Posts Tagged 'Christian growth'

You Can’t Lose. So Why Do You?

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To quote myself, “The game of life is fixed in the Christian’s favor.” Christians cannot lose; they were created for success. No Christian need ever fail in living his or her life for Christ. We have all the advantages God has given us and none of the handicaps non-Christians are hobbled with. Christians cannot fail. But we do. Truth be told, we fail often. Was I wrong when I asserted “Christians cannot fail?” Absolutely not.

Christians were made to be winners. But a Christian may become a failure. In fact, if you look around at the state of the Christian church, there seem to be a whole of Christian failures or Christians just barely making it. That’s sad, because “just barely making it” is not the kind of life God intends for any of His people. The problem is not with God but with Christians themselves. If you want to be a loser, here’s what you can do to make it happen.

A Christian may become a loser through forsaking God

How does a Christian forsake God? It’s so easy many of us can’t even tell it’s happening to us until it’s too late. You forsake God when you start preferring your way to God’s way; when you start doing what you want to do rather than what God wants you to do. You may forsake God when you start preferring your own works to the grace of God. This is dangerous because when you forsake God, you forsake His help. His help, by the way, comes in many forms, and we can’t make it without His help. When you forsake God, pretty soon you won’t be able to tell the difference between the truth of God and the lies of the Devil.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:14a NIV)

When you forsake God, He can’t answer your prayers and you can’t even pray properly:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6 – 8 NIV)

A Christian who has forsaken God is no longer rational. He cannot be trusted. He cannot win.

A stubborn Christian is a loser

But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. (Psalm 81:11, 12 NIV)

It’s an awful thing when God lets you go your own way. But He will; He will respect your own choices. A Christian cannot imagine how cold and harsh the world is without the Lord. But if you have a stubborn heart, you’ll soon find out firsthand. Preferring your own wisdom to that of God will not end good for you.

A Christian who fears man is a loser

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them.” (1 Samuel 15:24 NIV)

A Christian can either fear God or fear man. It’s always better for him to fear God. Fear of man is a sin. Fear of man will steal the joy of the Lord from you.  It will create fear where it really doesn’t exist and it will cripple your efforts in sharing your faith. This is what happened to Saul. Because he feared “the people,” he did things no believer in God should ever do. He did the exact opposite to what God told him to do: he lied and he blamed others. Ultimately, though, Saul committed idolatry because he thought more of himself and of other people than he did of God.

The result of Saul’s fear of other people should be noted: God took back from Saul that which He gave him – the kingdom.

Worldliness creates Christian losers

When a Christian starts to get interested in things of the world, he’s on his way to becoming a loser. Interest in the world will lead to mingling with the world.

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22 NIV)

Worldliness will literally choke the Word right out of you. A worldly Christian can sit in church and listen to sermons 26 hours a day, 8 days a week to NO avail. That’s how powerful and insidious worldliness is. The Bible cautions believers not to conform to the world:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

A worldly Christian cannot – CANNOT – discern God’s will. It’s impossible. God’s will is discernable only by those whose minds are being transformed through the power of God.

A disobedient Christian is a loser

Well, that goes without saying. Psalm 106:34 says this:

They did not destroy the peoples as the Lord had commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. (NIV)

Time and again God’s people disobeyed His word to them. Over and over in Judges 1, the chapter this part of Psalm 106 is referring back to, we read about how the Israelites always fell short of what God wanted them to do. Against His will for them, they intermarried and adulterated their worship of the One true God with idolatry. In the end, they adopted the abominable practices of the heathens around them, things like child sacrifices. When a Christian disobeys God, he will find himself doing things he knows are wrong; the very things he swore he would never do.

Misplaced confidence will make a Christian a loser

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.” (2 Chronicles 16:7 NIV)

This verse records the sorry end of the war between Judah and Israel. Some would view the alliance King Asa made with Ben-Hadad as a brilliant military strategy. God didn’t. It was a mistake. Asa should have trusted God, but instead he trusted an alliance. The alliance made sense, but it was wrong because it showed a lack of trust on the king’s part. It’s so easy to forget God is there! He’s always looking for ways to help His people:

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV)

It’s so simple that Christians don’t remember this promise! We do what makes sense to us instead of just trusting God.

