This time of year where I live in West Michigan it’s easy to get complacent about the Christian life. Everybody’s going “up north” in their campers, or to their cabins, or to exorbitantly-priced tourist season hotel rooms. The beaches at Ludington are amazing. Pure Michigan. They want you to believe that your life may as well be over if you’re stuck at home. For people whose lives aren’t wrapped around their vacations, it’s the doldrums, “the dog days of summer.”
Whether we get a vacation this summer or not, by nature we’re fickle. We have short memories. Good Friday and Easter were almost four months ago. Pentecost Sunday passed almost unmentioned in my church two months ago. What has God done for us lately? In terms of the church year lectionary, this is what Roman Catholics and some Protestants call ordinary time, the months between Pentecost and Advent when no special season is being celebrated. I’m afraid this nomenclature only accommodates our complacency.
It’s easy to forget that Easter is the very mid-point of human history. There’s no such thing as business as usual once Jesus has paid for our sins on the cross, risen from the grave, ascended to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us to continue the mission he has begun. Every day brings new opportunities to be who we are—to live out our new identities in Christ in our families, workplaces, and neighborhoods.
Eddie Cochran was wrong—there is a cure for the summertime blues. It’s time to remind ourselves that Easter isn’t over, like Paul reminded the church in Colossians 2:20-3:4. After Easter, nothing can ever be ordinary again.
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Go here for previous posts and teaching videos on Colossians.
Go here for a new teaching video on Colossians 2:20-3:4.
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Easter Every Day: Colossians 2:20-3:4
In 2:20-3:4 Paul picks up where he left off in 2:6-19—the Colossians were dead in sin but God made them alive through faith in Jesus crucified and risen. Their baptism sealed their faith-participation in Christ’s death (2:20) and resurrection (3:1). They died with Christ to sin and to the evil spiritual powers who were trying to deceive and capture them with old earthly human rules. They rose with Christ to a new life with new heavenly values. This is the power of the gospel applied to sinners through the Holy Spirit.
There’s two parts to Paul’s teaching, 2:20-23 and 3:1-4:
Part One— If the Colossians have died with Christ to the evil spiritual powers, why in the world would they submit to rules that have no real power over sin (2:20-23)?
- Note the “rhetorical question” in 2:20. Paul asks the Colossians to recall whether they have really died with Christ. If they have truly turned to him, they have been transformed from a living death in the world to a dying life in Christ. This develops what Paul has already taught in 2:10-15.
- Christ’s victory over the evil spiritual powers (2:13-15) freed the Colossians from the futility of trying to worship [with?] angels and keep rules not taught in Scripture in a futile attempt to gain freedom from sin.
- Legalism and mysticism are alluring, but both amount to an impotent fake piety that produces pride on the inside and hypocrisy on the outside (2:18, 23).
Part Two— If the Colossians have risen with Christ to heaven, they must set their minds on the values and priorities of heaven (3:1-4)
- Colossians 3:1-4 is what scholars call an ABB’A’ chiasm. It’s like a sandwich. Paul starts (3:1a) and finishes (3:3-4 with what God has already done—he has united the Colossians with Christ’s resurrection and death (2:12-13. In the middle (3:1b-2) he tells the Colossians what they need to do—focus their minds and lives on their risen and coming Lord.
- Paul is wrapping his exhortations in God’s enablement. God’s action for us in Christ empowers us for a transformed life. God calls on us to get off our duff and pursue the kind of life he has already begun in us.
- Check out our previous post on Paul’s “if’s” in Colossians (1:20; 2:23; 3:1)) and their implications for Christian security, perseverance, and assurance.
Easter everyday. To sum it all up, according to Paul, every moment of every day of our lives is defined by our new identity in Christ. We are linked to the entire saving work of Jesus for us:
- We died/were crucified with Christ (Col 2:20; 3:3; Rom 6:2-3, 6; Gal 2:20; 6:14).
- We were buried with Christ (Col 2:12; Rom 6:4).
- We were raised with Christ (Col 2:12-13; 3:1; Rom 6:4; Eph 2:5).
- We are seated with Christ today in heaven (Eph 2:5).
- We will return with Christ in glory (Col 3:4)
As the Holy Spirit applies the power of the gospel to our lives in all our relationships and circumstances, we learn more and more about what it means to participate in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, heavenly session, and glorious coming. As we grow into this new identity, we are aided the truth of the Scriptures, the vivid reminder of the sacraments, and the encouraging community we find in the church. The resurrected king is resurrecting us!
Where’s the Beef?
Let’s make this personal. One way to grasp what Paul is saying is to read this passage, starting with 2:8, substituting your name every time Paul uses the word “you”: David has been united to Christ by the Spirit. David is now identified with Christ’s new virtues, not Adam’s old vices. Every day David participates in the power of Christ’s resurrection.
Let’s not get side-tracked by add-on’s that seek to supplement the gospel with “higher life” teaching about the filling of the Spirit or some sort of second work of grace. Let’s take Col 2:6-7 to heart. Our new identity in Christ is all we need. We are complete in him! Let’s put down deeper roots, build a stronger house, and remove any doubt about our relationship with him, constantly thanking God as we do so. After Easter there can be no complacency. There are no dog days, only days to live out our new lives in Christ. No Summertime Blues, just living moment by moment in the new reality of participation with Christ as his body on earth.
A note to preachers and teachers. We learn from Paul what we should teach—no argument about that. But there’s also a lot to learn from him about how to teach. In terms of our Colossians 3:1-4 sandwich analogy above, we might say that there is a lot of bun preaching today, preaching that emphasizes God’s grace in Christ but doesn’t get in people’s faces to insist on their obedient response to grace. There’s also a lot of beef preaching, preaching that is heavy on high-pressure exhortation but light on the grace that enables obedience. Sadly, this sort of beef preaching leads to brow-beaten, discouraged Christians who feel guilty that they don’t accomplish more for the Lord. Bun preaching has the opposite result. It leads to proud, well-informed Christians who are content to hole up in their own enclaves, disengaged from God’s mission in the world.
What we need is more sandwich preaching, preaching that unfolds the believer’s new identity in Christ as a means to equip and empower them for life and ministry in this world. Such preaching will also confront believers with the personal and relational responsibilities that flow from a life that has been transformed by the gospel. On-mission Christians who eat the whole thing will not believe how much God can use them in this world.
This is how we cure the summertime blues. Amen?
In Colossians 3:5-11 we have a list of the vices Paul had in mind when he spoke of dying with Christ to the old earthly lifestyle. In Colossians 3:12-17 we have a list of the virtues Paul had in mind when he spoke of rising with Christ to a new heavenly lifestyle. God willing, the next post in our Colossians series will focus on these two lists.
Eddie Cochran’s hit “Summertime Blues” charted at #8 in 1958. Though he was riding high on the charts, we’re told that Eddie had strong premonitions of death ever since February 3, 1959, “the day the music died” in the plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Havens, and J. P. Richardson Jr., the Big Bopper. Later The Who, Blue Cheer, and other bands would perform popular covers of Summertime Blues, but Eddie wasn’t around to hear it. Sadly, his premonitions soon came true. He was killed in a taxi crash while touring England with Gene Vincent on April 16, 1960.
May God be pleased to grant us awareness of how fragile life is, and spur us on to live every extraordinary day for his glory. For Jesus sake. Amen.
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So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:11-13 NLT
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2 NLT
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! — Philippians 3:7-11 NLT