Therefore if you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, sharing in His resurrection from the dead], keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value]. For you died [to this world], and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:1-3 AMP
Paul encouraged the Colossians to not get caught up in the toxic legalism that was infecting pure, relational spirituality. They had become so attached to rules and regulations that the Colossians had become performance focused.
Christ died so that we could live out our faith so that we might be free to enjoy God in fellowship. Paul asked the Colossians why they lived as though they belonged to the world if they died to it with Christ. The regulations of man have an appearance of wisdom, but they are imposed worship, false humility and harsh treatment of the body. They lack any value in restraining indulgence.
If we are caught up in rules and regulations, we can never live fully obedient to Christ. We cannot make our faith performance based. Our faith is a performance-free journey. This ought to be a relief to us, because we can never perform well enough to earn the enormity of God’s Grace. We are not consistent enough to earn the bounty of God’s blessings.
If we live a solely performance-based life, it takes what was meant to be a joyful journey and turns it into legalistic dread. With this worldview, Jesus can never be viewed as a friend. Instead, He becomes an inspection agent, always pointing out the places where we have glaring contradictions. Of course, this does not give us free reign to live any way we feel we are entitled to. When we make the decision to follow Christ, we also make the decision to live according to His Word, but when we enter into a loving relationship with Him, living a Christ focused life brings us tremendous joy and purpose.
If we live a solely performance-based life, we spend every moment thinking of the things we ought to do and ought not to do, and our lives become nothing more than avoiding sin. But the real sin is going the whole day without acknowledging the love of God. It is tiring and taxing to live like this. It creates a strong versus weak environment.
We cannot perform our way through our spirituality. We don’t need to figure out our stage presence every day. Our lives in Christ must become our lifestyle until we function in total freedom. We have already been set free, and that freedom shapes our performance—not the other way around.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…
Ephesians 1:11 NIV
Before we can work God’s plan in our lives, we have to know who we are in Him. Chapter 1 of Ephesians is written with that in mind. Paul explains that being a follower of Christ means that we are chosen by God, blameless, full of grace, and redeemed and forgiven.
God brought each one of us into existence so that He could bestow upon us “inexhaustible riches” (Rom 11:33) that were gifted to us by Grace. There is no limit to how much value and quantity God brings into our lives. These riches, according to Paul, are forgiveness of sins, redemption through the blood of Christ, the knowledge of His will, the message of Christ’s will, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit. Here, Paul also says that we have a guarantee of an inheritance.
The flashing truth of this is that being connected to God gives us the privilege of being able to really know ourselves. If we don’t know who we are in Him, we will never think that we are included in Christ. We will spend our time chasing an identity that God wishes to bestow freely in our lives. We will live frustrated with forgiveness. We will live knotted up in the mystery of God’s will. We will waste our inheritance and misapply spiritual truths.
It is amazing that we can live for such a long time and still not know who we are. When that happens, many of us disqualify ourselves from things that God intends because we did not feed our identity with our connection to Him. It is glaringly obvious that many of us have not accepted our identity as formed by Christ. Instead, we have accepted an identity that has been formed by cultural values, life experiences, and the perceptions of those around us.
But none of this reflects who we really are in Jesus. It is of paramount importance in this fast, labelling culture that we live in that we know who we are. We cannot be Christians and keep identifying ourselves with labels that identify what Jesus has delivered us from. Either Jesus sets us free completely or He doesn’t set us free at all. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), and that includes old labels and old ways of seeing ourselves.
If the Lord has set us free, then we are free to describe our history, but we can’t describe that history as a part of our identity.
I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
2 Timothy 1:3 NIV
Paul insisted that his life as an apostle had been pure joy. He said this in spite of the fact that he had faced many challenges and uphill battles. However, he had found fulfillment in his work, pouring Christ into the culture that had been drinking from the well of spiritual syncretism.
The source of Paul’s joy was his commitment to Christ and spreading the gospel, but he also said that it was the cause of his pain. It is a strange, but familiar, juxtaposition. Paul was honest about his struggle to hold tight the twin tensions of joy and pressure.
