“Dead to the world” includes being dead to Christianism.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 April 2018
Colossians 3.1-4 KWL
1 So if you’re raised up with Christ, seek higher things—where Christ is, sitting at the Father’s right.
2 Think about higher things, not things on the earth:
3 You died. Your life is cloaked with Christ, in God.
4 When Christ—our life—appears, then you’ll appear with him in glory.

Christians, like Paul and Timothy said in Colossians, are meant to identify with Christ. We’re not to let other people lead us astray through useless philosophies, traditions, and tricks; we’re to let Christ Jesus lead us, and him alone. Cl 2.8

The apostles’ argument was that we’re to identify with Christ Jesus so closely, we effectively died to sin through his death. We were raised to new life with his new life. So as far as this world and age are concerned, we’re dead.

No, they weren’t trying to teach Christians that it’s perfectly okay for us to violate the laws of the land, because we’re supposedly dead to our governments as well. Plenty of Christians have tried that interpretation, and used it as a license to be jerks towards pagans, or to justify our libertarian or anarchic politics (and our conspiracy-theory fears of how they might crack down on us for being contrary). Or to simply sin ourselves raw and call it “freedom in Christ”—but really we’re taking God’s grace for granted. Christians can be just as wicked as anyone, and Christianists are notorious for using the trappings of Christianity to get away with all sorts of evil.

Nope; once you read the context of Colossians you’ll realize the apostles were writing about the legalistic expectations of religious people. Certain ancient Christians, same as today, had a very narrow view of how “good Christians” were meant to live, or which of the Pharisee traditions oughta be carried forward into Christianity. And they were penalizing their fellow Christians for not being “Christian” enough for them—as they defined Christianity, not as Jesus, the apostles, and their bible define it.

So when the apostles wrote about being dead to the world, yeah they were writing about being dead to the secular world… but they were just as much writing about being dead to the religious world. To the “good Christians” who were trying to add commands and rules to Jesus’s teachings. Who were trying to enforce their interpretations instead of leaving conviction to the Holy Spirit, to whom it properly belongs.

You’re not gonna find a lot of preachers who point out that fact. Sometimes because they don’t realize it applies to them too… and sometimes because they don’t want it to apply to them too. They want us to “follow me as I follow Christ,” 1Co 11.1 MEV and sometimes really do have the best of intentions.

But we’re to follow Christ. Not them. Not fellow Christians. We’re all fallible; we’re all wrong. Jesus is not. Follow Jesus with us—but don’t follow us. Follow him.

Wannabe gurus.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve met pastors and Christian leaders who covet followers. Who imagine themselves, like Jesus, sitting down with a group of admiring students who heed their every word. Who wanna be worshiped respected as a great teacher. Every teacher, myself included, gets tempted with this vision.

It’s very common, but wholly wrong.

Matthew 23.5-12 KWL
5 “Every deed of the Pharisee scribes is done for people to see:
They widen their prayer-straps and lengthen their prayer-fringes.
6 They love the best seat at table during dinners, the best chair by the podium in synagogue,
7 and to be saluted in the public square, and for people to call them rabbí/‘Doctor.’
8 Don’t you be called ‘Doctor.’ There’s only one teacher for you. All of you are sisters and brothers.
9 Don’t you call anyone on earth ‘my spiritual Father.’ There‘s only one Father for you, in heaven.
10 Nor call people ‘my spiritual guru.’ There’s only one guru for you, Messiah.
11 The greatest of you all must be the servant of you all.
12 Whoever will promote themselves will be knocked down.
Whoever will knock themselves down will be promoted.”

We have one teacher, Jesus said, and that’s him. We’re all his students. We’re to humble ourselves, not exalt ourselves. And how sad for those who don’t realize this—or who figure since somebody’s gotta inform newer Christians about Jesus’s teachings, Jesus’s instructions here somehow don’t apply to them. That they need to promote themselves and their ministries, because they’re preaching the gospel and need to get heard.

We’re to be dead to them too.

Of course they hate when I, and other Christians, teach this. They accuse us of hindering God’s kingdom. But really their concern is we’re hindering their self-promotion. They wanna be successful, and get fame or money. (Money they might actually spend on the needy—after taking a cut to build themselves a really nice headquarters, and grant themselves a really nice salary, but still.) But bluntly, if we’re following Jesus, truly following Jesus… what do we need them for?

Well we don’t. And some of ’em are hoping we never notice this… and for others of them, it never occurred to them they might not be needed. They’re so used to Christians not following Jesus, they expect they’ll be needed till Jesus comes back.

But that’s a symptom (and unintentionally, often a cause) of Christianism in our culture. Christians don’t follow Jesus, so preachers imagine they oughta “follow me as I follow Christ” and try to gain followers. But any Christian teacher’s real job is to point people beyond us, show ’em how to not need us anymore, because they’re following Jesus. We’re to follow John the baptist’s example:

John 3.28-30 KWL
28 “You yourselves heard me testify: I said I’m not Messiah.
Instead I’m the one who’d been sent ahead of him.
29 The groom’s the one with the bride.
The groom’s friend, joyfully standing and listening, rejoices at the groom’s voice.
So this joy of mine is full: 30 He has to grow—and I, shrink.”

This is particularly true because of how frequently these wannabe gurus, in their quest for attention and notoriety, feel they need to come up with something profound and unique… and as a result teach something Jesus and the apostles never did. And sometimes even stumble into heresy. They don’t necessarily mean to. But power corrupts, and the pursuit of power corrupts just as much.

So no, we don’t follow them. We listen to them; they might have some useful things to say. They might highlight some stuff we hadn’t paid enough attention to. But they’re not our doctors, not our teachers, not our gurus. They’re our sisters and brothers in Christ. Jesus is our doctor, teacher, and guru. Nobody else. Follow nobody else. You are not bound to them: You are dead to them.

Love not the spiritual guru, neither the things that are of the guru. (Obviously I’m paraphrasing 1 John 2.15.) If anyone love the guru, the love of the Father is not in them. Not that we’re not to love people, particularly fellow Christians, Jn 13.34 but John was speaking comparatively: Nothing gets prioritized above Jesus. No Christian teacher, no ministry, no church, nothing. We’re dead to that stuff. We follow Jesus.

Because when Jesus returns, and we with him, he’s not gonna need any of that stuff anymore. Paul and Timothy instructed us to set our eyes on higher things, not lower; on God’s direct heavenly ministry, not earthly ministry organizations. On God’s wishes, not your church’s preferences.

Are we following them, or him? Better be him. Otherwise we’re Christianists, not Christians—and there’s a dangerously wide difference between the two.