‘You Have Died’

THAT’S WHAT the Apostle Paul wrote to his fellow believers (Colossians 3:3). Not a cheery message, on the face of it. But actually it’s a message of fundamental importance and immense joy, which goes to the very heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). The love of God in giving His Son Jesus Christ, and the love of His Son in laying down his perfect life as a sacrifice, are at the centre of God’s plan of salvation for you and me. The Christian Gospel is about death—and rebirth. Christ did not just die, he rose to life again—his mortal nature defeated, never to die again. The Gospel’s message for us is that we can share in Christ’s victory. As the Apostle Paul continues, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Buried With Him

To be a follower of Christ is to share his life. And it begins with sharing his death. Paul explains in another letter how it works:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3).

This is why the Christian life starts with baptism. We come to believe in God and His Gospel of salvation, centred in Jesus Christ. We repent of our past life, and declare that from now on we want to follow Christ, not our own way. Then we are baptised: a simple but hugely powerful ritual, which involves full immersion in water. Baptism is a symbol of death and resurrection. We put to death our old way of life, and emerge from the water a new person, a follower of Christ and a child of God.

This is how Paul describes his own Christian life in another letter: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but 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 2:20). Consider these words. Paul’s conversion and baptism were an absolute turning point for him. His old life was dead. He now had a new master, to whom he was so whole-heartedly devoted that he could say, in effect, it’s not my life any more but his. Every turn in his life now, every decision he now took, was motivated by his faith in the crucified and risen Son of God. And of course the Christian life is not an academic exercise—at its core is an emotional response to the realisation that Christ died for Paul, and for you and me.

Hidden With Him

That’s why Paul said, ‘You have died’. This is the context:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory’ (Colossians 3:1-4).

There are two directions in which we can look—down or up. We can focus on the things ‘on earth’, the world around us which is largely godless, its preoccupations and entertainments, its philosophies, its worries and its fears. Or we can focus on Jesus Christ. ‘Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us’ (Romans 8:34). His work was not over when he died and rose again. He is now in heaven. To those who belong to him he is their friend and master and High Priest:

‘Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession… let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Glorified With Him

To ‘set your mind on things above’ is to have a life with meaning and purpose; to have peace of mind, knowing that you’re never alone; and to live in excited anticipation of the future. Jesus Christ will not remain in heaven for ever, but will return to establish God’s Kingdom: ‘When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet’ (Hebrews 10:12–13).

Those who have died to their old way of life and whose lives are ‘hidden with Christ in God’, are waiting for the next phase of their lives to start, when by God’s grace they ‘will appear with him in glory’.

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