- Ephesians 5:1-10
- Colossians 3:1-12
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Our topic for this morning is United with Christ—living ‘in-Christ’. This is the first in a short series of three sermons
This sermon is the next in a series from the letter of Paul to the church in Colossae which I have placed under the heading United with Jesus Christ. The first in this series was about the Effect of the Gospel 1:3-8); then followed the Call of the Gospel (1:9-12); then the Content of the Gospel (1:13-14); what followed then was the Origin of the Gospel (1:15-23). Then we moved on to the Defence of the Gospel (1:24-2-23).
Sometimes the apostle Paul interrupts himself in his line of argument by introducing a new theme; he then later comes back to the original line of thinking to complete that argument, and then he moves on to the new line of thinking to elaborate on that more precisely. This is exactly what happens in chapter 2. He first points out the need for us all to grow in our understanding of the Gospel and warns about those who might distort the message of the Gospel by all kinds of philosophies. Then, beginning from verse 11, he introduces a new argument about our union with Christ. This goes through to verse 15. He then in verse 16 goes back to complete the original point about why we must be able to defend the Gospel against some who might try to establish certain traditions in place of or alongside the Gospel. In chapter 3 he returns to the theme of union with Christ and elaborates on that point. This is what we understand as the Living ‘in-Christ’.
So, let’s go back to chapter 2:11-15 which deals with our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. I call on your full attention to follow the foundations for the argument to put to death our earthly nature.
Association and participation
There is a very interesting shop in the Blue Mountains in NSW. This particular shop is home to the largest collection of teapots in the world. On shelves about pelmet height, displayed right through every room of this old home which now serves as a shop, are displayed more than 4,000 teapots. This, they say, is only half the collection; the rest is in containers stacked in the garage of the owner of the shop. But that’s not all: apart from this very extensive collection of teapots, you can find every conceivable piece of glassware – not only displayed on shelves out of your reach. No, wherever to put your foot down or swing your arm or point your finger at, you bump into precious glassware. Don’t go there if you have to use a walking stick!
Your presence in that shop binds you to the condition of entry, ‘You brake it, you pay for it’. Accepting this condition makes you a partner of the business for the duration of the visit, sharing in the risk of running it.
The operative words here are association and participation. This takes us back to Colossians 2:11-15. I will try to explain this fairly complex paragraph in the word of God by breaking it up in little bits. May God give me the wisdom to explain and plant in your heart his Spirit of understanding!
God’s covenant with his church in Old Testament times
The background of the verses 11-14 is the Biblical doctrine of God’s Covenant with his people. God called Israel, which is the Church in Old Testament times, to be his people. He made an agreement with them in which He was the principal partner, and they the minor partners. Because God was the only God, who could save, provide, protect and assure safety, by grace took Israel to be his people. He placed upon them obligations stipulated in His covenant, requiring them to live holy lives as people of God.
He also gave them signs as a seal of this covenant: the circumcision. This circumcision was ultimately a circumcision of the heart, something not done by hands but by the Holy Spirit of God. This sign was a sign of God’s grace, but by this sign they would be set apart from the rest of the nations as God’s holy nation. They had to turn from their evil practices, not live like the nations around them and worship God only as He commanded them. The term we may use for their sanctification within this context is the term we find in our verse of Col 2:11 – they had to put to death their sinful nature.
Let’s go to one chapter in the Old Testament to illustrate. In Leviticus 19:2 God commanded Moses to speak to the people: “Say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’” He saved them and made a covenant with them. That’s why they were called to holiness. He owns them, and the stipulations of his covenant demanded it.
All sacrifices had their fulfilment in the Passover Lamb (the other Old Testament sacrament). The sacrifices they were to bring to the Lord assured that they could enjoy communion with Him because of their sins being forgiven. They did not die for their sins, but the animals did. Their participation in the act of sacrifice and their association with the blood of the animal brought them forgiveness.
God’s covenant with his church in New Testament times
Let’s go back to Colossians. God extended his covenant of mercy to all nations through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. People from all tribes and tongues and nations now become members of the household of God. How? The same way as the people of the Old Testament: by grace, by agreement (covenant) and through sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ superseded the sacrifice of animals, now just tremendously more complete and ultimately more perfect than animal sacrifice.