Faith doesn’t eliminate these tensions in life, but it does stabilize us if we believe that God purposed this tension and strengthens us in spite of it. Like Paul, we must manage this tension. We must be faithful to our call and manage our fatigue.
How do we handle honoring God when that means that we have to manage things that we don’t deserve? How do we pray a prayer of surrender when the One that we are praying to is offering us up to things that make us suffer?
Paul teaches Timothy that he should handle this tension by offering God a pure conscience. In the Greek, Timothy would have understood conscience to mean the capacity that God gives us to balance moral and spiritual discernment. It is the place where we judge between right and wrong.
Paul says that he offers God the purity of his conscience because it was tough to live between being faithful and living under attack. When he offers God this kind of conscience, Paul can say, right before he is going to death, “I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”
This is how we can live every day with stress on our backs and still wake up every day grateful. We know that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. This is how we handle walking through tumultuous times. We know that what sustains our life is Jesus living inside of us. When Jesus lives inside of us, there is purpose, even to our pain.
Do not let your heart be troubled (afraid, cowardly). Believe [confidently] in God and trust in Him, [have faith, hold on to it, rely on it, keep going and] believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and I will take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. And [to the place] where I am going, you know the way.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; so how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
John 14:1-6 AMP
Thomas’ question to Jesus comes after a long farewell speech. Jesus wanted the disciples to remember everything that had happened over His three years of ministry, but He doesn’t have time to repeat everything that was said. So, Jesus simply said: Keep my commandments and love others.
Jesus was asking the disciples a question: Can they love enough to embrace and to sacrifice or will they hide in the upper room in search of anonymity and obscurity? Jesus didn’t want them to just swap stories and hide from public view after He died. He wanted them to witness and preach to communities so they might come to know Jesus Christ.
Jesus let them know that they were transitioning, but this transition was necessary. He would see them on the other side of the resurrection, and they knew the way there.
When Jesus tells them that He is the way, He is telling them that not only is He a person, but He is also a process. How He lived His life and how He lived it matters. Not only is Jesus the way to life, He is also the process by which it should be lived.
We need a relationship with Jesus, but part of that relationship is learning to live by the process by which He lived. He is the way that we are to walk. He is the divine pattern by which we arrive at life’s purpose. Often, we spend our days searching for our life’s purpose, but Christ says it plainly: He is our life’s purpose.
And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.
Luke 21:13-19 NIV
How long does God think that we can function under unrelenting attack, unbelievable pressure, and unalterable conditions? What do we do when we just want to quit?
These have to be the questions that early Christians are asking themselves as Luke begins to write his Gospel—twenty years after Jesus’ ascension. Thousands of Christians are being persecuted under Nero’s bloodthirsty, Roman dominance. These Christians were, as Paul says, weary in their attempt to do well. At the same time, these Christians are trying to remain faithful to their belief that walking with Jesus is where the deepest meaning of all life resides.
Luke’s announcement to them, and us, is: When we wander or struggle, we must stand on our faith conviction that God always rewards His children with a promise. God promises that He will either gift us with spiritual survival or physical survival.
However, it can be hard for us to manage that in between state. God promises us survival, but the journey to the end can be filled with anxiety as we wait for a better day to come. When we are fatigued and frustrated, God expresses that His expectation is to give us the gift of survival. Against everything that happens to us, God will bless us to survive it.
God’s gift to us, though, requires an offering from us. God wants us to offer endurance to Him. We can shout about the fact that we’re going to survive, but we may not like to endure. We are not as dependable in offering God our endurance as He is to offer us the gift of survival.
As we sit in the middle of everything that we are going through, God asks us to be steadfast in our faith. We will win life if we stand firm.
When we are fixed in position and firm in our faith, we build up our hope in God. This is one of the hardest disciplines to develop. When we are able to look at our reality that makes us shiver down to the bone but continue to smile, we have truly mastered standing firm in our faith. We can smile because every detail of our body and soul, even down to the hairs on our heads, are in God’s care.