Last published in October 2006
Torn between their sincere desire to serve and honor their Lord and the inner turmoil of fleshly lusts and the seductive pull of worldly pleasures and honors, many Christians struggle to live for Christ. For them, Christianity involves great effort, little joy, much frustration and disillusionment, and the loss (when they have enough will power to deny themselves) of so much they once enjoyed in life. They struggle to avoid Paul’s list of “don’ts” in Colossians:3:5-8: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry...put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” Failing repeatedly, they repent remorsefully and puzzle over their inability to live as they know they should—but seemingly can’t.
They fare no better with Paul’s list of “do’s” that follows (vv. 12-25): “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving...put on charity....Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly....And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him...[etc.]”
Is it really possible to be sweet, kind, humble, loving, and forgiving at all times? The spirit is willing, but the flesh proves ever to be embarrassingly weak. How can one live up to the high standards the Bible sets for Christian living? Is there some secret to victory we are overlooking? The two key expressions, “mortify” in verse 5 and “put on” in verse 12, only increase the bewilderment and sense of failure. Is it really possible to “put to death” ungodly desires and, shedding that body of evil, as it were, to be clothed in a resurrection body of godliness? Surely Paul, led of the Holy Spirit, is not taunting us with goals that cannot be attained and that, in fact, are not at all practical. Was he not, himself, an example of this kind of life, and did he not say more than once, “Be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor:11:1, etc.)? Then why do we fail? From whence comes the motivation and the strength to accomplish what is at once so desirable and yet so seemingly impossible?
There is a general failure to recognize the importance of one little word that occurs in both verses 5 and 12. It holds the answer to our dilemma. Paul does not say, “Mortify your members” and “Put on...bowels of mercies, kindness....” That would impose a “do-it-yourself” religion of gritting one’s teeth in determination and struggling to live up to high moral standards—no different from the atheist’s or Buddhist’s attempt to do the same. That is not Christianity! Paul carefully and pointedly says, “Mortify therefore... Put on therefore....” Clearly “therefore” refers to something that Paul is convinced gives the Christian the motivation and power to do what he is commanding and lifts the Christian above the impossible struggle of flesh trying to live a godly life. It is, therefore, the Christian’s secret to a happy, fruitful and holy life pleasing to God.
The mortifying of the old deeds and the putting on of the new is possible only because, as the previous verses declare, “Ye are dead, and...your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col:3:2). Certainly the same thing could not be said of the followers of Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, et al. Christianity is thus unique and separated from all religions. Herein lies the secret dynamic of the Christian life. Why, then, doesn’t every Christian experience this power in daily living? Sadly, many who call themselves Christians have a very superficial understanding of the gospel they claim to have embraced: “[H]ow that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day...” (1 Cor:15:3-4).
For many who believe that Christ died for their sins, this event is more mystical than historical. The horrible death on the Cross is something that happened to Christ but has only a theoretical rather than practical connection to them. They have such a faulty understanding of what Christ’s death means that they are not true Christians at all. They have imagined that the death of Christ in their place delivered them from their deserved eternal punishment in hell, so that, like Barabbas, they could live as they pleased. They have never desired what Paul rejoiced in: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal:2:20).
Paul was not expressing an inspiring but empty platitude. For that great apostle, the Cross was no mere religious symbol, but the place where he had died to life as he would have lived it and had begun to experience the very life of Christ being lived in him. He knew that Christ gives resurrection life; therefore only those who have died can experience it. With wonder, amazement and deep gratitude he realized that Christ had actually taken his place before a righteous, holy God—and that God had put Christ to death in payment for his (Paul’s) sins. Therefore, Paul was a dead man. Christ’s death in his place was literally his own death, and he rejoiced in that fact. If he was to experience life thereafter, it must be the resurrected Christ living in him.
The transformation in Paul was at once remarkable, yet not surprising. The most seductive temptation Satan can devise will arouse no response from a dead man. Insult a dead man to his face, and he will not retaliate in anger. As a dead man, Paul experienced a new freedom over sin that he had never known before! Yet, in spite of being dead, Paul was more alive than he had ever been: “I am crucified...nevertheless, I live.” Dead to sin, he was alive to God through Christ. So real was this to Paul, that it was as though Christ himself were living in him—and, indeed, He was! Christ had become his very life—and this, said Paul, was what Christianity was all about!