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12 NIV)

Only a loser would do that.

Pride makes a Christian a loser

Pride takes many forms, and most of those forms will turn a Christian into a loser. If it can happen to man like Joshua, it can happen to you. Joshua was great leader and a military genius. He had conquered much of Canaan thanks to his cunning military strategies and his dependence on the Lord. But he took his eyes off the ball and it cost him.

In the land of Canaan was a royal city, Gibeon. The leaders of Gibeon knew that they were due to be overtaken and conquered by Joshua, and so they decided to lure Joshua into a covenant with them that would result in the city being spared and even coming under Israel’s protection! The scheme took nerve, that’s for sure. On the basis of Gibeon’s lie, Joshua and Israel entered into a compact with Gibeon.

Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. (Joshua 9:15 NIV)

But the problem was that nobody in leadership bothered to, as the end of verse 14 notes:

…inquire of the Lord.

The sin was not in making a treaty; it was in not checking with the Lord! Joshua and his leaders should have prayed about the situation first. Flushed with the pride of previous victories, Joshua made a decision without consulting with God. Now, that decision to make a treaty may have made all the sense in the world. That’s not the point. The point is, Joshua didn’t ask God before making it. The lie of the Gibeonites went undetected when it should have been obvious. But Joshua thought he knew enough. He didn’t. Joshua trusted himself. He shouldn’t have.

A loser doesn’t pray

If you had your way, no one would fear God; no one would pray to him. (Job 15:4 GNB)

What kind of Christian doesn’t pray? If you have too much self-confidence, you won’t bother praying. If you think you don’t need what the Lord has for you, you won’t waste your time praying. If you think you know enough, you won’t pray. If you don’t respect and revere God, you won’t pray. We could go on all day, but you get the idea. When you’re bigger than you really are, you think you don’t need to talk to God. That makes you a loser because when you don’t pray.

A loser is a Christian who is self-sufficient

The classic example of this is not a person, but an entire congregation:

You say, ‘I am rich, with everything I want; I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that spiritually you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17 TLB)

The church at Laodicea was wealthy, at least by the world’s standards. A lot of Christians in America are in the same state. They have jobs, income, savings, pensions, all kinds of material junk, and they think they have it made. And all that may be good and desirable, but if you start trusting your own self-sufficiency, you’re a total loser. At least according to God you are. Yes, you can have it all and be spiritually broke. Revelation 3:17 was written to and about Christians! Losers are people who think they are “all that” when they are really nothing at all.

If you are a Christian who neglects the little things, then you’re a loser

Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom. (Song of Solomon 2:15 NIV)

This verse is a piece of poetry, so you know it’s not really talking about foxes. But this verse should be memorized by every Christian because it speaks volumes to us about the Christian life. Our lives as Christians ought to be growing and flourishing, like a vineyard in bloom. But beware! When we are living right, thinking right, and doing right, the little foxes will be out to catch us. Little foxes can be just about any seemingly small or insignificant thing that ever so slowly eats away our Christian lives. Attitudes, tricks of Satan, little squabbles between spouses, gossip in the church, teeny tiny sins, all these things will destroy the vineyard of your life if you don’t catch the little foxes.

Life may going very well for you right now. You’re spiritually closer to God than ever. You’re reading and studying the Bible and God is teaching you and leading you in the way you should go. This is when you should be looking for the little foxes. A winner does that. He keeps his eyes open. He keeps check on himself. He catches the little foxes before they can damage his life. Losers can’t see the little foxes until it’s too late.

Our Glorious Salvation, 4

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The Benefits of Salvation

Aside from the obvious one – going to heaven and not going to hell – we Christians are the fortunate recipients of certain benefits the come along with God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  But these benefits aren’t noticed all at once.  Becoming a Christian may happen in a moment, but being a Christian is a definite growing process.  That’s the reason for well-known phrases like these:  “babe in Christ,” which describes a new believer and “spiritual father or mother,” describing a more mature believer who may have had a positive impact on your development as a Christian.  Even the conversion experience was called “being born again” by our Lord!

