If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above. . . . Col. 3:1
The clause rendered in our version, “If ye be risen with Christ” should have been translated, “If ye then were raised together. . . .” The word “if” is not a doubtful hypothesis. The apostle does not mean to say, “Whether ye are raised with Christ is not certain. It may or may not be.” The conjunction “if” sets forth the being raised with Christ as an undoubted fact. The conditional clause is thus equivalent in meaning to the positive statement, “Ye were raised up with Christ.” That the clause in question does not make the being raised problematical is evident from the language that follows, “Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God.” This is the statement of a fact. If so, then the same must be said of the clause in question. How could the apostle set forth as problematical the salvation of the people to whom he wrote if this people is the church, the congregation of Christ, a brotherhood of believing people.
It is thus God’s people who are here being exhorted to seek the things above, a people who have the saving grace to do as bidden. That the apostle had believing people before his mind is plain from his entire reasoning, which is this: “Ye are risen with Christ. Ye are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ will appear, ye will also appear with Him in glory. This being true, seek the things above. Center your mind on these things.”
They were raised. This refers to their regenerate moral life. Previous to their being raised, they were not merely sick but dead in sin and thus wholly without strength. But God raised them. This does not mean that in being raised they remained dead and limp in His hands, so that His raising them was an act akin to the act of a man who sets on its feet a corpse. His raising them consisted in His quickening them through His pouring in them new life—the life of Christ—so that they came to life and rose and, having risen, began to walk in newness of life. So does this having been raised signify that they who were dead are now spiritually alive, that they who were desperately sick are now well, thus that they who were blind and deaf and halt and mute now have sight and hearing and can and do run the way of God’s commands, praise and bless His name, witness for His truth, and collaborate with Him in His covenant. Thus this being raised implies that those who were raised underwent a change so fundamental and radical that they are new creatures in Christ—new, not only in the sense of their being freed from sin but also in the sense of their bearing potentially and in principle the image of the Lord from heaven, thus new in the sense of their being endowed with a heavenly life and of their leading in principle a heavenly existence even while they still lie in the midst of death.
It is to be observed that, according to the apostle, they were raised with Christ. This implies (1) that Christ was raised; (2) that He in a causal sense was the first to be raised; (3) that God’s elect were raised simultaneously; (4) that they were raised as being united with Him and solely on this account.
Christ was raised. Thus He was dead. This last statement concerns Christ’s corporal death, the bruising of His body and the final separation of His body and soul on the cross. He died. So loving hands took His body down from that cross and laid it away in the tomb. But God raised Him. He arose. This raising Him was an act of God the importance of which was immeasurably great. It was God’s seal which He placed upon the work of Christ,—the work of bearing away the sins of God’s people and of meriting for Himself and for them a heavenly existence in God’s sanctuary. This work He performed. As constrained by a pure love He laid down His life—for His sheep. He ran the way of God’s commands as one consumed by the zeal of God’s house. He tasted death for His own both in soul and body. When all was finished, He committed His spirit into His father’s hands, and gave up the ghost. He died and was buried. Then the Father raised Him. The corruptible put on incorruption and the mortal immortality. Then that which was sown in dishonor was raised in glory, and that which was sown in weakness was raised in power. The natural body was raised a spiritual body.
So was he raised from the dead. And the apostle tells the Colossians that they had been raised with Him. This, as was said, implies that (1) they had been raised when He had been raised and that (2) they had been raised in union with Him. But now it is to be considered that when Christ had been raised, the Colossians, at least several of them, it may be assumed, had not yet been born. How then could the apostle tell them that they had been raised when Christ had been raised? To understand this, it is necessary to distinguish between the legal and the actual, subjective, resurrection of God’s people. All God’s people were legally raised when Christ was raised and this on account of their being legally united with Him and thus on account of their possessing Him as their legal head in His death and resurrection. This being true, His resurrection together with all the benefits accruing from His atonement was and is legally theirs and therefore they, His people, and His people only, have a right to be saved, the right to serve God, to love Him and to walk in the way of His commands. To maintain that the reprobated ungodly also have this right is to teach that the reprobated, too, were legally united with Christ in His death, resurrection, and ascension, is to teach, in other words, the doctrine of a general atonement, the doctrine that Christ died for all head for head.
Because the people of God legally possess Christ’s resurrection, God also actually saves them, that is, He quickens them and causes them to walk in newness of life through His regenerating them and through His causing the life of regeneration to flower in conversion and sanctification. But as Christ is the sanctification and the justification of His people, their resurrection and life, God cannot otherwise save them than through His uniting them with Christ by a living faith. The salvation of God as realized in the elect is negative and positive. It is on the one hand the mortification of the old man, thus a sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins and more and more to flee from sin; and, on the other hand, a sincere joy of heart in God through Christ and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works. This latter is the rising of the new man.
