Transformed by Grace

April 28, 2024 ()

Bible Text: Colossians 3:1-11 |


Transformed by Grace | Colossians 3:1-11
Brian Hedges | April 28, 2024

Let’s turn in Scripture this morning to Colossians 3. We’re going to be continuing in this series called “Imago Dei: Restoring the Divine Image.” Today we’re going to be talking about transformation.

I think all of us care, if we are followers of Christ, about transformation. We care about our character; we want to become more like Christ. We have different ways of describing that process in our lives, and it depends on what stream you are from. I want to begin by showing you some of these different streams of Christian spirituality, and there are differences between the streams, yet there’s some common ground as well.

If you come from more of the evangelical stream, then the language you use about spirituality is the language, perhaps, of discipleship, where the focus has been on becoming a disciple or becoming a learner or follower of Jesus. Of course, that’s biblical language that you have especially in the Gospels with the disciples of Jesus Christ. The focus, the emphasis in this stream is on those basic Christian habits of Bible study and prayer and then evangelism.

You might think of some of the great books that have been written in years past: Ronald Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism and The Master Plan of Discipleship; Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Church; and so on.

The strength of this movement, of this stream, is that it emphasizes those basic habits of a Christian lifestyle, but the weakness sometimes can be an overly-individualistic approach, where it’s all focused on the individual and his or her personal relationship with God, maybe to the neglect of the church and the means of grace.

Many, perhaps, would identify with the Reformed stream of spirituality. You might think of the Westminster Confession of Faith and big theological words like justification and sanctification. Here the focus is on that process of becoming holy, becoming sanctified, and big words are thrown out, “mortification” and “vivification.” This is the classic Puritan emphasis, and you might think of modern examples like J.I. Packer and John Piper.

The strength here, of course, is its emphasis on doctrine and on theology and really wrestling with the truths of God’s word, and also a very strong doctrine of the church. But the weakness in this movement is that it can be overly-intellectual. This isn’t uncommon, is it? When you meet Reformed people that care a lot about theology, sometimes they’re really academic, really intellectual, but not very well balanced in their approach to the Christian life.

Then we can also the contemplative stream of spirituality, where the language is the language of formation or transformation. Again, this is biblical language. The apostle Paul wrote of how he was in the pains of childbirth for the Galatians until Christ was formed in them. This language of formation is right there in the Scriptures. The focus here is on the spiritual disciplines and a holistic approach to spirituality, including the biological and psychological and physical aspects of formation.

You might think of examples like Dallas Willard and his books, and maybe Ruth Haley Barton and her books on spiritual disciplines. Again, there are strengths in this movement, this stream, but there are also weaknesses. Sometimes this stream can be overly mystical in its approach.

Now, wherever you identify yourself in these three streams, what I want us to grasp this morning is that there’s a common goal in all these different streams and approaches to Christianity, and their different emphases can help us in this common approach, this common goal, and that is the goal of Christlikeness, of becoming like Jesus in our lives. That’s what we’re after when we talk about sanctification, when we talk about discipleship and following Jesus, or when we talk about spiritual formation.

Of course, this is a biblical goal. We remember that Paul says in Romans 8:29 that God has predestined us “to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” We think of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where he says that as we contemplate the Lord’s glory we “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Or Romans 12:1-2, where God calls us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, and to not be conformed to this world, to this passing age and the pattern of this age, but instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

That’s what we’re going to talk about this morning, transformation. How is it that we actually become more like Jesus in our lives? We’ve seen in this series that God created us for his glory. He created us in his image and for his glory; that’s what the imago Dei is, the image of God in us. Yet this image of God has been distorted in some way through sin. We have been deformed by the fall, and our lives are now characterized by sin and by suffering and by weakness. These problems, of course, lead to the cross of Jesus Christ, where he paid for our sins and suffered for us and suffered with us.

Today we turn a corner as we talk about, how is it that we are being restored now in the divine image? How do we experience transformation in our lives?

To ground us in Scripture this morning, I want us to go to Colossians 3. We’re going to read Colossians 3:1-11. For many of you this will be a very familiar passage of Scripture. You’ve heard many messages on this over the years, and yet it’s such a helpful passage because it brings together so many crucial aspects of spiritual life. I find it a great place for us to root our thoughts. So, Colossians 3:1-11.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

This is God’s word.

I want to focus our attention on three things that this passage teaches us to do in the pursuit of Christlikeness, the pursuit of spiritual transformation.

