As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him.
My question tonight is, what does this look like? What does it look like to live your life in Christ Jesus the Lord?
On the one hand, some have suggested perfection.
The writer of Colossians makes several dualistic statements. “See to it,” he says, “that no one takes you captive through philosophy”; “deceit”; “human tradition”; “the elemental spirits of the universe” (whatever those are); or, we infer, anything that is “not according to Christ.” His point is not that philosophy and human tradition in themselves are bad. Rather, there is a dualism here: either according to Christ or not according to Christ. It’s one or the other—no other options. See to it, in other words, that you do everything you do according to Christ and that you avoid everything that is not according to Christ. It’s good advice. But it is nevertheless dualistic.
Similarly, in all this talk about a Christian’s spiritual circumcision in contrast to his uncircumcision of the flesh, a dualism is suggested between spirit and flesh. You were circumcised spiritually, the text says. And in that act—meaning baptism, most likely—in that act you cut off your fleshly uncircumcision. It’s a graphic picture of what it means to live in the spirit and no longer in the flesh. But, again, it’s a dualistic statement.
From these dualisms, then, and several others in Colossians, some think that striving after a life of perfect sinlessness is the answer. Perfection is what it means to live your life in Christ Jesus, they say. He knew no sin. And he was fully human. Therefore we can attain to such a state of perfection in this human life too.
On the other hand, others have suggested that living a life in Christ Jesus means union.
Jesus Christ is fully human, to be sure. But in this fully human man, the text says, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” There is no dualism here between flesh and spirit. Christ Jesus, the one in whom we are called to live our lives, is the union of flesh and spirit, the union of humanity and deity. He is not one or the other. He is both!
Now let’s go a step farther. The beginning of tonight’s passage says that if you have received Christ Jesus then you are to continue to live your lives in him: you in him. But do you recall from last week what is said just before? The hope of glory is him in you (cf. 1:27). Being a Christian means you in him; but it also means him in you. Whatever else you want to make of this, here is union loud and clear.
So we’ve come to a fork in the road. Perfection Highway leads in one direction; Union Highway leads in another. We think both might end up in the same place, eventually. We hope so anyway. But which road should we take now? We have no GPS to point the way—life’s roads aren’t as simple as all that. Still, with a little reflection I think we can figure it out.
Dualisms have their time and place, to be sure. Sometimes we are faced with only two choices—no other viable option remains. Then it’s got to be one way or the other. Sure! You could even say this about tonight’s sermon: I’m looking at perfection in contrast to union. And where would we be without binary systems? Wiring diagrams, flowcharts, much of the world of science, and all of our computer technology is binary: one direction or another, no other option.
But when dualism becomes your way of seeing all the world, your worldview, you miss many of the subtleties that make life so challenging, yes, but also so enjoyable. When you view things as either one way or the other—either good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, flesh or spirit, godly or worldly, truth or error, and so on—antithesis becomes your modus operandi, your m. o.
Antithesis: one thing set in direct contrast to another. Then, sadly, no dogma is true except what you hold to be true. No practice is as meaningful to you as your own. No church is pure enough for you to be a member of. You become unteachable, arrogant, isolated.
Union, on the other hand, seeks fellowship, even companionship. Think of the mystery of marital union. A couple falls in love, we say. And rightly so! They didn’t plan for it to happen. In fact, many times when we hear a couple’s story each person speaks as if being blindsided. They met precisely when they weren’t looking for a relationship. Love was an uncharted pit they unwittingly fell into. But they fell into it together, meaning that they are able to navigate their way through it together. Together, in a sort of blind interdependence the Bible calls one flesh.
A worldview of union does not seek perfection in self and does not expect perfection from another. Rather, it recognizes weakness, even anticipates weakness, in self and others; then seeks to overcome weakness through both receiving help and helping others.
A person with such a worldview is teachable even when others consider her an expert in her field. A person with such a worldview gives and receives help from others humbly, even when he appears to have all his needs met. A person with such a worldview seeks to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth—through Christ and in Christ.
Indeed, perfection and union are very different roads.
As for me, I’m taking Union Highway. And I think you know why.
If you prefer Perfection Highway—if you think striving for perfection is the way to live your life in Christ Jesus—if you understand the world as dualistic—if you think that antithesis is the way to go—if you crave unteachability, arrogance, and isolation for yourself—then bon voyage. But if you’re on that route and want to exit, there’s good news for you: it’s not too late.
You’re still on this exciting journey called life, yeah? But it has become tiresome. You’re grumpy. The traffic is too congested, the other drivers too aggressive; the weather is too gnarly to feel safe, and you don’t like the look of that car that’s been in your rearview mirror for the last ninety miles, not to mention the bland scenery everywhere. So, exit now. No need to look at a map! Just roll down the window, stop, and listen for the sound of joy. That’s the direction you want to go, the direction of the body of Christ.
When you’re seeking Union, no worries: you’ll find it.