These are Jesus’ attitudes and actions and they will be ours too – as we grow in faith and character.  Does it scare you?  Do you think you will b a push over?  No!  You will be the salt and light of the world.

So now let’s turn to the question of How?  How do we go about putting them on?  This is a pivotal question.  How is someone transformed?

And I’ll use three words here that have been coined by Dallas Willard – who is our generations premiere voice in how to grow in our faith.  He uses three words that we often use here at Journey.

It requires a clear vision of the kind of person I will look like when fully clothed with the attitudes and actions of Jesus.

I’m not a very mechanical kind of person.  I grew up in a house that had like a hammer and a screwdriver – that was the extent of tools.  But as I’ve grown older I find myself enjoying trying to tackle small repair jobs on our aging fleet of vehicles in the Human Household.

Two years ago I bought a basic stripped down 6 speed manual transmission Kia Soul.  It had no cruise control.  I found a video on Youtube – a Canadian dude in a white lab count – showing me how I could install my own cruise control.

Cool!  So I buy a part online for $75.  And the next Saturday morning I’m sitting in my car – it has like 100 miles on it – and I’m watching a Canadian mechanic in a lab coat tell me – step one – remove the airbag, eh?

Sweet!  What could go wrong?! And I know what you are thinking – you are like, Phil, Normally when you tell stories like this, something goes awry – and I imagine you are waiting to hear about how the airbag blew up, or I had to have the car towed to a shop.  Well – you know what went wrong?

Nothing!  This is a Phil Human first – nothing went wacky.  It worked!  Here’s why – because I kept checking to make sure I was progressing and that what I was doing looked like it should look.  And sure – it didn’t hurt that my courage was bolstered by the fact that my mechanic neighbor Matt was home and ready to help –

The point is this – how do we clothe ourselves in the new nature?  We don’t have a computer on our lap – we have a bible.  We read and become familiar with the kind of person God sees me becoming.  I check my progress.  I read about the kind of person God is re-creating in me.

I have a clear vision of the new person – and I’m praying to God for his help in the progress.   It begins with a clear vision.

Second – it requires intention.  We have to want to wear the new clothes.

No one will grow spiritually without serious intent.  Listen – I have in my garage right now a Schwinn Aerodyne bike machine – it’s awesome.  I can envision myself getting into better shape – I even have the means.  I have, however, no intention of busting that thing out of my garage.  I’ll sell it to you right now.  See me afterward – $100 It’s yours.  I’ll donate it to the church.

We must have a vision and an intention of change.  and for some the place to start will have to be a prayer – help me to want to grow.  And if you can’t pray that straight – pray help me to want, to want to grow.  Spark something inside me Lord.

So how do we put on the new clothes – we must keep the vision in front of us.

Second – we intend to grow.

And lastly, we make use of the means of spiritual transformation.  We make use of time honored training techniques of faith.  They are training exercises for our spirit – and they include things like – solitude, silence, fasting, scripture memory and prayer – these exercises are the means of transformation.

We often like to say that transformation of the soul comes through training, not trying.

Here’s what we mean.  Do you want to become more patient?  I promise you that you will not be more patient by trying real hard the next time patience is required.  It will not happen in the fiery kiln that is real life.  What is more likely is that the pressure of the moment will reveal the need for growth – but it rarely produces a person who is more patient.

Instead – we can train ourselves to become patient people by intentionally putting ourselves in situations we know will require patience – and then – in the low stress environment – where nothing is really at stake other – we can teach our soul that it doesn’t need to freak out if people don’t operate on my time table!

Story of the kid on my bus?  My prayer- help me see this kid as a human being and not a doofus.

If I don’t prepare myself to be able to respond with godliness when the pressure is off – I will have little chance of displaying them under the stress of real life – when it will be most required and it will pay off the most return in my life and the lives of the other god created and loved human beings I come in contact with by divine appointment on a day to day basis.

Memorize scripture right now that will come in handy later – psalm 23 will be there at your ready next time you suddenly find yourself heading into a dark valley.

If you struggle with lust – or anger – fasting will be a helpful tool.  Train your body that it doesn’t always have to have what it wants.  Deprive yourself of someone – on a regular basis – and later – in the heat of battle – your body will be able to reach into a depth of real life experience where you’ve taught it that the world will not end if you don’t get your way.

Do you have a vision of the kind of clothing God wishes to adorn us with?  Do we have the intent of wearing them?  Then let’s make use of the means that are at our disposal to help us grow in faith.

Spiritual growth is not beyond you.  Jesus has already done the work