Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Living ‘in-Christ’ (4)

Bible Readings

  • Proverbs 10:18-32
  • Colossians 3:5-17

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

Successful advertising companies design their ads after careful market research, more so about the potential buyers.  Not only do they know their product, but they know who they want to buy their products.  

To get us to buy a product, they persuade us of two things:  you need something, and you deserve that thing.  Their product is always “better”, “bigger” or “faster”— but we’re not told better, bigger or faster than what! The clincher in the ad is using the words like “you deserve it!”

I sometimes wonder if most of them were looking over the shoulder of the serpent in paradise. The appeal then was on the desire to get what they thought they did not have!  The Bible tells:  

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis 3:6, NKJV)

When our first parents fell, the floodgates opened, and sinful desire became like a bottomless well which never runs out of enticement.

We got engaged in the war of Satan, sin and the flesh.  We need a lifeline out of this enslaving mess:  someone to destroy Satan, someone who is victorious over sin, and to help us overcome fleshly desire.  There is only one possibility:  Jesus Christ! We need to live ‘in-Christ’.

The sermon today is still following the theme of Living ‘in-Christ’; the title is Put your mouth where your heart is. Remember these three main points:

  • When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods 
  • When the heart is a fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth 
  • Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods

It is clear from our reading from Colossians this morning that those who received salvation in Christ have received a new address.  Because they, by faith, are ‘in-Christ’ they are principally seated with Christ at the right hand of God (3:1).  They are ‘in-Christ’, they died with Him (3:3), they rose ‘in-Christ’ into a new life Christian, and ‘in-Christ’ they will one day appear in eternal glory (3:4).

However, no Christian is exempt from battle with sin. The war against sin has been won ‘in-Christ’, but the battles are ongoing.  Therefore this verse:  

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5, NKJV)

The truth of this verse is important because when the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods.  

The expression ‘evil desires’ in verse 5 is a manifestation of the sin which dwells in man and which controls him; it is the persistent root in us to seek our wills instead of the will of God. This desire arises out of the world, make up its essence and perishes with it.  It is like a wildfire:  if not kept under a lid, it will destroy and devour.  

The essential point in sinful desire is that it is an impulse, a motion of the will. When sinful desire in whatever forms knocks on my door it promises satisfaction and enjoyment; it persuades me that if I don’t give in to its demands, I will be unsatisfied, deprived, unfulfilled.  It convinces me that life without fulfilling the desire is unfair.  It is nothing less than anxious self-seeking. It bursts upon us with the force of immediacy.

This is the old life without Christ.  Paul writes: 

… we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:3, NKJV)

Those who received Christ, who live ‘in-Christ’ “set their hearts” and “set their minds” “on things above” (3:1-2).  It follows as a necessity for those who once were dead in sins of the sinful nature, but who are made alive with Christ (2:13).  Because we are forgiven, because we are rescued, because we are ‘in-Christ’, we must “put to death” our sinful desires.

The Bible warns us that the earthly nature (3:5), the way we used to walk (3:7), the old self (3:9) will keep rearing its head. If our minds are set on earthly things (3:2) these evil desires will pounce on us and severely impede on our Christian progress.  We will be limping along, and our lives will bring dishonour to the Name of Christ who died and rose for us.  No, our lives should be ‘in-Christ’.  

The Bible here uses very explicit language to warn us:  giving in to the desires of the flesh—which is born in the deception of satan—is idolatry, and idolatry is invoking the wrath of God.

The essence then is to mortify these desires in the power of the resurrected Christ.  Our verse says, “Put to death.” 

There is a dire warning about desires.  Jesus told the parable of the seed.

Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18–19, NKJV)

Paul writes in Galatians 5

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:17, NKJV)

Keep in mind, when the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods.  It is only when there has been a change of heart, a change of mind, that there will be a change in life.

When the heart is a fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth 

Little wonder then that Paul continues:  

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8, NKJV)

The heart is the wellspring for the words of our mouths. Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language as to verbalise the thoughts of the heart.  When Paul practically applies this principle he uses a very familiar example:  Do not lie to each other. 

Why do we lie?  Invariably, we lie to either protect ourselves or to gain something unlawful.  Why would that be?  It’s purely because the desire to self-seeking has reared its head.  Sinful man will do the distance for as long as his self-interest is at stake.

Christians need to continually flee from this evil.  We need to remind ourselves to put off the old self and put on the new self (3:9-10).  We are called to display the image of our Creator who renewed in the image of Christ.  This means sanctification.  God made us his chosen people, and He calls us holy and dearly loved.  We are made new ‘in-Christ’, and we need to continue to live ‘in-Christ’.  There is no option.

You might have heard people saying something like, “I tell things the way they are; it’s in my nature.”  Or, “It just comes naturally to me to jump in, do things, and later feel sorry.  That’s the way I am.”

Some of us can indeed be a bit fiery, direct, stubborn and abrupt.  Honesty is a good thing, but there is also such a thing as a character being changed and renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit.   It must be true of any Christian! No Christian can hide behind old sinful traits.

Verse 11 almost seems out of place in this chapter.  It reads:  

…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11, NKJV)

What does it say?  At least two things:  

  • don’t hide behind your heritage when you get worked up and upset.  “I’m of Scottish heritage!”  “I am a Scythian!” (They apparently were fairly barbaric and could easily use their culture as an excuse for what might be unacceptable to others cultures. The once fiery, direct, stubborn and abrupt must put those things to death, because irrespective of your background, the demand is to live like a Christian.
  • always regard others in the family of Christ as your brothers and sisters, and treat them with the love of Christ, consistently putting them first. 

… bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Colossians 3:13–14, NKJV)

The injunction is to take off the old, and to put on the new:  

put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; (Colossians 3:12, NKJV)

Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

How do we mortify the desires of the flesh?  How do we overcome sin?  How do we have victory over Satan?

  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.  Dwell on the Scriptures.  Read it, know it, study it, and live by it.  It will drive you to live ‘in-Christ.” 
  • Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Let the Word be your standard when you want to criticise others.  And let’s be honest, it will be impossible to quarrel over petty nonsense if we sing together with grace in your hearts.  Right?
  • And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16–17, NKJV)  Set your whole life up to honour God and live in thanksgiving.

These things will guard your heart as the wellspring of life.  

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 4 November 2018

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Living ‘in-Christ (3) –

Bible Reading

  • Colossians 3:1-11

Introduction

In 1976 Dr Francis Schaeffer wrote a book with the title “How should we then live”.  The question is by what standard should we live.  Dr Schaeffer said when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, it provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society. This leads to what Schaeffer calls “freedom without chaos.” When we base our standard on a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own autonomous, independent measure, all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong. 

How should Christians live?

The story was told of a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the frozen river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived, the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day. After the service, they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided it was all right! 

We might ask, “By what principle?”

By what principle?

The great controversy of Colossians stems from the influence of Gnosticism, as well as Judaism upon the Christian congregation.

We met the Gnostics who contended that the only way to salvation comes through some mystical separation from earthly life in search of the way out of this world into the next.  Some adhered to a strict lifestyle, denying themselves all psychical enjoyment, claiming that they receive messages from angels and have seen things other couldn’t (Colossians 2:18, 23).

Another group in the congregation was the Jews.  Some commentators think that we should think of Jewish gnostics.   Their own brand of Christian living was tainted with the rules and regulations as defined by the Pharisees.  Their mortality was one of what one eats and drinks, whether or not you celebrate New Moon festivals and Sabbath Days.  Their morality is summed up in “Do not handle, do not test, do not touch.” (Colossians 2:21)  

The members of the congregation who did not meet their standard of living were regarded as spiritually underdeveloped; they were disqualified from the prize.

The regulations of both the Gnostics and the Jews indeed had an appearance of wisdom and humility.

The question still remained, “By what standard?  Why?”

The Apostle Paul writes:  

Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, (Colossians 3:5–6, NKJV)

He continues:  

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8, NKJV)

Do you want to ask the question, “By what standard, Paul?

What is the difference between what the Gnostics and the Jewish Pharisees said?  Is it not just the same thing? The Gnostics called for humility, harsh treatment of the body, withdrawal from the evil world.  The Jews called for a holy life of “do not taste, do not handle”. Would the Gnostics and the Jews not agree with Paul’s call against fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Add this this anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy language.

Let’s go back to the elders and the skating minister:  by what standard did he think it was good to skate to church, and by what standard did the elders condemn him?  And by what standard was it okay if the minister did not enjoy it?  They apparently had different standards.

