The Christian Identity.
Colossians 3: 1 – 17
Like Paul’s other letters to the young churches, his epistle to the Colossians addressed false teachings, and in this instant it was more insidious and syncretistic, a precursor to Gnosticism. In confronting it, he exposited on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and in practical terms, how this radically changed the believers’ identity towards heavenly-mindedness or an ‘upper-world’ outlook (vv.1-2). All of us subsume different identities of varying importance under differing circumstances (e.g., ethnicity, nationality, gender, family, social, profession, religion, political, etc), but on certain occasions, one or a handful of specific identities differentiate us. What exactly did Paul want believers to set their minds on that would distinguish their fundamental identity as Christians in the ‘lower-world?’
To appreciate Paul’s drift, a look at Jesus’ oblique replies to a few questions could clarify. When the Zebedees’ mother requested to have her sons sit on His right and left in the kingdom (motive being their influence and power), Jesus says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (Matt 20:22). When the Sadducees portrayed a woman who had seven husbands, and whose wife she will be at the resurrection (motive being their theological differences with Him), He says, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30). When the apostles asked Him the timing of His return to restore Israel (motive being the nation’s liberation from Rome), Jesus answered, ”It is not for you to know times and epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:7-8). All of the Lord’s insightful answers were from the ‘upper-world’ perspective, and rightly so, as they were the only ones that mattered. Likewise, as believers, our life experiences ought to be free from human entanglements and our views on life ought to be a reflection from a divine standpoint (vv.1, 3).
To have ‘died and been raised with Christ’ is pregnant with mystical implications, which place us in Christ at His death and resurrection. Cognitively, we are aware of it, but we visibly do struggle with applying what had already been accomplished in Christ in our daily lives. Embracing the ‘new man’ involves an enduring practice of not participating in the sins as we regularly do as the ‘old man.’ This recurrent seeking and setting our minds daily on the interests of Christ (v.10), as our life is no longer our own but belongs to Him, is a conscious process of an identity makeover, and its progressive living out invariably reflects a measure of our devotion to our Lord. It is critical to note that these idols of our hearts (vv.5, 8-9) can be replaced, but cannot be totally removed (‘put them all aside,’ ‘put on:’ vv.8,12); and if we think we can just overcome them through sheer force of our wills, we would be sorely disappointed. Effectively, we are to replace these negative idols that used to dominate our lives, with Christ – Who is now our life and the only One that matters in life, and because our life is hidden with Christ in God, we are to live that way (v.17).
Although our consciousness had been conditioned to focus in on ourselves, the significant basis of this new motive power of life in Christ is that change is possible as we share His risen life. The inescapable conclusion is that our living bond with the ascended Christ must characterize our ‘upper-world’ minds, attitudes, ambitions, and whole outlooks. When a seeker asked Mother Theresa what he could do to overcome his many problems, she replied, “Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know is wrong… you will be fine!”