We've made it to the end of our ten-week series - one story, ten questions. Where we've been attempting to engage with some of those questions that might cause a barrier or deterrent for people taking God and the bible seriously. And we've covered a lot over the last 9 weeks - we began in the first book of the bible, Genesis, looking at the creation account, and today we finish in the last book of the bible, Revelation.
In the book of Revelation we see how God's people will be living, in eternity, in the new creation - it's the end point of God's plan for humanity - the culmination of everything that has come before - Jesus ruling over his people.
But we need to ask - how should we be living now in light of this future? Because how we live now not only affects our future, it also impacts those around us.
In a recent poll it was found that one of the biggest turn offs for Australians coming to church - 69% in fact - was that they felt unwelcomed or feared that they would be judged. That's a majority of Australians!
For a lot of people it's not Jesus that's the problem, it's the church.
Sadly the church hasn't always had a great track record. You just have to read some of the news headlines in the last two years - the tragedy of the royal commission that has found people claiming to be Christian preying on the vulnerable; or the hypocrisy of church leaders that say one thing on a Sunday, but then do the exact opposite throughout the week.
It shouldn't be this way - and it doesn't have to be.
This morning we're going to think through how Christians should be living in this world, now, in light of knowing what is to come. And how we, the church, rather than be a barrier, might be a witness to the gospel, in how we live and speak.
LIVING FOR THE NEW CREATION
Turn with me to Colossians 3 (p 1184).
The Apostle Paul is writing to a bunch of Christians in an ancient city in Turkey called Colossae, and he encourages them how to live in light of who they are in Jesus, and in anticipation of what's to come.
He does this by giving them two instructions - instructions that we definitely still need to hear: he tells them to be different in the world; and be gracious to the world.
BE DIFFERENT IN THE WORLD
Turn with me to Colossians 3.
Paul starts by reminding these Christians of the identity they have in Jesus. They have died with Jesus - his death is their death - and just as Christ has been raised, so too they have been raised with Jesus to new life. Have a look from verse 1.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3for you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Paul starts by looking at two points in time. Firstly he looks back to Jesus at the cross. You have died to your old self with him, and been raised. And then he looks forward to the future - to when Christ who is our life appears, to that day when Jesus is revealed as Lord over everything.
Paul says, when you hold these two realities together it should cause us to live differently.
Firstly, you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Don't act like you used to, but be different because you are different. I grew up on a dairy farm in a small town called bega. I loved being outdoors and working with the animals. But one of the worst things about the farm was that you would get dirty - and I mean filthy.
I don't know if you've ever been to a dairy farm before - but you milk the cows in what's called a pit. The cows come in and they have their heads away from you and their backside right above your heads. And as you can imagine cows will do what comes naturally to them and will let body fluids fly - and so by the end of milking you would be covered in pee and manure. It wasn't a pretty picture.
But by the end of the day you would get in the shower wash the filth from the day away. It was great! Felt like a new person.
Now it would have made no sense whatsoever if after getting out of the shower - all clean and fresh - I put the same clothes back on that were covered in filth.
No of course not - I would put on fresh clothes and settle in for the night.
And that's exactly the same mindset that Paul has here. If you have been made clean and given a fresh set of clothes, you don't go back to wearing the old filthy clothes.
Everything has been changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the place of death you've been offered life; instead of rejection you've been offered a relationship with the eternal God.
Why would we want to ignore that? Why wouldn't we want to live out that new identity?
And as we live out this new identity, we do it in light of the reality to come - when Christ who is our life appears, then we too also will appear with him in glory. What a promise! We are to live not for the immediate - just the here and now - but instead to set our hearts and minds on things above - to live for eternity.
It's amazing how this change in what you live for actually changes what you do. It radically makes you stand out from others around you. It redefines your ambitions; it redefines where you look for comfort and satisfaction; and redefines your goals.
Remember who you are - you have died with Jesus and been raised to a new life of serving God.
And so he spends the rest of the chapter telling the Colossians how they can be different from how they used to live. And how to be different from the rest of the world.
Because you have been changed put to death your old way of life, and work at putting on the new.
Look with me at verse 5:
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 but now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
In being different from the world, Paul is not saying that Christians should completely remove themselves from the rest of the world - to start a cult somewhere far away from everyone else - but to live differently in the world.
And as we continue to live in light of this reality, others will begin to see the change in us and see that we're different from them.
We don't belong here, we should stand out. Just think of tourists! It can be so easy to recognise people from other countries - spot them a mile away - by their language or accent, by how they dress, what they eat.
And as Christians we should be just as recognisable - in how and where we invest our money - we are to be generous and wise, to invest in things of eternal value; what we do with our time - to give our selves fully to the work of the Lord knowing our labour is not in vain; what type of employees and bosses we are - to do good not only when we are being watched, but do everything in service to the Lord; how we live out our relationships... it should impact every area of our lives.