If we even go back to Dr Schaeffer, we might understand something.  If we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, it provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives.

What is this absolute principle which God gave us to live by?

‘Without-Christ’ and ‘in-Christ’

‘Without-Christ’

When salvation is based in adhering to certain sets of rules, one finds oneself in what the Bible describes as living in shadows, in false humility, having an unspiritual mind which exhibits itself in pride, having a fleshly, or worldly mind.  All these efforts come to nothing and lead nowhere.  It cannot mortify sin.  Why? Verse 19 gives the answer:  

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:19, NIV)

Good works are not bad, but it achieves nothing for eternity.  

In essence, this describes life without Christ.

So, let’s be practical.  When it comes to things eternal, the things you hold dear because you value them as the things which will be able to tell God why He should allow you in heaven, what precisely are they?  Why do you think they are meeting God’s standard?  By what standard do you measure and value these things?

Do you read the Bible regularly because God might give you a golden star on the forehead if you did?  Do you pray to get another star of approval?  Do you come to church for the same reason?  Have you stopped swearing and telling dirty jokes because, by your standards, it is not good?  If this the case, you are in the same boat as those we read about in Colossians 2: they have lost connection with the Head. Don’t you think you should reconsider your case in the light of what the Bible teaches?

‘With-Christ’

Paul contradicts the life of self-improvement and DIY righteousness with the life ‘in-Christ’. 

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3, NIV)

To understand the difference between BYO, DIY and fleshly, dying, worthless righteousness and God-glorifying righteousness something radical must happen.  It is extraordinary radical, but it is the only way.

You have to die!  

You have to die and take into that grave all efforts of self-righteousness.  It is clear Biblical language:  

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… (Colossians 3:5, NIV)

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these… (Colossians 3:8, NIV)

Words in these verses refer back to Colossians 2:11 where it talks about the fulness of the work of Christ who, in our place, “put off the sinful nature” by dying for us (v.12).  When Christ took away or cancelled the charges against us by nailing it to the cross, He fulfilled what we never could or will by own effort.  

This is the Good News of the Gospel:  we don’t need to try to get ourselves up to scratch to meet God’s standard; He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to do it on our behalf and in our place. But to get any benefit from this rescue mission, we need to, by faith and deed, die with Him.  We need to attend our own funeral; we need to get rid of the filthy, sins-stained clothes, and clothe ourselves with the righteousness of Christ.  

It’s only when we understand that by dying to sin in Jesus Christ, we receive a heavenly address which enables us to set our minds on holy things.  

A radical change

In chapter 2 Paul referred to self-helpers, who have cut themselves loose from Christ.  He calls them puffed up and unspiritual without any hope because whatever they try to improve themselves is actually only exposing more obstacles, digging their graves just deeper.  Remember what Dr Francis Shaeffer said about life without God?  

… all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong… Because we disagree on what is best for which group, this leads to fragmentation of thought, which has led us to the despair and alienation so prevalent in society today.

For those who are ‘in-Christ’, those who died with Christ, those who rose with Him to a new life, those who received their address in heaven, there has been a radical change, anchored in a sure and eternal hope.  

What have they become?  

God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved… (Colossians 3:12, NIV)

God’s chosen people! God’s holy people! People God dearly love!

Conclusion 

Therefore, and based on this truth only, we say life with a nature dead to natural yearnings, displayed in how we now suppress unholy desires and the way we speak—aspects we will look at next week—is miles opposite to self-improvement.  It’s opposed to “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch  because a life saved by grace is a new life in Christ—it abhors what is contrary to God’s will and anything that would dishonour to his Name.  

By this standard, we need to live.  Amen. 

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 28 October 2018

Living ‘in Christ’ (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 25:1-15
  • Colossians 3:1-11

Introduction

 Dr Joseph Haroutunian, a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary, came to America from Armenia. One day a well-meaning friend said to him, “Your name is difficult to pronounce and difficult to spell–it could hurt your professional career. Why don’t you change your name to  Harwood or Harwell or something like that?” 

Dr Haroutunian asked, “What do those names mean?”

His friend said, “Well, nothing. They’re just easier to remember.”

Dr Haroutunian said, “In Armenia when my grandfather was baptised, they named him Hartounian which means  ’Resurrection.’ I am Joseph Haroutunian, and I will be a son of Resurrection all my days.”

This man knew Christ. He knew that his life was hidden with Christ in God.  He knew when Christ, who is his life, appears, that he also will with Him appear in glory.

 God who is hidden to sinful man

“Your life is now hidden with Christ in God”.  (Colossians 3:3)

The Bible teaches us that it is impossible for a human being, sin-stained and mortal, to see God.  The holiness of God demanded distance between Him and man.  No-one ever saw God personally.  He was the One concealed in the cloud, and when He appeared to his people, He kept distance between Himself and man.  The people saw the manifestation of his power and holiness, but Him they never saw.

When God commanded Moses to build the tabernacle, He was very specific about the holy and the holiest sections of the temple.  These were designed to keep the people away from the holiness of God.  In fact, the whole sacrificial system was designed to assure that the people would always be reminded that they are sinful in opposition to the holy God.  It is almost as if everything about the Old Testament worship was designed to keep the people away from God, not because He did not love them, but because his holiness demanded it.

Everything about the sacrifices called for the perfect to come:  a perfect High Priest, a perfect sacrifice, a perfect righteousness, a perfect love, a perfect holiness. Everything about the sacrificial system screamed out, “Inadequate!” It called for a sacrifice which would bring God and man together again like it was before sin entered into the world through the rebellion of Adam and Eve.  Yes, it called for a second Adam.

 God from whom nothing is hidden

However, nothing is hidden from God.  No-one ever saw Him, but He knows everyone and everything.  Nothing is hidden from the eyes of God.  Daniel, talking to king Nebuchadnezzar, declared about God:

He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:21-22)

Jeremiah writes about God:

Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)

David said in Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)

 Man’s desperate situation

If we just take these two aspects about God into consideration, we will understand that mankind finds itself in a desperate situation.  First, there is an impossible mountain and unbridgeable distance between God and us.  Second, God knows all about us, and that is enough to condemn us all to eternal destruction.  To compound this problem, we, according to our human nature, are not even sensitive to the things of God and heaven.   Our hearts are inclined to sin and we enjoy the road to our eternal destruction. Also if we wanted to, we could not bridge the distance between God and us.  No good works, good intentions, good thoughts or anything we may deem as acceptable are acceptable before God.  Our hands are stained with sin, our minds are corrupted by sin, our hearts are spiritually dead, our eyes are blind to the things of God, and our ears cannot understand the sound of the Gospel.

 The way to God

Based on what we heard as Gospel from the previous chapter we now with joyful hearts and minds accept with the apostle the excellent news of the Gospel in Colossians 2:13, 14

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 cancelled 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)

The sum of this argument is this:  The way to God is the way which is from God.  

Can you remember the words participation and association of last week? By faith, I associate with Christ, and the result is that I participate in what He did when He came to fulfil his mission from the Father, which was to bring eternal life to sinners whom His Father loves.  Therefore, when Christ died, by faith I participated in his death.  When He rose again, by faith, I associate with Him and consequently, I participated in his resurrection.  This is possible because the death of our Lord and his resurrection are our righteousness before God. Through baptism, we hear the Gospel sound clearly:  your sins are forgiven because by faith and grace Christ’s death took away the curse and sting of death.  At communion, we hear the Gospel sound clearly:  When Christ died on the cross, God was satisfied, because the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world.

This then takes us to chapter 3:3

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

The result is astounding and amazing.  You died, but you live.  How is that possible?  Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  What a transformation!  God who was hidden to the sinner now hides the sinner in Him!  How is this possible?  It all revolves around the salvation in Christ.  In the Old Testament, the regulations were designed to keep sinners away from the holiness of God because of the imperfect sacrifice and righteousness of both the High Priest and the sacrifice. It resulted in atonement to be done over and over again by a fallible human being.  

It is a different story now.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews puts it this way:

 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings, you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’ ” (Hebrews 10:1-7)

He concludes the same chapter with these marvellous words of grace:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith … (Hebrews 10:19-22)

This is grace and mercy:  through Jesus Christ, we now have access to God’s throne of grace.  Our life is hidden with Christ in God.  