1. Remember Your Identity
2. Reorder Your Desires
3. Renew Your Mind

1. Remember Your Identity

You really see this in those first four verses, where Paul begins by reasoning from the great realities of the gospel in order to exhort the Colossians to live in a certain kind of way. He says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” You’ve been raised with Christ.

He goes on to say, “You have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ…appears, [you’re going to] appear with him in glory.”

You see what Paul is doing here. He is pointing them to the great foundational realities of the gospel, the death and the resurrection of Christ, his exaltation, his seating at the right hand of God, and his future second coming. But he’s not just pointing them to those realities, he is reminding them that through faith and through their union with Christ, not only has Christ been raised, but they have been raised with him.

This is always how Paul starts. You see this again and again in his letters. You see it in Ephesians with his focus on being in Christ, and you see it in Romans 6 where Paul says that the reason we are not to continue living in sin in order that grace might increase is because we’ve died to sin. If we’ve been baptized, we have been buried with Christ in baptism and we’ve been raised to walk in newness of life.

Paul is telling us that if we are in Christ then the things that are true of Christ—his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his seating at the right hand of God—those things also are true of us in this positional sense. It’s a change to our fundamental status, our fundamental identity. You’re no longer the person you once were. If you’re in Christ, you’re no longer dead in sin, you’ve been raised out of that. If you’re in Christ, you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

We could sum it all up with 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone in Christ, the new creation has come, the old has gone, the new is here.” You’re a new creation. Christ, who is the firstborn from the dead, the first one to be raised from the dead, and who is the author of a new humanity—the second Adam and the last Adam—Christ is our pattern, and we are united in Christ. We are now to live in this new kind of way, and we do that as we remember who we are in Jesus Christ.

Friends, this is so important for us, because all of us live out of our sense of who we are. We live out of our identity. We behave in certain ways because that’s who we are, that’s how we perceive ourselves. Until we begin to really understand and grasp the truth of our new identity in Christ, we won’t really begin to live in the light of that new identity. That’s why Paul always begins in this way, reminding them of the great indicatives of the gospel, these statements, these declarations of who they are in Christ. Then, in light of that, he teaches them how to live in a new way.

I think one of the great illustrations of this—I’ve used it many times over the years—is Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. In the third film, in The Return of the King, there’s that scene where Aragorn, who’s been this ranger living in exile, but he’s actually the true king of Gondor, he’s the heir to the throne; and this elf lord Elrond comes to him with this reforged sword and encourages him to take up his birthright. He says, “Put aside the ranger; become who you were born to be.”

I can’t watch that scene without thinking about Paul’s words, where Paul is essentially telling us to put off the old self, put on the new, become who you are born again to be. You are a new creation in Christ; this is your new identity. Now live in that reality.

This is the first step in our transformation. It’s to remember that identity, that you’ve already been changed, and you didn’t change yourself. God changed you through the Spirit, who united you to Jesus Christ in faith.

We need regular reminders of this in our Christian life. In fact, God in his wisdom has built some of those reminders right into the life of the church, and especially in those two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

What are we doing when we celebrate and observe baptism and the Lord’s Supper? What is baptism? Baptism is a ceremony that shows us that we are buried with Christ in baptism and we are raised to walk in newness of life. It shows us the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection and says, “This is true of you, Christian.” Even though baptism is just a one-time event in our lives, it is meant to be an ongoing reminder to us that “I am a baptized man” or “I am a baptized woman.” I am someone who lives as one who is dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ.

Then the Lord’s Supper, which we take every week here at Redeemer Church, is a reminder to us of the covenant relationship we have with Christ, of what he has done to save us, and that we are part of the body of Christ, united to one another and united to Christ, and living in ongoing communion as we feed on Christ, the bread of life, who gives us strength and unites us to himself and who empowers us to live in obedience to him.

When you observe those sacraments, those friends, remember your identity. This morning, when we come to the table together, remember who you are. This is the first step in living the Christian life. So, remember your identity.

2. Reorder Your Desires

The change that happens to us when we come to Jesus Christ in faith is a change not only in our status—it’s not just a legal change, it’s not just a change in our identity—it is a fundamental reorientation of the heart. It is a transformation of our loves, our passions, our envisions, and our desires. This transformation from the inside out, this is central to true Christian transformation.

This is one of the great insights of St. Augustine, who left us his great classic spiritual autobiography The Confessions. There’s a place in Augustine’s writings—not in the Confessions, but elsewhere—where Augustine said that “the whole life of a good Christian is a holy desire.”

