Christ Over All: Alive in Christ

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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

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 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 2:6–15, ESV)

We all wear glasses. We all look at the world through a filter to better understand ourselves and all that we observe. These glasses are called a Worldview. Either these glasses will help us see the world as it is, or it will distort the world like a fun house mirror.

Everything is religious, and our religious beliefs are pivitol in determining our worldview. Theology used to be thought of as the queen of the sciences, ruling supreme over every other intellectual discipline. Our religious beliefs filter who we interpret scientific date to how we interpret literature. Our worldview impacts everything we see and think.

Paul urges the Colossiasn to be firm in Christ and to walk in him. He wants them to be established in the teaching of Christ. He wants their worldview to be determined by Jesus. So Paul teaches that Jesus is greater than all other worldview because in him the fullness of God dwells bodily.

1. Do Not Be Captivated by False World Views

Paul is concerned about false teaching and there is some heresy cropping up within the church that he is concerned about. We will see more about this Heresy next week on the specific false teaching the Colossians were facing, but to give you sneak peek for today, it was some sort of syncretism. Now that’s a big word. What does syncretism mean? Imagine syncretism is K&W Cafeteria. What do you do at a cafeteria? Well you go in, you make your way through the line and you get to pick your own meal. Maybe you take some fried chicken, some green beans, maybe a yeast roll – you get the picture you assemble you meal based off of your personal preferences.

Well syncretism is a when you turn religion and philosophies into a cafeteria. Maybe you take a little from Christianity, a little bit from eastern mysticism, a little bit from pluralism, etc. Now what makes syncretism so difference is that people often don’t notice they are doing it. What happens is slowly over time people create a faith and religion of their own making.

This is the issue that was going on in the Colossian church and it is the same one going on int he church today. Slowly but surely we will start adding to the Christian faith and importing popular philosophies of the day into the church.

We must be on guard against our syncretistic tendencies to compromise the Christian faith with false teaching. So though our modern philosophies might be a little different than the ones the Colossians were facing, we too have popular ideologies that we must be careful not to import into Christianity. Let me share three of the most common in the south.

3 Most Common False World Views

1. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Moralistic therapeutic deism (or MTD for short) is a term that was first introduced in the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005) by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton.

So its moralistic because the concern is to have a happy life by being a good person and being nice to others. Good people go to heaven, so the emphasize is on being moral.

Therapeutic, meaning that God exists simply to affirm you and to make you feel good about yourself. He is a God who does not judge any decision you make, he just wants you to love yourself as you are.

Deism, meaning God doesn’t interfere with my life. He largely lets me do whatever it is I want to do and i live my life apart from him and only helps when asked. He is like a divine butler that exists to serve me when I ring my bell.

MTD is a diluted, watered-down version of Christianity that is actually anti-Christian. Hundreds of thousands of people who check Christian on the US census actually are not Christian but adopt to MTD. The cultural Christianity we see all around us is simply Moralistic Therapeutic Deism masked as the Christian faith.

Let me say this strongly enough to get our attention – if moralistic therapeutic deism describes you than you simply are not a Christian. Not in any biblical sense. The Bible does not teach moralistic therapeutic deism, but rather Redemptive God-Centered Theism

Redemptive: There is a grave issue humanity and it is that we are sinners. Our hearts are corrupted and no good we do can please God. Our only hope is the God who takes initiative to redeem us in Jesus. The emphasis is not to live a moral life, but to be redeemed by Jesus.

God-Centered: God doesn’t exist for you as your butler or therapist, rather God exists for God – doing all things for the glory of your name. To be truly happy is to find our identity in God’s, God-Centeredness.

Theism God is not distant and inactive, rather he is present and ruling. The Christian lives his whole life under the rule and lordship of Jesus. The Christian is not his or her own, but understands that he has been bought with a price and has been redeemed to bring God Glory.

2. Religious Pluralism/Tolerance

Similar to MTD, this is the philosophy that there is really no one way to God. All religions just lead to the same pathway. So whether your hindu, Islamic, buddhist, jewish, or Christian everyone is just worshiping the same God.

