Or maybe I should have led with, “You’re Alive, Start Living Like It!” Both statements are true. At least that’s what Paul argues in his short gospel-rich book to the Colossian believers.
As the fragmentation of our modern, Western culture breaks its banks and washes sediment into our churches, as the gaps widen and the edges grow sharper, as the rhetoric rages ever brighter and the disenfranchised retreat in bruised hurt — now, even as much as it was needed then, we need to hear Paul’s fatherly exhortation:
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— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 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, ESV)
More than the implications of national politics, or the far more subtle pull of tribal allegiance, everyday gospel living is at stake. If you’re a pastor, the allure of speaking into popular topics with your tribe’s language is ever-present. If you’re a church member, then just making it through the week without feeling like you’ve let Jesus down again haunts your dreams. Both of us need to embrace the loving rebuke.
“You’re dead, start acting like it!”
Paul’s concern, and what should be our concern as well, is that we’re not acting like dead people should — at least, we’re not acting like dead "Jesus-people" should. We’re still chasing the cheap candy that we thought would nourish our wasting flesh. We’re still enlisting in extra-curricular activities we thought would bolster our chances of winning the game. Paul says, “Quit dancing in the shadows while you disregard the substance.” Deep down we know it; this shadow-game is unfulfilling. The only way out of this shadow theatre is through death. The trouble is, though, we prize life so highly that we don’t want to embrace the grave. But that’s not the way of the gospel. There can be no victorious Sunday without the humiliation of Friday. There is no crown without the cross.
Fellow minister of the gospel: “You’re dead, start acting like it!” — despite others who hold high regard in your tribe, the ones who seemingly publish at will, or have ‘people’ to help manage their speaking schedule — you have everything you need in Jesus. Lay aside the pursuit beside the bruised and battered body of your crucified Lord, and see in his sacrifice the only sufficiency you will ever need.
Fellow follower of the Way: “You’re dead, start acting like it!” — despite your nagging fear of failure, that you must be little more than a stench before the throne of heaven. Despite the daily struggle to prove yourself to God and demonstrate your worth in order for the Father to smile in your direction — you have everything you need in Jesus. The struggle is real, but it’s no longer yours to strive with. It is no longer your curse to carry. There is no more wrath for you to bear. Stop chasing after acceptance, in Christ you already have it.
But the gospel doesn’t end there; death doesn’t have the final say.
“You’re alive, start living like it!”
Now, in case you mistook Paul’s exhortation to embrace death as some type of morbid command to a sombre and sour lifestyle of defeatism, Paul continues his exhortation:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1–2, ESV)
Here’s the crux of it: gospel experiences grow out of gospel truths. Or, another way of saying it is: gospel transformation springs from gospel realities. The irrefutable realities of the death and resurrection of Jesus are more than mere doctrinal points to quibble over; they are the soil from which our lives must grow, or as Paul says, the head from which we are nourished. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” is more than a hashtag for your Instagram account; it’s theology clothed with flesh. It’s an experience of truth the church desperately needs to come to terms with, and a gospel reality that speaks with greater volume than whatever killer setlist you’ve come up with for your next "outreach" service.
“You’re dead, start acting like it!” is a call for you to see that Christ is the all-satisfying reality of your life. You will not find a better saviour. “You’re alive, start living like it!” is a call that draws you eyes up. Your failure does not define you, nor do the echoes of your sin.
Jesus speaks a better story and the grave does not have the final word. Lift your eyes and see the victory of your God: “Behold, the Lamb! He comes in glory.” His victory is yours.