You might almost think that’s an overstatement. I mean, aren’t there many other things in the life of a Christian besides his desire for God? We might think of behaviors, we might think of relationships. There are many other aspects of the Christian life. But I think Augustine, while he would have agreed with that, he would have also said that central to our spiritual life is this desire for God, and it’s the reordering of the desires and the loves of our hearts. In fact, he defined virtue as “rightly-ordered love” and vice as the opposite. A vice is when the desires of your heart have become so disordered that you’re putting other things before God. That’s what idolatry is, and that’s what leads to vices, to habitual patterns of sin in our lives. Virtue is when our loves and our desires are rightly ordered and we put God first and everything else comes under his lordship.

You see this emphasis also in Colossians 3 in two basic commands that kind of run as threads through this chapter. We might think of these as two key practices that help us to reorder our desires.

(1) The first one is meditation, or setting your heart on Christ. Look at Colossians 3:1-2. He says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ [there’s the position; there’s the identity; but here’s the command…], set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” And then verse 2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Those are two different words.

First of all, the word zeteo. It means to “seek after” or to “look for” or “aim at” or “strive for.” Alright? Seek the things that are above.

But then he also says, “Set your minds on things above.” That’s the word phroneo. It means to direct the whole of your attention and your mind and your thoughts and your affections towards these spiritual, heavenly realities. Commentator Peter O’Brien puts it like this. He said,

“Their interests are to be centered on Christ. Their minds, aims, ambitions—in fact, their whole outlooks are to be centered on that heavenly realm where he reigns and where their lives truly belong.”

In other words, the Christian is to cultivate this certain mindset. We do that through the practice of meditation, as we set our minds and our hearts on things above. And it’s important that we learn how to focus our attention on the right things.

Let me give you an illustration. So, as you know, my favorite sport of all is the sport of golf. Golfing season is upon us, which I’m really excited about. Every golfer has to learn what to do with his mind when he’s standing over the golf ball. What is it that you are thinking about? There’s kind of a funny illustration that circulates on the internet that’s a drawing of all these different swing thoughts that a person can have in his mind. You could be thinking about what your arm is doing or what your feet are doing or what your hips are doing. Maybe you’re thinking, “Don’t hit it right! Don’t hit it left! Don’t hit it at a tree! Don’t hit it in the water.” Do you know what happens if you’re thinking, “Don’t hit it right?” You hit it right. Or if you’re thinking, “Don’t hit the tree,” you’re likely to hit the tree. And if you have all of these thoughts going on in your head at the same time, you’re not likely to hit the ball very well.

You say, “Well what’s the secret, Brian?” I’m still trying to figure that out. If I knew the secret I’d be on tour with the PGA, right? So ask Scottie Scheffler, who’s number one in the world right now and a great Christian as well. From what I’ve read and what I’m trying to learn and put into practice, when you step up to the golf ball you’re not thinking about all the things you don’t want to do. You shouldn’t be obsessed with everything your body is doing. Instead, you should have a clear image in your mind of where you want the ball to go and what you want the shot to look like. You should be thinking about the target and then let muscle memory do its work.

And I think in a similar way, the Christian life is not about constantly obsessing about yourself and about your behavior and always thinking about the dos and the don’ts and living by this long list of laws. That’s not the Christian life. The Christian life is keeping your eyes on Christ who is the goal. He’s the pattern. We keep our focus on him, and as we do, then we begin to live in the power of his grace and of his Spirit. As that great Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, said, “For every one look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” That’s the idea. “Set your minds on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” And you cultivate that through the ongoing practice of meditation, where you determine your mindset and you keep Christ as your focus. That’s first.

(2) But there’s another practice. There’s another practice where you have to deal with the negative, sinful desires in your heart. Not that you’re obsessed with it, but you’ve got to do something with it. You’ve got to know how to deal with those, so the second practice is mortification, to use the great word from the Puritans.

Mortification, or putting your sin to death. And you can see that in Colossians 3:5 where Paul says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” And by “earthly nature” he doesn’t mean your physical body. By “earthly nature” he means the things that follow. He means the sins. He means sexual impurity and impure, evil desires, and greed, or covetousness, which is idolatry. He means those kinds of things. And in fact, in Colossians 3:5-9 he lists about a dozen sins, and those sins have to do with everything from sexual sins to sins related to greed and money, to emotional sins like anger and wrath and malice, to wrong use of words. And what Paul is telling us to do here is put those sins to death, to deal with those sins.