Many of the benefits of salvation come with maturity.  The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us and makes us part of God’s family immediately, but from that moment on, our growth from “babes in Christ” to mature believers is a gradual, lifelong process that depends as much on our co-operation with the Spirit as it does on the work of the Spirit Himself in us.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the benefits of salvation.

We are made children of God 

John 1:12 – 13 

But as many as received him, to them gave he  power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  (JKV) 

That phrase, “as many as” when paired with “to them” is awkward English but was a very common way of speaking in Aramaic.  While the Jews by and large rejected Jesus, there were others who accepted Him as Savior.  Those who accepted Jesus, whether they were Jews or Gentiles it didn’t matter, received the greatest of all spiritual benefits.   For the most part, the Jew failed to realize that in the Kingdom, established spiritually by Jesus at His first coming, there are no “special privileges” based on nationality or sex.  That’s why John used that Aramaic expression, which amounted to:  “Whoever received Jesus became sons of God.”  How that single statement, so precious to us today, must have galled the proud, nationalist Jew of John’s day!

John says a lot in these two verses, so I’ll stay out of the tall theological grass to focus on a single aspect:  transformation.  In an instant out of eternity, one is transformed into a son – a child – of God.  And yet, it is also a gradual process.  In the physical world, a baby born is a child, yet remains a child for years as it grows and matures into adulthood.  The principle is the same in the spiritual world.  We become a child of God the instant life from above enters the soul.  But many of the benefits of this new relationship won’t be realized for years to come, or even until we are set free from the bonds of the flesh.  This notion squares with what John wrote, years later, in his first epistle:

Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, right now, and we can’t even imagine what it is going to be like later on. But we do know this, that when he comes we will be like him, as a result of seeing him as he really is.  (1 John 3:2  TLB)

Romans 8:14 – 17 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.”  For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for all God gives to his Son Jesus is now ours too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.  (TLB) 

In Romans 8, the word “Spirit” is seen some 20 times.  This fact prompted John Knox to write:

The Spirit is the theme of this culminating section of the argument which began at 6:1 with the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” 

The only true and lasting solution to man’s sinfulness is not anything a man can do to help himself, but the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  That doesn’t absolve us of some responsibility, though.

So, dear brothers, you have no obligations whatever to your old sinful nature to do what it begs you to do.  For if you keep on following it you are lost and will perish, but if through the power of the Holy Spirit you crush it and its evil deeds, you shall live.  (Romans 8:12, 13  TLB)

We used to be obliged to follow our sinful nature, but now that the Holy Spirit is in us, our obligation is to follow the Spirit.  That obedience is the debt we owe the Holy Spirit.  This is sanctification in action; a gradual process of righteous living.  As Oswald Chambers was fond of saying:

We are to sacrifice the natural for the sake of the spiritual.

But, as we honor our obligation to follow the way of the Spirit, we don’t have to be fearful or scared, even of the occasional failure.  Fact is we have been adopted into God’s very own family, and the occasional mess-up on our part can’t change that.  Under grace, we have this close a relationship with God – it’s a familial relationship.  All this happened because of what Jesus did for us.  Because of Christ’s work, we are able to call God by the most personal name of all:  Abba.  How close is our new relationship with God?  Irenaeus put it best:

Jesus became what we are that we might become what He is. 

Jesus is the Son of God by nature, we by adoption.  R.C. Sproul noted:

Nobody is born into this world a child of the family of God.  We are born as children of wrath.  The only way we enter into the family of God is by adoption, and that adoption occurs when we are united to God’s only begotten Son by faith. 

1 Peter 2:9, 10 

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.  (NKJV) 

Peter is saying some remarkable things about Christians here.  We move from the notion of Christians as the adopted “children of God” to a different way of viewing them:  by way of their citizenship.  We have been adopted into God’s family and our citizenship has necessarily changed!  Peter was writing to fellow Jews who had become believers, so what he wrote about “a holy nation,” for example, may hold a more special meaning to them, but as God’s adopted children, it should mean something to us too!  We are as much His people as the children of Abraham are!

