This week we’ve seen that Colossians teaches us that baptism is a work, that’s its judgmental, and that its gift is death. The upside of baptism is that it entails heavenly fulfillment - not just in the future but right now. This is a radical claim but one clearly made in Colossians.
· Colossians 1:13 - having delivered us from the dominion of darkness, God transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.
· Colossians 1:22 - he has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death
· Colossians 2:9-10 - In Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (cf. 1:19), and you have come to fullness in him.
· Colossians 3:3-4 - For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Notice the use of the past tense in these four passages; our heavenly achievement (granted us through Jesus) is an accomplished fact. This is of obvious importance to Paul’s argument against the Colossian troublemakers who peddle means to gain heavenly status. That status already belongs to the baptized (if they continue to hold onto it - Col 1:23).
My own difficulty with this concept is not whether it is clearly presented in Colossians but with its not being clearly seen in my own experience. To be sure, I am more affluent and comfortable than the vast majority of humans who live or have lived. But I’m not in heaven. My affluence can neither lessen nor mask the ravishes of my sinfulness or my mortality. And even if it could, I still have you and the 7 billion others like you, all of you with your problems, proclivities, and needs. Furthermore, whether I manufacture my anxiety or it’s the result of chemical, mental, or societal imbalance, the truth of the matter is, heaven should seem like heaven and this doesn’t.
So on the one hand I have the apostle telling me these wild tales of my being hidden away in the yet-to-be-revealed glory of God and on the other I have my own ‘issues’ and just the reality of a world that’s not right pressing in on my awareness at every turn. Whom do I listen to?
Frankly, I know myself well enough so I’ll listen to the apostle. And his instruction isn’t simply ‘this is the way it is,’ it is “Seek the things that are above…set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” At first hearing, this sounds to me like advice the Colossian troublemakers would give - give up on this world and seek the heavenly realms. But I must remember that, according to Paul, we are already in heaven with Christ. To “seek” doesn’t mean to look for something we don’t have; it means to discover the place we have found ourselves in, a new world both mysterious yet wondrous (cf. Col 2:2-3). Ours is not a trip to get some place, fraught with the possibility of failure; it is a journey of exploration, born out of the peaceful, even joyful conviction that we have nothing to lose and everything (!) to find.
The world we live in is indeed troubled. People are dying. Evil is intense and sin is intractable. And humanity is as much as ever the problem rather than the solution. To accept baptism is not to escape this reality; baptism does not sugarcoat things - it is, after all, work, judgment, death. Yet it is God’s work, God’s judgment, God’s death. And God’s life, which he gives to us, pulling us up into his fullness and his mystery, and baptism calls us to discover all that he has given us.
Next week we’ll explore what it means to seek the things above and how in seeking them we make a world of difference here below.