The Best Use of Time

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Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:2–6, ESV)

1. Persistently Pray for Open Doors for the Gospel (4:2–4)

2. Live and Speak with Gospel Intentionality with Outsiders. (4:5–6)

The Gospel Changes Our Relationships

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Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 3:18–4:1, ESV)

A man in his family ride in to church on Sunday morning. They go off to their respective classes. The man in a SS teacher so he teaches his class then goes to the worship service where he serves as an usher. The man an his family is well respected in the church and they are on many committees and wield great influence. After church the man gets in the car and on the way back begins yelling at his children for not cleaning their rooms before church, mocking them, belittling them, and domineering over them. He gets home and isolates himself in a room ignoring his wife and his children as he gorges the afternoon with television.

That night he approaches his wife hostile and angry over the amount of money she’s spent on groceries that month and the two get into a huge fight over their finances. She gets angry at him for spending to much on hobbies while he gets angry at her for not making as much as she does. The two spend the rest of the evening not talking to one another. At work the next day after yelling at the kids some more because they weren’t ready on time he goes into work. His boss is on vacation this week so he spends the morning goofing off with his employees and just letting calls go to VM. During lunch he gathers around his co-workers as they tell stories about their boss to poke fun and demean him. They spend the remainder of the afternoon gossiping about some other employees then clock out. He goes back home. Gets angry at his wife again as she doesn’t have dinner on the table yet. He refuses to help with the dishes or get the kids into bed for the night. He goes to his room, shuts the door, and checks out. The next day, rinse and repeat.

Unfortunately this fictional story I just told is a far to common reality in our churches. We have men, women, and children, who are quite adapt at playing the Christian part while in the building, but when their faith comes to their private and personal relationships there is often a breakdown. We might be able to fool our pastor our SS class and our friends at church about our faith, but those who know us best - our spouse, our children, and our co-workers - can spot a hypocrite easily.

Paul today addresses that the Gospel impacts our most personal relationships. If the Gospel isn’t changing the way you think as a husband or wife, or a father or mother, or an employee or boss, then you either have some serious immaturity and blindspots in your life or you may not know Christ at all. The Gospel changes our most personal and daily relationships from family to work.

1. The Gospel in Marriage Relationships (3:18–19)

2. The Gospel in Parenting Relationships (3:20–21)

3. The Gospel in Work Relationships (3:22–4:1)

Christ Over All: Put on the New Self

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Each Monday (This week Wednesday!) I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)

As we’ve been walking through the book of Colossians, chapter 3 turns to the practical aspects of the Christian life. Paul has been discussing how our union with Christ by faith changes who we are. We are new people with a new identity. Therefore the old person who we used to be is now gone. Paul tells us in v. 5 to put to death our old self and to put off the vices of worldliness.

Here in v. 12 Paul is going to instruct us what the character of Christ looks like in the Christian life. We must not simply stop doing the sinful activities of our past, but we must put on a new character and a new heart that is birthed out of our new identity in Jesus.

One of the things that I think will surprise you as we study this passage together today is just how much Paul discusses putting on the character of Christ within the Christian community of the church.

Some will claim a “me and Jesus” faith that has no need for the community of the church. They may claim to be able to worship just fine on the fishing boat or may claim to grow just fine disconnected from community and membership to a local body. Yet, this attitude is not found in the NT at all. The writers of the NT always assume that a follower of Christ is always connected to the body of Christ.

If you hope to grow in your relationship with Jesus and if you hope to increase in Christ-likeness it will not happen if you are severed from the church. God has ordained it that we grow together in the loving community of the church. If we hope to put on the character of Christ as Paul instructs us here today, we will see that he assumes it is done within the context of the local church.

If you have a desire for holiness and if you have a desire to live your life for the glory of God than you ought to have a desire to belong and participate in the life of the church as well. The church is God’s gift to us helping us to grow in our faith. As we dive in to our passage for today we will see it over and over again. Putting on the character of Christ is meant to happen within the Christian community of the local church.

In Jesus, we put on the character of Christ and grow through the community of Christ.

1. The Character of a Christian (v.12–14)

Paul kicks off his command of “Put on then” by reminding us of who we are. Again that theme of indicatives and imperatives reoccurs here again. Before Paul tells us what we must do as Christian he always reminds us of who we are. And just who are we?

Paul tells us that we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Paul reminds the colossians and reminds us that if you are a Christian who are the elect of God. Chosen to be a member of his family. You have been called by him to be set apart and you have been chosen by him to be a special object of his love as he unites you to his son Jesus Christ by faith.

Paul is reminding us again of our new identity in our Christian life. Our identity in Jesus is the source and power for any hope to put on the character of Christ. Because in Jesus we have been made holy, by the Power of God’s spirit we are able to live in holiness.

I must never cease in warning you of this: It is impossible to live the Christian life without first being made by God a Christian. When we come to Christ there is a fundamental change in who we are. We are made new. We are born again. We become new men and new women in Jesus. It is out of this new identity that we are able by the Spirit to not only put off our former way of life, but put on the character and love of Christ.

