My younger brother, Chad, worked in tech support. Sometimes I’ll call him when my computer gets cranky. If my computer were a car, then he’s like the mechanic or technician who knows his way around under the hood and gets his hands greasy. But Chad would admit that often the best solution to a computer problem is simple: Reboot!
A one-word summary to Paul’s message in Colossians 3:1-11 is exactly that: Reboot. Paul details the glitches, the things that are going wrong, then he offers the fix, the divine reboot that makes all the difference.
First, let’s set the stage.
At the end of Colossians 2, beginning in v. 13, Paul had already written of the futility of a rules-based religion. Bodily discipline and pious self-denial only treat the symptoms and not the disease. He concludes in v. 23 – “They provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”
Now in chapter 3, Paul – who himself had been the most zealous of rule keepers as a Pharisee – shows us a different way, a life focused not on the keeping of rules but on the new life that only Christ can give. And so he begins in v. 1 –
“Since you have been raised to new life in Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.”
Note the passive voice. He doesn’t say “since you have raised yourself to a new life in Christ.” Rather, “since you have been raised…” Only God can do the job! Christianity is not a self-improvement program. We are forgiven and transformed not by what we do, but by what God in Christ has done and is doing in our lives. The word for this is grace.
Because of God’s grace, his power at work in Christ and therefore working inside of us, we are able to do what Paul says next: “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.”
Steven Covey wrote Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits is this: “Work with the end in mind.”
Set your sights – Paul says – on the realities of heaven, our end, our goal, our objective.
My work as a hospital chaplain has brought into sharp relief what Paul is talking about. In pre-COVID times, I’ve stood with families by bedsides when they said their goodbyes to a beloved and godly grandmother about to meet Jesus. I sat with two twenty-something sons as they accompanied their dad to death’s door, tearfully telling him all that he had meant to them. He was a churchgoing and loving father who obviously had raised his sons well. The comfort that faith brings in those moments has no price-tag.
Work with the end in mind. Set your sights on the realities of heaven. In verse 3, he reminds us that our “life is hidden with Christ in God,” then in verse 4 affirms that when Christ returns, we also will share in his glory. What a promise!
So the stage is set. Paul turns our eyes toward the risen, exalted Christ who is seated in power at God’s right hand. He encourages us to focus on the prize before us.
Naming the glitches
But all is not well. To return to our computer metaphor, Paul names some of the glitches. These are the sins that get in the way of us functioning according to God’s plan. What are some of these sins?
In v. 5, the NLT calls them the “sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” These are the sins that get in the way of our flourishing, of us being all that God intended for us to be:
Then in v. 8, Paul adds more items to the list:
Time won’t allow for us to consider all of these 10 sins one-by-one. But allow for a few general observations:
First, God cares whether we sin. John Wesley, based on 1 John 3:4, defines sin as a “willful transgression of a known law of God.” Sin can mean either:
- knowing what God has forbidden and doing it anyways, or
- knowing what God has asked us to do and still not doing it
God desires life for all of his children, but sin by its very nature brings death in its wake. Romans 6:23 reminds us: “The wages of sin is death.” It’s been said that too many of us sow our seeds of sin and then pray for crop failure. God cares whether we sin because he cares for us. God loves us, and so he warns us away from what can only cause us harm.
Secondly, the nature of sin is selfishness. Each of the 10 sins in Paul’s laundry list really are symptoms of an underlying disease, the disease of self-centeredness. Mildred Wynkoop defines sin as “love locked into a false center.” Greed, for example, reflects a person’s inability to consider anyone but themselves. It’s the person who goes through the potluck line first and heaps up a huge plate of food, not worried about whether the last person will have anything left.
Or how about lust? We shouldn’t confuse that word with healthy sexual desire. God has wired us with sexual desire; it’s a positive thing. But lust is different. Lust treats the other as a mere object, as a something rather than a someone, to be used and exploited rather than cherished and valued.
I’ve watched snatches of the original “High School Musical.” I like the message of the song title, “We’re all in this together.” Likewise, in Philippians 2:4 (NIV), Paul reminds us: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” In the 1970s, sometimes CBers would ask for a “radio check,” meaning trying to see if their radio was broadcasting properly. “Breaker 1-9 for a radio check,” they’d say. But instead of saying “You’re coming through loud and clear,” some would wisecrack: “I’ve got mine.”
