One of the most powerful desires that humans have is to be consistent with themselves. Behavioral psychologist, Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote, “Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.”[1]  The point being made is that we want to live a life that is consistent between our present and our past.  While we may make incremental changes in our life over time, we will do so in such a way as to avoid the appearance of being inconsistent with our past life.  We will maintain a sense of consistency in our life, that is, unless we reach a turning point.

          Now, a turning point in our life, is one of those moments where for reasons of physical, emotional, or spiritual activity we make a sudden and abrupt break from our past.  I think the first time I was aware of the idea of a turning point was in high school. A friend of mine was a good solid, clean cut student.  One day he sustained an injury to his knee.  His injury slowed him down and he could not do all the things he had been doing before being injured.  He would require surgery.  After a short period of recovery following his surgery, he was expected to be able to resume all the activities he did formerly.  He would return to being fully consistent with who he was before his injury. Because of surgery, my friend was given narcotics to alleviate the post-surgical pain.  My friend was never the same.  He changed in so many ways, most notably with a compelling desire to use drugs, cocaine primarily.  With that change, came a different way of acting, dressing, hairstyle, language, associates, and ambitions.  I now realize my friend, influenced by drugs, had gone through a turning point.  My friend’s former life was done, and he was on a new life.  We remained friendly but we were never close friends again.

          I use this illustration as a way of casting in our minds the idea of a turning point in our life in which the former things are abandoned in favor of new things.  A turning point represents a dramatic shift that alters virtually everything about one’s life, whether that is for the good or the bad.  Our Scripture reading today from Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae began with a discussion of a turning point in the life for the members of that church.  It was a turning point from worldliness and towards God.

Paul wrote, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).

          Paul’s words began with a reminder that his readers had just passed through a turning point.  Paul said, “Since, then you have been raised in Christ.”  The radical change had been made.  His readers had been raised.  There is a sense that his readers had been born again, this time spiritually in Christ. They had accepted Christ as their Lord. This is something new, something that at that time no one ever heard about before.  Paul’s readers had practiced Judaism, Angelology (the worship of angels), paganism, or emperor worship and all the symbols and people who they had shared those practices with were still present in their lives.  But Paul’s readers had changed. Paul’s point was a call for his readers to forget all that they had done in the past because they had been raised to new life in Christ. 

To know how to live that new life, Paul said his readers must do two things.  First, they must “Set their hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).  To set your heart on something is to put all your emotional energy and desire into a particular aim and resolve to let nothing stop you.  To have your heart set on something means that you believe this and only this aim will satisfy your inner longing.   Paul’s charge was to make Christ and his will the love of your life.

          The second thing Paul said his readers must do is to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  To set your mind on one thing and not another is to give the full weight of your thoughts and contemplations to understanding the one and not the other. Paul called on his readers to engage their minds and acquire the mind of Christ.  Paul made a similar appeal in his letter to the Romans when he wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2).  Paul’s point was that since you have passed through this turning point, know the mind of Christ so that you can then know God’s will for your life.  Paul’s call was that his readers to put their full mind into knowing God’s will.

          Paul’s readers had spiritually gone through a turning point and Paul was instructing them that now their emotional and intellectual beings must be focused on the things above not the things of earth.  We say something similar every Sunday in the Lord’s prayer.  “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We are asking and praying that the things, the passions of the heart and mind that abound and are evident in heaven will replace the things found on earth.

          Paul had laid out the two things followers of Christ must do; set your heart and mind on things above.  Now why is that so?  Paul made this dramatic and shocking statement.  “For you died” (Colossians 3:3a).  There are few statements in life that cause us to stop in our tracks then when we receive notification that someone has died.  You answer the phone and the person on the other end says, “There just is no good way to tell you this but ‘so and so’ died this morning.”  At that instant, your active relationship with that person is over and it becomes the point at which nothing can be changed.  The personality, passions, and purposes of that person abruptly ceased and cannot be resumed.  There is no more dramatic turning point for the human body than death.  Paul was saying to his readers, “You died when you accepted Christ.  Your relationship with who you were is over.  The personality, passions, and purposes of that person have ceased and cannot be resumed.” “For you died” (Colossians 3:3a).  Paul’s words are jarring, and I believe he intended them to be so.