Now why does he tell us to do that? He’s already given us this positive focus on Jesus Christ, but now he actually says there’s work for you to do. You’ve got to put the evil thoughts and the evil sins and desires to death. Why does he tell us to do that?

Let me give you another illustration. One year—this is a number of years ago now—my father-in-law was visiting us, and he thought he spotted termites, or the evidence of termites, around our house. I just tried not to panic and instead called an exterminator. Sure enough, the exterminator came out to our house and examined the crawl space and so on, and the good news is that we did not have termites. The bad news is that we had carpenter ants and mice. And when I got home that afternoon, Holly said, “We’re selling the house.” Because this woman does not do mice. So, what did we do? We had to kill the mice and had to start working on the carpenter ants—spraying the perimeter of the house and spraying the trees and spraying the crawl space and trying to kill those ants so that they would not do further damage to the house.

Mortification is kind of like that. Mortification is going after the things that are eating away at the foundation and the superstructure of your Christian life. Sins are the termites of the soul. They are the carpenter ants of the soul. They are the things in your life that are eating away at spiritual health and affecting your relationship with God and with others. Some of you right now have something very specific in your mind. You know exactly what it is. You know what that one thing in your life is that’s eating away at your spiritual vitality. The call of Scripture is to put it to death.

As the great Puritan John Owen put it, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” You’ve got to deal with those negative aspects of your life if you’re actually going to thrive spiritually.

So, how do you do that? I want to just real quickly give you four practical things that you can do in putting to death.

Look to the cross. Now that’s actually how Paul begins. He reminds them that they are dead in Christ and raised in Christ. How is it that they have died? Well, they died through their co-crucifixion with Christ, which Paul talks about in Colossians 2. And again, this is always the starting place. The way to kill sin is to place sin where it’s already been slain, and that’s at the cross of Jesus Christ. Listen to these words from Peter in 1 Peter 2:24. He said, “He, himself bore our sins in his body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

Why did Jesus die for our sins on the cross? So that you might die to sin. He killed sin on the cross so that you can now put sins to death in your life. And what we need is to appropriate the sin-killing efficacy of the atoning work of Jesus Christ so that by faith the power of the cross of Christ can apply to our personal lives. This is the way John Owen put it in his classic book on mortification. He said,

“The Spirit brings the cross of Christ into the heart of the sinner by faith and gives communion with Christ in his death and fellowship in his sufferings. Set your faith upon Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great, sovereign remedy for sinsick souls.”

What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. But the washing away of our sins doesn’t just give us justification—freedom from the guilt and penalty of sin. That washing cleanses our hearts so that we’re actually made clean and we become new creations in Jesus Christ. So you begin by looking to the cross, taking your sins to the cross of Christ.

The second practice is to get to the root idolatries and desires. Again, you see that in the passage as Paul, when he talks about mortification, doesn’t just tell them to put to death bad behaviors, he tells them to go after evil desires as well. You can stamp on carpenter ants all day long and that’s not going to save your house. You’ve got to go after the nest, right? In the same way, we have to go after those nests of sins that lie deep in the desires of our hearts.
Remember that Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” He said that it’s from the heart that all these sinful things come. That’s why the heart has to be cleansed.

We not only get to the root desires, but we have to make no provision for the flesh. That’s Romans 13:14. And that means that we’ve got to make strategic decisions about how we structure our lives so that we’re not giving sin an opportunity.

So real practically, this means something like this: it means that if you struggle with gluttony, don’t stock your shelves with junk food. Buy healthy food so that you don’t have the option to eat in ways that you shouldn’t eat. Or it means that if you are in the battle against lust, you need to get an internet filter so there’s some kind of barrier between you and the image that you’re tempted to look at online. Or it means that if you’ve struggling with envy, you get off social media so that you’re not comparing yourself with somebody else—you’re not always comparing your family with theirs or your lack of vacation with their vacation. You’re not always looking at somebody else’s life and thinking then how bad your life is in comparison. All you’re doing is feeding envy when you do that.

Mortification means that you’ve got to cut off the hand. You’ve got to pluck out the eye, as Jesus said. It’s metaphorical language, but he means: remove the occasions of temptation from your life. Make no provision for the flesh.