The statement, “If ye have been raised with Christ,” if the truth it contains is to be grasped in all its fullness, must be viewed in the light of its surroundings, in the light of the verses 11 to 14 inclusive of the preceding chapter.
Vs. 11, In Him also ye were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. This verse is to be paraphrased thus, “In Him, that is, in legal union with Him, ye were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (the outward circumcision of the Old Testament Dispensation was made with hands) thus with the true circumcision that consists in regeneration flowering in conversion or that consists in the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision that belongs to Christ, that is, to the New Dispensation.”
Vs. 12, “Having been buried with him (not, buried as in our version but having been buried) in baptism, wherein also ye were raised with Him (not, are risen) through the faith of the working of God who raised Him up from the dead.”
Here, let it be said in passing, the apostle so expresses himself as to provide us with the undoubted proof that circumcision and baptism as to the reality signified by each (regeneration and conversion are identical and that thus the latter has indeed taken the place of the former. For notice what the apostle writes, namely, “In whom also ye were circumcised. . . .having been buried with him in baptism. . . .” The participle having been buried renders this language equivalent in meaning to the statement, “In Whom ye were truly circumcised, that is, truly baptized.”
The phrase, “Having been buried with him in baptism,” must, in order to be understood, be viewed in the light of Rom. 6:3, “Know ye not, that so many of you as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore were we (not are we) buried with Him by baptism into death. . . .” This passage sets forth baptism as the means through which the elect are translated into Christ. “Buried with Him by baptism. . . .” It is not, to be sure, the sign but the thing signified—regeneration and faith—to which the apostle in the final instance refers. Further, the implication of the sentence element, “buried with Him in baptism” is, must again be: (1) Christ was buried; (2) when Christ was buried the elect were buried; (3) they were buried in legal union with Him. The whole statement therefore is to be paraphrased thus: “On account of your having been legally united with Christ in His crucifixion, death, and burial (and resurrection) you, through your having been translated in Him by a living faith, lived unto God and as living ones walked and do walk in newness of life. So was the crucifixion and death of Christ in their fruits realized and exhibited in you, which means that through baptism (faith) you were joined to Christ and thus to His death in its fruits as these fruits dwell in Him.” Now the benefit of Christ’s death for the believers is the death of sin in them or, as the apostle expresses it, the destruction of the body of sin, which was accomplished objectively through Christ’s expiating by His sufferings and death the guilt of His people. Through their being joined to Him by faith, this accomplishment was exhibited in them. Then the members which are upon the earth were mortified and the new man put on—the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him. And so the purpose of their having been legally joined to Him in His death and burial was in principle realized: “Like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so they also now walk in newness of life” Rom. 6:4.
The apostle continues, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” The implications of this statement are: (1) Christ died; (2) we died; (3) our death was similar to that of Christ, but not identical, for then Christ would have been sinful. Christ died corporally. He also suffered in His spirit, a mode of death wholly compatible with the sinlessness of His nature. God’s people die, too. Their old man is crucified. The body of sin is destroyed. This death sinful men only die. In what respect is this death similar to that of Christ? In this respect that it is a painful process. The truth set forth by the verse last quoted is this, “If we have been mystically united with Christ in His death upon the cross through our dying a death similar to His, a death consisting in the crucifixion of members which are upon the earth, we shall also be united with Him in His resurrection in our yielding ourselves unto God as those who are alive from the dead”. This can also be expressed thus: “If through our having become the recipients of the benefits of His death, we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him through our being quickened and through our being made to walk in newness of life.”
The heart of the message with which the apostle in these verses comes to his readers is: “If our old man has been crucified with Christ on account of His having expiated our sins, then through our being united with Him by a living faith the benefits of His death are actually ours if so the body of death is destroyed in us and we walk in newness of life.”
Let us now return to the statement contained in the second chapter of the epistle to the Colossians, “Buried with Him in baptism. . . .” How this scripture is to be construed is now evident, “By baptism, that is to say, by a living faith ye have been united with Christ with the result that the benefits of His death became actually yours, so that it can be truthfully said of you that you died and were buried with Him.” The statement to the effect that Christ’s crucifixion and death dwell in Him is wholly true in the sense that the fruits of His death dwell in Him. Hence, to be baptized into Christ, that is, to be joined to Him by a saving faith, is to be united with His death, is thus to possess His crucifixion and death in its fruits. He therefore who has been planted in Christ by faith may indeed be said to have been crucified, to have died, and to have been buried with Him.
