Set our Hearts on the New Life by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17.17).
As we continue with this great petition which our Lord offered for his immediate followers, and for his followers at all times, it is good for us to remind ourselves again that the ultimate end and object of our salvation is that we should be able to stand in the presence of God. That is the only right way of considering our salvation. Salvation is not just a question of being forgiven; that is essential, of course, and the first essential, but it is only the negative aspect. The wonderful thing about our salvation is that we are promised that we shall finally stand faultless and blameless, without spot and without rebuke, in the presence of God. That is the blessed hope that is set before us, and therefore Scripture argues in so many places that’… every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure’ (1 John 3:3).
So as I understand this New Testament teaching, holiness is not something about which we should make appeals to people. It is our business to set scriptural doctrine before them, and the man who really believes what he claims to believe is a man who must be urgently concerned about this question of his sanctification. If this doctrine of sanctification is unimportant to anyone, then such a person is just confessing that he or she is not a Christian. If we really believe that we are going on to stand in the presence of God and of Christ, there is no time to be lost, and the most urgent problem before us is, therefore, to learn how this sanctification of ours takes place; and that has been our immediate theme. We have seen that God sanctifies us through the truth, through the great doctrines, and we have shown from Scripture how these must be applied in our lives.
In our last study we were considering the negative aspect of this application, and now we come to the positive. Having put off that which was characteristic of the old man, and having reckoned ourselves to be dead unto sin, we are now reckoning ourselves, regarding ourselves, as Christians, to be alive unto God—we are looking at positive holiness, the positive living of the godly life. Now it seems to me that one of the most convenient ways of considering this positive emphasis and this aspect of the doctrine is to study the message of Colossians 3 which is a perfect statement of this truth, although, of course, parallel statements are to be found elsewhere, in Ephesians, for instance. Indeed, you find this teaching in every single New Testament epistle, for all the epistles are concerned about holiness; they are written to Christians and their one object is to get these people to know who they are and to live accordingly.
Let us look, then, at Colossians 3 in order that we may see how the Apostle develops his argument. To me there is nothing more fascinating than to observe the way in which Paul states this great truth in different ways. It is ever the one message, but he puts it in different forms. Here in Colossians he starts with his doctrine: `If ye then be risen with Christ…’ Well, how do you know that that is true of you? That is where the doctrine comes in; the fact is that you are in Christ, that you are united to him, and therefore everything that has happened to Christ has happened to you. You have died with him, you have been crucified, you are buried with him, yes, but you have also risen with him, and so, `If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.’ `Set your affection,’ says Paul, `on things above, not on things on the earth.’ Why? `For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.’
What a marvellous summary of those great items of doctrine which we have considered one by one! I have had to mention them again because you will always find that the Apostle never deals with any detailed, or any small problem without putting it into the context of the truth and of the doctrine, and that is one of the most important things we can ever remember. . . . We do not do them in order to be Christian, we do them because we are Christian. `If ye be risen with Christ…’ and so on—it is the same idea as `reckoning ourselves’. `Set your affection on things above’—think on these things which are above, and seek them.
We should start every day of our lives, let me emphasise this again, by saying to ourselves, `I am a child of God, I died with Christ, I am dead unto sin, I am risen with Christ, I am in this new realm.’ Therefore, `Set your affections’, seek these things, which must ever be first and foremost and uppermost in our minds, and in our whole outlook. Remember, too, that this is an exhortation, it is a command, and I must do it. I do not just wait until a feeling possesses me and makes me do it. No, I have to seek these things, and set my affections on things above. I must be doing it myself. Then, having said that, as we saw earlier, Paul brings in his negative—‘Mortify therefore your members that are on the earth.’
But now we are interested in the positive side to all this, which begins at verse 12. Again I pause to make the point clear, that I have no right to start here unless I have previously grasped the doctrine of the eleven verses that go before it. But having done that, I now come on to the message of verse 12, and here again there are certain words which we must stress, because, once more, they emphasise our activity. To grow in grace, and to become ever increasingly sanctified, calls upon us to do certain things. It is not just a question of surrender and looking to the Lord. No, I am commanded to do certain things, and here they are. The characteristic terms come out once more, so let me note them before we come to look at them in detail. I have to `put on’, and I have to `let’ certain things—`let the peace of God rule in your hearts’. I am told, indeed, to be `thankful’ and told that everything I do must be done `in the name of the Lord’.’ … whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks unto God and the Father by him’ (3:17).
