The challenge for Christians is to continue to follow Christ long after our initial profession of faith in him.
Doing so must be hard because thousands of books have been written about how to faithfully follow Jesus as a disciple.
The apostle Paul helps us discern how we follow Christ in his letter to the first-century church in Colossae, saying, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” (Colossians 2:6a).
In other words, we follow Jesus in the same way we came to him. The question then is, “How did we receive Christ?”
Here’s my take on what it means to continue to live in Christ just like we began with him:
1. Like the Colossians, we don’t trust the popular gods of our culture.
Roman culture in the first century embraced a pantheon of gods headed up by Jupiter and his wife, Juno. A host of lesser deities hung out on Mount Olympus. Romans called first-century Christians atheists because they didn’t believe in these rather fractious divinities.
The Christians at Colossae rejected the gods of popular culture, affirming that Jesus Christ was the son of the One True God. Today, our cultural gods are power, money and technology. Interestingly, like the gods on Olympus, our new gods often hang out together.
Even though we all use power, money and technology, 21st-century Christians are challenged not to place ultimate trust in these gods as the solution to our social and spiritual problems.
Following Jesus like we received him means we continue to trust in him, and him alone, as the creator, sustainer and savior of the world.
2. Like the Colossians, our politics is “Jesus is Lord,” not Caesar.
In the Roman Empire, citizens were required to affirm their loyalty to the emperor by stating, “Caesar is lord.” Paul radically altered the politics of his day by asserting “Jesus is Lord.”
To replace Caesar, heralded as the son of god and ruler of the universe, with a crucified itinerant Jew, placed first-century Christians outside the social norms of the day.
Under emperors like Nero and Domitian, Christians suffered persecution as a radical, subversive sect who refused to acknowledge the emperor cult of their day.
Our political statement as 21st-century Christians is still “Jesus is Lord,” which strips us of our primary allegiance to political parties or ideologies as the ultimate guide in our lives.
Our political leaders are neither the creators of the universe nor the center around which all things revolve, despite the self-perceived importance of those who live and work in Washington, D.C.
3. Like the Colossians, we came to Christ and we continue to live in Christ because our relationship with God is personal.
In the Christian faith, we believe that God loves us, sent his son, Jesus, to die and rise again for us, and that we continue to know God personally.
Unlike the gods on Olympus, who weren’t loving or personal, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus has always related directly and personally to his people.
Our Baptist forebears called this possibility the “priesthood of the believer” or “soul-competency.” Both of those phrases mean that individuals are capable of relating to God and receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord.
Maintaining an awareness of our personal relationship with Christ models the same way we received him as our personal Lord and Savior.
4. Finally, we continue to live in Christ because he is present with us.
For the first-century Colossian Christians, the decision to follow Christ was a costly one. By rejecting the popular gods of their culture, they cut themselves off from their families and friends who continued to seek the capricious favor of the gods of Rome.
By refusing to acknowledge Caesar as lord and by embracing Jesus as Lord, the Colossian Christians isolated themselves socially, politically and economically. However, the Colossian Christians were sustained by the presence of Christ in their midst.
Stripped of social and political community, Colossian Christians experienced the presence of God each time they gathered together.
The gods of Olympus never pretended to be present daily with their subjects. But the God who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt, brought Israel back from exile and sent Jesus was ever-present with the first-century church, too.
Paul reminds us that we follow Christ in the same way in which we came to him.
By rejecting the popular gods of culture, by our political confession “Jesus is Lord,” by our personal relationship with God through Christ, and by the presence of God, we continue to live in Christ in the same manner in which we received Him.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.