The apostle Paul’s words in Colossians 3:3 don’t exactly seem like good news: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Who wants to read their own obituary? Of course, that’s not what he means. I’ll let Paul do his own clarifying by continuing in context:
For it is because of these things [immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, greed] that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth . . . since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices. (Col. 3:6–9 NASB, emphasis added)
The truth is I’ve always been dead. Before meeting Christ, I was dead in my transgressions (Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13). Though physically alive, I was a spiritual corpse. However, when I met Christ, a beautiful transaction occurred. I was “crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Death by Crucifixion
The death Paul speaks of here in Colossians 3 is the crucifixion of my sinful flesh. Sometimes we think of it as taking off old clothes, and that’s not wrong; however, it may make it seem too easy. Death by crucifixion was horrific and excruciating. Exterminating my flesh is nasty business. Nevertheless, I am crucified with Christ, united with Him in His death. This means that His death is my death. And the satisfaction of God’s wrath that He achieved satisfies God on my behalf as well. His resurrection is my resurrection. His holiness is my holiness. His righteousness is my righteousness. You get the idea. That’s the beautiful truth of being in Christ.
So, I’m dead, not physically, but to my flesh. The self that could not please God, that could not resist sin, and that delighted in rebellion and disobedience is dead, never to rise again. Or to put it more positively, I’m a new creation, like a butterfly exiting a cocoon, no longer a caterpillar but something brand new entirely.1 Yes, this is good news. But death to sin isn’t the only death that must occur. Jesus teaches that if you truly want to follow Him, you must lose your life:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24–25)
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23–24)
A Costly Death
This death is hard. This death is costly. This death may be much more painful than physical suffering. It means:
- Death to my plans.
- Death to control over my life.
- Death to indulging my flesh.
- Death to making my name great.
- Death to my desire for worldly adulation.
- Death to my lust for worldly satisfaction.
- Death to comfortable apathy.
- Death to living for this world.
The moment I said yes to life with Christ, I died. There was no funeral or casket, no eulogy or bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.” This death was no tragedy, for it also began a new life full of joy, hope, peace, and fellowship with the Creator Himself who now invites me to call Him Father.
The life that I now live by faith in the Son of God promises fullness and fruitfulness—it is absolutely worth the price of admission. It’s the best trade ever. I’d do it again in a millisecond, maybe faster. But this life is different. Before, I lived for me. Now I live for something else. In Philippians the apostle Paul puts it this way: “For to me to live is Christ” (1:21). But what does that look like exactly?
A Glorious Hiding
Paul calls my life “hidden with Christ” (Col. 3:3). On one hand, this is glorious. That my life is hidden with Christ in God means that nothing—no angels, principalities, powers, nothing present, nothing future, no height, depth, or any other created thing—can separate me from the love of Christ.
Perhaps like me, you’re hesitant to look at the day’s headlines and learn of the latest tragedy that has befallen our world. Hardly a week goes by without a mass shooting or act of terrorism. Every day lives are taken too soon through the violent act of another person. However, my life in Christ isn’t like that. Nothing can snuff out this life that I’ve been given. Being hidden with Christ means that my security in Him makes Fort Knox look like Mayberry Security Bank—totally vulnerable to theft. I am tucked away so safely that there is no created force in the universe—not even my own sin—that could knock me loose. Hallelujah!
However, the idea of being hidden carries another meaning as well. This one chafes a bit more. Paul says that my life is hidden. To embrace Christ and find this abundant, soul-satisfying life means that I go into hiding. No longer do I get to live for me.
For the love of Christ controls [me], because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:14–15)
This sounds tragic, like a gross violation of my rights or like a cult that takes away my identity. Of course not. The life I’ve been given in Christ is how I’m supposed to be. It’s my true identity. Yet I wrestle. I wrestle with the desire to be known. I don’t like being hidden. In my flesh, I’d rather be known and make my own name great, like the tower-builders of Shinar (Gen. 11:1–9).
Sometimes I feel my hiddenness more than others and recognize that this is what Jesus meant when He demanded that I lay down my life to find it in Him. Of course, this was something that Jesus Himself knew well. He lived the “hidden” life for thirty years; and even His taking on flesh meant hiding the glory of His deity (Phil. 2:5–8). And it is to this life of hiddenness that He has called each of His children.
For some it may mean figuring out what that means in the limelight, but for most of us it means faithful obscurity. We do what we do day after day, week after week, year after year, plodding, slogging, and hopefully growing–all with little applause, affirmation, or appreciation. Sometimes it feels that no one cares or no one notices. Maybe they don’t, but that’s okay. We’re not hidden without purpose. We’re hidden in Christ! We remain hidden that He may be seen!
Dying and hiding are no picnic, but neither are they futile. The very next verse tells us why: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with with Him in glory.” We have died to find true life in Christ; we hide to be revealed with Him as well. And that, my friends, will be worth every second of hiddenness. So may we pray along with Saint Patrick:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Or better yet, John the Baptist:
“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
1 Check out Mary Kassian’s book The Right Kind of Strong for more on the analogy of caterpillar/butterfly applied to sanctification. It’s great.