This theology is demonstrated in the “coexist” number stickers we see on cars and mini-fans. All religious are right and it is just a matter of personal taste which one you choose. All that matters is that you just believe.

What’s the problem? Well, first, all the truth claims of these different religions are contradicting. Either God exists in trinity or he doesn’t. Either Jesus is the only way, or he’s not. Religious pluralism breaks one of the fundamental logical laws, the law of noncontradiction. Secondly, the Bible affirms that Jesus is the ONLY way to God.

3. Materialism/Atheism

All that is is the material world. The universe is a cosmic accident, random and pointless. As many in our culture begin to adopt the religion of atheism, they live there life as their is no God.

The philosophies of men are like fashion trends, as soon as they go out of style they come back in style. By the time I’m in my 70s, if God gives me that long of a life, who knows what the thinking and popular worldview of the day may be. Chasing after them is like standing on shifting sand or like chasing a helium balloon on a windy day. Paul instructs us to walk in Christ – to be firm and established in him. Rooted and built up. Christians will always be faced to adjust or modify the Christian faith to bring it in with the modern times. Yet Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As Christians we can not be victim to temporary intellectual trends but rather hold firm to the eternal word of God which teaches us that Christ is all.

Do not be held captive by false world views, but rather be captivated by the fulness of Christ.

2. Be Captivated by the Fulness of Christ

Paul’s answer to why we should be held captive by Christ above every other philosophy or worldview is essential. He says that the reason we should think and live according to Christ is because the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily in him.

Paul is pulling back up language from the Christ Hymn earlier in chapter 1. Jesus is God. He reigns and rules over all. Indeed, that is the title of this series through Colossians – Christ Over All. Here Paul sees Jesus the essential philosophy or worldview because Jesus is God.

His logic here is pretty simple but so very neglected in our modern thinking. If there is a God whose created the world, wouldn’t we want to hear how he thinks about the world? Isn’t the truest perspective the one given to us by God?

Imagine for a second you were getting ready to go on an Amazon Expedition. You’ve never even set foot on a nature trail, but you are set on walking through the Amazon Rainforest. You get on a plane and travel down to South America. As you prepare for your hike through a dangerous and unknown journey you meet a man who offers you his help. He’s grown up in the rainforest and he knows it like the back of his hand. He’s helped many tourist make the expedition. He knowns the dangerous areas and he knows how to avoid getting swallowed by an Anaconda or eaten by piranhas. Yet, you stubbornly refuse his help, insisting that you navigate it on your own without any help. So you set out in the rainforest unequipped, inexperienced, and probably to your own doom.

As we seek to understand the world we live in on our own, its as foolish as going into the Amazon without a guide. So as we seek to understand the world we live in, shouldn’t we listen and follow the teaching of the one who has created it?

Is Jesus enough? Is he enough to understand the world? Can he give answers to my perplexing questions? Do I need to add to Jesus and to his Gospel. Should I seek to incorporate other worldview and philosophies into my Christian faith? Can I take Jesus and sprinkle in a little mysticism along with a little deism and then add a little bit of materialism. Humanity is not just idol makers, we are religion makers. In fact many are so audacious to cook up their own religion borrowing elements from all kinds of sources to concoct a religion of our own ideas and making.

People do this even with Jesus. Rather than seeing Jesus as he has been revealed in Scripture people look for a feminist Jesus, an anti-supernatural Jesus, a pro-homosexual Jesus, or a socialism Jesus. It is common for people to reinterpret Jesus into whoever they wish him to be and add him to their man made philosophies and ideologies.

Paul is strongly cautioning the Colossians, and I to you this morning – do not do that! What more are you looking for? You don’t need to add anything to Jesus, he’s perfect just as he is.

In Christ, we have received all we ever need. What will adding some sort of other teaching or philosophy bring to the table? Nothing. For in Jesus is all the fullness of God, and in Christ we have been filled. God has provided us with everything we need for life and godliness in Jesus.

Paul is going to flesh this idea out again and dwell on our Union with Christ. That phrase Union with Christ has been a big theme so far in this letter, especially in this passage.

In these few verses the phrases “In Him” or “with him” appear nine times. It’s a thread that runs throughout the entire passage.

