Christian Life

Colossians 3

We get here the great groundwork of Christian life, and the development of Christian life itself, both negatively and positively—what we put off, and what we put on.

It is of all moment for us, not only to understand it as stated in Scripture, but to have the statements of Scripture transferred to our hearts and consciences, that we are in an entirely new creation, “renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” So the first man was made in the image of God, though now a lost ruined creature. In death and resurrection man gets a new place altogether, not only quickened, but quickened together with Christ. A man may be quickened as to the state of his mind, and yet think he is alive in the world, which is the very thing we are not. As to our condition before God, we do not belong to the life that is on this side of death. A new life may be given, and the man left down here; but Christ is looked at as a man who has died here, after having come into our place, taken the judgment—the cup, and gone away beyond it; and this is our place; not as to our bodies of course, for we have the treasure in earthen vessels, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our bodies; but our place in faith and in life is Christ’s place, the Second man’s place, and not the first man’s. If our bodies, it is the first; if our souls, it is the Second. We are taken out of the old place by redemption. I repeat it, for it is very important for the apprehension of faith, that Christ the Son, a divine Person, communicated life, but Christ died, and now we are quickened together with Him. The place we were in by sin and disobedience, He was in for us, and, He having perfected the work needed to redeem us, we are taken up into the place where He is, and when He comes to raise the dead, we shall be there actually. Now it is putting on the character of Christ; then it will be actually the thing in glory.

All through, the teaching here is not simply that we are born of God, but raised with Christ, who as Man is actually there; and it is the basis of Christianity to understand it, and the love that gave Him too. We have to watch and deny the ways of the old man, which seeks a place in the world, likes consideration, etc.; but Christ took the lowest place, and calls us to follow Him. As to our place with God, it is as near Him as Christ is. “If you died with Christ, how can you be alive spiritually in this world?” It is very strong as to a Christian’s place. The world is always soliciting the Christian back into it; it is an immense system which Satan has built up to act on the flesh and to hide God. This cannot satisfy conscience, and therefore, when a man’s conscience is awakened, he bows his head as a bulrush, saying, “Shall I give the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” and gets under ordinances. He has not got out in spirit and state from this world—is not dead to it; it is the religion Paul had when he was Saul the Pharisee. An unconverted man can do these things better than a converted one, for the latter has too much thought to be satisfied, though he may be doing it. He may go on his knees, and be vexed and angry if you do not think well of him for it; he is making out his religion as a living man, not as a redeemed man.

Man is a religious animal: it is a necessity of man’s heart. His reason may reason him out of the want of God, but there it remains at the bottom, and breaks out again, as it was after the French revolution. It is part of man’s nature to have to say to God; it is the consciousness that he cannot supply his own needs in this world, and must turn to a God above him. It may be miserably corrupted, but man wants help, he wants to look up. The devil used this to let him make gods of his passions; but in man’s nature is a craving after God; and man, when not set free by the work of redemption, will be religious; it is Pharisaism—there have always been Pharisees. It is just ritualism, alive in the world, and subject to ordinances, not dead with Christ; chap. 2:21, 22. I may fancy there are precious mysteries in these things, but they are all to perish with the using, and therefore the old nature makes its religion in them— “a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.” They go back to the shadows, as if they were something real, and are subject to ordinances; man’s will is in it, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. It is to the satisfying of the flesh. Who was satisfied when the Pharisee thanked God he was not as other men are? To whose credit did it go? To God or Christ?

Supposing I were to fast seven times a week. Well, I think myself better than the man who only does it six times; it is satisfying the flesh. Supposing it is prayer (I need not say prayer is the most blessed privilege a man has); but if he says so many prayers, the one who says five is better than the one who only says three: it is satisfying the flesh, though neglecting the body. That is, as regards being dead with Christ, I am clean out of it, I have left it all behind; what is it to me if I am dead? No good thing in you at all, for the religious doings of the flesh are flesh still; it is merely saying, I am not dead with Christ. What are our greatest privileges, as Christians, may be used in this way.

Chapter 3:1. If risen with Christ, you are not in the world. If I have got this Christ-place, that I have died to the world, making Christ my life, I reckon myself dead, and alive to God, not in Adam, but in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a great thing for the believer, it strikes at the root of a number of things in detail as we go on. Am I, a living man as born of Adam, to question my place with God as such? or am I dead with Christ, risen with Christ, and having my place with God as such?

“Where Christ sitteth”; there is one Man who has gone there, a blessed Man who loved me and gave Himself for me. I am with Him risen, knowing redemption or forgiveness, and my affections rest on Him up there. I see Christ on high. “Set your affections on things above,” etc. He is looking for the state of the moral mind here. Having the consciousness that Christ is my life up there, my heart follows Him. A dead man cannot have his affections or mind on things of earth.

