What have you got up to this week? Who has:
- Visited a pub or café for an outdoor drink and meal?
- Been to the barbers/hairdressers?
- Done a bit of non-essential shopping?
- Stayed away overnight somewhere?
- Gone to the zoo?
These are things that would have seemed commonplace and normal back in 2019 and yet we could not do them up until this week due to COVID restrictions. As from Monday the rules and fines against these activities were cancelled and so we are now able to do these things again. Yet for many people, there will be still a wariness about the return to normal. For many, it will still be weeks or months before we feel ready to do these things. We’ve been given our lives back but it seems that there is a little bit of a barrier to taking them back up again.
The theme of today’s Bible passage is all about being given life, not just our lives back but new life. Are we going to take up those lives and live as we are now free to do. You see, Paul’s point is that you have received Christ -and all the benefits of his death and resurrection so live the new life you have received.
Allow the good news of the Gospel to influence how you live your life (v6-7)
There are two commands in these verses, to walk and to watch. The first command (v6) to walk is about how we live. Walking is metaphorically associated with conduct but also about who we walk behind or with, the company we keep, the one that we follow. So this is a call to follow Christ so that our lives are marked out as distinctive. Notice that this follows out of receiving Christ, this is about the consequences of salvation not about how we live. However, it is also worth remembering that how we receive Christ, how we come to faith is likely to be reflected in how we go on in our lives. That’s why it is so important that the Gospel is presented clearly without compromise and without dependency on manipulation and gimmick.
So godly lives grow out of the Gospel out of having that life changing encounter with Christ. Because of this, Paul emphasises the importance of getting rooted and established in your faith (v7). Rather than hitting us with a list of dos and don’ts at this stage, he says that the important thing is to get yourself rooted in Christ just as plants need to put down good roots so they can draw upon nutrients and water to grow strong. So, we need to be rooted in God’s Word taking time to read it, study it and meditate on it, hearing solid Bible teaching so that we allow it to do its work.
By the way, how do we know that we’ve done this? Well, I think the best way to know that we are rooted is when we allow God’s Word to disagree with us. It is no good simply to read the bits that we like and which give us comfort and to skip over the bits that get under our skin, make us uncomfortable and challenge us. Just like you know that a friend is real and not imaginary when they disagree with you, we know that God is real and his word is real because he disagrees with us.
Getting rooted in God’s Word will lead to growth. Now, we are often interested in growth in terms of is the church growing in numbers but as so often in Scripture, the emphasis here is on our own spiritual growth into maturity. God’s Word should not be something we engage with as an intellectual exercise but we should be putting into practice what it says. In particular this will mean that we will be doing what Jesus commands by loving God with all our heart and loving each other as we love ourselves. This will be reflected in the fruit of the spirit developing in our lives. Asl yourself “am I kinder, gentler, more patient?”
But we also need to be rooted in Christ, his word and his Gospel because we need to be resilient against the attacks that will come. This is both about individuals and churches together. How are we going to stand firm in the face of temptation, opposition, false teaching, suffering or even persecution? This leads us on to the point about watching.
Don’t allow yourself to be led astray (v8)
Paul says that we are to “Watch” or be on our guard and on the look out against certain things. Now, very quickly the early church came under attack from false teaching. This tended to mix together certain things, so for example we know that one form of early attack was from those demanding that people should be circumcised in order to become true believers. At the same time, traditional Jewish beliefs could get mixed up with various forms of pagan mythology and Greek philosophy. In later years this would be seen in the full-blown Gnosticism heresy but even at an early stage there seemed to be a temptation to try and add things on to the Gospel.
So, Paul warns against a mixture of philosophy, empty deceit and human tradition. In my experience, the most subtle risks to the church are not the full on attacks of cults, other religions or atheism but when things get mixed in with the Gospel. Some people have talked about the problem in Colossae as being “Gospel plus” that something else was getting mixed into the message.
What sorts of things do we see mixed in to the message today? Well, in recent weeks we’ve seen the awful mess, tragedy and scandal of a particular culture getting mixed in with the Gospel. The Jonathan Fletcher and John Smyth scandals were caused at least in part because the good news about grace from Christ was mixed in with the public school culture. This led people to believe that although Christ took their past sin on himself, they had to bear some kind of purifying punishment in order to fit in with the elite in the church. And so often, these things are about identifying and separating elite inner circles. It was a problem in Paul’s day and it is a problem today.
