Glorified in Him (3:1-4)
I opened the previous meditation by saying, with Paul, that my life that is now hidden with Christ isn't even mine. It's his (Colossians 3:4). More than that, this life of Christ within me, though now somewhat concealed, will someday be fully revealed. Listen to Paul once again: "When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4).
What does it mean to say that Christ is our life? And what are we to expect when he finally appears? In what sense will we appear with him "in glory"? Let’s take each of these questions in turn.
So, what does it mean to say that Christ IS my life? Certainly it must be said that apart from him I have no life. Life, both physically and spiritually, finds its source in him and is sustained by him (see Col. 1:16-17). Whatever life I now live is not of my own making, for as Paul said to the Athenian philosophers, “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). The mere fact that there is an “I”, a “you”, a “we” is because of the creative intent and energy of the Son of God.
Paul also has in mind that vital, irrevocable union we have with him, such that the Christian simply cannot conceive of life in any meaningful way separable from the indwelling, energizing, loving presence of the Lord Jesus. The believer’s personal identity is so inextricably wrapped up in who Christ is and what he has accomplished that it simply makes no sense to speak or even conceive of a “me” independently of him.
This is an affront to those infected with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-western-individualism. We are so accustomed to taking full credit for who we are and what we accomplish that any suggestion we might be wholly dependent on another is quickly and defiantly dismissed. We think entirely in terms of rights and entitlements, disregarding the fact that the only thing we truly deserve is death.
Such a mentality does not accord well with Paul’s declaration that “Christ is my life”! As painful to my flesh as it may be to admit, the fact is that I am not my own man. I can claim no rights in my body, soul, or spirit. I own nothing. I am but an unworthy beneficiary of divine mercy. Not only physical life comes “through him” (Col. 1:16) but every impulse of my renewed heart, as well as every choice in obedience to his will. I do not live “my life” through the independent exertion of “my will” in the pursuit of “my goals.” My life, if I dare even use such terms, is thoroughly through him and sovereignly sustained by him.
Most important of all, this life that he gave me and now upholds and energizes by his good will has value only so far as it is lived for his glory. To say that Christ is my life is to say that my life exists ultimately to make him look great and glorious. I don’t make him great or glorious, but I do exist to reveal and display that greatness and glory in all he does through me. John Piper, in commenting on Romans 11:36, put it this way:
“Do you love the thought that you exist to make God look glorious? Do you love the thought that all creation exists to display the glory of God. Do you love the truth that all of history is designed by God to one day be a completed canvas that displays in the best way possible the greatness and beauty of God? . . . Do you love the truth that you personally exist to make God look like what he really is – glorious? I ask again: Do you love the fact that your salvation is meant to put the glory of God’s grace on display? Do you love seeing and showing the glory of God? This is why God created the universe. This is why he ordained history. This is why he sent his Son. This is why you exist. Forever to see and savor and show the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. The question at the end of Romans 1-11 is, Do you embrace this calling as your treasure and your joy?” Paul also declares that this “glory” or “beauty” or “manifest splendor” of all that Jesus Christ is will one day be made inescapably visible. According to our text, Christ, who is our life, will one day “appear”. That is typically taken for granted among Christians. We refer to it as the Second Coming. But we fail to consider that “when” he appears “then” (note the explicit temporal connection in Paul’s language) we “also will appear with him in glory.”
Paul has much the same thing in mind in Romans 8:17-18. There he reminds us that we are “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Yes, we will “see” that glory (Romans 8:18). But in another sense we will “be” that glory. But in what sense? And in “being” that glory how do we keep the focus on him and not ourselves? Look again at Colossians 3:4. When Paul says we will appear with him “in glory” he’s not referring to a place but an experience. This is the promise of sharing in the glorified life of Christ. It is the promise of the eradication of evil and every fleshly impulse. It is the promise of everlasting deliverance from greed and pride and lust and envy and unforgiveness. It is the promise that our whole being: body, soul, mind, spirit, and affections will experience and forever live in the power and purity of God himself. It’s somewhat akin to what Paul had in mind in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 where he declares that Christ is coming to be glorified “in” his saints. John Stott explains it this way: “So how will the coming Lord Jesus be glorified in relation to his people? Not ‘among’ them, as if they will be the theatre or stadium in which he appears; nor ‘by’ them, as if they will be the spectators, the audience who watch and worship; nor ‘through’ or ‘by means of’ them, as if they will be mirrors which reflect his image and glory [although, in a sense all those are true]; but rather ‘in’ them, as if they will be a filament, which itself glows with light and heat when the electric current passes through it” (149).
Stott’s point is that we will not only witness Christ’s glory, we will be enveloped within it, engulfed by its surging splendor, and made experiential participants of it. One day, oh glorious day(!), our lives will no longer be “hidden” with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), but fully and finally and forever seen as we glow with the brightness of his glory, for his glory.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!