Paul reminded the saints at Colosse that victory over sin and self was not possible through willpower and fleshly struggle. True victory could come only through understanding and believing what it really meant that Christ had died for their sins and had been resurrected for their justification. Paul declared that this was the secret of his own complete transformation—and so it must be with them.
But how could Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection be as real to them as it was to Paul—so real that their very lives would be totally transformed? Paul explained: They must believe that Christ was coming any moment to take them to heaven, where they would thereafter appear with Him in glory! It was the hope of Christ’s imminent return that would make the difference between victory and defeat in the Christian life!
That this hope is the key to victorious living is clear. Notice again Paul’s staggering declaration: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory[!] Mortify therefore....” That was such a vibrant hope and of such certain accomplishment that Paul began this entire section with the statement, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col:3:1-2). Herein lay the secret to the godly life that Paul himself lived and expected of the Colossians as well. They were to be so heavenly minded that the things of this earth would have no appeal and thus no power over them.
Nor was this orientation away from earth toward heaven to be merely a “mental attitude” they had adopted without any basis in reality. It was not wishful “positive thinking” but truth that would change their lives. Through Christ’s cross Christians have been crucified to the world and the world has been crucified to them, as Paul had firmly declared (Gal:6:14). A man who has just been taken down, dead, from a cross has no interest in this world nor does it have any claims upon him. The person crucified and those who crucified him have nothing further to do with each other. So it is with the Christian and the world through the cross of Christ. The vicious hatred this world has for Christ, and its irreconcilable animosity against all that He stands for, have been fully exposed in its rejection and crucifixion of our Lord. Christ declared that the world would hate and persecute us as it had Him (Jn:15:18-20;16:2;17:14). By His cross we have been cut off from this world just as surely as He has been.
Death, however, did not end it all. Christ rose triumphant from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Moreover, He is coming again in power and glory to judge and take vengeance upon those who have rejected Him—and we, who have identified ourselves with Him in His rejection and death, will participate in His triumph and glory. Nor is that Second Coming so far in the future that it has no practical meaning for us now. On the contrary, it could occur today. The glorious fulfillment of the hope that the gospel has instilled within our hearts could burst upon us at any moment! This fact causes eternity to invade the present and makes the Christian no longer of this world!
Hear Paul say it again: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Consenting to be dead and willing for Christ to be their life was not only the Colossians’ basis for victory but the essential meaning of the gospel they must embrace. Otherwise, there could be no salvation. Without that, they were mere Barabbases, grateful that Christ had died in their place but mistakenly assuming that they had been “saved” in order to live for self. If they were not willing to acknowledge Christ’s death as their very own and to give up life as they would have lived it so that Christ could become their life, then they could not experience the victory over sin and self that Paul preached. Indeed, they had not consented to the message of the gospel at all!
And what made the fact of their death, burial, and resurrection with Christ the dynamic power that transformed their lives? It was this promise: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” Once that truth had gripped their hearts so that His “appearing” had become their daily expectation and hope, Christ’s death and resurrection were so real to them in the present that they were changed into new persons. As such, Paul told them, they were to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” May we each pursue that challenge wholeheartedly!
The “pretribulation Rapture” is thus no mere hair-splitting thesis for theologians to discuss, nor is it a theory without practical effect. It is the overlooked secret to victory in the Christian’s life. John said, “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he [Christ] is pure” (1 Jn:3:3). Paul indicated that it had been his love of Christ’s appearing that had motivated him to holiness and faithfulness and had made him victorious—and that the same “crown of righteousness” was for “all them also that love his [Christ’s] appearing” (2 Tm 4:8). On the other hand, Christ associated wickedness with failing to love His appearing: “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken...” (Mt 24:48,49).
Let us diligently and enthusiastically “seek those things that are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” Let us “set [our] affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Why? “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil:3:20-21). Praise God! TBC