Verse 3. Another thing which comes out most blessedly here is our complete thorough association with Christ. What is true of Him is true of me. “He that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one.” Christ is dead, we are dead: Christ is hid in God, our life is hid in Him: when He appears, we appear. “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” There is this blessed identification with Christ, our sins put away; and as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall bear the image of the heavenly. “As he is, so are we in this world”; not that we are actually in the glory, but it is our place before God. It gives wonderfully settled peace, beloved friends—all sins completely blotted out. But this is not all, there is another thing—in what kind of a way am I going to be received, supposing He had forgiven us, and left us here to go on as best we could? That is not what He has done. “Accepted in the Beloved”—that is what a Christian is. What the flesh has done is blotted out, and put away, but then we are in Christ, “as he is, so are we” —the positive side, in short, not only the negative; loved as Christ is loved, “the glory thou hast given me, I have given them.” “I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it, that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them,” that is now. The world will know we are thus loved when it sees us in the same glory with Himself.

Christ was totally alone with God when He was made sin for us, bearing our sins in His own body on the tree; and when this was done, sitting above in glory, He sent down the Holy Ghost to give us the consciousness that we are in the same place.

You find many such passages, as in 1 Corinthians 15, if Christ is not raised, we are not raised. He was really a dead man, and if I am not raised, Christ has not been. We get all in this blessed association with Christ. But where it pinches is, if that is true, “he that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” This will not do with the world. It pinches our poor wretched hearts if the flesh works; but when the heart is on Christ, it is freedom and blessed liberty; but it is a hard thing to the feeble heart that I am to be like Christ down here. I know I am going to be like Christ in glory, to bear the image of the heavenly; and so there is one object on earth—to win Him, and to purify myself even as He is pure. Beholding the glory of the Lord, I am changed into the same image.

Here is the groundwork which is thus laid: dead with Christ, risen with Christ—not there yet, of course, but our affections set upon things above, not on things of earth; they cannot go together; “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Our affections follow Christ where He is actually gone; our hearts have got into the place where He is risen in glory. How far have our hearts got there? We have actual acceptance, we know we are in Christ before God; but how far are our hearts content to follow Him, as He said, “Follow thou me”? A very strong word it is, as taking us right out of this world—a full and absolute object for the heart. There is a way the vulture’s eye hath not seen—the following Christ, the one thing God delights in.

In verse 5, etc., you find more fully than anywhere in Scripture what this life of the Christian really is. But it is “members which are on the earth only.” But-mark this: the moment I am here I have power, which in the flesh I have not. “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sin which were by the law did work in my members to bring forth fruit unto death.” The renewed man under law has no power; when dead and risen with Christ, we get power. “Mortifying” is putting to death. Scripture does not say “dying”; but we are called to reckon ourselves dead, because He has done it and has become our life, and then I say to the flesh, I do not know you, I have had enough of you; I am dead.

Colossians gives the fact, Romans 6 is faith’s estimate of it. 2 Corinthians 5 is practically carrying it out, “and so death worketh in us, and life in you”; there is power, the power of Christ.

Verse 6. Unbelief is not the only ground of judgment. The world is condemned as such for having rejected Christ, but judgment is for works.

Verse 7. “In the which ye also walked some time when ye lived in them.” They are not supposed to be in them now that they were in Christ; they had walked in them, like other Gentiles.

Gross things come first, what is plain and evident; but he does not stop there, for he will not have the flesh stir. How is it that you get angry? Is it not this, that the flesh is not subdued practically? Impatience—where does that come from? You say, “Oh, but it is so vexing, so provoking.” Would Christ be impatient? And, you have Christ’s life. “Lie not one to another, seeing ye have put off the old man and his deeds.” I get three characters of sin—devil sins and brute sins; corruption and violence in anger arid malice; and then, added to that, “Lie not one to another,” with the ground of this, “seeing ye have put off the old man.”

And now we have the putting on. Mark the measure of this here, “renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” My standard of what is good is spiritual knowledge of God’s nature. We are renewed in knowledge. I say that does not suit God.

If I take the character and image, I see that manifested in a man in Christ. In Ephesians it is, “Be ye followers of God as dear children.” He takes the essential names of God, light and love, and in both cases he takes Christ as the pattern. A person says, An imitator of God! how can I be that, a poor worm like me? But what is your pattern? Christ—that is the way we are to walk. It is not simply what is claimed from man under the law, but my walk is to be the expression of God; and I see this in Christ—love manifested in the midst of evil. It is not. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, but, the world being an evil world, you must go and shew out God in it as Christ did— “made partakers of the divine nature.”

