Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

The Long Road to Bethlehem (3)

Bible Readings

  • Matthew 10:34-39
  • Judges 15:1-20

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Many might look at the story of Samson and remember his strength, his long hair and bad choices of women.  Some might think of Samson in the same way as what is told of a Spanish patriot soldier who, in his dying moments responded to his chaplain, asking him whether he had forgiven all his enemies. “I have no enemies, I have killed them all.

If we take Samson’s story out of the context for which it was included in the Bible, that’s what he is:  a vengeful, pig-headed man with a larger-than-life ego who had no social skills and became responsible for his own death.

It is only in the context of his calling as God’s chosen instrument at that specific time that we will understand his mission. We to see both 

  • why his people needed deliverance, and 
  • why the Bible calls him a faithful deliverer

Last week we learned how Samson could not, and maybe would not see that God did not intend him to set his people free by trying to win them over as friends. He disregarded the advice of his parents, and could not interpret the Holy Spirit’s leading by giving him the power to kill a lion with bare hands—this was a sign that he could only deliver his people from the enemy by the ability which comes from God.  We saw him getting married to a Philistine girl, and him only slightly upsetting the enemy.  He left the wedding in rage, without his wife, and need up back in his father’s house where it all began. Then he tried again to win the enemy’s heart.

About three or four months later we find Samson again in the house of his Philistine wife.  He had a young goat, probably meant as a gift to restore peace.

Keep in mind that there was still a legally binding contract between the two families, but that marriage was still not consummated.  Samson and his wife were not, so to speak, one flesh.  This was of God who prohibited such a marriage. 

Things took another direction from this point on in the story.  All along we need to keep this line in mind:  

… this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel. (Judges 14:4, NIV)

Samson’s wife became the wife of his master of ceremonies because her father thought the deal was over.  He could take the younger, more beautiful sister instead.  But at this point, Samson began to understand his mission:  God called him to set his people free from oppression.  God did not call him to be part of the enemy, but to oppose them.

If we don’t get this point, we will miss most of the teaching of the Old Testament.  In fact, we will misunderstand the mission of Christ by limiting his mission to only setting to us an example of how we should love regardless of truth.

This is indeed the weakness of the Christian church today.  If we saw it our calling to love outside the boundaries of the truth as expressed in the Scriptures, we end up loving the world.  The message of Christ in Matthew 10:34 still stands: 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34, NIV)

But did the angels not proclaim peace on earth when they announced the birth of Christ:  

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV)

Did you hear the second part of the verse, “peace to those on whom his favour rests”?

He who loves the world has become an enemy of God (James 4:4).  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1John 2:15)  Paul writes:  

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV)

Paul also writes:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:21, NIV)

Even David prays:

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21–22, NIV)

Yes, Christ demands of us to love our enemies, but a true disciple of Christ loves his Saviour about all.  When it comes to the glory of his Name, the purity of the Gospel and the advancement of the church, we get our marching orders not from the world, but from Him who conquered the world and their deceitful master.

God led Samson to understand this valuable lesson.  He never consummated his marriage or did not take another Philistine wife the day.  The little goat he brought as a peace offering never served a purpose.

Confrontation

Samson’s mission would be fulfilled in battle.  How he discharged of his calling to us a manifestation of faithful obedience to the Lord, but not a norm of obedience. I’ll explain:  we are not called to catch foxes and burn the wheat of the world.  What we are called to is to faithfully obey the Lord for and in what He calls us as people who live in the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ.  He enables us by the Holy Spirit we sow the seed of the Gospel wherever He calls us and whenever He calls us.  In this calling we confront the world with the Gospel of Christ, we stand on the truth of God revealed in Him, and in his Name, we become a church who subdues the enemy of Christ with his Word by his Spirit.  In other words, what drove Samson to deliver his people from the enemy, will drive us; but the method was forever changed after the finished work of Christ.

Confusion

Samson was not directly responsible for what happened next, but his definite change of attack shows the weakness of the enemy of God.  

Samson refuses to take the younger sisters wife.  He was done with the Philistines.  He chose the road of confrontation to achieve God’s purpose of deliverance.  

He chose to destroy the wheat fields.  Instead of Israel occupying the land and receiving corps they did not plant, their spiritual slavery to the gods of the surrounding nations caused the reverse. What happened?  

