For some of you who know me, it may be hard to believe but when I was young I was not cool. Of course, I am kidding. I am not sure I am very cool today, but I am not nearly as conflicted as I was for the majority of my life. Today, I am confident in a simple and profound truth. In junior high I was among the 99% of the population that was awkward and tortured by the 1% of the gifted and beautiful people of the world.
As early as my teen years I can remember struggling to discover who I was, what it was I could do that would give me value, and I had tremendous desire to be a part of something much bigger than myself. I can even remember drawing pictures of myself as an athlete, who was bigger, stronger, and had really cool facial hair. I spent the next 15 years of my life trying to become one of these pictures of myself that I had not just drawn on paper but etched into the fabric of my heart as the identity I wanted to have. Everything I did was to earn the respect and affirmation of those around me. Honestly, I never quite got there and that roused an anger in me that was really destructive in the relationships in my life – this anger caused a tremendous amount of self-loathing and self-destructive behavior.
One day in 2004, when I was on the verge of losing a second wife and causing even more damage to my already fragile family, I discovered a profound truth about a man, the God/man Jesus Christ, who once occupied a tomb that today remains empty. I discovered that I had had it all wrong all these years. The truth is that I was a proud sinner that had placed myself at the center of the universe and God Himself became a man to save me. He lived the way I should have been living and died the way I deserved to die so that I could have a relationship with Him. The proof that this was true and effective to restore my relationship with God was by the fact that God raised His Son, Jesus, on the third day to show His satisfaction with the sacrifice of His Son. Suddenly, an empty tomb meant everything to me!
I had spent my life trying to find value by inviting others into my self-worship and effectively destroying those relationships. The truth is I was destroying the only relationship that really mattered, my relationship with the One True Living God. Romans 8:5 says that while I was in that state, He chose to sacrifice His Son so that I might know Him. The value I had chased after all those years was right there. I was worth a Son to God. The picture I had painted of myself was not who I was and the relationships in my life were not there to validate me or give me value. Who I was, who I am, is a son of the One True Living God. All of the relationships in my life are a context for me to serve God and reflect Him and His character that now exists in me.
Our new identity and our connection to Jesus’ life should change how we do life.
Even though I was transformed by the gospel and the new identity I had in Jesus Christ, there have been periods of internal struggle and stagnancy when I have lost sight of how Jesus continues to transform me. I can drift back into feeling like I have to earn God’s favor or the favor of men, as if personal holiness will earn respect or once again give me the value I have only found in Jesus Christ.
In these times, Paul’s words in Colossians 3:1-4 are incredibly helpful. He begins with a conditional statement, “If then you have been raised with Christ”. He is referring back to chapter 2 in verses 12 to 15 where Paul says that we were all once spiritual corpses and through our faith or trust in Jesus and His finished work have been brought to new spiritual life. God has given us new life like a surgeon replacing a dead heart in the body cavity of his patient with a new heart massaging that heart to beat and bring life to the body. God has given us this life by uniting us to Jesus. What Jesus accomplished for us in His death was to nail our sin to the cross, literally covering over our record of debt to God for our sin with His blood, and He removed the power of Satan and his demons over us as if removing the fangs from a snake. We are now dead to sin and raised from spiritual death to new life, which is connected to our risen Savior Who left His tomb empty.
So, if it is true that we trust Jesus and have been united to Him in our death to sin and new life, then Paul says we are commanded to seek or pursue, to set or fix our minds upon the things that are above in the heavenly realm with our risen King. Oh, and He is alive! He is in heaven enthroned at the right hand of God! We are to make Him central to how we do life. We are to pursue the things that bring Him honor and make much of Him.
Paul talked about what these things are in Phil. 4:8-9. Paul had made them a part of his life and encouraged the Philippians to imitate his pursuit and assimilation of the character and teaching of our Savior. We are to make Jesus and becoming more like Him central, so that we can reflect and honor Him in how we do life. This new life is opposed to those Paul talked about in Col. 2:20-23 that pursued bad religion that made much of man and not Jesus. I wish I could say that I am immune to such pursuits, but I find myself wondering if people respect me and my faith, do my words move men’s hearts, or taking on the responsibility of the life of the church as though God had no say in the matter. No one beats me down quite as hard as I do to myself from week to week. The reality is, the only power I have is the power of God within me and that works through me – there is no holiness committee at the church that stamps me as approved by God, and my greatest contribution to the church is directly related to the quality of my relationship with Jesus.
Really the pattern of self-worship and the pursuit of the favor of men is a constant temptation that extends beyond bad religion. I can remember as a sales professional (before I entered into vocational ministry), folks were devouring each other in the pursuit of money and success for different reasons. Some sought these things out of fear of losing security. Some pursued these things out of a need for affirmation and value. Some sought these things out of a desire for power. The same is true when we worship relationships or things. We fix our minds, our affections and emotions, on the very thing God has given us as a context to reflect His character through our unity to Jesus. We do this because of fear, or a need for value, or a desire for power.
Why does it matter that we have a new identity, new life, or that we pursue and make central our new identity in Jesus?
The pattern of making things on earth central is exhausting and the freedom we have from those pursuits is nothing short of wonderful liberation. Why is it so liberating? Paul goes on in Col. 3:3-4 to reiterate our death to sin and to make the point that our new life is “hidden with Christ in God”. In other words, because we are dead to sin and our new life is connected with Jesus we are in some sense present with Him in the heavenly realm while we are present here on earth struggling to avoid the temptation to worship anything but Jesus and to instead make Him central. What is really cool is that Paul goes on to say that when Jesus, the source of our new life, returns all that we have done to magnify Him will be revealed and we will experience in its fullness the glory of our new lives with Jesus. The reason this matters is because instead of pursuing the exhaustion of trying to be God we are free to pursue the holiness and character of God and taste in greater and greater measure the life of Christ that already exists within us. Our holiness is not a prize at the end of a list of tasks God has for us, but rather we are already holy to God. We already have His favor. Our holiness is the starting point for our growth so that we can magnify the source of our holiness when temptation and suffering come to the doorstep of our hearts. We pursue God’s character and reflect Him so that we grow in what is already present within us and the joy is found in the continual experience of the life of Christ within us.
We really have three choices. One, we can joyfully reflect on an empty tomb and the pursuit of the One Who occupied it. Two, we can lie spiritually dead sealed in darkness by rejecting the fact that Jesus is not in the tomb with us. Three, and even worse, we can be those that walk into the tomb and roll back the stone, choosing to live awake in the darkness wondering where God is and failing to remember the One Who has already saved us and lives within us.
The empty tomb should produce joy because it is proof that Jesus is alive and enthroned in heaven. The empty tomb should produce joy because it is proof that we have value to God. The empty tomb should produce joy because it is proof that we are no longer spiritual corpses, but we have abundant life that is tied to our risen King.
- What are the thoughts and desires that you allow to govern your mind?
- At the end of each day this week, write down what thoughts and desires have dominated your mind throughout the day.
- Read Col. 3:1-4; Phil. 4:8-9
- Think about who you are because of your relationship with Jesus.
- Think about what thoughts and desires reflect Jesus and which ones reflect the things of man.
- Pray to God for new thoughts and desires that reflect Him.
- Write down what you can do to make Jesus central in your mind tomorrow.
Our Altamont campus is currently going through the series Easter: The Tomb is Empty.
Join us for our Sunday services @ 10am at our Altamont campus in Livermore (6749 Southfront Rd. Livermore 94551)