Over the last few months I have been studying the book of Colossians. As I've been going through the summer, one main idea from my study has stood out to me. It comes from Colossians 3:5-10…
“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 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 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
In studying through this passage, I, like most other people, started at the beginning. In verse five, Paul lists some sins that we are to "put to death." But it was verse six that put me back in my chair: "Because of these, the wrath of God is coming." This was nothing new to me; I have known that our sin put Jesus on the cross and that He will return again with his full judgment, but for some reason, verse six stopped me this time. Why would Paul write this to the Colossians? This was not the church in Galatia who had deserted the Gospel that saved them. This was the church in Colossae. This was the church to whom Paul said, "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints." (Colossians 1:3-4) So why would Paul warn them against God's wrath if they were already saved from it?
My investigation took me to Romans where I read more about God's judgment and wrath. In chapters one and two, Paul addresses God's judgment against the "godlessness and wickedness of men" and the "wrath they are storing up for themselves for the day of God's wrath." There were people in this world then who knew the life-saving grace of God AND the wrath their sin would bring them, yet they continued to do the very things that Paul said in Colossians will bring his wrath. And there are people in this world now who live their lives doing the very same things. It was here that I had a flashback to college...
Going to a state university, I was surrounded by the very things listed in Colossians 3:5&8 and as a new believer, I knew I had to stay far from those things. It meant saying no to a lot of friends. It meant not going out every night. It meant being left out of conversations on Monday because I missed the weekend festivities. It was hard, and sometimes it hurt, but I knew it’s what I needed to do. I had just come to know the saving faith of Christ, and I wanted to tell the world...unfortunately, the world wouldn’t listen. I learned quickly that the people around me didn’t want to hear to what I had to say about Jesus or church or living a godly life, but they caught on to the fact that I didn’t talk the same way they did. They saw that I never came to class looking like I’d been out all night. They realized that they never saw me at their parties or bars. They noticed that I never came to practice still sick from the night before. Eventually, they started asking questions. Oh, the opportunities God gave me to talk to friends about why they didn’t see me at the party or why I wouldn’t be joining them for Friday After Class at the bars or why I never spoke some of their favorite colorful words. I learned quickly that the best way to make a difference for Christ was to actually be different.
So how does all of this relate to my investigation through Colossians?
John MacArthur noted in his commentary that Paul is not saying that if they do these things listed they will suffer the wrath of God. Instead, Paul is reminding the church of the things that do bring on the wrath of God and warning them against that sin. If you read on in chapter 3, you’ll see that Paul reminds them: “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived,” but now, “you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” My translation: you are now different! Paul is not warning them about losing their salvation; he’s reminding them not to walk in the ways they once did. We have been transformed by the life-saving grace of our Heavenly Father...we need to show it.
MacArthur said it very simply: "The children of God would certainly not want to act like the children of wrath." We should be different...we should want to be different. This is what has been on my heart all summer, this is what I’ve been dwelling on and preaching to my friends: In order to make a difference for Christ, I need to be different.