IN his letter to the Colossians, Paul had a lot to say about the need to be spiritual rather than carnal, particularly in Colossians 3:1-17. What is quite striking about this letter is its relevance to the church today, and how the truths that Paul shared with those at Colossae can build our own faith and help us understand that we are called to walk after the spirit and not the flesh.
Many believers struggle to understand the distinction between walking in the spirit and walking in the flesh. In Colossians 3:1-2, Paul says one of the characteristics of believers who walk after the spirit is seeking “those things which are above” before stressing that believers set their mind on Christ.
We often put our faith, calling, ministry etc at the back of our minds throughout the week — during which time we are busy chasing the elusive dollar, cutting deals and concentrating on our jobs. We will be busy minding the things on earth. Then when Saturday or Sunday comes, we put on our “spiritual jackets” and head for church where we begin to mind the things above for a few hours!
But a believer who walks in the spirit will not wait for Sunday to share the gospel and pray for the sick or even to hear the Word. He does these things every day. Sometimes we fight for a few precious moments of glory on the pastor’s pulpit on Sunday. We fail to realise that there are so many pulpits out there in the streets, our communities, work places and business circles that have no preachers behind them but are calling out to those that walk in the spirit to stand behind them and do the real, gruelling work of ministry away from the cheering congregations.
For many, the spirit is subdued by the soul and the body so they end up fitting snugly into the picture painted by Colossians 3:5 where they manifest the vices of “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” in the church. Remember, this letter was not written to the entertainment industry in Colossae. It was not written to nightclubs or casinos. It was written “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossae” (Colossians 1:2).
Sometimes the misreading of scripture leads us into error. Many believers love Romans 8:1, which they quote: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus…” And that is where they end. So, it’s like they are saying salvation has given them a licence to do whatever they want because they are saved.
But hold your horses and allow me to mess up your religion for just a while. Romans 8:1b says, “… (those) who do not walk after the flesh but after the spirit…” The implication here is that salvation or the grace of God is not a licence to live in any way we desire, telling ourselves that God will forgive us because we are not condemned.
Paul explains that a wanton lifestyle will attract the condemnation of God: “Because of these things (fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire and covetousness) the wrath of god is coming upon the sons of disobedience” (Colossians 3:6). So if unbelievers are sons of disobedience because they do these things, if you as a believer also do the same things, what does that make you?
Paul then paints a picture of what God expects of us. He explains that the believer received power to stop walking in the flesh at the new birth… “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language… Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds…” (Colossians 3:8-9).
Take this old man we have just described and put him next to you. How far do you compare? You speak in tongues, yes, but be honest. Check your language. Is it always clean? Are you easily angered? How many times do you tell those little “white” lies every day? If this is your character, then know that you’re walking in the flesh!
But the good news is you can put off the old man and his deeds and begin to walk in the newness of life. The power has been deposited in your spirit. (Colossians 3:12-13). You can also use it to measure yourself regarding how you relate with those around you. This will help you to establish whether or not you are walking in the spirit.
When you put all these things into practice, you become a spiritual and not a carnal Christian. It means you’re mature. These are things we should exercise every day. It may not be easy at the beginning and it’s not automatic. You have to make a personal decision that this is how you will walk from today and then do it.
Phillip Chidavaenzi is the author of The Gospel of Grace: From the Old to the New Testament (2016) and Walking in the Spirit (2017). He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org