The word hidden also means that our lives are safe with Jesus Christ in God.  That safe indeed, that it will be kept by God till the day of the return of our Lord.  Peter writes in 1Peter 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

 Paul declares in Colossians 3:4: “Christ is your life”.  He is the only One, the only possible way to God, the only possible salvation, the only righteousness acceptable to God. With Him one lives; without Him one is dead.  John in 1 John 5:12 hammers in this truth:

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12)

This, of course, begs the question:  Do you have that life?  Do you know Jesus Christ this way?  Do you know Him as your Saviour?  Mr Joseph Haroutunian knew, and he proclaimed it loudly and clearly.

If so, you probably look forward to the day of the revelation of Jesus Christ.  On that day, every knee will bow before Him and acknowledge that He is the son of God.  And with Him, He will have the names of those belonging to God, bought in his blood.  And He will call those who died in Him to live with Him; He will call those who are still alive at his return to Him.  In his hand, He will hold the scroll of the names of the elect written in the Book of Life, sealed by his own blood.

And eternity will break forth. What a marvellous future do the children of God have!  It is just such a pity that some who hear this Gospel might harden their hearts and reject the righteousness of Jesus Christ. They have no life, no future other than eternal destruction away from God.  I sincerely hope this is not the case with you.

Conclusion

When we ponder these things and apply it to our lives, what impact does it have? Let’s just name a few things:

  • We, who were spiritually dead and operated from God, by his grace in Christ Jesus are now living in Christ, and to the glory of God.  You have been given the fullness of Christ.” (Colossians 2:10)  You were raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raise Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12). “You have been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1)
  • With Christ, we already have a place in heaven.  Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
  • We will see the glory of our God at the return of our Saviour:  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4, ESV)
  • This means that our sinful mindset and rebellious hearts were renewed and we were made new. Paul writes,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

  • The implication is that we are called to become what we’ve been made.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, ESV)  The command is “set your hearts” and “set your minds”.  Paul is not saying that we should seek to possess the things above, but that we must seek, or attune, ourselves entirely to the heavenly realities in Christ. We don’t need to strive to make heaven our own—we already have it in Christ—rather, we should make our heavenly status the guide for all our thinking and acting.  
  • Those who associate with Christ and by faith participate in the salvation He worked out, intentionally seek the things above by deliberately and daily committing themselves to Christ to display the values of the heavenly kingdom and the living out of those values.  In other words, we need to continually develop a heavenly mindset in all we do.  
  • How do we develop this mindset?  It takes us back to chapter 1:  

  that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:9–10, ESV)

How?  Through a growing knowledge and a life grounded in “the word, the Gospel of truth” (Colossians 1:5)  Know your Bible!

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 October 2018

 

Living ‘in-Christ’ (1)

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 5:1-10
  • Colossians 3:1-12

Introduction

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.

Application

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!  

Conclusion 

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

Jesus Christ only – no if’s, no but’s (4)

Scripture Readings

  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2
  • Colossians 2:9-15

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Today is the last in our sermon series from Colossians 2.  Our topic over the last three weeks was Jesus Christ only, no if’s no but’s. 

  • In the first of this mini-series, we learnt from Scriptures that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all promises of the Old Testament. Knowing Him is knowing the one through whom God created the world, and through whom He revealed Himself as God above all treasures and wisdom.  The apostle involved himself in an agonising battle to make Christ known in all his majesty.  His prayer is the church would know Christ in all his fulness.
  • We followed with the next main point in the chapter which stresses the point that we are initiated into the family of God plainly on account of our faith in Jesus Christ.  To be in-Christ is to receive, by faith, all He accomplished on our behalf.  Based on his complete work of salvation, baptism, and even Holy Communion are nothing more than signs and seals of his gracious work — in Him, we have been given fullness.  The signs don’t save but clearly points to what God has done in Jesus Christ.
  • In the next, we learnt that moralism, legalism and even puffed up holier-than-thou spiritualism takes away from the complete work in Christ, who is the Head from which the whole body is supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews.  The person who relies on moralistic legalism, or even vain spiritualism, practices is a self-imposed form of worship with the appearance of wisdom, but is not in-Christ, and will not grow in the knowledge of Christ. In fact, such a person has lost connection with Christ.

The heart of the Gospel

Today we want to turn back to the heart of the Gospel. Read with me verses 13-15:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

Let’s just take one phrase at a time.

Our common denominator:  we were dead in sin

Who is Paul addressing here?  Who is the “you” who were dead?  

He is addressing the Gnostics who had this idea that they had the spark of light somewhere deep in them and therefore saw themselves as better than those who did not have it. 

He is also addressing the Jews on their spiritual high horses who claimed to be part of the people of God based on their heritage along the line of Abraham, purely because they received the sign of circumcision. 

And of course, there were those who joined the church coming from raw idol worship, or even godless hedonism and cultural pride.

What is the common denominator between all these backgrounds?  In God’s eyes, they were spiritually dead.  This is the common denominator between people who are members of the church, and even those who are not:  we were all born sinful, spiritually dead, unfit for the Kingdom of God.

Sin is the great equaliser.  Those in high society, coming from learned backgrounds, leaders in the business world or political spheres, labourers sweeping the streets, washing the dishes, digging coal in deep mines, architects who design masterpieces, pilots taking responsibility for thousands of passengers, or swaggies finding shelter under a piece of newspaper—let’s add judges and druggies, the morally impeccable and the pedophile, the hardworking businessman as well as the greedy banker — we all share a common heritage: sin. 

Paul writes: 

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV)

But in Colossians 2:13 Paul writes to the “you”.  Who were “they”?

  God made “you” alive together with Him.  

Once they were outsiders, dead, not part of the church, straight on their way to eternal hell.  What happened?  Did they improved themselves to be included?  Some Gnostics were still trying to improve themselves to eventually get into eternity—and with them, there are scores of people who are on the DIY and BYO righteousness train leading to eternal hell.

There were some who relied on the sacrament of circumcision, and today maybe baptism as a form of acceptance into the kingdom of God.

But there were others who just received the new life in Christ and trusted God for the perfect salvation He provided in Christ.  They did nothing else, because God did it all.  

God made you alive together with Him… (Colossians 2:13, ESV)

This is God’s work of grace, forever connected to the righteousness which Christ made possible.  Listen:  

God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14, ESV)

The legal demands of the Law were condemning and always charging the sinner as not acceptable in God’s sight.  But out of his love, God gave his only begotten Son to go to the cross of shame to bear the sin of the world, and to die like a criminal—although He was holy, innocent and without sin.  He then nailed to that cross everything that caused death in us; He nailed the accusations against us which made us stand against God and opposed to God, and He reconciled us to God.  This is the only bases on which God will ever forgive anyone, irrespective of his background or standing.  Redemption are for those who realise they are dead in God’s eyes, unfit for heaven, opposing his holiness—but then cling to Christ alone.  It’s Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s.

Because the sinless Christ met the righteousness of God by making a full atonement for those were dead in their sin, God rose Him victorious from the grave.  The gate of Eden which slammed shut when sin entered into the world and man became estranged from his Creator.  But it was reversed on Calvary’s Hill and the open grave. 

Now we’re back to the doctrine of being in-Christ.  Everything God did in Jesus Christ was beyond our capabilities—we were dead when all of this happened.  But what being in-Christ means is that what God did in his Son, depending on Christ’s righteousness only with all our heart, soul and strength, by faith all He did is now ours.  

The enemy disarmed and made a spectacle  

The Gnostics could hear this good news:  if you were thinking there is still warfare between the gods of the air for you soul, think again.  They were defeated.  

Jesus on one occasion had harsh words for the Jews who relied for their inclusion into the Kingdom of God because of the blood heritage.  He said:  

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. (John 8:43 ESV)

Now they can hear the good news:  their accuser was slain.

And it is good news for everyone who discovers the grace of God in Christ Jesus:  the battle for our souls is settled.  Our enemy is defeated.  When Christ rose He disarmed the powers and the authorities and made a public spectacle of them, in the fashion of a victorious General leading his army down the streets of the city, dragging the commanders of the defeated army in chains for every one to despise.  

Only Christ could do it.  When He was a little boy Herod wended to kill Him, but He couldn’t.  When He entered public life and the holy Spirit sent Him into the desert, He triumphed over Satan who tried whatever He could to defeat Christ.  When the crowd wanted to kill Jesus on several occasions, He plainly walked away.  When they arrested Him in the garden, He surrendered, not kicking and screaming, but willingly.  And when they thought they nailed Him to the cross, they did no know that He gave his life out of his own accord to fulfil his mission.  When He refused to rescue Himself from the cross, He died to pay the penalty of our sins.  When He rose victoriously no army, and no earthly or force in the air could stop Him.  And because of this victory, He sent his church into the world, because all power and authority on earth and in heaven has been given to Him.

