Summary: If we have our minds centred in Christ, focussed on the things that please God, then we won't need a rule book. If God's word dwells in us the way our lives are hidden with Christ then we'll do things that please God automatically.
Paul has just finished telling the Colossians to stay away from those who want to tie them down to human rules and regulations. He says these rules are of no use to you in controlling your human desires. He says “Why would you want to subject yourself to human regulations when Christ has died to set you free?”
But does that mean that you can forget about how you behave. No, it doesn’t mean that there are no longer any constraints on us. That’s the mistake that so many people make when they find themselves liberated from what was perhaps significant bondage. It’s what we saw with the liberation movements of the 60s and 70s. Sexual liberation led to sexual licence, removing all moral boundaries. Women’s liberation led to women seeking to dominate men the way they’d always felt dominated. Even in the political arena you see examples like Zimbabwe where the liberation of the native population has led to retaliation by the new government out of all proportion to what was suffered. No, liberation doesn’t mean licence. Some of the rules and regulations those people at Colossae had set up may have been a good thing. It was just that the way they were being applied negated the truth of the gospel.
So what we need to think about is how are we to live out the freedom of the gospel while at the same time ensuring that our behaviour doesn’t put the gospel to shame.
Well the solution isn’t to set up a list of rules to keep us in line. As he said at the end of Ch2: “23These [rules] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” It’s no use sticking a list of rules for the day on your bathroom mirror to remind you how to live. That’ll last about as long as it takes you to walk out the door.
No. Something more powerful is needed.
What’s needed is
A complete change of mind.
You know, the mind is a powerful organ. All sorts of experiments have been run to see what impact the mind has on the way the body behaves. If a doctor gives you a prescription but says he’s not sure this will help, you’re much less likely to get better. But if he tells you confidently that this will fix you up in a few days that’s exactly what’s likely to happen. From another point of view, people’s whole lives can be changed by some traumatic experience they have and until they sort it out in their mind they might never recover.
But here Paul is talking about far more than just the power of positive thinking or psychological counseling. He’s talking about a total change of mind. He says it twice in the first 2 verses: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” He wants us to have our minds so focused on the things that are above, on heavenly things, that our minds are actually changed. You know that old phrase: “So heavenly minded he’s no earthly use.” Well Paul wants us to be so heavenly minded that we become totally useful to God. He wants our minds to be transformed so that we react the way Jesus would have reacted, so that the thoughts we have are automatically godly thoughts. He wants our minds to be such that we don’t have to think about how to behave or speak, we just do it the right way intuitively.
But to help us do that he gives us some pointers. He begins by reminding us of our present legal status. He says: “you have died.” Your legal status is now “Dead.” There is no you any more.
A New You
But then again, there is, but it’s a new you. “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” We have a new identity that’s integrally connected with Jesus Christ. And it’s a spiritual identity whose centre, whose location is with Christ in God. Christianity is not one of the world’s great religions. You see, it’s not a religion at all. Despite what people have tried to make it, it has no earthly sanctuary, it doesn’t depend on regulations or hierarchies or religious rites. It has no essential centre of authority in this world because its centre is Jesus Christ, who's seated at the right hand of God the Father. What’s more Christianity isn’t an exercise in internal spirituality or mysticism or even spiritual enthusiasm like the religions our world is familiar with. No, the Christian is simply someone who has been brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ, seated at God’s right hand. This is our present reality, even if we’re still waiting for it’s final fulfilment.