"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: June 2010

Foundations for Obedience

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience …” (Colossians 3:12)

Paul now draws a logical inference (“So”) from what he has just explained.  He takes up the same verb (“put on”) he used in verse 10.  Previously he stated that believers “have put on” the “new self.”  Now, in keeping with that new reality and identification, we are exhorted to “put on” the graces that match our standing.  We are to become in experience what we have been declared to be in fact.  The aorist imperative indicates that the necessary action is urgently needed and demands that it be undertaken at once.  The middle voice pictures the subjects as responsible to take this action upon themselves.

In verses 5 and 8 the Apostle chose in each instance to name five vices to be “put aside.”  Now he identifies five graces which are to be “put on.”  But before he identifies what those are he uses a subordinate clause to explain how it is he is able to expect obedience to this imperative.  We are to undertake this action “as those who have been chosen by God.”  Such an imperative is not laid upon us in our humanness and finite strength, but “as” we are under the electing love of God.  The word is used to “introduces the characteristic quality of a pers[on] . . .”[1] Here we are considered as we are “in Christ.”  The adjective refers to “those whom God has chosen fr[om] the generality of mankind and drawn to himself.”[2] This selection was “by God.”  The eternal God, before time began, laid His electing, choosing love upon those He selected.  It is only in this way that His grace came to us and we believed unto eternal life.  It is precisely because of this that we are therefore deemed by Him to be “holy and beloved.”  God alone is “holy” by nature.  Yet, because of His grace made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God Himself will present us before Himself as “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22).  Because of this He can rightly call us “saints” (1:2, 4, 12, 26).  To this adjective Paul adds (“and”) a participle: “beloved.”  The perfect tense indicates that they became so at a point in time in the past and continue to be in this abiding state at the present moment.  The passive voice reveals that this was accomplished by God’s electing love.  God simply chose to set His love upon the elect from the creation of the world.  The Apostle is not indiscriminately laying moral imperatives upon people and expecting them to fulfill them in their own strength.  Rather it is precisely because of this gracious favor of God that we are able to “put on” these various graces.  Gospel imperatives are possible precisely because of Gospel grace.

[1] BAGD, 898.

[2] BAGD, 242.

Christ is All!

“… but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

In strong contrast (“but”) to the human distinctions just enumerated (v.11a) Paul makes the amazing assertion that “Christ is all, and in all.”  Paul closes with a phrase which is void of a verb (“is” is added to make sense of it in English), but is all the more powerful for its succinctness.  The proper noun (“Christ”) is placed at the end of the sentence for emphasis.  Christ is said to be “all, and in all.”

Just what is meant by saying Christ is “all”?  The neuter plural form in Greek serves to encompass all things.  Robertson says that it is used as a predicate for “Christ” and thus stands “for the totality of things.”[1] Christ created all things (1:16a).  Christ sustains all things (1:17b).  Christ is supreme over all things (1:17a).  Christ is “all.”  This is not a pantheistic statement, but a way of saying that the sum and substance of everything is Christ.  He is the singular point of their origin.  He is the one necessity for their continuance.  All things exist for Him (1:16b).  It is then both logical and appropriate to speak of Christ as “all.”  In the application of God’s grace, then, Christ engulfs all racial, religious, cultural, and cultural differences with His indiscriminate grace.  “Christ is all” anyone needs to become a fully welcomed and functioning participate in the “new self” (v.10).  Nothing added.  Nothing needed.  “Christ is all.”

Paul speaks here of this as an established fact.  Yet he speaks elsewhere of it as a fact (in the universal, all-inclusive sense) yet to be established.  “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:58).  Indeed, even here in Colossians he does so: “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything [or “in all”]” (1:18).  What Christ is now He is by divine and redemptive right.  Yet this is not currently seen and acknowledged by all.  At His return, however, all will see what has always been true of Him – “Christ is all, and in all”!