Think about these things:

  • A chosen generation.  Another way of saying it could be, “an elect race.” That may have reference to the Jews, but remember this:  we have been chosen, too.  He has chosen us.  We think we chose Christ, but the truth is He chose us first.
  • A royal priesthood.  This has reference to the Jewish priesthood.  But in Christ, we are all “ministers” because we can all minister to God and we can all enter into His presence.  And we can minister for God as we take His message to the lost.
  • A holy nation.  Well, we would have to concede that the nation of Israel has never been holy in terms of their conduct.  But the same could be said of the Church!  And yet, because of our relationship to God, we are holy because Christ has become our righteousness.
  • A special people.  In the KJV the word is “peculiar,” and maybe that describes you better than does “special.”  However you want to word it, what it means is this:  God acquired us and we are now His possession; we belong to God.

These verses tell us a lot about what God sees when He looks at this world we are living in.  There is a new nation here.  There are new people here.  The old order of things is slowly disintegrating but the new order is growing and growing.  You and I became part of this new order because God called us.  It wasn’t our idea to join it.  God called us and we responded.

We are declared righteous 

Romans 4:4 – 8  

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.  But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…  (Romans 4:5, 6  NKJV)

The contrast between “as grace” and “as debt” can teach us a lot.  “Works” and “wages” go together as correlatives, while “faith” and “grace” go together.  Paul’s argument is logical:  If Abraham had righteousness counted to him, then works had nothing to do with it. Therefore it must have been an act of grace.   It follows that to be justified by grace through faith is to be given a righteousness which one doesn’t deserve.  Abraham, with his checkered history certainly didn’t deserve to be called righteous, but then neither do we.  That simple sentence is scandalous to works-based religions, of which there are plenty.  When God “justifies the ungodly,” God acquits the guilty sinner for reasons of His own mercy apart from any human merit, worthiness, or even need.  Justification is an act of God’s grace, plain and simple.

No wonder Martin Luther called this kind of righteousness “alien righteousness.”  He wrote:

Everything is outside us and in Christ.

That’s a good way to look at it.  It’s such a simple concept, this justification by faith, that it escapes so many people.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:17 – 19  NKJV)

These oft-quoted verses are stunning in their implications.  New converts quote them  all the time and preachers love to recite them during altar calls.  What do they mean, though?  When we are born again, at that very moment we are re-created.  We become a “new species of being that never existed before.”  Think about this for a moment.  As a Christian, you are NOT the same person you were before.  You may look the same and talk the same, but you are definitely NOT the same.  You are no longer associated with Adam, you are identified with Christ.   The fact that you may not feel different is irrelevant.  Nor can you base your new status on your salvation experience.  You are a new creation because God says so.

You, as a believer, have been reconciled to God.  This is God’s call to all lost men.  That’s what the “ministry of reconciliation” is all about:  God calling sinners to Himself.  Reconciliation is not salvation.  Reconciliation is all about changes; changes in relationships and changes within us.  Just about the only thing that doesn’t change in this ministry of reconciliation is God, because He never changes.  He changes us and He allows us to enter into a close relationship with Him.  Paul puts it another way in Colossians:

It was through what his Son did that God cleared a path for everything to come to him—all things in heaven and on earth—for Christ’s death on the cross has made peace with God for all by his blood.  This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies and hated him and were separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends.  He has done this through the death on the cross of his own human body, and now as a result Christ has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are standing there before him with nothing left against you—nothing left that he could even chide you for…  (Colossians 1:20 – 22  TLB) 

Through this great work of God’s, we have been reconciled to Him.  He has not been reconciled to us.  Remember, God can’t change.  We’re the ones that needed to change, and God makes those changes possible.

 

MATURING IN THE FAITH, Part 5

The Supremacy of Christ

Colossians 1:15—29

The latter portion of Colossians 1 presents the most significant teachings about Jesus Christ in the New Testament. These verses form the foundation of Paul’s contention with the Gnostic element at Colosse. These false teachers claimed to have superior, secret, and mysterious knowledge of God and of spiritual things, but according to Paul, everything that can be known about God is revealed in Jesus Christ, therefore no secret or mystical knowledge is needed.

1. Our image of God, 1:15—18

Part of becoming a mature Christian is having a Biblical Christology. In other words, mature believers think correctly about Jesus Christ. There is a lot wrong information floating around about Jesus and what He did, both in Paul’s day and ours. To help the Colossians think correctly about Jesus, Paul makes three very profound statements concerning Christ.

