Since, then, you have been raised with Christ ...
Last year, I got a phone call you never want to receive. A friend called to tell me that a good, long-time friend had died. Sheryl and I went to college together and worked together, and she and her husband, Doug, had been some of our closest friends. The four of us spent long summer evenings on their deck, laughing under the stars. We took vacations together, enjoying every minute. She was full of energy, very bright and a deeply dedicated apprentice of Jesus. Her death shattered me. She was only fifty-two, and left behind a husband and a seven-year-old son. I ached for days and suspect I will never get over it, but merely get through it.
A tragedy, to be sure.
But rumors of her demise are greatly exaggerated. She now rules and reigns in the heavens, and knowing Sheryl, she is probably running a small galaxy somewhere. I will see her again. And her dear husband, Doug, a dedicated Christ-follower, will also see her again and, in the meanwhile, survive, as well as young Paul, because God is good, and very near.
Death is the great enemy, but it has been defeated. Sin is the great destroyer, but it too has been defeated. Both of these menaces have been defeated by the greatest event the world has ever witnessed: the resurrection of Jesus.
Every single issue in life, every problem we face, every hope we have—absolutely everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.
That is a bold statement, but I have come to believe that it is true. Life's fundamental questions—such as, Who am I? What happens when we die? How do we grow in holiness in this life? What is the reason for our hope?—all find their answer in the resurrection.
Jesus' death and resurrection were God's divine victory over that which plagues us, giving us freedom and hope. But they are even more. The death and resurrection of Jesus are also our death and resurrection. Paul wrote,
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20 NRSV)
The old me, the old Jim, has died. When I put my confidence in Jesus as the Son of God and resurrected Lord of all, my old way of living ended. Before I lived "with no God," and now I live a "with-God life." Before I was on my own, trying to establish my identity and worth. Now I am in intimate fellowship with "the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." My worth has been established by Jesus, who died for me in order to have a relationship with me.
And it is all a gift from God. I did nothing to deserve it. He did not die merely to get me into heaven, but to get heaven into me. His life—pure and powerful—now lives in me. I am in Christ, and Christ is in me. Paul begins Colossians 3 with "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ," because that is the fundamental truth about who I am, and that truth determines how I live and where I will spend eternity. This truth affects my ethics. I do all I do (put away sin, put on holiness, give glory to God in all I do) because Jesus, and I, have been resurrected.
The rest of Colossians 3 shows us how Christians ought to live. Paul's admonitions (stop lying, bear each other's burdens, live in harmony, forgive and love each other, accept everyone) are all based on the co-resurrection his hearers have experienced. They are not a list of legalistic rules; they are expressions of how Christ-followers live because Jesus lives in them.
The glorious truth is that we can now begin putting sin to death! We can trust that our very lives are hidden with Jesus, safe and secure. We can build our lives on the hope of eternal bliss because Jesus paid and paved the way, and is seated at the right hand of God, praying for us.
What are you facing today? Trouble in your family? Financial hardship? The loss of something—a person, a relationship, a job, perhaps a dream? Believe it or not, the resurrection of Jesus is your answer. In Jesus' life, death and resurrection, God reconciled the world, overcame its evil with good, and stands as the ultimate reality about our world. Whatever we face, we do not face it alone, but with the One who now rules and reigns in the heavens, prays for us and will see to it that in the end we will laugh until it hurts, because the beauty of God is overwhelming.
Jesus is the King of the universe, the ruler of all. You and I and my dear friend Sheryl have been raised with him, alive to the world above, where he is. And since Jesus is now in the position of authority as the resurrected Lamb and Lion, nothing, absolutely nothing, can prevent our access to God and his glorious realm. That is why we live with no insecurity, either about our salvation or the final outcome of everything. God gets the last word. And God is good. And it is going to be well. All manner of things will be well.
At Sheryl's funeral one of her favorite songs was sung: "Give Me Jesus." The lyrics proclaim,
Oh when I come to die,
Oh when I come to die,
Oh when I come to die,
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus.
