Theology in 3D

In Colossae, in Christ

Greg Stiekes | April 23, 2018
New Testament

The picture above is what you would see if you traveled to the site where once thrived the ancient city of Colossae, home to the church who received Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. In the distance, the modern town of Honaz nestles in the slopes of Honaz Daği, with its high, snowy peaks. In the foreground, to the far right is the flat-topped tell that hides the ruins of Colossae. A group of us trudged up the steep ascent of this peaceful tell some years ago. Strolling along on its summit, crunching ancient shards of broken pottery under our feet, we were struck with a sense of awe at the thought of the marble pillars and statues, gold and silver coins, shattered vessels, mosaics, ironwork, and all of the other relics of the once bustling civilization time had buried beneath us.

The apostle Paul was no doubt aware of the significance of this city in his day. But when he writes to the church at Colossae, Paul reminds these recently born-again believers that they are far more than mere citizens of an important city. When Paul addresses them he begins,

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father (Col 1:1–2).

This may seem like one of Paul’s standard, Christianized greetings. But there is something unique in about the way Paul addresses the Colossian church that is not matched exactly in any of his other letters. Using a literal translation of the Greek text, Paul addresses his words to the “in-Colossae saints” and “faithful brothers in Christ” (Col 1:1b). In Paul’s careful wording, they were at the same time both “in Colossae” and “in Christ.”

Immediately, the apostle creates a dichotomy that characterizes the rest of the letter. Throughout the entire letter to the Colossians there is a tension between being “in Colossae,” or in the present, phenomenal world, and being “in Christ,” or united with Christ as an eternal, spiritual reality.

To be only “in Colossae” is to live as if only this life is what matters, that our decisions and behaviors have implications only for what happens on this earth. But to be “in Christ” is to live in the reality of the fact that, spiritually, we have been intimately united with Christ, so that what is true of him is true of us.

There are multiple examples of this dichotomy—in Colossae, in Christ—that jump out as we read through the letter. For example,

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13–14).

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority (Col 2:8–10).

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:2–3).

In these and other passages in the letter to Colossae, Paul warns believers about living merely in the world and not living with the reality of their life in Christ. We tend to think about our spiritual life with Christ like a dream. It may be a vivid dream, but it is a dream nonetheless. And when we wake up from this dream we are back in the “reality” of the phenomenal world. We are back in Colossae.

But what Paul is suggesting is that our life in the phenomenal world is actually the dream, and that our real life is with Christ. One day we will awake fully to that life. Paul says, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:4).

The ancient civilization now buried deep within the Colossae tell disappeared over time, leaving only the broken memories of its existence. And so goes the rest of the world we inhabit. For all of its affluence and excitement and pleasure and grandeur, that which is only of this world, only “in Colossae,” will come to nothing. But our life “in Christ” is eternal. Let us live, therefore, in the eternal reality of our life with Christ!

One response to “In Colossae, in Christ”

  1. Layton Talbert says:

    Great post, Greg. I decided to follow your lead and expand on the rich “in Christ” theme in my next post. LT

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