14. Raised?

Meditations in Colossians 2: 14:  Raised?

Col 2:12    having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

We sometimes try to get over complicated with the simple picture language that Paul often uses. In the previous meditation we commented that it was sometimes unfamiliar Jewish language that needed thinking out, but our verse above has simple and straight forward language so let’s see what it says.

When he starts out “having been” it infers that what we now have before us actually happens before the things we considered in the previous verse.  The “putting off of the sinful nature,” (v.11) takes place after you have died and been raised again. It is something that took place at conversion but needs working out through the rest of our lives. So let’s take this verse bit by bit.

“having been buried with him in baptism.” Let’s paraphrase that: when we were baptized it was a picture of our old self dying and being buried, just like Christ died and was buried, so just as his body needed the power from the Father to be raised to a new life, so did we. He was dead, and we were dead.

“and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  Similarly, just as the Father’s power raised Jesus’ body from the dead, as we responded to Him in faith, so He imparts and gives us that same power, the power of His Holy Spirit, to enable us to live new lives. Paul taught the same thing to the Romans: if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11)

To summarise, we died to our old life and God has now imparted His Spirit to us to raise up new lives in the likeness of Jesus with the same power that raised Jesus. Because this has happened the life we now live involves that “putting off of the sinful nature,” that we saw in v.11. There is a combination here of the work of God and our own activities. He provides the power but we have to exercise the will to purposefully put off self-centeredness and godlessness. When we purpose to fill and operate our lives with love and grace and truth, as we rely upon Him, so He enables us to do that. On a day when we may be feeling weak and incapable, as we turn to Him and ask for His supply, suddenly we find that we are coping, no, we are more than coping, we are being a blessing to others. This being raised to new life is enabled by Him but must be acted upon by acts of will as we work out our day by day lives. We have to determine not to lie, not to cheat, not to cut corners off integrity, not to look wrongly at a member of the opposite sex, not to speak wrong words that demean or put down, words that deceive or distort the truth. These are all ways of the ‘old life’, the ‘old nature’, ‘the sinful nature’ and they have no place in our lives today but it needs constant acts of will, and constant relying upon Him for this to be achieved.

We would do well to link in the next verse with all of this: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” (v.13) Ah, there we have that Jewish flavour again.  The difficult phrase is “the uncircumcision of your sinful nature”.  For Paul there were Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised covenant people of God and the uncircumcised godless people of the rest of the world.

He is referring back there to how we were before we came to Christ and says that we were “dead in your sins,” meaning lifeless as far as God and true spiritual issues are concerned. We were living self-centred and godless lives that lead to unrighteous or sinful behaviour. That sinful lifestyle cut us off from God. When you are self-centred you cannot be God-centred at the same time. No, God seems a million miles away. If your life is a life being lived contrary to God’s design for us, then it is a sin life.

But when he says we were living in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,” he simply means we used to be like Gentiles with no covenant relationship with God, still living in our old sinful ways – that is how it used to be!  But now? “God made you alive with Christ.”  We are what we are today – because God has put His Spirit in us and made us spiritually alive. The power is there, all we have to do is use it! And that is a matter of your will.

17. Baptised into Death

17:  Baptised into Death

Rom 6:3,4   Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The apostle Peter once wrote of Paul, His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” (2 Pet 3:16) and I think that would apply to these present verses. When the wording is difficult the immature give up and the mature pray for revelation and insight. So let’s take this bit by bit and see what we can see.

When he starts the sentence, “Or don’t you know…..” he is flowing on from “We died to sin,” in verse 2, and so what is now going to follow expands on that simple sentence. We did cover it in large measure in the previous meditation but let’s see Paul’s argument or explanation now. His primary point that follows is that we “were baptized into Christ Jesus.”

Now there are several baptisms referred to in the New Testament. First of all there is baptism in water which John the Baptist did (e.g. Mt 3:6) and then Jesus and his followers did and the Church has continued to do since. Then there is being baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). But then Jesus also used baptism to simply refer to entering into the same experience as him – “Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mt 10:38) Yet again there is also Paul’s reference to being baptized into Christ: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3:26,27) or being baptized into Christ’s ‘body’: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” (1 Cor 12:13)

The Greek word for ‘baptise’ was used when referring to something being immersed in something (e.g. a cloth in dye), or being submerged in (as with a sinking ship). The concept of baptism when used as an analogy simply means to be put into something, so in the examples above we are put into water, put into the Holy Spirit and put into the body of Christ, the church.

