Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Christian Affections

Col. 3:1-3

I do not know about you, but I find the events of the past week or two very unsettling. To begin with, the State of New York has legitimized the immoral acts that take place in the bedrooms of those who have opted for the homosexual choice and downgraded marriage in the process. Secondly, the unintended controversy at the SBC added fodder to an already tense situation between evangelicals and those choosing homosexuality as their preferred lifestyle. Finally, I have had at least two conversations with people who describe themselves as Christian, but very, very liberal and open minded as well. There is a misguided assumption that our personal opinions are not subject to the Christian ethic. Christians are subconsciously overlaying the constitution of the United States onto Christianity and unwittingly thinking they have free speech in Christ and are free to hold their own opinions on matters. They are not! Christians do not have freedom of anything, much less freedom of speech. Moreover, both of these people view the Scripture as a product of man rather than God. The abandonment of doctrinal catechism has dubious consequences indeed! Church membership is nothing more than a wink, and a nod today and this in even the most conservative churches so-called. Cultural thinking has disfigured the Christian idea to the extent that it is almost impossible to recognize. Think about the last time you witnessed a rebellious person’s name being read in front of the congregation because they refused to hear God, they refused to hear their brothers, and they refused to hear the church. Rather than confront the lack of Christian affections we see in our midst, we prop them up and encourage rebellious behavior by leading people to believe that somehow God understands their behavior. After all, God sees the heart! You go ahead and reject the commandment of God. He will understand because He knows how much you really do love Him. Or, worse, we simply ignore the sin we see in our midst and in our own life. We do nothing about it. We pretend it isn’t there. We lie to ourselves, saying, God knows my heart. What could be more complicated than a son of an elder, or pastor or major contributor coming out of the closet? What about the children of an elder, pastor, deacon, or major contributor who are members of the church, but whose lives are completely out of accord with Scripture? There are two basic problems here in terms of affections. First, our sin nature confronts and competes with holy affections every day. It seems to me that we are more and more inclined to tend toward sin than we are concerned with holy living. Secondly, it seems the individual Christian, not to mention the leaders and the church corporately have lost their will to face these problems and implement biblical accountability at the most granular levels.

Paul has provided us with some help. The first point Paul makes is with the phrase, “since you have been raised with Christ.” This verb is in the passive voice, aorist tense which indicates two things: first, the action has already happened. Second, the subject is passive in the action. We “have been raised.” The idea is that we now possess a new status. We were dead in sin, but we are alive unto God. The next phrase is a command: “keep seeking the things above.” This verb is present, active, imperative. This means the action is continuous, the subject (us) should engage in the action, and finally, it is a command. In short, we are commanded to keep on seeking the things above. This is where our affections, desires, and concerns should reside. The next phrase says “set your mind on things above.” J.D.G. Dunn says, “For the sake of emphasis the exhortation is in effect repeated, again in the present tense to denote a sustained effort or perspective (GNB “keep your minds fixed”). Φρονέω means not merely to think but to have a settled way of understanding, to hold an opinion, to maintain an attitude (Rom. 8:5; 14:6; 1 Cor. 13:11; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2, 5; 3:19). The fuller phrase τά τινος φρονεῖν is well known in the sense “take someone’s side, espouse someone’s cause” (BAGD s.v. φρονέω 2). This underscores the point, therefore, that what is commended is not an apocalyptic or mystical preoccupation with the furniture of heaven, as 3:1 could be taken to imply (that might have conceded the ground already contested in 2:18 and 23), but a cast of mind, a settled way of looking at things, a sustained devotion to and enactment of a life cause.”

This phrase reflects a radical change in how the Christian mind works contrasted with that of the unbelieving mind. Paul uses this word as a command in II Cor. 13:11 where he commands the Corinthians to be “like-minded.” The idea is to have one mind. In Phil. 2:5 he says, “Have this attitude which was also in Christ.” Paul explains why he expects the Colossian Christians to behave in this way. He says, “For you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” When you hide something, it is now out of sight. You cannot see it any longer. Our life is supposed to be eclipsed by the Son! Is it?

