Build Them Up, and They Will Become
It took me a while to figure out how well Christie (my partner) was training me to be a better husband. It was sneaky. But most of the time it worked.
She would encourage me to do the things she wanted me to do by complimenting me as if I was already doing them, and doing them so well.
"You drive so calmly and defensively, not aggressively at all. You're a very understanding and forgiving driver," she would say. Or: "I'm glad that we like the same level of cleanliness around the house - you don't leave piles of clothes or things laying around," as I'm kicking my dirty laundry out of sight under the bed.
She knew, obviously, that I wasn't deserving of the compliment or the identification - yet. But there is something very powerful in being identified with particular characteristics. Something about the human psyche makes us want to live up to those expectations.
I think the same thing is going on in Paul's (?) letter to the Colossians, when he writes:
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [Jesus] has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before [God]... (1:21-22)
Of course, we are not blameless and irreproachable - we still are estranged, still hostile, still doing evil deeds - we are in constant need of re-reconciliation. But Paul identifies us as already everything God wants us to be, already whole and blameless, already abandoning hostility and evil acts.
Is Paul tapping human psychology here? Paul declares we already are what God is trying to make us! And you can almost hear the Colossians wanting to be better, wanting to abandon hostility, feeling motivated to cease evil deeds, beginning to feel less estranged and unworthy. We can almost hear the Colossians response because we hear ourselves responding to the same impulse.
And the verses above followed a hymn about Jesus - so Paul tells us we are Jesus', we are like Jesus, we are reconciled by Jesus, just after a hymn describes the glories and power of Jesus, Paul links us with that glory and power. Talk about giving people something to live up to!
Do the Colossians respond? Will we?