Parish the Thought November 2017 by Dr. Dana Wright

A good deal of our New Testament contains the writings of the Apostle Paul. He has had an enormous impact on the church’s understanding of the Christ Event. While some scholars regard this impact in mostly negative terms, the general consensus is that Paul’s theology has made a significant positive contribution to the church’s understanding of Christ. We know Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles. Once an enemy of the church, his profound understanding of the Hebrew tradition prior to his Damascus Road experience was transfigured through his encounter with Jesus the Messiah. For Paul, Jesus was not another prophet, or a good teacher, or a profound philosopher, who contributed to the world’s general wisdom. Jesus was utterly unique, the Son of God and the messianic Lord of all creation. Through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus of Nazareth was revealed as the center of reality itself. All things were created in, through, and for him (Col. 1:16). For Paul, when Christ encounters us, he does not just add a little wisdom to our lives, or give us a spiritual boost, or make life a little easier. No, for Paul, Jesus undoes us! Indeed, the language Paul uses for Christ’s impact on our lives is quite violent; conforming to the violence Jesus met in this own death on the cross. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul writes. “And it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20a). Paul writes about the church having “died with Christ,” being “buried with Christ,” being “raised with Christ,” and being “made alive together with Christ” (Col. 2:11–13). So, if we are Christ’s, we have suffered our death and our burial with Christ in order to experience Christ’s resurrection to newness of life. Paul writes that God has acted violently in Christ to make new life possible for us. God has taken the initiative in Christ to bring about our crucifixion, burial, and resurrection to newness of life.

But, we might ask, what human actions follow from this divine work? Having been included in Christ’s crucifixion, burial, resurrection and ascension, what do we do? How do we work out the newness Christ worked in us? According to Paul, there is plenty for us to do. In Colossians 3:1–4 Paul first confronts us with two imperatives or commands to action.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

This passage first speaks of the church’s call to actively seek a new center of life. We don’t saunter into sanctification, Paul says. We “seek the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Paul does not mean here that we should become “heavenly-minded.” The language of “above” and “seated at the right hand of God” is Paul’s way of talking about Christ’s sovereignty now, especially on earth! Paul wants the church to know that Christ is God’s anointed king now. Christ rules over our lives and over all the principalities and powers, including them dominant culture, now! At the center of our new life is Messiah. Truly Christian disciples are characterized ultimately by the lifestyle they live in obedient response to the sovereign Christ.  Secondly, this new lifestyle in service to Christ requires a radical new mind. “Set your mind on the things above” is again not a call to be heavenly-minded. Rather, Paul calls the church to learn to think of the whole of life under Christ’s sovereignty now. Disciples are to develop “the mind of Christ” about everything in life. Seeking Christ cannot be divorced from thinking Christ. While Christ’s sovereignty is hidden now from the world, it is to be partially revealed now in those who order their lives and set their minds on Christ’s rule. Discipleship requires continually seeking this new orientation in Christ and this continual transformation of our thinking in light of Christ. I offer this food for thought in light of All Saints Day.