Five Virtues

So Paul describes the character of Christ in which we are to put on. Just as Paul gave us a few verses earlier of 5 vices to put off, here he gives us a list of 5 virtues that are to radiate from the Christian life. He tells us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Jesus transforms our very personality as he brings about the character of Christ in our life. In our Christian life we should seek to be growing in each of these areas.

Our ruthless merciless hearts should be growing more warm and compassionate towards others. The rudeness and selfishness that dominates our speech should be replaced with the kindness of Christ. Our sefl-suffeciency and pride should be replaced with a God given humility and meekness. Our irritableness and frustration with others should be replaced by divine patience for others struggles and weaknesses.

Bearing with One Another

Paul goes on to tell us that we should bear with one another, and be patient with one another. Here already you see the importance of community in growing in christ-likeness. It is easy to get frustrated with one another as church members isn’t it? We all have annoying little quirks and we all have areas of sin in our life and blindspots. Some of us are a little thick-headed and stubborn than others.

Yet maturity in Christ means that we are patient in bearing with one another. For those who are slow to learn we show humble patience. To those who hurt us and harm us we offer forgiveness. To those struggling with sin, we come along side and help them bear their struggle.

The immature Christian is a one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and gets filled with self-righteous frustration. The mature Christian is the one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and is filled with compassionate and loving patience.

For those of us who struggle with our weaker brothers and sisters perhaps we are not as mature in Christ as we’d like to think.

Forgiving One Another

Paul even tells us that those who have put on the character of Christ should make us forgiving people. A forgiving spirit is a sign of maturity in Christ. Those who hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness in their heart not only hurt their own soul but bring destruction and disunity on the church. The forgiveness of God changes us.

How has God forgiven us? Well he has forgiven us in the most costly of ways. That while we are sinners God sent his son, born in human flesh to absorb the penalty for our sin at the cross. Jesus stands in the gap and takes on our shame so that we could receive the favor of God and be adopted into his family. Our horrific, vile, and detestable sin has been forgiven by the blood of the lamb! The forgiveness of God is costly, it wasn’t cheap, and yet God generously gives it to all who might believe in his son Jesus Christ.

Again, I must urge you if you do not know Jesus and if you have yet to be forgiven by God, he is generous and merciful to receive all those who would turn from their sins and place their faith and trust in Jesus as their savior and Lord. Christians are not perfect people, but forgiven people. And God’s forgiveness shapes us and molds us into forgiving people.

So when you have conflict with other members in the church it is vital that you go and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. A church filled with gossip, bitterness, grudges, and tension is not a church that is growing in the image of Jesus Christ. We should be so quick to offer forgiveness when we fail each other and we must be quick to offer grace just as God in Christ has offered to us.

Paul says that above everything else that should define the character of a Christian, a Christian must be defined by love. As recipients of God’s love we love one another. Why is it that we refuse to forgive one another? Why is it that we are not humble or compassionate or patience towards others? It is because our hearts have not been filled with God’s love. Harmony in the church is achieved when the people of God genuinely and deeply love one another. It is the love of Christ that binds our hearts together and puts us together in perfect harmony.

2. The Community of a Christian (v. 15–17)

Paul tells us that the one of the distinguishing marks of the body of Christ should be one in which the peace of Christ rules. The church is to be a group of people growing together in christian maturity. We live under the rule of Christ and under his authority, and we live under the rule of his peace. In col 1:20 we are told that Jesus made peace by the blood of his cross. As we live our life under his Lordship that same peace should be evident in our churches.

The church should not be known for its back-bitting, grumbling, and complaining, but joyful peaceableness as we live under the rule of Jesus together, and for that we should be incredibly thankful to God that he allows us to be apart of this wonderful community of peace called the church.

But a question remains. How can our church became a community living under the peace of Christ? Why is it that most churches seem to be places of hostility not of peace?

Let the word of Christ Dwell in you richly

Well, I believe Paul gives us the answer of how that peace within the body is attained. We live under the peace of the rule of Christ if we allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly. That’s what Paul says isn’t it in verse 16.

As we think about Forest Hills Baptist Church none of us can claim any sense of ownership to this body. Even though I’m a pastor, this isn’t my church. Even though you might have been born and raised in this church, Forest Hills is not your church. The one who owns us, who controls us, and who rules over us all is Jesus Christ himself. After all, he is the one who bought us by his own blood.

This is hugely important for us to grasp. If Jesus rules over us as his body, then that means that his Word is the final authority when it comes to our church. It means that every member of this church should submit our lives to the Scripture not only our personal lives but also in our church.

The reason there is so much hostility in some churches is because their is a conflict of authority. The church is not the place for you to come and exert your own influence, control, and your own way of doing things. When people begin to act like this, conflict ensues and rivalries develop. When Jesus’ word is replaced by our own personal authorities we cease to be His church.

So let me make it clear in case there is any doubt, as pastors of Forest Hills Baptist Church we will only lead our church under the rule of God’s word. God’s word will be our authority, not the opinions and preferences of our members. Why? Because we want the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, therefore we want to allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly.

Corporate Worship

v. 16 has a lot to teach us when it comes to cooperate worship. One implication is that it means that the word of God takes the primary seat in all we do, particularly in our corporate worship.