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. (Judges 6:2–4, NIV)

The people of God hiding in mountain clefts while their crops were ruined. Is this a picture of property and blessing?  God sent his people Samson, the deliverer.

He would ruin the financial prosperity of the Philistines.  In the Sorek Valley with its fertile soils and mountain streams, the Philistines had vineyards, around which they erected walls to protect them from wild animals.  Foxes was a significant pest which got through holes in the walls and destroyed the crops.  We read about this in Song of Songs 2:15.  Samson most probably just blocked the holes through which the foxes would escape and so trap them.  Soon he had 300.  Tying their tales together with dry flax between every pair and setting it alight cause havoc.  The wheat, ready for harvest, burnt down, also causing extensive damage to the vineyard and olive groves.

This is amusing.  The Philistines then turned against one another.  They killed both Samson’s “wife” and her father. And when they took to Samson, we read, “…he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” (Judges 15:8, NKJV) This is an expression meaning they suffered huge losses.  

Conflict

Samson then took a break and sought respite in the rock of Etam.  The cleft or chasm in the rock is a long, narrow cavern about 75m long, 15m wide and 1.5m high.

What happens is tragic beyond words.  Samson’s own people became so used to be slaves in their own land, that they slavishly obeyed the Philistines to betray God’s deliverer.  The Philistines did not have the gumption to face Samson themselves unless he was bound.  The men of Judah did not see confrontation with the enemy as their duty to reclaim their Promised Land.  Instead, they delivered Samson to them.  Samson trusted his own people to protect him from their enemy, yet they regarded him as their enemy.

One would need much more time to explain what is hidden in these few verses.  But just in short:

  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ become so worldly that they turn against those who proclaim the Kingdom of God in all sincerity.  They did it with Moses too.  And they did it with Jesus Christ.  Worldly Christians can quickly become the footmen of the world doing their dirty work for them.  
  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ can become spiritually so blind that they see the enemy of Christ is their liberators.
  • It is more than just a possibility that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ would disown Him purely to protect their own interests and peace.

Think about it.  Consider your personal attitude in this.

Like a slave with hands tied up, Samson was delivered into the hands of the Philistines.  His own people did not kill him, but they would hand him over to others who would.  

But God’s servants are not powerless.  The Spirit of God rushed on Samson, and he broke the ropes which bound him.  What followed was something I would not mind seeing on video.  Samson picked up the jaw bone of a donkey and started to fling it around.  Jawbones are not really smooth, and anyone who dared to come close got knocked over.  Did he really kill a thousand of them?  The word in the Bible can also be understood as a military company.  In any case, they did not have a chance.  Samson made donkeys of them; in other words, they became like salve animals under God’s power through him.  Later on, they named the place Jawbone Hill.  There’s something of this which echoes into the future to Golgotha, Place of the Skull where our Saviour, after He was handed over by his own people to be hanged, being thirsty, had victory over Satan, death, sin and hell.

Contentment

Samson, exhausted in victory, cried out to the Lord to sustain him.  God opened a hollow place, and a fountain sprang open.  His strength returned, and he revived. God enabled his appointed deliverer to have victory, and God sustained his appointed deliver.

And we read the last statement in this chapter:  

And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines. (Judges 15:20, NKJV)

Conclusion

Anyone who knows about the Gospel of Christ will understand how Samson as deliverer was a precursor to Christ, born in Bethlehem many years later.  When we celebrate the birth of Christ, we hear the message:

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)

He is your Deliverer, He is your rock, He is the living water.  He is your Saviour.  Take up your cross and follow Him.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 December 2018

 

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Spiritual growth in Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:9-16
  • Philippians 1:3-11

Introduction

Who present today would like a 10-page book on 3 easy steps to spiritual maturity? You may go to sleep tonight as a babe, then wake up tomorrow with full knowledge of God’s Word, able to discern the most excellent things in life. But, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. In fact, Christian growth can be likened to our ageing. As we grow older, we acquire knowledge and learn how to discern right from wrong, good from bad. Yes, this takes time. But Christian maturity goes beyond this, and will often take long bouts of persevering against the world. 

In Philippians1:6, we observe a vital verse concerning sanctification, the process of our spiritual growth. It says, 

“that He (God) who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. 

