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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

A Colossians 3 Kind of Life

By Gary Tyra
Mar. 17, 2013

In the third chapter of his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul provided his readers with a vivid verbal portrait of a different way to live. At first glance, the many ethical exhortations that make up Colossians 3:5-17 might strike us as just another pastoral rant directed at some hapless church members in a more or less impatient manner.

I want to suggest this admittedly sobering, challenging passage actually serves as an encouraging indication that it’s possible, as followers of Christ, to begin living in ways that, deep down inside, we’ve always dreamed of. According to the apostle Paul, it’s possible for us to become the kind of people who are:

  • Overcoming our natural tendencies toward “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (3:5, NIV).

  • No longer given to “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language” (3:8).

  • Truthful with one another (3:9).

  • Overcoming our prejudices toward individuals and cultures (3:11).

  • So secure in God’s love for us that we are able to manifest “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” toward others (3:12).

  • Willing to forgive others in the same way the Lord forgives us (3:13).

  • Able to actively love our brothers and sisters in Christ (3:14).

  • Routinely functioning as peacemakers (rather than troublemakers) in the church; grateful for the privilege just to belong (3:15).

  • Empowered by the Spirit and our study of God’s Word to speak prophetically into the lives of others in encouraging, edifying ways, and to offer sincere praise and thanksgiving to God (3:16; cf. Ephesians 5:18-20).

  • Continually endeavoring to imitate and honor Christ in everything we say and do, offering our entire lives to God as an act of grateful worship (3:17).

As I reflect on this verbal portrait of the Christian life “painted” by Paul, I am led to ask: Who wouldn’t want this? Who wouldn’t want to believe we might come to a place in our spiritual journey where we find ourselves being empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in the Christ-honoring manner Colossians 3 talks about?

The good news is, Paul’s purpose in this passage was not just to inspire but to inform as well. The Christlike kind of life described in Colossians 3:5-17 is prefaced by some important words of pastoral counsel contained in Colossians 3:1-4. This very important prelude reads this way:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

For sure, this is a somewhat mysterious collection of verses. It’s my contention, however, that the preceding paragraphs make it apparent Paul was endeavoring to help his readers understand how they might forge something other than a frustrating, ultimately ineffective approach to spirituality (see Colossians 2). The point of this portion of the letter to the Colossians seems to be this: It’s one thing to want to be spiritual; it’s another to get it right!

According to the apostle Paul, the Colossian Christians needed to shift their focus away from man-made rules and rituals toward the person and power of the risen and ascended Jesus. This is the key not only to an authentically Christian spirituality, but also to the victorious lifestyle described in Colossians 3:5-17.

We must learn to experience a perpetual sense of the risen Christ’s empowering presence, each moment of every day drawing on the rich resources of the One who, having overcome every temptation the devil and a sinful world system threw at Him (see John 16:33), now abides at the right hand of God the Father in heaven!

Something about this focus on the risen Jesus just seems right, doesn’t it? Indeed, some rather extensive academic research and 10 years of personal experience have convinced me a spiritual practice I refer to as “the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence” is at the very heart of Christian spirituality. With practice, it’s possible to enjoy an intimate, interactive relationship with our Heavenly Father that is ongoing rather than occasional, and consistent rather than hit-and-miss.

For instance, in her book Enjoying the Presence of God, Jan Johnson writes:

An awareness of God can flow through our day the way blood circulates through the body, replenishing it with nutrients and oxygen. We pay attention to God, conscious that He may be speaking to us. His presence begins to permeate our lives — through thoughts, feelings, dreams, activities, and in-between moments.

Practicing God’s presence moves His companionship beyond church gatherings, before-meal graces, and quiet times to infiltrate the ordinary moments of life. Keeping company with God this way transforms tasks ... into acts of worship because we know at whose feet we sit for the rest of our lives.

Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for spiritual life authors to take the practice of the presence of God one step further and, on the basis of passages like Colossians 3:1-4, suggest that it’s possible, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, to cultivate a moment-by-moment mentoring relationship with the risen and ascended Jesus.

Dallas Willard speaks of the need for Christians concerned about their spiritual formation to live in “hot pursuit” of Jesus Christ. The idea here is that we can and should learn to reckon with Christ’s real presence with us throughout our days. To the degree we do this, we will find ourselves being enabled more and more to live a Colossians 3 kind of life.

We simply do things differently when we sense Jesus is right there with us, eager to help us say “yes” to God and “no” to the world, the flesh and the devil!

In a nutshell, the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence calls for us to:

  • Begin each day conversing with the risen Christ (the real Jesus, not just the idea of Him), surrendering the entire day to Him.

  • Keep an internal conversation with Christ going throughout the day, reckoning with His real presence, dedicating our work to Him, seeking to serve and honor Him in everything we say and do.

  • Express regret whenever we recognize we have become distracted from “the pursuit” and have begun to respond to people and situations in our own strength rather than His.

  • Keep going right back to the pursuit of His presence, expressing gratitude for His grace, committed to both knowing His remarkable love and mercy and then showing it to others.

  • Conclude the day taking stock of how well we fared in “the pursuit,” drifting off to sleep knowing that, the Lord willing, we will awake in a few hours to begin the adventure of walking with Christ all over again!

In his classic work, Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly offered these words of encouragement:

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.

“A gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.” What a powerful image! What sincere follower of Jesus doesn’t want to experience growth in his or her ability to hear God’s voice and sense His direction?

According to the apostle Paul, we can do this; there is another way to live! With the help of the Holy Spirit we can engage in a daily pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence, and, in the process, learn to live a Colossians 3 kind of life. Again I ask: Who wouldn’t want this?

GARY TYRA is professor of biblical and practical theology at Vanguard University (Assemblies of God) in Costa Mesa, Calif., and author of Christ's Empowering Presence: The Pursuit of God Through the Ages, and other books.


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