Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 7:11-17; Colossians 3:5-17; Psalm 135:1-12; 2 Chronicles 3-5
In this chapter of Colossians, Paul grounds Christian ethics in the new identity received in Christ. Words and deeds are important, but they must flow from the new nature given to Christians. We had an old self which has been replaced; we must now put on the new self. Our new identity is a reality, yet it takes time to transform our nature. Christian ethics is about being renewed so that every area of our lives more accurately reflects the nature and character of God in whose image we have been made.
In yesterday’s passage, Paul noted that this process involves orienting our hearts and minds towards Christ. In today’s passage, he moves on to more practical aspects of this process of transformation. Paul’s approach contrasts with that rejected in Colossians 2. He lists things to be rejected and others to be practiced. But instead of focusing on external rules and rituals, Paul addresses internal character change; rather than relationships with angels and stars, Paul addresses human relationships with all their challenges. This is an internal process, and therefore not easy to see or evaluate. These are no easy to-do lists. The process is based on faith and evidenced by the peace and joy reigning in our hearts and the love that characterises our relationships.
The old nature that has been put to death is characterised by sexual impurity, greed, anger and lying. These either replace God as the one on the throne of our hearts or hurt those around us. They present an untrue picture of God’s nature and actions. As God’s images, our attitudes, actions and words should accurately image God. Doing so requires an active, on-going process of transformation, akin to putting on our clothes. The analogy with a daily activity is confirmed by the tense of the verb ‘being renewed.’ This suggests continuous improvement, not a once-off completed task. The verb also points to a process that happens to us, not one that we control. We have an important role to play in the process, but ultimately God is the one who renews us as we place ourselves into the right settings with the right attitudes. Self-effort is not the answer; dependence on Christ is.
Our role is not to escape this messy, complicated world by keeping our heads in the heavenly clouds. Our feet are to be firmly planted on the earth, engaged in loving others while resisting temptation. We are forgiven, but we must remember that what God forbids is harmful, either for us, for others or for both. Sin led to the wrath of God being poured out on Jesus, and it will be poured out on those who do not accept his forgiveness. How contradictory and reprehensible that those forgiven by Jesus’ sacrifice would continue to walk in the ways that required his sacrifice.
Instead, we should clothe ourselves with the fabric of God’s nature. No longer should we view one another by our human differences, however significant (see the discussion of Galatians 3:11). We are now one in Christ, and this is our overriding characteristic. Our lives should then be characterised by God’s virtues. We learn what this looks like from the words of Christ and their elaboration throughout the Bible. Rather than ethical rules or principles, we are called to an even higher standard: to love and forgive others as God loves and forgives us. Christian ethics is not a striving after ethical norms, but a transformed life lived according to our new identity. From a heart that is right with God should flow words and deeds that please God, guided by the vision provided by Christ, the perfect image of God. No wonder such ethics requires the death of the old self and constant vigilance in putting on the new self.