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Jesus. (Period) 6: Training for Transformation

The naked man didn’t have a great plan.[1] Eric Stagno entered a Planet Fitness in New Hampshire on a Sunday afternoon around 1:30 p.m., stripped at the front desk, and walked around the gym before deciding to hit the  yoga mats. One would certainly hope that he wiped down the machines liberally once he was finished. And you might be best off not trying to picture this scene too vividly.

Witnesses added that he would also inspect himself in front of the mirrors. One observer noted that people were running away from him like he had the plague. The story gets better. When the police arrived and asked him why he thought he could be working out naked in a public gym, Stagno replied that he thought he was in a Judgement Free Zone.

In case you don’t know Planet Fitness, this is their exact slogan to encourage people to come to their gyms to workout. Police Capt. Brett Morgan noted that: “It’s not a clothing-free zone.”[2]

In any fitness program you will find that you need two ingredients to get in your best shape: you need a Judgment Free group to work out with and you need a great plan for your diet and training. But you’d better have a better plan than Stagno had. And you need a better plan if you want to enter into spiritual training.

Paul gives us such a plan in Colossians 3. It’s a plan that not everyone wants to undertake. It’s a plan for how you and I can be transformed to be more like Jesus. After helping us see Jesus in chapters 1 and 2 he says:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. — Colossians 3:1-4 (CSB)

Four times in these verses he mentions Christ. And why not? That’s the place we have to start. We have to change our mind to be captivated by Christ. In chapters 1 and 2 he has helped us see how great Jesus is. Paul would wonder how anyone who really saw Jesus would not want to be like him.

Have you ever known someone you wanted to be like? I’ve had several. One was a preacher. One was a writer. One was a friend who was at ease with people. One was great at hosting people. I admired them as people and I admired them for what they were good at. And because I admired them, I picked up some of their traits along the way. I learned some preaching points from one. I gained some skill in writing from another. And if I’ve been any bit of a friend to anyone here, you can mostly thank my friend for that. And if you’ve felt welcomed at our house, then you can thank Karen for hosting lessons I’ve learned.

The same is true of Jesus. It is when we are captivated by him that we will become like him. When we see Jesus as Paul did we are more likely to be captivated. Remember what he has said? Jesus is God. He is the creator. He is all-powerful. He is over all, before all, and holds all things together. He is the head of the church, the firstborn from the dead. All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him. He has reconciled all things to God. In him is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

When Paul says, “If you have been raised with Christ…” he isn’t wondering if they have or not. That “if” presumes an “and you are.” He says raised people “seek the things above.” The word “seek” is a reference to the orientation of a person’s will. The word is a present imperative. What that means first of all is that this is a command. It is not a suggestion. If you’ve been raised with Christ, you are his now and this is the new way your will is to operate. It is to be seeking things above. Another way to put that is to be so captivated with Christ you want to see things his way and do things his way. The present tense tells us that an ongoing effort is required. This is something that is not done naturally.

But when you are captivated by Christ, not only will you “seek things above” you will also “set your mind on things above.” The word there is also a present imperative. It’s a command. And it is ongoing.

“Why?” you ask, do we seek and set above? People who enter a gym tend to have seen someone that is in a shape or level of health they want to be like. They think: “Wow! This is what a human body could look like!” People who enter into training with Christ have been captivated by him. They think: “Wow! That’s what a human being can look like!”

But it is only a start to be captivated. The next thing Paul shows us is we have to change our motivation. We have to take an honest clear look at who we are now and get a picture of who we want to be. Here’s the way he wrote it:

Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient, 7 and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. 8 But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. 11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. — Colossians 3:5-11 (CSB)

Change is not easy. For transformation to take place we have to see our current reality clearly. In the world of health, it may be that you discover your blood pressure is sky high. Your cholesterol level is scary. Your weight is causing issues. You have a shortness of breath when climbing the stairs. Something in your current reality has to be bad enough to urge you to action.

When it comes to spiritual transformation the same is true. Paul lists some sin issues that might be in our lives. His list is a good one, but it is not exhaustive. If you don’t see something there that needs to change in you, keep looking. Better yet, ask a few close friends to be painfully honest with you!

