Category Archive Articles

ByKarabo Msiza

God’s Grace in Reconciliation (Part 1): A New Identity

Paul, in Colossians 3, is concerned with showing what life in Christ looks like for those who identify with him. He wants his readers to understand and live on the basis of having died and being raised with him. As he comes to 3:11, he shows us God’s desire for that the church to be a community of reconciliation. This is accomplished through the gospel.

Colossians 3:11 is the fruit of the gospel where a vertical reconciliation between God and man inspires and gives birth to a horizontal reconciliation between individuals. It is precisely here that we see the genius of God’s grace in reconciliation: The gospel not only addresses our relationship with God but also addresses our relationships with each other. Colossians 3:11 testifies to the genius of God’s grace in reconciliation.

God’s Grace Proclaimed: A New Identity in Christ

With just a glance at this verse, you can immediately see that Paul is proclaiming a new identity in Christ. This identity is gospel-birthed; it is a result of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel creates a new identity that removes all the sinful divisions that formerly separated people from one another.

From here, we see the heart of Christ for his church is that she would not built on human distinctions, skin colour, or cultural preferences. There’s a hint of this idea in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 in which Jesus commands his disciples, and by extension the church at large, to “make disciples of all nations.” The word translated “nations” is where we get the word “ethnicity” from, which refers to all ethnic groups under the sun.

Making disciples, according to Matthew 28:19 is twofold: First, one must be a disciple through conversion (which is indicated by baptism), and, second, there must be an aspect of maturing and being discipled. The only way this takes place effectively is when those baptised are part of the local church. When Jesus says that his disciples must “make disciples of all ethnicities,” the implication is that he desires that his church will be made up of multiple ethnicities. This is not only true of the universal church but must also be true for the local church. The local church is a visible, though imperfect, manifestation of the universal church.

From the very beginning of the church, the Scripture shows that it was a community made up of a colourful mosaic of human cultures. As early as Acts 2, Luke mentions several people by their linguistics-cultural identities who came under the passionate preaching of the gospel, and they made up the community who became members of the first church. We see the same in the churches that were planted during Paul’s missionary journey: They were made up of both Jews and Gentiles; they were multi-ethnic, multi-cultural.

The word multi-cultural has recently been a buzzword in the South African church setting, and there is so much that we need to be rejoicing about as we see churches that were once made up of one ethnic-cultural group opening up their doors to welcome people from different ethnic backgrounds as part of them. We should rejoice because, just a few decades ago in our country, this was unthinkable. There was the white church in the suburb and the black church in the township. There seemed to be no partnership, friendship, or unity among these churches. At its heart, this division showed a lack of understanding of what it means to be in Christ with other Christians. Instead of embracing the multi-ethnic vision of Christ for the church (Matthew 28:19–20) there was a desire for preserving racial purity. The Dutch Reformed Church, until 1989, said,

The Scriptures … teach and uphold the ethnic diversity of the human race, and regard it as a “positive proposition” to be preserved. Consequently, “a political system based on the autogenous or separate development of various population groups can be justified from the Bible.”

What that means in simple terms is that the Scriptures support apartheid in and outside the church. Sadly, that is the attitude of many people to this day. I remember my sister visited a church because she was working far from home and was told that they don’t accept “her kind.”

So when churches embrace the multicultural vision of Christ, we should rejoice because that says to the world, “This is what it means to be a community that is shaped and transformed by the gospel.” It is the church’s responsibility to hold up the race-transcending gospel to the world.

When I preached through Philippians some years ago, I was struck at how the church in Philippi was made up of a number of people who, humanly speaking, had nothing in common. Acts 16 shows us three people that Paul and his friends first encountered when they preached the gospel in Philippi: a wealthy businesswoman from Asia with a Jewish background; a slave girl with an occult background, most likely not educated; and a Philippian jailor with a career as a military man. That’s what you would call diverse. Through the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ, these people were brought to sit around the same table as brothers and sisters in Christ, as one new family. The walls that divided them and made it impossible for them to share a meal together came crashing down because of the gospel.

