This week I was faced with two important and related questions. First, what does it look like to be a good person? And second, how do I become one? And, faced with these significant existential issues, I did what one does in the 21st-century—I asked Google.
Google, what does it look like to be a good person? As you can imagine, I found a few suggestions. The New York Times reported that a good person is one who is kind and attentive, one who asks hard questions and holds themselves accountable. Psychology Today told me I must have wisdom, self-control, a love of justice, and exhibit courage. My personal favourite, probably because of its simplicity, was from Urban Dictionary which claimed, to be a good person, I must be happy, promote happiness, and not stop others from being happy.
Once I started to get my mind around what a good person looks like—and realizing I don’t qualify—I asked the follow-up question: Google, how do I become one? Again, no shortage of information but some of the suggestions were to embrace change, be grateful, take care of yourself, compliment yourself, let go of anger, give back, shop local, be yourself, set goals, be forgiving, and keep learning.
Now, in all seriousness, I have no intention of speaking disparagingly of people apart from Christ trying to wrestle with goodness and its pursuit. That’s God’s common grace on display. What I am concerned with is those of us who belong to Christ following them in their thinking and striving. So, today, I want us to be reminded of how God—not Google—answers those two questions.
What: Live holy!
God, what does it look like to be a good person? The answer: live holy. That’s how to be a good person. Once we have believed in Jesus, we are to grow to resemble Jesus (see Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6). This is what we’re called to do—to look like Christ, to live holy.
Colossians 3 uses the imagery of getting dressed. When you got dressed this morning you probably started by taking off your pyjamas and then putting on what you’re now wearing. That’s how Paul describes the Christian’s pursuit of holiness.
The process starts with undressing. To put on holiness requires we first put off evil (v. 5). This’s a strong command—kill it all, kill it now, and kill it dead! Think of every part of your body, every facet of who you are, as incompatible with sin. Like oil and water, they don’t mix. Obviously, the list Paul gives isn’t exhaustive but it’s long enough that we can feel the conviction of not measuring up, like me on Google this week.
Paul says, “Christians are to have nothing to do with those acts of rebellion.” Why (vv. 6–7)? The Colossians needed to remember that before they were children of God they were children of disobedience and, as such, under God’s holy wrath (v. 8a; see also Acts 7:58). Like a garment, they’re to undress from that old self. And then Paul gives another list in verses 8–9. While the list in verse 5 is concerned with sin we do, this list is calling out sin we say.
If someone falls through the ice, into freezing water, and then is pulled back onto shore, one of the first things that needs to happen is to get those wet clothes off. That frigid material is actually killing them, keeping their body temperature at hypothermic levels. It’s useless to put a warm blanket over them before undressing them. Paul is saying, “get those old clothes off—they’re killing you!”
Some believers and some churches today have become far too casual about sin, perhaps rationalizing “I’m saved, so what does it matter?” It seems we forget that, not only does our ongoing sin bring shame to the name of our Saviour—and it does—but it can also bring divine discipline. Loving parents discipline their children, seeking to reform their character for their good, and God is no exception—in fact, he’s the gold standard (see 1 Cor 5:5; 11:30)! Take those clothes off.
As Christians, we’ve been freed from both the penalty and power of sin. We need to live like it. The first step is to take off those sin-soaked clothes. The second step is to get under the warm blanket of righteousness. We’re to put off the old self and put on the new (vv. 9–11).
Positionally, the Colossians are in Christ by faith. But experientially, they needed some work. They were like pardoned prisoners who, once in a while, decided to spend a night or two back in their cell.
Put on the new self, a self that is being continuously renewed (see 2 Cor 4:16). And the basis for this renewal is a growing true knowledge of Christ himself—our sufficient Creator—a knowledge that brings holiness of living because we’re increasingly dazzled by his holiness, and a knowledge that brings unity between believers.
Basically every problem in every church, practically every conflict and split, virtually every tension and disagreement, almost every disgruntlement and dissatisfaction is a wardrobe problem. Ultimately what ails the church is believers who are dressed in the wrong clothes. They’re freezing to death and either don’t know it or don’t care.
Off with the old and on with the new self, that which is ever-being conformed to the image of Christ (vv. 12–13). Notice how polar-opposite this list if from the two prior. Why? Because this is Christ’s character we’re putting on, a character antithetical to sin. Just as someone can’t be hypothermic and toasty warm at the same time so we can’t be dressed in the old and new at the same time. If you have verse 12, you can’t also be characterized by verse 8. You can’t be bearing with one another and forgiving one another like the Lord forgave us and dividing the body of Christ (v. 14). Christ’s love is the supreme virtue that superglues us together and in it there is no verse 5.