“Buried with Him in baptism,” the apostle continues, “wherein ye also were raised with Him through the faith of the working of God who raised Him from the dead.” Wherein, that is, in baptism (not, in Christ). The meaning is: “Having been united to Him by or in baptism, that is, by a saving faith, and thus having obtained the benefits of His crucifixion and death (the life of regeneration blossoming in conversion and sanctification) the body of sin in you was destroyed and you were made to live unto God and thus were also raised with Him and this through your faith of the operation, that is, of the power, the ability, of God to raise sinners from spiritual death,—of God, who hath raised Him, Christ, from the dead.”
“And you,” so the next verse reads, “being dead in your sins and the circumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all your trespasses.”
This is no mere repetition. Here the apostle answers the question more in particular how it was possible for God to save His people without denying Himself as righteous God. He quickened them, who were dead in sin, implanted in the essence of their being a new life principle. As this life was the fruitage of Christ’s suffering and death, it follows that through their being quickened they became the recipients of His sufferings and resurrection. Thus their receiving this life was indeed on this account a being quickened with Him.
Hereupon the apostle explains why the crucifixion and death of Christ could be exhibited in them as salvation, as a spiritual quickening, as a raising from spiritual death. The explanation is, “having forgiven you all your trespasses; having blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against you. . . .” The forgiveness of which the apostle here speaks is not the justification by faith, that act of the Spirit according to which He testifies with the spirits of God’s children that they are vested with the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ. It is a forgiveness that took place when the handwriting of ordinance (the whole law of God) that was against us was blotted out. This handwriting was against us. It accused and cursed us on account of our transgression, declared us guilty, and thus placed us under the obligation to suffer the penalty of our sins, which is eternal death. But this handwriting was blotted out, was nailed to the cross by Christ through His satisfying by His suffering and death all the demands of the law, which He did as our legal head. His satisfaction and righteousness therefore was also legally ours and was also declared to be ours by the justifying God. This is the forgiveness to which the apostle here refers. Being forgiven, God could quicken us, which He did. He quickened us together with Christ, that is, in legal and mystical union with Him. Herewith the question has been answered how the suffering and death of Christ could be exhibited in us as salvation. This death had atoning value. And herewith has also been explained the statement of Paul in Colossians (3:1), “If ye have been raised with Christ.” The thought set forth is, “Through your being joined to Christ by faith, His resurrection (and death) has in its fruits become actually yours, in that you have been raised in legal and mystical union with Him. The body of death has therefore been actually (subjectively) destroyed in you. You are therefore a new creature, alive to God and walking in newness of life.”
Being raised with Christ, God’s believing people seek the things above, they being new creatures in Christ. (If ye then were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above. . . .) or as the apostle expresses it (Col. 3:3), “Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God.” The believers are dead in the legal sense in that their old man was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6) and subjectively in that they possess the death of Christ in its fruits in mystical union with Him. Dead they are unto sin (Rom. 6:6). Sin has lost its appeal, its allurement for and thus its dominion over them. What now appeals to them is the things above.
What is to be understood by these things? And the answer: The things to which the believers, by virtue of their being what they are, namely, new creatures, feel themselves attracted and after which they hunger and thirst. Thus by these things is to be understood all that believers possess in Christ, to wit, righteousness, sanctification, mercy, meekness, love, the life that is hid in God, the heavenly, God Himself as revealed in the face of Christ. These are the things above—so-called on account of their being heavenly and eternal. As like seeks like, these things believing people, being, as they are, like God by virtue of their being raised with Christ, must and do seek.
From the above observation it is plain that this seeking of God’s people is of a unique character. Ordinary seeking is an attempt to locate a thing that is lost and gone. He, the seeking one, seeks as not actually possessing. But God’s believing people actually possess that which they seek—the life in Christ. And it is just because they do possess that they seek. Hence, it was not the spiritually dead sinner with whom the apostle was mentally occupied when he said, “Ye are dead.” The dead seek not. It is the living only that seek, those alive to God, those whose life—the life that is already possessed in principle—is hid with Christ.
Further. In ordinary seeking, the seeker knows not where to look. Hence he looks here and there and everywhere. But at last the thing is found. However, often the seeking is fruitless. But as to God’s believing people, they know where to find the things which they seek. God has told them, “Seek the things above where Christ is at the right hand of God.” That it is said that these things are at God’s right hand tells us that we have here to do with things in which God takes infinite pleasure and which He is willing and ready to give and is now and everlastingly giving to His people. But as of these things Christ is the meritorial source and thus the seat and channel, it is at once said of these things that they are where Christ is. He in whom these things dwell—all fullness dwells in Him bodily—is, together with these things at God’s right hand. He, too, therefore, seated as He is, at God’s right hand, is the eternal delight of God and the power of God unto the salvation of His body, the church. For He is the exalted Christ, full of grace and truth; the true vine is He, in whom His people everlastingly abide and therefore live.