The only reason to make sense of this newfound unity is the fact that they had found a new identity in Christ—an identity not based on race or social standing but based on their union with Christ.

Unlike a community whose sole purpose is preserving so-called cultural purity, God’s community is countercultural in that it can bring a man from a Zulu culture and a man from a Sotho culture and a man from an English culture and unite them as a harmonious people whose unity is found in Christ. The emphasis on this community is not the culture I am born into but the culture I am born again into. The culture of Colossians 3:11 points, not to roots of my forefathers, but to the root of David.

Do not understand me as saying that, when you come to Christ, your culture is irrelevant. What changes is that our primary identity is not in our skin colour or cultural differences. Those distinctions become insignificant in light of our new identity “in Christ” as God’s children. So, in a multicultural context, the beauty of diversity is best expressed when our diversity points to our unity in Christ.

In a multi-cultural community, it is God’s superiority, and not cultural superiority, that is at the centre of our unity. So Paul says, “here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

In this community, our primary identity is not whether we are white Christians or black Christians but that we are Christians in Christ.

ByKarabo Msiza

The Fight for Holiness

As I sought to show in my previous post, when we come to the knowledge that, in Christ, we are freed from sin, we are empowered in our fight against the sin that once bound us. But Romans 8 teaches us another truth about pursuing a holy life: it is also fight.

Holiness is a Fight

It is important to acknowledge that, while we have been saved from the presence of sin, sin still takes its chances in trying to lure Christians into its trap. The way Paul writes here seems to suggest that sin sometimes succeeds in misleading Christians. Sin is always on an all-out assault against God’s people and its goal is to trap and destroy them. In Genesis 4:7, God said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you.” The picture of sin as a dangerous animal, waiting to capture its prey, is fitting and appropriate for us to dwell on.

Civil War

The reality is, there is an inner war in the life of the believer—a civil war between the flesh and the spirit. Galatians 5:17 puts it like this: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” In other words, sin opposes your desire to live a holy life.

The Westminster Confession speaks about the believer’s experience as one of “continual and irreconcilable war” between the flesh and the Spirit. This war is possible on our part because we have been freed from the slavery of sin. We have the Spirit of God indwelling us, and he empowers us in our fight against sin. The fight for holiness is a fight to kill sin. Holiness in the life of the believer does not come automatically; it involves a fight. It is a fight to the death—quite literally.

Paul warns in the first part of v. 13 of the consequences of not fighting sin: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die.” The warning is clear: Those who are no longer debtors in the flesh have no business taking orders from the flesh. Oftentimes, people say they want to live a holy life, but it seems that they don’t want it badly enough. They put themselves in compromising situations. They hang out with the wrong crowds, which lead them away from God.

Theory and Practice

When, in his youth, he was consumed with sexual lust, Augustine prayed, “Lord give me purity, but not yet.” It is often like that. We love holiness in theory, but not in practice. Sin still attracts. It still looks appealing. That’s why today a lot of young men and women who profess to know Christ still holding strongly to pornography and masturbation.

I believe that porn is one of the things that holds our generation back from effectiveness in the Christian life. It is a favourite sin of our generation, primarily because of its ease of accessibility, anonymity, and availability. It corrupts dating relationships. Young people enter into relationships, not to pursue marriage, but to experiment with intimacy and sexuality.

Living for the flesh results in death. This death is not physical death, but eternal separation from God. Obviously, Paul is not saying believers can lose their salvation, but he is exposing the fact that when we continually live according to the flesh, it might be because we do not have a saving relationship with God.

Oftentimes, we do not fight sin because we do not see it for what it is. Sin never presents itself in its ugliness. It never tells you the terms and conditions when you indulge in it. But it dresses itself attractively. It promises joy and fun.

Be Killing Sin, or Sin Will Be Killing You

There is a story about a young man who went to a mountain on a cold, snowy day. As he reached the peak, he spotted a deadly snake, freezing and about to die. The snake asked the young man to wrap him under his jacket and take him down the mountain where he could be warm. The young man refused because the snake was dangerous but it begged him until he relented. He took it, wrapped it in his jacket, and descended the mountain.