A group of well-dressed Christians is a beautiful picture (vv. 15–16). When believers are dressed properly it’s as though the character of Jesus bubbles up out of us and onto one another. His peace, unity, truth, and worthiness rising up and out in love, thanksgiving, joy, and encouragement.
Who wouldn’t want to be part of a church where its members are committed to pursuing goodness God’s way—not perfectly, but steadily and intentionally (v. 17)? That’s a church that worships well. That’s a church that serves as an incubator for Christian growth. That’s a church that God uses mightily.
God, what does it look like to be a good person? The answer: live holy. That’s how to be a good person. Take off the old, sinful, felonious, factious self and put on the new, unifying, and Christ-exhibiting self.
Now, I doubt that there are many of us here today who belong to Christ and who don’t want this. No, we all want it. We all want to live holy. We all want to be good people as God defines it. And that leads to the second question: how?
How: Look Heavenward!
Well, let’s jump back to the opening verses of the chapter. We’ve been shown the what—that is, what it looks like to be a good person—now we need the how—how do we get there (vv. 1–4)?
God, how do I become a good person, one who lives holy? The answer: look heavenward. Take your eyes off of your personal goodness (or lack thereof), your sanctifying habits (or lack thereof), your moral victories (or lack thereof), and instead, look up, look at Christ seated at the right hand of God. Look heavenward for the rocket fuel needed for pursuing holiness.
Look heavenward at your death (v. 3). The death we deserved to die because of our sin, Christ died for us. So, in him, we’ve already died the moment we believed (see 2 Cor 5:17). Look heavenward at your death.
And look heavenward at your resurrection (v. 1). Just as, by faith, believers have died with Christ so too they have been raised with Christ. We deserve death—God’s wrath—because of our old self. But Christ, the undeserving, died in our place. What we don’t deserve is resurrection. Christ did. And we share in that because of his grace. Look heavenward at your resurrection.
Finally, look heavenward at your glorification (v. 4). Not only can we look to our past death in Christ and our present resurrection in Christ, but we can look forward to our future glorification in Christ. There is a time coming when we will be like him. Yes, we labour today, struggling with the wet clothes of sin, but it won’t always be that way. Look heavenward at your glorification.
And all of this is as certain as Christ himself. Our death, resurrection, and glorification are hidden in Christ, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Why is he seated? Because his work is finished, he is exalted, and he is returning. Paul says to the Colossians, grab those realities. Think on them. Meditate on them. Talk about them, laugh about them, anticipate them. Fill your minds with these rock-solid truths and live your life in light of their certainty.
God, what does it look like to be a good person? Live holy. God, how do I become one? Look heavenward.
We need to understand, brothers and sisters, that we grow in Christ the same way we were saved by Christ. But looking to him in faith. We do not grow in goodness, holiness, Christlikeness by simply reading more Scripture, praying more prayers, attending more services. No. We fill our minds with the greatness of Christ, with the immeasurable kindness and grace he has, is, and will show us. We become obsessed with his sufficiency and beauty. Then, we put off the old self. Then we put on the new self.
Look to Christ to Live Like Christ!
We’re to look to Christ to live like Christ! Stop looking to the world, your favourite teacher, your church, your family, your self. Look to Christ to live like Christ.
Most of us are creatures of habit, either by choice or force. As we close I want to encourage you to think of your normal routine. When would you say your mind is most attacked, when you’re most likely to dwell not on things above but on things below?
Maybe it’s during your breakfast news scroll or your morning class with an antagonistic philosophy professor. Perhaps it’s over lunch with gossiping work friends or during that always coming afternoon bout with fatigue. Maybe it’s times you binge on social media or your evening down-time with Netflix. Where are you most commonly vulnerable to have your gaze taken from Christ and to the cares of this world? This week, find a way to remind yourself at that time each day to “Look up to Christ.”
For me, I know evenings are it. The kids are down, Patricia’s asleep. My mind wanders. So, I’ve set a silent alarm on my phone that pops up at 7:30pm each evening, about the time the kids are down and I’m ready to shut my mind off for the day: “Look up, Josiah!” Maybe for you it’s a sticky note on the coffee table where you sit or a note on your bathroom mirror. Whatever the case is, find a way to combat those moments with the reminder to look to Christ to live like Christ.