God also gives to his New Covenant people a sign of his covenant. It is the same circumcision not done by hands; it remains the mysterious and gracious work of the Holy Spirit. He gives them a circumcision of the heart, here called the circumcision of Christ.
The people did not die and pay the price of sin during the sacrifice; but by association and participation in the death and blood of the sacrificial animal, God granted them forgiveness. We don’t die or pay the price for our sins, but by faith we associate with Christ and therefore participate in his death. So, when He died on the cross, we died. When He was buried, we were buried. When He rose again, we rose.
Now, and this is a very legitimate question, how do I know it is for sure? God gave us signs as a seal and guarantee like He gave to the people of the Old Testament. To them He gave the sign of circumcision, to us He provides us with the circumcision of Christ’s complete righteousness, and baptism is the new sign of the very same covenant of grace. When we are baptised, all Jesus Christ did to meet the righteousness of God, by faith became ours. Baptism is the sign that Jesus Christ is the One who died and was raised again in my place so I can become part of God’s family. As God worked in Jesus Christ to raise Him from the dead, so we are raised with Him through the eternal power of God. We only need the sign that associates us with Him and assures us of our participation in his redemption. The rest is God’s act of mercy and grace. Listen:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
What is described in this verse is the second sign, or the other sacrament: The Passover Lamb nailed to the cross of Calvary to take away our sins. He cancelled the written code, always reminding us of our unrighteousness having all our trespasses written in and He nailed it to the cross. This is what we remember and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.
There on the cross Jesus Christ also triumphed over all powers to that they may never have a claim over our lives (verse 15).
Two signs in the Old Testament and two signs in the New Testament, pointing to the same act of grace from God in two different dispensations. Circumcision is replaced by baptism; the sacrificial system replaced by the cross of Jesus as we remember it at the Lord’s Table. In both these cases, the principle to have part in salvation applies: association and participation.
By faith, we have part in his redemption. What Christ did to meet the righteousness of God now becomes ours. This is the amazing, remarkable and incredible fact of the grace of God.
One with Christ in holy living
Now, just as circumcision did not save God’s Church in the Old Testament, so baptism does not save the people of God’s Church in the New Testament. It was a sign of God’s grace; it is not grace itself. But what is included into God’s covenant meant to the people of the Old Testament signified by circumcision, baptism now means to us as members of his body: living holy lives, dedicated to God. We need to put to death our earthly nature.
This then takes us to chapter 3 where Paul resumes the argument:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1,3)
Here the principle of association and participation comes in again. The Sacraments bind us to Christ. This assures our participation in his death and resurrection, but it calls for our association with Him in setting our hearts on things above where He is because our lives are hidden in Him. This is essentially the same as what Paul says in Romans 12:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
He also stresses the same point in Romans 6:
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:8, 11-13)
We will continue with this theme in a future gathering of worship to see what God wants of his people as they live the Gospel.
Let’s for one moment get back to where we started. Remember the glassware shop and the notice You brake it, you pay for it? We pointed out the principle of association and participation. Going into that shop poses a risk: I might enjoy what I see, but I might walk away from it a lot poorer than I walked into it.
It is so much different when I walk into God’s grace.
- First of all, I enter into his grace by his invitation, not by my decision.
- Secondly, my broken life and the rest of God’s creation that I affected so severely because of my sinfulness, do not have a notice You brake, you pay for it on it.
The wonder of God’s grace is that, although I am truly responsible, and therefore accountable to God, someone else paid to make it whole and repair what I broke. Jesus Christ is that one. By faith what He did becomes mine. Faith gives what belongs to Him to me. I associate with Him and participate in Him. That’s grace!
Two or three years before the death of John Newton, the well-known minister of the Word in the 18th Century and author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace, when his sight was so dim that he was no longer able to read, a friend and brother in the ministry called to have breakfast with him. Their custom was to read the Word of God following mealtime, after which Newton would make a few short remarks on the Biblical passage, and then appropriate prayer would be offered. That day, however, there was silence after the words of Scripture “by the grace of God I am what I am” were read.
Finally, after several minutes, Newton spoke, “I am not what I ought to be! How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall be out of mortality, and with it all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!” Then, after a pause, he said. “Now let us pray!”
Let’s thank God. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 October 2018