Paul then starts talking about circumcision in v. 11. What all is he talking about here? Well this passage’s interpretation is a little debated, but let me tell you what I think Paul is trying to do here.

Circumcision is the Old Testament sign of the covenant. In other words we set you apart as a Jewish man as under the Covenant was physical circumcision. It distinguished you from other men who were not a part of the covenant. Now Paul says, those in Jesus have been circumcised but this is not a circumcision of the body, rather Paul says its a circumcision made without hands. In other words, this circumcision Paul is talking about isn’t a physical circumcision but a spiritual one. God has circumcised our hearts.

We call this the new birth or regeneration. It means that for the Christian God gives him a new heart that has eyes to see the greatness of Jesus. God causes this new birth to happen in us so we are able to turn from our sins and put our faith in Jesus.

So under the New Covenant, the sign of the covenant is our regenerated hearts, hearts who have been born again. For the Christian whats sets us apart isn’t that we have received physical circumcision, but that we have been born again by the Spirit of God.

So Baptism then is a external picture of an inward reality. This is why we believe baptizing infants isn’t biblical. Our protestant brothers who baptize babies think that as they baptize infants they are bringing them into a covenant community in hopes that they might one day be born again. They give the external sign of the covenant (baptism) before the inward sign of the new birth has taken place.

As Baptist, and I would say using Colossians here as proof, baptism must follow after the inward circumcision of the heart. In other words, we believe baptism is reserved only for believers of Jesus who demonstrate evidences that they have been born again.

This is why we baptize those believers seeking to join our church though they may have been baptized as infants. We do it because they haven’t received true baptism. Baptism is the external sign of a person who has inwardly been born again.

Yet, Paul’s point here isn’t to teach us on baptism (though it does teach us a lot about baptism), his point as we look at it in context is this. Our baptism represents our union with Christ. In Jesus we are united to him and baptism by immersion represents this union with Christ. Think about the imagery of the baptismal act.

A believer stands in the water, he goes into the water buried just as Christ was buried, then the person is raised out of the water just as God raised Jesus from the dead. If we are in Christ then we die to ourselves and are raised by faith through the power of God.

Every one of us born into this world is dead in our trespasses and sins. We are born with uncircumcised hearts. We are in rebellion against God and do things our own way. Within us there is ZERO spiritual life. There is nothing, we are quite literally dead inside.

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt dead inside like there was nothing there? You may be here today – simply unmoved by any of our worship this morning. Maybe this is your first time with us or maybe you’ve been coming for decades but when you come to worship nothing awakens inside you, as you think about Jesus there’s just nothing – your dead.

But, God does what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus came to make our dead hearts alive! He comes to take our uncircumcised hearts and cause them to be born again. Jesus takes our hearts of hardened stones and shatters the hard exterior and pumps it back to life.

God made us alive with him – How does God make you alive? By connecting you to the life of his son by faith. Just as Jesus was resurrected to new life, that is the source of our new life. When we are united to Jesus by faith we are made alive and forgiven of all our sins!

How does Jesus do this for us? How can he forgive us our sins? Paul says in v. 14 that Jesus canceled the record of debt that stood against us. Their are legal demands you own God. Your sin is an incalculable debt. It is beyond comprehension. It is an amount you could never ever pay even if you spent every minute of your life trying to pay it back. Yet, Paul says Jesus canceled this debt for us. Yet Jesus didn’t just wave a magic wand and make it go away, rather he paid the debt for you as he was nailed to the cross. Jesus nailed it to the tree and purchases us freedom from our sin.

So what more are you lacking? If in Christ we have everything, what more do we need? If through Jesus we have been set apart as the people of God and saved from our sin, what will any other philosophy or religion bring to the table?

For in Jesus all the fullness of God dwells bodily. He is in all his fullness God and by faith we as Christians are in Him. We share in his life, in his death, and in his resurrection.

So look at Paul’s conclusion at v. 15 – He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

At the cross Jesus proved the foolishness of the wisdom of man. For in Jesus’ defeat he provided victory and in his death he gives us life. Jesus is the head of all rule and authority. And he mutes any opposition. He the philosophy and man made worldview and disarms them and puts them to shame. He exposes them as a sham, and he triumphs over every other worldview and thinking by the foolishness of His cross.