As sweeping as is the first part of this statement, this is not all that Paul asserts.  He adds (“and”) that Christ is “in all.”  In the Greek adjective (“all”) by form may be either neuter (‘in all things”) or masculine (“in all [redeemed] people”) plural.  The first would be a pantheistic statement, something Paul would not make.  Surely then it is the latter and Paul is emphasizing that Christ now indwells His people through His Spirit (John 14:16-18).  He has made His people His temple, both individually (1 Cor. 6:19) and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16).  Elsewhere Paul speaks of God as “Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6).  Now the fullness of God (Christ) has come to fill us full of Himself (Col. 2:9-10) and to be in us and to us and for us all that we should be.  Indeed, our calling is to be “His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23)!  This will not be fulfilled by straining effort to achieve such a standing.  It is achieved by Christ as He indwells His people who in restful faith simply find Him to be their all in all.  This cannot be restricted by any distinction found among mankind—be it cultural, racial, religious or social.  “Christ is all, and in all”!

[1] Robertson, Grammar, 657.

All Boundaries Obliterated!

“… a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman …” (Colossians 3:11a)

We have been exhorted, as those graced by God through Christ, to put on “the new self” (v.10).  This “new self” is at various turns pictures the state of each one of us individually and at other times all of us collectively “in Christ.”  In what follows it is clear that Paul now has the corporate nature of “the new self” in view more than that individual.

Paul now designates different racial, religious, cultural and social distinctions that, while found on earth among the unredeemed, are obliterated and cease to exist in “the new self” re-created by Christ.  He first gives two contrasting pairs, then names two groups individually, and then closes with another contrasting pair.  First is the pair “Greek and Jew.” Eleven of the thirteen times Paul uses the noun “Greek” he combines it, as he does here, with the word “Jew.”  It refers not simply to people of Greek culture or language, but more broadly to pagan or heathen peoples.[1] This is in distinction from the “Jew” as determined by birth, race or religion.[2] The next pair is “circumcised and uncircumcised,” which is the same distinction simply considered now by that characteristic mark (or its absence) which set the Jew apart from the Gentile.  Paul may have repeated himself in this way for sake of emphasis simply because false teachers in Colossae seemed to have had a significant Jewish vein to their teaching and may have been pushing physical circumcision as a necessity for saving faith.  Then there is “barbarian.” The word referred to those who spoke in “stammering, stuttering, uttering unintelligible sounds” and were thus considered of “strange speech or foreign language (i.e. non-Greek in language and culture in the NT).”[3] The word itself had an “onomatopoetic repetition” to its intonation—with the sound bar-bar.[4] Then comes “Scythian.” The Scythians were inhabitants of what is today southern Russia.  “By the more civilized nations of antiquity the Scythians were regarded as the wildest of all barbarians.”[5] They were “the barbarian or savage ‘par excellence’.”[6] Finally there is the pair “slave” and “freeman,” which mark out both sides of the social scale of bondage to servitude on the one hand and self-directed autonomy on the other.

The false teachers in Colossae were preaching a “gospel” that divides – some are “in” and others are “out.”  Some are “in the know” and others are not.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ unites and binds.  It overcomes social, racial, religious and cultural distinctions to make all believers stand on the level ground of grace before God “in Christ.”  The vertical grace of God to man is given without regard to such distinctions.  That grace then goes horizontal between the recipients of such grace and those same distinctions fade away in the fellowship of those who make up the “new self.”

[1] BAGD, 252.

[2] Ibid., 379.

[3] Friberg, 87.

[4] Robertson, 4:503.

[5] Thayer, 580.

[6] BAGD, 758.

On with the New …

In Colossians 3:9 and 10 the Apostle Paul lays the foundation for how we may, in actual practice, declare “Out with the old and on with the new.”  In verse 9 we met the “out with the old.”  Now consider how the Apostle tells us we can live out the new life Jesus Christ offers.

“… and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—” (Colossians 3:10)

Paul now adds (“and”) a second participial clause (for the first see the previous post), providing the second ground upon which the imperatives of verses 5-9a are based.  Corresponding to the first participle (“since you laid aside the old self,” v.9) Paul tells us we “have put on the new self.”  Once again the tense is aorist – signaling decisive action.  The verb will be used again in verse 12 where it is clear that what is “put on” are new virtues and actions.  Paul has emphasized the change of position and identity with regard to “the old man” (v.9) and now he intends the same here with regard to “the new self.”  This is a change both of regeneration to new life with a new heart individually and of transfer from being counted “in Adam” to being established “in Christ” corporately.

