The Book of Colossians Study
(Part 21 of 33)
Paul writes at the very beginning of Colossians chapter three, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”
The last time we were together I pointed out that the word ‘if’, “‘if’ you have been raised up with Christ,” is really a third class condition in the Greek, which means that it can be translated as ‘since you are’; since you are raised up. It is not a question of whether you are, but it is in view of the fact that you have been. How should you live then? How does your understanding of your identity shape your behavior? It always come down to this; the idea that we will behave in ways that is consistent with our understanding of ourselves, and if you actually see your self in a new way.
I must tell you that this way of seeing yourself doesn’t come naturally. It has to constantly be renewed. The spiritual truth is much more easily unlearned than it is learned. You go to a conference, you go to a retreat, you gain some insight, but how long does it last? It all just seems to slip through our fingers after a while. There is a constant need to remind yourself of these truths because the world is constantly telling us that it can’t be right. You can’t really be raised with Christ; that is just a nice religious platitude. You see the idea here? Then, in your minds eye you begin to buy into the same agenda of everyone around you.
There is a constant pull in our lives; to be pulled down with the gravity of the flesh and the gravity of the world. There is the lure, as well, of Satan. The world, the flesh, and Satan are the three battlefronts and they are constantly impinging upon us and constantly at war with us and on us. One is internal and the other two are external. Of those three, the one that is internal is clearly the flesh. But, then there is also the world that would amplify the flesh. It gives the flesh opportunities, does it not? Then there is the demonic spiritual warfare, which would also seek to entice and to enhance the power of the flesh.
The flesh I define, again, as the power of sin in our members, the remnant of what we were in Adam, the person of your old beliefs and actions. As Ed Dudley would often say, the flesh can never be removed or improved. You can not remove the flesh in this life. Only at the judgment seat of Christ will that be removed. Don’t try to clean it up, because you can’t improve it either. You just can’t. Your capacity to do the things you did before you knew Christ is still there. We often shock ourselves, don’t we, in that way.
It is only going to be by walking by the Spirit that you can put to death the deeds of the flesh. There is a constant warfare in this world and in the next world that warfare is completed. And all that we have desired and chosen to pursue will finally be ours. But, right now, we wage, in this present darkness, a warfare and we have to understand that. We need to live consistent and with the understanding of that idea.
Paul gives us some wonderful resources to help us in that warfare; resources that help us with perspective. In my own thinking, I don’t think you can have a complete change without a change in perspective. I want to say that again, because I think it is very important. You are not going to permanently change unless your perspective changes as well. I think what we have is a way of seeing, a way of orienting, a way of interpreting our lives and experiences and the way they impinge upon us. It is a perspective that we are called to apply to the circumstances and the fortuitous changes in life.
Here is a thing I want to suggest as well; when you do stumble, as we all do, and as James says, “We all stumble in many ways,” I want to suggest that you don’t beat yourself up. Rather, you get up and lay hold of grace and you move on again. I want to stress that idea. “Forgetting what lies behind,” Paul said what? “Reach on; press on, to what lies ahead.”
But, I want to suggest that now you are really understanding and agreeing with God. Confession, by the way, really means to ‘agree with’. To confess your sins means simply to agree with God; His assessment that it really was wrong. What you said to that person really was a fleshly act or what you thought or what you did was wrong. You acknowledge it to God when the Spirit convicts you and you move on and you thank Him for His forgiveness.
Remember that all your sins, past, present, and future were all forgiven on the Cross. Either He forgave them all or He didn’t forgive any of them. So, that is why I often ask, in my own morning affirmations that I have, to have my heart searched for any area of unconfessed sin and acknowledge these to the Lord and thank Him for His forgiveness. Do you notice what I am doing there? I am thanking Him for the forgiveness He has given me, but I do have to acknowledge it to God. Move on from there, but don’t beat yourself up, don’t wallow in that defeat. My view is that it is a wise thing for us to deal with it quickly rather than try to avoid that process.
