"Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." — Col. 3:3, 4.
We can scarcely fail to be struck with the decided and unmistakable plainness of these brief but important sentences. There is no "if, or "but, or condition of any kind. The statements are clear and absolute; and the question which at once forces itself upon the mind is, To whom were those divinely-inspired words sent? The answer is supplied by the second verse of the first chapter: "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse." We can easily see how impossible it would be to address such soul-comforting language to the inhabitants generally of an idolatrous city. We therefore find that the persons to whom this blessed epistle was written were those in that city who were "in Christ." The first verse shows that "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God," was the inspired writer; and the second verse, that "the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colosse" were the persons addressed.
It is remarkable too that Paul had not seen them. We can easily understand a spiritual servant of the Lord Jesus saying of persons with whom he was personally and intimately acquainted, "I fully expect that such and such persons will be in glory;" but to write in such a positive and decided style to persons he had never seen, needs some explanation. The reason of his thus writing was that he had heard, through a faithful servant of the Lord who had been labouring among them, that they not only professed to be Christians, but that they manifested the two cardinal points of Christianity, "faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints." He declared also to the apostle their "love in the Spirit." (Col. 1:4, 8.) It need scarcely be added that these activities of soul are never found in the natural man, and can be produced only by a divine work. There may be, on the one hand, much natural amiability and generous and self-denying ministry to others, without any knowledge of Christ; on the other hand, there may be a boastful faith which can remove mountains, without any sense of the love of God in Christ. But when the apostle heard of their faith in Christ Jesus, and of their love to the brethren, he was led, by the Spirit, unhesitatingly to assure them of their present standing and blessings, and of the certainty of their being with Christ in glory.
Moreover, we know that "faith worketh by love." They always go together; for they are both the fruit of the same Spirit. A man may say that he has faith; but if love to the Lord and His saints be wanting, he would only be a dead professor; for he that loveth not knoweth not God," and "he that loveth not his brother abideth in death." But it is impossible that Christ Himself should be the object of our trust, without the heart being attracted by His love; for it is His love to us which commands our confidence in Him "We love Him, because He first loved us." And have not many of us in former years, when in soul-distress, had our hearts assured and comforted with those precious words: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren"? In John 5:24 we are taught that those who believe "have passed from death unto life;" and, as we have just seen from another Scripture, that those who love have passed from death unto life. Thus "faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints," are the two cardinal activities of vital Christianity; so that when the apostle had credible testimony that persons were at Colosse in whom this precious fruit of the Spirit was manifested, he recognized such a divine work in their souls, that he was able to write definitely to them, "Ye are dead (or have died), and your life is hid with Christ in God."
Now what are we to understand by our being dead, or having died, and then as having life? for observe the order is not according to nature, that of life and death, but death first, then life. And this surely is very significant. In the previous chapter, they are spoken of as having been "dead in their sins, and in the uncircumcision of their flesh," which is no doubt the morally bad condition of every one naturally; afterwards the same people are said to be "dead with Christ," which is certainly true of every believer. (vv. 13, 20.) It is the latter point which is taken up in the text we are considering; for they had been "dead in sins," but now they are "dead to sin," or "dead with Christ." Thus were they all not only sinners, but such sinners by nature as to be entirely destitute of spiritual life; but now, having received Christ Jesus the Lord as their Saviour, it is their blessing to know that they have died with Christ, and are alive in Him who is the Head of all principality and power.