The difficult bit of our verses above then follows: “were baptized into his death.”  What Paul is saying is that if we were put into Christ we were put into a body or Being that has already experienced death. The head of this body (Christ – Col 1:18) knows death because it has been through death. Christ knows that the way to life for mankind was by giving his life, i.e. his death. This body works on the principle of giving up the old life to release new life.

Then Paul comes up with another declaration that needs some thought: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death.”   When we were physically baptized, it was a sign of what had already happened – we had died to our old life. Thus baptism by immersion (which it was in the New Testament period and still is in churches wishing to maintain the Biblical imagery) is a picture of being buried – the old life dead and gone (as you go down under the water) – and of being raised from the dead to new life by Christ (as the pastor lifts you up from under the water.)

But to take another of the baptism pictures – of being baptized into Christ’s body – you only became part of that body by dying to self and to the old life, and surrendering to God, letting Him raise a new life in you as you are born again by His Spirit. The qualification for the kingdom of God is death to self and surrender to God, accounting the old life as worthless, dead and gone.

Even within what we have just said, we have covered Paul’s closing words in these verses. Baptism portrays two things: death and resurrection. Every time someone is baptized in this way they are indirectly declaring Christ’s death and resurrection and then, secondly, their own death and resurrection.

Remember this is all part of Paul slowly working in to the thoughts about the nature of the lives we now live. In chapter 5 he had declared that God’s grace was big enough to bring change to every single person who came to Him and now, here in chapter 6 he is pointing out that the doorway to this new life and the power that goes with it is pictured in baptism – our own water baptism and being baptized into Christ. If all this is true – and it is – then there is no room for sin to prevail in our lives, for our old sin lives are dead and buried and the lives we are now living are empowered by God’s own Holy Spirit. This is going to come through Paul’s teaching again and again in the next three chapters, but we need to hear it again and again, until we take in the wonder of what has happened.

4. Those who Mourn

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 4

Mt 5:3 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We do not look forward to mourning; it is not something we would consider as a good part of life yet Jesus, in only the second of these Beatitudes, says those who mourn are blessed. How can it be? Mourning follows death! Solomon seemed to have the same idea: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:3,4). The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning? Whatever does he mean?

Having recently been to a funeral of a family member, I have recently been reminded of another aspect of death and of the mourning that follows: it sheds light on life, it makes you think about life and what follows it. Death brings a perspective to life that is often missing. Yes, there is grief there for the loss of a loved one, but in the midst of that is this inner reflection that goes on, what is life about, what follows it? That’s what Solomon meant.

Before we put any spiritual sense to today’s verse, let’s take it at its face value. Those who mourn will be comforted? Is that always true? Well time, they say, is a great healer, but does it bring ‘comfort’? I think ‘acceptance’ is probably the right word, the ability to come to terms with the fact that death has occurred and life must go on, but not ‘comfort’. Comfort suggests a positive, good feeling. For many people with no spiritual experience or no relationship with God, death is a thing to be feared, or even hated, as it is seen to have snatched a loved one away. No, mourners are not always comforted, so what was Jesus saying?

When we put it in the context of the previous beatitude, when we think back on the things we thought about in the previous meditation, we realize that part of the process that we referred to, of coming to an awareness of our spiritual poverty and our need, does in fact involve mourning. We realize that the life we have lived fell far short of what we felt it could have been. We come to an awareness of our own failure, our own shortcomings and we anguish for that life. Indeed, even though that life is still there, we mourn over it, we grieve because of it. It is this process that brings us to the recognition that we must get right with God, and if God have provided a way for that to happen, we must accept that.

In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul uses the language of death: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:2-4), “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.(v.6-8), “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.(v.11)

What Paul was saying was that to become a Christian we have to die to our old life, we have to give it up and let God bring us a new one. Now we don’t mourn the old life after it has gone, that is the strange thing. No, we mourn for it, while we still have it. It is that mourning, that grieving over it, that brings us to Christ, that brings us to a place of surrender, where we are willing to let go our old life and let Jesus renew us. While we are in that state of mourning we wonder if indeed we are hopeless. Speaking of our old life, the apostle Paul said, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Eph 2:1). He then added, “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.” (v.4,5). That’s the life we had before we knew Christ – we were spiritually dead and hopeless and helpless, and then the Holy Spirit started convicting us and we started mourning that hopeless deadness. That was a vital part of bringing us right through.

So, the first beatitude shows us our need to come to an awareness of our spiritual poverty (dead in your transgressions and sins) and the second one shows us our need to realize the awfulness of that life, and mourn over it. These are the initial stages of us coming to Christ, the ‘bad news’ that precedes the ‘Good News’.