That pain will help you want to change. When you see the damage those things have done in your life and the lives of those around you, you will want to become healthier. That’s where a picture of your future comes in. Get a picture of who you want to be in Christ. Take the heart issues you are discovering about yourself and paint a picture of the opposite.

Recently I came across an interesting way of helping people see this. If you draw your current reality and then draw your preferred future, there is an 80% better chance you will take steps towards that preferred future.

Paul may have been on to that. We don’t have any artwork from him, but we do have word pictures. Paul wants us to change our mind, our motivation, and then he wants us to change our motions. He says:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. — Colossians 3:12-17 (CSB)

The word for “put on” means to “clothe” yourself as in “sink into the clothing.” If we are raised with Christ and are his chosen ones—and we are—it is important for us to wear the right kind of clothing. We take off the old things that don’t fit who we are anymore and we put on the new clothing: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We bear with each other, forgive each other, we love each other, and we keep the unity of the body.

We have to picture the path. I recently checked out a physical transformation contest my son told me about. Why do you laugh? I checked it out but was not captivated by it. However, it did offer you a path to follow once you embarked upon the contest. You would have to enter into training to become something different by the end of the 8-week contest.

Spiritual transformation takes training too. Trying won’t get you there. If you try to lose weight it probably won’t happen. You will need to train in a specific way to lose the weight. In the same way, when it comes to our spiritual transformation we have to train. We have to give some effort.

This is news to many Christians. We are afraid that if we use the “e” word—effort—then we are talking about “works” and that we will be doing what the false teachers in Colossae were doing—getting people to work in addition to what Jesus has done.

But understand this: grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. In this passage Paul clearly tells us to put effort towards becoming more like Christ: seek things above, set your mind, put to death, put on. Let me ask you, when you got up this morning and decided to get dressed for the day, did you just lay down on the floor and magically became dressed? If so, I want to come over and watch that. No, you had to put out some effort to put on your clothes.

We have to train for transformation. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to be kinder. You come to realize the main thing preventing you from being kind is you are too rushed trying to get things done. Worry, fear, and anger tend to tag along with hurry.

If that is the case, the training might be to spend a day in stillness. The Bible calls this Sabbath, which means to “stop.”  There you can discover that the world survived without your hurry. You will have time to see the damage done by your unkindness. You might see that nothing of value is gained by your hurry. And it could be that you learn that your hurry, at its root, has to do with your own need to feel important, your pride, or your lack of faith.

That’s just one example. Another might be to replace impure thoughts with meditation on scripture. You might replace the need for approval with solitude. The love of money with giving. The list can go on and on. But the effort needed in transformation has to do with changing our motions. We should not only want to be the kind of person Paul describes, we are also to make plans to become that kind of person. It doesn’t just happen by sitting in a church building. It happens through training, changing our motions.

We are to be diligent in finding out what prevents us from being Christ like and “put to death” the things that are getting in the way of us becoming who it is we are in Christ. Then we replace those things with actions that help us become more like him. Dallas Willard has observed:

The single most obvious trait of those who profess Christ but do not grow into Christlikeness is their refusal to take the reasonable and time-tested measures for spiritual growth. I almost never meet someone in spiritual coldness, perplexity, and distress who is regular in the use of those spiritual exercises that will be obvious to anyone familiar with the contents of the New Testament.[3]

Change your mind. Change your motivation. Change your motions. But don’t do this alone. Get to the gym called the church. It helps to train with others. In fact, Paul says that we help each other by “teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16).

It’s a place you can gather where there is a no judgment zone. But remember: it’s not a no-clothing zone. Come dressed, hopefully in love.[4]

[1] https://www.askmen.com/news/sports/man-gets-arrested-for-working-out-naked-at-planet-fitness.html?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_campaign=dailydispatch&utm_medium=Email

[2] https://people.com/crime/naked-man-arrested-at-planet-fitness/

[3] http://www.dwillard.org/articles/individual/looking-like-jesusdivine-resources-for-a-changed-life-are-always-available

[4] See also this link for more ideas on training: http://www.soulshepherding.org/wp-content/uploads/Colossians-3-1-17-a-Curriculum-for-Christlikness2.pdf