I think, therefore, that the principle which we have already laid down is once more illustrated here very abundantly, namely, that you and I are told to put these things into practice; God’s commands are positive, as well as negative. We can divide this positive teaching into two main sections. First of all, Paul gives certain general principles in connection with this godly, holy, sanctified life, and then he goes on to his detailed application. It is the method of division that the Apostle always employs: realise your character, develop it and then work it out in detail. He does not start with the details, but with the character and disposition. What is it, then, this disposition that the Christian has always to be bearing in mind and always to be developing and nurturing?
The first exhortation is in verse 12: `Put on therefore as the elect of God’, and the picture, clearly, is of putting on certain items of clothing. It is, of course, an illustration and we must be careful not to press the illustration too far. It does not mean, obviously, that the Christian just puts on a certain kind of behaviour while he himself is something apart from that which he puts on. No, when Paul says `put on’, he means not only look like this but be like this. It is a good illustration, and the Apostle is very fond of it. Take, for instance, how he uses the same picture in writing to the Philippians, to whom he says, `Only let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ’ (Philippians 1:27). He is thinking in terms of clothing, and he says, in effect, `Now think of yourself putting on certain apparel, let it be becoming, let it be consistent with your complexion and figure. There must be no clashing of colour and style, everything must harmonise and go together.’ Then in his exhortation to Titus, the Apostle talks about `adorning the doctrine’ (Titus 2:10). In other words, you can think of the doctrine as a man’s suit, or clothing, and our conduct and mien as a kind of adornment which adds the finishing touches.
Now that is the idea which Paul has here in Colossians 3:12, but, again, as a wise teacher he knows that it is not enough just to make a general statement. He goes on to particulars: `Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness …’—these things need no explanation, I know. What I want to emphasise is that you and I are told to be kind; the teaching of sanctification is not one that tells you just to wait and hope that something is going to happen to you, a great experience which will make you kind. Not at all! If you want the big experience, be kind. You will get it by being kind. Nobody can be kind for us, it is something we must do ourselves. Then the next characteristic which Paul refers to is humbleness of mind, which means humility, and this, too, is something we must develop in ourselves. None of us are humble-minded by nature. We are all aggressive and assertive. Some show it in different ways from others, but it is true of all of us, and if we are to be truly humble, it will mean watching and controlling ourselves: humility is something that you and I are to `put on’.
Then there is meekness. It would be good to consider all these words one by one slowly, but I am trying to give a composite picture here. However, for your own interest, work out the difference between humility and meekness and you will see that it is very significant. Next we have longsuffering—being patient with one another. It is very difficult, as we all know, to be patient with certain people, it is not easy to be longsuffering, and yet if we are to be sanctified, we must take ourselves in hand and develop this part of the Christian character. If you claim to be born with an impatient temperament, then you must control it. You are given strength and power to do this, but it is you who have to do it.
We must put all these things into practice. It is something which you and I must do day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute. We start well in the morning, then something happens and at that moment we must watch and remember and develop this character; and the more we develop it, the more we are unlikely to fail in detail at odd moments.
Then in verse 13 Paul says, ‘… forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.’ This again is something we just have to do. A person has wronged us. Very well, we do not turn our backs and pass that person without looking at him or her—not at all! We must face this matter and reason with ourselves about it in terms of the gospel. We must say to ourselves, `God forgave me in Christ, he even sent Christ to the cross in order that I might be forgiven, though I repeatedly insulted him and deliberately sinned against him. If God has done that for me, I must forgive this person, come what may.’ We make ourselves do it. That is the New Testament teaching on sanctification.
And then another most interesting way of applying the truth is given in verse 14: `Above all these things put on charity [love] which is the bond of perfectness.’ This is an interesting picture. `Above all these things’ really means over or upon all these things. You notice what Paul is doing. We have, as it were, been putting on item after item of clothing, and having done that, we hold them all in position by putting on this garment of perfectness which is love. All these different items must be held together by this wonderful cloak, which binds everything together in perfect harmony, and presents a complete and perfect and unified picture.