Conclusion

My dear friend, do you understand why we say it’s Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s? 

Were it not for Christ you’d be dead in your sin.  Were it no for Christ, you be facing eternity without hope.  Were it not for Christ you’d be against God and opposed to God.  Were it not for Christ you’d live under a burden of guilt and condemnation.  Were it not for Christ eternity would be just dark.

With Christ it all changes.  But then, you have to put you faith in His completed work only.  There is just no room for any DYI of BYO righteousness.  His righteousness is the only the Father approved of.

Do you hear his offer of grace? Do you see the door of heaven open before you?  Leave all your own efforts behind, answer the call, and enter into a life in-Christ.  Paul writes:  

For he says, “In a favourable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation(2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV)

Amen.

Jesus Christ only – no if’s, not but’s (3)

Bible Readings

  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
  • Colossians 2:13-23

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Today is the third sermon on the topic Jesus Christ only, no if’s, no but’s. 

In our first sermon, we drew the conclusions from Paul’s theology about the Person of Christ in Colossians 1:15-23, God’s mystery kept order wraps for ages till the fulness of time. To know Him is to listen and learn from the Gospel, which is the God’s revelation about his plan of salvation which He made possible, and executed, in Jesus Christ.   To know Christ is to know God’s treasures of wisdom for all eternity.  This stands in stark contrast to the Gnostics, who taught that man can be initiated into some kind of esoteric knowledge of the gods, and then eventually reach into eternal life by virtue of constrained self-help knowledge only available to those who received the spark of life.

In our second sermon on this topic, we considered the notion of sacramentalism.  Both the Gnostics and Christians with a Jewish background who argued that only if one receives, or goes through, an initiation process.  

  • For the Gnostics, it was withdrawal from this material world into the airy-fairy world of unknown angels and drifting off in some kind of always-escapable core life-giving knowledge which sees God as incomprehensible, unknowable, and transcendent. 
  • For Jews it was circumcision.  He who is circumcised is automatically included into the covenant people of God and counted as the privileged.  

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is this:  faith unites us with Christ—we are in Him, or in-Christ— which means that what He did to meet the righteousness of the Father, we don’t need to do because we can’t work out our own righteousness.  Being in-Christ by faith, his work becomes ours.  The sacraments of Baptism and Communion is a sign, not of what we have done or are doing, but what God in Christ has done for us.  That’s why Paul states: 

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9–10, NKJV)

He adds: 

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:13, NKJV)

Which this in mind we say, Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no buts!  

Although God commands us to be baptised and to celebrate Holy Communion, the sacraments are signs and seals of what Christ already completed; these signs remind us of this fact but does not add to our salvation.  We cannot say that baptism, or any other initiation right, saves anyone.  What saves us, is the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  This we need to believe with all our hearts.  There are scores of baptised people who will end up in hell because they are never circumcised at heart—think of Ananias and Sapphira who were members of the new church in Jerusalem, who must have been baptised, but lied to the Holy Spirit and died on the spot. On the other hand, some unbaptised people put their faith in Christ and die in Him—think of the thief on the cross next to Jesus. 

Son, once again, we have to say, Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s. Why?  In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NKJV)

Moralism and legalism

We have come to the verse in Colossians 2 which tackles the problem of morals.  Paul writes:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, (Colossians 2:16, NKJV)

Moralism is the idea of attaining some better standing before God by following some rules of self-discipline to improve one’s chance of getting into heaven. 

Interestingly, both the Gnostics and the those who clung to the New Testament as if Jesus never came to fulfil the Law, had observed these things:  forbidden food, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and Sabbath days.  And we even have them today amongst those who promote legalism; in some cases, it is just more refined.

Special Diets

Paul writes:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16, NIV)

The Gnostics, in more than one way, were the forerunners of the Modern-day New Age.  Their ideas were not new then, and it is not new now.  It actually takes us back to primitive theology were earth, air, water and wind – or broadly – all nature is worshipped.  Man is his own god, and god is in every man.  There is no sin, hell or Satan.  We cannot know God fully, but we can work our way up to Him by sticking too strict self-imposed rules of self-self-improvement and self-purification. Knowledge is the big thing, but it is secretive knowledge, airy-fairy stuff.

The Gnostic New Agers have their taboos in food and easily become vegans. “You cannot eat anything you killed – that’s to disturb the balance in nature!”  

As Christians, we know how the answer this:  the world and everything in and on it belongs to God who created it in and by Jesus Christ.  We don’t worship it, and we understand that God gave us the mandate to cultivate the land and have dominion over creation – believing that we are accountable to Him for the way we do it; it is not ours to abuse it any way we like. Paul clarifies this in 1 Corinthians 8:

… for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:6, NIV)

Messages from angels

Gnostic saw themselves so spiritually advanced that they even speak to angels and receive messages from them!  They must ’ve been special!  Is that something to strive for?  No!  The only voice I have allegiance to is the voice of God who spoken what He wanted to say in the Bible.  And yes, I need to read it more and more and put every effort into understanding it.

False humility

But the  practices of the legalists go even further:

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. (Colossians 2:18, NIV)

It can so easily happen that trying so hard to be good, includes the attitude that those who have not attained what I have achieved cannot be Christians.  Some people are so humble, they are actually proud of it.  This is what this text says.

Jesus told a parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. (Luke 18:9,11, NKJV)

Selling all you have and giving it to the poor is a good thing, but this can also become a show: Look at me, I’ve made the sacrifice, and you continue to live in your fancy house and drive your expensive cars.  Even being humble can be wrong at times, especially if someone wants to tick the box and climb another notch to perfection.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he had something similar in mind.  He made a list of the gifts and comes to this conclusion:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, NIV)

Special calendar items

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16–17, NKJV)

The same applies to religious festivals and New Moons.  Some in Colossae assigned a particular weight to these days, and those who participated in it looked down on others to did not.  This was added as a necessary observance to show that one had really come to faith.  Once again, it was Christ-plus.  It was a way of adding good works as steps to God, a method of self-improvement. We have Earth Day celebrations!!

When it comes to celebrating the Lord’s Day, we understand that the Old Testament Sabbath fulfilled in Christ.  So, in strict terms, we do not have a sabbath day anymore – we don’t keep to the restrictions of a Sabbath journey; we don’t have morning and evening sacrifices of lambs and bulls anymore; we don’t have special services by special ranks of people lighting the candles, putting oil in the lamps and presenting specific offerings anymore.  All that was fulfilled in Christ.

We have a Christian Sabbath:  on this day we celebrate the new life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

The New Testament calls it the Day of the Lord.  They gathered on the first day of the week for worship.  On this day we gather too for the same reason.  We come together in corporate worship, we listen to the declared Word of God fulfilled in Christ Jesus, we fellowship, pray, sing in the Name of Christ and encourage one another in our faith-walk.  The principle of the Old Testament remains the same:  one in seven days belongs to the special worship of God by his church family. The main point is the celebration of Christ victory over death.

Food laws

The Jews, on the other hand, had a lot of things they abstained from eating.  As a golden rule, we need to understand that all the foods Israel were forbidden to eat were scavengers: they lived off what was dead.  And this was important in the Old Testament because God is the holy God of the living.  Approaching Him after even touching the dead was forbidden, let alone eating the food of things which lived on dead things.  But the curse on death was overcome in and through Jesus Christ.  Through his perfect sacrifice, what kept us from God, was defeated, so now in his Name, we come to God.  So, if people of other faiths try to ridicule Christians for the law against eating prawns, they just don’t understand the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The effect of all of this is that we are not bound by the dietary laws of the Old Testament anymore.  There is no theological reason as to why we cannot eat pork or prawns now.  But let’s remember this principle:

… if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:13, NIV)

Eating or not eating has nothing to do with being saved or not.  Faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ only is what saves the sinner.  The apostle says:

But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. (1 Corinthians 8:8, NIV)

Conclusion

My dear friend, what saves is faith in the living Saviour who came to seek and save the lost.  It’s Him and Him only.  We cannot say that baptism, or any other initiation right, save anyone; similarly, no moralistic or legalistic of being right, or doing our best, will save anyone.  

These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:23, NKJV)

I found this illustration:

When interviewing Dr A. J. Gordon as a prospective pastor of a Boston church, the pulpit committee asked: “If you are called to the pastorate of our church will you preach against the cards, the theatre, and dancing?” “I will,” solemnly affirmed Dr Gordon. He was called.

Months passed and he didn’t say a word against the cards, the theatre, and dancing. The official board of the church said, “Almost a year has gone by and you have said nothing against cards, the theatre, and dancing. We wonder why.”

