There is richness and deep truth to be found everywhere in the Bible, often in passages that might seem mundane and unremarkable at first glance. In fact, that sounds like an interesting challenge. So, maybe someday I’ll do a series of studies on some of those seemingly uninspiring passages of the Bible. But for now, I’m going to take the easier path of exploring some of the true mountain peaks of the Bible. One such mountain peak is found in the third chapter of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
In the earlier chapters of that letter, Paul presents some of the most profound explanations of Christian theology found anywhere in the Bible. Then in Colossians 3, Paul begins to lay out what those great theological truths mean for the way of life the followers of Jesus are meant to pursue.
That is, in fact, one of the most important truths that Paul seems to want to emphasize in most all of his writings, namely: The Christian faith is not simply a creed or set of doctrines, nor is it a code of external conduct like some set of rules and regulations. Rather, the Christian faith is a whole-person orientation toward life, a holistic way of understanding reality and our place in it.
This post will be the first in a series of posts exploring Colossians 3:1-17, one of the great mountain peaks of New Testament scripture. Perhaps the best way to get started is to begin with the last verse in that passage, verse 17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” [NET] This verse is a good summary of what the previous sixteen verses are all about.
What we will see as we work through these verses is that “doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” is not merely about outward actions, but more especially it’s about what’s going on in our hearts. Also—and this is very important—it isn’t just a matter of how we relate to God but also about how we relate to other people, all of whom are made in the image of God. For Paul—and of course, he gets this from Jesus—the Christian faith isn’t just a matter of private spirituality. For Jesus, and for all the New Testament writers, the Christian faith is about how we relate to the people around us and the way we interact with the social environment where God has placed us.
So, with Colossians 3:17 in mind, let’s go back to the beginning of Colossians 3. Here’s the first verse: “Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” [NET] Paul begins his discussion of the Christian way of life by making this very crucial point. Our ability to live in the way of Jesus depends entirely on whether we have been “raised with Christ.”
A core truth about the gospel that Paul presents over and over in his letters is this: Christ takes us with him when he goes onto the cross; Christ takes us with him when he goes into the tomb; Christ takes us with him when he rises up and goes out of the tomb. That’s what it means to be “in Christ” or to be united with Christ.
In Colossians 2:12, Paul says that we have “been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” [ESV] Here’s how he puts it in Romans 6:4-5—“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” [NIV]
Living the Christian life is only possible if we have been spiritually raised from the dead with Jesus. This is not just a pretty thought. According to Paul, it’s an actual reality, a thing that God is literally doing inside of us. Living a God-honoring, neighbor-loving life is not humanly possible. It’s only possible if the resurrection power of God is literally at work within us.
When Paul calls us to a new way of life, he isn’t just giving us a new set of rules and regulations that he expects us to follow through our own strength and self-discipline. He’s giving us a sort of operating manual for a new power from outside of us—from God—that is at work inside of us. He is assuring us that the resurrection power of Jesus makes the new life possible for us.
This is a key theme for Paul. We see it in verses such as 2 Cor. 5:17—“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” [ESV] And in Romans 12:2, Paul talks about this as a kind of transformation. He says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
What does that renewal of our minds look like? It is a redirection of our attention. We look to Jesus. In Colossians 3:1, Paul directs us to look to Christ—“seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Look to Jesus. He is our pattern. He is the one who leads us in this new way of life. And as I said, he is the one who makes us able more and more to live this new way of life by raising us up with him as new creations.
But look, this isn’t a minor adjustment to a life that otherwise stays mostly the same. We don’t bring Christ into our lives like a new piece of furniture, a minor redecorating of our otherwise same old lives. Christ wants to rebuild everything from the foundation up. As we saw in Romans 12:2 above, the new life in Christ doesn’t conform to the patterns of this world. When we are raised up in Christ, we can’t keep in step with the way the rest of Americans live. We should start to look different, even a bit weird.
As we will see as we go deeper into Colossians 3, Jesus calls us to love our enemies, to forgive those who oppose us, and to be gentle, humble, kind, and gracious. Yeah, living like that will make us seem weird in these angry, aggressive, hostile times. But that’s who we are meant to be. “Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col. 3:17
©2022 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved; quote with attribution.