But you don’t do this in your own strength, but instead, you do this in the strength of the Spirit, you depend on the Holy Spirit. Paul says in Romans 8:13 that it is by the Spirit that we put to death the misdeeds of the body. You do it through the Spirit. You do it through the strength that God gives. You do it through the grace that comes in answer to prayer. This isn’t self-salvation. This isn’t a self-help project. This is learning to live in dependence on God’s grace given to us day by day through the Spirit as we prayerfully depend on him and by faith trust his promises.

That’s how you kill sin. So, meditation, mortification, putting your sins to death and setting your minds and your heart on Christ, that’s how you reorder the desires of your heart. You’ve got to kill the bad desires and you’ve got to focus your heart and your attention and your affections on the Lord Jesus Christ, bringing everything into submission to him.

Remember your identity; that’s number one. Reorder your desires; that’s number two. Now one more, number three.

3. Renew Your Mind

Renew your mind. Do you remember what Paul says in Romans 12:2? “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” That’s how transformation happens, and you can see it right here.

(1) Paul states the goal of renewal in Colossians 3:9-10—it’s the restoration of the divine image. Look at the renewal language here. He says,

“Do not lie to each other since you’ve taken off [or put off] your old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator.”

Well there it is. That’s the theme of this series: the renewal or the restoration of the divine image. But how does that renewal happen? It’s renewed in knowledge—the renewing of your minds. The goal of this restoration of the divine image takes place as our minds are renewed.

(2) And that involves a process, the process of renewal. What is this process? It is an ongoing, gradual, inside-out process. It’s ongoing. Okay, so this is an ongoing day by day thing. This is in the present tense. You put off, put on the new self which is being renewed. It’s continuing to be renewed. There was a definite starting point when you were born again and brought into the kingdom of God and believed in Jesus Christ and indwelt with the Spirit and you were given a new identity. But there is an ongoing reality where day by day you continue to be renewed. It’s like an ongoing renovation project in your house. Slowly, step by step, the old is being taken out and the new is replacing it. Spiritual renewal is like that. It’s an ongoing process.

It’s a gradual process, which means you’ve got to be patient. This doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t get saved one day and then glorified the next day—unless you die the next day. But if you get saved and then you live another twenty years or forty years or sixty years as a Christian, there’s going to be an ongoing, gradual, slow process of becoming more like Jesus Christ.

And it’s an inside-out process—a process in which your mind is renewed, your thinking is renewed, and your heart is renewed as the word of God is applied to it. Friends, this is why Scripture is so crucial in our lives. This is why we need the word, because this renewal takes place in just this way—the renewal of the mind.

Listen to J.I. Packer. This is from his great book on the Puritans, A Quest for Godliness. He says,

“Man was made to know good with his mind, to desire it once he’s come to know it with his affections, and to cleave to it once he has felt its attraction with his will—the good in this case being God, his truth, and his law. God, accordingly, moves us, not by direct action on the affections or will, but by addressing our mind with his word and so bringing to bear on us the force of truth. Affection may be the helm of the ship, but the mind must steer, and the chart to steer by is God’s revealed truth.”

That’s why we need all of the disciplines and practices related to the word of God. That’s why you need to regularly be reading the Bible. It’s why you need to be meditating on Scripture and applying it to your life. It’s why you need to memorize Scripture and hide the word in your hearts so that you will not sin against God. It’s why we need to gather week by week to hear the proclamation of the gospel together. It’s why we need small groups and classes where we are able to exhort one another and be instructed and be helped and admonished in our growth and in our understanding and application of Scripture. We need the word of God.

(3) Number three, under this renewal of the mind, is the context for renewal. Where does this renewal take place? It takes place in the church, the communion of saints. You see this in Colossians 3:11. Paul says, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and in all.” What does Paul mean by that? He means that, if you are part of the body of Christ—if you’re in Christ—that the old divisions, the old things that separate human beings from one another, no longer should separate us. Instead, we are united in one body in Christ. There’s no Jew or Gentile. The racial distinctions don’t matter. There’s no slave or free. The economic distinctions should not matter. Christ is all and in all. The barriers that separate people outside of Christ are broken down, so that if you’re in Christ there is a new humanity, a new community. That community—the communion of saints—is the context in which spiritual renewal takes place.

You see that worked out then in Colossians 3:12-14, which I won’t read. But verses 12-14 goes on to exhort us then to live in a certain kind of way as we imitate Christ, putting on the virtues of Christ—the compassion and gentleness and patience of Christ—and our hearts are knit together in love. This is at the heart of spiritual transformation and spiritual renewal and it takes place in the context of our relationships with each other. This means that sanctification is a community project.

