What Is My Life?

Let’s play fill in the blank. _________________________ is my life.

What did you put in there? What is your life? Did you write in something that you love to do? If you’re a musician, you might have put in music, composing, songwriting, or your chosen instrument in the blank. If you’re an athlete, it could be competing, training, or playing the game. If you’re in ministry, like me, you might complete that sentence with preaching, evangelism, or coffee. (Let’s be honest, it’s coffee for a lot of people.)

There are as many answers to this question as there are people in the world. But is what we put in that blank worthy of being our life? If music is your life, what happens when you can no longer play? If sports are your life, what happens when you can no longer compete. (And what does this mean for Cleveland Browns fans?) If coffee is your life, what do you do when Starbucks’ prices go up, again? If something is your life, it should be greater than you, not less.

The apostle Paul provides an answer to this question in Colossians 3:4. “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Maybe he didn’t mean it the same way that we mean it, but the point is well-taken. Jesus is my life. That’s the answer of every Christian, whether they feel it is true or not. Your life is not music, sports, work, or coffee. Your life is Jesus.

Jesus is your life in a way that is different from those other things. Those things aren’t your life, but they might be your obsession. Jesus, on the other hand, is the One who sustains your life. He is your life because he gives you life. He is your life because he has conquered death, and can never die again. He is your life because he promises to give you a glorious resurrection into eternal life. You can live without a lot of things, and you can probably live without that one thing that is your obsession. But you cannot live for eternity without Jesus. He is your true, eternal, and abundant life.

Our society has come to believe a very funny thing: Desire is immutable. That’s a fancy word that means unchangeable. We believe that desire, and especially sexual desire, is not only impossible to change, but is fundamental to our identity. The person, then, is not simply a slave to desire, but is indistinguishable from it. And the person cannot change.

But the Scriptures tell us a different story. While the Bible affirms that we are desiring creatures, and that desire is an important part of who God created us to be, it also affirms that desires can change. Paul tells us that before we came to know Christ we were, in fact, enslaved to the desires of our wicked hearts. But now that Christ has revealed himself, we are, through faith, slaves to Christ. This means that we are set free to love what God loves.

The Education of DesireFar from being immutable, desire can be educated. Your heart can be taught to love what God loves, to long for the things of heaven. Your heart is transformed as Jesus lives his life through you.

The first lesson of the education of desire is to replace personal satisfaction with the glory of God. You need to learn to take a back seat to God. When you become a Christian, the aim (the telos) of your life changes. You no longer pursue the fulfillment of your every wish. Instead, you seek first the kingdom of God and the good things he desires for the world.

The second lesson of the education of desire is to find contentment in any circumstance. This is Paul’s hard won lesson. He experienced trial upon trial, but he learned to place his contentment in Christ, who stands above every circumstance. Circumstances are in a constant state of flux. If your contentment is dependent on how good things are in your life, you will never be truly content. Instead, learn to be content in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The third lesson of the education of desire is to set your heart on things above. You must learn to direct your desires heavenward. This means that you must desire the joy of heaven and the justice of God above the pleasures of earth. It also means that you must root your desires in the things of God – human salvation, relational reconciliation, self-giving love, resurrection hope. You must long for these things, and you must long from these things. The heart of God is the only reliable source for the desires of men and women.

When it comes to the education of desire, we are all pupils of the Holy Spirit. He is at work in you to give you a new heart, one that is malleable in the hands of God. He can change you, and he is changing you. Your responsibility is to work with him, not against him. When wicked desires spring up in your heart, surrender them to the power of the Spirit and ask him to make you new.

Things Above – 3:1-4


1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Paul is making a transition in this short section. For the first two chapters he was laying the foundation of his theology – the centrality and supremacy of Christ. From here through the rest of the letter he will be working out the practical implications of that doctrine. The revelation of the mystery of God – which is Christ himself – effects sweeping change in the lives of those who believe. One cannot simply hear the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus and go on as if nothing has happened. The whole world has been turned upside-down! The appropriate response to the Gospel is repentance – to turn around and follow the way of Jesus.

The resurrection is both the beginning and the direction of the way of Jesus. For Paul, the resurrection is an event in which all true believers participate. While Christ has been raised from physical death, Christians are raised from spiritual death when they confess and are baptized. Baptism is the physical symbol of the spiritual reality that the Christian has been brought from death to life.


