Paul wrote to the church in Colossae that their relationship with Christ should matter. In chapter two, he said, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why as if you were living in the world, do you submit to decrees such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (v 20-21). In other words, “dying with Christ” is not the same as adopting a legalistic life style. I think it’s fair to say, neither is taking up our cross.
Paul didn’t stop with the negative though. He began chapter three with the flip side:
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 earth. (vv 1-2)
Our relationship with God, then, is to affect what we think about—things above, not things on earth.
Tall order. After all, we live here, not there.
It’s hard to think about where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, when it’s time to fix lunch or to do laundry or to take the car in to get it smogged. Everyday responsibilities can distract. So can everyday pleasures—watching a ball game, going to a movie, enjoying dinner with friends and family. How do we set our minds on things above all day long?
Or do we chalk this up as a nice goal, though an unreachable one?
I actually think the thing that’s working here is a principle I learned when I was teaching at a Christian school: integration. We aren’t Christians and school teachers, or Christians and writers, or Christians and wives (or husbands). Our Christianity infuses all the roles we have and all the activities in which we participate because “Christian” isn’t our religion; it’s our life.
A car doesn’t stop being a car when it’s parked in the garage or when it’s getting gas pumped into its tank. It’s a car from morning to night, on the road or at the curb, in a parking structure or pulled over by a police officer. A car is a car because it’s a car.
In the same way, a Christian should be a Christian because he’s a Christian. There ought to be no “taking days off” when it comes to trusting God, loving Him, obeying Him, or living to please Him. We ought not aim to be Christians at church and businessmen at work, Christians at Bible study and fans at the ball park, Christians at home and greedy shoppers at the mall.
Which isn’t to say we can’t be businessmen, fans, or shoppers. We can. We should be. Jesus said we are to be “in the world.”
That phrase reminds me of the prophet—Jeremiah, I think—writing to the exiles that they should seek the good of the place where they’d been taken. They were still Jews, but they were in Babylon and that meant they were to fully engage in life in Babylon so that the place would be better for their having lived and worked there.
At the same time, Jesus said we’re not of the world. We are not to make the world’s principles our principles—we’re not to see the world the way others see the world. Simply put, that means we’re not to see it apart from Christ. We’re to look at this world as God’s creation, and the people in it as the ones Christ came to save. We’re to look at life—every part of it—as an opportunity to be light to the world and to give thanks and praise to the One who rescued us from the dominion of darkness.
The world operates on principles like take care of number one and the one who dies with the most toys wins and even reduce your footprint on the planet. Paul said in Colossians, these are things which are all destined to perish.
In contrast we’re to concern ourselves with that which lasts. Matthew said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our purpose, our goal, our driving force in all things should be to advance God’s kingdom and to live in His righteousness.
What does that look like?
It’s easier to show what it doesn’t look like, I think. It doesn’t look like one friend bad-mouthing another. It doesn’t look like engaging in sex outside marriage. It doesn’t look like holding grudges against a friend or family member. These are also right there in Colossians:
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (3:5-10)
Paul does move to the positives. He says Christians are to put on love, beyond all else, that we’re to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, that we’re to let the word of Christ dwell in us. And several times he mentions we’re to be thankful: “. . . giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (3:17b)
So what’s different with these things from the “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” things Paul was referring to in chapter two? I think it’s in the mind. We are to set our minds on things above, we are to consider ourselves as dead to things on earth. We’re to lay aside what was a part of our old self as we’re being renewed to a true knowledge of Christ.
In short, where our minds go, our bodies are sure to follow! ;-)