This is why there is such an emphasis on the teaching of the Bible here at Forest Hills, because we want to let the word of God dwell within us as a body. As a result, it gets the lions share of time as we come together. The preaching of the word of God and the teaching of the word of God are essential and primary in the life of the church.

In every generation there seems to be an attack on the preaching of the word, but in our own day preaching is especially attacked by a focus of shifting our church worship towards entertainment. There is great pressure for churches to make their worship services something that will attract a large crowd through large scale musical productions, skits, videos, flashing lights, fog machines, and overpowering decibels of volume. The preaching of the word is being reduced to a 15 minute sermonette in which preachers become less like prophets heralding the truth of the Gospels but stand up comedians who tickle itching ears.

Some will doubt that the word of God will be effective in reaching this next generation. The Bible isn’t enough, we need to bolster it with our own ingenuity or we need to come along and bolster the Bible. Some may say that the Bible isn’t enough at all that it should be jettisoned and replaced in the church with something new and fashionable.

Let me tell you something, the word of God is enough. Whenever a man of God stands before a church with the Scriptures miracles happen. Why? Because the Spirit of God works to save the lost and grow the saved through the faithful preaching and teaching of the word.

May God forgive us for making worship about our own entertainment than about God’s own glory. At Forest Hills we are committed to treasuring Christ in worship by seeking to fill our hearts with the word of Christ! Does this mean worship is only preaching? No, not at all.

In the same focus of letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly Paul tells us to use psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to admonish one another with the word of God. Music can be a powerful way to instruct one another with the word of Christ. This is exactly what Paul tells us to do, to admonish one another with the word of God.

When it comes to music in our worship we must always make sure that we are singing towards God in worship but also singing to one another. The point of music isn’t to set a mood, draw attention to soloists or the musician ship of worship leaders, but rather it should function as admonishing one another with the word.

There are few principles of how I think Colossians 3:16 gives us guide when it comes to understanding our singing.

  1. Our songs should be dripping in Scripture.
  2. Our Songs should be directed towards God.
  3. Our songs should be admonishing one another.
  4. Our songs should be sung with thankfulness to God.

The summation of the Christian life both individually and corporately has one aim and one aim only, the glory of God. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, so everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” v. 17.

As we put off our old way of life and as we put on the character of Christ in the community of the church may our life’s purpose be to the glory of God. In whatever we say and whatever we do may our ambition for God’s glorious name be the driving motive in it all. The Christian is one who lives his life wrapped up entirely in Christ. There is no such thing as being to committed or to devoted to Jesus. Christ is our life. He is Lord over all. His peace rules over us as we live in our community of love together allowing the word of God to dwell in our hearts and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Don’t you want to be a part of a community like this? There are some of you that are incredibly connected and invested in the community of Forest Hills Baptist Church, but there are many of you that are not. You come to an event on Sunday morning but you are not engaged in the community of the saints. Your not a member of our church, you are not connected to a Sunday School class, or you are not engaged in serving the body in any way. Let me challenge you today to get connected to what God is doing here in us. If you want to grow in your faith and put on the character of Christ you need the body. You can’t do it on your own.

If you are interested in joining in membership to our church I’d love to talk to you about that after the service. We have our membership class starting again in just a few weeks and we’d love to get you learning more about what it means to be a covenant member at our church.

For some of you who are members perhaps you need to pray today about investing in this community with your time and with your resources. Maybe you need to recommit to pursuing holiness by committing to regularly participating in the life of the church. We need one another to grow together in Christ. Will you join us as we come together as a church to put on the character of Christ together for the glory of God.

Christ Over All: Christ is Your Life

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Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4, ESV)

Can people really change? We tend to be skeptical don’t we? We seems to be pessimistic about people’s ability to change, including Christians.

That lady in our Sunday School class who continually gossips and complain, seems to be destined to do so forever.

That Negative friend who always tears everyone else down always tends to be negative forever.

That brother who is enslaved to the brown bag of liquor seems to never be able to break away from his slavery.

The prideful pastor who thinks so highly of himself continually looks down on others as inferior.

The teenager who seems addicted to pornography and just can’t seem to break away from the enslaving pictures on his computer screen.

The husband who seems unable to love his wife because he lusts after other women seems to forever do so.

As we encounter these people and even ourselves it is easy for us to just throw up our hands and say, “He’s just being who he is, people never change!”

Yet, the Bible teaches us that people can change. A prideful punk kid named Joseph becomes a humble obedient servant of God. A weak and cowardly man named Gideon went on to be a mighty warrior for God. The bloodthirsty Paul who made it his life work to kill Christians became the world’s greatest Christian missionary. Change is possible and the Bible is filled with stories of men and woman who change when they encounter God.

Yet, we tend to be very confused about the Christian life often thinking we can do it ourselves within our own might or we tend to just throw up our hands and give up! How do people truly change? How can we really grow in our Christian walk? How do we deal with these sins that seem so enslaving to us?

The key to true change rests in our identity in Christ. As we study Colossians today we will see that, We must have our identity in Christ if we hope to live the Christian life.

Colossians So Far

To understand the significance of these four verses at the start of Colossians 3 we have to understand the rich theology and doctrine that Paul has been teaching us so far. He begins the body of his letter by celebrating Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. He highlights Jesus as the divine creator who is pre-eminiant over all. Just like our series title states, Christ is Over All. He rules and has authority.