Now that is the first great exhortation. We are to put on all this, and you see how it illustrates perfectly those words to which I have already referred, that line in the hymn which tells us to `Take time to be holy.’ Take time to dress yourself spiritually, do not dress in a hurry every morning. And notice, too, that the tense is present. We do not just put these things on once, and think that we are dressed for the rest of our lives. On the contrary, we are to keep on doing it. How true that is in our own experience! Take time to dress spiritually in the morning, and then throughout the day check that everything is in position, look regularly at yourself in the mirror, as it were. Take time to be holy.
Paul’s next general exhortation is in verse 15. He says, `Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.’ That is again a wonderful thing. Another way of translating it would be, `Let the peace of God act as an umpire in your hearts …’ It is the peace that Christ gave to his disciples just before he died: `Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you’ John 14:27). Well, says the Apostle, see that it rules among you. If you feel you are hurt, take it to the umpire. Do not decide for yourself, or say, `This is my right.’ Let the peace of God act as an umpire—the peace of Christ both in your own heart, and also among you. You are called into one body, so let nothing disrupt the peace of Christ. Then, as you learn to take difficulties to the umpire, you will be growing in sanctification.
The last exhortation in that verse is, `Be ye thankful.’ We tend to think of thankfulness as a feeling, but the Apostle commands us to be thankful, whether we feel like it or not. We must, he says, keep on becoming thankful—that is another way of translating it. `But if it is not a feeling,’ says someone, `what is it?’ Again, a well known hymn puts it perfectly, when it says:
Count your blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
But suppose you wake up in the morning and do not feel at all thankful. In fact, suppose you feel the reverse, so that though the Apostle says, `Be ye thankful,’ you answer, `I cannot honestly say I feel that way.’ How, then, can you make yourself thankful? You do it by just waiting for a moment and considering. You count your blessings; you just go back over your life and list the things that have happened to you. Why are you a Christian at all? Why are you forgiven at all? What has your story been? Have goodness and mercy followed you? Go back over it all. Yes, count your blessings, name them one by one, and if you do this, it will surprise you what the Lord has done. If you take the trouble, you will find yourself thankful.
And the next word for us is. `Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.’ Again, notice the command. The word of Christ, the word that Christ himself taught, must dwell in us richly. `But how do I let it dwell in me richly?’ you ask. We do that by reading it, by meditating upon it, and by talking to other people about it. We must soak ourselves in it, for we can never read it too much. The more we read it, the more it will be in us. And as we are keeping and controlling all this, as we are letting it dwell in us, we shall have a marvellous life, we shall enjoy ourselves all together; and at the same time we shall be demonstrating to the world God’s handiwork in us as Christian people.
And then, lastly, Paul sums it all up by saying, `And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.’ Do it all, in other words, in the spirit of Christ himself. Not only are we to do these things, but the way in which we do them is so important: `Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Do it in the way he did it. Again, I could illustrate almost endlessly. You remember how Paul, in taking up the collection of the church at Corinth, tells us how to put our contribution on the plate? We must be wholehearted givers, we must give happily, not grudgingly with a sort of hesitancy—no! God loves the cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). So we must do all things like this. As he gave himself, let us do these things; let us put on these articles of clothing with cheerfulness in the spirit of Christ. Let us not regard them as a kind of straightjacket, but as the most beautiful robe the world has ever seen—we must do it as Christ did it.
There, then, are the general principles. But we must look briefly at the details, which Paul now goes on to apply from verse 18. Scripture never stops at general principles, it always goes on to the details, and Paul does that here. For example, `Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.’ As he puts it in Ephesians 5:23: `The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church’ —that is Christian doctrine—is it being remembered and observed today? I must point out again that there are evangelical people who seem to me constantly to ignore the plain teaching of the word of God, because it does not tally with modern ideas. But that is the teaching of the Scriptures. But then, you notice, Paul says to husbands, ‘… love your wives, and be not bitter against them.’ You can see that in every one of these exhortations the Apostle seems to put his finger directly on the thing which is most dangerous—it is clear both in the case of the wife, and of the husband. The peculiar temptation of the husband is to be bitter against his wife, to look down upon her, perhaps to despise her in certain ways, to regard her as someone who is meant to serve him. He is the head, he is put into that position, but he must not lord it over his wife in any spirit of bitterness.