God is the one who created us as His new creatures. Who had, “begun a good work in you…”, and it is God who brings it to completion. It is the Holy Spirit who is leading us along this journey of our spiritual growth, ‘until the day of Jesus Christ’.

This spiritual maturity, according to Philippians 1:9-11, involves a more in-depth knowledge interlaced with wisdom, a life that is lived according to God’s Word, producing righteous fruit, and most importantly having the Spirit of Christ instructing our renewed heart.

NO Easy Steps to Christian Maturity

Christians today, are not growing up to spiritual maturity. We have become people who look for the easy way up. People who only spend a few minutes in ‘self-centred’ prayer. A few moments reading a passage in the Bible. There is no contemplation, no meditation, and no application. Finishing just in time for our favourite television program, or that book we just can’t put down, and we waste several hours just idly sitting there. Now I’m not saying television or books are evil, but the devil uses things such as these to keep our attention away from what is essential, away from studying the Bible, thereby robbing us of our joy in Christ.

What Happed…?

One of the main events that happened in the reformation 500 years ago was the translation of the Holy Bible into the common language of the people. Now the man on the street could study, and apply God’s word to his life, he could grow up spiritually. We, on the other hand, have several translations on our bookshelves but rarely open them. We really have become lazy in our dedication to knowing God Word.

We read in v9, “That your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. This love must be a continual overflowing love that is built on knowledge, but this isn’t just common knowledge. It is an ever-deepening knowledge of God in His word, of the world and of ourselves. And especially important is understanding how to put that knowledge to practical use. Commentator Steven Lawson says, 

“Rightly exercising Christian love requires God-given insight into people and situations. It necessitates the practical wisdom that only God can impart.”. 

Love that continually overflows is nurtured by seeing God in Holy Scripture, knowing how the world operates, and proper knowledge of ourselves, our own failings, and weaknesses. 

We find the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 13:12, 

“Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 

Here the first ‘know’ is the common meaning of the word know. I know the Prime Minister. But the second ‘know’ is the same word used in Philippians 1:9. It refers to an over knowledge and is conveying to the reader a fuller or an informed, knowledge. Just having a partial knowledge isn’t going to do it. Real knowledge understands how we are to live in this world, in a biblical, godly manner. 

The Bible Clears the Path Ahead

Having real knowledge helps us to have “all discernment”, and our path ahead will be clearer. What Paul is saying is that we are to develop a depth of insight, or be discriminating, in all areas of life. 

The first point of call is, and always should be, the Word of God. No worldly activity, no matter how godly it seems, should take precedence over it. God’s holy word alone is our ultimate authority for being discerning. In other words; God’s Word is the standard of how we grow to maturity in Christ, how we live. God has used many Christ centred people, both past and present, to illuminate His Word for us and we would be wise to use all of that which God has given. Ultimately, though, the Spirit of God is our teacher, and we need to be asking Him to illuminate His word, for correct understanding. 

Then we must live the God centred life. If we are to be God’s light and pure salt in this world, then we really need to be out there living in it, but we cannot allow it to influence how we live as God’s people. Just as James puts emphasis on the knowing and doing, we too must wisely live in this world acting on what the Bible teaches.

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3

As our “love continues to abound in knowledge and all discernment” (v. 9) we will be able to (v. 10) “approve the things that are excellent”. When we have the knowledge of God’s word, the world we live in, and sober judgement of ourselves, we will be able to approve, or ‘test for purity’, the things that are excellent. Paul is praying that we will be able to make a distinction between what is good and what is better. 

Knowing good from evil is relatively easy, but knowing what is better from good can be a lot harder to determine. Knowing whether or not to touch a poisonous snake is easy. But knowing which ministry to put your finances and effort into can more difficult. We shall discern, better from good, when we know the Word of God. John MacArthur, a well-known preacher, puts it this way; 

“Christian character at its highest level comes from a divinely implanted and ever-growing love. That both leads to and is directed by, a rich understanding of and faithful obedience to the divine truth revealed in Scripture.”

Above Reproach

Why does God want His Children to have this knowledge and discernment? If we continue, v. 10 gives us the answer, “that you may be sincere and without offence”. Here is the result of living out the abounding love in knowledge and all discernment. 

