Chapter 11 Christ the Believer's Life and Object

Colossians 3:1-4

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory, (vv. 1-4)

After the somewhat lengthy digression of verses 13-23 in the previous chapter, the apostle comes back to apply the truth taught in verse 12.1 think we shall get the connection better if we read these two passages without anything intervening: “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead… If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” All that has come in between these two verses was in the nature of warning against false systems that would have robbed the believer of this great truth of unity with Christ in death and resurrection. It is of all importance that we realize that we do not stand before God on the ground of responsibility. The responsible man failed utterly to keep his obligations. There was nothing for him, therefore, but condemnation, but our Lord Jesus Christ has borne that condemnation. He voluntarily, in infinite grace, took the place of the sinner and bore his judgment upon the cross. Now in resurrection, as we have seen, all who believe are not only given a perfect representation by Him before the throne of God, but we are in Him in virtue of being partakers of His life. “In Adam” meant that we were born of his race. “In Christ,” in contrast, clearly indicates that we have received a new life from Him and, therefore, we are not to think of ourselves as in any sense on probation. All that was ended on the cross of Christ.

Jesus died and we died with Him,
Buried in His grave we lay,
One in Him in resurrection,
Soon with Him in heaven’s bright day.

Death and judgment are behind us,
Grace and glory are before;
All the billows rolled o’er Jesus,
There exhausted all their power.

It is when the soul enters into this experimentally, realizing that the death of Christ, in which faith has given him part, has severed the link that bound him to the world and all its purposes and has freed him from all necessity to be subject to sin in the flesh, that he will be free to glorify God as he walks in newness of life. Most theological systems fail to apprehend this great truth of the new man in Christ, hence so few believers have settled peace and realize their union with Him who sits at God’s right hand, not only as the Head of the church, but as the Head of every person who has found life through Him.

Occupation, then, with Christ risen in the energy of the Holy Spirit, is the power for holiness. We are called upon to seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Our real life is there, our truest, best interests are all identified with Him. Heavenly-mindedness is the natural, or I should say, spiritual outcome of this realization. As the heart is taken up with Him, we will be concerned about representing Him aright in this world where He is still rejected and His claims refused.

The marginal reading of verse 2 is better than the text of the King James Version: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” That is, as a watch is set to the sun in order to mark the time correctly, so let your mind be set to Christ risen in order that His life may be seen in you. This is in contrast to the things spoken of in Philippians 3:19: “Who mind earthly things.” The time for this is past for those who are now one with Christ risen. This will not make us impractical and visionary, but we shall live all the more consistently thus fulfilling our varied responsibilities in the home, in business, in the state, and, of course, in the church, as our minds are fixed on heavenly things. This is indeed the “ribbon of blue” to which reference was made in an earlier address.

We will manifest the heavenly character, just where we come closest into contact with the things of the earth. I think we may see in Christ during the forty days between resurrection and ascension something of what this involves. He was still here upon the earth but He was altogether heavenly. “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him so no more,” and we are called into association with Him to manifest the heavenly character as we walk the desert sands. Men of the world will not understand this, and we need not expect them to. But nevertheless they can and will recognize and appreciate true piety and Christian character even though they hate those who possess it, as Cain hated Abel because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous. But it should be true of us, as of our blessed Lord Himself, that this hatred is undeserved, according as it was written of Him, “They hated Me without a cause.”

The third verse epitomizes this in a very wonderful way, “For ye [have died], and your life is hid with Christ in God.” We have died to all that we once were as children of Adam, and now we do not have independent life as Christians, but Christ Himself is our life and, while it is true we have this eternal life abiding in us, He who is the source and sustainer of it is hidden yonder in the heavens “in God,” and so our life is safe in His keeping. One can understand and appreciate the rather crude expression of the simple brother who, after his conversion, had been greatly concerned lest by some sinful act or lack of faith he might in some way forfeit his salvation and lose the new life given in grace. But as he listened to an address upon these wonderful words of this third verse, his anxiety disappeared and he exclaimed with rapture, “Glory to God! Whoever heard of a man drowning with his head that high above water!” Admitting all their crudity, his words nevertheless expressed a great truth. Our Head is in heaven, our life is in Him, hidden in God, therefore we are eternally one with Him and nothing can ever separate the Christian from the risen Christ.

Outwardly, believers in the Lord Jesus are like other men, they are still in dying bodies, and often distressed by the flesh within and in conflict with Satan and the world without, yet each believer is to walk through this scene in the power of resurrection life, manifesting his union with his glorified Head. He is called to be a man of God, though in the humblest condition of life.

There is no glory halo
Round his devoted head,
No lustre marks the sacred path
In which his footsteps tread.

But holiness is graven
Upon his thoughtful brow,
And all his steps are ordered
In the light of heaven e’en now.