That was her prayer, and that prayer was answered, in this life and in the next. She was given Jesus, because Jesus gave himself to her, and she was wise enough to accept the gift. The next time I see her we will laugh under the stars until our sides hurt.
As Christians we put a lot of focus on the cross. It is at the center of most churches and the subject of most sermons. We even wear it on necklaces. In contrast, little attention is paid to the resurrection. Without the resurrection, evil would have won. The resurrection is God's great YES to the world. Perhaps we would do well to have "empty tombs" on our necklaces. But short of that, we would do well to reflect on the victory of God that we see in the resurrection.
Take time to meditate on the empty tomb. Say to yourself, "He did it!" over and over. Dwell on the reality that death has been defeated, on the truth that you have been raised with Jesus and that you will never die. Read Matthew 27:61-28:20, which tells the story of how Jesus burst forth from the grave and began a revolution of love and power made perfect in surrender.
Jesus rose from the grave. There is nothing I cannot rise from. Even death cannot hold me down. Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Gracious Abba, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to die and to rise, to defeat sin and death and all that plagues humanity. His resurrection not only proves your victory but gives me new life, salvation and hope. Thank you.
Have you known, and been living your Christian life from, this reality (that you died and rose with Jesus)? If not, why do you suppose it was never explained to you? What difference can this insight have in your life as an apprentice of Jesus?
What things from your life before being raised with Christ are you holding on to that are hindering you from experiencing the freedom given in Christ?
So if you have been raised with Christ ...
Colossians 3:1 (NRSV)
For almost twenty years I had a beat-up, old, broken-down mower. Each spring I dreaded going to the shed and pulling it out and fighting it all summer. Two years ago it finally gave out, and it was time for a new mower. So I went eagerly to the hardware store and bought a brand new, self-propelled, state-of-the-art mower. It was a thing of beauty. It started with one pull. It mowed the grass with ease, and the self-propelled mechanism seemed to pull me along for the ride. I was no longer mowing; I was taking a stroll behind a powerful machine that practically mowed without me.
The following spring I went out to get the mower from the shed, and there it was, all shiny and ready to eat grass. I began mowing, and about halfway through the backyard I noticed I was sweating profusely. My arms and legs were exhausted. I had two thoughts come into my mind: one, I am out of "mowing" shape, and two, this mower is really heavy and hard to maneuver. Then it hit me: I was not using the self-propelled mechanism. The mower, by itself, is rather heavy and hard to push and turn if you, like me, are not bright enough to squeeze the lever that activates the power drive. Once I squeezed the lever, behold, the mower took off without my effort, and I was once again along for a nice stroll.
My experience with the mower illustrates something true about the Christian life: when we have been raised with Christ, we are now "in Christ," and Christ is "in us"; we have a new capacity, a new energy, a new power to live the Christian life. It is activated not by squeezing a lever but by aligning our minds and hearts with the available power of the kingdom of God that is now among us and in us (Colossians 1:27). When we do, we find ourselves pulled along for a very nice ride. We work, but we don't sweat. We act, but a stronger, greater, quieter power is acting within and around us.
This whole idea can be summed up by one word: with. It is a small word, a boring preposition we almost always overlook. But it is a powerful word. I once heard a preacher talk about this little word, about how it's present—but overlooked—throughout the Bible. He talked about how God was with Abraham, how the Bible says God was with David and with Esther and with Solomon and, most especially, with Jesus (Acts 10:38). In fact, one of Jesus' names is Immanuel, which means "God with us." We have a choice between two ways to live: with God or without God. The first way is like mowing with the self-propelled engine; the second is like mowing without it. The first way is easy; the second is hard.
I am not saying that life with God, or the with-God life, is without pain or struggle, but I am saying that the with-God life provides a strength we do not possess, so that no matter what we face—our joys or sorrows, our triumphs or temptations—we have a power at work within us that changes the way we live.
