Hidden in Him (3:1-4)
My life is "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3)! More than that, there is a sense in which it isn't even my life. It's Christ's (Colossians 3:4). It's true of you, too, if you believe in the Lord Jesus. What a powerful declaration! Let me catch my breath and I'll try to make sense of these stunning statements.
First, though, we mustn't overlook the fact that your life is "hidden" only insofar as you are "with Christ." In other words, if you don't have Christ your life is very much exposed and vulnerable and precarious. The only way your life can be thought of as in any sense "hidden" is if you are united by faith "with" the Son of God. There is safety and security in him alone.
Second, some would fancy their lives to be "in God" but without Christ. "Hidden in God," yes, "but I don't need Christ for that," so they say. They envision themselves as religious, even "spiritual," while yet Christless. They speak of "spiritual serenity" and "meaning" and "value" and "a sense of well being" but care little, if at all, for the Son of God. But don't be deceived by their sincerity or duped by their fervor: whatever it is that Paul has in mind by the word "hidden" and whatever it means to be "in God," is found only in relationship "with" Jesus Christ.
Now, with that foundational truth settled, we can proceed to ask what it means to be "hidden with Christ in God." The best way to unpack this truth is by noting, first, what it doesn't mean.
Jesus called us to be a "light" to the world. "A city set on a hill," he noted, "cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14). Being "hidden" in this sense, therefore, is bad!
Like many other young boys who grew up in the 50's, I was an avid follower and admirer of Superman, whether he appeared on TV or in the pages of a comic book. I suppose I was intrigued by the fantasy of his dual existence. When all was serene and safe, he was Clark Kent, "mild-mannered reporter" with the Daily Planet newspaper. At such times he was indistinguishable from the average citizen in Metropolis. But when chaos broke out or crime raised its ugly head, the light grey suit was cast aside to reveal the man of steel.
In a perverse sort of way, many Christians are like Superman. They keep their Christianity concealed beneath their street clothes. Days, perhaps weeks may pass before some crisis occurs, demanding that they abandon their normal routine and adorn themselves with the costume of Christianity in order to perform some great feat of faith or mercy. But as soon as the crisis passes, they, like Superman, return to their everyday existence as "mild-mannered lawyers," "mild-mannered teachers," even "mild-mannered pastors."
Little wonder that the church today is so ineffective and its presence rests so lightly on our society. There are too many who profess the name of Christ who want their commitment to him to remain "hidden" until threatening circumstances or some pressing need requires that they take a public stand for "truth, justice, and the American way," or more appropriately, for the gospel.
My point is that Paul by no means intends for us to think of our lives as unseen or obscured. As Jesus said, "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
Rather, by "hidden" Paul means that the source of our spiritual life is inexplicable to those who don't know Jesus. They can't figure out where we find perseverance when persecuted or why we show mercy when mistreated or what accounts for our praise of God when pain is so obvious and chronic.
There is an element of mystery in the rationale and motivation of the Christian life. Why does one man refuse to exploit an opportunity for financial gain when others so easily justify circumventing the law? Why does one young lady steadfastly resist the sexual advances of a boyfriend when others so quickly yield without a second thought? What accounts for a life that is qualitatively different when that very difference costs so much from a worldly and economic and political perspective?
Paul's use of the word "hidden" is somewhat analogous to what we can and cannot see of a flower. The root system is concealed beneath the surface of the earth. How it derives nutrients from the soil and contributes to the growth of the stem, leaf, and petal is unseen, being something of a mystery. But the beauty of the rose is for all to behold. Its color and fragrance are ever on display for the joy of all people. Likewise the Christian, whose strength and incentive and inner life are "hidden" from view, but whose kindness, faith, perseverance, and love are a perpetual witness to the glory of God's grace within.
Do you remember the scene in the movie "Chariots of Fire" when Eric Liddell wins the 400 meter run in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, France? Harold Abrahams, who earlier won the gold medal in the 100 meter dash, is watching him from the grandstands. As Liddell thrusts his head back in characteristic fashion and displays an almost other-worldly determination, Abrahams appears befuddled, unable to grasp what could drive a man in this way. It's as if he's saying to himself, "Something more than physical training alone is at work in this man. What unknown energy accounts for this seemingly inhuman performance?"
Such ought to be the reaction of the unbeliever who bears witness to our most mundane activities. There is a very real sense in which the life of the believer is an enigma to the world. Something in us is under concealment, hidden, inaccessible to the person who doesn't know Jesus as Lord and Savior. "Outsiders may mistake [Christians] for weak, insignificant, dishonored fools for Christ, little knowing that they are tied to the ruler of the universe and destined to reign with him in glory" (Garland, 222).
In such cases we would do well to encourage our souls with the gentle reminder that "the reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (1 John 3:1-3).
Sometimes it's hidden even to other Christians. Paul faced this problem in his relationship with the Corinthians. Nothing they saw in him appeared "apostolic." They were inclined to judge him based on externals alone. How could this bruised and battered life, this one with less than impressive physical features, this persecuted and oppressed man be an apostle of Christ? Paul himself confessed that before he was converted he also judged based solely on outward appearance, on the basis of fleshly standards (see 2 Cor. 5:16).
But he was quick to remind them (and us) that although "our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Finally, there is in the word "hidden" an element of security and safety. In fact, the perfect tense of the word stresses the on-going and permanent effects of what God has done for us in and "with" Christ. As O'Brien put it, "your life has been hidden with Christ in God and it remains that way" (165).
Jesus himself said it best when he declared that "no one will snatch them [i.e., my sheep] out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:28-29). There it is: our life is "with Christ," in his gracious grip. And together "with him" we are "in God," from whose hand no one can snatch us. Oh, blessed safety!
Happy to be hidden,