I’m not sure where you are at today in your relationship with God, but let me give you a few brief big take aways from what we’ve learned today.

  • Have you been united to Christ? Have you been saved by Jesus?
  • Are established in your faith and in Christ not to be shaken or influenced by empty man-made philosophy?
  • In what areas are you trying to add to the Christian faith?
  • Do you realize that Jesus is enough – you are not lacking in anything. In Jesus you have all the resources you need?

When God saves us he gives us eyes to see the world as it truly is. He gives us hearts to understand his purposes in the world. Christianity is the only true worldview and the only right way of looking at the world, because it is a worldview given to us none other than the creator of the universe Jesus Christ.

And in the words of C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Faith is the Catalyst to True Rationality

Is Christianity reasonable? It seems the tension between faith and reason has escalated every year since the dawn of the enlightenment. Do religious claims have any sort of epistemological legitimacy? Is Christianity simply a fideistic jump into presuppositions that must be believed before they can be understood? Or, can Christianity be believed and accepted by the fierce consistency and coherency of the evidentalist apologetic seeking to prove the case for Christianity? These questions have been wrestled and debated by theologians and philosophers much greater than I, yet I think there is an epistemological legitimacy to the Christian faith that necessitates both presuppositions received by faith and the convincing evidence and truthfulness of rationality. I believe we see both of these elements clearly in the life of Paul and his life will serve an illustrative purpose in understanding the reasonableness of Christianity.

The Rational Mind of the Apostle Paul

The apostle Paul stands before Agrippa in Acts 26 defending his missionary work and his teaching concerning The Way. The defense he gives, as recorded by Luke, is his testimony of his conversion. He appeals to the king and appeals to the Old Testament, the prophets and Moses, concerning the death of Jesus and his resurrection. (Acts 26:22). Fetus, Pauls accuser, states and loudness and anger tells Paul, “you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Paul was a well-educated man trained by Gamaliel himself and trained as Pharisee. Paul had an education that few were privileged too in his day. Festus accuses that Paul’s great academic training has led to his current state of insanity. On a side note, many Christians today think so very similarly to Festus thinking that intellectual pursuits concerning the Christian mind are determined to lead either to cold rationalism or a dangerous heterodoxy. Paul certainly didn’t see this as the case. Paul responds to Festus claiming that he is not out of his mind, “but I am speaking true and rational words”. Paul not only sees his arguments of Jesus as the Christ as true, but rational.

Paul the thinker, was skilled in presenting a rational case and an apologetic for the Christian faith. His missionary strategy involved him going into the Jewish synagogue and lecturing on the Messiah in the Old Testament only to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. Paul believed that his arguments from the Old Testament were both convincing and rational. Even in his appeal to Agrippa, he calls him to see the truthfulness of the Gospel because of the of the consistent and coherent arguments he makes from the Old Testament Scriptures, which were a source of authority both Paul and Agrippa shared.

Paul did not see the Christian faith as anti-rational. Anyone who has ever given Paul’s writings in the New Testament even a cursory read knows that the man was fiercely argumentative and ruthlessly logical. Yet, neither too did Paul adopt an epistemology of rationalism. Although Paul believed deeply in the rationality of the Christian faith he knew that convincing arguments were never enough to convince anyone to make Christ their Lord. Paul himself knew this better than anyone. His own conversion testifies to the inability of reason to lead him to the Christian faith. His dedication and intellectual pursuits as a Pharisee did not lead to his conversion, but his conversion came on that dusty road to Damascus. It was there that Saul of Tarsus had an encounter with the resurrected Christ appearing before him in the blinding light. That moment for Paul changed the trajectory of his life. His talents and abilities trained and refined by Gamaliel have now been opened up to a new reality – a reality in which Christ is Lord. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus led him to pour his intellectual ability into defending and preaching a Gospel he not only now knew to be rationally true, but one in which he experienced its truthfulness.

