Today’s reading is Colossians 3.
Although the Colossian church had faith in Christ and evidence of spiritual growth, there were doctrinal issues in the church that were threats to the spiritual health of the church. One of those threats seemed to be legalism, which Paul began addressing at the end of Colossians 2.
We need to stop here and define what legalism is. I would argue that the New Testament confronted two types of legalism:
- Legalism for salvation. This type of legalism was the belief that good works were necessary for salvation. This belief taught that someone had to do good works (usually defined as religious rituals of some kind) to be accepted by God in eternity or that someone had to believe in Christ but also do good works to be accepted by God into his kingdom.
- Legalism for spiritual growth. This type of legalism taught that Christ alone was necessary for salvation but that obedience to religious ceremonies and self-discipline were necessary to help you grow spiritually.
The second type of legalism--the “legalism for spiritual growth” type seemed to be an issue for the believers in Colossae. In Colossians 2:6 Paul urged them to live in Christ because they had received him as Lord. Then, in verses 16-23 of chapter 2, Paul urged them not to submit to religious rules as if those could cause you to grow. One of the most important concepts for refuting this false idea is that believers have died with Christ to the old ways. As verses 20-21 of chapter 2 put it, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’?”
This concept that we “died with Christ” or that “in Christ” we have certain spiritual benefits and privileges is a doctrine “Union with Christ.” I did an entire series on this doctrine last spring called, :”I.D. Understanding who you are before God.”. Here in Colossians 3, Paul continued developing the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ. We saw that in verse 1 which said, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ....” The idea of being “raised with Christ” is that our identification with Christ--our union with him--means that the spiritual benefits of Christ’s resurrection now belong to us who believe in Christ. Now that those benefits belong to us by faith and await us in Christ’s kingdom, we are commanded to desire “things above” v. 1b. And, what are those things above? First and foremost, Jesus: verse 1 says that he is there seated at the right hand of God, verse 3 says our life is hidden with him and verse 4 says that we will appear with him in glory when he appears. Living the Christian life on this earth begins when we start longing for Christ and his kingdom. That is when the full benefits of being “in Christ” will be ours and when the promises Christ made to us will be ours.
The hope of our eternity with Christ has practical benefits today, however, because that hope helps us to “put to death...whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (vv. 5-11). It also helps us to live “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (v. 12). When we put our hope in Christ, his power and future promises, it helps us to say no to sin and live a kinder (v. 12), compassionate (v. 13), loving (v. 14), peaceful (v. 15a), and worshipful life (vv. 15b-17). It also helps us to live a godly life in our human relationships, whether as wives or husbands, children or fathers, slaves or masters (vv. 18-25).
Here’s a great truth to start out our week! We are “in Christ” by God’s grace, so we should live for the future--hoping not so much for things to get better in this life, but for the promises Christ made to us in the future. When we hope in the future Christ promised us, THEN our everyday lives get better because that hope draws us toward purity and godliness in this life. Whatever problems you encounter today or this week, remember that God has given you hope for a perfect eternity with him in Christ. Let that hope cause you to live for him in your daily decisions and relationships.