Paul has also been teaching heavily on our union with Christ. Paul emphasis that the identity and life of the Christian is tied to the person of Christ. By faith we are united to Christ and we live our life in him. We are saved by the blood of Christ as he reconciles us back to the father. Through Jesus’ life and death we are united, wedded to him by grace.

Therefore, we should not go back to worldly rules and regulations for they are of no value and unable to truly change. Paul has addressed the false teaching happening in the church warning them and condemning these false teaching as worldly and of no value. Rules and regulations cannot get us any closer to God and rules and regulations cannot change us. Behavior modification seems to be all the rage today as we try to manage our vices through will power, but Paul tells us that its an empty pursuit. You can’t change your heart by managing your external behavior. True change must go deeper. We can’t truly kill the weeds in our life by mowing them down. We must get on our hands and needs and allow the Spirit to pull up our sin by the root.

The puritan John Owen said it like this, “mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world…all other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”

Colossians 3:1–4 serves as a pivotal change in the book of Colossians. Largely what has been taught in Colossians so far is deep teaching and doctrine. These first four verses mark the transition from Paul’s teaching of doctrine to his applying it in the Christian life. Christian Doctrine and Application are not two separate ideas. Christian thinking must always lead to Christian living. Paul takes these four verses in Colossians 3 in order to help demonstrate how our union with Christ fuels the ethical teaching he begins to teach in chapter 3. True change results from finding our identity in Christ. The more fully we understand our union with Christ the more our life is filled with Christ’s life. Paul in these verses actually is going to make an even bolder claim - You cannot live the Christian life without first being united to Christ by faith.

Two Great Mistakes When it Comes to the Christian Life

Many Christians tend to be confused over the essence of the Christian life. From my observations (and also from Paul as we’ve seen in Colossians) there tend to be two opposite but equally dangerous understandings of the Christian life. Before we talk about what the Christian life is, lets first talk about what it is not. Here are the two mistakes in understanding the Christian life.

1. The Mistake of AntiNomianism

AntiNominanism is simply the idea that as a Christian we simply don’t care about holiness or the Christian life at all. AntiNomianism literally means “against the law”. The first dangerous mistake about the Christian life is to not care about the Christian life at all. These so called Christians will point back to some point of time in which they made a decision for Christ but then go on to live completely apathetic to Jesus. These people really don’t care what Jesus says about their lifestyle. “Who cares if I sin, I made a decision twenty years ago”. These people continue to live in sin, unrepentantly thinking Jesus doesn’t care about their sexual sin, their materialism and selfishness, and their entertainment choices. Those who reject the Christian life think of salvation as simply a get-out-of hell free card like you’d pick up in the monopoly game. Salvation for them is just fire insurance, something to pick up before they die, but completely avoid the Christian life. These are the professed Christians who refuse to belong to a church, refuse to repent from sin, and refuse to live out there faith in any visible way. These are those who claim to be healthy trees but who produce bad fruit, not good fruit.

“he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:22–23, ESV)

2. The Mistake of Legalism

An equally dangerous mistake in the Christian life is to think that the Christian life is what causes us to achieve salvation. This is the mistake of legalism. Its the complete opposite of antinomianism. While antinomianism says I’m saved so who cares how i Lives, legalism says “I care how I live, so that I can be saved”. Legalists put up rules and regulations and intensely pursue good Christian living in hopes that they might be good enough to garner salvation. Legalism rejects grace and salvation by faith in exchange for a works based righteousness. The legalist thinks that what saves him is his own goodness, not the grace of God. Paul also addressed the danger of legalism in colossians too doesn’t he?

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—” (Colossians 2:20, ESV)

So the Christian life is not anti-nomianism meaning Jesus doesn’t care how I live at all, and the Christian life is not legalism meaning I have to live the Christian life to earn my salvation. What is the correct way to think about the Christian life?

The Correct Understanding of the Christian Life

The Christian life results from understanding who we are in Christ and we live our life out of that identity of being in Christ.

It is important we understand the order Paul gives us. He first lays out the indicatives of the Gospel, before ever giving us the imperatives. What are indicatives - Well those indicative verbs are those that express meaning and identity. The indicatives tell us who we are. So in Colossians 1–2 Paul has been outlining who we are in Christ. At the start of Chatper three he tells us “If then you have been been raised” or “For You have died”. In other words, Paul says that before we have any hope of living the Christian life we must first and foremost understand who we are in Christ.

Paul is preparing to outline for us so very practical ethical teaching of the Christian life. He is going to spend most of chapter three telling us how the Gospel impacts our life. How it tells us to put off an old sinful morality in exchange for a new morality and new life in Jesus. However, it all hinges on this important clause at the start of the chapter. Paul only admonishes us to attempt to live these things out because we have been united, and thus raised in the new life of Christ. “If then you have been raised with Christ”

So the indicatives of the Gospel - Who we are in Christ always come first. The imperatives are the commands - Do this, do that. So Paul says if you have been raised (indicative), seek the things that are above (imperative) the imperatives always come after the indicatives. This importance is crucial and the antidote to the mistake of anti-nominanism and legalism. It corrects both of the mistakes. When we are truly born again, saved by faith in Jesus it changes who we are. We have a fundamental change in identity. That identity then leads to new behavior and a new life.