Dr Gordon replied essentially as follows: “Gentlemen, it is true that I have said nothing against these things, but I have preached Christ who is the only Saviour from all evils. When He comes into one’s heart all evil things vanish from the life like the mist before the hot breath of the noonday sun.”

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 30 September 2018

 

Jesus Christ only – no if’s no buts’ (2)

Bible readings

  • Romans 6:1-11
  • Colossians 2:8-15

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Some 24 years ago we migrated from South Africa. Heila and I had to meet the requirements of the Government at the time. All along, our children, then under the age of sixteen, had nothing to do to meet any regulation. We can say they walked off the plane in-parent.  We were their legal requirements to live in Australia.

They qualified for Child Allowance and Medicare, they could attend school, and like us, they could rely on police protection. They did not need to prove anything other than to say they belong to us, because they were still in-parent.

Some years later Heila and I became citizens.  When we became citizens, them still being still in-parent, became citizens too as if they themselves met all the requirements, although they contributed and did nothing above what we as parents had done on their behalf.

In-Christ

In some sense those who are in-Christ receive all the rights and privileges as children of our heavenly Father purely based on what Christ has done on their behalf, because He satisfied God’s righteousness; what He has done is all we need to receive the same righteousness as the passport to enter the Kingdom of the Father.

The Bible records that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).  Nowhere else in the Scripture do we find this term.  It seems that the world who looked down on the followers of Christ gave them the derogatory nickname of “Christians” to mock them in the same way as they mocked Christ.  But followers of Jesus Christ were known among themselves as “in-Christ’s”.  The expression “in Christ” appears 87 times in the New Testament, depending on the translation one uses.  This was most probably because it more correctly describes the Biblical position of those who are children of God.  

We are called children of God purely because of our relationship with Him through of Christ.

The message of today, “Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s” rests on this understanding from the Bible.  Two verses from Colossians 2 underscores this truth:

…and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ… (Colossians 2:10–11, NKJV)

Add to this the related expression with Him.  Let’s read verses 12-13 

[you were] buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:12–13, NKJV)

Gnostics, Jews and ceremonies

Under those who joined the church in Colossae were people with a Jewish and Gnostic background.  They did not hold to the principle of Jesus “Christ only, no if’s, no but’s”. Both of these groups wanted to bring something along of what they believed prior to becoming members of the congregation in Colossae as ceremonies which they demanded to make their salvation complete.

The Gnostics had some initiation rituals which they demanded.  Judaism still dictated the theological thinking of Jews who became Christians.  To become part of the people of God they taught that men had to be circumcised.

For these people, the act of circumcision was the thing, and not as much as what it signified.  Right through the Old Testament God held the charge against Israel that they were uncircumcised in heart.  Moses warned the people:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16, NIV)

The prophet Jeremiah delivered the Word of the Lord to the people:

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:4, NIV)

Outwardly (ceremonially and sacramentally) they held to the practice but inwardly there was no sign of trust in God.  Paul writes about this:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. (Romans 2:28, NIV)

This is what Paul refers to in verse 8:  “these things depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.

Why was this wrong?  And, so by the way, some Christians argue that baptism and other sacraments save.  When Paul addressed this problem in Colossae he pointed them to Christ:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9–10, NIV)

When we look at sacraments, not as signs, but as instruments, we add something to the work of Christ and his perfect work of salvation.  Further, we think we need to do or show something in addition to faith before our salvation will be complete. This is not what the Bible teaches.

Paul refutes the argument of both the Christian Jews and the Gnostics that something more than faith in Jesus Christ is needed.

Open the Bible with me at Colossians 2:9-10

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9–10, NKJV)

The in-Christ principle.  

1. Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness

If Christ is the fulness of the Godhead, when we are in-Christ, in the eyes of God we are declared righteous because Christ is righteous.   This is the first truth we need to grasp. Now let’s move on.

2.  In Christ, we were initiated into the family of God

2.a  He is our circumcision 

God demanded that Abraham and his descendants must be circumcised.  Circumcision did not make them the people of God, but it was a sign that God received them by grace into his family.  Romans 4 states very clearly:

And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, (Romans 4:11, NKJV)

For God’s people of the New Testament, the same principle stands.  They too need to be grafted into the family of God.  Just as God gave his Old Testament the righteousness they needed, He now gives the New Testament people the righteousness they needed.  How?  In-Christ!

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, (Colossians 2:11, NKJV)

In Him you were circumcised; this is passive tense.  We do not perform the circumcision; we did not do it with our hands.  It was done for us and on our behalf.  Who did the work?  Christ!  What did Christ do?   He gave us now clothes—this is what “putting off the body of sins” refers to. He died on our behalf in his flesh, on the cross, for our sins, and as such, He is our circumcision.  In Him and through Him we may be counted as part of the family of God.

2.b We died in-Christ, we were buried in-Christ and we rose in-Christ

We hang on to the in-Christ principle.  In-Christ we receive the full redemption. So, we don’t need to die for our sin and we, therefore, can’t be buried or raised from the dead as if we contributed anything to our righteousness.  But Jesus died, He was buried, and He rose again.  By faith we are in-Christ, which means—like my children who became citizens because I met the requirements on their behalf—so in-Christ we spiritually died and were buried; in-Christ we were raised to become new creations.  Verse 13 spells it out in no uncertain terms: 

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him [Christ], having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:13, NKJV)

Paul argues that what was spiritually required to become part of the covenant people still remains:  the act of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. 

However, the sign and seal which visibly initiated sinners into the Old Testament people of God, circumcision, is replaced by something else.  How did that happen?  God’s saving grace is seen only in Jesus Christ:

… having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

Been buried.  Passive tense.  We are not doing the burying; by faith, God in Christ buried us and made us alive again.  

Listen carefully to this text.  What does it say?  Let’s take it apart, step by step.

  • We need a circumcision of the heart to become part of God’s family.
  • The circumcision we get is through the saving grace of God in Christ.  He circumcises us spiritually.
  • The salvation we need is in Him and is our gift because of his death and resurrection.  He was buried and He was raised from the dead.
  • Through our union with Him we are not buried or brought to life through the sacrament of baptism; we plainly receive what He accomplished for us by faith.
  • What makes salvation a reality in our life is a living faith and trust in Him who was buried and was made alive.
  • Baptism, therefore, does not require of us to ceremonially be buried in the water to be spiritually made alive.  This is to add to what the verse says.
  • Baptism is nothing less and nothing more than a sign and symbol of what Christ has done in his death and resurrection in our place.
  • By faith what He has done, is now mine.  Baptism means, therefore, nothing more and nothing less than the sign and seal of circumcision in the Old Testament.
  • Nothing changed as far as the substance of our salvation is concerned (it God’s work of grace!), but what has changed is the sign and seal.

That’s exactly what Paul states in the next verse:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… (Colossians 2:13, NIV)

When were we buried with Him?  When He died.  When were we raised to life?  When He was raised to life.  Did it happen when we were baptised?  No.  Baptism is the sign and seal that Christ surely accomplished full salvation, but it is grace which united us with Him.

Those who demand that all babies should be baptised as soon as possible after their birth lest they die outside Christ has no Biblical warrant.  The Roman Church teaches that the sacraments act as a funnel through which grace is poured out on the soul.  It is therefore not uncommon to attend a funeral in that church and then to hear over and over again that the deceased person was baptised, and therefore saved. It is plainly not true.  We’re saved by Christ’s full demotion, nothing else.

It is equally unbiblical to teach that if a person is not immersed into water through baptism he/she will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  What saves us is not the water and the quantity of it;  what saves is God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a sign and seal of grace, and receiving it is setting one apart from the world as being owned by God, being-in-Christ.

Conclusion

Do we need to do something to show that we received Christ?  Some argue that baptism is the public declaration that we have died and they we raise from the water to a new life in Him. I strongly argue this is not what the Bible teaches. Sacraments are not what we must do, it’s a sign of what God has done.   So what do we need to do?  

Chapter 3:1-2 helps us: 

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:1–2, NKJV)

Let’s thank God for the fulness of his Son who has become our Saviour.

Amen

Jesus Christ only, no if’s or but’s (1)

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 3:14-21
  • Colossians 2:6-15

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Our series from Colossians goes under the heading “United with  Christ.”  In the very first chapter we found terms like fulness, wisdom, understanding, every way, all power, all things, everything, glorious riches, all wisdom, perfect in Christ, all energy, full riches, complete understanding, all treasures, etc. are terms driving the message of this letter.  And these things point to Jesus Christ, the One perfect Saviour between God and us, and our walk in Him.  