‘Sincere’ comes from a Greek word which means, ‘to test by sunlight’. In Ancient Near Eastern markets there was thick, easy to make, pottery and then there was fine pottery, a lot harder to make, but it broke easily. What some merchants would do was glue the broken pottery back together with wax, then pretty it up with paint. The buyer became aware of the problem when the impure pot got too hot, the heat of the sun or near fire, the wax would melt, and the pot was ruined. But we are called to be pure vessels, without flaws, and able to stand ‘the sunlight test’.

‘Without offence’ comes from a term that means blameless. Other than unbelief, there is probably no greater sin that Jesus condemned more than hypocrisy. Especially the religious kind, like that which was shown in the Pharisees and scribes in passages such as Matthew 7:5; 15:7; Luke 12:56; 13:15. Paul writes to both Timothy and Titus about the office of elders. Elder, he demands, must be above reproach, this is the same thing he is praying for in our current passage. Colossians says in 1:10, “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him”.

Are We There Yet?

We know that Paul isn’t writing just to the early Church at Philippi but to all believers in all times. How do we know this? We know this because of the clause that follows in v10; “till the day of Christ”. The day of Christ is referring to the end of time, when Christ, as the Judge will separate the sheep from the goats. The goats will receive eternal punishment, but the sheep will receive eternal life. 

The need for spiritual growth must be a focus of every believer. We need to remember that abounding love, which is both sincere and non-offensive, involves both the mind and heart for proper godly growth. 

Is There Fruit Yet?

Flowing on then, is a life that produces righteous fruit, v11 “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ”. In the Christian life, there are two types of righteousness. The first is that of the righteous life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and which is credited to our account when we are reborn. 

The second meaning of righteousness in the Bible is the right acts that we do and stems from wisely acting on a proper understanding of God’s Word.  James 2 asks: How does someone who confesses faith in Christ demonstrate that faith? If you profess faith in Christ, it will be seen in the way you act. James 2:26 is a massive wake-up for us. If you do NOT possess what you confess, you’re dead.

We are saved from our previous sinful lives to display God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” These verses tell us that we are not saved by good works, but for good works. The ‘fruit’ produced by a righteous life has its source in the Word of God, which is illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit. 

The Meaning of Life / Where is God?

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is; 

What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Christian love that continues to grow and grow and overflow into everyday life comes from God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Spirit. Our sanctification will only stagnate if we are not placing God at the centre of our heart. A regular study of God’s Word together, with meditating on it, and apply it is our daily act of worship, Romans 12:1-2. 

Conclusion 

In Australia today many Christians have allowed the world to dictate to them what they should believe on many things. These Christians confess Christ as their King, but by allowing the world to dictate their beliefs, they are acting like the impure pots filled with wax. When it heats up, they fall apart. We must be like the pure pots, sincere and without offence.

Let me leave you with 3 questions:

  1. How are you abounding in knowledge and all discernment? 
  2. Are you able to test and approve what is excellent in light of God’s Word? 
  3. How are you equipped to live to the praise and glory of God?

The reformers had a motto; Reformed and Reforming. They knew that the process of holiness is a lifetime’s work, it requires prayer, dedication, and spiritual effort. And, it will continue until the day of Christ Jesus. 

May we be continually reforming to God’s standards, by abounding in love “still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. So we may be sincere and without offence, producing righteous fruit in Christ, and above all, giving praise and glory to God.

Sermon preached by Mr Ken Mobbs on Sunday 18 November 2019

Participating in the sufferings of Christ

Scripture Reading

  • 1Peter 4:12-19

Introduction

The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, honour those who died for their country. Built following World War I, it was expanded to remember those who served in subsequent conflicts. It is a beautiful place, with monuments to courage and devotion, but the highlight of the shrine is a hall containing a carved stone that simply reads: “Greater Love Hath No Man”. The architects designed the room so that every year on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11:00 a.m light from the sun passes over the stone, stopping briefly to spotlight the word “Love”. It is a moving tribute to those who gave their lives. 