We can desensitize ourselves to the convicting work of the Spirit can’t we? You can push down that quiet voice that is saying to you, ‘child, you need to make this change here’. When you do that, you are going to be living in defeat until you deal with it. Then God might have to get your attention by using stronger means. He has a lot of means at His disposal. So, the prudent course, then, would be to acknowledge it quickly, get back up, and continue in the race. That is what you do.
The best image I know there is Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire. If you recall this other runner bumps into him and he stumbles. He gets up and goes on and almost wins the race. Someone standing next to him, at the finish line, says to him, “Mr., Liddell, that wasn’t the prettiest quarter-mile I ever saw, but it was the bravest.” Bravery is to get up again and continue the race. Run with endurance the race that is set before you.
There are a couple of things that go along with that. I think the sphere of confession would be related to the degree to which it has had an impact on other people. If it has just been something in my thought life, I don’t believe I have to do that. But, if I have said something injurious to a person, I also need to acknowledge it to that person. Or, if I have done something to besmirch my reputation in a larger community, like in the church, then I may have to do it on a broader scale. Let’s say a minister falls into moral sin. That might require church discipline on a broader level than just the individual involved. But, if you have not injured the person overtly, I don’t think you need to do it. For example, you don’t have to tell a woman that you’ve been lusting after her. Deal with that between yourself and God and move on.
This may be, by the way, that it is harder for us to confess to other people if we have injured them, than it is to confess to God. We have more fear of men than we do of God. They are more visible, and tangible, and palpable. Do you see what I am saying there? Generally, I think confession relates to the degree of the offense and the sphere of the offense.
There are two extremes. One is never to acknowledge something wrong to other people and the other is to let it all hang out. I’ve seen groups that think it great and liberating to share all their dirty laundry.
Returning to Paul, I want you to notice three things. The “with Christ” phrase is used three times in these verses. First of all, in verse one, “If you have been raised up with Christ.” Then, in verse three, “your life is hidden with Christ,” and then in verse four, we will be revealed “with Him.” You see the three ‘withs’?
Now, I want to suggest here that they relate to the past, present, and future. The first “with Christ” has already taken place. It is a finished act. Being “raised up with Him” is something that has already occurred once you transferred your trust to Christ and once you came to know Him and received that gift, you were raised up with Christ. In fact, several other things took place, as Paul said in chapter two. You died with Him, you were buried with Him, you were raised up with Him, and even now you are seated at His right hand, even though you don’t feel that way.
The present is to understand that your life ‘is’, present tense, hidden with Him. He is giving you that protection. And your fullness of life, by the way, is also not fully known by others. We will not be known yet, until the end.
But, third, you will be revealed. Right now what is hidden will come out. That is why, as we saw last week, that the world does not see us as we will be. Remember we looked at 1st John chapter three and just as a quick reminder, he says in verse one, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.” So, your life is hidden with Christ in God and it hasn’t appeared yet what you will be. “We know that when he appears we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as he is.” That is why Paul says here, “you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”
So, your life right now, that life is a hidden life. It is a life that is inside and it is meant, though, to be manifested more and more in our outward actions. But, the fullness of all this is a past, present, future relationship that gives you a profound security and a new sense of identity. That is the idea; security, significance, identity.
Now, this idea of being raised up with Him, then, means you are in a position, not of defeat, but of victory. If you lay hold of it, if you walk by the Spirit, He has given you the resources you need. You can not live this life yourself. Only He can live it in you and through you. Now, understanding that then, it His life, and Paul says, “Keep seeking things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Put your mind on the things above.”
Now, what does this mean? Is he saying for us to just live with our heads in the clouds? I’ll tell you what I would suggest. There are a couple of wrong perspectives, as I see it, that you can take. One would be a Gnostic perspective and that this life does not mean a thing. You have to live in some sort of upper realm like the Gnostics would, and consider the body evil and the spirit good. Paul has been refuting that, really, these proto-Gnostics, at the end of chapter two. The idea is that because everything that God created is good. Therefore, this realm is significant and important and everything does matter.
