1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 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 is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Chapter 3 of Colossians presents us with an image of what the Christian life is all about. There is a new reality, a new life that we have in Christ. This is sanctification, the deeper life, the reality the Alliance tradition is grounded in.
This passage provides a visual image and focus for the theological truth that I find so convincing in the Alliance call to holy living. The fourfold Gospel is anchored in an eschatological reality--the full victory of Jesus Christ which is to come. Here Paul presents our Christian lives as a different kind of reality because of what Jesus has done. Because we have met Christ at the cross, because we have experienced with him death and resurrection, we've been raised with Christ, so we're to seek the things that are above. We are to focus on Christ. We are to focus on the fact that He is seated at the right hand of God. We are to set our minds on those things characteristic of this new reality, not things that are unredeemed, not part of the victory of Jesus. Paul reminds us that we have died and because we have died, our lives, the lives that we now live, are hidden with Christ in God. This is reality for us. The lives that we lead need to be lives lived recognizing the fact that we've died and the true reality, what is of ultimate concern, is hidden with Christ in God. All of this, our death and new life in Christ although true is as yet hidden. But the hidden truth is soon to be revealed. "When Christ is your life is revealed then you also will be revealed with Him in glory." Although it may not seem obvious to those with an earthly focus, and often not even to us, the reality which will be revealed when Christ returns is with us even now.
The focus of this lecture is to figure out how it is we actually live a life that is hidden with Christ in God, a life which is evidence of the coming victory of Jesus. Can we really live in this new sort of reality, this future reality, a reality which recognizes the victory that Christ has had over sin and death and works out that victory in the mundane, everyday here and now among that which is "earthly?" How do we draw on the resources of the risen Christ and how do we recognize that our lives are "hidden with Christ in God?" Or, to state these questions more in terms of outlines of the course so far: What does it mean to abide in Jesus on "a daily, momentary basis?" How can we live "so that every movement, every thought, every intention, every desire of our whole being will be prompted by the springing life of God within?" How is a Biblical concept like this one connected to Alliance tradition and the idea of progressive sanctification?
Much of the teaching and concern about sanctification in the Alliance in the last little while has focused on getting our theology of crisis right. The idea has been that we need to come to a point where we respond to God's grace, where we have that experience of death and resurrection which Paul talks about so that we enter into this newness of life. The emphasis of Simpson's teaching however, seems to be on the progressive experience of sanctification. The idea of abiding in Christ, or of Christ in you, this indwelling metaphor, which was central to Simpson's thinking, is really the key for living this out on a day to day basis. If we are to bring new life to this tradition, we must be clear on how we lead people in a progressive experience of sanctification, how we ground people in this new life that they have in Christ in a way that is relevant and in a way in which they can see their life growing toward the image of God.
As I reflect on my early understanding of how to live as a Christian, it was mostly about doing or not doing things. Perhaps not doing things predominated. I'm sure you would be able to suggest may of these in sort order. But there were also important things that Christians did. Perhaps you also sang that old Sunday School song, "Read your Bible, pray everyday and you'll grow, grow, grow." There is truth to that if you "read your Bible, pray everyday, you'll grow, grow, grow," but it seemed to me that I really missed the point because it was in the doing of the reading and praying that I expected growth. And, of course, there were a host of other Church activities, all of which were to bring spiritual growth, but most of which only seems to keep me from doing things which might have gotten me into more trouble. All of the activity wasn't changing me from the inside. Now I want to make clear that we should not conclude from this that the doing is unimportant but we need to find a way of connecting the doing of the Christian with the kind of being issues we need to address if we are to be "Christ manifest in the flesh again."
Central to the witness of the Alliance and to the our text in Colossians is a death to those things which are earthly, a death to self. This death leads to the newness of life we want to experience. Dying to self is an important Biblical truth but I think it's difficult to know exactly what we are talking about. What are we actually dying to? Then, if we have a new life, how does this self fit into that new reality that we have with Christ? We need to give some attention to the nature of the "self" that is to die and the new self that is to live if we are going to understand the scripture and what our own tradition teaches. I think this will help us sort through the doing and being problem mentioned above.