So our identity in Christ leads to new action. Just what is our identity though in Christ? Who are we know that we are in Jesus?

  • In Christ, I am perfectly righteous, given the righteousness of Jesus I now stand before God blameless before him.
  • In Christ, I am a blessed given all the inheritance of heaven as my possession and given new life.
  • In Christ, I am adopted into the family of God. I live my life as a son or daughter of the king of kings.
  • In Christ, I am accepted though other people might reject me or mock me, in Jesus I have the full and permanent acceptance of God.
  • In Christ, I am reconciled through the blood of Jesus God has brought peace to my soul and I am no longer an enemy of God, but his friend.
  • In Christ, I am new. My old life has passed away and I am now a new Creation in Jesus Christ. My past no longer enslaves me because in Jesus I have his new resurrected life.
  • In Christ, I am protected from the powers of darkness and my own sin. God holds me in his hand.
  • In Christ, I am victorious as I live my life in the resurrected victory of Christ, though sorrows and defeats may come in this life, my life is sealed in the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • In Christ, I am loved greater than I ever hoped to be because God saw me at my worst and still choose me to be his child.

You see, when we understand our identity that is in Christ, when we grasp the indicatives of the Gospel then we have the Spirit’s power to enable us to live out the imperatives of the Gospel. True change in the Christian life results of seeking to live our life out of our new identity in Jesus Christ.

  • Because I’m righteous in Christ, means that I seek to live righteously because that’s who I am.
  • Because I’ve been made holy by Jesus, this means I hate my sin and loath it and long to rid it from my life.
  • Because I’m God’s child, it means I want to live in a way that bring honor to my Father seeking always to obey his will.
  • Because I am a new creation, its foolish for me to go back to an old sinful way of living.
  • Because I am victorious in Christ, sin no longer has an enslaving hold over me and can be put together by the Spirit’s power.
  • Because I am accepted in Christ, I can live my life without fear of failure. Though I may fail in defeating my sin, God in his grace covers my failure in Christ’s acceptance.

This is why Paul gives the indicatives “You have been raised” before he gives us the command “Seek the things that are above” or “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”. As we seek to live our Christian life we must always seek to live out our identity that comes from our union with Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Our Life is Christ

Another principle from this passage that is hugely important from this passage is that all of our life belongs to God. If we understand that the Christian life is a change in our identity and a change of who we are, it means that all of our life must be lived out in that identity. If we are joined to Christ by faith, it means all of our life is his!

We tend to compartmentalize our life so much as Christians. We have our life broken up into neat little segments that should not intersect with one another. I have my work life, family life, entertainment, life, church life, spiritual life, financial life all separated in individual containers that don’t interact or touch. This is not a correct understanding of the Christian life. The Christian understands that Jesus is the center of everything he does. All areas and compartments of our life come under his authority. Our identity in Christ must be evident in every area of our life. From what we say to what we watch, from what we read to how we spend our money. Christ is Lord over every inch of our lives. Christ is over all your life, not just a segment of your life. Christ is either Lord over all, or he is not Lord at all.

“If God be God over us, we must yield him universal obedience in all things. He must not be over us in one thing, and under us in another, but he must be over us in every thing.” - Peter Bulkeley

What areas of your life is not under Jesus authority?

Understanding the Christian Hope

Paul fleshes out this idea that if our life is in Christ, if we have both died and raised with him then our life is hidden with God. The idea behind this word hidden is not so much a secret, but God’s protection. When we turn our life over to God and place our life in his hands. When we by faith make him Lord over all, we place our life in good hands.

Al Parish was a professor from my college Charleston Southern University. He was an economics and business professor who garnered quite a lot of prestige in the community. But, it came to find out that Parish squandered nearly $90 million from about 460 investors in what the government called a massive Ponzi scheme. His personal wardrobe alone was valued at $2 million. His chartered-jet travel bills ran as high as $1 million, authorities said.

Many in the Charleston community had put their lives savings in this man’s hands to manage for them. The investment and trust in this man proved to be incredibly tragic.

How opposite is this from us trusting our lives to God! When we hide our lives and place them in his hands, he will not lose us and he will not disappoint us. Rather, by the power of God we will be preserved continuing in Christ as we seek to live the Christian life. When we are united to Christ it is a permanent union that cannot be separate though we fail in stumble. If we have truly been born again and if our identity has truly changed by the grace of God, our life is hidden with Christ.

When Christ appears, this Christ who is our very life, we too will also share in his glory. How amazing is this! We who were sinners, who were enemies with God have now been brought into share in the very glory of Christ. Because we are connected and united to him by faith when Christ comes again we will not only be saved from our sins but we will share in his glory.

God in his divine power will make sure we become who God says we are. As we seek to live the Christian life we struggle and its often tough killing our sin and living in obedience. Yet, When Christ our life appears this long pilgrim journey called the Christian life will come to fruition. In a twinkling of an eye we will be changed. The process of our sanctification will be made complete and those whom God has justified he will glorify!

