Firm In The Faith
In the opening verses of his letter, Paul exhorts the Colossians to "increase in the knowledge of God ", to "bear fruit in every good work ", and to "please (God) in every respect "(v.10). Last week we summarized these exhortations by saying that: Paul's desire for the Colossian community was for them to become mature in the Christian faith .
This is a goal that should also be pursued by each of us. We should all desire to become mature Christians, and we should all share the desire to mature as a church. But simply desiring to be mature, of course, is not enough. Lip service must give way to diligent efforts, both, to "increase our knowledge of God " and to "bear fruit in every good work ".
What Paul attempts to do then, in verses 13 through 23, is he attempts to motivate the Colossians to do the things that will make them firm in the faith. What Paul expects will motivate the Colossians to godly living, I expect, should also motivate us. Paul reminds the Colossians of how God "delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins "(v.13, 14).
The fact is that all of us, either presently or in the past, lived in "the domain of darkness ". This is a fact which often gets glossed over in many pulpits. The reason that the good news is so good is because our previous condition was so bad.
What compounds our difficulty--as if living in "the domain of darkness " was not enough--is that we struggle to appreciate how bad we really are . Most people do not view themselves as bad people. Most people would say that, while they are not perfect, they are generally good people. My question, however, for those who consider themselves good is this: Good compared to what?
Good compared to my next door neighbour? Sure. Good compared to the person sitting in front of me? Maybe. But good compared to the Holy God of the universe? I don't think so.
Our sense of good and bad is dependent on how high our standards are . I could call myself an excellent high-jumper, but if I never raised the bar more than waist-high that would not be saying much. If our standards are low, we will always come out looking good.
God's standards, however, are not low. God has the highest standards imaginable. We have not simply transgressed against those standards, we have abandoned those standards. Rather than live by holy standards, humanity has chosen to live by the standards of "the domain of darkness ".
Perhaps some of you think I am being overly negative. Perhaps some of you would prefer that I concentrate on the positive side of things. The truth is, I would like to concentrate on the positive side; but the reality is we will never fully appreciate our marvelous redemption in Christ unless we come to grips with the wretched state we were once enslaved to . The truth is, we will never take the prescribed remedy unless we comprehend the seriousness of our diagnosis.
Understanding the wretchedness of our condition is not intended to depress us, it is intended to inflame our love for God. John Newton learned this when he wrote that wonderful lyric, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me".
The bad news is that we were once wretched. The good news--what we call "the gospel"--is that, as Paul declares in Romans 5, "the love of God has been poured out . . . For while we were still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly "(Rom. 5:5, 6). God sent "His beloved Son " to die for us, and through Him "we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins ".
Today, we use the word "redeem" when talking about very ordinary matters. We talk about redeeming coupons and we talk about the redeeming qualities of an individual, but this is not how the word was used in Paul's day. In Paul's day , "to redeem" was "to buy back from slavery"(Wright, Colossians , 63). In this context, Paul is saying that God has "bought us back" out of slavery to sin. And not only are we "delivered " out of what is bad, but we are "transferred " to what is good. Paul says we have been "transferred " to "the kingdom of God's beloved Son ".
Our initial difficulty as fallen human beings is comprehending how wretched we are, but when we are delivered from that wretchedness we find that we have a new problem: we have no comprehension of how glorious the inheritance of Christ's kingdom is .
I recently read an account about an aged former slave. The old man's former master had died and left him an inheritance of $50,000--an enormous sum in those days. The old man was duly notified of his inheritance and told that the money had been deposited in an account for him at the local bank. After weeks went by, and he had neglected to withdraw any of his money, the banker called the man in and again explained to him that he had $50,000 available to him. The old slave--who had no comprehension of how much $50,000 was--asked, 'Sir, do you think I can have 50 to buy a sack of corn meal?'.
Many Christians, I'm afraid, live like the old slave. Because we have no comprehension of the value of God's riches, we spend much of our efforts trying to accumulate worldly things--things of the 50 variety.
In an attempt to help the Colossians comprehend the value of their riches in Christ, Paul proceeds to tell them about the One who redeemed them and "qualified (them) to share in the inheritance of the saints ".
Paul explains to them that Christ "is the image of the invisible God "(v.15)--that is, He is the exact reflection of the nature and character of God the Father. Paul reminds the Colossians that Christ is also "the first-born of all creation "--not that the eternal Son of God was actually born, but the Greek word implies a priority of time and rank(Wright, Colossians , 71). This interpretation is buttressed by the fact that Paul goes on to declare that "by (Christ) all things were created "(v.16), which necessarily implies that the Son of God preceded all creation.
Continuing to list the credentials of the One who provides us with the inheritance, Paul describes Christ as the sustainer of all things(v.17), as the "head " of the church(v.18), and as "the first-born from the dead "(v.18). By reiterating the credentials of Jesus Christ, Paul is surely attempting to drive home the point that Christ is not merely a man with divine qualities, but rather, Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. And as God in the flesh, Jesus is perfectly capable of "reconcil(ing) all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of the cross "(v.20).
Paul is saying to the Colossians, and he is saying to us, that God has done His part through Jesus Christ, and now it is our turn to do ours. Paul reminds us that, in our former state, we were "alienated " from God, "hostile in mind ", and "engaged in evil deeds "(v.21). But Christ fixed all this by reconciling us "in His fleshly body through death, in order to present (us) before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach "(v.22).
Notice the purpose of God's reconciliation. Paul does not say that Christ merely reconciled us to keep us out of hell--no, Christ saved us "in order to present (us )" as "holy and blameless and beyond reproach ". God's purpose for you and I is to make us holy. God's expectation for you and I is that we would become firm in our faith.
The death of Jesus Christ ensures that we will, one day, be holy. But holiness, we all know, is not automatic. In this life time, our quest for holiness will never be complete. So what should we do? Should we stop trying to please God and simply wait for Him to make us holy? The answer, of course, is no! For Paul, gaining the inheritance of Christ does not mean we stop trying to please Him--quite the contrary! The grace Christ demonstrated on the cross is our motivation to please Him. Paul insists that we "continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel "(v.23).
God's plan, in Jesus Christ, is not to simply to pardon you for sin, but to deliver you from sin . To experience pardon without deliverance would be to deprive yourself of the full benefits of salvation. Yet, this is what many professing Christians settle for. Many professing Christians fail to draw on the resources of their inheritance--they build where there is no foundation, and then they wonder why they never progress in the Christian faith.
Paul, on the other hand, encourages us to "continue in the faith firmly established ". Jesus urges us to be like one who builds their house on rock(Mt. 7:25). And the psalmist encourages us to be "like a tree firmly planted by streams of water "(Ps. 1:3). Paul, Jesus, and the psalmist agree that we must be firm in our faith. Paul, Jesus, and the psalmist also agree that firmness in the faith comes from diligence in meditating on, and applying God's Word .
Paul makes our motivation for pursuing spiritual maturity clear: we were "formerly alienated " from God, but now Christ has "reconciled (us) in His fleshly body through death ".
Christ died in order to make us holy, and, as C.H. Spurgeon has said, 'we will never be happy, restful, or spiritually healthy until we become holy'. Amen.