The resurrection is both the beginning and the direction of the way of Jesus.
Believers participate in the full story of the Gospel. We have died with Christ (2:20), and now we have been raised with Christ. The way of Jesus is participatory. It is not enough to say that Jesus has died for us; the true story of the Gospel is that, by faith, we have died with him. We have died to the old way of life, which, according to Colossians 2 comprises all the pointless toiling of Christless religion, and which, according to Colossians 3, is steeped in sinful desire and behavior. The new way of life – the way of living that we experience when we are raised with Christ – is centered around Christ and abounds in virtue, freedom, and hope.

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Self-Improvement

“You can be better. You can do better.”

We keep telling ourselves these things, but they rarely seem to make a difference. Why is it so difficult to improve ourselves? Why does it seem like it’s always one step forward, two steps back? You tell yourself every morning, “Today, I’m going to be focused.” And then you scroll Facebook for the next 47 minutes. At the end of a long day you promise not to yell at the kids tomorrow. But when they don’t obey, Angry Parent rears its ugly head.

Everyone wants to be a better version of themselves, but self-improvement doesn’t help you get there unless you’re writing a book about it. We all need external motivation – and external assistance. The truth is that we can’t improve ourselves by ourselves. Someone has to walk alongside us – someone who can make a difference in our lives.

Self-ImprovementIn Colossians 2:20, Paul uses an odd phrase to describe what it’s like to become a Christian. He says, “you died with Christ.” Pay attention to that preposition. With. When you become a Christian, you die with Christ. That means that you are dead to the way you used to live. You have left that world and sinful way of life. This means that self-improvement isn’t about trying harder; it’s about living with the One with whom you also died.

Jesus died for the things that make you worse: sin, selfishness, immaturity, and all of the specific things that hold you back. When you put your faith in Christ, that part of you also died with him right up there on his cross. But the good news is that Jesus rose from the dead, and he gives us power to rise again, too. We rise again into the fullness of life that exists in him, a life characterized by faith, hope, and love. Our death and resurrection are a spiritual discipline symbolized by our baptism and that we have to walk out, with careful intentionality, every day.

And we are not alone. God has given us the Holy Spirit to walk alongside us. He fills us up with the power of God. He reminds us of the things that Jesus taught. He convicts us when we sin and restores us when we repent. He molds us into the image of Jesus.

You can be better. You can do better. But not by yourself. Only by living out the death and resurrection of Jesus as your own death and resurrection, and doing this in the power of the Spirit, can you truly become a better version of yourself.

Rules – 2:20-23


20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

The first verse of this section requires two explanations. First, what does it mean that believers have “died with Christ?” In Paul’s language, to die with Christ means to be crucified with him. In other words, believers participate, in spirit, in the death that Jesus experienced in his body. This is what is symbolized in our baptism. We are buried with Christ in death as we go under the water, and we rise again to new life as we come out of the water.

Second, what does Paul mean when he talks about “the elemental spiritual forces of this world?” Interpretations vary. Several translations use the phrase “elemental spirits,” while other commentators use the term “basic principles.” In their respective translations, N.T. Wright and Eugene Peterson opt for “worldly elements” and “pretentious and infantile religion.” It is difficult to say, with precision, what Paul had in mind, but he seems to be talking about paradigmatic human spirituality, which is always full of rules but devoid of spiritual value. Humanity’s basic and universal efforts to be better are useless, and therefore ought to be rejected.


Humanity’s basic and universal efforts to be better are useless, and therefore ought to be rejected.
This type of life, bogged down by religious rules and regulations, belongs to the old way of living. When we die with Christ, we die to the fruitless human efforts to become more than we are. Growth, which we have seen earlier in this chapter, is only possible through the power of, and connection to, Christ. Humanity’s rules, which sound like a list of Don’ts, don’t have lasting value because they only function within this world. This kind of asceticism doesn’t actually make us better, because “asceticism has to do with the rudiments of the world and not the riches of the kingdom.”[i] Asceticism, whether Jewish or pagan, cannot teach us about the kingdom of God because it does not deal with the things of the kingdom. It is focused, often with laser-like precision, on the things from which we must abstain in this life. “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch,” Paul mocks. But abstinence from food or drink do not, in and of themselves, bring us closer to God.

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