I always found this death to self language confusing. I seemed to be getting very mixed messages about the nature of the self. At points the self was the root of all evil and needed a speedy death. At points we were taught that most of our problems could be solved if we had a good self image. On the one hand the self was considered the adobe of the devil, on the other hand something to be honoured as evidence of God's loving design and unique care for one made in His image. So is self good or is self bad? Is self something I should be wanting to build up so I have a good self-image and confidence and am able to do stuff in the world for God or is self something that is bad, that I'm supposed to die to, get rid of? I'm not sure if you share any of this confusion. On the one hand, I'm told that I'm created by God in the image of God, that I'm of infinite value to him and that I've been given all these gifts and abilities that I'm to use for him. On the other hand I'm told that nothing I do is of any value, that ultimately all of my efforts are going to just vanish and I can't really do anything to please God. The really strange thing is that both of these are true. So, how do we sort through all this and really figure out what it means to be a self and what it means to die to self and what it means to have a life which is hidden with Christ in God?
Ok, I will get to this question, but before that more confusion. One of the problems I had understanding "self" was that I wasn't quite sure where to locate my true being or my true self. I have always had ways of distancing my actions and my behaviour from my being. Probably my anthropology, my understanding of who I was as a human person was more connected with Saturday morning cartoons than it was with theology. Typically in Saturday morning cartoons (can I assume all of you have seen this one?) where there is a moral agent when faced with a choice, suddenly a little angel pops up on one shoulder and a little devil pops up on the other shoulder. Then there is this three way debate that goes on between the somewhat confused moral agent and the angel and the devil to try and figure out what to do. Often this has to do with clubbing somebody on the head with a heavy object. This moral agent is trying to decide whether or not clubbing another character on the head with a heavy object is the right thing to do. The devil is saying, "Do it. Go, go, go, go." The angel is saying, "Be nice. No, no, no." Funny how the devil usually wins.
Now the problem is when thinking about death to self this kind of Saturday morning understanding of the "self" comes into play. Really there are three "selfs" at work here. There is a neutral core of confused being which is prone to be led by which ever of the voices on the shoulders is louder. So where is the self? If the self is this neutral middle character what does it mean to die to self. If the self is the devil, does dying to self mean not listening to the devil? If self is the angel, is new life simply listening to the angel? Then, who am I really? In my own case, this model of the self allowed me to distance my self (or my being) from both my good actions and my bad actions. In this way neither what I did right nor what I did wrong really had an impact on who I was. Thus, my true self of my innermost being was unrelated to my actions. When my actions were evil, I could see these as being prompted by my "bad" self or "carnal" self and in putting this to death actually refused to take responsibility for this as my action. When my actions were good, (remember "read your Bible, pray everyday and all those other "Christian" activities) I knew these weren't an expression of my true self either. Often these were done out of duty or habit and not out of "the springing life of God within." So my bad actions were not my own ("the devil made me do it") but neither were my good actions. My doing and my being were separated and I had no understanding of how these could be integrated.
It has been in my study of ethics rather than Saturday morning cartoons (strangely enough) that I have discovered some ideas which have helped to put doing and being back together. There has been a renewed interest in some very old ideas about what it means to be good and how one becomes a good person. The focus in this discussion is virtue and character. Concern with these issues is often characterized as an ethic which emphasizes being as opposed to the more common ethical paradigms of the 20th century which place the stress on doing. The suggestion is that by spending all of our time debating what it is we should or shouldn't do, we have ignored the real question of ethics which is who we should be or at least be becoming. However, central to the ethics of being is what we do. According to this way of thinking there is a very close connection between what we do and who we are, between doing and being.
If we go back to our cartoon, we have pointed out that this model of the moral self allows a distancing of who we are from what we do. If we do something good, we can say that it wasn't really me that did it because there remain bad motives and all sorts of things which don't really line up to God's standard and therefore one good act can't make me good. On the other side the bad act can go the same way. I'm not really the one responsible because of any number of mitigating factors which distance our action from who we really know we are inside. This model of self throws away the devil and the angel and we are left with the moral agents and the choice to do good or to do evil. However, this model also argues that we are not free to determine how we will act in every situation. We have a moral history which will tip the scale toward good or toward evil. What we do is determined by who we are. Thus the kind of moral choice suggested by the angel and the devil is an illusion. In reality there is one self and that self is predisposed to good or predisposed to evil. But where does this predisposition come from?
