GETTING PAST GOOD INTENTIONS
INTRODUCTION: My doctor
called me three years ago this month, and the first thing he said was,
"What in the world do you eat?" I had just recently had a physical,
including various blood tests, and his warm greeting seemed to indicate
something might be off on the blood results. I told him I had a well-balanced
diet… McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Papa John’s, and his response
was, "That makes sense. Your cholesterol is sky high, you have to change
your diet immediately, and I want you to do a stress test. You are at risk for
heart problems." You know what happened? I totally changed my diet, ate
thousands of salads, became repulsed by the sight of a French fry, worked out
more consistently, and in three months lost 18 pounds and 100 points off my
cholesterol reading. And it wasn’t even hard to do! It was like a switch was
flipped in my brain, and my old diet was now the enemy, to be avoided at all
costs. It was so easy.
BUT it’s been the exception. It’s the only time in my life when I was
able to make a major change in my habits of life without any real effort. And
you know what has happened in the last two years….the sense of concern has
faded, a few pounds have crept back on my body, and my diet has slowly and
steadily wandered back toward its old habits.
Now before the doctor called, there had been many times when I had paused in
the middle of a Whopper Combo, thought "I should probably cut back on this
stuff," and then finished the combo. I would occasionally express concern
and good intentions about my diet, but inevitably and quickly fail.
Getting past good intentions can be incredibly difficult, can’t it?! We say
we will do this or that, change this or that, or become this or that, but we
often fail…even in our spiritual life.
Colossians 3:17 is a verse that sparks good intentions….Paul says,
"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."
In other words, live in such a way that your behavior always makes God looks
good! Great intention; ever have a hard time doing it? I have!
THE NEED: We need to understand how God can work in our lives so that
we begin fulfilling our good intentions, Colossians 3:17 included! But if we are
going to apply Colossians 3:17 in our lives we first need to understand and
apply verses 1-16.
And if we want to understand Colossians 3 at all, we first need to take a
look at Colossians 1 and 2… let me explain why!
THE CONTEXT: Colossians 1-2 I have the privilege of being a father for
three great kids, and I have found that one of the great challenges of being
their dad is that I often "arrive late." What happens is, child one
says or does something that child two does not like. Child two responds. It gets
noisy, Dad hears and starts in the direction of the noise. Dad plans to fix the
situation, but he arrives late, and he finds it a great challenge to help
resolve anything, knowing only part of what has actually happened! Child one and
child two know Dad has arrived late, they both quickly present their
understanding of recent events (which share absolutely nothing in common), and
Dad responds by saying….. "Talk to your Mom."
In a moment we will look closely at Colossians 3, but first we need to take a
look at Colossians 1 and 2. Otherwise we will run the risk of "arriving
late" and be hindered by a partial or incorrect understanding of what Paul
has written to the people at Colosse.
Here’s some of what we learn in Colossians 1 & 2….
Paul has never met the people of the church in Colosse, but the Holy Spirit
has worked mightily through his apprentice Epaphras, as he has told them of
the gospel of grace that changes lives.
Prayer is fundamental for life change. Paul prayed fervently for the people
in Colosse and for God to work mightily in their lives.
Jesus made possible reconciliation between people and God, through his
life, death and resurrection. It is his work, not ours.
The people in Colosse are confused about grace and works; the Colossians
are hearing others teach "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not
touch!" They are being asked to observe special "holy days."
They are wondering if there is a big long list of "Do nots" that
they have to keep in order to be secure with God. Paul, who had once been a
very good legalist, now directly challenges its lies and declares that
legalism is impotent to change lives for good, instead leading to pride and
further enslavement to sin.
And that brings us to Colossians chapter 3.
TIME-OUT: But before we dive in and learn what these verses teach, we
need to clarify two very important truths about getting past good intentions
which Paul explains in other passages, but does not state explicitly in
If we are going to get past good intentions, we can’t just try harder!
One of the things I love about worshipping at Wooddale Church is the music. I
love to listen to the band play, but I need to let you know a little-known fact
about the band; they never practice. In fact, none of them have ever taken
lessons. They all just have a lot of enthusiasm, and before each service they
get together, read the program to see what songs they will be playing, then the
service starts and they try really, really hard! Isn’t it amazing how great
Do you believe me? Of course not. We all know that the only way a group is
going to sound this good is for each member to train for years with their
instrument and then for the group to train together as a team. Good musicians
don’t just try harder. That’s obvious!