While such a change will be manifested clearly in one’s outward behavior (vv.9, 12) it is fundamentally an inward change for such a one is he “who is being renewed to a true knowledge.”  The participle itself is a compound word comprised of “again” and “make new.”  The word is used only here and 2 Corinthians 4:16: “. . . though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (emphasis added).  The present tense underscores the continual nature of the process (cf. Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18).  The passive voice emphasizes that the accomplishment of this renewal is the doing of another – God Himself.  We are, by His grace, not what we once were in Adam.  Yet He is ever and always working to make what He has effected in us true of us in every dimension of our being, He is thus always making anew, actualizing a new quality of life here and now.  In this there is constant hope, for we are, by His grace, not what we shall yet be in Christ.  This ongoing transformation is “to a true knowledge.”  This is now the fourth time in this letter that Paul has used this noun (1:9, 10; 2:2; 3:10) and he employs the cognate verb in 1:6.  It is a compound word (“upon” and “knowledge”) which intensifies the root and points to fullness, depth and completeness of knowledge.  He has been using the word in a thrust against the false teachers in Colossae.  They were emphasizing their knowledge of things spiritual (2:4, 8, 18), but Paul makes clear that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).  In the earlier usages Paul prays or longs for the realization of this knowledge in the Colossian believers’ lives.  In 1:9 the knowledge Paul desired for the Colossian believers was “of His will,” in 1:10 it was “of God,” and in 2:2 it was knowledge “of God’s mystery,” a “mystery” which is “Christ Himself.”  The preposition is directional—God is ever moving us “into” this full, true, complete knowledge that is found in Christ alone.

This renewal is not nebulous or without form.  It has a pattern, a goal, a destination.  It is “according to the image of the One who created him.  The word translated “the image” immediately reminds one of Genesis 1:26-27: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Yet closer to home here in Colossians the word was used by Paul earlier to say that Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (1:15a).  This is a theologically rich and significant word as it relates to one’s Christology.  The same word that in 1:15 stresses not just similarity, but shared essence is now used of the pattern after which the believer is being remade.  While Christ is the image of God (1:15), we have been and are being remade “according to” the image of Christ (3:10).  This is holy ground and we must take off our theological sandals and walk softly.  This does not say that we are the “image” of Christ as He is the “image” of God, but that we are being remade “according to” (“in accordance with, just as, similar(ly) to”, BAGD, 407) His “image.”  It is not that the believer ever shares in the divine essence itself, yet the union of the believer with Christ is indeed real.  So real is it that Paul has been able to speak of “Christ, who is our life” (3:4).  “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ” (Col. 2:9-10a).  Peter asserts that we “may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).  To be sure—and to emphasize once again—we do not and never will share in Christ’s divinity or Godhood.  Yet the writers of Scripture speak of the union of the believer with Christ in the most intimate of ways.  Paul speaks elsewhere of the body of Christ coming to a place where we attain “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) and that together we may actually become “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:23).  This is a mystery, the subtle nuances of which are difficult to draw out in detail (and which we attempt at our own peril), but the parameters of which are clearly drawn (and which we ignore to our own spiritual detriment).

The image after which we are being remade is “of the One who created him.”  Here in Colossians it is Christ who is pictured as the Creator.  He is “the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created” (1:15b-16a).  The personal pronoun (“him”) finds its antecedent in “the new self.”[1] Since inwardly we are being remade after Christ’s image (v.10b) we ought then to put on new outward actions to reflect this inward change (vv.8-9).  This inward-to-outward movement of logic confirms our understanding of the vice lists in verses 5 and 8 (see this post) where we saw Paul logically moving from inward impulse to outward action in his description of sin and in implicitly outlining a strategy for overcoming these sins.

[1] Harris, 153.

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