What does a Christian look like?
When the gospel has taken effect in a person’s life, their life has been transformed. The old has become new (2 Cor. 5:17) and the dead is now living (Eph. 2:5; Col. 3:13). For this reason there are clear and obvious changes in the life of believer. In this post I would like to refer to them as a portrait of the Christian Life.
In the opening verses to his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul praised God for the fact that the Colossian believers were an unmistakable portrait of the Christian life,
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:3-5a).
What does the Christian life look like? going beyond physical appearance and personal accomplishments, Paul makes mention of three essential marks of the genuine believer: faith, love and hope. These three terms are not limited to this passage, in-fact they appear to be an important triad in Paul’s letters (e.g. 1 Cor. 13:13 and 1 Thess. 1:3). Interestingly, the word “heard” is a present active verb indicating that Paul is constantly hearing this. That is an amazing report! Let us now consider each of these marks of the Christian life.
The first mark of the gospel life that Paul celebrates is their “faith in Christ Jesus.” The Colossians did not trust in or rely on their own achievements; instead, the object of all their trust and reliance was “in Christ Jesus.” Genuine saving faith is recognizing that we have nothing to offer God in-order to be forgiven of our sin and be saved. “Faith” is God’s appointed means in-order for us to receive salvation. “Faith” is coming to God on the grounds of grace – having nothing to offer – and trusting and adhering to Christ as Lord.
Without “faith in Christ Jesus” there is no hope of salvation, simply because Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). This is what made the Colossians “faith” special – it was genuine saving faith. Paul could thank the Lord because the Colossians had “faith in Christ Jesus.” That certainly was worthy of celebration! That is the first mark of the gospel life.
The second mark of the gospel life is “love…for all the saints.” Anybody who has a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ will love His people. This is not referring to a sentimental or superficial kind of “love.” Instead, this love is deliberate and committed. It is not sourced in ourselves, but like faith, it is given to us by God (Rom. 5:5). For this reason every believer is commanded to love other believers (1 John 4:7). So then, every true believer has the capacity to love the people of God. The Holy Spirit is the One who produces it within the life of the believer (cf. Gal. 5:22) and because God has shown such wonderful love toward us in Christ (cf. Rom. 5:8), this then ought to motivate us to love others.
The third mark of the believer that makes up the portrait of the gospel life is hope. Many today over-emphasize our present life. Such an over-emphasis allows for unbiblical teachings that place all of our attention on the here and now. An example of this could be prosperity theology. But an overemphasis of our present life can also be seen in people’s possessions and what they do with their time. Many are consumed with worldly pleasures. These pleasures may not be sinful in and of themselves, but they become the focus of their life. It is essential that Christians live their life in response to “the hope laid up” for them “in heaven.” This “hope” that the Colossians possessed was not wishful thinking. Instead, it refers to a confident expectation. What were they confidently expecting? According to this verse it is laid up for them in heaven. So then, what is laid up for us in heaven? In addition to experiencing all the majesty and splendour, we will be with the Lord Jesus Christ forever in eternity. But there is something greater, we will not only be with Him, but we shall be like Him (cf. 1 John 3:2). The “hope” that marks the believer is a reference to being made like Christ, because He is our hope (cf. 1:27; 1 Tim. 1:1). Christlikeness is the greatest reward the believer will ever receive!
The apostle Paul thanked God for the Colossian believers because they were a portrait of the Christian life. Residing in them were the qualities: faith, love and hope. If this is a picture of you, that is worthy of celebration and praise to God.