A Colossians 3 Kind of Life

Posted on 22, Jul

In my book Christ’s Empowering Presence: The Pursuit of God through the Ages I introduce the concept of a “Colossians 3 Kind of Life” and suggest that a moment-by-moment mentoring relationship with the risen Christ is they key to it. The following exerpt from the introduction to my book is the way I go about drawing the attention of my readers to what I want to suggest should be the goal of every sincere follower of Christ.   

A Colossians 3 Kind of Life

            “You know you want this!” During the latter portion of my three-decade-long career as a teaching pastor I found myself uttering this phrase at the conclusion of many of my most challenging sermons. Having done my best to help my hearers understand the life implications of this or that passage of Scripture, I would then encourage them to view what was often a strong, challenging biblical exhortation as an exciting invitation to begin living their lives in a more Christlike manner. “You know you want this. You know you were made for this. You know that that deep down inside you’d really like to be the kind of Christ-follower who’s capable of living your life in this God-pleasing manner!”

            Over the years I found that some biblical texts require this kind of sermonic “framing” more than others. Consider, for example, Colossians 3:5–17, a passage that contains an intimidating list of moral imperatives:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

            Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

            Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

            At first glance this passage might appear to be nothing more than a formidable laundry list of onerous expectations that Paul was placing on the poor Colossian Christians in a more or less impatient fashion. But let’s take a closer look. Isn’t it true that this passage also indicates that it’s possible for sincere followers of Christ to begin living their lives in ways that, deep down inside, they’ve always dreamed of? To become the kind of people who . . .

  • are overcoming the power of sexual lust in their lives?
  • feel no need to be greedy and stingy toward others?
  • routinely speak the truth in love rather than engage in slippery speech?
  • are able to love others despite their idiosyncratic tendencies?
  • are perpetually experiencing the peace of Christ in their hearts?
  • consistently function as peacemakers, rather than troublemakers, within their circle of friends?
  • are genuinely positive people—always ready, whatever their circumstances, to offer sincere thanksgiving to God?

These are just some of the new lifestyle possibilities that Colossians 3 speaks to us about. I ask you: Who wouldn’t want this? Who wouldn’t want to believe that we might someday come to a place in our spiritual journey where it’s possible to actually pull off these moral and spiritual imperatives—or at least do a better job with them than we are now?

            As I said before, I believe I know the secret to our being able to live in this remarkably satisfying manner. You see, the Christlike kind of life described in Colossians 3:5–17 is prefaced by some important words of pastoral counsel in Colossians 3:1–4. This very important prelude reads this way:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

While acknowledging that these words, so obviously rich in significance, are nevertheless a bit difficult to comprehend, it’s apparent from their context that Paul was endeavoring here to help his readers understand how they might forge something other than an ultimately frustrating manner of life earmarked by a seemingly insurmountable compulsion toward sensual indulgence (see Colossians 2:18–23). According to the apostle Paul, the Colossian Christians must learn to shift their focus from their own limited physical resources, training their attention instead on the person and power of the risen and ascended Jesus. This is the key to a more spiritually satisfying existence. Indeed, this is the key to our achieving the Christlike kind of life Paul goes on to delineate in Colossians 3:5–17. We must learn to experience a perpetual sense of the risen Christ’s empowering presence, to live our lives each and every day drawing on the rich resources of the one who, having overcome all things (see John 16:33), presently abides at the right hand of God the Father in heaven!

Following Dallas Willard, my primary mentor when it comes to the theme of Christian spirituality, I’m convinced that it really is possible for Christ’s followers to learn to live a Colossians 3 kind of life. At the very least, I believe that we should spend the rest of our days endeavoring to do so. 

Would it appear that I’m merely promoting my book were I to go on to reiterate my firm conviction that learning how to pursue the empowering presence of Christ is the key to a Colossians 3 kind of life? Too late; I just did so!

Something to think about.

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Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5)

Most of us have heard sermons that were careful to point out that to be meek in the Christian sense is not to be weak per se, but rather, like Jesus, to have one’s inherent power under control. There’s a sense in which this is certainly true.

However, in my book, Defeating Pharisaism: Recovering Jesus’ Disciple-Making Method, I offer an understanding of Christian meekness that is a bit more nuanced. I propose, first of all, that, as with all the other beatitudes referred to by Jesus in his most famous sermon, meekness was an attribute that was, in general, noticeably absent from the lives of his main antagonists, the Pharisees. This was a truly ironic way for Jesus to begin his sermon since most of his listeners would have held the typical Pharisee in high regard. Then again, I’m convinced that throughout the sermon, Jesus used the Pharisees as a negative example of what he wanted his followers to be and do. Thus, it was precisely the ironic disconnect between the beatitudes and the lifestyles of many of the Pharisees that made Matthw 5:3-8 such an effective, interest-arresting, agenda-indicating sermon introduction!  

I go on to suggest that the key to understanding the meaning of all the beatitudes referred to by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is to cross-reference what the Old Testament scriptures (Jesus’ Bible) have to say about each attribute with what the New Testament Gospels have to say about the lifestyles of many of the Pharisees. Thus, if we take Psalm 37:1–11 seriously when contemplating what it means to be “meek,” it might lead us to conclude that this “core value of the kingdom” calls for Jesus’ followers to keep trusting in God to protect and provide for them rather than feel the need to return tit for tat or engage in conspicuous, shameless self-promotion (for contrast, see Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18; 23:1–12). In other words, to be meek isn’t simply power under control, it’s a radical refusal to get even or, as the Pharisees were want to do . . .  show off.

Now this idea that Christian meekness involves a freedom from the need to promote oneself or to show off in front of others finds corroboration in A. W. Tozer’s Christian classic, The Pursuit of God. But Tozer goes on to draw our attention to a connection between the attribute of Christian meekness and a blessed sense of psychological rest that can be experienced here and now, long before the meek literally inherit the earth.

According to Tozer, most of us live our lives under the “curse of artificiality.” Deeply insecure, and deathly afraid of meeting people who are better than us in the area of our greatest giftedness, we feel the need to posture, pose and pretend—to do our very best to manage the impression most people have of us. Obviously, this is a psychologically exhausting way to pass through our days.

But, insists Tozer, it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, fully convinced of our importance to God—that God values us more than the angels—it’s possible for us to essentially stop caring about whether the world will ever see us as God does. Truly meek Christians, says Tozer, are like very young children before they learn to compare themselves with others: they just enjoy being who they are without worrying about how others see them, or whether they measure up. It’s possible, says Tozer, for us Christians to come to a place where we do not care what people think of us so long as God is pleased, and where what we really are matters more to us than what we appear to be.

To be completely preoccupied with what we really are rather than what we appear to be; to be free from the burden of caring so very much about what others think of us: don’t you want to be able to experience this kind of psychological rest before this life is over?

Frankly, I’m not there yet. How about you?

Then again, I suspect that the first step toward true Christian meekness is a willingness to be honest with ourselves about the true state of our spirituality. Then, perhaps the next step calls for us to spend some time (each day) meditating upon how much we are loved by the God who both created the world and will someday re-create it as an inheritance to be enjoyed by those who, with Christ’s help, have learned to value what their heavenly father thinks of them above what everyone else thinks.

A most blessed rest indeed! I’ll pray for you if you’ll pray for me.

Something to think about.

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