So, don’t think this world is unimportant and therefore look upward because it is meaningless. Nor does looking up or setting your mind on the things above and seeking the things above mean there is some sort of a disconnect in the sense of saying that this is the only stuff that matters and the other stuff doesn’t; in other words, the Spiritual-secular duality. I don’t think that is what he is teaching either.
What I think he is teaching is that this is a way of seeing. This is a perspective that you must embrace. In other words, this is a way of a worldview. This is a way of looking at the ‘lower story’, things that are tangible and measurable and so forth, and connecting them to the ‘upper story’ and the upper story is what gives meaning to the lower story. They must go hand in hand. It is not that there is a disconnect between the two. Who we are in Christ should shape what we do on this earth. That is the idea, and what you do on this earth does matter and, in fact, we will be held accountable for it.
So, my view on this matter, then, is that we are to set our minds on the things above and to make that our primary orientation on the things below, the mundane and routine things of life. That is where Christ is. Where is He right now? He is seated at the right hand of God and that is where all of you are as well. So, you are seated at the right of God. That puts you in a strong position. But, why don’t we ever see ourselves in that position? When was the last time you saw yourself with Christ, in the heavenlies, seated at the right hand of God? Let’s be honest about this. It would be a good thing to remind ourselves, perhaps at the beginning of every day, of just who you really are. That’s a big question to ask at the beginning of the day, isn’t it? But, if you think that, you are really recalibrating your spirit aren’t you? You are recalibrating, every day, who you are. If you do that, you are more likely to live out who God has said you are because you are reminding yourself of the truth that will slip through your fingers all the time. This is not an easy thing for us to keep before our minds.
Again, I am saying we are called to live an integrated life, that everything does matter and that what we call secular really becomes spiritual as long as our perspective is on the eternal. So, as I embrace an eternal perspective it means my business is something that I can do and it is just as significant in the kingdom of God as what I do at church. A church is a corporate expression of fellowship and edification so that we can do our calling well in the world again. In the world, by the way, you have the church scattered. Then, when we meet together for worship and celebration we have a body of believers. It is not just the institution. When we go into the world we are called to be ambassadors, but then you come back again and reinforce one another.
That is what we are doing here in a real way. In here we come together to remind ourselves and to reinforce and to encourage one another to love and good deeds by keeping a perspective clear. So, this eternal perspective will slip through your fingers unless it is constantly reinforced.
I would strongly exhort you to consider in this next week trying this on for size. Review these first four verses at the beginning of your day. It wouldn’t be a bad way to begin your day. The point is that I think it is wise and prudent for us to reorient and recalibrate ourselves each day or we will forget. That is just the way it is. If you are forgetting spiritual truth then you can not live out what you don’t believe. You claim to believe something but you are not really internalizing that. It loses its cutting edge and then it is gone.
Here is another great mystery. How is it that God is transcendent and imminent? It is not an either-or, it is a both-and; God is so transcendent that we can’t even think correctly about Him. He is a complete mystery. He is not near us in one sense. In one sense He is so awesome and so far removed that He virtually can not be known. But, in another sense, Scripture also confirms that he is imminent and Christ is in you, the hope and glory.
Now, if you will turn with me to John chapter fourteen we will see a surprising thing that many people don’t know. This is really a text that relates to Dean’s question. How do we really identify with this business of Him being closer to me than I am to myself? In John chapter fourteen we have the Upper Room discourse and I am really glad we have this here in John’s Gospel because none of the others have it. Imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have the Gospel of John. 92% of John is unique to his Gospel. It truly is a supplemental gospel.
In any case, here are Jesus’ last words to His disciples, knowing that He would, in fact, depart from them. It is a pretty big moment. Again, I often say that if you were going to depart from this earth tomorrow at this hour and you really had a chance to gather all your loved ones and friends, what would talk about? You would probably want to share the deepest thoughts of your life, would you not? Here, we actually listen in to the Creator of the universe telling them what He wants them to know. In John chapters thirteen to seventeen, you have all the seeds of the spiritual principles in the epistles. They are all there is those chapters.