Can We Change?

So can people really change? Yes, but true change only comes by having a change in identity. True change can only come by receiving a new heart.

Do you want to change? The first thing you have to ask yourself is do you know Christ? Have you turned from your sins and given Christ your life. Have you put your faith in Jesus and trusted him as your savior and as your Lord? If not, change will continue to be an impossible task. Sure you may be able to change a behavior here or there by your will power, but you cannot change your heart. Only God can do such a thing. If you do not know Jesus, I invite you to come and put your faith in him and experience a new identity that gives you the power of God to truly change.

For those of you seeking to live out the Christian life, remind yourself of you who are. Remind yourself of your identity with Christ, and let the incredible transforming love of God shape you and mold you into his image. Yes, the Christian life can be difficult. Putting to death our sin is tough work as we will see next week, but it is possible and it is possible only because God has given you a new identity through Jesus. Christian, Christ is your life. Do not put the imperatives before the indicatives. Today in your struggles remind yourself of who you are in Christ and rest in the fact that when Christ is your life, by the power of God when he returns your journey will come to an end and you will appear with Christ in perfect glory.

Christ Over All: Let No One Disqualify You

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Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly at the church’s website. Note: Sermon Audio for this sermon started late.  The first several minutes of the sermon did not record.

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:16–23, ESV)

From the dawn of the Christian faith, the church has always struggled with adding to Jesus. Every false teaching is some variation or form of seeking to add to what Jesus has done. Teachers will come and argue for new revelations or new rules to follow or promote a self-made religion of works.

God’s grace is so radical that we tend to have a hard time believing it. Are we really saved completely and totally by grace? Don’t I need to do something to earn it? Is Jesus enough, don’t I need to add other ideas and beliefs to him? Do I need to create new rules or have new experiences to be more connected to God?

In our passage today we are going to see Paul take on the false teaching in Colossians and refute it by telling us there is nothing we need that we do not already have in Christ!

1. Do not judge other Christians with man-made rules (v. 16–17)

False Teaching: In addition to believing in Jesus, you must follow strict rules about eating and drinking, celebrating certain festivals, new moons, and strictly following the Sabbath.

Paul’s Criticism: Rules and regulations are but foreshadow to the substance which is Christ.

Paul connects this passage to the last. You will remember he lays the ground work for how we should respond to false teaching. Jesus by his power put to open shame all the teaching and wisdom of men. Jesus, possession all the fullness of God, unites us to himself. As we are joined to him by faith we are die to ourselves and we are raised in the new life of Jesus. Our life is wedded, joined, fashioned, united in Christ. Just as a husband and a wife become one flesh in their marriage convenient, so too do we become one in Christ as our life is united to his life.

Dangers of Legalism

Paul tells us not to let anyone pass any judgement on us because of our union with Christ. If we are in Jesus, than no one can pass judgement on us. Apparently there were some false teachers in Colossae that were teaching that you had to add to Jesus by adding extra man-made rules. We get a glimpse of some of those in v. 16. The teachers seemed to be arguing that a Christian should eat or drink certain things, be sure to celebrate certain festivals and new moons, and be sure to strictly observe the Sabbath.

There will always be those Christians who are more pharisee than Christian. They argue that as Christians you have to add certain rules and actions before you become a Christian. It’s not salvation by grace alone, but its grace plus your ability to keep their man made rules. All the rules of legalism tend to shift a little bit in every generation of the church, there is this tendency to want to add to what it means to be a Christian.

Baptists in particular have been a little notorious for this the past few decades haven’t we? You will here people say that you can’t be a Christian if you have a glass of wine with dinner or that you can’t be a Christian if you smoke or you can’t be a Christian if you dance or you can’t be a Christian if you don’t dress a certain way. You can’t be a Christian if you go to the movie theater or if you listen to any type of music other than church music. Some will even say that a Christian can only listen to certain styles of music

You see it in worship services it comes up again and again with our own list of expectations. All deacons must wear a coat and tie when passing out the Lord Supper. All pastors should be clean shaven. All music in church should only accompanied by a piano and organ. We have to do things in a certain way in a certain method.

Legalism is when our traditions (which can be good things) become fast-hard rules in addition to the Bible’s teaching. Legalism tends to focus on external behavior while neglecting our internal hearts. So its funny we tend to be legalistic about appearance or about behaviors (like dancing or drinking) but we tend to completely ignore things of the heart (like pride or gossip).

So why is legalism a mistake? The reason is because it thinks we can earn God’s favor or acceptance by following certain rules. The problem is that it teaches we earn God’s favor by rule following not God’s grace. So when we begin to add a bunch or rules to the Christian faith that the Bible doesn’t outline, then we begin to add to Jesus and thus create a religion of works not of grace.

Look at Paul’s reason why this rules are empty. In v. 17 he tells us that they are shadows of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Paul is pulling some language from greek philosophy, particularly platonic thought. But the idea of this is, the body and the shadow.