Verse n. It is not said here, Christ is all in all, though that is very well in its way, but it is something more here, which is very important. “Christ is all”; no object but Christ. And what does that mean? The cross, perhaps; we may have to go through it. He is “in all,” the power of life, and the sole object of life. When it is affections, He is all, everything, to me; and He is in me the power of divine life too.

I have here also a most important principle: if I am to produce these fruits, and walk in this way, as He tells us, and there are a thousand different details in which it comes in every day, and all day—well, I go as the elect of God. If I send my child out, I say, Walk as my child, and he must recollect that he is my child; if he has lost the recollection of it, the whole nature and character of the walk is gone. Be imitators of God as dear children; do not forget this. So here, Put on as the elect of God, holy and beloved, etc. Just think, if I carried that with me all the day long! Here am I, the elect of God: God has chosen to delight in me. He will surely make us know our own nothingness; but there is the consciousness of this love, just as a child knows its father’s affection, not at all that he is worthy of it. Separate to God, and loved of God, I go through the world in the blessed sense that God, in His sovereign goodness, has taken me into His delight. We find all these things are said of Christ. Was not He the elect of God, One chosen out of the people? Was not He the Holy One in the fullest sense? Was not He the beloved One, the beloved Son, all His life sanctified to the Father in an absolute sense? And He says, Walk as such. You cannot do it unless you have got the motive, that which moves the affections, though there may be duty. We are to walk through this world, not to attain anything, though I shall get joy and blessing; but having got this place, there is the putting off the old man, and the putting on the new. Being in that place, and having that life, I put on the things that become it— “meekness, long-suffering, humbleness of mind, lowliness.” He always took the last place; when rejected, He said, “Let us go to another village.”

“Forbearing one another, forgiving one another.” Did not Christ forgive us when He was insulted, spit upon? Yes, and you go and do that too. If you look at 1 Corinthians 13, you will find there is not one atom of activity spoken of there as to charity, but it is all self-denying, meekness, patience. If you know what self is, you know that is where we are tested. I must bring not merely kindness into the path, but the divine element which checks anything that is contrary to holiness, while humble, lowly, etc. It has with it the divine thing which cannot acquiesce in an evil to itself; love, the bond of perfectness, will put it all in its place. The moment I bring God in, I bring in what has a claim upon the heart, in thorough consistency with the One who says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” If your heart were always perfectly peaceful, quiet, and gentle, how many things which provoke would not be there! It gives, too, calmness of judgment so that we know what to do. Christ’s peace was never disturbed. You never find Him in a position where He was not Himself; even in Gethsemane, when in an agony, He turned round to His disciples, just as if nothing had happened, and said, “Could ye not watch with me one hour? “He goes from one to the other, just what He ought to be with His Father about this dreadful cup, and just what He ought to be with His poor disciples in love to them. Of course we fail, but that is the principle.

Verse 10 is not merely negative, nor the putting on the character of Christ, but the unsearchable riches of Christ, the soul opening out on all that belongs to the Christian; “teaching and admonishing one another … singing with grace,” etc Not merely knowledge, but the affections expressed as human beings do express them, and as they will be expressed in heaven— “singing,” the word giving the knowledge of all things, and then melody in the heart.

“Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” How can I bring Christ into the common things of this world? Whatever word comes out of your mouth, or whatever you do, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. You say, Is there any harm in that? Can you do it in the name of Jesus? If not, do not leave Christ to go and do it without Him. Are you going to see that exhibition? Why not? I cannot go in the name of the Lord. I take the common things of life purposely to make it simple. Do you smoke? No, I cannot smoke in the name of Jesus. I do not mind what it is—everything in word or deed—the gross things of evil all cast off, and then what would be called by man indifferent things. It is an indifferent thing if I put the book this way or that way; but supposing my Father held very much to my putting it this way, and I do not, you may say, Well, I do not know about the book, but I know where your heart is. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” If you make a law, it will be very hard, but if Christ is everything to me, it will be easy. If I love my father very much, I shall take great care to put the book as he likes.

Then another thing that marks where the heart is— “giving thanks.” These wretched things, which distract the heart, and force the Holy Ghost to be judging, are not there, and He becomes the Spirit of joy and thankfulness to God, the love of God shed abroad in the heart, which constantly goes up for everything in thankfulness to God in the sense that He is the Author of everything. Even sorrow is blessing: it is more profitable to be in sorrow than in joy. We can give thanks, if really the love of God is in our hearts, walking as to everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, no distraction in the heart; where there is this, the Holy Ghost necessarily becomes a rebuking Spirit, instead of a Spirit of joy and thankfulness.

Are we in His favour which is better than life? Our lips shall praise Him. The Lord only give us, beloved brethren, to walk in that way, confiding in divine love, and seeing the proof of it in the love that gave Himself for us, kept privily in His presence from the provoking of all men, to go through a world of confusion and restlessness with the peace of Christ in our souls.