Gen 3:1-8,15, Mt 12:25-37, Col 2:6-15
Jesus said in John 10.10: ‘I have come that you might have life, and have it in abundance’. We had a puppy handler visit us the other day - for those of you who don’t know we have had a lovely golden retriever puppy for just over two weeks. One of the things that this lady said struck me: ‘we want the puppy to obey simple rules to keep her inside clear boundaries. She needs to know that inside those boundaries is where she will have great fun and be protected from the dangers which are outside the boundaries’.
That is what the word of God does - it provides boundaries within which we can have that abundant life that Jesus promises his followers. The world, the flesh and the devil want to persuade us, that that is not true. That true enjoyment and life is found not inside God’s boundaries but outside. But in John 10.9 Jesus warns: ‘The thief (the devil) comes only to steal and kill and destroy’.
And we see this with Satan’s first appearance in the bible in Genesis chp. 3. As those who are studying the bible overview: ‘God’s Big Picture’ saw this week, Satan has three basic tactics.
1. Firstly he distorts God’s Word. Look at Gen 3.1. ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ He implies that God’s word is not clear.
2. Secondly he questions God’s Word. In Gen 3.4 he states: ‘You will not surely die.’ He implies that God’s word is not true.
3. Thirdly he distorts God’s motives. Gen 3.5 ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God’. He implies that God’s word is not fair. That God wants to keep his creation from the best. And these have been the thief’s main lies ever since.
Colossians is above all a book about new life. Mark Dever says ‘that the outrageous claim that we make as Christians is that you can have a genuinely new life in Christ. Though many imperfections and difficulties remain, we believe the new life we have in Christ is so different from what we had before that we can understand why the Bible uses radical images such as darkness to light and death to life. So great is the change in us’.
Just as the new puppy will be happy within loving boundaries, we find new life, life in abundance in Christ. Within the walls of his sheep pen. Protected by Christ from the thieves who want to enter in and steal our peace, love and joy. So today’s passage shows us that ‘Christ has already done all that is needed so that we can have that abundant life. He has done all that is necessary for us to be reconciled to God the Father - the source of all life. If we add anything to Christ, we will only subtract our joy in the life we have in him.’
So verses 6-7 of chapter two, which are probably the key verses to the whole letter, help us to keep growing… and vs 8-15 help us realise that we have all we need in Christ. Therefore the title: Keep growing by knowing Christ! covers all our passage. (8.30. We will look at the first verses now and if you want the second half you can come to the 10.30 or listen to it on the website later!)
So what does v.6-7 encourage us to do to keep growing spiritually?
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Paul is worried that the Colossian Christians who started off so well would get wrong ideas about Jesus and so lose that abundant live they had discovered in him. If they fell for false understandings of Jesus, that could significantly dent their confidence in him. Pastor Mark Meynell says: ‘Heresy is like that, it cruelly promises much but delivers little.’
The way not to be deceived by our spiritual enemies is to continue as we started off in our faith. So how does one become a Christian? The consistent message of the bible is that it isn’t by our efforts, it is by Christ’s efforts. Look at what it says in chapter one.
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 1:13-4.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—” 1:21-22.
‘We do not become Christians by agreeing with a doctrinal list, following a moral code, or feeling spiritual. We become Christians by meeting a person. We receive a man as our King, our Saviour, our God. We are not Christians because we are good, spiritual, or knowledgeable; we are Christians because we know Jesus’.
So we grow as Christians in the same way we started off the Christian life in the first place. By trusting in Jesus, by relying on his grace, by accepting his forgiveness. Mike Tindall says that the Xian life ‘is very simple, we need no extra knowledge, or special spiritual experience, or new rules to keep. It is also challeng-ing—it’s easy to crave the new, the “improved”, the glamorous. But it is thrilling—because Jesus is all you need to be saved, and He is all you need to stay saved.
This is what is meant by ‘just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord’. There are three parts to that phrase that some think was an early baptismal statement.
Jesus - points to a real historical figure. Jesus of Nazareth. Although the fallacy that Jesus never really existed has gained some traction in recent years through internet videos it isn’t a theory that any respectful historian would entertain. In fact it only emerged for the first time during the Russian revolution when there was a clear philosophical desire to question the existence of the founder of Christianity. And the meaning of the name Jesus is ‘he who saves’. Jesus is our Saviour.
Secondly, we have the title Christ. As the disciples spent more time with Jesus they realised that he was no ordinary human being, as we saw in our episode of Christianity Explored this week. Peter blurted out one day: ‘You are the Messiah’. That is the anointed king - in the tradition of King David. So Saviour and King.
But what business does a Jewish King have ruling over Gentiles? Well the word Lord - isn’t just the equivalent of ‘Big boss’ but it is the Jewish title for God - Adonai.
