For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, our best friends bought me John Mark Comer’s new book. Comer is one of the most celebrated of the new Christian writers, and his latest book is called ‘Live no lies’. It’s a modern exploration of how to deal with the ‘the world, the flesh and the devil’ – the traditional way of describing the temptations we all face.
It speaks directly to today’s passage, which is one of those stern texts we know is true, but makes us feel a bit twitchy. I heard the great comedian Billy Connolly talk once about growing up with a presbyterian grandmother, whom he found terrifying and who used to warn him as a teenager: ‘Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chew; don’t go with girls that do.’
Don’t this, don’t that – it all sounds quite negative, at first reading. But if we get no further than that, we miss the point. Tomorrow we’ll look in detail at the ‘new self’ we have become in Christ. But to really live a new life, we have to leave the old life behind. And ‘live no lies’ would be a great way of summarising that old life in its entirety. Yes, Paul talks specifically about not lying (v9) – but in many ways the first part of the reading is also about not lying either.
The root issue of pretty much all sin and temptation is that it lies to you – it makes promises it can’t keep. It’s why Paul talks about greed as idolatry – we make an idol of whatever it is that we lust over, it replaces (even temporarily) God in our affections. Similarly, mistreating others gives the lie to our calling to love our neighbour. We can’t claim to do that and slander someone at the same time – that would be to live a lie.
Paul’s advice is blunt: whatever it is that keeps you bound in your old life, get rid of it (v8). Even ‘put it to death’ (v5) – a strong image calling to mind the cross that Christ suffered on our behalf. Let’s note in passing that Paul always uses such strong terms to refer to sins and not people. Paul locates these temptations in our own minds and wills. We may find certain people encourage us down wrong paths – but the responsibility for taking those paths is always ours.
Live no lies. As we reflect on this very direct passage today, perhaps the Lord is putting his finger on one thing in particular for you. Be bold – own it, take it to God and ask for grace to live the new life we’ll rejoice in tomorrow. As we’ve seen throughout this lovely letter, God’s grace in Christ is always sufficient – it’s a prayer he loves to answer! Bless the Lord, O my soul.