An Experience of the Knowledge of God

This experiential component of the Christian faith was incredibly crucial in Paul’s thinking. For Paul, true knowledge was not simply accepted mental facts or data about God, but the facts and data should lead to an intimate experience and knowledge of the divine, hence, Paul’s emphasis in knowing Christ in Philippians 3. He counts everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. This is no mere cognitive knowledge but an intimate knowledge that deepens as he is united to both the painful sufferings of Christ and the incredible victory of his resurrection. As he shares in the sufferings and victory of Christ he receives a deeper knowledge of God. Paul’s life and thinking is a reminder that reason and experience should not be dichotomized. When it comes to the knowledge of God both are crucial.

It must be remembered that when it comes to conversion scripture emphasizes that this is a divine work of God. It is an act of God’s grace that penetrates the depravity of the human heart. No one is ever convinced into the kingdom of God, rather they are converted. Just as we do not choose our physical birth, neither do we choose our spiritual birth. Jesus tells us that the new birth is like the wind. The spirit blows where it wishes. (John 3:8) Although Christianity is rational, it cannot be accepted apart from the new birth. It is only when a man or woman is born again that their faulty presuppositions due to the noetic effects of sin are replaced within divinely given eyes to see the truth and reasonableness of the faith.

Jonathan Edwards famous illustration of honey serves as an important distinction:

There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man can’t have the latter, unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance. There is a wide difference between mere speculative, rational judging anything to be excellent, and having a sense of its sweetness, and beauty. The former rests only in the head, speculation only is concerned in it; but the heart is concerned in the later. (JER, 112)

Just as a man may be told about the sweetness of honey, he does not truly know its sweetness until he experiences it himself. The same is true when it comes to an understanding of God. Apologetic and evidences for the truthfulness of Christianity can be presented powerfully and persuasively, but the human mind cannot accept the rationality of Christianity until a work of God has first taken place in the heart. Only by the work of the Spirit of God can a man move from an distant and dry intellectualism to a warm personal experience of divine grace.

This connection between the rationality of Christianity and the need for experience leads to a few practical application that must be remembered.

1. Conversion is a Super Natural Work of God

Apologetics is a worthwhile field of study. It is essential to provide a defense for the rationality of the Christian faith. Christianity is reasonable and explain the best the world as it is. Yet, we must be careful that we don’t turn conversion into a work of philosophical argument to be made. Conversion is not a work of the convincingness of man, but of the convincing calling of God. Conversion is first and foremost a supernatural work of God. Does this mean however that the quest of apologetics is purposeless in evangelism? Certainly not.

2. Apologetics Can be the Means Used By God to Convert the Lost

Apologetics is not a waste of time. Although the rational faculties of man have been severely distorted due to the Fall, in the words of Francis Schaeffer, man is not a zero. He is still made in the image of God and is a rational being. Often in presenting an apologetic case for the Christian faith, the Spirit will use the evidences for the truthfulness of Christianity to save.

3. Christianity is Reasonable

The Christian faith has a solid case for its reasonable and has epistemological credibility. The foundation for Christian epistemology comes from divine revelation both generally in the created order and specifically through His Word. The truth that has been given by God himself provides a firm footing to climb high on the mountain of God. There is a tendency among some Christians to elevate religious experience to idolatrous levels that not only go beyond the revealed truth of God’s word, but are contradictory to it. Although we want to achieve a balance between Christian reason and experience, it is crucial that personal subjective experiences do not rest in the chief seat of epistemological authority. Scripture understood through Spirit enlightened reason is always where we must begin when it comes to the reasonableness of Christianity.

Faith is the Catalyst to True Rationality

Christianity is rational, but its rationality can’t be fully comprehended by a divine work of grace. However, once God’s grace has been given to illuminate the human mind it is discovered that faith does not the antithesis to reason but rather the gateway to true rationality. It is by faith in Christ that the mental faculties of the human mind are regenerated to work properly and begin thinking clearly. Faith is the catalyst enzyme unlocking the true reasonableness of the human mind. It is only by a divine work of God bringing us to faith that we can see the inconsistencies and incoherence of our former worldview and see the incredibly rational and convincing understanding that Jesus is Lord. In the words of C.S. Lewis, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”