But, in verse twenty He says, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” It is tough to come up with a more intimate concept than “you in me, and I in you.” I mean, He is in you and you are in Him. Then he says, “He who has My commandments and who keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and,” and what will He do? “Disclose Myself to him.”
What is He saying? He is saying that that intimacy which exists will become more manifest in disclosure as you trust Him enough to obey. Obedience is the key to knowing Him. If you have “My commandments,” here is what you are doing; you are showing that you love Him, because if you love Him you will trust Him enough to do what he asks you to do. He always has your best interests at heart.
Secondly, as you do that He will disclose Himself to you. He says elsewhere, “The secret of the Lord is those who fear Him.” The idea, going down to verse twenty-three, is that Jesus adds another dimension, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him.” Before, it was ‘He’, but now He is referring to “My Father,” and “My Father will love him.”
And, what does it say then? This is an amazing verse. “We will come to him and make our abode.” It is saying that it is not just the Son, but also the Father that makes His abode with us.
Also, John chapter sixteen makes it very clear that the Spirit would be in us. In fact, here in verse twenty-six we see “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things.” The idea here is that the Father, Son, Holy Spirit mysteriously dwells in the believer and the believer is in that sphere. So, if I am in Christ and He is in me, then I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Spirit is in me. Do you see this mystery here? Can you get any closer than that?
We are not absorbed into the Trinity, like in eastern thought. You always will have a subject-object differential. The fact is, unlike eastern thought, the Christian Theism teaches that God is distinct from His creation. This creation is real and God created it as something good. Although it is fallen it is still something real and something purposeful. But, we will not be absorbed into the Creator. If we were, there would be no such thing as a relationship. Again, eastern thought teaches us that this idea of other selves is an illusion and we have to realize we are all a single identity. That is just not the case.
We are made for a relationship; one for another. But, the fact is that the mystery here is that we can be in Him and He in us, but we still have an identity.
New Age thought, which is basically just eastern thought repackaged, basically teaches that ultimate reality is ‘one’ and that the distinction between good and evil is an illusion. Good and evil become two sides of the same coin. The idea of the distinction of many things and one thing is also an illusion. ‘I am god and god is me’, and ‘I am all’.
Whereas, in Christian Theism, God is a person. He is not an ‘it’. If He is a person, that means your problem isn’t ignorance, your problem is moral guilt. In fact, they will tell you there is no such thing as good and evil; all is one. It is really hard to live that way, but a lot of people buy into that notion. The thing is that you can’t live consistently that way. I don’t care what you claim to believe. You can claim to be an atheist, you can claim to be a relativist, but in the end you live as if Christian Theism were true. You live as if there really are things that are right and wrong; some things are ugly and beautiful; and some things that are true and false. We live in those cases better than we might claim. We all live as if there is meaning, value, and purpose but all those views don’t provide any foundation for that meaning, value, and purpose.
I know a lot of people who are happy atheists, but that is because they have made an upper story leap. There is nothing in their beliefs that says we are mere products of the impersonal, plus time and chance. There is no basis there for saying that life is meaningful or that other people are meaningful. There, all we are is the product of our selfish genes, who cleverly tricked us into thinking we actually have conscienceness and morality.
I want to ask you, do you feel like you have died with Christ? No, you don’t, but you choose to reckon it as true. You set your mind, and you choose to accept it. What does it mean? The old self that I was has died and now I am a new person in Him. If that is true, then my true life will be revealed with Him glory, and all things will be made known. So, if I really live that way, let’s live with the end in view. This has to do with seeing your destiny and living your journey now in light of that destiny. So that, when you end up, you will finish well and you will hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
This perspective, to set your minds on the things above is really to desire His pleasure and His approval and to say to you, “well done.” So, if I live each day in light of that, to live “well done,” that gives me a perspective that can inform and enrich and enhance each ‘today’.