When he reached the bottom, he removed the snake to put it on the grass. As the snake stretched himself out, regaining his strength, he launched towards the young man, striking him with a deadly bite. As he lay dying, the young man said, “But you promised not to bite me.” The snake responded, “You knew what I was before you took me.” It was in the nature of the snake to bite, in the same way that it is the nature of sin to kill those who partake in it. John Owen’s timely advice is important to note here: “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

A desire for holiness means treating sin with the same hostility it has towards you: to seek nothing but its destruction. “But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The only rightful response to sin is to “put to death the deeds of the body.” To take away sin’s life and influence requires ruthless, full-hearted resistance. It means to be merciless in our treatment of sin, with the goal of totally destroying it. In killing sin, there are at least two things to keep in mind.

Killing Sin is the Christian’s Responsibility

The pronoun “you” indicates that, as Christians, we have a responsibility to kill sin. Sin does not die on its own; it must be killed. Oftentimes, people say things like, “Let go and let God.” Paul does not say that. Although we are to rely on the Holy Spirit, there is also a personal responsibility on our part to kill sin.

Killing Sin is Done through the Spirit’s Help

Notice what Paul says: “If you live by the Spirit.” Here, the point is that, on your own, you can’t do anything about sin. It is only through the Holy Spirit, who empowers you, that you are able to kill sin. The Holy Spirit helps us, in our battle with sin, with the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The word of God is the most effective weapon in killing sin. The example of our Lord in Matthew 4:1–11 stands out. He resisted temptation with the word of God. Three times, he retorted against Satan’s temptations, “It is written.” If our Lord, who himself is God, treasured God’s, word how much more should we?


Life in the Spirit is lived by those who have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; those who have repented of their sin and placed in the faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Those are the people of whom Paul writes, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

If you have not yet believed in the Lord Jesus Christ—not yet given him your life and surrendered to him—the opposite of Romans 8:1 is true of you. There is great condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus.

ByKarabo Msiza

The Duty of Holiness

The story is told of an old man who, later in life, believed the gospel and was saved. After some time the local church of which he was a member organised a fundraiser. One requirement was that each church member should wear a T-shirt with a Christian message printed on the front. This presented a dilemma for the old man, since he was illiterate and embarrassed to admit it. It caused him great stress as he thought about what he should print on his T-shirt.

One day, walking in town, he saw a poster in a shop window with something written on it. He took it home, gave it to his wife (who also could not read), and asked her to copy the words onto his T-shirt. When the big day came, everyone was wore a T-shirt of their own with words like, “I love Jesus,” “I’m with Christ,” and so on. The old man’s T-shirt drew everyone’s attention. People commended him for the message and how appropriate it was. Curiosity piqued, he took a young man aside and asked him to read the message on his shirt. This is what it said: “Under new management.” Originally a message about the new management of the shop from which he had taken the poster, on his T-shirt it meant that he was a new creature in Christ and was now under the new management of the Holy Spirit.

Life in the Spirit can be described with those three words: Under new management. A Christian is no longer led by the flesh but by the Spirit. Paul demonstrates that reality in Romans 8. In vv. 1–10, he explains and outlines the privileges that Christians have in Christ. Then, in vv. 12–13, in light of these privileges, he highlights the Christian’s responsibility. He wants to show that life in the Spirit is a life characterised by holiness. The pursuit of a holy life is a clear demonstration of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul develops this idea in vv. 12–13 by showing us at least two facts about pursuing a holy life: holiness is a duty, and holiness is a fight. We’ll address the first here and the second in a follow up post.

Holiness is a Duty

After showing us the privileges we have in Christ, Paul goes on to outline our responsibilities as Christians. Life in the Spirit will be displayed in the way we live. The motivation for this kind of life is what God has already done in your life.

Paul demonstrates that, because of our relationship with God in Christ, and the Spirit living in us, our relationship with sin is totally changed. Pay careful attention to what he says in v. 12: “We are debtors, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh.” This underscores the reality of what God has accomplished in us through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul is saying that your relationship with sin is not what it used to be before you were a Christian. He speaks of a present reality.

