Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and is in all. (Colossians 3:9-11 BSB)
“There is no perfect sermon that is unattached to any specific, real human circumstance.” This is one of the credos that I have taught my Homiletics pupils. (I have taught Homiletics for many years as an adjunct lecturer.) It is also commonly observed s being true about great speeches – that every great speech is about something specific, that it is fixed in time and attached to a concrete circumstance.
And the same is true of Scripture. Every scripture passage was written in the midst of a real human circumstance, with real people, and each deals with real problems. And therein lies the benefit to us. Scripture is about God’s Spirit moving in real people in their lives and world (2 Peter 1:21).
Understanding the historical circumstance
This means, however, that we need to take into account the historical circumstance in which the author spoke. In the passage above we can understand the challenges facing a multi-cultural church in Colossae. There were people who were culturally very different from one another. Some of these differences were understandable, and other harder to accept.
The words about “lying,” for example, seem to be a bridge thought, going from the problem of sins committed to the issue of the people from various cultures united in Christ. He was speaking about sins, and then, immediately upon mentioning lying, he makes this blanket statement that in Christ there is unity for people of all nations. His Spirit-inspired words speak powerfully to all people. We all who are believers in Christ are called to live holy lives and not to lie.
But what is lying? It is common in cultural differences for some cultures to be more direct in their speech and others to be more indirect. Across America, for example, it is widely observed that the further east you travel the more indirect people speak to one another. They call it just being polite. And the further west you travel the more direct people speak. They call it being truthful. But it ends up with one group thinking the others are untruthful and the other thinking the others are impolite. This division cuts directly through my home state of Texas, with West Texans being plain spoken, and East Texans being more indirect.
The New Self is Christ in us and it is not about culture
And this could also lead to an assumption — an assumption widely made across the world — that people of some cultures just can’t be as good a group of Christians as people from others. There is a sense of cultural superiority in most of us, at least to some degree.
So Paul is making a powerful point, that the New Self is not about a culture, other than the culture of heaven. The original Greek simply says “the new” and the word “self” or”man” or “person” is assumed. This is similar to what he did in 2 Cor. 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” The work of God to transform us is tethered to His eternal character and transcends all human societies and all human cultures. It is “new” because it has its origin in God.
The miracle of the Christian life is that each believer is being transformed into the image of Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29). And this is done not by us in our strength seeking to copy Him, but by Him in His power working in us to change us. The minute we trust in Christ we receive the new self “created after God in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
And we are “being renewed” in the knowledge of God. The image Paul paints, as I understand it, takes into account the complexity of human existence. Some of sought to simplify this by describing human life as consisting of a spirit, soul, and body. In lost man, the spirit is dead because of sin in him (Eph. 2:1), and in Christ we are brought to a new life and born again or born from above (John 3:7-8).
And the soul then, which is our mind, emotions, and will, must be constantly renewed by the work of God in our innermost self or our spirit. The life of God is constantly at work in our life: “Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). With this constant work taking place, in the grace of God, our habits, thoughts, actions, attitudes, etc., is being transformed.
The source of the new life is God, not culture, not people. God is at work and because He is at work, He will complete His work in us. Sometimes new converts try to copy the actions of more mature believers, and sometimes they pick up some cultural customs of the mature Christians they know. This is harmless usually, but, they should know that the real One they are to emulate is none other than Christ. He is at work in them!
The New Community
Because Christ is at work, in every culture and in every place on earth God can be at work and a church of redeemed people can exist. Regardless of where they are. We can take any community, any family, any group of friends, and let Christ go to work in them forming them into a new community.
In the weakness of the flesh, some times we have substituted the miraculous work of God with quaint nostalgic thoughts of the churches from our childhood. Often some idyllic image of a white clapboard country church set on a hill, with sweet people gathered for dinner on the ground, and the children playing around a swing tethered to a tree limb, is the ideal. But unless God is at work in lives, such a community can turn into a gossip-fest, with children fighting over the swing!
The first church ever was not some quaint country church, but a miraculous large multicultural city church with 3,000 members from the first day, which were being transformed into the image of Christ, and who loved each other miraculously well — with many selling their properties and sharing it all with the rest.
Whether we call the church a community or a family we find some limitations, because both words are linked to a specific, fallen human condition. Though some are better than others, no earthly family or earthly community is perfect.
But in Christ, the church is something of a divine order, with a divine origin. Paul said in Ephesians 4:25, “We are members of one another.” That we are not merely strangers called to tolerate one another, but rather we belong to one another. And the words in Colossians above carry similar weight, but he says it from the perspective of God: “Christ is all and is in all” (Col. 3:11).
The overwhelming and overriding reality of every church is to be “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Christianity is truly “Christ-in-you-ity” and “Christ-in-me-ity” and “Christ-in-us-ity.”
- What is Christian and what is cultural about your church?
- Where are people more likely to substitute sweet earthly memories for the work of God?
- Do we need to go back in time to be the church of Christ?
- Can a biblical, Spirit-filled church of redeemed people exist in your neighborhood? What would it look like?