To know Christ as Lord is life-changing—eternity depends on it, but to grow in our knowledge of Him impacts on the way we live for his glory till eternity breaks trough. 

Let’s spend some time in verses 6-8.

Progression in Christ is necessary

Read with me through verses 6-7.  

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7, NKJV)

Becoming a Christian begins with hearing what the Bible teaches about God, about Jesus Christ and about the Holy Sprit.  The Greek word “receive” in verse 6 in the time of Paul meant to receive instructions as part of some philosophy.   The Gospel of Christ is not philosophy, but it does about facts concerning the Triune God of the universe—hoe He relates to us, and how we live in relationship to Him. 

Epaphras went to the Philippians and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them (1:7).  The truth of this gospel (1:5) stirred them to faith in Jesus Christ (1:4).  This also happened in Thessalonica.  Paul writes:  

… we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NKJV)

There is a pattern.  

1.  Hearing and receiving

Salvation in Christ comes by the preaching of the Word of God.  Faith comes by hearing the message, and message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

The Colossians heard the message, and they believed and confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. Hearing, believing and receiving Christ as Lord is the first step on the way of a Christian.

My dear friend, may I just for a little moment pause here.  We may now continue to talk about necessary things for any Christian to grow, but the truth of the matter is this: if you have not been at the point of receiving and believing the teaching about Jesus Christ—and consequently receiving Him Lord, we might never agree on what follows in the Chapters which follows.  I might be talking right over your head purely because you do not yet comprehend the fundamental truths of the Gospel and Jesus Christ.  If this is the case, please make it your earnest desire to come to know the Bible message, and to understand what it teaches about Jesus Christ.  Then, receive and worship Him as your Lord.

2.  Live in union with Christ

Our translation says walk in Him.  How do we walk in Christ?  The best way is to translate the “in” as “in union”.  

This aspect is the most important part of discipleship.  When Jesus called his disciples when they were still full-time fishermen, He called them to leave behind what they were doing and follow Him.  They walked with Him wherever He went.  Christ did not go back to them to sit down and teach them whenever He thought it was time for another lecture on becoming fishers of men; no, He called them to follow Him.  He calls his disciples not to contemplate his teachings and remember some of the things He did; He called them to walk with Him.

We can’t do the same today in a physical sense, and this surely not what Paul had in mind when he said: “walk in union with Christ”.  But being a Christian is, in essence, living in union with Christ.  In an objective way it means when a Christian receives Him as Lord, all that Christ has done to make it possible to be a child of God—his  perfect life of righteousness, his sacrificial death, his victorious resurrection, his being at the right hand of the Father—all these things He did so marvellously perfectly on our behalf, that when we believe in Him, God looks at us as if we did it—only, we couldn’t, but Jesus did!  The benefits of Christ’s work as Mediator become ours by faith. That we must believe with all our heart.  But we cannot add to complement his work; we cannot add to what Christ has done. We must believe in what He did on our behalf, and worship Him as Lord.  That’s the objective truth of the message of Christ. 

Now,  his conduct must become our conduct. This is the subjective side of our union with Christ.  Having received the Gospel and worshipping Jesus Christ as Lord has an enormous effect on the way Christians must live.  Paul has already said something about it in Colossians 1:10:

that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10, NKJV)

This is what the Bible refers to as sanctification.  We are called to become what we are in Christ.  In Him, we are already declared holy in God’s sight, but we must live holy lives.  This is not to complement Christ’s righteousness with our good works; no, our good works flow from his righteousness and adorn it.  Through works of holiness, we bring glory to the Name of Him who by grace made us co-heirs of Jesus Christ. 

3.  Becoming like trees and a building

The Gospel describes the procession from being born as a baby in faith to grow to maturity in union with Christ as being like a tree and like a building.

rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:7, NKJV)

A healthy tree has a healthy root system.  Roots not only anchor a tree to stand against strong winds, but it also seeks and carries nutrition for the growth of the tree.  It is absolutely amazing how deep the roots of a tree go down to draw water.  For those of us who know something about the outback will know how long a tree sometimes can survive without rain, purely because the roots go deep.

Further, trees are heavy, and the leaves add to resistance in winds.  A fully grown blue gum can weigh up to 9 metric tons, leaves excluded.  Include the weight of 200,000 leaves, as well as their wind resistance, and you know why it needs strong roots.

Psalm 1 describes the Christian as a tree.  

He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:3, NKJV)

Why?  

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in God’s law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2, NKJV)

My friend, grow like this tree.  Grow strong, Your roots must be deep to extract the nutrients, your roots must be strong to withstand the storms of life.  Grow in the knowledge of the Lord!  

TV programs about building some of the highest buildings in the world teach us that one of the main concerns for the architects and engineers lies in the planning and construction of the foundation.  From that foundation grows the building, in some cases up to hundred stories high.  The rest of the structure needs something to stand upon to withstand strong winds, earthquakes or other natural disasters.  

Our foundation is Christ. In Him and from Him we are built up; He is the cornerstone.

Dear family in the Lord, feed on the Word of God as much as you can and don’t be a spiritual anorexic, or a bonsai Christian.  Don’t be satisfied with the sound bites of lose verses here and there, or with memes with a few Bible verses printed over it.  Read good Christian books, but never, ever neglect reading the Word of God earnestly and diligently.  Get a full diet of the Word on a daily basis.  Keep delving as deep as you can.  Why?  The Bible tells us in our text:  we need to be strengthened in our faith.  Like the deep roots of the tree and the strong foundations of the building are good for further growth, so Christians need to become strong in faith, and it only happens when we find our delight in the reading and study of the Word of God, and doing the bidding of Christ our Lord.  

What happens if we don’t grow in our knowledge of Christ 

Verse 8 spells out the devastation of a poor understanding of the Gospel.  It pictures the result of a church where people are in no position to defend the Gospel.  Let’s read:

 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

The language of this verse is very openly that of a struggle or battle.  This side is the truth, the other side is a false gospel.  One is about Christ, the other is about the devil.  One is about light, the other is about darkness.  On one side the forces of the Gospel are gathered; on the other side the forces of darkness.  The fight is between two kingdoms:  the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love, the Crown Prince of the living God, against the kingdom of darkness, rules by the destroyer of souls.

Those gathered under the banner of Jesus Christ look at the cross where He defeated the powers of darkness.  His victory is their victory.  Under his banner, they march forth.  He is the head of every power and authority.  When they were baptised, they were baptised in Him; through faith, they received all that belongs to Him sealed and signified in the sacrament.  Spiritually they rose with Christ from the dead by the power of God. They believe in God who raised Christ from the dead.

We should always be aware of the battle for our mind.  We are constantly bombarded with all sorts of teachings, and in most cases, they don’t come with big banners to announce their origins.  In the normal scheme of things our enemy is subtle and patience.  Little by little the paradigm shifts, and over some time we might find ourselves contending for the opposites of what we believed in originally.  

You have heard the cries to be progressive, and that we cannot be stuck in the past.  Be careful, progress might be a good thing, but progressives constantly move the goalposts.  There is also a big difference between being traditional and being conservative.  Traditionalists don’t want to change things, purely because they like what they do without asking questions.  Progressives want to change without asking why, as long as it is some new.  Conservatives are happy to chance if they know it is for the right reasons and following the right principles.

As Christians, we need to tackle our new world bravely, but we need to know our roots and our foundations in Jesus Christ.  Without knowing Him, and growing in our knowledge of Him, we will be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies which depends on human teaching and principles of this world, and not Christ.

Conclusion

My dear friend, it all starts with hearing the Gospel, believing it, and receiving and serving Jesus Christ as Lord.  But we cannot remain children in the faith.  We need to grow in our unity with Christ, grow in sanctification, grow deep roots like those big trees, and being built up to a strong building standing firm on the foundation of Christ.  

It surely is time for Christianity to rise from its ignorance and spiritual illiteracy.  I trust you are growing in your knowledge of Christ.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 September 2018

 

The Gospel we defend is our only defence

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Colossians 1:24-2:5

Introduction

When I grew up in South Africa we had a sort of war-game.  We called it kleilat. I’ll explain.  

We would go down to the creek and dig up some black clay.  We would also cut some green flexible sticks from a willow tree. The hard ones did not work.  We were looking for something almost like a light fishing rod.  We then divided into two groups—every war has enemies—and there was a line drawn on the ground.  The first team who had the guts to move forward and cross the line was declared the winner.

