This week I’m reading through Colossians, and something Paul writes struck me as odd and confusing. You might even say it is contradictory. Keep reading before you dismiss me as a heretic or something.
Colossians 3 happens to be one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture. We could sit down over coffee for a month discussing how these few words interact with our own lives. Volumes have been written about its content throughout church history. I even found verses in this chapter that I prayed would describe my wife (check out 3:12-17). For those of you who don’t know her, she is those things and more. Sorry for the tangent. Back to the contradiction.
Below, I have put in bold the two verses that sound contradictory, 3:3 and 3:5a.
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you;
Do you see it? How can we be dead (3:3) and yet still have to put something to death in us (3:5)? Please, let’s discuss, learn, and question together.
Several things are happening in these verses, but let me point out a few so we’re on the same page:
In chapters 1 and 2, Paul is laying down a strong theological foundation for our being “with Christ.” He wants to help the Church in Colossae, which was being led astray by false teachers, do “right thinking.” Verses 3:1-4 serve as a transition into how that theology should be applied in real life, “right living.” So, when we get to verse 3:5, the “therefore” refers back to the right thinking, especially verses 2:20-3:4, that leads to the right living he is about to describe in the rest of the letter.
Paul uses the heavenly and earthly imagery to make a distinction between how his readers used to think and live (earthly) and how, because of their being “with Christ,” they can and must live now (heavenly). Keep in mind though that he is not saying we should be so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good. It is quite the contrary!
Those who follow Christ have been “buried with him” (2:12) and “made alive with him” (2:13); Paul also writes, “with Christ you died” (2:20) and “you have been raised with Christ (3:1).” He says the same thing in Ephesians 2:5-6—that we were made alive with Christ, raised with him, and seated with him.
This is the mystery of the Gospel. We are in Christ and with Christ. We died and were reborn—a rebirth of our spirit. We are a new creation—the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). We are one with Christ; therefore, we are in the Father as Christ is one with the Father (John 17).
But after all of that truth about our spiritual death and subsequent raising and rebirth through Christ, Paul says right after this, “Put to death what is earthly in you.”
I thought I was already dead!
And if you’re like me…a human being…you know that it is incredibly difficult to put to death what is earthly in us. Earthly is a simpler way of saying anything we do that twists, distorts, or deliberately breaks God’s standard of holiness. These things we must put to death
Is this a contradiction?
I’ve been working to post this blog for nearly a week because I wanted to see if God would teach me instead of just trying to force some answer I learned in seminary. Yesterday He did teach me something about this, and I’m excited to share it with you. It’s a simple idea I came across in my reading.
“Let what’s dead be dead.”
If we are dead without Christ, when we are with Christ we have life. The challenge is to live in this truth, this reality, and let what’s dead be dead. I am dead. Christ lives in me. “For I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. For the life I now live in the flesh (this life), I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Paul writes these words in Gal. 2:20. And in Rom. 6:11 Paul tells the Church (all Christ followers): “Consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Let what’s dead be dead. And may we now let Christ live His life through us by faith. That is my prayer for us today.