But oftentimes we get confused and think that "good Christians"
will be fine if they just try harder. Perhaps I have a problem with anger, but I
am committed to overcoming this problem, so the next time I am frustrated, I
just grit my teeth, try really hard, and stay calm. It never fails!
Or I might have a problem with pride, but I am committed to overcoming this
problem, so the next time I feel a little pride coming on, I once again grit my
teeth, try really hard, and become humble. This also never fails. In fact, I
just want you to know I am really good at humility!
Now let me ask you a question; does life really work that way? Of course not!
We need a lot more than "trying harder" to get past good intentions
and become people who make God look good.
2. We can only get past good intentions if we train wisely.
In order to mature spiritually, our effort needs to be guided by wise
training, not just in blindly trying harder! Note how Paul speaks of training in
other passages he wrote…
2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for
teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man
of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners
run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to
get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last
forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight
like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that
after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the
1 Timothy 4:7 "Train yourself to be godly." Paul believes that
wise training is the key to spiritual growth, and Colossians 3:1-17 is a
handbook for wise training. End of time out! Let look at this passage, which
PAUL’S TRAINING PLAN FOR GETTING PAST GOOD INTENTIONS
Paul begins Colossians 3 with these words… "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
Because of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, everything is
different! The old self with its old habits and priorities is gone and a new
vision needs to be set and pursued for our lives. That vision will come into
focus as we make two strategic moves…
The first part of Paul’s training plan is to "Get Set" (vss.
- Set our HEARTS on "things above." Augustine, a leader in the
early church in North Africa, wrote that we each need a "well-ordered
heart." He said a well-ordered heart "loves the right thing, to the
right degree, in the right way, with the right kind of love." Sin
disorders our hearts, and we can only "re-order" our hearts by
focusing on the things that are above ordinary life in our world; that would
include the person and work of God, the example of Jesus, and the teaching of
the Bible. That is setting our hearts on things above.
- Set our MINDS on things above, not on earthly things. Sergei is a friend
from Kanev, Ukraine. The first time he visited the states he saw a lot and
learned a lot. He also taught others a lot. After only a few days here in
Minnesota he remarked to some American friends, "It must be very hard to
be a Christian in America." This stunned the Americans and they asked why
he would say that. He said, "You are surrounded by songs and movies and TV
shows and magazines and other things that are spiritually toxic. It must be so
hard to keep your mind on God." Wise words!
If we are going to get past good intentions, we need to proactively make
choices that wisely control what we allow our minds to focus upon. As Paul
wrote in his letter to the church in Philippi…
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is
pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or
praiseworthy-think about such things."
Simple Question: Are your heart and mind set on things above or on earthly
things? Are there some simple, practical changes you need to make as part of
your wise training toward getting past good intentions?
The second part of Paul’s training plan is to "Exterminate"
I lived in the Philippines the year after I graduated from college, and
there were a number of things I had to adjust to while living there. One was
the collection of various animals that shared the house with us. We had a
round dining room table where we ate, and in the middle of the table was a
lazy Susan with a toaster on it, along with some napkins. One morning at
breakfast, while some bread was in the toaster, two cockroaches shot out of
the toaster and ran under the lazy Susan. That got my attention and I asked if
anyone had seen what had just happened. Mary, the lady of the house, said
"Yes, those are the cockroaches that live in the toaster.
Halfway through the second slice of toast it gets too hot and they move
under the lazy Susan." I then asked what I thought was a logical
question; "Why don’t you get rid of them?" She replied, "Have
you ever tried to get rid of cockroaches?"
End of conversation. She had given up. After that, every time I had toast I
met my little friends and was reminded of how tenacious they were.
In verses 5 – 11, Paul tells us to continue our training by exterminating
"whatever belongs to your earthly nature."
"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 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 Greek or Jew, circumcised or
uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is
Now at times "putting to death" the attitudes and behaviors
listed in these verses might feel like trying to kill off cockroaches, and it
is tempting to just give up. But we are not helpless as we seek to exterminate
the habits of our old lives.
Here are a few ideas to consider as you prepare the extermination plan for
your old, earthly habits….
Get God’s help: pray and ask for help.
Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the
desires of your heart." Ask God to give you new desires, from which will
spring new actions.