We now have one self and that self has a character and the character is shaped either by virtue or by vice. Character is instilled by habits or repeated actions. You become who you are by what you do. The way a liar becomes a liar is by telling lies. But then it really gets nasty because the more a person tells lies the more that person is a liar and lying characterizes who they are. So here, what you do determines who you are, but at the same time what you do is determined by who you are. There is a kind of circularity there which makes moral change rather difficult. Being determines doing which in turn reinforces being which leads to more doing and so on. The good news is that the same process which habituates us to vice can also develop virtue. To have integrity you must tell the truth and, as you tell the truth, integrity is reinforced and come to characterize who you are to the degree that you are known as a person of integrity.
To use computer language, I think what we could say is that our character, our being, is like a default mode. When we are up against a stress or when we are pushed a little bit, we default to a certain kind of activity. That's who we are. Then, as we continue to act according to that default mode, it is continually reinforced in our lives so we continue to be more like that.
How does this idea of self and character and of doing and being connect with the idea of sanctification? I want to suggest it can help us understand the idea of how we grow in grace and how we understand what we are called to do in dying to self. Paul talks about the transformation of the self from the old to the new self in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4. Let's return to the Colossians 3 passage we began with. How is it that we live where our life is hidden with Christ in God? Paul goes on to suggest in fairly specific terms what we need to put to death, whatever is earthly. These things are listed so we don't have to guess what he might be referring to.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things -- anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
The old self is being peeled away because with the death to this and new life we have in Christ this is now longer our reality. What is happening is that Paul is moving from the eschatological reality of vv 3&4 where the future is already to the present where the future victory of Jesus is not yet. The reality is that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. The reality is that the things we have died to in Christ still have a fairly firm hold on our characters. There are habits here that still haven't been "stripped off." Paul's language is "progressive." As the old self with is practices are stripped off, we are clothed in the new self "which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
Paul is talking here about what we do and that all of the things listed here--fornication, impurity, passion, evil desires, greed, and so on--are things which in our sin we do and which come to characterize who we are. Paul says that this is no longer part of our life. But it doesn't end here. We are told that we are to clothe ourselves with the new self which is being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of its creator. Then, in verse 12, Paul begins to describe what this looks like.
12 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The new self, like the old self, is characterized by things we do--by kindness, compassion, humility, meekness, patience and bearing with one another. All of these are things we do which are evidence of a new self. Death to self and a new self are connected with the characteristics we embody. The standard for the new self is the image of the creator and the outcome is worship of the Father. This is sanctification as a change of self from one characterized by and entrapped in sin to a new self, released from the power sin and empowered by the spirit to live character of Christ. In acting out of the character of Christ in us we abide in Christ.
In an earlier lecture we made the point that in the late nineteenth century much of evangelicalism was connected to doing or not doing certain things. Simpson's diagnosis was that something important was missing. The doing element was there but it was not grounded in being and it seemed the power of God was missing. Much of this can be explained by a misrepresentation of what God requires. The emphasis was on doing things which defined evangelicalism culturally but did not provide a connection to the character of God. A typical response to this lack of spiritual vitality is a dismissal doing altogether. The logic runs that because we are saved by grace, God isn't interested in what we do but in who we are. We try and be in communion with God. But it's really hard to understand how we can just be with God without doing something. The distinction being made here seems artificial. We can't be anything without doing and what we do must arise out of who we are. We know who God is by His self revelation in doing. Similiarly we come to know the character of others by seeing what the do. Indeed, I have argued above that we know ourselves only as we act in the world. According to our tradition the change of self to which we are called begins by a work of God's Spirit and continues as an ongoing process of being made ever new into the image of Jesus our sanctifier. This is something which is never complete in us and is only true as we live each moment in the new reality of the new self.
Having come this far, I want to review and reinforce this point by reference to a Ephesians 4, a passage which is remarkably similar to the Colossians 3 passage we have been working with.
17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Notice in verse 19 those outside of Christ are characterized as caught in a cycle of evil that continues to draw them down. As it says here, "...they are darkened in their understanding and they have lost all sensitivity and they are free to practice every kind of impurity." There is a clear contrast between this experience and the new reality the Ephesians had experienced, "You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupted, deluted by its lusts and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, to clothe yourselves with the new self created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."