However, more than honouring the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, the words on that stone carry a far greater meaning. Jesus spoke them the night before He would die on the cross. His death was not for freedom from tyranny, but freedom from the penalty of sin. His death was not to give us a better life, but to give us eternal life. As we remember those who died for their country, may we never forget to praise and honour the Christ who died in the place of a  dying world. For there is truly “no greater love than this than Jesus lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) (Taken from: Our Daily Bread, ANZAC Centenary Edition, Day 2)

Discipleship

There is, however, another love the Bible speaks about.  Our Lord made it very clear.  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37, NKJV)

How does this love look like?  Are there any sacrifices attached to it?  Let’s look at one verse.  

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26, NKJV)

When Jesus Christ called his disciples, He started them to become fishers of men.  One of the first discipleship training events is recorded as the Sermon on the Mount. Read the verse carefully, and you will notice that Jesus might have included some bystanders when He taught that time, but it seems as if He directly spoke to the new followers.  

Six times in a row our Lord used the word “blessed”.  A way to translate it is “happy”, and by extension “privileged”. Up to the last, we might think that becoming a follower of Christ is really something special.  But listen to this: 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12, NKJV)

In the Upper Room our Lord drove the nail a bit deeper: 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:18–20, NKJV)

Just hours before their Saviour would be nailed to the cross, He said, 

Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33, NKJV)

They were there when Christ was arrested, they saw their Master being whipped, they saw his legs gave under the weight of the cross as He carried it to Calvary’s Hill.  They heard Him cry in agony as the soldiers hammered the nails through his hands and his feet.  And then there was the cry, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

It does not surprise us to find the disciples behind closed doors out of fear for the Jews, even till the third after that Friday.  Perhaps they would be next because they associated with Jesus of Nazareth.

Would it be that at that point, if we were part of the disciple group, that we would bale out? But then, what about the all-encompassing love we should have for our Saviour?  What about the price of discipleship?  If I bale out now, I will betray my Saviour.  If I now turn away from Him who loved me and gave his life for me, how would I face eternity without Him?  

The Holy Spirit and the Bible

The Spirit brings to my mind the words of Christ.  

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9, NKJV)

Other verses ring in my ear:

You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:18–20, NKJV)

But there is also this promise:  

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29, NKJV)

What did David say when he faced death over and over again?  

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell. Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident. (Psalm 27:1–3, NKJV)

There is a cloud of witnesses to spur us on by their example of discipleship.  

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:35–40, NKJV)

Where do I stand?  About that sort of treatment for the sake of the Name of Christ I know nothing—yet! What took them through?  What made them follow till the end?  They believed God and trusted his promises.  The loved Him with all their hearts, all their minds, all their might and all their soul.  

The Apostles rejoiced when they were flogged after they refused to be silent about their Lord and Saviour because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41)

Sufferings for Christians are nothing abnormal

And wherever the followers of Christ were scattered a pattern developed:  suffering and opposition.  

That’s why Peter wrote that Christians should not be surprised at the painful trials and sufferings.  Rather, we would rejoice.  Why? When trials come our way, our being ‘in-Christ’ proves to be true!  We are hated because Christ is hated.  If they love us, it’s because we are loveable, but not by Christ.  James writes: 

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NKJV)

Peter writes: 

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in [because of] that name. (1 Peter 4:16, ESV)

Conclusion

The Bible is clear about it:  the world hates Christ, and they will hate us too.  They will one stand in judgement before the throne of God for treading the blood of Christ underfoot and for the way they treated his church.

We might not yet have endured all the hardship the Bible is preparing us for, but the mere fact that we today pray for the persecuted church is proof that there are real, present struggles and battles which have and are claiming life and belongings.  Some fellow believers were killed just last week. Thousands are imprisoned, and many more are fleeing to who-knows-where.

My friend, we need to now put our faith to the test and become spiritually competent and worthy of the name of Jesus Christ.  We have to, time is running out.  Entrust your life in the hands of Him who has overcome, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 November 2018

 

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

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

 

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 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

 

Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:129-136
  • Colossians 1:9-14

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

Last week we commenced a series of sermons from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  This series goes under the title, United with Jesus Christ. 

Last week the message was about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We looked at what the Gospel is about, how we hear the word through God’s messengers, and we heard about the effect of the Gospel on those who believe it.  The Gospel is about Christ and the salvation He gives to those who hear and accept it.  Faith comes by hearing the message, and we hear the message through the Word of Christ. The effect is that people are saved and changed to live for the glory of Christ by loving one another as He loved is.