He often is peculiar,
And oft misunderstood,
And yet his power is felt by all—
The evil and the good.

For he doth live in touch with heaven
A life of faith and prayer;
His hope, his purpose and his all,
His life is centered there.

This is indeed to be a consistent member of the body of Christ, manifestly displaying the character of the new man whose Head is in heaven. And, though like his Lord despised and rejected of men, the Christian is called to run with patience the race set before him, knowing that the day of manifestation is nearing when he, too, according to his measure, shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. Christ will find His satisfaction in us, we will find ours in Him.

He and I in that bright glory
One deep joy will share;
Mine to be forever with Him,
His that I am there.

And when the day of the Lord dawns after earth’s long, dark night—or, to put it in another way, after man’s garish day is ended—then those who are content to be strangers and pilgrims here during His rejection, shall shine forth with Him when He comes to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. And so we read in verse 4, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.” We might read, “be manifested” for “appear”—it would perhaps make the thought even clearer. When He with whom we have died and in whom we are risen shall return from heaven and be manifested before His earthly people who will be waiting for Him in that day, and before His foes as well, then we also shall be manifested with Him in glory.

As we think of His coming, we know it is presented to us in two aspects in the New Testament, and perhaps, that which appeals most to every real lover of Christ is what we commonly call “the rapture.” Our hearts long for the hour when “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” We think of this as the end of the race, and as the time, too, when “He will change these bodies of our humiliation and make them like unto the body of His glory,” when “this mortal shall put on immortality and this corruptible shall put on incorruption,” and we shall be fully “conformed to the image of God’s Son.” This will be the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise given before He went away: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” This will be the occasion of our reception into the Father’s house.

But all of this, blessed as it is, and calculated to stir the souls of His waiting ones to their deepest depths, is but an introduction to the glories yet to be revealed in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is coming back to the earth that rejected Him, and all His saints are coming with Him not, of course, to take up human conditions here in the world again, but in resurrection bodies to appear with Him before the astonished eyes of those who still reject Him, and to the delight of those who will be waiting for Him as the delivering King in that day when the word will be fulfilled, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all the tribes of the land shall wail because of him.” That will be the time when we shall appear with Him in glory.

To this the apostle refers again in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-11 where he comforts the suffering saints with the assurance that tribulation will be recompensed to those that trouble them, and rest will be the portion of the redeemed. “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe… in that day.” I have purposely omitted the parenthetical words, “because our testimony among you was believed.” They explain why any from among earth’s inhabitants will be associated with Christ in the glory of that revelation.

Lamb of God, Thou soon in glory
Wilt to this sad earth return;
All Thy foes shall quake before Thee,
All that now despise Thee, mourn.

Then shall we, at Thine appearing,
With Thee in Thy kingdom reign;
Thine the praise and Thine the glory,
Lamb of God for sinners slain!

This is the consummation to which the Christian dispensation is tending, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, and His one-time pilgrim people shall reign with Him in righteousness throughout Messiah’s glorious years.

And with this the apostle completes the doctrinal teaching of the epistle to the Colossians. In these first two chapters with which the four opening verses of chapter 3 are linked, he has unfolded in a marvelous way the truth of the new creation and our link with the risen Man, God’s firstborn Son, the Heir of all things. We have seen that in Him we have deliverance from the power of darkness, and we are even now translated into His spiritual kingdom. In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and have been made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. He has made peace by the blood of His cross, and we have been reconciled to God through His death.

We are now members of His mystical body and thus members one of another, called upon to hold the Head and in all things to be subject to Him as we pursue our way in faith through the wilderness of this world. Christ Himself is to be our heart’s blessed object. He is the Antidote for every form of error, for in Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells, and our fullness is found alone in Him. We have been identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. All that was against us He has taken out of the way, paying our bond and nailing it to His cross. He Himself is now to be the portion of our souls. As we are occupied with Him, the risen One, with mind and heart set on heavenly things, we shall manifest His life here on earth while we wait for His return, when we shall be manifested with Him in glory.

What a gospel! Surely it was never conceived in the mind of man. It could not be, for it makes nothing of man but everything of Christ. May our hearts enter into it more and more as the days grow darker and the end draws near, “While we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” and live in daily expectation of His return to take us to be with Himself and make us fully like Himself forevermore.

For God has fixed the happy day,
When the last tear shall dim our eyes,
When He will wipe these tears away,
And fill our hearts with glad surprise.
To hear His voice, and see His face,
And know the fulness of His grace.

This blessed consummation of all our hopes is set clearly before us in the Word of God as our goal—in order that, cheered by the glory shining from the gates of the city, we may be heartened and lifted above discouragement, and the depressing power of present sorrows, whether in the world or the church, so that we may run the race with patience, ever “looking unto Jesus.”