What You Formerly Were

To understand this present reality, it is important to look back and be reminded of what life is like without Christ, or what the life of one not indwelled by the Holy Spirit looks like. Sinclair Ferguson rightly explains that “only as we begin to appreciate what we once were before we became Christians (or what we would be naturally were we not Christians), do we begin to sense something of the immense grandeur of being new creatures in Christ.”

But how does the Bible describe a person who is not in Christ?

Speaking to religious Jews, Jesus once said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Paul shows the same truth in Romans 3:9: “All [everyone without exception] are under sin [as slaves].” In fact, if you consider Romans 5:12–6:23, the references to sin in the Greek are usually to the sin, as though it had taken on personal characteristics. As a result, everyone outside of Christ is powerless against sin. The Bible continues to paint a picture of gloom by describing those outside Christ as being dead in sin and trespasses, under the dominion of this sinful world, Satan, and the flesh. It says we were sons of disobedience and children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1–3).

Though this is a former description of those who are now in Christ, who have given their lives to God by believing in Jesus Christ, it is the current description of those who have not. The worst thing about being a slave to sin is that one cannot do anything to save themselves from this slavery. The chains that bind a slave cannot be broken by anyone except God. It is like Samson trying to break the ropes with his head shaved. We need someone to free us from this slavery.

Sons of God

And that’s what God did. It is in the dark cloud of hopelessness and slavery to sin that we see the brightness of God’s grace. Look at the word that Paul uses to refer to the people he writes to: “brothers” (a generic term for brothers and sisters). The word itself has a great story behind it. It’s packed with meaning.

It reminds us that God, through Christ, delivers or saves us from the dominion of sin in order that we may live freely for him. He makes us his children and brings us into his family, giving us a new identity. He is our Father, we are his children, and to one another we are brothers and sisters. He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit. We are, in the words of Romans 8:14, “sons of God led by the Spirit.”

Debtors and DJs

Because of this truth, Paul says we are “debtors,” not to the flesh to live according to the flesh. In other words, because we are now free from the power of sin—because we are no longer slaves to sin—we owe the flesh nothing. The idea of living “according to the flesh” means living under the desires of sin, or doing what the sinful nature wants. Picture sin as a DJ playing a tune that you are dancing spontaneously to. The flesh loves the tune that DJ sin plays. But when God changes your heart and gives you the Holy Spirit, the tunes of DJ sin are not as enticing anymore. There is a new tune that you now love hearing, a tune that is sweeter than the tune of DJ sin. The Puritans called this idea replacing sin with the expulsive power of a new affection.

Although the verse is stated in the negative, in terms of what kind of debtors we are not, there is a positive aspect implied stating what kind of debtors we are. Positively, “we are debtors, to the Spirit, to live according to the Spirit.” In contrast to living according to the flesh, we are now to live according to the Spirit because we are debtors of the Holy Spirit. The word “debtor”speaks of the idea of owing a debt. In this case, the debt of sin we could not pay has been paid for us through the death of Jesus Christ.

And all we can say is: “O to grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!” Because of what God has done, because of the privileges that are ours in Christ, we have a duty to live a holy life. Living a holy life should not be misunderstood as repaying the debt but rather as a life of gratitude to God. Life in the Spirit is a life conformed to the wishes of the Holy Spirit, and because he is the Holy Spirit, this life must be characterised by holiness. One of the indications that you have the Holy Spirit will be seen in a desire for a holy life. Holiness is a badge that indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Making a Home

Before I got married, my house was dull and messy. It was dusty and my socks were everywhere. It had no personality. Anyone visiting could tell without needing to ask that there was no wife in this house.

After we got married, my wife began to work on our house, beautifying it and making it habitable, changing our curtains, putting nice pictures and paintings on the wall to a point that now it reflects her personality to some extent. In the same way, when the Holy Spirit indwells us, it must be seen in our changed lives that reflect his holy character. It will be evidenced in that we indeed live life in the Spirit.

When we come to the knowledge that in Christ, we are freed from sin and are empowered in our fight against the sin that once bound us. Stay tuned for the next post where I’ll discuss how holiness is not only a duty but also a fight.