Finally, there is in one respect a certain formal agreement between ordinary seeking and this seeking of the things above by God’s people. All seeking is an action that consists in the seeker intently setting his mind (but not always his affection) upon the things sought. God’s people have their mind and their affections trained or closely fixed upon the things they seek—the things above. For their life is hid with Christ in God. This implies firstly that their life is in God, which means that of this life—the heavenly existence of the redeemed—He is now and everlastingly the creative source. Hence the eternal fountain of this life is God. In Him does the church together with Christ live and move and have its being. Now whereas Christ, as to His human nature, has His being in God, and whereas this nature, as everlastingly replenished by the love of God, is and remains the seat and channel of the life with which He perpetually fills the members of His body, it is proper to say of this life that it is with Christ in God.
Herein the life of God’s people differs from the life, from the sinful existence, of unbelieving men. Though these men, too, have their being not in the God and Father of Christ but in God, their entire existence, their thinking and willing and striving, their entire way of life, springing, as it does, from the principle of sin and issuing from hearts that are corrupt, being thus a life that is vitiated by sin, is from below. They who are not raised with Christ seek therefore the things on earth. Upon these things they have their mind and affections set. But the life of God’s people is in God the Father of light. And the life in God is at once in them. They seek God therefore. And their seeking Him is the heavenly life in them reaching out for God and thus returning to its source. So does God’s life, (the created life that Christ merited for His people) become in them a well of water, springing up unto life eternal.
But we must take notice of the statement, “And your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The apostle here has reference to the life of God in His people as to its appearing in heavenly glory. The meaning is not that in the church on earth this life appears in no sense whatever. It does this. The people of God in this world, living, as they do, out of the principle of regeneration, walk in the good works that Christ prepared for them through His suffering and death. In these good works the life that is in them takes on visibility. Seeing these works, men glorify God. However, the people of God in this world, though they walk with heaven in their soul and though their conversation be in heaven, still bear the image of the earthy. Though they be kings and priests unto God in Christ, they go about as clad in a poor, mean, and contemptible garment—in a garment earthy and soiled by sin. And this garment is their earthy, weak, sinful, and inglorious nature. The life in them does not yet appear in heavenly beauty, as it one day will when this corruptible shall put on incorruption and this mortality immortality. Then their faces will shine as the sun and their garments will be white as the light. And this brightness will be the effulgence of the true goodness that is in them.
But as yet their faces do not shine. The life, as to its heavenly splendor, is hidden—hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ shall appear, they shall appear with Him in glory, then this body that is sown in dishonor and weakness will be raised in glory and in power. And then this life will no longer be hidden.
This is the promise given them, that they might have a strong consolation. And of this consolation, they, God’s people, have need. For, walking as children of the light, they are despised and shunned and buffeted by the world of unprincipled men who know not God and therefore hate His people. But they, God’s believing people, faint not. By His mercies, they steadfastly seek the things above; for they know that their Redeemer liveth. They know that they shall appear with Christ in glory.
What now does this seeking the things above consist in? How may God’s people know that they are seeking these things? They can know. Seeking these things, according to the context, consists in their “mortifying their members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, covetousness, which is idolatry.” It consists in “putting off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” Positively it consists in “putting on the new man, thus in putting on as elect of God, bowels of mercies, kindness, meekness, longsuffering, love.” In the degree that believers do this, are they seeking the thing above. In the degree that they refrain from doing this, are they seeking the things on earth.
“Seek not the things on earth.” What are we to understand by these things? Scripture designates them by such terms and expressions as bread, mammon, the arm of flesh, the pride of life, the lust of the flesh and of the eyes. Bread in itself is a good creature of God. But when sought, when worked for, it becomes man’s god, his idol. Seeking the things below rouses the beast in a man. When God’s people seek these things they put off kindness and humbleness and love, and put on malice and anger and wrath. The act of consistently seeking these things, turns the best of men into brutes. Why is there war? Why are the nations of the earth ready to blast one another from the face of this earth? Because the men of this world seek these things, work for the bread that perishes. But God’s people are admonished to seek the things above, the life that is with Christ in God. And, seeking these things, they seek the very things that they are exhorted to put on, namely, love, the love that is in God, and that is at once shed abroad in their hearts. And seeking love, they seek God in Christ; for God is love.
God’s people have great need of this admonition. For, they are as yet, seekers after God only in principle. Sin still riots in their bosom. The sinful inclination to seek the things on earth is still strong in them. And how prone they are to yield to this inclination! Therefore the admonition, “Seek the things above. . .”