We would be delighted if we know only this is happening in our congregation, and of course all over the world.  

However, it seems as if Paul knows these things are the foundation and not the building.  Faith in Christ, adhering to the Gospel, loving and caring for one another, and providing for God’s messengers to keep proclaiming the Gospel is essential, but it is not comprehensive.  These things are the first steps for every Christian and church, but that’s only where the mission starts.

The basis of Paul’s prayer

Paul was repeatedly and steadfastly praying, for growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because he had heard from Epaphras that the Colossians heard, received and understood the Gospel and that they grasped the basics of it by loving one another, Paul wanted them to know that he is praying for what is essential to advance in their faith as a congregation of Christ. This prayer we desperately need to pray for ourselves, for our fellow Christians, and for the church of Jesus Christ all over the world.

Too quickly do we stop interceding for others when we hear that they received Christ and the message of the Gospel.  Seldomly do we make it our prayer for the church to grow in its knowledge of the Gospel. If this is not happening, if we stay immature Christian babies, we will be ineffective in our mission into the world.  

A church might be teeming of new converts and might seem to be growing because of special programs for specialist groups, but if there is little emphasis on growth in the knowledge of the Gospel, it will remain a church with adolescent Christians.  We know about adolescence, don’t we!  It’s the time in life where there is no-one more important in the universe than yourself.  It’s the phase when mood swings can be explosive; it’s time when everything is questioned, and nothing is believed.  A church where there is not growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like that.

Paul writes in Ephesians that God gave pastors and teachers to equip the people of God for works of service, Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, 

…to make the body of Christ stronger. This work must continue until we are all joined together in the same faith and the same knowledge of the Son of God. We must become like a mature person, growing to the full measure of the fulness of Christ. Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about by the waves, carried one way and then another by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. (Ephesians 4:12–14)

The content of Paul’s prayer

Paul writes, 

… we … do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; … that you may increase in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10, NKJV)

Just a bit of the cultural background of the prevailing philosophy at the time in Colossae.  One of the most devastating philosophies floating around was that of Gnosticism.  It is challenging to grasp the teachings of this philosophy because there is no single or sharply defined definition.

Gnosticism, the word comes from the Greek word knowledge was, and still is, about the search for true knowledge, how to find it, and how to be liberated by it. The agnostic on the other hand, says the only thing man can know is that he can’t know.

Bear with me; I’ll try to make sensible remarks out of the most chaotic system of thought known to mankind.

Gnosticism says there is only one ultimate being or group of divinities. The difference between the ultimate and the lower class exists as a result of an error in what is good. One has to point the finger to Sophia, the Greek term for wisdom.  

Wisdom, Sophia, lusts for the Ultimate Depth. This ultimate god cannot tolerate distortion in the godhead, and exiles wisdom, or Sophia, to a lower heaven.  

Sophia with the help of her lesser gods -often called fates – became the creator of the physical world where they parade as ultimate gods.

The upper godhead deviously manoeuvres the Lower Wisdom into creating human beings,  which happens through the process of, not only passing on the breath of life but also divine light particles. But not all humans got these particles! 

The upper god provided the tree of knowledge to awake humans to the state from which they have come.  However, the lower god, the one who created the world and humans, opposed the upper god by providing a tree of life, only to trap humanity into bondage instead. The lower god, still at war with the upper god, forbids access to the tree of knowledge, gnosis.

Human beings, deprived of knowledge, only have wisdom, which holds their spirits captive in a human body.  The upper godhead then sent a saviour, an alien messenger with gnosis, knowledge, to save humanity.  This gnosis, knowledge, enabled the spirits of human beings to know even more than their lower god creator.  With gnosis (knowledge) humanity can conquer the spiritual senselessness that had come upon him when the creator imprisoned its spirit in a physical body. However, only those human beings who have the light particles are capable of being received the gnosis.

The process of salvation in most gnostic myths is therefore very deterministic. Redemption indeed occurs at the end of the Gnostic’s life when he seeks to escape from the created world. Only then, the gnostic strips off the created elements of the body from his spirit, and climbs through the fates to the heavenly realm.

What is the most frustrating part is that gnosis—knowledge—can never be defined.  It remains an esoteric, cryptic, and mysterious something.  It remains something which is only understood by those with the particles of light in them.

