By Pastor Glenn Pease.
On a flight from Britain to India, Handly Page, one of the leading aviators of Britain in his day, was forced to land in the desert of Arabia. He landed near some Bedouin tents and after some minor repairs he took off again. After he did, he noticed a strange noise in back of him in the fuselage. He soon identified it as the gnawing of a rat. It had come aboard when he landed, no doubt attracted by some crumbs of food. As Mr. Page considered the danger he was in due to the gnawing teeth of the rodent, he went into a cold sweat. The idea came to him almost immediately that rats were built for low altitudes, and could live in the heights. So he sent the plane climbing. Higher and higher he went, and as he did the sounds behind him became fainter and fainter, and finally ceased altogether. When he landed he found a dead rat. It had been killed by the high altitude.
Paul is saying in this passage that believers, like this pilot, must get rid of the foul and dangerous things in their lives by living on such a high level spiritual atmosphere that the old man of sin cannot survive. The sinner in us suffocates in the high altitude of spiritual living. This passage makes clear the paradox of the Christian life, for it states that the Christian is both dead and alive, and that the dead part is not so dead that it is no longer a danger, and the living part is not so strong that it can thrive unaided. The Christian is dead to the world and its values, and alive to God and His values. But this is a theological truth that often does not match the facts of reality. That which is supposedly dead still has the energy to drag us down and hold us to the earth. It is only by a constant slaying of that which is already dead that we can begin to climb. Paul said, " I die daily," and that is why he climbed so high. This is what he urges the Colossians to do, and this is God's will for all of us-to be both dead and alive. Lets look at this passage to see how we can bring the ideal down into the realm of the real.
V 1 How can we be risen with Christ? Is not the resurrection of the believer a future event? Paul would explain this by pointing out that there are two resurrections of the believer. Man died in two senses in Adam. First he died spiritually, and second he died physically. He, therefore, needs two resurrections in Christ to be made fully alive. The first resurrection is spiritual and the second is physical at the second coming of Christ. The spiritual resurrection is contemporary and is going on continuously as those who are dead in sin are being called out of darkness into light and life through the gospel.
Paul makes it clear that in Christ the believer experiences a present resurrection. In Eph. 2:4-6 he writes, "But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with them in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, ......" Paul says, not only have we been raised, but we also are exalted and reign with Christ at God's right hand. In other words, the greatest events in God's redemptive plan are continuing experiences. The death, the resurrection, and ascension of Christ are not only past events, but are present experiences in that every time a sinner believes in Christ he dies to his old life and is raise to new life and becomes a part of the body of Christ which reigns with its head, the Lord Jesus.
Baptism symbolizes this death and resurrection. We are buried a sinner and raised a saint. Now wait a minute says the critic, let's be realistic, where are all these saints that died to self, and now live wholly to Christ? They must be all in stained glass windows for you don't very often find one in shoe leather. The critic has a point. Can we take this kind of theology seriously when the lives of believers fall so far short of the ideal? The fact is, because we have not taken this theology seriously, we fall short. We have become so realistic about our failure that we have decided to live with it and forget the ideal of God's plan. Paul is warning us to flee from this attitude. If you are risen with Christ, don't be crawling around with the grub worms; don't be content with life on any level but the highest; seek those things which are above.
This rising to the heights of the spiritual life is not automatic. If it was, there would be no need to exhort believers to seek for it. It would just take place without effort. If one does not believe that he is risen with Christ then, of course, he will not aim to live in harmony with such belief, and the result is the ideal will not be made real. We need to be as realistic about our resurrection life as we are about our weakness in the flesh.
The way is open for the believer to climb to the heights and to the pinnacle of purity, but there are no escalators-it takes effort and commitment. The way is narrow, and the path is steep. One must make it the aim, the ambition, the aspiration of his life to attain it. Like Paul, he must press on, dying daily, and looking always onto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. If we are risen with Christ, we must walk in newness of life we dare not aim for less than a life that would be acceptable to be seated at God's right hand. Sure you will fall and fail, but this must be your aim.
Grandly begin, though thou hast time
For but a line, be that sublime
Not failure, but low aim is crime.
He who seeks to scale the height
Can fall, and might,
But he who hugs the ground below,
Success can never know.
That is why Paul urges believers to seek. Mountains do not stoop so men can stand on their peaks, nor does the high ideal of the Christian life descend and allow us to stumble effortlessly into it. If we want to really be alive as Christ is, and wants us to be, we must climb, and seek those things above.
Paul says we are to set our minds on things above. Whatever you set your mind on determines the character of your life. Set your mind on pleasure and you will tend to become a libertine devoted to satisfying your every lust. Set your mind on getting rich and you will become a workaholic devoted to accumulating wealth. Set your mind on things above and you will strive, like Paul, to do all things pleasing to God. This is evident in the dying words of well known men. P. T. Barnum's last words were, "What were today's receipts?" The last words of John Wesley were, "The best of all is God is with us."
One must by an act of will set his mind on things above or he will never seek those things, for men do not search for what they do not think about. On the other hand, what a man most thinks about he is certain to seek. Paul was way ahead of Peale on the power of positive thinking. If a Christians aim is no higher than what an unsaved person might attempt to attain, then he is certainly falling short of the glory of God. We need to ask ourselves if we have a goal in life that is distinctly different and on a higher level than the unsaved person can reach. If you cannot state such an aim, it may be that you have set your mind on things of earth and not on things above.
Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. If it is on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, then one's values in life are never very secure. Audubon spent 15 years making sketches of birds, then put them in a trunk, and when he came back from a long trip he found that rats had ruin them. Issac Newton's dog spot tore to pieces a manuscript that represented the work of a quarter of his lifetime. One is never sure of his treasure when it is earthly, but nothing of ultimate worth can ever be snatched away from him whose values are eternal. Therefore, Paul exhorts us to make the real in life conform to the ideal, which already accomplished in Christ. You are risen with Christ and exalted with Him. All of the values of this are available if you seek them, and live in harmony with them. God wants Christians who are alive to the resurrected life.
Then in verse 3, Paul after exhorting Christians to be alive since they are risen with Christ, turns around and says, you died. How can we both dead and alive at the same time? Is this a contradiction? No-we must see in what sense both are true. In Rom. 6:11 Paul makes it clear, "... count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." We are dead to sin in the same way we are alive to God. Both are potential realities made possible by Christ's death and resurrection. They are real, but relative. They are facts of history in Christ, and by our union with Him can be facts in us as we obey, and reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
Be dead, my heart, to worldly charms
Be dead to every sin,
And tell the boldest foe without
That Jesus reigns within.
By exercising our will that has been set free in Christ from the bondage of sin we can choose to slay the old self, and nurture the new self. We can starve the old man by making no provision for the flesh. When Bohemund lead the Crusades against the city of Durazzo, and besieged it, he made sure his men would seek no alternative but victory by burning the boats on the shore. There was no provision for retreat. This is the way a Christian must advance up the steep and narrow way. He must destroy all bridges behind him that offer a way back to the old life. Die to sin by cutting off the opportunities to sin.
Paul says look ahead-your life is hid with Christ in God now, and when Christ comes you will appear with Him in glory. With the expectation of such a destiny how can you consider living on a low level? A man who is going to appear before a king will keep himself neat and clean. How much more ought we who are to appear in glory with the King of kings keep ourselves unspotted from the world? Paul goes on to give a listing of those things that we are to put to death. We still have a body that is weak, and without a constant effort to hold it down it can gain control and keep us from walking in newness of life. Therefore, we, like Paul, must die daily to stay fully alive. God wants us to be both dead and alive.