(4) One more thing I want you to see, and that’s the means of renewal. What are the means of renewal? I’ve already touched on some of these spiritual disciplines and practices. You can see these in Colossians 3:16-17. We might describe this as worship, the word, and thankful prayer. He says,

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, through Psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Okay, there’s both the word, the message of Christ, and worship, singing to God. And then verse 17,

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

There’s thankful prayer. In other words, what you have here are the rhythms of corporate worship. Listen, these are not simply add-ons to your individual Christian life. These rhythms of corporate worship are a part of how we actually live the Christian life together. They are the means of grace by which we participate in the ongoing spiritual renewal of not only ourselves, but of others.

So, in summary, we are transformed by God’s grace as we remember our identity, reorder our desires, and renew our minds. That’s how the imago Dei is restored. Now why is it so important for us to grasp this? What I’ve tried to do this morning is show you how the gospel drives the spiritual transformation as we begin with what Christ has done for us and then work that into our lives. Why do we need that approach? Here’s the reason: because if you take the gospel, if you take grace out of the equation and you just start with a list of dos and don’ts and you just try to live a better life and you white-knuckle it through, what you’ll end up doing is living a life characterized by moralism rather than the deep gratitude and worship that flows out of a grace-driven approach to spiritual transformation.

I just want to end with this story that I’ve told many times over the years, but it’s probably been about eight years since I’ve told it here. It’s the story of Odysseus and the Sirens. It comes from Greek mythology. Do you remember how Odysseus, after the Trojan War, is trying to get back home? He’s with his men and they’re sailing these dangerous seas. They come to a place in the sea where there are these Sirens. The Sirens are these beautiful women who lure the sailors to their destruction through their seductive song. Odysseus is aware of the danger and so he instructs his men to put wax in their ears so they can’t hear the song of the Sirens. For himself, he wants to hear their song, but he doesn’t want to be lured to destruction so he has his men rope him to the mast of the ship. He says, “No matter what I say, no matter what commands I give, don’t release me from these ropes until we are through the danger.” But at his heart, he still wants to listen to the seduction, the seductive song of the Sirens.

There’s another story in contrast, also about the Sirens. This is the story of Jason. Jason, in contrast to Odysseus, doesn’t use wax and doesn’t use ropes. Instead, Jason brings along another figure, a man named Orpheus, who is the greatest musician of the land. When they come into the dangerous waters, Orpheus begins to play a different song, a sweeter song, a better song that drowns out the song of the Sirens so that Jason and his men are not seduced by their spell.

And I think those two stories kind of give us two illustrations for how to live the Christian life. Some of you this morning are trying to fight sin by filling your ears with wax and by roping yourself to the mast of moralism. You’re just trying to be better. But what you need is the sweeter song of the gospel of God’s grace, given to us in Jesus Christ. You need to see that there is something better; there’s something more satisfying that comes to us through Christ. We get that when we remember what Christ has done for us. We remember our new identity in Christ when we reorder our desires by setting our minds and our hearts on things above, giving us then the strength and motivation and the power by the Spirit to put sin to death and as our minds are renewed as we continue to pursue Christ together.

Are you being transformed today? Are you in this process of having the divine image restored in your hearts and in your life? I hope you are. If you’ve never begun that process, let today be the day when you trust in Jesus Christ, you ask for his forgiveness, and you begin a new life in the power of his Spirit. Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank you this morning for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We thank you for the truth that Christ has already paid the penalty for our sins, he has risen from the dead, he is seated at your right hand, he’s coming again to bring final and complete restoration to this fallen world, and by faith in him, we now get to participate in this new creation. We begin to enjoy the fruit of what Christ has done as we are changed by the Spirit and made more like Jesus Christ day by day. And Father, I pray this morning that this would be true in each one of our lives, that we would participate in this process of transformation by setting our hearts and our minds on Christ, and remember all that you have done for us in him.

And even as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, may we come to it not as simply a ceremony that we go through—a ritual that we observe—but as an invitation to ongoing, daily fellowship with Jesus in his death and resurrection, as an invitation to depend on the Spirit of Christ for strength, and for grace to live the Christian life. We ask you, Lord, to prepare our hearts for it and to meet with us by your Spirit in these moments and to continue with us as we worship. Lord, draw near to us this morning as we draw near to you. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.