Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! Colossians 3:9-11 (NRSV)
Focus – that’s what’s missing in blurred pictures. In Paul’s writings he sometimes gives “shopping lists” of things to do (or not do). Too often people tend to dwell on the list, while the reason (focus) for doing or not doing something is blurred or obliterated altogether. It’s similar to what happens when very young siblings quarrel. After an hour of ear-splitting whining, Mom or Dad finally yells “ENOUGH” Tell your sister you’re sorry. Well, you KNOW little Johnny is going to say the words…but does he know why? Does he actually mean it when he says “sorry”? The parent wanted to restore the relationship between brother and sister – Johnny and Susie still want to punch each others’ lights out! Not much focus there!
In today’s text Paul commands, Do not lie to one another. But without the focus on “why you must not lie,” it’s always tempting to still live as close to the lie as you can, while never really crossing the line. In the case of encouraging the Colossian churches to tell the truth, Paul’s reason is that they have traded the old ways of sin and death for the prize of a renewed life. When you’re being re-shaped into the image of God (Who IS Truth), lying distorts and corrupts the finished product. That’s going backwards, not pressing on for the high calling which is in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)
There is always danger in extremes where human beings are concerned. A loss of focus can wind up in the extreme of “legalism” where the list of do’s and don’ts is everything. But it can also wind up on the other end of extreme “liberty” where the list means nothing “as long as your heart is “right”. Keeping focus on Biblical prohibitions and commands does not mean memorizing a list of 626 things you can’t do, so you can do whatever else you want. It also doesn’t mean scrapping the list in the name of liberty.
So where does “focus” lead?
Focus on following Christ always leads back to the reality that we are being renewed in the image of God. Paul set the focus for us in Colossians 3:2 by pointing above, keeping our eyes on heavenly targets.
And what does that have to do with holy mixtures, diversity?
One of the reasons God keeps bringing “holy mixtures” (people who think and live so differently) into your life, is so you will see the extremes and be forced to remember your life is hid with Christ in the Heavenly Father.
That legalist who wants you to follow the lists, as well as that libertarian who tells you the lists are nonsense, you’re free to live your way….both are necessary. They help you focus on Christ who lived the perfect way. There’s your real target!
Does it get confusing, trying to figure out how to live the Christian life? You’re not alone!
Should you carry the lists around? (After all, God gave those lists….starting with a good “top ten”).
Should you forget about the lists and just be a good person? (After all, Christ died to set you free…that must mean free from the lists too!).
Or should you learn to accept that the tension between legalism and liberty, that the holy mixtures of rules-keepers and rules-ignorers are there in your life for a reason?
That reason is renewal.
Renewal is what drives you to focus on Christ who is all in all, the author and finisher of your faith.That’s worth the struggle!