Old grace New
|renewed in the Spirit of your minds [Eph 4:23]||the likeness of God
|the wrath of God
|renewed in knowledge
|the image of its creator
The above continuum tries to illustrate the point that is being made in these two passages. There is the new self on the one side and the old self on the other side and the thing that makes the difference is the renewal of our minds by the Spirit of Christ. The old self is characterized by all that we are supposed to put off. It is abandoned to licentiousness and it's under the wrath of God. There is a sense of entrapment because the characteristics which of the old self determine who we are what we do. We are lost in that entrapment without the transforming grace of God which can break the entrapment and renew our minds so that we can be remade in the likeness of God. On the one hand we have the likeness of God as our standard and on the other hand we have this abandonment of God and the wrath of God. We move from one to the other through the transforming grace of the Spirit in our lives.
In vvs. 25 through to the first few verses in Chapter 5, Paul provides a model for how this transformation can occur on a day to day basis. This is we actually put to death the old self and begin to recognize the reality of our new life.
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
|put off||put on|
|Habituated acts determining self||falsehood, anger, stealing, evil talk, bitterness, wrath, wrangling, slander, malice [Eph 4:25-31]||truth, generosity, building up, grace,
kindness, forgiveness, love
|fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language, lies [Col 3:5-9]||compassion, kindness, humility,
meekness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, thankfulness [Col 3:12-15]
[Rom 6: 17-23]
|slaves of sin 
|slaves of righteousness 
eternal life 
In the above table I have attempted to schematize Paul's message. I have characterized the lists of sins and Christian virtues as "habituated acts determining self." The idea here is that we are to put off what is opposed to Christ and put on what is characteristic of Christ. While apart from Christ our opposition entrapped us in sin but now our character is to be determined by those things which characterize him. These are to entrap us and to determine our self. It is these virtues that are to characterize who we are.
What is so striking in the Ephesians passage is the one to one correlation between putting off and putting on. "So that putting away falsehood let all of us speak the truth to our neighbor for we are members one of another." Falsehood is one of the characteristics we need to put off. If you have been lying, stop lying, speak the truth to your neighbors. There's a theological reason for that, for we are members one of another. The thing we are supposed to replace falsehood with is truth. So, you put off one and put on the other. You die to the old self (stop lying) but you bring life to the new self (speak the truth) because this is really who you are in Christ Jesus.
Verse 26 says, "Be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down in your wrath. Do not make room for the devil." In anger don't sin. There's a reminder here of the spiritual enormity of the task. The devil is not a cute little red guy who pops up on your shoulder and gives you a convenient excuse for not doing what you know you should. The devil is the enemy of our souls watching for some opportunity to turn us from our progress in becoming like Christ. Anger is something the devil can work with.
"Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy." Those whose lives are characterized by stealing are to stop taking what is not theirs. Here they lay down the old self, they put it to death. But that is not enough to bring transformation. They must also work honestly and give away what is theirs to those who need it. It is not enough to die to self but the point of that death is new life in which the character of Christ grows in us.
Verse 30 returns to the theme of the spiritual struggle. In this process of putting off and putting on we are involved in something which is guided by the Spirit. To the degree that we don't put off the bad stuff and don't put on the new self, we are grieving the Holy Spirit. Our responsibility in our spiritual growth is to learn to live a new way of life. To sum it all up Paul returns to the standard for the new self we are becoming, "Be imitators of God as beloved children and live in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Our self, who we really are, is determined by what we do. We are not free simply to choose just what it is we want to do because our character, that sort of default mode that has been set, determines what we will do. We need to break out of that by the grace of God. When we come in contact with Christ, we are empowered to die to the old self, to put off all this old stuff and to replace that with the new. We are to put off falsehood, anger, stealing, evil talk, bitterness, and on, and to replace all of that in our lives with what is connected with the character of God, what is in the likeness of God--truth, generosity, building up, grace, kindness, forgiveness, and love.
This model of the transformation of the self helps us understand Simpson's definition of sanctification as Christ manifest in the flesh again. How can we show Christ to those people who are around us? Clearly we can only show the true character of Christ to those people around us as we put on this new self. What does it mean to die to self? Well, it means to put off that which is part of our character which doesn't conform to the image of God, which isn't in the likeness of Christ. All the stuff in the "put off" column keeps us away from God, and from really showing the people around us who Christ is. The "put on" stuff--truth, generosity, compassion, kindness, humility, love, peace, all of these things--are characteristic of Christ. As these things truly come to characterize us, to be who we really are, then those who are in contact with us do, in fact, see Christ manifest in the flesh in us. This is what it means to abide in Christ or to walk in the Spirit. In Paul's view this abiding and this walking is not passive. It is an active reordering of our actions and habits which by God's powers reorders our character, our self.