In the verses, Colossians 2:9-10, Paul uses three words to cut through the possible influence of agnosticism upon the new believers in Colossae:  knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  More than that, he prayed that the believers in Colossae might grow in their knowledge and understanding.

The questions we now need to answer are:

  • Is it possible to know God and where can we find wisdom and understanding?
  • Why do we need this knowledge?
  • Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?

Is it possible to know God?

When Paul prays that the church would grow in their knowledge about the will of God, he does not speak about God granting wisdom about the choice of cars or holiday destinations.  Knowing God is not to know more about my future or my needs.  Paul did not have this in mind.  

Unequivocally, yes!  

There are at least three ways in which God reveals Himself.  Firstly, by what He created.  Psalm 19 proclaims, 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1–2, NKJV)

Paul writes, 

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (Romans 1:20, NKJV)

We need to understand that even nature is sin-stained, and cannot bring us into a personal relationship with God.  Our hearts may be prompted to get to know Him better, but ultimately, nature is not the only revelation of God.

Secondly, God reveals Himself by his Word, the Bible.  The Bible is God’s self-revelation; in it, He speaks and communicates with us, far more focussed and precisely than in his creation. We read Psalm 119 this morning, 

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:129–130).

It is in the Bible where we find this principle, 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10, NKJV)

Thirdly, God revealed Himself through Jesus Christ.  

All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:3-4; 14, NKJV)

Jesus declared,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. (John 14:6–7, NKJV)

In the previous verses of Colossians 1, Paul made it very clear:  they heard the truth, which is the Gospel; in the Gospel God’s grace in Jesus Christ is revealed; the Gospel is the truth, and God’s messengers minister the Gospel. How much different is this to the teachings of Gnosticism, which spurs one on to seek knowledge, but it does not give knowledge.  It teaches something about God, but it keeps mauling in mystical uncertainty.  It teaches about a messenger of a so-called god, but it does not tell anything about the message.

Let’s add another element to the certainty about the truth.  Paul talks about spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9);  this is not esoteric wisdom. Instead, it is wisdom which comes from the Holy Spirit.  

Our Lord said about the Holy Spirit, 

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26, NKJV)

Paul makes it clear, God’s wisdom is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 2:10). He says, 

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12, NKJV)

Peter writes, 

…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, NKJV)

Is it possible to know God?  Yes, we only need to open our eyes to see Him in creation, we need to study the Bible, and we need to know Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this knowledge?

Without dwelling too long on this question, the plain answer is, without knowing God, we would not know Jesus Christ.  Without knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He did to save us, we will live in misery, we will try to save ourselves and continually fail to do so, we will have no hope, and the devil will continue to accuse us, till he receives us in hell.  

The grace of the Gospel is this, 

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 1:13–14, NKJV)

Moreover, the truth to remember is this; we will never know any of this if we do not hear the Gospel, believe it, and worship the One who made it all possible.

Do we need this knowledge?  Without a shadow of a doubt!

Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?

Paul prays: 

… 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)

When we hear God’s call through the Gospel, when we understand the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and understand that it is by justification through Him alone that God declares us righteous in Him, we don’t need more to be saved. However, we have just given our first steps in the faith.  We are babies and need to be nurtured to maturity.  

When we grow in the knowledge of the Gospel we understand more and more of the will of God; we are guided by the Holy Spirit to gain wisdom and understanding of who God is, as well as his declared will which is recorded in the Bible.  It is necessary to know because only through it will we know how to please God in our very conduct; it is by reading and studying the Bible that God trains us in his spiritual gymnasium: we become fit, become stronger in our faith, and we the stamina to endure the race joyfully.  Unfit people struggle in a race, and they don’t do it joyfully.  All along we run for the prize for which God qualified us: we have an inheritance in the kingdom of light.

Conclusion

Can we know God? Yes!  From where do we get wisdom and knowledge? From the Bible. Do we need this knowledge?  Without it, we live in the darkness of sin. Do we need to grow in this knowledge? Surely! However, Paul prays for more.  Listen, 

… we ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and endurance with joy. (Colossians 1:9–11, NKJV)

My friend, do not be satisfied with the minimum.  Go for the full thing, and don’t miss out on any little part of it.  Then you will be fruitful in the Lord.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 26 August 2018