Get a friend’s help: isolation perpetuates old habits. Share your
challenge with a friend, and ask for their encouragement.
Ask Why?: There is always a reason for what we do. Check your reasons…it
could very well be that your heart and mind have strayed and are no longer set
on heavenly things. "Get Set" again!
Avoid the right thing: As we seek to exterminate tenacious habits of old,
we must make sure we don’t try and avoid sin. The way to conquer these
habits is to move everything back one more step and avoid temptation!! That is
where sin is conceived, and it is also where we probably have more strength to
make the wise choice.
Exterminating old habits and attitudes can be a challenge, but it should not
be our only focus as we train wisely for getting past good intentions. Just as
important is the next step on the journey, where Paul tells us to….
Put on new clothes (vss. 12-14)
I am by no means an expert on lawn care, but I have heard many say that if
you want to get rid of weeds, grow grass. The point is, when faced with a
problem, sometimes the best thing to do is focus on the good you can do
instead of the problem that exists. And as the good is strengthened the
problem is weakened.
This is terribly important to remember in seeking to train wisely for
getting past good intentions! In Colossians 3, verses 5-11 speak of the old
habits we are to get rid of in our lives, and we dare not ignore them. But
verses 12 - 14 speak of the new habits which can help us exterminate those old
habits, and we dare not forget them!
"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and
patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have
against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these
virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
God has chosen and adopted us to be His loved children, set apart as special
people under His perfect care. Our response? Start practicing a new way of
living that is consistent with how loved and special you are.
When something is treasured it is treated with special care! I saw a vivid
example of this dynamic while I was in high school. Steve was a friend and a
wild young man. Steve had an old, beat-up green Camaro and he drove like he had
a death wish. The guy was absolutely crazy behind the wheel. One day he came to
school in a brand new Trans Am, and we were shocked when he said his dad had
given him the car. At first glance it looked like Steve’s dad was nuts; as it
turned out, he probably saved Steve’s life. Steve was a totally different
driver with the Trans Am, and when we asked him what was going on he said,
"The Camaro was a dump and I didn’t care about it. This Trans Am is
really worth something, and I am going to take care of it."
Paul says, "You are holy, set apart, loved, cherished by God." In
Steve’s words, "You are really worth something." So be
compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, and loving. For this is
how loved people live! It’s also how they get past good intentions!
Step four in Paul’s training plan is to "Welcome God’s
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members
of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ
dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and
as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to
God." When Paul speaks of letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,
he is saying we are to let the peace of God act as an umpire in our hearts. As
one commentator wrote,
"If the peace of Jesus Christ is the umpire in any person’s heart,
then, when feelings clash and we are pulled in two directions at the same time,
the decision of Christ will keep us in the way of love and the Church will
remain the one body it is meant to be. The way to right action is to appoint
Jesus Christ as the arbiter (umpire) between the conflicting emotions in our
hearts; and if we accept his decisions, we cannot go wrong."
In addition, we are to welcome the influence of the Bible into our lives.
Reading, meditating, memorizing, and discussing the application of the Bible’s
teaching will give us wisdom in getting past good
The result of Paul’s training plan for getting past good intentions is to
"Live with gratitude" (vs. 17)
We have returned to 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." A great intention, and now a real possibility as we train
wisely to apply our good intentions, through…..
- getting set
- putting on new clothes
- welcoming God’s influence.
As we conclude, we must put an exclamation point next to a very important
Any success we have in training wisely and living with a well-ordered heart
is primarily the result of God’s grace. It is easy for pride to sneak in
upon our thoughts and attitudes when we train hard and wisely to get past our
good intentions. If that happens, then we are in the same place as the
Colossians, confused about grace and good works. It’s at that very moment
when we need to be reminded of what one author has recently written;
"the transformation of the inner being is as much or more a gift of
grace as is our justification before God." In addition, he states,
"we consume the most grace by leading a holy life, in which we must be
constantly upheld by grace, not by continuing to sin and being repeatedly
We can only get past our good intentions when we receive the grace of God in
our lives! And His grace is always available to us! And that is why Colossians
3:15 says, "be thankful", verse 16 says "be grateful," and
verse 17 says, "give thanks." God provides all that we need to get
past our good intentions and actually live the life we’ve always dreamed of.
Train wisely and give thanks, for His grace will change your life!
Wooddale Church June 1, 2002
© Geoff Bohleen 2002