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Paul’s Curriculum for Christlikeness

Colossians was written by the Apostle Paul in AD 60 from Rome where he was under house arrest. He wrote this letter because the people in the church at Colosse were being misled from their faith in Jesus and devotion to God. They thought they could live by Jesus and legalism or Jesus and worldly philosophies. They thought they could follow Jesus and other leaders. They even started believing that the Christ was a cosmic, divine Spirit but not God in human flesh.

Colossians is the one letter that Paul wrote to people he hadn’t had the opportunity to be in face-to-face relationship with in order to personally disciple them to Jesus. Perhaps this is why it is his most compelling letter of instruction. In this short letter he offers a three-part Curriculum for Christlikeness. First, he prays passionately for us to filled with the knowledge of God. Then he captivates us with the preeminence of Jesus Christ as the unique and glorious Son of God in human flesh. He concludes by presenting a brilliant program for putting off old sinful ways and putting on the character of Christ.

A Curriculum for Christlikeness Needs to Be Customized

Of course, we’d like for Paul to be even more practical in his instructions, but the wisdom of the Bible is to lead us the risen Lord Jesus Christ to be personally discipled by him and to work out the details of this with a community of Christ-followers.

To be clear, it’s important for us to say that your curriculum for Christlikeness needs to be customized for you and your personal situation. Discipleship to Jesus is “life on life” Ray Ortlund always reminded me in the years that I met with him in a small group and privately. We all need to find guides who are further down the road of spiritual formation in Christ than we are and ask to meet with them, whether for spiritual direction, pastoral care, or informal soul friendship. We need to share our lives with these friends or mentors and learn from them. It’s also helpful to do this with a group setting.

The Bible study that follows introduces you to my experience with Paul’s Curriculum for Christlikeness in Colossians. It is based on key passages from this great book of the Bible, mostly from three sections in chapters 1, 2, and 3. I’ve found it helpful to combine these sections as a condensed version of Colossians and then to memorize and meditate on this as a general program to help me become more like Jesus. (I’ve made a pdf handout so you can print off the Scriptures that are listed in each heading below and are included in my version of Paul’s Curriculum for Christlikeness.) Internalizing the structure, wisdom, and spirit of God’s Word is central to our growth in Christ.

(For a companion study on Colossians 3:1-17 see my one page pdf handout, “Colossians 3:1-17 as a Curriculum for Christlikeness.”)

(See The Divine Conspiracy pages 350-352 for Dallas Willard’s comments on Paul’s “Curriculum for Christlikeness.” This is part of Chapter 9 in which Dallas presents “A Curriculum for Christlikeness.”)

Part 1: Enthrall Your Mind with God

Take Heart From Paul’s Prayer (Col. 1:3-14)

A great first step to grow spiritually is to “take heart” from a devoted follower of Christ (past or present) who offers a great vision of life with Jesus in God’s kingdom and is further along in the journey than you. Spend lots of time with this person to absorb their spirit of being Christ-enthralled and learn from their life’s journey. Do the things they did to become more like Jesus. Of course, Paul is a great spiritual mentor for us! It helps that not only do we have so much of his teaching in the New Testament, but also we can read his life story and watch his progress in becoming transformed to be more like Jesus.

Paul prays frequently for the Colossians (and, by the Holy Spirit, for us). His prayers are full of joyful thanks to God the Father and Jesus. He’s affirming of the Colossians’ faith in Christ and their love for all the saints that springs from the hope of the gospel that is stored up for them in the heavens, the unseen realm of God’s kingdom.

He prays that they’d advance in spiritually knowing God’s will so that they’d live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way, which includes four aspects:

  • Bearing fruit.
  • Growing in spiritual knowledge (interactive relationship) of God.
  • Being strengthened by God to have great endurance and patience.
  • Joyfully giving thanks to the Father for the blessing of being rescued from the dominion of darkness through Christ and his cross and brought into the kingdom of the Son of God.
Enthrall Your Mind with Jesus (Col. 1:15-20)

We can’t become like someone without deeply admiring them and most certainly this is true with the Lord Jesus (click to tweet). At any moment in time our greatest opportunity is to focus our minds on Jesus and open our heart to him until we become captivated by the goodness and beauty of our Lord and Savior.