Then we come to the children: `Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord’ (v. 20). How this doctrine is needed today. Even among Christian people discipline seems to have vanished. But then you notice that there follows a wonderful and glorious appeal: `Fathers, provoke not your children to anger lest they be discouraged.’ Compare our age with the Victorian age. The bitterness or the lack of discipline among children is obvious today, but this exhortation to the fathers does not seem to be needed so much in these days as it was by the typical Victorian father. But in a sense it is always needed. We must always observe this appeal, because if the children are to obey their parents, the parents are not to be unreasonable with the children, they are not to provoke them lest they be discouraged. Parents are not merely to say, `Because I say so—therefore you have to do it.’ No, give reasons to your children as far as you can, let your command be made reasonably. Do not discourage them, says the Apostle.
And then he comes to the servants: `Servants, obey in all things your masters … not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.’ Be careful you do this in the right way; and again, `Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men’ (v. 23). That applies to the husband, to the wife, to the children, to the parents, to the masters and to the servants. We must not just say, `I suppose as a Christian I ought to’—that is not the way to do it. Do it gladly and heartily because you are a Christian. Rejoice that you are given such a high standard, and that you are privileged to do so. But then Paul goes on still further in the fourth chapter and says, `Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.‘ We still need to be reminded of that. There are people who would say that the church is as she is today because so often our fathers and our forefathers forgot this detailed injunction. They might be in church on a Sunday morning but some poor slave was staying at home to cook the dinner. No, this is the Christian injunction and the injunction was not only to the servants, it was also to the masters. It is universal: we are all Christians together.
And then Paul talks about prayer, and about the way in which we are to speak. Our speech must be with grace, seasoned with salt, because there are others watching us who are interested in our conduct and our behaviour.
You see, therefore, how the Apostle has not only taken us through the principles, but has also applied them in detail. I would again emphasise this all-important general point that covers everything—it is you and I who are called upon to do these things. This is God’s way of sanctification; this is the way we put on the new man, and the way in which we reckon ourselves to be alive unto God. I must examine myself; it is not merely what I feel in church services, but how I have been living. How am I behaving as a husband or father? How am I behaving as a master? How am I behaving in all these relationships in life? Have I lost my temper? Have I become irritable? How have I behaved as a Christian? Some of the greatest saints throughout the ages, men like John Fletcher of Madeley, asked themselves such questions at the end of every day, and we, too, must examine our lives in detail. We have no right not to do so; we must implement these detailed exhortations. We must take these things one by one, and it is only as we do so that we become sanctified through the truth, in the truth, by the truth. Here is the truth, the word of God himself, and it is as this word comes to me in the power of the Spirit, and as I give obedience to it and apply it, and put it into practice, that I shall find that I am being given strength to obey. So, `work out your own salvation’—it is you who must do it—`in fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do…’ (Philippians 2:13). And it happens like this. As I read this word, God creates within me a desire to be like that. He makes me long to be like that, and as I am desiring it, I try to put it into practice, and I find that he gives me strength: `both to will and to do…’ So you need not wait for power; as you do these things you will be given it. God gives the power to people who want to be like this. As you are making your effort you will find this strength, for he empowers you by the Holy Spirit.
So there it is. We have hurried through it in order that we may have a composite picture and see the method, and now we go out to live this kind of life in detail. You and I are to be such that as we walk up and down the streets of life, people will be struck and attracted. You have seen them turn and look at a well-dressed person. Well, it is something like that. They should be struck by us, and look at us, and think, `What is this person? I have never seen anybody quite like this before! What perfection! What balance! How everything fits together! How graceful!’ That is the kind of people we can be and the kind of people that we must be. And when we become such people, believe me, the revival we are longing for will start, and the people outside, in their misery and wretchedness, will come in and will want to know about it.
O may God enlighten us and give us understanding concerning this plain, simple, direct teaching, and above all enable us to put it into practice. Then, when the day comes for us to stand before him, let us be ready, always `well dressed’, always clean, always ready to be ushered into his glorious presence. (531-541)