A. In relation to His deity, verse 15

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

There are two thoughts here. First, Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” How do you take a picture of something that cannot be seen? What does the invisible man look like? Nobody knows because he’s invisible! So what does Paul mean by that statement? In interpreting that statement, we must understand that Paul is not teaching that Christ is the image of God in the material or physical sense. Paul is also not teaching that Christ’s image of God is limited to His pre-incarnate state nor is it limited Christ’s glorified state after His Incarnation. Christ never became the image of God, He always has been the image of God.

The word for “image” is the Greek word eikon, which expresses two main ideas. One is “likeness.” So Christ is the exact likeness of God, like an image in a mirror is an exact likeness of the one looking into it. The other idea behind eikon is that of manifestation. That is, Christ is the image of God in the sense that the nature, character, and being of God are perfectly revealed in Christ. This thought is expressed in John 1:18—

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

This is a very deep concept, but it formed an integral part of Paul’s thinking about Jesus.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The second thought concerning Christ’s deity is that He is “the firstborn over all creation.” “Firstborn” is not the best way to translate prototokos because Paul is certainly not teaching that Christ was born or that He became. The main idea behind prototokos is “only begotten” and should be understood the way the Jewish mind understood it. Prototokos really means “uncreated.” He is out in front of all creation or we might say He is beyond all creation. Christ, in other words, does not belong to creation, but to eternity. This concept is seen in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

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

B. In relation to all creation, verses 16, 17

Paul goes on to establish the ground for Christ’s dominion over all things. Christ is the Source, the Agent, the End, and the Sustainer of all creation. Three prepositional phases are given to explain Christ the Creator: All things came to be—

→ in (or by) Him, verse 16a (creation occurred within the sphere of His person)
→ through (or by) Him, verse 16b (He was the force behind what was created)
→ for Him, verse 16c (all things exist for His good pleasure)

Furthermore, Christ “is before all things”, not “was before all things.” He is “before” in position, power, and time. Because He is the Creator, not part of creation, He holds it all together and all things exist because of His will.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3a)

The scope of these verses is staggering. If nothing exists apart from the will of Christ, then all things, even evil powers, continue to persist only because He allows them to until the day comes when He shall deliver the Kingdom to the Father:

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

C. In relation to the Church, verse 18

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Paul’s final affirmation concerning Christ’s supremacy relates to the Church. Christ, by right of His position in creation, has control and authority over the new creation, the body of Christ. To be “the head” of the Church is to be its Sovereign; its Leader and its Chief. It is HE who governs and guides it. In the Greek, “he” is emphatic, meaning that Christ alone, Christ and not other, is the head of the Church.

“Church,” ekklesia, means “assembly” or “congregation” and has in mind all redeemed people of God. Lost in Paul’s Christology is the use the “body” metaphor, which suggests three things:

→ the Church is a living organism, not an organization, composed of members joined vitally to one another;
→ the Church is the means by which Christ carries out His purposes and performs His work on earth;
→ the union that exists between Christ and His people is intimate and real. Redeemed saints in union with Christ and each other constitute a single living unit, incomplete without the other.

So, a mature Christian thinks rightly about Jesus Christ.

2. Our reconciliation, 1:20—23

Our maturity is also indicated by our understanding of precisely what Christ did for us. In Jesus Christ, Deity is pleased to dwell. In addition, God has made peace with all created things through the sacrifice of Christ. Here is God’s grand plan of salvation in two verses.

→ It is God who saves, verse 19
→ He saves creation through Jesus Christ, verse 20
→ He saves creation through the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, verse 20
→ God did this because it pleased Him, verse 19

To be “reconciled to God” means to be “at peace with God.” Somehow, through the shed blood of Christ on the Cross, peace was and is made between God and human beings. But the power of Christ’s blood is not limited to the salvation of all who call upon Him to be saved, the efficacy of Christ’s shed blood extends to all He created!

…whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (verse 20)

Since the sin of the first Adam effectively destroyed the perfection of Christ’s creation, only an act of the Second Adam could undo what happened. In relation to human beings, there is no “universal salvation.” As great as the work of Christ was, it is of no effect on a human being until he accepts it by faith.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 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 (verses 21, 22)

Prior to confessing Christ as Savior, the Colossians and all sinners had been “alienated from God” and His enemies. The word “alienated” (apellotriomenous) means “transferred to another owner”—in other words, an unregenerate sinner is estranged from God and hostile toward Him. Only by sacrificing His physical body could Christ end the estrangement and hostility between man and God. Paul stressed Christ’s “physical body” probably in defiance of the warped Gnostic teaching about how evil the body was. The value of Christ’s body is evidenced by what its sacrifice gained: the salvation of humanity!

The result of Christ’s reconciling work is the presentation of the Colossians (and all believers) to God, absolutely holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. Is all of this in the future tense? Or is some of Christ’s reconciling work realized in the present? Scholars are divided, but F.F. Bruce presents a balanced view of verse 22:

The sentence of justification passed upon the believer here and now anticipates the pronouncement of the judgment day; the holiness which is progressively wrought in his life by the Spirit of God here and now is to issue in perfection of glory on the day of Christ’s [Second Coming].

3. Our hope of glory, 1:24—29

No believer can be considered mature if they have a wrong view of their sufferings. Paul, for his part, demonstrated his maturity by rejoicing, not because of the suffering he had endured, but IN the suffering because of the good that was being produced on account of it. One time, not so long ago, Paul, then known as Saul, had inflicted horrible suffering on others, but now he welcomes it in order to win the lost to Christ. What a remarkable change!

A. Understanding suffering, verse 24

Verse 24 is admittedly controversial.

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

The first part of that verse we have already explained. What does Paul mean by the second part? In Scripture, there are two types of suffering: ministerial suffering and mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering—what He endured in the flesh in order to secure our salvation—was mediatorial suffering; that is, He suffered in our place. He was punished for our sins. No human being can do that for another; only Christ could have suffered on our behalf. Christ also experienced ministerial suffering. For example, He was mocked and ridiculed for His teachings. He told His followers that they would experience the same kind of suffering He did; they would suffer on account of Him. This is what Paul had in his mind as he wrote to the Colossians from prison. In fact, Paul had been given a special promise of suffering:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15, 16)

Paul’s suffering could in no way result in anybody’s salvation, but his suffering was part of his ministry to the lost and to the Body of Christ. Paul identified himself with Christ so much so that he viewed his sufferings as part of His service to Christ. That is a mature view of suffering.

B. Understanding the mystery, verses 25—27

Paul had been called and charged with a mission to perform. He was made a minister of the Gospel (verse 23) and that ministry to the Church involved a revelation of a mystery.

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. (verses 25, 26)

Paul was the Church’s servant and his job was to preach the Word to the believers. That Word, Paul says, was a “mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations.” A lot of people stop reading there and wrongfully conclude the Word of God is a mystery—that it hides secrets and mysterious codes. However, reading on, we discover that for the Lord’s people there is NO mystery surrounding the Word of God! All has been revealed to the Christian.

There is no question about it; a mature believer has an understanding of God’s Word. This, of course, does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they, at the same time, become a Bible scholar! Christians are obligated to study the Scriptures and be faithful in listening good Bible teaching.  But at the same time, we understand this:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13a)

The Spirit of truth has come! He resides in all believers, therefore all believers may be guided into a understanding of the the truth. Mature believer come to depend on the Holy Spirit leading them into an appreciation and understanding of the Bible. Even more than that, the Holy Spirit can give you a greater desire for the truth of God’s Word.

C. Growing God’s purposes, verses 28, 29

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

God wants us to be complete in Him, and He has given the Church the Holy Spirit and preachers, like Paul, to make that happen. This reminds us of what Paul taught the Ephesians:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11—13)

So then, believers grow into maturity through the ministry of the Word of God to them. This involves preaching and teaching, but also “admonishing.” Sometimes believers need to be corrected in their ideas. Paul was so convinced of the importance of his ministry in this regard, that he “strenuously contended” to perform it. He “agonized” and “fought” for the souls of those in his charge. But he did so, not in his own power, but the power of Christ in Him.

The mature believer, then, is one who has a correct understanding of the Person and work of Christ, an understanding of suffering and a desire to know and understand the Word of God.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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