Eric B. Watkins
Christianity is an event-centered religion. It begins with the triumphant announcement of who God is and what he has done for us in history. It is unlike the Eastern religions, which merely follow the teachings of a so-called enlightened figure, or postmodernism, which reduces religion to a set of subjective ideals. In neither of these approaches are God's redeeming acts in history the center that holds the rest together. Christianity, on the other hand, centers upon a God who has not only revealed his person and will, but has done so in the supernatural events that are truly worthy of the term awesome.
Our God speaks and acts to reveal himself. In Scripture, the Resurrection is the centerpiece of his revelation and the centerpiece of his redemptive acts in human history. As Paul notes, without it we are a bunch of pitiful fools (1 Cor. 15:19). The Resurrection is often considered in connection with Christ's redeeming workand rightly so, as there would be no salvation without it. But in this article we will consider the significance of the Resurrection in a slightly different connection, relating it to Christian obedience. The Resurrection is indispensable for our justification, and it is also indispensable for our sanctification.
Colossians 3 is one of the many texts of Scripture that locate the ethical life of the Christian in the context of the Resurrection. But Paul says things about the believer in this chapter that seem contrary to reason and experience. He first asserts that the believer, though living in this world and breathing its very air, has already been raised with Christ: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above" (verse 1). Such language would seem hard enough to swallow by itself, but then Paul adds: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (verse 3). The very nature of our present lives contradicts what Paul states here as a matter of fact. After all, which of us can remember dying with Christ and being raised with him? Which of us has any memory of being seated with Christ in heaven? We live in this world; it is all that we know or have ever known. So how can Paul be taken seriously? How can such language have any relevance to Christian obedience?
The answers to these questions are profound and comforting. Paul teaches us that certain historical events are indispensable to our relating to God. God himself has brought these things to pass. Not only has Christ died and been raised again into heaven, but also the Spirit has effectually united us to Christ in a union that is as real as it is mystical. Therefore, we may say of ourselves that we have already died with Christ. Our lives are so united to Christ, that when Christ died, we died with him. At the cross, Christ was bound to us and we were bound to him. The answer to the old hymn, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" is yes! His death for our sin was truly our death; the wages of sin (death) have been paid by Christ, and this becomes our personal possession by way of union with him. Thus, we may say and believe in our hearts that judgment has already come upon us in Christ, and the wages of sin (death) have been paid. Paul does not stop here, however.
He further states not only that we are already raised with Christ and taken into heaven, but also that we are seated with him, a posture of rest and accomplishment. We have begun to enjoy now, by faith, the accomplishment of Christ's work, including the rest that Christ now enjoys as the exalted Son, seated at the right hand of the Father.
So splendid is Paul's teaching here, that we are forced to look beyond ourselves, beyond the thorns and thistles of this present evil age. We are enabled to set our minds upon the better things of the world above, where our Savior and our lives are. And this we may (and indeed must) do with the eyes of faith, for what else could take hold of such promises? Our natural eyes see only the life of this world, and we often feel helplessly bound to it. However, the eyes of faith seek and embrace the things that are above as though they were our present possession in Christ. It is here that we find true comfort and peace.
These truths are too wonderful to believe unless the Spirit enables us. Thanks be to God that he is pleased to do so and more! The same Spirit who gives us such a heavenward faith to comfort us sanctifies and strengthens us for our battle against sin as well. Such a heavenward faith is indispensable for our sanctification. But this idea has not gone without challenge. There is an old saying about those who are "too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good." Paul's language here, however, would seem to suggest the very opposite, that being heavenly minded is indeed very good. As the rest of the chapter unfolds, our heavenly-mindedness is the stream from which any good in us flows.
The rest of Colossians 3 deals with particular struggles with sin within the church, including ways in which we sin against God and against one another. Paul's remedy for such sins is not the least bit distant from the foundation he laid in the first four verses; it is built upon it, as the word "therefore" in verse 5 indicates. We who have died with Christ and have been raised with him must now "put to death" what is "earthly" among us. The reason for this is clear. There is no sin in heaven where Christ isno impurity, immorality, coveting, lying, hate, evil speaking, and so on. Christ has been exalted into an arena in which evil is not welcome. We too have been raised and seated there with Christ, and are called to manifest that heavenly life now. We reflect the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven in this present evil age by putting to death those things that war against the Spirit. We have no right to sin. We belong to another world, and possessing that higher land above implies that we must live as those who are possessed by it. We are not slaves to sin, nor to the spirit of this present evil age. Rather, we are sons and daughters of the kingdom, beneficiaries of Christ's work, and must live as those whose inheritance is too great to be compared with the passing pleasures of sin. The fruit of the Resurrection is tasted not only in our justification, but ever so sweetly in our sanctification.
This putting to death of that which is earthly among us is no easy thing. Paul describes its abiding presence in our lives as the "old self" (or "old man") (vs. 9). It must be put to death, but it does not intend to die easily! A war must be raged against the old man of sin within us daily. It is truly warfare and will come with the challenges and setbacks of war.
The "old man" language echoes our union with Adam. Our sin is a reflection of our union with him. Paul is telling us that our old self must be "put to death" and "put off," so that Christ and his resurrection life may be put in its place. It is possible to keep such a command only because Christ is at work in us, by his Spirit, conforming us to the image of "the last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45), Jesus Christ. We see this clearly in the use of the passive voice in Colossians 3:10: "which is being renewed." God is the one renewing us into Christ's image, and therefore we receive his command to live out resurrection righteousness with hope and confidence that his life-giving Spirit will accomplish his purposes in us.
Christianity is indeed an event-centered religion, and the Resurrection is rightly the main event. It reveals God's righteousness, justice, and grace. It is the theological foundation upon which so many of the things that we believe are built. Paul's words in Colossians 3 show us the profound way in which our union with Christ in his death and resurrection must impact both our beliefs and the way we live out even the most mundane aspects of our earthly lives and struggle with sin. The resurrected Christ is our life.
The author is pastor of Reformation OPC in Oviedo, Fla. He quotes the ESV. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2007.