A Reflection on Colossians 2:20: ‘As if you were still alive in the world’

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. —Colossians 2.20-23 

I have shared the whole pericope, but I want to focus on verse 20. In particular, I want to reflect (so this isn’t proper exegesis) on this clause: “as if you were still alive in the world . . . .” I have literally read Colossians more than a thousand times over the last twenty-six years, and yet as I quickly read it last time this clause stood out to me in deep ways. The thing I like so much about the epistle to the Colossians is its eschatological and creational motifs, and how the Apostle Paul (by the Spirit) masterfully draws those motifs in and from Jesus Christ. What is striking to me about this clause is the conditional ‘as if.’ Because of God’s disruptive grace for us, as that confronts us in the Logos ensarkos (the Word enfleshed), we have been brought into a whole new realm of concrete existence. Even as if we live in this worldthe world that is passing away like a shadow—we are no longer strangled by the bonds ‘this world’ order is.  

I think what strikes me so much about this is the primal idea regarding the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. It is the sui generis non-analogous nature of the whole event that causes me to fall prostrate on my face before God. It is the announcement from God alone in Christ that declares that I am no longer alive in this world; that I am a citizen of heaven, and as such I am no longer encumbered by the wiles of this evil age. The notion that I am genuinely free, just as our Triune God is eternally free in His inner-life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, causes me to place my hand over my mouth in awe-struck. Because of what Christ has done by freeing us from this evil age, and transferring us into the ‘Kingdom of the Son’s love,’ we are no longer citizens of this world system; the one that is travailing under a futility it cannot begin to grasp.  

I have an apocalyptic excitement about the reality that I am no longer ‘alive in the world’; that I am only alive in the world of the Kingdom whose foundations can never be shaken. The fact that as Christians we have been transferred to another Kingdom, of the sort that comes with God’s creatio ex nihilo power, says to me that I no longer need to fret and wane along with the rest of this world. In other words, I can have a genuine witness to the world, of which I am no longer alive in, because I am alive from another world whose foundations are the Lord Himself. This goes beyond ethereal platitudes; indeed, this is the concrete reality of all reality. And so, as Christians we walk by the vision of the world from whence we find our lives and orientation; our vision is the faith of Christ for us. In this world we can see from the eschatos of God’s life, who is Jesus Christ. We can see from a world that does not require insight from this world system. And because of this we can genuinely be witnesses to this world, the one we inhabit from day to day, because we see the grandeur of what in fact real life entails. This world, the one that has been triumphed over by the cross of Christ, needs to see the real world through those of us who are its ambassadors. I cannot think of a time in world history where this has been more urgent than today. Maranatha 

7 thoughts on “A Reflection on Colossians 2:20: ‘As if you were still alive in the world’

  1. I love this, Bobby: “I have an apocalyptic excitement about the reality that I am no longer ‘alive in the world’; that I am only alive in the world of the Kingdom whose foundations can never be shaken.” I need to apply this as I distinguish between having a fleshly desire to be successful and the desire to be successful only as it is born of God and is for His namesake. That said, perhaps being accomplished and seeking success are natural desires that come from being made in God’s image. This natural desire should be welcomed then rather than be seen as a fleshly foe. For even as I am married in this world and have a job in this world, I should desire to succeed at these. Only the way that I need to function and seek success in these needs to be born out of God so that the Word can become flesh in me. Christ in me, the hope of glory. (Thinking as I write).

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  2. Light and Life:

    Thank you. But the greater point, at least from what I am aiming at, has to do with a root and tree analogy. There is no “natural” desire in abstraction from the Kingdom desire we now have as a result of being made alive through participation with Christ’s re-created humanity. It is this sort of “natural” “supernatural” dualism I am actually thinking against, implicitly, in this post.

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  3. Yes, but my point is that we don’t think ourselves apart from but fully in union with Christ’s humanity, and thus divinity. Against a competitive understanding of God and humanity. When you speak of “natural body,” it sounds like you’re thinking from this classical competitive relationship.

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  4. There is simply no possibility to know that of what you are speaking, Bobby… except one actually experiences that reality into which we are conveyed. (Nonetheless, the confession is still proclaimed in in lexical norms, even as it is experienced in a context of a ‘new creation’ which Paul could only describe as “unspeakable.’)

    “Kids of the kingdom, that’s who we are.”

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  5. @Richard, yes, most of what I write about comes from the fides quaerens intellectum or more biblically ‘taste and see that God is good’ tradition.

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