And that’s the essence of sin. It’s the “I’ve got mine” mentality that fosters the ten sins Paul enumerates. It’s watching out for # 1 and not giving a hoot about what negative consequences that will produce for others. Yet sin can only be checked when selfishness is punished, not rewarded. So Paul says in Colossians 3:6 (NLT) – “Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.” Or, as the NRSV puts it: “…the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.”
Selfishness and disobedience go hand-in-hand. When we stubbornly walk against the light God has given us; when we keep shaking our fist at God, refusing to acknowledge our guilt or amend our ways; when lying becomes our mother tongue and foul, abusive language how we roll, should we be surprised when one day we face the judgment of God? That’s not a popular message in an age that sees God as a doting grandpa who doles out only grace. But there are many keys on the Scriptural keyboard, and we dare not confine ourselves to a single octave. We’re obligated to play them all, as needed, even the ones that produce a darker, more ominous tone.
Paul’s command in v. 5 couldn’t be more clear. Regarding our sins, he has a three-word command: “Put to death.” Not flirt with, not indulge them in secret, not sweep them under the carpet. No – put them to death. How about you? Are you tired of your sins and their consequences? Be done with them. With God’s power, put them to death.
Rebooting the computer
Sins are the glitches that bog us down. When the computer is glitchy, often it’s best to just reboot. So Paul, after laying out the list of sins, moves toward the remedy, the divine reboot, a fresh start.
This is the good news, a word of Gospel!
So Paul gives us another command. Having put your sins to death, put something in their place. V. 10 (NLT) – “Put on your new nature and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”
We are Christians in the Wesleyan tradition. When we talk about “reboot,” from our understanding of Scripture, we teach that this fresh start divides itself into two important steps. First, we ask for and receive God’s forgiveness, once we agree to let God help us forsake our evil ways. Our guilt is gone, taken away through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus that we claim as our own. Once strangers to God, we are now part of God’s family.
Secondly, God through the Holy Spirit living inside of us does even more. The renovation that God began in step one, now in step two, God accelerates that makeover. God shapes us and molds us to be more and more like Jesus. That’s what v. 10 says. We “become like him.” How is that even possible? The last phrase of v. 11 makes it clear: “Christ lives in all of us.” These are the two steps of the reboot, namely, being reconciled to God who begins the work of cleansing, then God subsequently accelerating that transformation, making us holy, setting us apart for God’s work and purifying us of our sin. The glitches are gone; the reboot restores us to factory condition, able to perform the purpose God intended for us.
Living a new life, together
No metaphor is perfect; metaphors are merely an attempt to illustrate a larger truth. Any illustration will break down if pressed too far. But when the divine reboot happens, let’s not forget that it has social consequences. Look at v. 11 (NLT) – “In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters and he lives in all of us.”
In his sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” John Wesley pleads: “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.” Set aside all the superficial differences. Jamal drives a Mercedes; Susan has a Chevy Sprint. Juan is a medical doctor; Denise is a school lunch monitor. Janet owns a working ranch with a million-dollar home; Tom is unemployed and lives in a small tent under the highway. The social markers that we make such a fuss about, Jesus looks at us and says: “Put those aside. Take care of each other. Love one another. I died and rose for you. You’re brothers and sisters now; we’re all on the same team.” When God in Christ has done something in our heart, as Wesley said, then we can take each other’s hand and show our world what Christians look like.
What would it mean to be a people of the reboot? We see the glitches all around us, the sin that drags us down, the disobedience that brings negative consequences for us and those impacted by our selfish decisions. The good news we have to share is simple: “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Where are you on your spiritual journey? Have you seen yourself in the mirror of the ten sins Paul enumerates in Colossians 3:1-11? Through Paul, God says to us today: “I am the God of the reboot. I am the God of the fresh start.”
Right where you are today, right where you’re watching, hold out your hands and pray this prayer with me:
“God, I acknowledge my sin, that I have disobeyed you. I’m willing to abandon my sin and to let you change me. Forgive me and make me new. Give me a new beginning today, and help me to walk in your ways all the days of my life. I pray in the name of Jesus, AMEN.”
I challenge you now that you have asked God’s forgiveness to go the second mile and ask forgiveness from anyone you might have hurt by your selfish acts. You’ll be amazed at how God will honor your courage to do what is right.
Be blessed, and go in peace.
Keyboard: Wikimedia Commons, H Sterling Cross / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
High School Musical: Wikimedia Commons, Smatprt / Public domain