The clay was rolled in small balls and loaded onto the tip of the willow stick.  At first, it called for a bit of practice, but soon one developed the skill of launching your clay ammo with the swishing of the willow stick across to the enemy’s side, and actually aim to hit human targets.  I don’t think they would allow this game today!

One way to defend oneself was to go hide from the torpedoed clay balls.  But the more effective way was to use your clay, which in effect was the same as what your enemy used, to shoot back.  And with courage, keep your eye on the enemy, and keep moving towards the line.

The best defence was to attack.  The best weapon was the clay.  You just had to know how to use it.

As Christians, we defend ourselves with the pure Gospel of Christ, but our attack is with nothing else. We just need to know how to use it.  

The battle

Wherever the Word of God is preached, the enemy of the Word will try to destroy the work.  There is a constant battle for our minds and hearts.  The enemy is at work to try to dishearten those who preach the Gospel; he is also at work in the heart of those who hear the Gospel.  This struggle starts out as a struggle for ideas in the minds of those who both preach and hear the Gospel.

The apostle in Colossians twice says that he is struggling (battling) for the church. He was physically and spiritually engaged in this battle.  Did he not write the letter to the Colossians when he was under house arrest in Rome?  Up to that point in time he had suffered all sorts of assaults, of which he writes, 

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24, NIV)

He knew what God called him for.  Remember the words of our Lord to Ananias when Paul was struck with blindness on the road to Damascus. 

This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (Acts 9:15–16, NIV)

Paul understood that Christ who called him would give him the strength to sustain and overcome the battles.  Focussed on his calling for the sake of the body of Christ, the church (Colossians 1:24), he has one thing in mind: to present the Word of God in its fulness (Colossians 1:25).

The word battle in some ways reflect the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:29 and 2:1 where he says,

To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 1:29-2:1)

This struggle is from the word which means to be engaged in a conflict and is reflected in our word agony.  Under the sign of the cross, the fight of faithful Christians acquires a new seriousness.  Paul knew very well that he could only reach the goal of his ministry if he fully spent all his energies.  Therefore he says, 

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:29, NIV)

The struggle for the reward does not demand only full exertion but also a rigid denial of personal luxuries: 

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25, NIV)

This battle is beset of obstacles, dangers and catastrophes through which the Christian must fight his way, even martyrdom if it is what God planned. 

Why is this struggle important?

One might ask, why this struggle?  What is so important for Paul to defend with his life?  

The supreme goal for which Christians fight and work and suffer is not their own salvation only; it is for the salvation of many.  Paul writes, 

[Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, NIV)

The struggle of the Gospel is important because it tells of Jesus Christ and his salvation.  

I trust you remember something about the Gnostics and their ideas of knowledge, wisdom and salvation. To them, salvation was a lifelong struggle to attain knowledge which would (perhaps) secure eternal life. The problem is just that they could not point to something definite, or even someone who would reveal that knowledge.  This knowledge was an ever-moving shadow, the forever chasing of the end of the rainbow.  When you die you just hoped that you have done enough.

But the Gospel of Paul is not about us trying our hardest.  Paul cleverly taps into the terminology of Gnosticism but turned it on its head.  He presented “the word of God in its fulness” which a mystery “disclosed to the saints.”  It is about “Jesus Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27).  He says, 

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, NIV)

Have you listened carefully?  To get to know God is not to embark on a road of uncertain mysteries; to know God is to know that He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel about Christ is God’s full revelation; it does not come incrementally, with certain parts still hidden in a mist of uncertainty.  All of what was prophesied in the Old Testament was God’s “hidden mystery” because it waited for the revelation of Jesus Christ in the fulness of time.  But now it is undisclosed.  To know Christ is to know God, to have wisdom, and to have a glorious hope.  When we understand and receive this Gospel and believe in Christ who is the full revelation of God’s redemption, we—listen!—are perfect in Christ.  He is all we need to be saved. Anything less than knowing Him falls short, and everything more than knowing Him is blasphemy.  Knowing Him is to have it all.  The Gospel teaches us, that “all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3).

Paul had one drive in life:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

Paul put his life on the line to defend this Gospel because the Christ of the Gospel saved his life and completely changed him.  It is all about Christ; anything added to it is no Gospel at all.

After Epaphras went to Colossae to preach the Gospel and people came to faith in the Lord, Paul understood the struggle in which they found themselves because of their faith in the Gospel.  They needed encouragement, and that’s why he wrote them this letter.  

He assured them of his prayers for them.  They were not alone in this battle.  This encouragement in the Lord would knit them together to love one another more and more as believers of Jesus Christ; the encouragement has the purpose that they would care for one another as members of the same body of believers.  He also wanted to instruct them to resist the onslaught of philosophies that could easily rob them of their faith in the Lord.  He writes, 

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

Ongoing battle

The battle is still on; the Devil is still prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  The tactics are still the same; it comes with good sounding arguments and so-called accepted theories to take our minds captive to not think God’s thoughts after Him, but man’s thought after man. This is why Paul defends the Gospel—knowing the Gospel is our only defence.

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:4, NIV)

Paul’s ministry and struggle for the people living in Colossae and Laodicea were to prepare them and to equip them for this battle. Christ’s desire for his church is to be battle-prepared and ready to destroy the enemy.  A church doing nothing is a losing church; it is a church who is risking its lampstand in the place around the throne of God.  I am afraid, we need to be very concerned as a church!

The necessity for the full understanding of the Gospel

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

To know Christ and his fullness and to have an understanding of who He is, is to be armed and equipped to the battle of the mind.  To know Christ is not only to have a date of your conversion, how important that may be (it is lamenting how the message of Christ is watered down and limited to the personal experience of Him as the personal Saviour of individuals.)  Knowledge of Christ is to really understand all the Bible declares about Him.  Let’s repeat a few things from the last two sermons.

The Gospel is about Jesus Christ – full stop!  Jesus Christ is the Gospel. He is our hope (1:5); He warrants the truth of the Gospel (1:6); He qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (1:12); He rescued us from the dominion of darkness by conveying us into the kingdom of light (1:13); He redeemed us, and He forgave us our sins (1:14).  

That’s not all this chapter says about Christ:  He is the image of the invisible God (1:15); by Him all things were created and all things belong to Him (1:16); He is supreme over all rulers and powers (1:16); all things hold together in Him (1:17); He is the Head of his Church (1:18); all the fullness of God dwell in Him (1:19); we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (1:21-22).

When we understand who Jesus Christ, the Son of God, really is, we begin to be ready for the battle.  Only then can we defeat the fine-sounding arguments of the enemy.  We can’t rely on ideas or feelings or airy-fairy experiences, but we can stand in the battle with the teachings of the Scripture about Person of Christ.  It calls for a pure doctrinal understanding of the Bible.

Conclusion

So, what is the Gospel about Jesus Christ?  It is God’s way of disclosing his Son to us as the only One through whom we have redemption, forgiveness of sins, and hope.  He is the image of the invisible God, through who all things were created, and in whom all things hold together.  He presents us to the Father as holy, without blemish and free of accusation (1:22).  Defend this Gospel with your life, because it is your only defence in the battle of your soul and others still lost in darkness.

Amen. 

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 September 2018

 

The Christ of the Gospel

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 2
  • Colossians 1:12-23

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, 

When we began our series from the letter to the Colossians, we first looked at the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We moved on to the next, Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel.  I preach the Word of God to you under the heading “The Christ of the Gospel.”

I suppose something of the Gnostics we learned about last week, might still be in your minds. Gnosticism was, and is, an almost undefined idea, something one might search for without really knowing what knowledge is and where to find it.  Gnosticism is esoteric, mystic, hidden in the mist of something untouchable.  It distinguishes between soul, spirit and body, the body is merely the tomb of the spirit and is of no use.  If man finds knowledge he/she becomes godlike and can look forward to eternity because knowledge set him/her free.

Are we today in a much different situation?

I don’t want to wander too widely, but it will help us when we understand that some of the so-called New Age ideas indeed find its origin in Gnosticism.  

Let’s see how we got to where we are today.

First, there was the age of faith.  Man had a Biblical understanding of knowledge, but knowledge had nothing to do with salvation.  Faith in Christ saves.  The Reformation reawakened this faith. It led to the age of Enlightenment.  

The Age of Reason came after the Enlightenment.  Man’s mind was the ultimate yardstick for knowledge.  Everything had to be scientifically proven before it was worthwhile talking about. 

The period of Modernism followed.  Modernism questioned science as man moved into the centre of his world. Individualism and consumerism appeared on the scene.  Man took from science what he preferred.