‘So to receive “Christ Jesus as Lord” is not really about finding true fulfilment by “inviting Jesus into my heart”. It is a matter of bowing the knee before our rightful ruler.’ . Is that something that you have done? Have you received JC as Lord? Acknowledged that He has saved you from your rebellion against God? Become a subject to him as your heavenly king? Submitted to him in everything as your Lord and God? Well if you have done, you need to continue in the same way.
We must continue to live in Christ. And Paul uses two images here.
Firstly: rooted and secondly: built up. I have a lovely garden and what is amazing is that the roots of the trees apparently go as deep as the branches go high. The reason a tree doesn’t fall over when there is a strong wind is because it has gone deep into the soil. To be firmly ‘rooted’ in Jesus means to put down our roots into biblical truth and wisdom. How do you do that? Constantly reading, memorising, reflecting on and obeying scripture. Psalm One puts it eloquently:
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” Psalms 1:1-3
Secondly: ‘built up in Christ’ uses a building metaphor. There was a great little video that I saw the other day of a grade six earthquake in Chile - a lamp was swaying in an airport but people are so used to tremors that they were hardly reacting. When you build in a seismic country you have to pay very special attention to the buildings’ foundations and that keeps it secure even when there are strong movements of the earth. So we are built up in Christ because he is the foundation and we don’t stray from that basis. If we try to have another foundation we will run into problems. And as we received Christ through grace, not through our merits but His - we are free not to strive and be stressed trying to live godly lives in our own strength. We can be grateful that God has done all for us and continue to trust in him in good times and bad.
When we continue to rely on God, strengthened in the faith we were taught, we will grow spiritually. And the result of that is found at the end of v.7 - we will be overflowing with thankfulness. Sometimes we underestimate the power of thankfulness. I looked up the opposite of thankfulness and these were some of the words that I found:
Aggrieved, blue, dejected, depressed, despondent, disheartened, downcast, forlorn, melancholic, displeased, dissatisfied, joyless, sad, unhappy and unsatisfied!
Who wants to live like that? That is the opposite of the abundant life that Jesus promised his followers. I know that there is a place and space for difficult times - and the psalms are full of people crying out to God in the midst of suffering. Ellelein forced me to watch the film Inside Out. You remember the one when a girl was dominated by five emotions. Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear & Disgust
I think that she thought I was too like Joy and needed to appreciate the other emotions as well! We can have amazing joy temporarily - such as when we thrashed the Kiwis yesterday. But the gift of the Spirit is long-term Love, Joy and Peace. Thankfulness for all that Christ has done for us is life transforming. If all discovered Jesus Christ and continued to live in him in this way - I think much mental illness would fall away. There is a growing preoccupation with mental health and the many folk who struggle in this area. When we are thankful for all that God has done, when we stay within the boundaries of God’s love and aren’t tempted to stray - we will live - to use today’s language - mentally healthy lives. We will experience much of the abundant life that we can have following Jesus.
By knowing Christ…
So if the these first verses focus on us growing spiritually - the remainder show different ways we can be derailed in the Christian life. In v.8 Paul sounds the warning to the Colossian Christians: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”
Paul is talking about belief systems (“philosophies”) which depend either on the past ideas on which a culture is based (“traditions”), or on the present ideas which a culture sees as self-evident truths (“basic principles”). Paul has clearly stressed that all our salvation depends on Christ, that Christ is the image of the invisible God and that nothing or no one is greater than Christ who created and holds the world together. But it appears that there are folk who are saying that their conversion experience isn’t enough, that they need some extra things to i) know God more intimately (9-10), ii) be truly acceptable to God (11-13a) and iii) defeat evil power (13b-15).
Paul answers each of these worries by pointing again to Christ. There is no need to go looking outside the boundaries, as you may be tempted to, because you already have all you need in Christ - all that is needed to live a new, abundant life.
V.9-10 Knowing God more intimately
It seems that in v.9-10 Paul is countering the argument that Christians needed something extra so as to know God more intimately. Because Christianity is so radical in that there is no religious performance, good works or high morals that take us into G’s presence - that there is always the temptation to add to G’s grace.
The Christian message so undermines human endeavours and self-sufficiency that we struggle to accept the free gift of salvation. If we can do things in church or live a good moral life that makes us feel that God is in our debt and so owes us a ticket to heaven, we do so. And many philosophies play into this. (I believe that there were masons involved in the building of this church.)
If you are a mason there are more and more levels which you can climb. You unlock secrets and are initiated into higher grades. In many ways it is opposite to Christianity. Masonry is for the few, for the elite and you rise by your efforts and contacts. Christianity is radically egalitarian as far as salvation is concerned. All who repent and trust in Jesus are accepted.
