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New body, new eyes

by Nathan Stewart last modified Jan 17, 2016 12:38 PM

What sense is there in a headless torso? Or, worse still, a torso attached to the wrong head? Such macabre notions bring to mind Frankenstein’s monster rather than the quality of our spiritual vision. Paul, however, regarded the matter of our walk in Christ as of such great importance that he was not afraid to evoke such striking imagery.

In Colossians 2:18–19 he describes those who were attempting to draw the believers away from their walk in Christ as a body “not holding fast to the Head.” This evokes an alarming picture to the mind to be sure. Let us stop for a moment and consider the fact that the most gruesome and compelling fact about the image of a headless torso is that it can be nothing better than a lifeless corpse.

By contrast, as Paul has it, those holding fast to Christ as head of the body are full of life and that body of the faithful, “nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

This all has to do with our identity. If we are in Christ our identity is in him. We must understand this, however, in a more than individualistic way. The self-focussed individualism of our culture often blinds us to the breadth of Paul’s teaching. For we are all being knit together as part of Christ’s body. It would be equally macabre to picture millions of cloned “bodies of Christ” wandering about attempting to be attached to the one head. Worse still, to picture millions of heads (thereby destroying the unity of Christ and producing millions of individually customised idols — our very own bespoke “versions” of Christ to which we attempt to attach.)

Paul says it is our baptism that has sealed our identity to Christ. In baptism we are publicly identified with Christ and his people. We become part of his “body”. In my observation, people from more group-oriented societies such as Japanese find this easier to understand. In such societies, it is hard to overstate the momentousness of Christian baptism. No longer can they participate in the religious activities that identified them with their people.

Paul links baptism to the earlier rite of circumcision. He even describes it as “the circumcision of Christ”. Circumcision was the point of entry into membership of the people of God. It was achieved by cutting away and discarding some flesh and Paul argues that those in Christ have likewise stripped off their old body (that is their old allegiance to family, nation, false gods) and received the body of Christ.

How then, asks Paul, if believers have been so identified with Christ that we have been buried and raised with him in baptism do we find ourselves tempted to join again in the ways of our old bodies (the ungodly customs and practices of our genetic family or nation)? As though we were a body attached to the wrong head.

If we are to have clear spiritual vision, having learned to watch steadfastly the leadership of Christ our head, we must learn also to look at the world through his eyes. This too, is achieved through prayerful submission to him as we daily and deeply read his word.