Colossians 3:1-11 A Life Hidden In Christ
We are already aware of the idea that for Paul, the Christian’s baptism has united him/her to the death and resurrection of Christ. This is precisely what he says in Colossians 2:11-15, specifically in that part where he talks about the spiritual circumcision received by the Colossians in baptism:
In him you were also circumcised … having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul draws some moral considerations from the theological idea of the new status of the Colossians received in baptism. First he talks about being raised with Christ (1-2) and then with their having died with Christ (3-6).
As a first moral consequence of their baptism, the Colossians will have to fix their gaze on what is heavenly, for that is where Christ is, and in a hidden way — hidden to those who do not know them — it is also where they are. The idea of fixing one’s thoughts on the heavenly is repeated in different ways in the other Pauline epistles. New in Colossians is what Paul says about the Christians, that their lives “are now hidden with Christ in God.” By Baptism, the Colossians have received an “upgrade”, they even now share the life of Christ who sits at the right hand of God. Traditional Catholic spiritual theology talks about this in terms of the “supernatural life”, where by baptism the Christian already even in this life share the Divine life through “grace”. This idea has prompted a popular preacher — the late Fulton J. Sheen whose case is now being processed for sainthood — to explain, that, the Christian is like the amphibious frog: he straddles both time and eternity, with one foot in earthly affairs and with the other in the realized expectation of heavenly ones. Pope Benedict XVI in his Spe salvi writes about this when he explains how Catholics understood Hebrews 11:1 as distinguished from the way Protestant exegesis influenced by Martin Luther understood it. The Catholic he says understand the text this way:
Faith is the reality of things hoped for,
the evidence of things unseen
Luther however made the text sound this way:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction for things unseen.
For the Catholic, what is hoped for is already a reality present in the baptized in germine, in seed-like form that has to be nurtured and cared for. The way of life of the Catholic — his faith — is evidence that there is something there already, thus, the sacraments for example which are there to sustain the divine life in us as we go on our earthly pilgrimage.
The second aspect that Paul talks about is the moral consequence of the Colossians’ sharing in the death of Christ. We read about it in the Gospels when we hear Jesus tell his disciples that to follow him, one must deny oneself, carry the cross and follow Him. Paul’s command to “put to death” whatever is “earthly”, he is talking about what Catholics were hearing before as “mortification” — a word that is unfashionable nowadays. The idea however is that since by his baptism the Christian has died but is now living the life of Christ, his life should reflect the innocence of Christ. As a consequence, whatever he observes in himself that is sinful or incompatible with Christ should be “put to death”. In the Gospels, this is called “self-denial” or “cutting off and throwing away”
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