V.9-10 say “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.” There is no relationship with God more intimate than knowing him through Jesus, who is also God. We don’t need to be looking elsewhere to know God more, we just need to be rooted more deeply and built up more in Christ.
V.11-13a Being truly acceptable to God
Secondly there appeared to be a group - probably of Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentile Christians needed something extra to be truly acceptable to God. They couldn’t just receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord but they needed to be circumcised. This was a big battle Paul fought. Did a Gentile have to become a Jew to really become a Christian? Or could he become a Christian without the need of any other rituals?
Paul says v.11 that if ‘circumcision’ is shorthand for being acceptable to God it has already been done by Christ. V.12 mentions baptism and this pictures Christians being buried with Christ (coming under the water) and being raised with Him, being made alive with him (being raised up from the water). Therefore we are as acceptable to God as Jesus is. Just let that sink in for a minute. Jn 1.12 says: ‘to all those who received Christ and believed in his name, he gave the right to become Children of G’. We have nothing more we can do to be acceptable to God.
We don’t need to fast regularly, we don’t need to speak in tongues, we don’t need to give all our money to the poor. Though these may all be good things they don’t make us more acceptable to God. These and many other good things may come out of a thankful heart because we have embraced the gospel but they aren’t necessary to make us acceptable to God. We are as acceptable to God as J is!
V.13b-15 Defeating evil power
Finally it appears that some were saying that the Colossian Christians needed something extra to defeat evil powers. The hold that ‘powers and authorities’ of evil have over us is the “written code” of the law (14) which stood against us because we failed to keep it. The devil can point to the law, point to us and demand that we be judged. But Christ “took it away, nailing it to the cross’ by bearing that judgement for us. (We can see this in a little video clip - apologies for the American accent - Candy are sweets in British English!)
‘The written code with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us - was taken away by Christ and nailed to a cross’ (14). This is in fact the fulfilment of Ge 3.15. The serpent representing Satan would strike the Messiah - and in fact he thought that he had won the victory by having Jesus killed on the cross. But the verse also promises that the offspring of Eve - the Messiah, of the line of Abraham, will crush the serpents head. And that is what is happening here.
V.15 is difficult to understand, but refers to the victory parades that happened in Rome when a victorious general returned and publicly humiliated the enemy generals by parading them in chains as they advanced triumphantly to the Center of Rome. Perhaps today an equivalent would be ticker tape parades which were originally for military victories or outstanding achievements such as the first transatlantic flight or swim across the English Channel. Now they are more common with sporting events such as the 2005 Ashes win or the return of the Olympians bearing their medals from Rio.
What this is saying is that Christ’s defeat over hostile spiritual powers and authorities is complete. He removed the evil power’s greatest weapon - the condemnation of the law. We have no need of extra spiritual power because we now no longer have anything to fear from accusations of the evil one.
When he jumps on one shoulder and tempts us to sin, and then on the other shoulder to accuse us of breaking the law and therefore being condemned by God. We can just say - yes I messed up, I fell into temptation and sinned - but Jesus has sorted it all out on the cross - take it up with God!
An African Christian song from the Transvaal captures well some of Paul’s argument:
Jesus Christ is the conqueror;
By his resurrection he overcame death itself,
By his resurrection he overcame all things:
He overcame magic,
He overcame amulets and charms,
He overcame the darkness of demon-possession
He overcame dread.
When we are with him. We also conquer.
We may think that in the West we aren’t subject to such worries about the influence of evil powers as in other parts of the world. However, in our ‘biologized world’, DNA and the rigid laws of genetics have also taken the place of the tyrannous rule of powers and authorities in our understanding of what causes our actions. One author maintains that ‘we still think of ourselves as held in bondage by iron forces, inexorable laws, in the face of which all our struggles and aspirations are futile.’
He goes on to say: ‘Many have become convinced that they are simply the products of the forces of nature over which they have no control or remedy. Everything from criminality, to addictions, to sexual orientation, to shyness is understood as a matter of genetic destiny rather than choice. It results in a sense of helplessness and a lack of moral responsibility. “I cannot help the way I am”.
But Christ has defeated all the tricks of the enemy that come against his flock. He defeated them on the cross. One helpful exercise going away from here today might be to list all our fears, whatever they may be. In Christ, we can cross them out one by one. In Christ we can have abundant life. We can live thankful lives, like a contented puppy, safe within its protected boundaries.
So there you have it. Today’s passage teaches us that We keep growing by knowing Jesus! That we have all we need for the spiritual life in Christ and that we need nothing else. We must just carry on in the way we started - trusting in God’s grace and Mercy. We have ‘Christ in us, the hope of Glory’! What more do we need?
Let us pray.