          Can you imagine making a phone call to a friend after you accepted Christ that goes like this.  The conversation begins as your friend answers the phone, “Hello.”  You reply, “Hey John, its George.”  “George, what’s up?”  “John, there just is no good way to tell you this but I died this morning.” John, stunned by the news, says tentatively, “What do you mean you died this morning?  Are you alright?”  You reply, “I died this morning when I accepted Christ Jesus as my Lord.  I am more than alright.  I was raised from the dead and now my heart and mind are set on Christ.  My personality, passions, and purposes will be his and not mine.  I am more than alright.  In fact, I would like you to die and join me in new life.”

          That would be one strange conversation but essentially that is what Paul wants us to understand.  To accept Christ is to die and be raised into a new life in Christ.  We see this death and resurrection in the act of baptism. When we are baptized by immersion, we are making that public proclamation that we died and now we are alive in Christ.  Baptism by choice is the symbol of a turning point moment in life and a symbol of our independence from our old life.  We are now free to be radically inconsistent with our past and adopt new and always changing patterns in a new life.

          Paul said, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:3-11). 

After announcing the death of his readers, Paul reminds his readers of the things that are earthly that died with them.  Such earthly things include sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, idolatry, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lying, and being divisive toward people who are not like you.  Some or all these things were part of the life and history of member of the church and now that they were dead their active relationship with these things was over and should not be resuscitated or resurrected. There are two keys points here. When we come through a turning point and our old ways are dead, then they are dead always.  We must not act a new way in church and the old way when we are out of church.  We cannot be divided by living as a new person and trying to live the life of a dead person.  Second, and very encouraging, is the reality that none of these earthly behaviors disqualifies us from a life in Christ.  Having been sexual immoral, impure, lustful, possessing evil desires, being greedy, or angry, malicious, slanderous, or being a lar or being divisive disqualify us from being in a permanent active relationship with Christ in the present and forever.  The spiritual turning point, a spiritual death and rebirth, in Christ was intended specifically for sinners.  Jesus said, “31 Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’” (Matthew 5:31-32).

Paul then continued that after laying to rest all of the earthly things, “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 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.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:12-17).  The behaviors that Paul cited here are the product of a new life.

          In emergency medical response, there are some telltale indicates that responders hope to see to indicate “signs of life.”  The top three are consciousness, breathing, and pulse.  There are lesser signs, of course, but these are the top three.  By analogy, Paul’s point was there ought to be signs of life in the Christian whose heart and mind are set on things above.  When someone comes upon a Christian, they ought to see and experience compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Those attributes reflect a consciousness, a sign that the life of the Christian is in Christ and Christ is in them. Moreover, when someone comes upon a Christian, they ought to find forgiveness expressed as an outgrow or consequence of having been forgiven by God.  Forgiveness is the breath of God coming into our body and exhaled to others. Forgiveness is a sign of continued repetitive life that should be to the Christian just as respiration must be found in the body itself.  Finally, when someone comes upon a Christian, they ought to find the virtue of love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.  To a Christian, the love of Christ expressed through the shedding of his blood is what unites us to him and to one another.  The blood of Christian is what gives and sustains life. There is not a part of our human body that is not sustained by our blood and so it is with the Christian.  There is not a part of us that is not sustained by the love of Christ.  Paul’s list are the signs of life in Christ.

Are their signs that you have died and signs that you have been raised again? Or is there a confusing mixture of death and life?  Do we sometimes feel like we are alive in Christ and are compassionate, loving, and forgiving?  These are the times we are keeping our minds and hearts focused on Christ.  These are signs we have gone through a turning point in our life.  These are the signs of life that we have been raised again into a new life.  This is the good news of life.  When our life is so mark by Christ, then our hearts will be satisfied.  If this is where you are today, then you must continue to press on toward the prize. Do not give up and do not turn back. Press on.  If this is not where you are today, turn around, God is behind you waiting for you.  Turn and worship Him.  In worship we receive the guidance we need through God’s Word, we become more aware of others, the need for prayers, and worship presents us the opportunity to set our hearts and minds on the things above and truly be alive in Christ.  Let us all give thanks that we are alive in Christ. Amen and Amen

[1] Cialdini PhD, Robert B. (2009-05-28). Influence (Collins Business Essentials) (pp. 57-58). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition