Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
These joyous words will be spoken and heard by Christians around the world on Resurrection Sunday. In addition to celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death, these words should also lead believers to consider the implications for their own day-to-day living. The Epistle for Easter Sunday provides such an opportunity.
Paul wrote to baptized believers who had gone into the baptismal waters to participate in Christ’s death. They had come from the baptismal waters to participate in the resurrected life of Christ. Colossians 2:12 indicates this reality:
When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
But the believers at Colossae were wavering in their faith and in danger of turning elsewhere for assurance of salvation. They seemed to lack the confidence that what Christ had accomplished in his death and resurrection was sufficient for their salvation. They were being urged to add new ways of thinking (2:8), various rituals (2:16), angel-worship (2:18), and other supposed requirements in order to experience salvation. But such requirements were “simply human commands and teachings” (2:22) that carried “an appearance of wisdom” but ultimately had no value (2:23).
Apparently, the Colossian Christians struggled to understand what it meant to live a “life … hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3) and they questioned the practical, day-to-day value of having Christ as their life (3:4). The same is likely true for many Christians today.
Paul’s statement in 2:20, “If you died with Christ,” assumes that this is a reality; in fact, you died with Christ! The statement of 3:1 is also true: “So if you have been raised with Christ…”; and of course, you have! Resurrection results in new life; new life leads to a new way of living. With Christ as their life, the believers had all they needed to receive the salvation of God – as do we. With their lives hidden with Christ in God, they had all they needed to live day-to-day lives in keeping with the values and ethics of the Kingdom of God – as do we.
In the Colossians 3:1-4, Paul highlights a fact (using an indicative verb) followed by commands (using imperative verbs). “So if you have been raised [fact] with Christ, seek [command] the things that are above….Set your minds [command] on things that are above…” (3:1, 2a).
Resurrection life is not merely a future promise but a present reality for those who are in Christ! But what does resurrection life look like? From these four verses of Col. 3:1-4, such a life is emphatically centered in Christ (Christocentric), who is referenced four times in these verses. The interests and activities of those who have been raised with Christ, must be focused on the interests and activities of Christ. To do so, believers must “seek” (3:1); and “set [their] minds on things above” (3:2). Colossians 3:5 – 5:6 provides the Colossian believers examples of how this resurrection life is to be demonstrated in day-to-day living. However, the Epistle text for this Resurrection Sunday focuses on the reality that, for all who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus, Christ’s resurrected life is within them. More emphatically, “Christ … is your life” (3:4)! Apart from Christ, we do not – and cannot – experience the resurrected life, the new creation! And apart from Christ, we lack the moral capacity to live the life that God requires, as demonstrated through the old covenant.
I grew up in rural, northwestern USA. Rural, northwestern folk tend to be rather self-sufficient and independent, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones! But this self-sufficient, independent mindset often carries over into our Christian life. We acknowledge that we are saved by grace through faith … and then proceed to try to live the Christian life by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps (a ridiculously hilarious picture when taken literally, not to mention an impossible task!). Yet we are not so different from the Colossians who seemed to think they had to do something more, or something else, in order to be assured of their salvation.
When our focus is on what we must do to follow Christ, we lose focus on things above. We become the center of attention rather than Christ; our actions hold greater significance than what Christ has done for me or in me.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges when preaching this text is to find effective ways to communicate the reality that the resurrected life of Christ dwells within those who believe on him for salvation. We are not the center of attention; we can add nothing to the work of salvation accomplished by Christ. Christ is the center; Christ has accomplished the work and imparted the gift. We respond in humble gratitude.
Only in seeking the things above, will we maintain focus on the things of Christ. Only through Christ’s authority (“seated at the right hand of God,” v. 1), and through the power of the One who conquered sin and death, are we able to embody values and practices that reflect Christ and the Kingdom of God.