When I was a little kid, around 2 years old, I was out in Texas as my Dad was in seminary in Fort Worth. My parents would take me outside on a nice hot Texas day, but as I was outside playing or going for a walk and then I would start freaking out. I’d start screaming and getting distraught. It took my parents to figure out what was wrong with me, but they began to figured out that the problem was that I was afraid of my own shadow. Little toddler Justin couldn’t comprehend that the shadow is connected and points back to me. The shadow isn’t a separate thing that exists by itself, but I’m the one that’s causing the shadow.

Christian Freedom

Paul says its the same way with the Law and any other rules and regulations. They all point to Christ. He is the substance, he is the one that causes the shadow. To be a legalist is to fear the shadow and not the one causing it. Jesus satisfied all the demands, rules, and laws in your place. There is no more work for us to do. It is finished.

Paul is teaching us here that the Christian is free when it comes to those things. The Christian has freedom in Christ to eat what he wishes to eat, drink what he wishes to drink, wear what he wishes to wear, you get the point. “For freedom Christ has set us free”.

So why are we free from legalistic-man made laws? Because in Christ we are justified and righteous. If you have been united by Jesus you have received perfect righteousness. Therefore, you cannot earn God’s favor by creating a strict set of rules and expectations for you to follow. God has already given you his favor and acceptance. Therefore no one can judge you concerning food or drink, or anything else.

Free to Pursue Holiness Not Sin

I must exercise one word of caution here. The Christian is completely and totally free in Christ. God’s grace is that radical and scandalous. Yet, the improper response is to say, well if I’m already justified and free, then I’ll go do whatever it is I want to do! I’m getting drunk tonight or I’ll be first in line to the 50 shades of grey movie releasing this week. Our freedom in Christ does not give us freedom to sin. Rather, the Christian has been changed in such a way that his hearts longing is holiness. The Christian is free to pursue holiness.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1–4, ESV)

2. Do not seek after new religious experiences, but hold to Christ. (v. 18–19)

False Teaching: In addition to Jesus, you must seek after additional emotional religious experiences and new spiritual revelations.

Paul’s Criticism: Christ is the head, from which the whole body gets nourished and is joined together and grows. To seek experiences disconnected form Jesus is to be disconnected from God.

There are those who seem to look down on other Christians because of their spiritual experiences. These false teachers were doing just that. They were looking at the Colossians Christians and disqualifying them because they were not having the same “experiences with God” that they were having. But these mystical experiences with God these false teachers were advocating are extremely dangerous.

We are told that they were insisting on asceticism. What is that? Well its for religious reasons avoiding any sort of indulgence. They avoid any such worldly pleasure or comfort in order to get closer to god. So these teachers were practicing hermit type lifestyles, worshiping angels, in or order to receive spiritual experiences and visions. These false teachers were looking for new revelations and new insights and new spiritual experiences that would accelerate their spiritual growth. They were experience chasers always looking for the next powerful goosebump type moment. They were seeking for new things to add to the Christian faith and new insights in visions. Paul says that these false teachers became puffed up, looking down on Christians because they were not having the same “spiritual experiences” and “intimacy with God” that they were.

Paul tells them to hold fast to Christ the head. He is the source of all spiritual growth. There is no need to abandon Jesus to go look for other spiritual truths or experiences. As a Christian, united to Christ, all the fulness of God has been given to us, poured into our hearts as the Spirit of God indwells within us. Paul tells us that spiritual growth happens as we stay connected to Jesus, the head, not abandoning him to look for something else.

Paul’s illustration here is very helpful for us. Jesus the head of the body, keeps it nourished and knit together in unity. He joins it together and he causes it to grow. So Paul’s criticism of the false teaching is this: to seek experiences disconnected form Jesus is to be disconnected from God.

The image Jesus gives us of the vine in the branches from John 15 continues to be helpful for us as we think about Paul’s point here. Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches. When we remain connected to him we have access to spiritual life and power that comes from Christ as the source. If the branch is removed from that source of spiritual nourishment it will quickly die. So these false teachers were leaving the vine of Jesus to go seek nourishment elsewhere. The only problem with that is this, only in Jesus is their spiritual life.

Spring will quickly be coming an one of the great things about spring is flowers! Daisies, roses, lilies, the list goes on and on. What happens though as soon as you cut that flower from the plant? It begins to die. Slowly and surely its losing its life because it is no longer connected to its source of nourishment. The same thing happens when you cut a branch on the tree. It might look alive at the moment, but it will eventually wither and die. Those who seek spiritual experiences and revelations apart from Jesus too are disconnected from the head and will thus die.

The emotional experience cycle

Many Christians have bought into this false teaching here of looking for the next spiritual experience. I remember in my high school years in particular when I was a young Christian trying to learn what it meant to follow Christ. So much of my relationship with Jesus was tied to spiritual experience. It seemed like I was dependent on some emotional moment or big spiritual conference or event to help me feel close to God to help grow. So may relationship with God was like a roller coaster. When I went to a youth event or a conference I felt connected to God and when I got to my normal everyday high school life, God seemed far away. I found in my heart to begin looking to the next big spiritual experience to cause spiritual growth in my life.

Here is what I began to realize and here is what I’m still learning, because I’m united to Christ and he lives in me I can live every day in closeness and intimacy with God. I don’t need some mystical event to cause closeness with God, I’m already close with God because the Spirit dwells within me. I’m united to Christ! So the key to Christian growth is not looking towards some outside spiritual experience, but understanding deeper the experience of Grace that God has given me in my union with Christ. The key to Christian growth is by staying connected to the head, Jesus by daily staying close to his word and abiding in Jesus.

