There have been many moments recently where I have been contemplating the Christian life in ways I find a little unsettling. It is far easier to look at the Christian faith as a way to make our lives easier or better. The popularity of Joel Olsteen’s “Your Best Life Now” reveals our tendency to embrace a feel-good, therapeutic faith. While I don’t intend to deal with all that here, suffice it to say that the Christian life is, by design, meant to be in Christ in all the fullness of what that means in the Bible.
To be in Christ entails some non-negotiable biblical truths. For starters, none of us are good people who merely have a few flaws where we then simply add Christ to our lives. St. Paul writes in Romans 3 that we all are born rebels — hostile to God. Romans 3:23-24 affirms that we “fall short of the glory of God”, yet we “are justified by his grace as a gift in Christ Jesus…” To be in Christ is to receive his gracious gift by faith alone even as we reject our former hostilities towards God and his ways.
As we grow in Christ, we begin to come to terms with what this life here on earth is really all about. Again, St. Paul’s words:
“Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him.” (Colossians 3:1–4, NET)
This is where it gets tricky: the Christian life means we have died. No, I mean it. There’s really no other legitimate interpretation to this passage. Of course, Paul goes on to say your life in hidden with Christ. Ah, so I’m only mostly dead 🙂
Okay, back up to Col. 3:1 and notice his words “if you have been raised in Christ…”: that gracious gift about which Paul wrote in Romans 3 involves us being connected in a profound way to the risen Lord. In other words, Jesus was raised bodily from the dead (as the Holy Scriptures strongly attest), so the one who rejects their rebellious life and places their faith in Christ has been raised from the dead. True, we await the completion of that in our bodes (and as I get older, I am becoming more anxious for that!). So, even as I have died (in Paul’s normal language, he is saying I have died to my former way of life), I have already been raised.
So the emphasis of Colossians 3:1-4 is Paul’s strong encouragement for us to re-prioritize our goals, ambitions, pursuits, and even our routine, mundane activites in light of that new life — and specifically, not to keep thinking about things on the earth.
Well, that’s the problem. My felt needs scream inside my head and I forget all too often about the things above.
What am I to do about that? I keep reverting to earthly appetites and felt needs!
Get up when I fail and by God’s grace get back to it! Notice Paul’s wording: “keep thinking about things above…” — to keep thinking (as rendered in NET Bible) is translated in ESV as “seek…” ζητέω (zēteō). vb. to seek. (Randall Merrill, “Seeking,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
Therefore, to keep thinking or seeking is an ongoing activity that is central in the Christian life. It is central because it reorients our priorities around the purposes of God in Christ Jesus, even as I (daily) surrender all over again to God. This is, in fact, the proper christian perspective on life. And it’s hard! If it was easy, Paul wouldn’t have to remind us to keep doing it: the Greek word “zēteō” is a verb, present, active, imperative, second person, plural. That just means all who are in Christ must always without exception keep on doing this. Don’t stop. Don’t get lost in the weeds. Look up. Continue thinking about what the Christian life really looks like. Keep thinking about the things above.
I am saying this to myself with every ounce of my being. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!
ALMIGHTY God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess; Grant us grace that we may honour thee with our substance, and remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 1928)