Paul offers us his vision of the glory and supremacy of Jesus Christ. These are some of the most important words in the whole Bible! Jesus is God, the creator, the all-powerful Lord over all, before all things, the one who holds all things together, the head of the church, resurrected from the dead, has all the fullness of God, and reconciles all things to God through his death on the cross! Furthermore, in Christ are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge! All this fullness of God was and is in his embodied person!

And the Spirit of this glorious Christ actually lives in us as we trust in him! He alone is our hope of glory!

Wow!!! Jesus is the best! And in Spirit he is alive and acting wonderfully and powerfully all around us, even with us! Praise the Lord!

O Father God, how we pray that our minds would be more saturated with and satisfied by the beauty and goodness of the Lord Jesus so that his Spirit fills our body and soul and we are formed to be more like him, more loving toward you and our neighbors. Amen.

Part 2: Accept Your Trials to Heal and Learn (Col. 1:24, 27; 2:1-4, 6-9, 16, 20)

The people of the church at Colosse were being spiritually assaulted by teachers of false doctrines. They were being led astray from trusting in the sufficiency of Christ alone for salvation. Paul reminds them of his own trials, how he’s been persecuted and how hard he’s worked in tandem with the Holy Spirit, in order to present them perfect in Christ.

He directs their attention to the deep mystery of Christ, which requires accepting the tension of not being able to fully explain it: “The glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). He adds that “In Christ are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). Therefore, he urges them not be taken captive through the world’s “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (2:8).

The people were being judged by legalists, a trial that most of us can relate to! Paul is directing them not to accept these condemnations (2:16), not to be pressured into rule-keeping as a way of earning acceptance, but to put their faith in the mercy and power of Christ alone.

Part 3: Use Disciplines to Develop Habits of Love (Col. 3:1-17; 4:2)

Becoming like Jesus requires that we bring our vision of him and our life in him into a carefully thought out plan of spiritually forming disciplines which we apply to the details of our actual life.

When Paul makes a suggestion in his school of discipleship to Jesus you might think, “But how do I do that? How do I get free of that sin and become more godly and loving?” His next statement will offer further help! The order of Paul’s instructions is very significant, as he gets increasingly specific and concrete in his instructions, drilling deeper and deeper into our sinful condition and guiding us into becoming the kind of person who is more like Jesus. (But we don’t want to get too linear in our thinking here because it’s also true that the later words from Paul support us in applying the earlier ones.)

Here are the highlights of Paul’s recommendations for our growth in Christ:

Don’t be content with initial salvation, but keep seeking what you need for daily life and growth in Christ — he alone brings you the fullness of God!

Be careful to avoid the empty and deceptive worldly philosophies and human traditions that are liable to take your attention off of the risen Christ in your midst as you face various challenges and opportunities in daily life and ministry. (For instance, when we look to experts or consultants we need to relate to them as assistants to Jesus, being careful always to listen to the Lord.)

Set your heart and mind on the risen Christ and yourself as risen from the dead with him.

Be dead to earthly things and find your real life hidden with Christ in God in the invisible heavenly realms of God’s kingdom. Take off your “old self” that relied on things other than Christ.

Put to death lust and related sexual sins and also greed.

Rid yourself of anger and related sins, including slander and bad language.

Don’t lie to people.

Put on your new self by renewing your knowledge of your Creator. (Knowing God intimately helps you to become more like him.)

Participate in a community of Christ-followers where all types of people are accepted as “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.”

In all your relationships clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Stay in community, forgiving people as the Lord has forgiven you.

Put on the love of Christ, which binds all the virtues together.

Submit yourself to Christ the Lord so that his peace rules in your heart and flows from you to others.

Be thankful to God. (Paul says this seven times in these sections of Colossians!)

Study and meditate on the richness of word of Christ (his Gospel of the availability of God’s kingdom and all of Scripture)

Teach others and be taught by others from the word of Christ.

Be inspired by the word of Christ to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. (Do this with gratitude in your heart.)

Do everything that you do in the name of Jesus and with gratitude to God.

Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (This would include extended time in solitude and silence.)

Further Reading

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