Edwards writes, “Religious sorrow, mourning, and brokenness of heart are also frequently spoken of as a great part of true religion.” Paul says two things about godly sorrow: first, godly sorrow that is according to the will of God produces repentance. If there is no repentance, there is no godly sorrow. It is a mistake to equate feelings of guilt or shame or sorrow as ipso facto biblical. Godly sorrow produces change. Second, because godly sorrow results in godly repentance, it also results in Christian vindication. What does this mean? It means that when we confront a believer in their sin, they sense the reality of their evil. This is sorrow. That conviction produces true repentance in the mind and life of the believer. This change of behavior in their life vindicates them to the rest of the Christian community that they are in fact a believer. I am not suggesting that this response in immediate. Nevertheless, I am suggesting that it is inevitable. Genuine believers will not persist in rebellion against God. They will repent. What does it look like when a Christian’s affections are in accord with Scripture?

It means they are putting away things like, unlawful sexual behavior, immoral sexual behavior, ungodly desires for things that are not yours, and the desire to have more than one’s due. Paul continues, anger that reaches emotional proportions, angry outbursts like a volcano erupting, malice (which is a strong dislike or feeling of hostility toward someone), speech against someone that is denigrating or defaming in any way or is disrespectful or even backbiting. The word actually means to speak against someone in such a way as to cause actual harm or injury to them. Finally, the believer puts away dirty or obscene speech from their mouth as well as lying.

I am not saying that believers never engage in sin. We engage in some sin every day. The difference is that we are constantly resisting these behaviors and repenting of them. Moreover, we are holding one another accountable for engaging in them because we all understand that the testimony of Christ is far more important than our own self-gratification. When we are confronted with any sin in our lives, our affection for Christ compels us to change. Godly sorrow produces true repentance and change in our lives. That is how we know we are forgiven. When we persist in sin, we demonstrate that our sorrow is not godly. When we have no godly sorrow, repentance does not follow. When repentance does not define our daily lifestyle as a believer, it is a strong indicator that forgiveness of sin has not taken place. The idea is that the old self is dead. The new self is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of Christ.

We have seen how carnal behavior disappears or is minimized when Christian affections dominate our life. Now let’s take a look at what takes the place of these disappearing carnal behaviors. Christians are people who have a heart of compassion. They genuinely care about others and especially one another. Christians are kind toward one another. I know of a group of women who took the initial view about a man that there was something wrong with him because he was divorced. That is unkind and uncompassionate, not to mention malicious and slanderous. Such behavior is foreign to Christ. Christians are humble. They are not exalted with their own accomplishments. Christians are very gentle with one another. They do not smash one another to pieces like someone running for public office. Christians are patient with one another. They are not quick to throw one another under the bus. They know how much they have been forgiven and they try to emulate their heavenly Father. Christians bear with each other’s weaknesses. They do not judge and cast one another aside when sinful weaknesses creep in. Christians are forgiving. We are never more like God than when we forgive one another. Forgiveness is not something you say with your mouth. Forgiveness is followed by a new attitude and a new way of relating to the person. You reconcile and restore. Above all else, Christian affections are dominated by Christian love. Love is not something we feel. Love is something we do. How can you say you love someone when you take almost no interest in his or her life? When fellow believers are in sin, true believers who care about the gospel and who care about another do not hold back from going to that person in love and helping them out of the snare of their own sin. That is true Christian love. Anything else is empty chatter and vain hypocrisy.

Christian affections result in Christian wives submitting to their husbands, Paul says. Christian affections mean that Christian husbands serve their wives in a way that the world thinks is radical. Christian affections change the way Christian fathers relate to and parent their children. Christian slaves change how they see their Masters and understand that their primary goal is to glorify God by being a different “kind” of slave. The Christian slave sees their service to their Master as service to Jesus Christ. Christian Fathers see serving their children as fathers as service to Christ. Christian husbands now view loving and service their wives as central to how they glorify God. Christian wives understand that submission to their husbands is a critical component of preserving the testimony of the gospel. Pleasing God in these ways matters to Christian husbands, wives, parents, and slaves. Does it matter to you? Are you busy trying to identify what you will do differently at this moment or busy excusing yourself for behavior that you know is out of step with Christian affections?

Colossians 3 is one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible on how Christian affections influence Christian living. I suggest you read it at least five times this week and attempt to implement it into your life. What are you doing that you should not be doing and what are you not doing that you should be doing?

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