Christians should be different from the world because we are living for a reality that is not of this world.
BE GRACIOUS TO THE WORLD
The second point that Paul wants to make clear for Christians who are waiting for the new creation is the gracious attitude we should have to the world.
Read with me from Colossians 4:2-6:
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Paul has just finished telling the Colossian how they ought to be different from the world. But he's pretty clear here that we can't ignore the world either.
In fact Christian's interactions with those who don't yet know Jesus should be marked as being gracious and seasoned with salt.
But sadly this is not a reality.
As we saw last week, Jesus gave a mission to his followers and the church to share who Jesus is and the grace and forgiveness he offers. But far too often the church is more of a hindrance to this gospel then a facilitator.
Remember the statistic I shared earlier - 69% of non-Christians interviewed wouldn't enter a church for fear of being judged.
I think for a lot of Christians - and I've been guilty of this too many times - we tend to judge people who don't know Jesus by the same standards that we expect from those who have been changed by the Gospel.
What the world needs to hear first is the grace that is offered at the cross of Jesus - not how they need to live.
I think the church too often gets this wrong - it will tell people how to live the Christian life; impose rules and laws on others without sharing who Jesus is and the grace he offers.
Grace first, and then the ways of God. Being brought to life first, and then learning to live that life.
That's the order of the gospel - grace first and then see lives changed by Jesus.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul hammers this home very clearly. He says to them [1 Cor 5:9-13] - what are you doing judging people outside the church?
They don't even know about God's grace - rather than judge them, show them God's grace.
Those placards you're holding up, how about you turn them around and do some thinking and assessing in the church, where you've already experienced the love and grace of God.
Instead of holding up placards that say no, no, no - we need to speak up, with conversations full of grace, seasoned with salt - saying yes you're loved, yes there is a way to be forgiven, yes your broken life can be restored. Yes yes yes in Jesus. A message of love and grace.
This is not always easy, but notice in verse 2, Paul says what we are to do first - to devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
This is not our work, but God's work in us.
We are to be wise in the way we act towards outsiders, to make the most of every opportunity, to let our conversations be full of grace and seasoned with salt - why?
To ensure that the gospel continues to go out.
That's what Paul is on about in this section - look at verse 3. Paul wants the Colossians to pray that God will open the door for the message to go out. Likewise the aim of our gracious interaction with outsiders is the hope that others might come to know the forgiveness and grace we have in Jesus.
And did you notice, Paul doesn't say that you will always know what to answer; he doesn't guarantee that the Christian will be able to answer any question that they're asked. But he does say - you will know how to speak.
Graciously and seasoned with salt. Have you had a bland meal before, with no seasoning? I certainly have - it's so unappealing, no flavour... add salt and the flavours start to come through, it's delicious! You want more. Just ask Pier our Peruvian brother about how important seasoning your food is.
And that's what Paul is saying here. Let your conversations always be gracious and seasoned with salt. Make your conversations interesting - add some flavour - as you share Jesus with others, in the hope they might come to share the grace that we already have in Jesus.
Christians are to be gracious to the world!
It's a tragedy that the church and Christians throughout history have been responsible for so much pain, and have at times been a barrier to people hearing the good news of Jesus and the grace he offers.
If you are here this morning and you have been hurt by the church or felt unhelpfully judged by Christians, can I say I'm sorry if that's been your experience! But please don't let these experiences of the church be a barrier for you looking into who Jesus is and what he offers.
We all fall short of God's standards, but he offers us all forgiveness through his Son, Jesus - who took the punishment that you and I deserved by dying on a cross. He offers life - please take it!
And for those who are Christian here this morning please be careful with how you live. You have been raised with Christ, so live differently from the world - not so that you can judge others, but because you have a new identity - you will be different.
And be gracious to the world always being ready and eager to share the grace of Jesus with those who don't know him.
And as we do these things let us have our eyes fixed on where we're heading - our destination.
Revelation 21 was read out for us earlier - it's a picture of where the world is heading; the culmination of God's plan for humanity:
1Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."
We are to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is seated. Because when Christ who is our life appears, we also will appear with him in glory - the dwelling of God will be with men, and he will live with them.
This is our reality - more real and certain than anything in this world. When we will live under the glorious authority of Jesus forever - where he will wipe every tear away and there will be no more pain, and no more death.
Do you long for that day? Are you living in anticipation for that future?
How does your life reflect this future?
We have this day promised, when Christ who is our life will appear - this is our reality. That's the reality that we're living for - let this shape the way we live in the present, and motivate us with urgency to share this reality with as many people as we know.