What can we do with this understanding of the progressive nature of sanctification? I think this can help us see God's work in our own lives and beyond that to present the message in life affirming way. This might seems odd as the message we began with spoke of death. This death to self kind of teaching is often difficult to present in a way which seem like good news. I think we need to be particularly careful in teaching this to young people who are only beginning to come into some sense of who they are. Many youth are actively developing a sense of themselves apart from their parents and other influences in their lives. To start talking about death to self is often a confusing and a distressing thing. As they are coming to know themselves, they are being told that they have to sacrifice that to God. This new being, who they are only getting to know and only now getting to like, now has to be sacrificed to make God happy. I don't think that is at all what's in view. To die to self in the Biblical sense means you die to all that gets in the way of you being who God wants you to be. In fact, God has a true self with all sorts of talents, wonders, and abilities. So dying to self doesn't mean you lose that. It means that God builds on who you are and uses that to represent himself to other people.
Is death to self part of the good news we have to tell? Let's go back to the table of "put off" and "put on" characteristics. Ask people who they want to be. If they are doing the things on the "put off" side we need to make it clear that they are giving these actions power over them to determine who they will be. Often we know who we want to be but we just can't get there. Paul's message is that the way to become the kind of person characterized by the "put on" side requires the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Most everyone wants to be characterized by the "put on" column. The way to get there is to meet Christ at the cross, to die to activities on the one side and to begin to act according to virtues of Christ on the other. That's the message of death and new life which we stand for which is a part of our tradition and it really is good news.
I've been working with this outline for the last number of years and I think one of the most significant things it has provided for me is a way of understanding how God is working in my life. What starts off as a healthy critique of our own motives and our own spirituality can often go wrong and we can begin to doubt whether we are really sanctified. We can begin to doubt whether God can really use us. We can begin to doubt whether God is present and really making any difference in our lives. What this "put off"/"put on" table can do is to help us find the grace of God in our lives. Use this as a check list of the transformation that is actually taking place through the grace of God from the old self to the new self. Over a year or two years identify some of these things which have been particular struggles on the "put off" side and see if there is progress in actually putting that off. Does anger have less of a hold on me today than it had a year ago? Does evil talk have less of a hold on who I am than it did a year ago? or wrangling, or malice or impurity or evil desire? On the other side, if falsehood has been a problem, does truth have more of a grip on who I am? Is it more built into my character? Is truth more a part of what it means to be me than it was a year ago? Or grace, or forgiveness--am I able to forgive in a more profound way than I was a year ago? Am I more loving?
I think this can help us in those times when we are doubting whether God is really making a difference. Is it worth all the trouble to be a child of God? Is there anything that we can point to to say, "yes, I know my God is with me"? When you are on the long haul, often you don't really feel like you are making any progress. How do you know whether you are a little bit higher or a little bit further than you were before? These kinds of things can provide measures of that. You can look back and say, "oh yeah. I wouldn't have responded the way I just responded a year ago. A year ago I would have blown my top or I would have whatever. Now I can see that there is transformation, that God's Spirit is making me more like Christ."
This is really the point of sanctification. We want to know that we are becoming more like Christ. We want to know what it means to abide in Him and he in us. We want know what it means to be "dependent every moment on our union and communion with Him." I think attention to "putting off" and "putting on" can help us do that in small but measurable ways.
Here is an exercise which grows out of the material in this lecture. It is not a course requirement but suggestion for deepening your experience of the grace of God. This will take some extended period of time. I would suggest at least an hour for the autobiographical reflection. At some time share the results of this with someone you are accountable to spiritually.
Tell it like it is/was. This is for your eyes only. Be honest. Note where you have felt and still feel things are not all that they could or should be. Where do you wish to see God intervene? Where do you see the grace of God active in transforming you?
Tell it to someone else. As members together in the body of Christ we need to be open in sharing our spiritual lives. Take what you have discovered about how God is working in your life and use it to encourage another. Share something of your current struggle with a spiritual friend or mentor. This will give them opportunity to pray with and for you and to hold you accountable. By sharing on this level we can help one another trace the tracks of God's grace, the life of the indwelling Christ, the transforming power of the Spirit in our experience.
© Kenneth L. Draper, 1998.