Continuing our discussion of peace, conflict and Colossians 3 from Andy Farmer’s wonderful book Real Peace: What we Long for and Where to Find It, we come to Colossians 3:10-11. We have been challenged to seek the things above, the things as they ought to be, the things that come out of our reconciled relationship with Jesus Christ. We have seen that there is much in our life which must be put to death and many ways those selfish, earthly cravings manifest themselves in our words, attitudes and actions. Each of those things contributes to peace-breaking rather than peace-making. And now, in Colossians 3:10-11 we come to a transition in the chapter. Colossians 3:10-11 read, starting mid-sentence:
…and have put on the new self with its practices, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)
In verses 5 and 9, Paul declared that we are to put to death and put off what belongs to the old life. But life in Christ is not merely a matter of putting off so that there is some kind of strange vacuum in our lives. The old self is dead, but Christ has given us a new self. The old self must be put off, to be replaced by a transformed new self.
You see, believers have the grace and peace of God at work in our hearts. The presence of God is at work against the earthly cravings of our hearts and against all the ways those cravings manifest themselves in our lives. We are being transformed from the inside out. As we grow and progress in our Christians lives, we should see less of those earthly cravings and more of Jesus.
And so, this is not about new behaviors or trying harder or making new habits. This is not about watching our words a little more closely or refocusing our desires to be more honoring to God. This is about submitting to the transforming power of God that is present in your life. This means that a believer who struggles with anger, by the grace of God, can choose, in the power of God, not to angry. God is transforming us. He is changing us. He is renewing our hearts into the image of our Creator.
As a result, as verse 11 reminds us, God has made a new people. Our unity in Christ is so much greater than the things that divide us. We hold so many more things in common than the things that separate us. Paul lays bare many of the typical relational fault lines in the ancient world. Jews and Greeks did not associate, but are now one in Christ. The circumcised and uncircumcised were spiritual opposites, now brought together in Christ. Barbarians, and even Scythian, the worst of the worst from the edges of civilization, slaves and free people – all are one in Christ.
We live in a different world than Paul’s, but we still have divisions. We still gravitate to the people like us and it is easy to be in conflict with those who differ. Conflict is so easy - me against you, us against them, whether we are Jews or Greeks, white or black, Calvinist or Arminian, public schoolers or homeschoolers, or any of the other things that divide us. The point Paul is making is that God has created a new people in Christ, a people who are united by the most powerful, transformative Being in the universe, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what the gospel of Jesus Christ does – it creates a new community that would have never been formed without it.
So what does that say to those petty conflicts we have with those other believers who have slightly different views, those believers who do things in a different way, or have opposing political views than we do? Remember Christ is all and in all. Only in Christ is there true peace.