WHAT AM I?
Am I purely biological? Am I body and mind? Am I a soul captured by some dust? Am I the same person as I was ten years ago, even though my physical appearance, my character, and my preferences are different now? Will I cease to exist at death? What is a human?
Can Paul help us answer these basic philosophical questions? A survey of his letter to the Colossians will tell.
What Paul Says
Paul is clear: as part of all things, people were created by Christ and for Christ (Col. 1:16). People’s lives are maintained only because all things hold together in Christ (Col. 1:17).
This unifies who people are. All people have been given their senses, consciences, and consciousness in order to live for God. While humans have created categories to identify race, status, and cultures, Paul shows the church that Christ, who is all and in all, binds all these categories together in unity, erasing all such human distinctions (Col. 3:11). Though unique in body and personalities (Col. 2:5) and minds (Col. 3:2) and roles (Col. 3:18), God does not discriminate (3:25), and He expects all people to be treated justly and fairly (Col. 4:1).
Paul is also clear that people, as they are born, are alienated from God and are hostile in their minds, doing evil deeds (Col. 1:21). They are apart from God, dead in their own trespasses with a great debt towards Him (Col. 2:13–14). In their hostility to God, people have earthly ten- dencies including sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, and covetousness (Col. 3:5).
Yet, people can be redeemed from that state of corruption to a new state of recon- ciliation to Christ (1:20). They can be raised with Christ (Col. 2:11–12; Col. 3:1) and renewed in the image of their Creator (3:10). The Father has qualified the elect and brought Christians into light from darkness—into the kingdom of His Son from having no inheritance whatsoever (Col. 1:12–13). Believers then can be called saints and brothers in Christ (Col. 1:2).
Because of this hope, people are worth encouraging and praying for (Col. 1:2–3, 9). They are capable of understanding revelation (Col. 1:5–7), can grow (Col. 1:9), and can be strengthened by spiritual power (Col. 1:11–12). They can know the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). People can reach assurance (Col. 2:2), and desire to live as God’s servants to others (Col. 4:12).
While people are free to enjoy the joys of life (Col. 2:18), they are to live discerningly (Col. 4:2). They are to be established in the faith and not be taken captive by vain thinking (Col. 2:6–8). They are called to have love for Christ and the saints (Col. 1:4, 8). They are to walk worthy of the Lord and are to bear fruit (Col. 1:10). They are to act according to their own conscience in regard to the Old Testament requirements (Col. 2:16). Christians are called to be holy and beloved, with compassionate hearts; full of kindness, meekness, and patience; forgiving one another (Col. 3:12–13). They are to live in relationship to others, acting out of love for others (Col. 4:3–5).
Ultimately, people do not belong to themselves but to God, and are to live for Him (Col. 3:23–25). Then those in Christ will appear with Christ at the end of time, and live with Him in eternal glory (Col. 3:4).
What Paul is Responding to
In a sense, Paul’s description of the person was a response to the influence of Judaism on the Colossian church (see Col. 2:11; Col. 2:16; Col. 3:11).1 He was reminding the Colossians they were not to fall to any “external pressure to conform to the beliefs and practices of their Jewish and pagan neighbors.”2 Rather, they were to see people the way God sees them. The way to salvation was, and still is, not through escaping one’s self or distinguishing one’s self from others. Rather, “he who knows Christ has found deliverance from the evil lurking in his own soul.”3
The Implication for Christian Philosophy
So how should Christians concerned with a Christocentric philosophy view themselves? Because Christ created all people, then the evolutionary tale of survival of the fittest has no place in a Christian way of thinking. People are not animals. They have a distinct divine origin, were created in the image of God, and can enjoy fellowship with God.4 Because Christ made people for His glory, the minimization of people to whatever they can produce or contribute has no place in the Christian way of thinking. Because people are called to live for Him, the simplistic way of seeing people as biological material without a soul is simply wrong. While memory places a large role in the secular world’s definition of personal identity, it is the Christians’ identity in Christ that should define who they are and how they live.5
- L.M. McDonald, “Colossae,” in Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, eds., Dictionary of New Testament Background (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 225. ↩
- O’Brien, “Colossians,” 148. ↩
- Holmes, Christianity and Philosophy, 27. ↩
- Plantinga, Christian Philosophy, 58. ↩
- Terence Penelhum, “Personal Identity,” in Edwards, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 6:100–106. ↩
This article was originally published in the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, November/December 2016. Posted here with permission.