We are going a bit quickly here.  We now arrive at the age of post-modernism, which is just the logical next step:  because everything is questioned, and man is his yardstick of what he wants to believe, we now live in a world without any objective truth or standards.  We can believe nothing, but it is just possible that we can believe something.  The logical way out is so-called tolerance.  I tolerate your view, which might be right or wrong, but you have to tolerate mine because I might be right or wrong.  The rule is that there are no rules.

In this whole mess we ended up with esotericism, presupposing that, although we might try to explain things rationally and scientifically, there are hidden forces that transcend ordinary sensory experience and analytic thinking.  Although scientific research proves otherwise, we live by widespread consensus, which in itself has no basis. 

Now we live by rules that no-one wrote down, it cannot be tested, but it should not be disobeyed.  Political correctness is one branch of this.  We need to strive by way of unknown principles to overcome traditional institutional structures to set up an invisible fellowship of global village citizens. Everything of with a whiff of conventional religion is suspicious and rejected, but the end-goal is nothing less than a new religion where Mother Earth is worshipped according to old age gnostic principles.  The rigidity of traditional faith must be vanquished, to make way for the fantasy of manmade eternal salvation.  

These ideas more or less formed the philosophical background of the time in which Paul wrote to the Colossians.  Some wise guys took what they already believed regarding Gnosticism and mixed it with elements of Bible teaching, but reinterpreted essential concepts with Gnostic ideas. The main two ideas were that man cannot know God, and that man can only be saved if he strives hard to be elevated from the mundane world to the godly. 

Do we live in a much different world?  Moreover, Christians are looked down upon because we still believe in an outdated book which teaches about absolute truth and infallible teachings.

Christian knowledge

Can we know God?  Yes!  We know him through his creation, we know Him through the Gospel, the Bible.  We know Him through Jesus Christ.  Where does it leave us? We go back to Colossians 1:12-14

… [we] give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12–14, NKJV)

This Gospel is the Gospel we know; about this gospel, we need to know more and more as we immerse ourselves in the study of the Bible, at every opportunity, as often s possible.  This Gospel is the sword with which we go into the battle of our souls.  We need to know how to handle it, or we will not survive!

Who is the Christ of the Gospel?

For most of the world, Jesus is the baby in a crib.  For most the story of Christmas does not go any further and the nativity scene of the family of Christ in Bethlehem.  There is infinitely more to know about Jesus Christ.

Keep in mind Paul writes to the Colossians to help them stand up against the error of Gnosticism.  What is the essence of the Gospel? 

Before the creation of time and space, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed supremely, without the aid of anything, the need of anything, ever glorious and omnipotent, never in lack of praise and honour.  However, then, if we think about it in human terms, God determined to create the universe. God the Father spoke to Jesus Christ, his Son.  We read about it in Psalm 2 this morning. 

“You are my Son, today I have become your Father.  Ask of me and I will make the nations Your possession, the ends of the earth your inheritance.  You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

To his Son, God gave a title, the Christ.  He is the Redeemer, the Saviour, the Blessed One of the Father.  Here we ended the sermon last week.  Colossians 1:13-14 reads: 

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

God’s Crown Prince

Why can we believe in Christ? 

He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  The word for “image” here is our word for “icon”, a living manifestation of God, as a visible display of the invisible Person of God.  The invisible God becomes visible to men in the “Son of his love”.  Jesus declared, “He that has seen me, has seen the Father”. (John 14:9)  John sings about the glory of Christ:  We have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father.” (John 1:14)  

He is the first-born of the Father and therefore He shares the same substance and nature of God. Man was created, not born of the Father.  We are from dust; Christ is from the eternity God.  He is before all things.  He was there before all things were created, He is also superior over all things created.  Of God’s creation, He is the beginning, the centre, and the end.  That’s why the Bible then says, “In Him all things hold together.”

It is not possible to think about creation without thinking about Christ.  Without Christ, no creation would be possible.  Darwinian Evolution, as well as the Kingship of Jesus Christ over all creation,  is an impossibility.  No Christ, no creation; no creation, no Christ!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)

This teaching has profound implications for the way we think about Jesus Christ.  In general, the Gospel is narrowed down to the salvation in Christ, which becomes even narrower if this salvation is purely the personal salvation of the individual Christian.  This Gospel is not the Christian and Biblical worldview.  The message of the Church is then confined to the walls of the Church, which becomes a trap with unbelieving politicians demand of the Church to keep Christianity out of politics.  Educators and scientists require of us to stay in our corner and mind the souls of the unhappy pursuers of eternal bliss.

However, this is not what the Bible teaches about Christ.  To the unbelieving scientist it might come as a surprise:  what he or she is researching is the work of God through Jesus Christ.  It belongs to Him, it exists because of Him and holds together because of Him.  Without Christ, no scientific research is possible, because without Him there would be nothing to research.

To the humanistic sociologist and psychologist, and even the historicist this might also come as a surprise.  The study of their field is possible because of Christ, even if they don’t believe it.  Also, like me when I try to fix my lawn mover without the technical knowledge and the instruction manual issued by the manufacturers, without the knowledge of Him through whom God created the universe, fixing and fully understanding it will remain a pipe dream.

God’s agent of Creation: the ruler of all creation

The Father wanted to give to his Son everything He created.  In this sense, Jesus Christ became the agent of God through whom He created the world.  So, everything in heaven and on earth, all things visible and invisible, thrones and powers or rulers or authorities were created by Him and for Him.  There is no kingdom, no king, no ruler, nothing visible or invisible which is not under the feet of our Saviour.

The political leaders of our day will do well to heed the advice of the Word of God.  

“Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge I Him.” (Psalm 2:12)

Jesus Christ is God’s Crown Prince.  All areas of life, all spheres of thinking, must be under the Headship of Christ.  Even if people don’t believe in Him – He still is the first-born of the universe, the image of God, the agent of God’s creation, the One in whom all things hold together.

He said:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This truth drives our missionary work; it drives our efforts in the Lord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it helps us to not cringe before the pressures of kings and rulers.

Do you perhaps only of Jesus Christ as the One whose only mission is to fix your problems and you may live well?  Is He merely a remedy for your depression or unhappiness?  Alternatively, is He the One before whom you bow in adoration and worship?

For some people, Christ is nothing short of an idea.  He becomes a mystical concept.  People go away for weekends to connect with God and experience Him.  They come back with great feelings about Him, but the only thing they do better now is meditating, perhaps sitting in a specific posture.  This form of worship of Christ does not differ much from so-called the New Age worship of concepts and ideas.

No, Jesus Christ is King of the universe, known by the works of his hands and to Him, all thoughts must be made captive.  The apostle Paul writes:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Christ is Head of the Church

There was a price attached when God decided to give an inheritance to his Son.  God ordained to send his Son into this sinful world to redeem it through his blood.  Jesus Christ had to buy back for God what sin destroyed and stole from God.  Jesus was the One through whom God would reconcile the world to Himself.  The word is in need of this reconciliation because it is the only peace possible.  Without Jesus Christ, there is no peace possible between God and the sinful world.

Verse 21 describes our hostility towards God.  We were alienated from God and enemies of God.  Born in darkness, we were at war with Him.  When our first parents were driven from the presence of God out of Paradise, He gave them a promise of hope:  One day they would be reconciled to Him through the eternal sacrifice of the Son of his Love. 

Christ’s physical body was nailed to the tree of Calvary.  His blood was shed. Moreover, He died on that cross to present us holy to the Father. He reconciled us with the Father (Colossians 1:22). His sinless life now becomes our sinless life by faith.  We are united to him by faith!

Such is the Headship of Christ over his Church. He qualified us to be counted amongst the saints washed in his blood, dressed in white robes, which are the righteous deeds in Christ.  He conveyed us from darkness into light, carrying us over the chasm between the holy God and sinners, and He brought us into the kingdom of light belonging to his Son, now possible because we are washed clean in his blood.  We have received the forgiveness of sins.

But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— (Colossians 1:22, NIV)

Conclusion

There is a warning in this chapter if we do not stand firm if we are not determined to engage in the battle and run the race to the end.  This can easily happen if I regard Christ as nothing more than the Saviour of my personal world, and not the King of the word and the King of the church.  Listen to the verse:

… if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard… (Colossians 1:23)

For this reason, then does the apostle makes this statement in verse 28:

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

Don’t give up.  Always remember:  Christ is supreme over all creation, He is our Head and Master, the One who reconciled us to God, the One who is conquering over all enemies.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz in Sunday 2 September 2018