My greatest regret as a Christian is the fact that, for many, many years, I thought faith amounted to keeping a set of rules. My greatest source of frustration came from the fact that I tried, for many years, to live the Christian life by my own strength. Let me explain.
After I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior I found myself changing—from the inside. My inner world was shifting. New thoughts and new emotions came sprouting out like tulips in the spring. It was almost as if something was alive in me, perhaps what a pregnant woman feels like. I had these new cravings: I wanted to read the Bible, a book that previously had made no sense to me but now suddenly did make sense. And more than that, simply reading it made me feel strange things like peace and inspiration to do what it was telling me to do. I actually found myself wanting to go to church. Within a year or so I became part of organized Christianity.
I soon found myself faced with a lot of rules. I had older Christians tell me that Christians were forbidden from doing certain things (going to parties, having sex) and were commanded to do certain other things (read the Bible, pray). There was something in me that was drawn to this kind of rule keeping. It made sense. The problem was that I did not live up to the standards I professed to live by. Sure, I could pray and serve others, but I also found myself frustrated at trying to maintain the image when in reality I still got angry, still lusted and still wanted to go to parties, even if I didn't go. Mostly I was just faking it. I assumed God was frustrated with me, and I was miserable.
The solution came when I learned about my identity in Christ and the power of the kingdom of God. I had been thinking of myself as a sinner trying not to sin (try that paradox on for a while). I thought the kingdom of God was something I would experience in the next life. It turns out I was missing two essential ideas in Christianity: Christians are indwelt and empowered by Jesus, and we have access to a life with God (the kingdom of God) every moment of our lives. All those years I was trying to live the Christian life. And all those years I had it wrong. I cannot live the Christian life. I cannot make myself a Christian by keeping all of the rules.
Paul writes in Colossians 1:1, "So if you have been raised with Christ ..." Notice the language: "you have been." It is a past act with present and continuous consequences. It is a reality, a truth, a completed act. This is who I really am, not because of what I do but because of what God has done. I really died with Jesus, and I really rose with him, and he really lives in me. Now I face each day with a choice: will I try to live the Christian life on my own (living from "the flesh," which is human power disconnected from God), or will I live in the power of God (living in "the Spirit").
When I walk in the Spirit I find strength I never knew I had access to, wisdom I never found in my own small brain and a joy I never imagined. I can do all of this because God is with me. And God is within you, calling you to live the Christian life not out of your own will power, which will always fail, but by the power of the Christ, through whom you can do all things, even more than you can ask or imagine.
Today, or this week, engage in one of the most powerful exercises a Christian can do: practicing the presence of God. It's not difficult to do, but it is difficult to maintain. Simply call to mind that Jesus is with you this very moment, in whatever you are doing—in your meetings, in your work, in your planning, in your relationships. You are not alone. God is with you. You may want to try this for just twenty minutes or so at first as you develop this new and powerful habit.
One of the things I do to help me with this is to repeat the following short affirmation: "God is with me, here, now." I find that when I practice this I get a surge of inspiration that often leads to both calm and courage. The biggest struggle will be keeping your mind on the presence of God. You have trained your mind so long in the other way—the absence of God—that it will be hard to see and perceive in a new way. We have to learn "to live life on two levels," a phrase from the great Quaker author Thomas Kelly. On one level we simply go about our normal day (brushing our teeth, shopping, hanging out with friends), but on another level we can have an ongoing awareness of the presence of God. Don't force this, and don't feel bad when you stop thinking about God. But above all, don't give up. This is one of those exercises that can change your life in deep ways.
God is with me in all that I do. I have strength, wisdom and all of the provision I need.
Gracious Abba, I do not know why you chose me, but you did. And I know that I do not have any strength on my own. But I also know I can do all things through you who gives me strength. Teach me how to walk with you every step of this day.
What did you feel when you first discovered that God is with you?
In what areas of your life do you struggle to let God be with you? Why?