I love Western movies. It does not matter the era whether the Golden Age of Hollywood or today. Count me in as a diehard fan of the genre. More than likely, the Western captures my imagination because of its mythical elements. I could not resist wording today’s post the way I did. It represents a cliched reference to the catching of criminals in every Western story whether television or cinema. When I came across the following scripture passage, I felt inspired to pay homage to the Western:
“20 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— 21 ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 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).
At the risk of sounding pretentious, I submit to my readers and followers that the apostle Paul fits the mold of a gruff, Western hero. He might be the New Testament’s version of John Wayne. Again, this runs the risk of caricaturing an historical figure, who advanced the gospel message in mighty ways before the internet, electricity, the train, the automobile, you name it. Respect is due a man who gave his life for the very message that I proclaim while steeped in comfort and convenience. There is no Roman Imperial Cult demanding complete veneration from its citizens on pain of death at the moment in the United States. Of course, this could change over the coming decades.
If one does a smidgen of homework on the letter to the Colossians, one learns that Paul writes these words from prison. He is a criminal in the eyes of the Roman Empire. If I take this one step further, Paul’s imprisonment illustrates the consequences between being dead or alive. He has died to the world and its ways by proclaiming the gospel and living its message. This has landed Paul in prison. If he remained alive to the world, but dead to Christ, then he would be free to engage in Roman society as a Roman citizen. Rather than engage with the world according to its ways, Paul sits in prison while using this letter to the Colossians in order to jostle them into obedient living. This is exactly the context previous to the above quoted passage.
When reading Colossians 2:13-15, Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to remember their position in Christ and how he accomplished it before God and all the principalities. The apostle stresses three key points: 1. God made the Colossian believers alive in Christ while dead to him; 2. God forgave their trespasses (or sins) in Christ by his death on the cross; and 3. Christ disarmed or weakened the demonic forces by his death and resurrection. Instead of these truths forming a heart and life of obedience to Christ, the Colossians reverted back to their old ways of submitting to human and fleshly rules or regulations (Col. 2:20-22, ESV). Paul pleads with them to examine their lives to determine whether they are dead or alive to the world.
According to Paul, living for the world goes against being made alive in Christ. It is sheer insanity for the Colossians to live this new life in Christ as if they were dead to him and alive to the world. If this previous sentence sounds contradictory, then it has served its purpose. The apostle Paul’s intent is to illustrate the futile existence of believers who revert back to the flesh for living. In fact, the twenty-third verse, of Colossians chapter two, is a sobering reminder for followers of Christ today just as it was in Paul’s day. How can I possibly believe and live according to human precepts and teaching for victory over sin, when Christ secured the victory over sin and death through his death and resurrection? The law does not save. It reveals to me my sin and corresponding need of a savior; however, using the law or works to accomplish righteous living subverts the gospel and Christ (Galatians 1:6-8; 3:2-4, 23-25, NASB).
When I reflect upon the title of today’s post, “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” I see it as a clarion call by the apostle Paul to stir up the believers in Colosse and throughout the entire church age. The apostle leaves no room for believers to straddle the fence with respect to their devotion to Christ. God the Holy Spirit uses Paul’s words to call his people into greater intimacy and faithfulness. There is no victory over sin according to the flesh. I can manage my sin to the best of my ability apart from Christ…but, Paul says rather bluntly that such efforts “…are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23, ESV). I call that a reality check. It demands that I examine where my focus is at in life: on Christ or on myself. Am I living life according to the flesh by strict adherence to rules or regulations (otherwise known as legalism)? Or, do I submit my flesh and its desires to the Holy Spirit and his word for true restraint and victory?