This is one of the dangers I see with some of our more charismatic brothers and sisters. They are brothers and sisters in Christ, but I do think they tend to over emphasize spiritual experience sometimes to an idolatrous level. It’s all about the next emotional event, speaking in the tongues of angels, etc. As I’ve participated in worship with more charismatic brothers sometimes I leave scratching my head asking, “Were we worshiping Jesus or were we just chasing some sort of experience?”

So it is becoming more common to import mystic ideas into Christianity. We start looking for a new Christian book, a new bible study, or a new guru to helps us deeply experience God. We begin to chase after anything other than God as revealed in his word. We think we need something new to add to help us in our Christian life. Jesus and the Scriptures are just simply not enough.

A Word on the book “Jesus Calling”

On extremely book that represents this idolatry of the experience is an extremely popular devotional book called “Jesus Calling”. This is a devotional book that is written as if Jesus is speaking directly to the reader. But the author Sarah Young describes her writing of this book, and her comments reveal the danger of this book, and why it should be avoided by Christians. Listen to this quote from the author Sarah Young on the creation of her book:

“The following year, I began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believe He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my prayer journal.”

The book is written as if Jesus is speaking to the reader, but the author Sarah Young makes a far more audacious claim that Jesus is actually speaking through her. She sees that the Bible is sufficient and she needs new revelations she needs a new spiritual experience in addition and a new vision.

Why do I bring up this book, because doesn’t this book illustrate exactly what Paul is warning about here in Colossians? There will always be those who claim to have hidden insight into God that others lack and those who seek to forsake Christ for mystical spiritual experiences.

So a quick word to those of you who use this book as a devotion or something like it. You don’t need Sarah Young to channel a new word to you from Jesus. You have the word of Jesus right here in the Scriptures! It is more than enough. Growth in Christ comes when we are connected to our head Jesus Christ. We don’t need to leave the vine to go searching for new revelations or new experiences to add to Jesus. He is enough!

3. Do not think you can change yourself by rules. (v. 20–23)

False Teaching: The source of true change is to submit to a strict rule system and avoid anything worldly so that you can change yourself.

Paul’s Criticism: True change happens by God as we press into our union with Christ, not through self-made religion and worldly regulations.

Paul then asks a rhetorical question in light of these false teachers in v. 20. The question is this, “If in Christ you died to the world, why would you still live in according the the ways of the world?”

Paul then sums up some of the common phrases of the false teachers. Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch! We must avoid everything and by avoiding everything we are able to get close to God! Paul tells us that this philosophy made by men may seem like wisdom, but its actually not. Rather, it is simply promoting a self-made religion that cannot in any way change our hearts. It is of no value when it comes to stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

The Idol of the Self-Made Man

Americans tend to have a ideal of the self-made man or woman. We like to think that we can change ourselves and we can fix it if we only try harder or get more disciplined. We like to think we can pull ourselves by our boot straps and make ourselves a success. But the ideal of a self-made man is impossible when it comes to true and deep spiritual change.

These false teachers thought they could create change in their lives by following rules and regulations, but Paul says this self-made religion has no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. No matter how you mange your external behavior true change comes from our union with Christ. True change comes from a heart transformed by God’s grace. We are changed from the inside out, not the outside in.

As a pastor I get to spend a lot of time talking to people about their struggles, sin, and issues. I’ve noticed we are so quick to want an easy 3-step answer to our problems. We want a 3-step program to solving our marriage problems, fighting sexual lust, dealing with our drunkenness, or solving our financial problems.

Next week we will get to explore this idea more thoroughly as we start Colossians 3, but we must understand how change works in the Christian life. Change in us is caused by God as we connect ourselves to Jesus. Change happens to us by the Spirit as he deepens our love and relationship with Jesus. We cannot change ourselves, but rather we must depend on God to change us!

Much of what’s called preaching today in churches isn’t proclaiming Christ but promoting a self-help, self-made religion. It encourages you to solve your own problem and gives you 5 steps to a better life. A lot of what’s called preaching is simply the heretical cliche of “God helps those who helps themselves”. Here is what we have to understand, we cannot help ourselves.

Final Thoughts

We cannot save ourselves by rules, and we cannot experience God by fabricating spiritual experiences, and we cannot change ourselves by our own might. We cannot add to Jesus. He alone is all we need. We must recognize our need for a savior. We must become more aware that it is only by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we have forgiveness and new life. Jesus is the source of our salvation. He is the only way to experience God and he is the only one who can cause really and lasting change.

If you are not a Christian today, I invite you to turn from your sins and trust in this Jesus who gives you life.

If you are Christian, do not let anyone judge you or disqualify you. In Jesus you possess the fulness of God. You have his righteousness. You have the same relationship to God the father as Jesus the son has. You can change and be made new all because of Jesus Christ. So do not rely on yourself and do not try to add to what Jesus has done. May God put to death any efforts to self-made religion and led us to fall on our knees this morning wholly dependent upon Jesus who is Lord over all.