What does it mean to be a Christian? (Colossians 3:1-4)

Different answers could be given to that question depending on the situation. The circumstances in Colosse were that false teachers were minimising the role of Jesus in the work of salvation. In that situation, the response of a believer was to recognise the greatness of the salvation that Jesus has provided for his people. This is what Paul exhorts them to do throughout the letter. In the passage we will consider, he provides several features to include in the description of a believer.

1. A Christian has experienced spiritual resurrection
Paul here is describing the great change that every person who believes in Jesus experiences. Before they believed in him they were spiritually dead. The reason for such a state is that they were estranged from God because each of them had a sinful nature. They did not involve God in their lives because they did not think about him, did not love him and did not serve him. This describes everyone in a natural state, even although we are very different from one another.

At some stage Christians heard the gospel in a saving sense for the first time. As far as those in Colosse were concerned, they heard the message of Jesus through Epaphrus, who was from there. He had found Jesus for himself and then returned to his home community to inform them of the mercy he had found. They were pagans, worshipping false gods, but they were enlightened about the significance of the person and work of Jesus, especially that he was the Son of God who became a man in order to die for sinners on the cross. There he paid the penalty that God required. They were led to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus, which is what every converted person does. When they did so, they discovered that they had been given new life and were now alive to the things of God.

2. A Christian is united to Jesus in heaven
The second blessing that Paul mentions is that every believer on earth has a living link to Jesus in heaven. This living link is the Holy Spirit, who comes to live in their hearts once they believe in Jesus for the first time. We don’t know the distance between earth and heaven, but we should not imagine that it is only in miles. The fact is, we don’t know where it is, but Christians discover that they can make contact with it through the activity of the Holy Spirit. This is what makes prayer a real experience for them. It is important to note that this link cannot be broken by anyone, even the Christian when he sins. He will experience chastisement when he wins, but he remains united to Jesus forever. Of course, the link is not just from the believer to Jesus – it also goes the other way, from Jesus to them.

3. A Christian recognises the authority of Jesus
Paul mentions that Jesus sits on the right hand of God. This is the highest place of honour because it is a description of the throne of God. We can say that Jesus has this position on two accounts. First, he has it as the second person of the Trinity and, second, he has it as the Mediator. As the second person of the Trinity, he had that position as his right from eternity. As the Mediator, he has this position since his ascension as a reward for completing the work he was entrusted with by the Heavenly Father. Paul is referring to Jesus here in his role as the Mediator.

In this capacity, Jesus reigns over those who acknowledge him and over those who do not. This is a reminder of his wisdom as well as of his power. Of course, with regard to some who currently refuse to acknowledge him he is at work to bring them to himself. This is an amazing activity of the risen, exalted Saviour, as he works to enlarge his kingdom.

As the Mediator Jesus functions as the prophet, priest and king of his people. The role of a prophet was that of instructing in the things of God and Jesus arranges for his disciples to be taught about the matters of his kingdom. As the priest, he helps his people by sympathising with them in their struggles and obtaining for them spiritual blessings by his intercession. And as the king he rules over them and defends them.

The authority of Jesus, as far as his people are concerned, is powerful, personal and precise. There is no other power that can prevent him doing what he intends – the devil cannot prevent Jesus from doing what he wishes. His intention is personal in the sense that he deals with each of his people as if each was the only case he had to deal with, although in reality he deals with millions of them simultaneously. And it is precise, because each of them always receives from Jesus what they need at any particular moment.

The knowledge of the reign of Jesus brings great joy to his people. They are delighted that he has been so highly exalted and their aim is to ensure that he is exalted in their own hearts as well. In him, they place their confidence, as they journey through life as his subjects and servants.

4. A Christian has access to heavenly blessings
Paul uses two words to describe how believers can discover those heavenly blessings in their personal experience. One is the word ‘seek’ and the other is the phrase ‘set your minds’. The second explains what is meant by ‘seek’. In other words, the heavenly blessings come to us as we think about them.

A good example of such an approach is given in Psalm 1, in its description of how the blessed man meditates continually on the things of God. In that psalm, the man has to make a choice as to what he will think about. The choice is between worldly concerns and God’s Word. Because he thinks about the things of God, the blessed man becomes a strong believer.

This is a reminder that it is not always hard to discover spiritual blessings. When a believer resolves to focus his mind on such things he discovers that the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and reveals them to him. Imagine someone who has moved from a poor country to a wealthy country. In himself, the individual may not know what to do. Then he discovers that the rulers of the new country have assigned important people to help him discover privileges that are already his as a citizen of the country. In a far higher way, one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is to introduce Christians to their privileges, explain to them what they include, and to enable them to experience those blessings on numerous occasions.

There is a wide range of blessings that he can focus on. He can think, for example, about being a member of God’s family. This reminds him that he is a forgiven child of God, it reminds him that he is an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus, and it reminds him that he can pray to his heavenly Father. Thinking of those benefits leads to him having a sense of peace and joy from heaven.

It is often difficult to look at heavenly things and very easy to look at earthly things. The reason is obvious – we can see the earthly things and they can easily distract us from following the things of God. It requires determination as well as desire for us to concentrate on the things that are above.

5. A Christian has a new identity
In verse 3, Paul says that the believer has gone through a kind of death. We know that when a person dies, he ceases to live as that person. If we had not heard about his death, and asked someone how he was, the person would inform us about the death and of the implied impossibility of knowing the dead person again. He has done because he has died. This illustrates what has happened to the believer. He no longer has the same identity because he has been made new and is now regarded as living in a totally different way from before.

But who are we if we are Christians? It is hard to say, says Paul, because our new identity is hidden from natural sight. Who believers are will not be seen until the resurrection. The apostle John says something similar when he writes that believers will yet be like Jesus (1 John 3:1-2).  They are going to be glorified, which means that they will transformed, made pure, and filled with the Holy Spirit. If someone said to us, ‘Who are you?’, and we replied, ‘We are going to be glorified people,’ it is likely that the questioner would not know what the answer meant. It is hidden now, but one day our real identity will be seen.

6. A Christian anticipates the return of Jesus
Paul then stresses that believers are going to be appear with Christ in glory when he returns. Here is when our identity will be revealed, and therefore we look forward to it. The word translated ‘appear’ has the emphasis of revealed, of showing something that was previously hidden. Sometimes we smile at those believers who spend their time trying to work out when Jesus will return by looking at what they think are fulfilments of prophecy. Of course, they will be wrong in their answer because Jesus tells us that no one knows the day of his return. Nevertheless, we recognise that a longing for his return is normal for a Christian, and not to have an interest in it is abnormal for a believer.

When Jesus returns, there will be many reversals of opinions. Most people today think believers are depriving themselves of life by living the way that they do. The return of Jesus will reveal the ones who have deprived themselves of eternal life. Many today think it is pointless to try and live a holy life. The return of Jesus will show that holiness marked the road to life.

One day, Jesus will come. Calvin refers to this as a ‘choice consolation’. His return is the hope of the church in the New Testament. The church since then has at times taken their eyes away from this hope. We don’t look at it in the sense that he may come tonight or in a hundred years’ time or in a thousand years’ time. Instead, we look at the promises of his coming and remind ourselves that he will come. On that day, we will see who he is and we will see who we are if we believe in him now. We will see his glory and he will share aspects of it with his people.

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