When the Holy Ghost works effectually in souls, He, being the Spirit of truth, must necessarily expose in us what is evil, as well as present to us the wondrous way in which the grace of God has met our need in Christ. It is the guilt of sins committed which almost always troubles souls at first: their consciences are burdened by being convicted as offenders against God. Their relief is immense when they know that all their sins were borne by Jesus, and that He suffered for them on the cross. But often, after this, their distress is deeper than ever, because they discover such evil thoughts, pride, and lust working within, as to force them eventually to conclude, that in them, that is in their flesh, dwells no good. When first they received the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, and realized that God had given them remission of sins through faith in His name, they set out on an entirely new path of obedience to the word of God, and flattered themselves that they would never more be distressed about sin. But this is not the case. It is what they are, what they find within, rather than what they have done, which so troubles them now; finding in them what they hate, what they disallow, still active, which they resolve against and struggle against, but cannot obtain victory over. Spite of all their efforts and resolves, a trifle is often enough to stir up its loathsome activities. They fight against it, pray against it, redouble their efforts, make a thousand resolutions, and vainly try to overcome its manifold workings; but all their endeavours seem so powerless, that, almost in despair, they look for deliverance outside themselves, and cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
We find that it was early in man's history that the divine verdict came forth as to the springs of evil in his heart. God declared that "the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of man were only evil, and that continually." This is God's estimate of man's nature; showing the thorough depravity of every spring of thought in his heart. Consequently, the next words are, "I will destroy;" for if man is only by nature a child of wrath, incurably bad, what else could be done with him, but to put him under the judgment of a holy God? and this judicial sentence was actually carried out by the flood. Years and even centuries passed over after this, man having been instructed and tested in various ways, when the prophet Jeremiah is heard to sound a somewhat similar note in saying, "The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." A long series of years, and wonderful interventions of God, again pass over, and we find the Son of God from heaven declaring to His hearers at Capernaum the humiliating truth that "the flesh profiteth nothing," and that "out of the heart of man proceedeth all manner of evil." But neither the Lord's own ministry, nor that of the apostles, improved man's nature; so that again an inspired apostle pronounces him as wilful and insubject as ever, saying, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God;" and that "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom. 8:7, 8.) All these Scriptures chew that God's estimate of the natural man is that he is thoroughly undone and corrupt, yea, incurably bad; and this is no doubt why the gospel does not propose to help or improve man in the flesh, says nothing about mending an evil nature; but, on the contrary, sets forth in the most absolute way his need of redemption and life. Thus the blessed gospel declares what God is to man, and what He has done for man; it is therefore concerning His beloved Son; for He having been delivered up for our sin and guilt to the death of the cross, God has graciously provided for us, not only in the judgment of sins, but of the nature too from whence our evil thoughts and desires proceed.
We therefore read in Romans 6 that "our old man (not our sins, but our old man) has been crucified with Christ." (v. 6.) This is clearly not our transgressions, but the nature that did the sins — our old man — thus substitutionally and judicially put to death — "crucified with Christ." God has done this, in His rich sovereign grace, in giving His own Son to be made sin for us, as our substitute, to answer under divine judgment for the evil of our old Adam nature, on whom He "condemned sin in the flesh." Thus when Christ was crucified we were crucified with Him; so that when Christ died, we died. We therefore read in Colossians 2 of our being "dead with Christ." And it is when the soul receives in faith this testimony of God, he realizes at once that he is delivered from the guilt arising from the workings of this evil nature — the old man. Though the believer is still painfully sensible that the flesh is in him (and no one who is not born of God is), yet his comfort is, and victory also, that it has been judicially and righteously set aside by death, in the death of Christ his substitute. And though, when looking within, such painful discoveries are made as to compel him to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" yet, turning back to Calvary, he finds his question immediately answered in the death of Christ as his substitute; so that he praises God, and says, "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord." This is our power also over this evil nature; for as long as we are reckoning it living, and therefore resolving against it, we are ignoring what God has really done for us concerning it in the cross of Christ, and are not dealing with the old man as dead. A truth, the importance of which can scarcely be overrated, by which the believer is enjoined to have so completely done with self as to reckon himself to have died indeed unto sin, and to be alive unto God in our Lord Jesus Christ. (v. 11.) When this is really the case, we cannot be self-occupied, or self-confident; but having done with it, knowing it has been most righteously judged, and set aside by God in the cross of Christ, we are in perfect peace about it, find victory over it, and are free to look to the Lord for everything. The practical difficulty is to go on continually reckoning ourselves to have died unto sin, while at the same time we feel its terrible workings within. But this is our faith; for as it is not actually taken from us, but still in us, faith must reckon according to God's word and Christ's work, for it knows it has been really judged in our Substitute. While therefore we read in Romans 8, "Ye are not in the flesh," but "in Christ Jesus," we are told in the previous chapter that the flesh is in us — "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." Both are true. As to standing, we are not in the flesh, but in Christ Jesus; but as to fact, the flesh, in which is nothing good, is in us. Our old man is crucified with Christ, and we are dead; we are therefore not to recognize it, not to trust it, have no resources in it, but to treat it as dead — to know that we have died with Christ.