Most of us have not experienced that kind of culture but I think at times that there is a type of legalism that sneaks into evangelicalism. We know that we are saved by grace but then when we go through hard times, we think that this is because God is punishing us and so we think there is something missing. This might mean that we think we have to work harder at church or we look to someone to offer us the magic way to get our church growing again. Similarly in pour personal life, we hungrily lap up the Christian self-help books with their promised 5 step plans for our lives. Yet, notice that Paul offers something very different.
- Root your life in the Good news of the Gospel (v9-15)
Paul replaces the empty lies of philosophy and tradition with some things to know and to rememver about what we have in Christ. How are we going to get rooted, stand firm and grow? Well, it’s by returning to the Gospel. This is true about seeing the church grow in numbers. God will give the growth. We can’t make it happen by following special programmes. We need to keep preaching the Gospel. And in the same way, we will see spiritual growth in our own lives by constantly reminding ourselves of the Gospel and all we have in Christ.
Paul highlights several things that the Colossians have experienced. Noticed that all of these are experienced and received in Christ. Earlier, we saw that we have received Christ himself. These are some of the things that come wrapped up with the gift of Christ.
We have been filled with the one who is the fullness of God in bodily form. Christ was fully God and fully man. Now we have received the Holy Spirit and this is how Christ comes to dwell in our lives. We have the fullness of God present with us. We have everything we need in him. He is the one to whom all rule and authority belongs meaning both that we are now completely in his hands, under his protection and rule and also that if we are filled with him then we have received authority to live for him (v9-10).
We have received spiritual circumcision and baptism. These two symbols were used to represent someone becoming part of God’s covenant people, Israel. The New Testament takes up the imagery to point to how we come into his new covenant. Notice that they are distinct and whilst the outer imagery of washing through baptism continues into the new covenant, the outer symbol of circumcision is dropped. Instead, the emphasis here is on heart circumcision, the removal of sin from our lives. Paul uses baptismal imagery to point towards our identification with and participation with Christ in his death. Baptism reminds us that our old self, our old name and identity, our sinful nature has been killed off and buried with Christ (v11-12).
So, the message of the Gospel is that Christ died so that we can leave our old life behind. Where we stood condemned, guilty, shamed, under the penalty of sin, enemies of God, that identity has gone. Just as Christ has been raised to new life, so too are we. This is another way of saying that we have been forgiven (v13)
How have we been forgiven? Well, Paul explains it through two images describing what Christ did at the Cross.
By cancelling the debt of sin and nailing it to the cross (v14)
The penalty of sin is death. Here, Paul likens it to a debt. The debt is in effect nailed to the cross as a way of Christ saying“this bill has been paid.” I deserved death. This was God’s just judgement. I did not deserve God’s love. Christ on the cross bore my sin, my guilt, my shame.
By disarming, shaming and triumphing over powers (v15)
As well as bearing my guilt and shame, Christ also defeated his and our enemies. It is not just that my shame is taken away and received by Christ but he utterly defeated Satan and the powers of darkness so that they now bear shame.
This was important to the Colossian believers because there were a lot of superstitious ideas around about evil spirits and gods at the time. Now, I’ve seen how people can become fearout out of superstition but I’ve also seen people become fearful of other powers
- The opinions of friends and family
So, it is important to emphasise here the defeat of enemy powers. This is meant to remove fear. We have nothing and nobody to fear when we are in Christ. This is because the principle power that the enemy has had is to accuse us, to remind us of our sin and to seek to shame us.
The enemy has seen that power taken away from him because:
- God knows about my sin and chooses to forgive me and love me. Therefore how can anyone choose to assess and look at me differently to how God does and if God is for me, what does it matter what others think of me?
- God has forgiven me. The devil’s accusation only has power when it causes me to fear condemnation but there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The Gospel is liberating and life changing. In fact it gives us new life -we are a new creation. Our lives should reflect the Gospel and that means change comes not by keeping the rules/trying harder but by reminding ourselves of the Gospel everyday.