But we have LIFE; for we are in Christ, who is our life; we are alive unto God in our Lord Jesus Christ. A risen Christ, who is the other side of death, is our life; we have therefore resurrection-life, a life that lives beyond the region of death. It is not a prolonged natural life, but spiritual life; not life for a time, but for ever — eternal life; for, as we are told here, Christ is our life. It is a life therefore inseparable from a risen Christ, a glorified Saviour, who has triumphed over the grave and Satan and death for us, after having answered in justice and righteousness for all our sin and guilt. This is life indeed, as imperishable as Christ Himself; for He is our life. This could not have been an actual fact till after the death of Jesus; for He tells us so. He said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." (John 12:24.) Thus it is perfectly clear that the death of Christ was actually necessary to be accomplished before others could be associated with Him. Prior to His death He was solitary and alone, loving others intensely, ministering to them unceasingly; but until He died He was alone. Life in Him, union with Him, as precious realities, could not be, then, till after His death, and therefore in resurrection and ascension. Precious truth indeed for our hearts! for we are told now as a positive fact for present joy and strength, not only that we have died, but that we have life: "Your life is hid with Christ in God."
If we remember the gracious words of our adorable Lord, we must be aware that His great object in coming was to give us this life. He said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10.) Now what could this more abundant life mean but this spiritual life, risen life, we are now considering? It is life in the Spirit, life in Christ, eternal life, which God now gives to every one that believeth. We find, therefore, in John's first epistle, that one object which he had in writing it was, that they "might know that they have eternal life." "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life." It would seem that some believers in the apostle's day did not know that they had the present possession of eternal life: and how few appear to know it and enjoy it in our day! He therefore had it laid on his heart by God the Holy Ghost to write so plainly about it, that all believers might know as a present fact that they have eternal life. He tells them also that it is a free gift of God, and that it is in Christ. He says, "He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son." This shows the terrible profanity of the unbeliever; for God speaks, and he will not believe what God says. He then tells us what God publishes for men to believe. He says, "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." (1 John 5:10–13.) Here two things are set before us; first, that eternal life is God's gift in rich and free mercy, as we elsewhere read, "The gift of God is eternal life through (or in) Jesus Christ our Lord;" and secondly, that "this life is in His Son;" that is, in Him who is risen and ascended, as our text sets forth: "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear." It is not merely that He has given us the present possession of eternal life — true, most blessedly true, as it is — but that this life is risen-life, and not separated from Christ Himself; for Christ is our life. Oh, how blessed this is! while he that believeth on Him hath everlasting life, yet that this life is in His Son; so while we look up into the face of the Lord Jesus in the glory, and know Him as our life, yet that same life being in us, we can assuredly say that Christ liveth in us. Our life is therefore so bound up with the Son of God, that it is further said: "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." No words can more plainly or positively express a truth so eternally solemn and vital.
We have thus seen, from the teaching of Scripture, that the believer has died with Christ, and is risen with Christ; that his present standing is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, in Christ; that he has life, new life, risen-life, in Christ; that not in the flesh, and not of the world, all his springs and resources are in Him who is his life. Practical Christian life, therefore, consists in drawing all we need from Christ, living upon Him, and looking to Him for every thing; hence the apostle says, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20.)
The hope therefore of such, and we may add certainty too, is glory. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." What assurance and confidence this inspired language imparts! Could a more decided mode of expression be used? It reminds us of our blessed Lord's saying, that "every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise Him up at the last day;" for it connects the present possession of everlasting life with the certain enjoyment of future glory. And how could it possibly be otherwise? for if Christ, who is in the glory, be our life, how could He come forth in manifested glory without us? Nor is there such a thought in His loving heart; for we are sure from His own lips that He desires to have us with Him where He is. Oh the unspeakable blessedness of the hope of glory! To see His face, be with Him, and like Him, and then to come forth in manifested glory with Him, when the world will certainly know that the Father has loved us as He has loved Jesus, all to the praise of the glory of His grace, what more could we wish? That the world will see us in glory with the Lord Jesus there can be no doubt; for the sons of God will be manifested. That they will see the Lord Jesus is certain; for "behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him." They will not glorify and admire us, but glorify and admire Him who has so loved us, and brought us to share His glory. They will not say then what a wonderful saint that was, but what a wonderful Christ! what amazing grace God has displayed! for "the Lord will be revealed from heaven, in flaming fire, to execute vengeance," etc., when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe." Now He is glorified by His faithful ones; then He will be glorified in them. I need not say this appearing of the Lord, and our manifestation with Him, follows our having been caught up to meet Him in the air. It is public manifestation; and, blessed be God, it is a fact, whether we know its power and comfort or not, that when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory.