This weekend Craig is kicking off our new sermon series, The Image of the Invisible. Seeing is believing. The breathtaking majesty of creation draws our eyes upwards in a search for its creator, but it is in Jesus we most clearly see what we’ve all been looking for. You won’t want to miss this eye-opening journey through the book of Colossians.
What I wanna talk to you about today, to set that context, I wanna talk to you about getting grace. I wanna talk to you about receiving grace, but mostly, I wanna talk to you about understanding grace, which is not an easy thing to understand. Grace is probably one of the hardest concepts in the Christian faith to really understand. And it’s not because it’s complicated, it’s just because it’s so counter-cultural, right? It’s not the world that we live in. I mean, listen, Christianity is built on this idea. It’s built on the idea that God’s acceptance doesn’t depend on our performance.
That God’s willingness to accept us as his children doesn’t depend in any way on our performance, okay? And that’s a pretty simple idea, but it’s a hard idea to grasp simply because it’s not the world we live in. We live in a world that’s very much performance-driven, right? Every other acceptance we get in the world is based on performance. So we get accepted to schools because of our academic performance. We get accepted to teams because of our athletic performance. We get accepted to jobs by our work performance. It’s a performance-driven culture. Into that, we’re told to try to grasp or hold this idea that God’s acceptance doesn’t depend on performance. It’s just a hard thing to do.
And Christianity is really the only religion that says anything like that. I was in Northern Africa a couple of weeks ago, and I had a chance to get to know a culture that I’d never really been part of before, an entirely Muslim culture. Almost everybody that I met and interacted with was Muslim. And I’d never really had a chance to do that, and so I was really curious to see what it was like. And I was kind of blown away by some things about the people there. I was blown away by just how friendly they were, by how warm and welcoming they were, how quick they were to give us food. They were constantly giving us food. It was really good food. It all tasted like cumin, which that’s a different issue. Not a lot of variety, but it was really good.
And I really enjoyed the people, but I couldn’t help but notice there was a certain bleakness to the culture. There was a bleakness to the culture, and that was true in spite of the fact that it’s probably the most religious culture I’ve ever interacted with. I mean, they had mosques on…just every couple blocks, there’d be a mosque. And every day in the evening, there would be a broadcasted call to prayer and call to reading of the Quran. And people would crowd into these mosques and they would listen to the Imams pray or read Scripture. But in spite of all that religion, there was a bleakness to the culture, and I think it’s because it’s a religion of performance. The only way that you have any hope of being accepted by Allah is if you perform well enough.
And, in fact, and I kid you not, some Muslims actually keep a spreadsheet. They actually have an actual spreadsheet on their computers of all the good things they’ve done, all the commands of Allah that they’ve obeyed, and they have a positive column for all the good things, and they have a negative column for the ways they haven’t obeyed commands or they’ve broken commands. And the idea is they’re trying to increase the gap, the positive balance, in the hopes that God will accept them. And even if they feel like there’s a big balance, there’s no guarantee God will accept them, and so they say, you know, “Perhaps Allah will be merciful.” But they’re trying to increase their chances by performing.
And in that culture, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really hard to understand. The idea that God’s acceptance doesn’t depend on performance, that’s just so foreign to them. And there’s a certain attraction to it because they live in a culture that doesn’t give them hope. And so there’s a certain attraction to the Gospel of grace, but they struggle with it. In fact, some Muslims struggle with it because they go, “Well, how is that not a license for immorality?” If God’s acceptance doesn’t depend on our performance, how does that not just, you know, allow people to just live in whatever way they want? And the reality is I’ve even heard Christians push back on grace for the same reason.
But what I think Muslims don’t understand and what so many Christians don’t understand is that the grace that saves us also changes us in ways that nothing else can. That there’s no more profound change possible than by grace, by be accepted as God’s sons and daughters by grace. That changes us from the inside out in a way that nothing else can. And so I wanna talk to you today about getting grace, about understanding grace.
We are starting a new series today on the Book of Colossians. So if you wanna follow along, we’re gonna be in Colossians Chapter 1, starting in verse 1. Colossians is a letter. It was written to a group of followers of Jesus living in the city of Colossae, which is a Roman city kind of on the edge of the mountains in what we would call modern-day Turkey. And the followers of Jesus were facing some ideas that were kind of coming at them, ideas that had the potential to take them off of the foundations of grace and onto a completely different way of thinking about their relationships with God, a performance view of their relationship with God. And so the letter was written to help keep them on the path and help them stay on mission with Jesus.
Now, it was written by, and we’ll just let them introduce themselves, Paul. Colossians 1:1 says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, and, Timothy, our brother.” Now, if you’re kind of new to Christianity, the word “apostle” basically means a man on a mission, okay? It’s a man with a mission. Paul was an apostle because God had commissioned him to live on a mission. In the ancient world, an apostle was somebody that a ruler commissioned with a particular task or a mission. And so God had commissioned Paul to live on mission, and his mission was to share the Gospel, the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in places where it hadn’t gone yet before.
And Timothy was a companion of his. Timothy was a younger man. He was a pastor. He ultimately ended up kind of pastoring the church of Ephesus, which is not far from Colossae. And so the two of them are writing to the Christians there in Colossae, and they say, “To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God, our Father.” And it’s interesting, they kind of begin the letter by wishing God’s grace upon them.
And I wanna show you something. If you wanna either scroll down or flip over to the last verse in Colossians, Colossians 4:18. I want you to notice how he ends the letter. Paul says, “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” And so he begins the letter with wishing grace upon them and he ends the letter with wishing grace upon them. And I think that’s a beautiful picture of the Gospel itself because the reality is that Christianity begins and ends with grace, and it’s all grace in between. You hear me, church? Christianity begins and ends with grace, and it’s all grace in between. And if it’s not grace, it’s not the Gospel. If it’s not all grace, it’s not good news.
The good news is that God’s acceptance doesn’t depend on our performance. And the moment it becomes something other than, something other than grace, it ceases to be the good news that it was always meant to be. And so Paul begins that way, and he is writing and he’s wishing grace upon a group of people. And I want you to notice how he describes them. He says he’s writing to God’s holy people in Colossae. To God’s holy people.
And when you hear the word holy, what do you think of? Most people think of purity. They think of perfection, right? That’s in positive terms. You also might think in negative terms about people who think they’re perfect and pure. We have a phrase for those people, right? They’re holier-than-thou. Anybody know any holier-than-thou people? Don’t look around. Just look at me.
Sometimes the church has a reputation to the world outside that we’re holier-than-thou. We think we’re perfect and pure. Do you think you’re perfect? You think you’re pure? It’s interesting if I were to ask you, “Hey, do you think you’re holy?” Most people would go, “Do I think I’m holy? Well, yeah, I mean, I’m working on it, but no. I mean, I’m not holy.” And the reason we would hesitate is because we’re thinking of holy in terms of perfect and pure.
But here’s something that’s really interesting you need to know. In the Bible, when somebody talks about God being holy, it does mean perfect and pure, because God is perfect and pure. But whenever the Bible’s talking about anything other than God being holy, it’s not talking about them being perfect or pure. In fact, when the Bible talks about things other than God being holy, it’s about purpose, not perfection. Very important to understand. Whenever the Bible talks about other things or people being holy besides God, it’s talking about purpose. It’s not talking about perfection.
Let me take you to the first place in the Bible where the word “holy” is used to talk about something other than God. It’s Genesis chapter 2, verse 3. “And then God blessed the seventh day.” So he’s been creating for six days, now we get to the seventh. “And God blessed the seventh day and he made it,” what’s the word, church? Holy. He made the seventh day holy because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Now, does that mean the seventh day was more perfect than all the other days? Does it mean that it was more pure than all the other days? No. It was exactly the same as all the other days with one exception, and that is that God took the day and he set it apart for a different purpose than the other days. The other six days, he says, “Those are for work. The seventh day is for worship, and it’s for rest.” It wasn’t more perfect, it wasn’t more pure, but it had been set aside for a different purpose.
And that’s what it means to be holy as Paul is describing the church in Colossae. To be holy means to be set apart for God’s purposes. You with me? Which means that if I came to you and I said to you, “Hey, are you a follower of Jesus?” and you said, “Yes.” And I then said, “Are you holy?” your answer should be, “Yeah.” Not because you’re perfect, not because you’re pure, certainly not because you’re more prefect or pure than anybody else, we need to make sure we never give that attitude. But because you have been, by the grace of God, you’ve been set aside, you’ve been set apart for God’s purposes, and so you are, in fact, holy.
And so he writes to the church, and he says, “You’ve been set aside for God’s purposes.” Now, how did that happen? How did they become set aside for God’s purposes? Well, he goes on and he says this. He says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all God’s people.” He says, “Every time we pray for you, we thank God for you because we’ve heard of the faith that you have in Jesus.” That’s how they got set aside for God’s purpose, because they had what? They had faith.
It wasn’t that they performed better than everybody else, and God went, you know, “I need some people, but we’re gonna have a contest. Which one of you guys are gonna be the best? All right, you guys win. I’ll set you aside.” No, no, no. God loved them by grace. Grace, it’s an expensive sacrificial undeserved love. And so, God, by his grace, he loved us, and so he sent his own Son. See, the Gospel basically says this. This is the Gospel. It’s that there’s bad news. We don’t usually start the Gospel with bad news, but we kind of have to or we don’t understand the good news.
The bad news of the Gospel is that we’ve all sinned and our sin separates us from God. We’ve all done it. The good news is that God made a way. And in spite of our sin, he continued to love us, so he sent his own Son who lived a perfect and pure life. He didn’t have any sin to pay for, and so his own Son, Jesus, went to the cross, and he died on the cross, and he paid the price for my sin. He paid the Christ for your sin. And then God raised him from the dead, and he offers us forgiveness.
And so many other things simply by, by what? By faith. We say to Jesus, “I trust what you did on the cross for me, and I’m gonna follow you from here on out.” And three things happen when we do that. Three things happen when we put our faith in Jesus. Number one, we’re forgiven of our sins. And that’s really good news. If it doesn’t feel like good news to you, then you don’t understand what your sin is. You don’t understand what your sin has done, separated you from God for eternity. That’s what my sin did. That’s what your sin does. But when we say yes to faith in Jesus, our sin is forgiven. It’s canceled. And it’s never gonna be brought up before us again. God’s never going to go, “Hey, do you remember when you did this?” No, no, no. The only thing he’s gonna remember you did is you said yes to following Jesus, and your sin was forgiven.
The second thing that happens when we put our faith in Jesus is that we’re adopted into God’s family. We’re adopted into God’s family. And when you’re adopted into God’s family, that’s a permanent thing. You become one of his children. Adoption is a permanent thing. It’s not a temporary thing. It’s not a conditional thing. It’s not like there’s a 30-day, 60-day, 90-day review after you become part of the family. It’s not like you say yes to Jesus and about, you know, 30 days later, God kind of comes and goes, “Okay, let’s see how you’re doing. Got a list here. Did you perform here, and here, and here?” No, no, that’s not what happens. He looks at us, and he goes, “You’re my son.” You’re my daughter.” That’s a permanent thing. We’re adopted into the family of God.
And then the third thing that happens when we say yes to faith in Jesus is that we’re set aside for God’s purposes, which means that we become, what? We become holy. Not perfect, not pure, but set aside for God’s purposes.
And so Paul writes to the church at Colossae, and he calls them God’s holy people. He says, “Because you have faith in Jesus, and these three things have happened to you, these amazing things that God has done, they’re true of you, you’ve been set aside for God’s purpose.” And he’s not just thankful because they’ve been set aside for God’s purpose. He’s also thankful because they’re living out God’s purpose. They’re actually living it out, because what does he say? He says, “We thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and we pray for you because we’ve heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.” He says, “We’re thankful for the love that you have for all of God’s people.” And what you need to understand is that what Paul’s doing there is he’s giving them the highest praise that’s possible. He’s saying, “You guys are killing it. Not just by your faith, but also because you’re living out God’s purpose. You’re doing what God set you aside to do.” Now, why do I say that? How is that connected to love? It’s because of what Jesus said to his followers.
Jesus was speaking to his followers. You can read this in John 13:34. And he said to them, he said, “A new command, I give you.” And a lot of us are like, “Another one? “But this is kind of the one command to rule them all. The one command to bind them, bring them all together,” right? He said, “A new command, I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. And by this, everyone will know that you’re my disciples. If you love one another.” He says, “By this, everyone will know you’re my disciples.” And, the implications, “And they’ll be drawn to me through you if you do what? If you love one another.”
Notice he doesn’t say, “They’ll know you’re my followers because of your great doctrine.” He didn’t say, “They’ll know you’re my followers because of all of your, you know, Bible knowledge.” He doesn’t say, “They’ll know you’re my followers by how many times you show up and go to church, or how many Christian t-shirts you wear, or what kind of Christian music you’re blasting.” Look, those are all good things. And a lot of those things, they’re important things, but their importance is related to the fact that they make possible something that’s more important, and that is love. That make it possible for us to love. That’s how we live out our purpose, is by love. It’s by loving people.
Okay, well, what kind of love are we talking about? Because there’s two questions we need to ask. We need to ask, you know, “What kind of love, and who am I supposed to love?” That’s what we need to know. If I’m gonna live out my mission, if I’m gonna live out my purpose, what kind of love am I supposed to have, and who am I supposed to give that love to? So what kind of love’s Jesus talking about?
Because the problem with the word love and English is that it’s a very vague word. Can we agree on that? Because I can say, “I love Jesus.” I can also say, “I love Doritos.” Right? It’s the same word. And I think any word that I can use for my Savior and my snacks, probably not the clearest word, right? We need a little bit more clarity. What kind of love are we talking about here, right? Well, Jesus says it pretty clearly. He says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” As I have loved you.
How did Jesus love people? Sacrificially. A great cost to himself. Ultimately, he gave his own life for our lives. But even leading up to that, he loved sacrificially, right? He gave of his time. He gave of his energy. He gave of his physical resources. He loved sacrificially. He said, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve.” He loved sacrificially. That’s how he loved.
Okay. And who are we supposed to love? Well, who did Jesus love? Because it’s easy, I think. We read what Jesus said, you know, “If you love one another,” or we read what Paul and Timothy say, they say, “Your love for all God’s people.” And we’re like, “Oh, that’s people in the Kingdom, right? That’s people inside the Kingdom of God. It’s other people who believe just like we do. It’s the other Christians, right?” But when you look at the life of Jesus, you see something a little bit different. You see a bigger picture of who God’s people are. Because who do we see Jesus love? He loved sinners. He loved people who didn’t act in any way like God’s people. He loved tax collectors, people who actually stole from God’s people and gave it to their enemies. He loved gentiles, non-Jewish people. He loved Romans, people who were the enemies, people who oppressed God’s people. He loved all those people. And what we see pretty clearly in the life of Jesus is that he loved people who were far from God.
But, apparently, from Jesus’s perspective, how far you are from God has no bearing on how important you are to God. And Jesus wasn’t just about loving people in the Kingdom, he was about loving people into the Kingdom. You hear me, church? He’s about loving people who are far from God into the Kingdom. And that’s something that only love can do. We don’t argue people into the Kingdom. We don’t threaten people into the Kingdom. We don’t guilt people into the Kingdom. We love people into the Kingdom. That’s what we see in the life of Jesus.
And so Paul and Timothy say, “We’re so proud of you guys there in Colossae because you’re living out your mission, you’re fulfilling the purpose you’ve been set apart for because you’re loving people.” But can I just tell you an important truth about this kind of love? It’s costly. It’s costly. It’s expensive. The truth is that loving others like Jesus loved us is costly. Which is probably why Paul says next, he says, “Because of the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you’ve already heard in the true message of the Gospel that’s come to you.” And just quick little note, I’m giving you a very literal translation there. Different translations do different things trying to understand that, but I believe that what Paul and Timothy are saying is, “We’re so proud of the love that you have for God’s people. It’s a love that you have because of the hope you have stored up in heavens.” Does that make sense? “You have this love because of the hope stored up in heaven.”
And what he’s basically saying is, “I know that the way you’re loving people is expensive. I know it’s costly. I know that you’re having to use time, and energy, and money to love people.” And those are all earthly things that the world says, “That’s where your hope is.” But he says, “You’re using those earthly things to love people because that’s not where your hope is. Your hope isn’t in any of those things, it’s in heaven.” And see, the problem is, if our hope is in any of those things, we can’t use them to love. We can’t use them to exhibit a costly, extravagant, expensive love for others, because that’s where our hope is. We got to hold on to it for ourselves, right?
And so what he says is, “No, no, no. You’re loving others in the way that Jesus loved us because your hope isn’t in those things, it’s in heaven.” By the way, the word “hope’s” another interesting English word. It’s a kind of weak word in English. We use it to kind of put a positive spin on uncertainty, right? We use it to say things like, you know, “I hope you have a good vacation.” “I hope you like the present I got you.” “I hope you’ll vote for me in the next election cycle.” In other words, we’re not really sure what’s gonna happen, but it would be nice if, you know, we’re sending positive thoughts your way, right? That’s not the biblical concept of hope. The biblical concept of hope’s very different than that.
Last week was Father’s Day, and my girls got me the best Father’s Day present ever. It was a four-way wood clamp. So cool. That’s so cool because it applies pressure this way and this way, but also this way and this way. It’s great for gluing up like clamps. It’s so cool. And when my daughters gave it to me, they didn’t say, “We hope you like this.” They knew I was gonna like it. They were just waiting for me to express the pleasure they knew was coming. And the reason they were so confident, because I told them to get it. I don’t know that I’ve ever done that before, but I saw it in a woodworking store, and I sent them a text. I was like, “If you’re looking for a Father’s Day present, this would be the one. This would be amazing.” And so they got in there, like, there’s no question. They’re not like, “I hope you like this.” They’re like, “I know he’s gonna like it. I’m just waiting to get to experience that.” There’s a confidence. There was a certainty to it. And that’s the kind of hope that we get when we’re talking about biblical hope, okay?
In the Bible, listen to me, in the Bible, hope means what is certain but still in process. It’s certain but it’s still in process. There’s no question about what’s gonna happen, it’s just that it’s still in process. And so even though they don’t have all the hope that they’re going to have one day, they don’t have all the experience of everything God’s gonna do and all the eternal life, and the goodness, and the presence, and all those things of God, they have no doubt that it’s coming. And because of that, they’re looking very differently at the other stuff of earth that the world says, “That’s where your hope is,” and they’re like, “Nuh-uh. My hope is not in any of the stuff that’s there, so I’m free to use this stuff to love other people the way that Jesus loved me.” And the reality is we can only consistently love others here on earth when our hope is in heaven.
So let me ask you a question today, church. Where is your hope? Where is your hope? Because you cannot live out your purpose if your hope is anywhere other than in heaven. You cannot use the stuff of earth to love people if your hope isn’t in. So where is your hope?
And one of the things that I find useful is to ask myself questions like, “What do I get most anxious about when it’s threatened?” At the thought that it might be lost or that I might not be getting any more of it or something like that, what makes me feel anxious when it’s threatened? That’s a pretty good sign that there’s some trust in there that has become a little bit more of a load-bearing truth in my life than it ought to be. What do you get anxious when it’s threatened. Where’s your hope? Can’t love others here on earth unless your hope is in heaven.
Paul says, “In the same way, the Gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world just as it has been doing among you since the day that you heard and truly understood God’s grace.” He says, “In the same way,” meaning in the same way that the Gospel has come to you, and it is spread among you, and it has changed you, it’s spreading out from you, and it’s changing people around you because you’re loving others in the way Jesus loved you.
I don’t know if you know this. In 1st Century Rome, infanticide was a big issue. There wasn’t really abortion. The technology didn’t really exist to abort a child but to keep the mother alive, and so many unwanted children were brought to term, but then they were taken to the edge of the forest and they were left there.
It’s very common, it had been going on for hundreds of years. It was legal in the Roman Empire. That was what you did with unwanted children. Been that way for a very long time. But late in the 1st Century, a very strange thing began to happen. Some people began to go to those forest edges where those children were left and they began to pick up the children and take them home and raise them as their own. They adopted them into their families. At great expense to themselves, they raised those children.
And it was kind of a buzz all throughout Rome. There was a weird thing to see happen. They were like, “What is that? These are unwanted children. Why would people go and get them?” And the reality is most people who went and got them were pretty poor, actually. They didn’t have a lot of resources. They didn’t have a lot of earthly stuff to take care of those people with, and so, actually, we have letters back and forth between Roman people kind of talking about these weird people that were going to those forests and picking up those unwanted children and taking them home.
And you know who those weird people were? You know, they were the followers of Jesus. They were looking at those children and they were going, “Well they’re made as the image of God. They’re valuable to God, and so they need to be valuable to us. And even though…” And in those days, Christianity was primarily a poor man’s religion. It wasn’t a religion of power. It wasn’t a religion of prestige. It wasn’t a religion of wealth. They were primarily poor people. At great expense of themselves, they took care of those children. Because that’s what grace is. That’s how God loved us. And that’s how we live out our purpose.
And Paul says, “In the same way, in the same way that the Gospel has spread among you, it has changed you, it is spreading out from you and it’s changing the whole world just as it has been doing among you since the day that you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” Grace changed them. And grace changed me. It changed many of you. It changes us when we truly understand it.
What does that mean? What does it mean to truly understand God’s grace? I’m gonna suggest to you that truly understanding God’s grace basically means two things that we can say with one thing. If we truly understand God’s grace, it means that we live by grace. Two sides to that coin. The one side is it means that we have life because of God’s grace, that we have life because God sent his own Son to die to pay the price for our sin. He raised him from the dead, and he offers us salvation by faith. He offers us forgiveness. He offers us adoption into God’s family for eternity. He offers us being set aside for God’s purposes. He offers us eternal life by grace. We live because of God’s grace.
The other side of that coin, though, is that we live characterized by that same grace that saved us. You with me? That we live out the grace that brought us into the Kingdom. We could say it this way. If grace has delivered us, it must also define us. Are you with me, church? If you’ve been saved by grace, you need to be defined by grace. If it’s delivered us, it also has to define us.
I had a chance, like I said, to be in Northern Africa. I had a chance to meet a young man who had just said yes to following Jesus in that culture. Pretty unusual thing to do because it’s a dangerous thing in that culture. It typically meant you got disowned. It might even mean, in fact, it often does mean, that you’re physically abused or even killed. And the law looks the other way when that happens to somebody who decides they’re gonna follow Jesus. But he decided he was gonna follow Jesus. And he decided while we were there, actually, that it was time for him to go public with that. He was gonna be baptized. He’s gonna publicly announce that. And as part of that process, he went to his parents, and he said to them, “I need to tell you something. I need to tell you that I’m not a Muslim anymore. I decided I’m gonna follow Jesus.” And he went fully expecting, at the very least, to be kicked out of the house. He went fully expecting that there was a good possibility that his dad would beat him.
But instead, they went, “Huh?” And they started to say something that they had noticed about him over the last couple of months. They said, “You’ve changed.” They said, “You used to just take everything we gave you and kind of want more, and now you’re not asking for stuff from us. In fact, you keep bringing us money. You know, we’re a poor family, and you’re going out and you’re working hard. And we know you’re working hard. We hear about how hard you’re working. And you’ve always been kind of lazy, honestly. And now you’re a hard worker, and you’re working hard, and you’re making money, and you’re bringing that money back, and you’re helping us. You’re being generous in a way that, like, you’ve never been. But, honestly, we don’t know anybody around us whose kids are being generous and taking care of them that way. You have changed. And now you’re telling us it’s because of Jesus?” And he said, “Yes.” And they said, “We can’t get in the way of that.”
That’s a life changed by grace. That’s a grace that didn’t only save him but it’s spilling over. I have no doubt, his mom and dad are gonna come to follow Jesus too, because they’ve seen the power of grace in operation in his life. If we’ve been delivered by grace, it must also define us. And that’s the power we have. It’s not the power of doctrine, not the power of theology, not the power of worship. All those things are good and important things, but at the end of the day, the power of the Gospel is the power of grace, to change us and to change those around us, if we will let it define us.
So, Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States of America did something, I’m gonna be honest to you, I did not expect to see happen in my lifetime. Anybody else surprised? They overturned Roe v. Wade. They overturned the constitutional protection of abortion. I did not expect to see that happen. And I know it had been hinted at a couple of weeks earlier than that, you know, it had been leaked, but I, honestly, when I saw all the protests and just the uproar over it, I honestly thought they were gonna back down.
And so when that announcement was dropped on Friday, I was just like, “I can’t believe that happened.” I’m so excited about it. I’m so grateful to God because I think only God could have done that. In a culture, 70 years later, 70 years, honestly, pretty much moving in the wrong direction, when it comes to our relationship with God as a nation, to see that change, that’s an act of God. I’m so grateful for that.
And it presents us with a huge opportunity now. And if you’ll let me, let me pastor you here for a moment. Because we have an opportunity now, and I wanna make sure we don’t miss the opportunity. I wanna make sure we don’t fumble it. And so I wanna tell you that as we respond to this incredible thing that God has done, we need to be responding in a way that’s defined, by what? By grace. Because if we’ve been delivered by it, we must also be defined by it. So we need to respond in a way that’s defined by grace.
So let me give you two practical ways I think that’s gonna play out how we’re gonna respond with grace and be defined by it. Number one, we need to speak with grace. Let’s speak with grace by choosing our words carefully. And here’s what I mean. We need to celebrate what God’s done. We need to call it what it is. We need to call it an answer to prayer. Amen? We need to call it an act of God. Amen? We need to celebrate it. We need to celebrate those lives that will be spared, those precious children made in the image of God. We need to celebrate that they’re going to live, that many of them are going to live when they would not otherwise have lived, and God’s gonna work in them and through them, and we need to call that an answer to prayer. We need to call it an act of God. We need to celebrate it. We can do that privately. We can do it publicly.
What I wanna caution you, though, is I wanna caution you, don’t gloat, okay? You hear me, church? Don’t gloat. Celebrate what God’s done, but don’t talk about our victory over the liberal left. Don’t talk about our victory over those liberal losers. Please don’t do that. Don’t gloat. And the reason I tell you that is because, listen to me, our ultimate purpose of the church is not just to win battles against our culture, it is to win the people of our culture the faith in Jesus Christ. And it’s very hard to win over people that you’ve been gloating over as losers. They will not listen. And you might go, “They’re not going to listen anyway.” Yeah, but let’s make sure that’s not because of us and the way that we’ve talked about them and to them. Call it an answer to prayer. Call it an act of God. Celebrate what God has done. But let’s not gloat. You with me?
Number two, let’s act with grace. Let’s act with grace, which means that we love sacrificially. See, here’s the reality. I don’t know if you’ve thought through this yet. The reality of this decision at Supreme Court level means that there are going to be, I don’t know how many, but I know there are a bunch of states that already have laws against abortion, and many are poised to do new ones. It means there’s going to be children that are born that wouldn’t have been born otherwise. And that is a thing to be grateful for, right? But it also means there’s gonna be a whole lot of women who didn’t want that child who are now gonna have to carry that child to term and they’re not gonna know what to do, and they’re gonna be scared, and they’re gonna be afraid, and many of them are gonna be alone. So we need to act with grace. We need to figure out what it looks like to come alongside those women and love them sacrificially in the name of Jesus.
And listen to me. I’ve had pushback on that. I’ve said that to some people, and I had one guy say to me, he’s a follower of Jesus, and he said to me, “Why should I do anything for those women? They’re just getting what they deserve for their behavior.” What is wrong with you? They’re just getting what they deserve for their behavior? What would happen to us if God gave us what we deserved for our behavior? But he hasn’t because we’ve been saved by grace. And how can people who’ve been saved by grace fail to give anything other than grace to those around us?
So let’s act graciously. Let’s come alongside this one. I’m gonna give you a really practical way to do that right now. One of our favorite partners here at Mission Hills is Alternatives Pregnancy Center. And for years and years, they have been an alternative to abortion. They’ve been present to give young women who find themselves in that place they weren’t expecting an alternative to abortion, to help them get them through to delivering that child and to figure out what it looks like to either raise that child or to get that child to a family that will love them. They’re gonna be busy. They’re gonna be busier than they’ve ever been going forward.
So let’s practice acting with grace. I wanna encourage you to do this. Take your phone out right now. I’m gonna do it myself. I’m gonna text the word SPECIAL to 80875. Text the word SPECIAL to 80875. Just do it right now. You can also, if you want, you can go to missionhills.org/give and there’s a drop-down menu, and one of the options is Alternatives Pregnancy Center. If you wanna text it, just text the word SPECIAL to 80875. It immediately comes back with “What amount would you like?” I’m gonna put an amount. I’m doing this four times, so I’m gonna divide it up. There. I just acted with some grace.
And, honestly, it’s a small thing, but it’s a symbolic and an important gesture that we’re not just going, “Good, I’m so glad that God’s moving this way.” We’re going, “Okay, God, I’m gonna join you in your work in the world. And it may be costly to me, it may require some sacrifice on my part, but I’m gonna do it, because if I’ve been delivered by grace, I need also to be defined by it.”
Would you pray with me? God, we are so grateful for what you’ve done, but we recognize the work’s not over. As we contemplate what it would look like to come alongside women in this situation, delivering a child that they didn’t plan on, and, honestly, they didn’t want, we know that you want them. Regardless of what their earthly fathers and mothers might think about them, we know that they have a Father in heaven who loves them deeply. And we’re so grateful for what you’ve done here.
Lord, we accept your call, that if we have been delivered by grace, we also have to be defined by it. And so we ask for courage through your Holy Spirit to live that way, whether it’s in this issue or in any other issue, Lord. Give us the strength to live with grace, to speak with grace, to act with grace, and in so doing, to lift up the light of the Gospel, of the good news, in a way that draws people into relationship with you, which is our ultimate purpose, not to win battles against the culture but to win the people of the culture to faith in you.
Lord, we know there are people listening right now that, for the first time, they’ve understood this grace thing that Christians talk about. And maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re listening to this right now, and the only thing that’s really in your mind right now is this idea that God’s acceptance doesn’t depend on your performance. Maybe you spent your whole life thinking you had to earn God’s favor, and for the first time, you’re hearing that’s not Christianity, it’s not the Gospel, it’s not the good news. The good news is that God loves you so much his own Son died for you, rose from the dead, and offers you salvation by faith. And if you’ve never taken hold of that, you can do it right here right now.
I encourage you to, wherever you are, just have this conversation with God, say something like this. Say, “God, I have sinned. I admit it. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying for me. Thank you for your grace. I believe you rose from the dead, and I’m ready to put my faith in you. I’m ready to trust you and to receive from you forgiveness, adoption into your family, purpose, and eternal life. So, Jesus, I’m yours for now and forever. I’ll follow you. Amen.”
Hey, can we just celebrate those who’ve made the decision to trust in Jesus today? So excited about that. And, hey, listen, if you made that decision for the first time today, we would love to celebrate. Would you give us the opportunity to do that? Would you just text the word “Jesus” to 80875? Text “Jesus” to 80875. Or if you’re watching online, click the button you’ll see real close to me. Let us know you’ve made that decision. We’ll get you some free resources to help you begin living out this life that’s been delivered by grace and is to be defined by it.
Hey, would you stand up with us? Before we go out into a world that desperately needs us to be defined by the grace that has delivered us, let’s worship the God of grace. Amen?
Continuing in Colossians, we are encouraged to use our God-given, super-power of supernatural love to change the world! It is God’s will for us to love others as Jesus loved us, and yes, that means particularly using that power for those who are not just like us. Love in this spirit would change everything.
But I need to remind us the two things today, and the first one is this, our hope is not in this nation. Like, you know that, right? Like, feel free to love your country, but don’t pin any hopes on it because I got bad news for you. It’s going away. It’s going away. I mean, maybe it lasts until Jesus comes back, but once Jesus comes back, it’s going away. I’ve never heard of the Heavenly States of America. It’s going away. Our hope is not in any political power here in this country. It’s not in the state of this country. In fact, our hope is in a King who isn’t here. He’s not here now, but he is coming back and that’s where our hopes need to be. The Bible says, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” Right? Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s where our hope needs to be.
The second thing I wanna remind you of today is that Jesus has a plan for changing the world. You might look around at the state of our country, state of the world and you might be frustrated and you might wanna see change. And that’s fine. That’s good. But I want to remind you that Jesus actually has given us a plan for changing the world. And the reality is, Jesus’ plan for changing the world is a little different than sometimes the plan that the church has embraced. I’m gonna show you what I mean if you wanna follow along.
We’re gonna be in the Book of Colossians today, Colossians 1 starting in verse 7. Colossians 1:7. And if you’re just joining us, let me tell you this, last week we saw that the Book of Colossians was written by a guy named the Apostle Paul, a follower of Jesus named Paul, and a friend of his, Timothy. And they were writing to a group of followers of Jesus living in the Roman city of Colossae, which is in modern-day Turkey. And they were writing to them basically to say, like, “You guys are doing so well.” They were writing to them to say that they had truly understood God’s grace. And as we talked about that last week, grace is undeserved, sacrificial love. And when Paul said, “You have understood God’s grace, you’ve truly understood God’s grace,” what he was saying is basically, you’ve been delivered by God’s grace, but also your lives are being defined by it. You’re showing to other people the same grace that God showed you, and because of that, the Gospel is spreading.
And so now he says, Colossians 1:7, he says, “You learned it,” the Gospel of Grace, “You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant who is a faithful minister of Christ in our behalf and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” He says, “You heard about the Gospel from this guy named Epaphras and he told us that you embraced the Gospel.” But he also says, “He told us about your love in the Spirit.” And I wanna lean into that phrase. Paul says, “We’ve heard about your love in the Spirit.” What is that? What is love in the Spirit?
Let’s start with what kind of Spirit is he talking about? And the Spirit he’s talking about is the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit I find for a lot of people is a little bit confusing. Anybody ever been confused about how to think about the Holy Spirit? Yeah. Maybe you’re brand new to church and you’re like, “What Spirit are you talking about?” Or maybe, honestly, you grew up in church, but the Holy Spirit’s always been just a little tiny bit fuzzy. Here’s what I think is a very helpful way to think about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God working directly in our lives to make our purpose possible. Let me say that again. It’s worth understanding. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God, it’s the person of God who’s working directly in our lives in order to make our purpose possible.
If you were with us last week, you may remember that we talked about when we say yes to following Jesus, three things happen. Number one, we’re forgiven of our sin. It’s just gone. It’s wiped away. It’s forgiven. Number two, we’re adopted into God’s family. And then number three, we’re set apart for God’s purpose. And the purpose that God’s given us as followers of Jesus is to advance the Gospel, is to spread the Gospel further in the world. But the plan that God has for how we’re going to spread the Gospel is something we can’t do without the Holy Spirit. We cannot live out God’s plan for our purpose without God’s power, without the power of the Holy Spirit because God’s plan for spreading the Gospel is love. It’s love. Jesus said, “By this, everyone will know that you’re my disciples. By this, the Gospel will spread if you…” What’s that word, church? If you love one another.
And you might go, “Okay. Hang on a second. I don’t know why we need the Holy Spirit to be able to love people because, like, all kinds of people have love. People who don’t follow Jesus, they have love, every culture, every religion has love, so why would we need the Holy Spirit to have love?” And the answer is because Jesus is talking about a very different kind of love than you see anywhere else in the world. The kind of love that Jesus is talking about really isn’t possible because it’s a very different kind of love.
Here’s how Jesus described the love he’s talking about. He said, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for,” not pray against, pray for “those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other one also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”
“Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. And then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High because he,” because God, “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about. That’s the kind of love he says is going to advance the Gospel in the world. And I think we can probably all agree that’s a little bit different kind of love than we see in the world, right? Can I get an amen on that?
The world knows all about loving people who love you, but Jesus is, “Yeah, that’s not the love we’re talking about. I’m talking about the love where you love your enemies. I’m talking about the love where you have towards people not just in attitude but in action. I want you to do good for people who are trying to hurt you.” That’s the kind of love that will change everything. That’s a very different kind of love. And it’s a love that’s impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
But here’s what that means. I want you to follow me on this. What that means is if you’re a follower of Jesus, if you’ve said yes to following Jesus, then the Holy Spirit has come into your life because that’s the fourth thing that happens. We said there’s three things. We’re forgiven of our sins, we’re adopted into the family of God, we’re set apart for God’s purpose. But the fourth thing that happens is the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and begins to move in us, working in us, changing us from the inside out, and making possible what would otherwise be impossible. So, if you’re a follower of Jesus, then the Holy Spirit is in your life and that means, follow me on this, it means you have a superpower. You hear me? If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have a superpower, which is supernatural love. Because of the Holy Spirit in your life, you have the ability to love people in a way that the world does not understand. You have the ability to love people in a way that the world has not seen. And unfortunately, it’s a love that the world often hasn’t seen because the church hasn’t done it.
And here’s the reality. Can we just be honest about this? Too often in the history of the church, our super ability has been a secret identity. Hear me, church? Too often in the history of the church, we haven’t loved other people in the way that Jesus go. We haven’t loved our enemies, we haven’t done good to those who hurt us. We’ve actually hated them back. Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We’ve kind of gotten that backwards a lot, haven’t we? No, I do to others as they do to me. Isn’t that what Jesus…? I mean, pretty close, right? Yeah, but it’s not. And the reality is, even though we have this super ability, we haven’t always shown it too often in the history of the church. Our super ability has been a secret identity. They haven’t seen it.
But that’s not true in Colossae. For this group of followers of Jesus in the Roman city of Colossae, Paul says, “We’ve heard about your love in the Spirit. We’ve heard about this love. It’s only made possible by the Spirit. And it’s because of that that the Gospel is advancing.” And he says, “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” Understand he’s not praying for them because they’re getting it wrong and need to be corrected. He’s praying for them because they’re getting it right and they need to be encouraged to keep it going. He says, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”
And whenever we hear about the knowledge of God’s will, in the modern world, we often think about, you know, God’s gonna tell me specific things I need to do. So, we’re like, “I need to know God’s will. Should I apply to college? Should I go to that college? Should I date that girl? Should I marry this person? Should I try out for that team? Should I take that job? Should I stay here or move there?” We want God’s knowledge about specific kind of things like that, but in this context, when he’s talking about the knowledge of God’s will, the knowledge of God’s will is knowing that it is God’s will to love others as Jesus loved us. Do you hear me, church? That’s the knowledge of his will he’s talking about. He wants them to grow in this understanding that God’s primary will for us is that we would love others the way that Jesus loved us. And he says, “I want that to come with understanding and wisdom from the Spirit because that kind of love isn’t easy to live out, that kind of love isn’t easy to figure out,” but the Holy Spirit in us will make that possible if we’ll just learn to listen to him. He says, “I want all this ‘so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.'”
He wants us to live lives that are worthy of Jesus, that will please Jesus in every way. And what is a life that is worthy of Jesus? What is a life that will please Jesus in every way? It’s a life that’s not just delivered by grace. It’s a life that is, we talked about last week, defined by grace. It’s a life that’s delivered by God’s grace and then it’s defined by giving to others the same grace that God showed us. That’s a life that’s worthy of the Lord and will please him in every way. He says, “Bearing fruit in every good work.” Bearing fruit. I know we got a lot of kids with us this weekend, and, kids, I know that in kids’ ministry this summer you’re studying the gifts of the Spirit. So, I bet somebody knows the very first fruit that the Spirit starts to bring out in our lives, the very first fruit of the Spirit. Can anybody yell it out? What’s the first fruit of the Spirit?
Craig: Love. Love, and joy, peace, and patience, and kindness, and forbearance and… And then there’s a list that goes on, but it starts with love. That’s the fruit. He says, “Bearing fruit in every good work.” And by the way, notice that good work, that’s good deeds. Okay? That’s actions. He’s not talking about love in attitude. He’s talking about love in action, that actually does things for people. What people? Our enemies and those who hate us. “Growing in the knowledge of God,” he says. Not just information about God, it’s not knowing information about God, it’s actually knowing God personally. It’s a personal relationship with God where the grace of God comes into us and then it flows out of us onto other people. It defines our relationship with other people.
He says, “Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” Why would we need great endurance and patience? Because loving others the way Jesus loved us is hard. It’s costly. It’s exhausting. It’s taxing. And so he says, “Yeah. I want you to have endurance and patience to keep doing it, to keep going even when you don’t necessarily see the results.” “And giving joyful thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and he’s brought us into the kingdom of the Son that he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
And he’s saying there kind of very similar to what we saw and said last week. Last week we talked… So, I’m talking about the hope of heaven. And what we said is, yeah, what that means is that when our hope is in heaven, our hope is not in anything on earth, which means that we’re free to use the things of earth to live on mission with Jesus. Because we’re not looking at any treasures on earth and going, “Well, but this is where my hope is, and I got to hold on to this so that I have hope in the future and I have confidence and security,” because we don’t look to those things for hope because we look to heaven. We’re free to use those things to live on mission with Jesus, to love others in the way Jesus loved us. Now he’s saying the same thing. He says, “You have an inheritance in heaven, and because you have an inheritance in heaven, you don’t need to worry about holding tight to all of your things here on earth.”
I mean, imagine for a second that somebody came and visited you this afternoon, a lawyer came and they said to you, “Hey, just wanted you to know, kind of a strange thing, but Jeff Bezos has named you as the sole inheritor of his entire estate.” Anybody be excited by that? Can we get an amen on that one? Here’s the question I have for you. Imagine that’s happening. Imagine you know that’s coming. What would you do with the resources you have right now? Would you be like, “Oh, I gotta hold on to these as tight as I can. I gotta save them up carefully. I can’t afford to be generous?” You’d be like, “I can use these things for anything I want.” And Jesus would say, “Yeah, but what if you didn’t just use them for the things that you wanted? What if you use them for the things that I wanted? What if you use them to love other people, even those who hate you?”
See, if we have an inheritance in heaven, listen, because of our future inheritance, we’re free to use our present resources to do good for others, even those who hate us. It’s what Paul is talking about. The future inheritance changes the way we think about our present resources and what we can do with them. And my question here today is this. What do you think would happen if we actually did that? What do you think would happen if we used our resources to love even our enemies, to do good even for those who hate us? What do you think would happen if we decided, “You know what? I’m never gonna let my super ability to love, I’m never gonna let my super ability be a secret identity?” What do you think would happen if we committed that our super ability would never be a secret identity?
I think it would change everything. I think it would change everything. I think everything that we long to see happen in our country would happen. I think everything that we long to see in our country wouldn’t just happen in our country, it would happen in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our community, in our state, in our country. It would change the world. That’s what I think would happen. And I know some of you are like, “My pastor is so naive.” Right? “My pastor is so naive. You really think love can do that? You really think love can overcome the political divide in this country? You really think love can overcome all the hatred and the racism and the injustice and the financial inequalities and all those problems that we’re facing? You really think love could fix that?” Yeah. And I don’t believe it’s naive because it’s happened. Love has done that.
1112 AD, about 50 years after Paul wrote this letter to the church at Colossae to say, “I’ve heard about your love in the Spirit. I’ve heard about… You’re not letting your super ability be a secret identity.” About 50 years after that, the Roman Emperor, Trajan, kind of hit some snags in his leadership and so he decided to do what Roman Emperors often did in those days, which was to blame the Christians. And so he sent out an edict. He went to all the governors in the Roman Empire. He basically said, “I want you to round up the Christians, put them in jail. We’ll use them as a scapegoat.”
And one of the governors was a man named Pliny the Younger. And Pliny did what Trajan wanted him to do. He went out and he started arresting Christians. And he ran into a little bit of a problem that he didn’t expect, that the Roman Emperor didn’t expect, and that is that there were a lot more Christians than he thought there were. In fact, there were so many of them that he ended up writing back to the governor for advice. And here’s what he said. He said, “For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you,” kinda need to come back and get your advice, “especially,” he said, “because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, rank, and also both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms.” In other words, read between lines. What he said was, “Hey, I tried to do what you said. I went out, I was gonna arrest the Christians, and it turns out they’re everywhere. They’re everywhere. I mean, they’re not just in the cities. It’s out in the villages. It’s on the farms. It’s not just poor people. It’s rich people. It’s every rank in society. It’s male and female. It’s slaves. It’s free. They’re everywhere. And I don’t know if you knew how many there were.”
Fifty years after Paul wrote this, the number of Christians, the number of followers of Jesus had spread so much so that one of the Roman governors didn’t even think he could follow the Roman Emperor’s command to arrest all of them. He said, “There’s too many of them.” But maybe even more interestingly, he took on a little project as he was arresting some of them, and that is he wanted to find out what was wrong with them. He wanted to find out why they were a threat to the empire. And so he started asking questions. And he was a little confused by the answers he got. And so this is what he said to the Emperor. He said, “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.”
In other words, one day a week, that was Sunday, they would meet before dawn and they would sing worship songs. And they met on Sunday because that was the day the resurrection happened, but they had to go before dawn. And you know why they had to go before dawn? Because it was a workday. So that’s when they did church. They did church before the sun came up on a workday. Can you imagine what would happen to church attendance today if we held worship services in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning? But that’s what the Christians were doing. He said, “That’s what they were doing. They were singing hymns to Christ as to a god,” and they were swearing to do something. They were committing an oath to each other. Every week they would basically swear to each other, “I’m gonna live a particular way.” And here’s what he said they were gonna do. He said, “And to bind themselves by an oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, to never cheat anybody, not to commit theft, never to take from anybody, not to commit adultery, to always be faithful, not to falsify their trust,” in other words, not to lie. To be men of their word, to be women of their word. “Nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.” In other words, when people ask them for something, they said, “Yeah, we’re gonna give it. If it’s in our power, we’re gonna do it.”
“And then when it was over,” when their meeting was over, “it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food- but ordinary and innocent food.” I have no idea what guilty food is. But he’s talking there about communion, he’s talking about the Lord’s Supper. “And even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict.” In other words, he had said, “Hey, I don’t want you doing that anymore.” And they had agreed not to do it anymore. “After my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations.” In other words, he had forbidden communion because it was political. How is it political? Because in communion, they were celebrating Jesus not only as God but also as King, and they were saying, “Our loyalty is to that King.” He said, “You guys gotta stop that because your loyalty needs to be the Emperor.
Accordingly, he said, “Because I asked and I wanted to know what their problem was, what their crimes were, and all I got back was they would meet on Sunday morning before dawn and they’d sing hymns to Jesus and then swear not to do anything bad, just to do good things for people. And it’s like, “That can’t be right. There’s gotta be more to that story.” “Accordingly,” he said, “I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition. In other words, they told me what they were doing wrong, and I was like, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, so you gotta be lying, so I’m gonna torture a few of you.” And he tortured a couple of them and the only thing he got back was, “That’s all they’re doing.” Isn’t that interesting?
Sounds a lot like a group of people who were getting together every week to go, “Hey, let’s make sure that our super ability is not a secret identity. Let’s meet together every week and let’s swear to follow Jesus by doing good for others.” And you know what happened? You know what that accomplished? It changed everything. Two hundred years after that, the Roman Empire itself, the same empire that had executed Jesus ended up embracing Jesus. That love flipped the Roman Empire upside down. It went from being a persecuted sect within the Roman Empire to being the faith of that same empire. That love changed everything.
So, my question to you today is, would you be willing to make that same kind of an oath on a regular basis? Would you be willing to agree today and maybe as we go on forward, would you be willing to agree together that our super ability will never be a secret identity? Would you be willing to agree to that with me? Let’s bind ourselves in an oath today. Let’s say it together. And I’m gonna count to three and we’re gonna say, “My super ability will not be a secret identity or I’m gonna love others in the way Jesus has loved me.” On three, let’s do that. One, two, three.
Together: My super ability will not be a secret identity.
Craig: If we actually love that way, it will change everything. I’ve been in a lot of conversations over the years where somebody will try to get a conversation and go… They’ll say, like, “Hey, if you had one superpower, what would it be?” And people go, “Yeah, I’d like the ability to fly, you know, super speed, super strength.” I’ve always been kind of a big fan of Captain America. I always thought if I had his super strength, that’d be the best. But see, here’s the problem with super strength. With super strength, you can win over your enemies, but with super love, you can win your enemies over. And that’s way better.
So, here’s my question for you today. Who do you need to reveal your superpower to? If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have a supernatural ability to love others the way Jesus loved us. Who in your life needs to know your superpower? It’s good to start. It’s fine to start with people who love us, with people who think like us, with people who agree with us.
And by the way, last week, in response to the Roe v. Wade decision Supreme Court, we decided to take up an offering to share with Alternatives Pregnancy Center so that they could come alongside women who find themselves in a difficult place carrying a child that they weren’t expecting. And Mission Hills donated $75,000 last week. That is awesome. And actually, that’s not really accurate. That’s how much was donated to the church, but we’ve heard from Alternates a lot of money is just being given straight to them. So, we don’t even really know what it is, but it’s a lot of money. And that’s fantastic. The only problem with it is that’s people who think like we do, it’s people who agree with us. That’s our friends. What enemies need to know your superpower? That’s the much harder thing, but that’s where the power of the Spirit moves us.
So, who in your life do you have the greatest conflict with? Who in your life doesn’t like you? And honestly, maybe you don’t like them. Maybe you got a bully at school who treats you badly. Maybe there’s somebody in your neighborhood that you’re just in contact with. Maybe there’s somebody at work. Maybe there’s somebody in your family. Which of those people need to know your superpower?
Let’s pray on this. Would you join me? God, we’re grateful for your superpower of love because we’re told that while we were yet sinners, you died for us. You didn’t love us because we loved you back. You didn’t love us because we did good for you. You loved the very people who executed you, and that includes us because our sin nailed you to that cross and you went there willingly because of this love. And we recognize, Lord, that the same love that was put upon us has also been put within us by the power of your Holy Spirit. And if we could simply love others, even our enemies the way that you’ve loved us, Lord, that would change so many things that we long to see change in our culture. It’s not power that’s gonna do that, it’s not political leverage that’s gonna do that. It’s love. Lord, do in our culture what you’ve done in the past. Change everything because your people agree the super ability you’ve given us will not be a secret identity. Lead us, Holy Spirit, as we look to live that out this week in Jesus’ name. Amen.
SOMEONE’S GOT TO BE FIRST
We are led this week by Scott Ridout as he continues our series. He focuses on our need to work to keep Jesus at the forefront of all we do. By having Jesus as your number one, under his control, you will be a stronger representative for Christ and in doing so, you will draw others to him.
And a few things we celebrated just so you know, we, by God’s grace, for the last two years, even during the pandemic, we saw 8,950 new congregations begin across the world. And we’re so grateful to God for that. Seventy-eight of those congregations were also here in the United States as well. We celebrated the giving to the Ukraine efforts. The Mission Hills was a part of that. We’ve had almost $1 million come in to help in Ukraine, and we have missionaries close by that are helping the refugees and others that are in that. And just God is doing great things.
We had a lot of great speakers at that. But there’s this one guy, his name was Craig Smith. He was really good, really good. Craig is such a good communicator. Hope you realize what a great pastor that you have and what a gift Craig is to this congregation and to this community.
So I wanna take you back to June 4th, 1988. Do you remember where you were? I do because it was an earth-shattering event. I was getting married that day. And my wife, Lisa, and I, she grew up in Philadelphia. The church was there in Philly and we were getting married and it was gonna be an exciting day. “Look at that young couple, aren’t they cute? Aren’t they amazing?” And I’m the one in the tuxedo just so you know. So we were getting ready and yet, there was a law at play that day. It’s called Murphy’s Law. Does anyone know Murphy’s Law? It’s this idea that whatever can go wrong will go wrong.
And we just had thing, after thing, after thing, go wrong on our wedding day. It started off in the morning. We were getting our tuxedos and they weren’t the right tuxedos, and they were the wrong sizes. They didn’t have the right shoes. One of my friends had a 13.5 E-size foot. They didn’t have shoes for him, so we had to spray paint some of his…you know, black spray paint some of his shoes that were in the trunk of his car. It was horrible. And then later that day, so it was an evening wedding, started at 7:00, at least it’s supposed to, but my wife’s grandfather got lost on the way to the church. He was 20 minutes late, and we couldn’t start without Grandpa, right? So we were 20 minutes late starting.
And then the pastor spoke. How long does the pastor speak at a wedding? Answer? Forty-five minutes, 45 minutes at my wedding. And so now it’s after 9:00, and we were gonna do some photographs and things like that. But the photographer had an alcohol problem. And she went to the local bar. We had to rescue her out of the local bar. It was 10:00 at night now, and now everyone’s leaving for the reception. We didn’t get to go to our reception. We cut the cake and we cut out because it was our wedding night and we had a flight early in the morning to go somewhere. And so we went to the hotel. And I’m not gonna say which chain it was, Embassy Suites, but, you know, they gave away our room. We prepaid for it and they gave away our room, and like, “Jesus, there’s no room in the inn. There was no room for Scott and Lisa at the Embassy Suites and we had to go to a different hotel. We didn’t get to the hotel until like 2:00 in the morning. We had a 6:00 flight. You know, it was a crazy, crazy day.
Now the only two good things I can pull out of that day, one is I married the love of my life, all right? So we’ve been married 34 years and we’re hoping for 34 more. And the second was this long-winded pastor. He was actually a great guy. His name was Perry Bowers, and he actually moved to another church just a few weeks later, and he had invited me to be his youth pastor. I was brand new in ministry and he took me under his wing and, boy, was he a great coach. I mean, not only did he teach me about ministry, he taught me about marriage, he taught me about family. He was a model to me. I love Perry Bowers.
And there was one more thing that kind of stuck with me over the years. He had these statements. He had these simple ways of saying things. And he talked about our relationship with God, and he had these three statements. I’m gonna share those with you because it really apply to what we’re talking about today.
He would say this, statement number one, “Everyone has something that’s number one in their life.” Everyone has something that’s number one in their life and, you know, it’s important, kind of you center your life around that. Statement number two, “Whatever is number one in your life will control you.” I mean, for example, if you’re all about money, then all your decisions are gonna be made about making more money. If you’re all about fame, you know, and notoriety and climbing the corporate ladder, all your decisions are gonna help you climb the corporate ladder. If you’re all about family, then all your decisions are gonna be made based on what’s most important, what’s number one, family. And so whatever you have… Everyone has something that’s number one. Whatever’s number one in your life will control you and your resources, your decisions, your time, your talent, all that’s gonna go that direction because whatever’s number one controls you. Statement number three, “God wants to be number one in your life, and he loves you.” God wants to be number one in your life and he loves you.
Today, I wanna talk to you about what’s number one in your life. Now, there’s a whole lot of experienced Christians in the room and, you know, you’re like, “Well, this is kind of foundational.” Yeah, it is. And I find that I have to make that decision every single morning when I get up. How about you? I mean, I’ve got to decide what’s gonna be number one in my life because there’s so many pressures, there’s so many decisions to be made. There’s so many things that could be number one. And I don’t know if you know this, but Jesus often has to fight for first place in our lives. And so I’m gonna talk to you about what’s number one in your life.
That was the conversation between Paul and the Colossians. Paul was in jail, and he was writing to them. He’d never been to this church. He’d never been to this town. He’d never met these people, but he had a friend there. His name was Epaphras, and Epaphras was a disciple of Paul. And Epaphras kind of wrote to him and said, “Hey, listen, lots of great things happen here at the church, but we have this new group that’s coming to the church and they’re teaching a gospel that’s different than the Gospel that you taught us, Paul, and they’re causing some trouble.” They were called the Gnostics, the G-N-O-S-T-I-C-S, Gnostics. The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word Ginosko, which means to know.
And the idea behind the Gnostics was they had a secret knowledge. They had a knowledge that no one else knew about spirituality, and how to get to God, and how God acted, and all those sorts of things. And so he was saying, “Listen, these things are true, these things are right.” But Paul was saying, “No, no, no, no.” And Epaphras was saying, “No, no, they’re not right.” See, what the Gnostics would do is they wouldn’t delete Jesus, they would just kind of diminish him. They weren’t against Jesus, but they would throw a whole bunch of things alongside of him. Jesus was prominent in their teaching. He just wasn’t preeminent. They questioned his person, his position, his power. Jesus wasn’t number one. He wasn’t number one.
Listen, when you get confused about Jesus, you’re gonna be confused about everything else in the Gospel, and church, and the Christian life. See, their idea was this that Jesus wasn’t enough. And Paul’s here to write and say this that Jesus plus nothing is everything. Jesus plus nothing is everything. Say it with me, Jesus plus nothing is everything. And Paul’s here to talk about the sufficiency of Christ, that he is enough and the supremacy of Christ that he should be number one in the church in Colossae. And my hope is that Jesus will be number one in your life as well because you’ll see some amazing things about him. No wonder we worship him. No wonder we wanna be led by him. No wonder we wanna become like Jesus and join him on mission.
Do me a favor. Turn your Bibles to Colossians chapter 1, verse 15. We’ll show it on the screens as well. And so he’s writing this. By the way, these next few verses, actually, they’re a hymn, according to a lot of scholars, a hymn in the old church. Back then they didn’t have a lot of books, they didn’t have a lot of people that could read, and so the way they taught theology was through their singing. And it’s kind of, like, if you grew up in a tradition… I grew up in a tradition that had the doxology. It’s actually a theology to music. And that’s what he’s doing here. They would sing this. And so we’re gonna kind of join him in the song that they were singing about who Jesus is. This is probably the most compact, clear, full explanation of who Jesus is, and why he should be first in our life at any of the place in the Bible.
So let’s pick it up in verse 15 starting at the beginning. It says this, “The Son,” talking about Jesus, “The Son is the image of the invisible God.” “The Son is the image of the invisible God.” Now the first attack of the Gnostics was on the person of Jesus. The question is who is Jesus? Who is he? They had this idea that God could not actually connect at all with anything physical. In fact, physical things, material things were evil. And so God certainly wouldn’t become man. He certainly wouldn’t join us. And so what God did instead is he generated, he emanated different beings to kind of deal with the riffraff in the physical world.
And the idea behind the Gnostics is that Jesus was weakened, he was watered down, he was less than God, and as generations went, it got worse and worse and they were less and less powerful. And they thought Jesus was in that. By the way, there’s a group today called the Jehovah Witnesses that would actually believe that Jesus is not God, that he is a created being, and he actually fits into this kind of thinking. But that’s not the way that Paul thought. What Paul says, his response is, “No, no, no, Jesus is God. Jesus is God. He’s the image of the invisible God. He is the visible of the invisible. He is the seen of the unseen.
The idea in the Bible is that God himself is invisible. You know, Justin was talking about Exodus 33 in that passage. It’s really interesting. I love this verse where it says that, “God used to walk with Moses like a man would with his friend.” Can you imagine that? It says, “God would walk with Moses like a man would with his friend,” but he wasn’t visible. He was just with him. And at that point in time, Moses says, “Show me your glory.” He was just, “Show yourself to me.” And God’s response in verse 20 of Exodus 33 is this, “You cannot see my face for no one can see me and live.” God wouldn’t show himself because he loved Moses.
And 1 Timothy chapter 6, verse 16, Paul talks about this same idea that God is invisible. He says that, “God is immortal. He lives in unapproachable light, and he’s someone who no one has seen nor can see.” So the Bible says over, and over, and over again that God himself is invisible, but that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He’s the seen of the unseen, that he is God himself.
In fact, there’s a conversation between Jesus and his disciples in John 14. How many of you have ever heard this verse, “Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me?” Yeah, he’s talking in that, and he’s having this conversation. The night before he dies, he’s having this conversation. And some of the disciples are restless. The disciples give me kind of… They give me courage at times because if Jesus can deal with them, he can certainly deal with me. And one of them, his name is Philip, he’s like, “Okay, just show us the Father and that’ll be enough.” And Jesus says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Really? Phillip, don’t you know me by now? Don’t you know he who has seen me has seen the Father?”
The writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus this way in verse 3 of chapter 1. He says, “The Son,” talking about Jesus, “is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being.” He is the radiance of God’s glory. If you were to go to the sun, our solar system, sun, if you’d go there and you were to say, “So when does the sun end and the radiance begin?” No one can just draw a line. There it is. There’s a mixture there. There’s, okay, there it is. It’s one. They’re one and the same. That’s why it says he’s the exact representation of his being. There’s nothing left out, no attributes, no qualities, no characters. Nothing is left out of Jesus. He’s the exact representation. The writer of Hebrews said that.
Here’s my theological statement. Here’s how bright I am. I just say that, you know, “Jesus says he’s God with a bod.” If you wanna see God, look at the person of Jesus. The writer of the book of John. John was one of the disciples. He says it this way in chapter 1 verse 1 of his book. He was very close. He was the disciple that Jesus loved. And here’s what he says. He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It’s kind of mysterious the way he writes that, especially if you’re not from a church background you know the answer. But in verse 14, he explains what the word is. He said this, “And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us,” and the light goes on. Okay, the word is Jesus.
And now we go back to verse 1 and it says this, “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.” John thought he was God. You see it again in verse 18 of the same chapter, he’s kind of taking the invisible God and the image of Christ and putting it all together. And he says this in verse 18, “No one has seen God,” there’s the invisible part, “but the one and only Son who is himself God is the closest in relationship with the Father and has made him known.”
John says Jesus is God. The Hebrew writer says Jesus is God. Paul says Jesus is God. Jesus himself says, “I’m God. He who has seen me has seen the Father.” This is what we believe. This is God in the bod. This is the Emmanuel, God with us. God made flesh and dwelt among us. This is the teaching of the church. It’s just the opposite of what the Gnostic said. They said, “He isn’t God,” but he said, “No, no, he is fully God and fully man. He’s divinity and humanity that Jesus is God.” That’s the foundation for everything that Paul is about to say. And now he’s gonna go through a list of where Jesus is first and how Jesus is first when it comes to everything under the sun.
He says this, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” So the first thing he says, the first is this, “Jesus is first overall creation.” He’s first. Now it does use the word firstborn, and it seems kind of confusing at times. Okay, how many firstborns are in the room? These are the people that are in charge. And the firstborn typically, you raise the firstborn, you say that because of timing because you were the first one born in the family. My son, Jonathan, is the firstborn of my kids. He’s two years older than his sister Ashlyn, who’s two years older than her brother, David. He is the firstborn of the family and people use it, and the Bible uses it. Sometimes firstborn means timing, but most of the time, it doesn’t. Most of the time in the Bible, firstborn is an issue of rank and not timing. For example, in Exodus chapter 4, verse 22, Israel is called the firstborn of the nations. Was Israel the first nation? No. And, in fact, we see the formation of Israel in the Bible. There’s already a bunch of nations there. What it means is that Israel’s got favor with God. That’s all it means. He’s got a favorite.
There’s a story of two brothers named Jacob and Esau. And Esau is the older one, Jacob is the younger one. And one day Esau gets back, he’s hungry and Jacob has made some soup, and he sells his birthright for a bowl of soup. Don’t sell your birthright, firstborns. Don’t sell your birthright for a bowl of soup, right? At least some chili all right? But just don’t sell your birthright. And now Jacob is now called in the Bible the firstborn, even though he’s second. The firstborn of Isaac is his father.
It says in Psalm chapter 89, verse 27 or so, it calls the Messiah the Anointed One. He’s the firstborn among the kings of the earth. Well, firstborn doesn’t mean he’s the first king, even though he is the King of kings and Lord of lords, but he wasn’t the first king in this world, but he is the King over all kings. He’s the first. He’s the best. He’s rank, again. And finally, there’s ancient rabbis who would talk about God, God the Father, saying, “He’s the firstborn of the world.” God’s not born.
So this is definitely rank. And this is what Jesus is talking about here. Paul is talking about Jesus here that he’s the firstborn over creation, and verse 16 explains it. “For,” it says, it starts this way, “For because in him all things were created.” Why is Jesus first? Because he created all things, “Things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or powers, or rulers, or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” This is definitely rank. He’s first because he created everything and then he makes a list and the list is things in heaven and things on earth and the things in heaven, the stars, and the moon, and the sky, and the galaxies, and the planets, and, you know, all that sort of stuff is created by him.
Things on earth like the mountains, and the valleys, and the hills, and the oceans, and the seas, and the rivers, and the lakes, and the ponds, and the birds, and the bees, and the flowers, and the trees, and the moon up above and a thing called love. I’m sorry I digress there. But all that stuff, all that stuff, Jesus created all those things. He is the source of all those things. He created everything visible and invisible.
Let me just blow your mind for a minute. Jesus created time. Have you ever wondered how can God see what happened in the past, what’s happened in the present, what’s happened in the future? How does he know what’s gonna happen in the future? It’s because God is outside of time. So when God looks at all of time, he’s looking from the outside in and he can see what happened in the past, what happened in the present, what’s happening in the future, all at once. In the words of most junior highers. Wow. He creates what’s visible and invisible. And he starts to list some of the invisible things, thrones, and powers, and rulers, and authorities. And a lot of scholars think this is angelic realms and other things. No, it’s just Jesus’ power. But God created invisible things. That’s why Jesus could walk on water, why he could heal diseases, why he could cast out demons because he had authority over the physical world and authority over the spiritual world. He had everything. “He is before all things,” it says. He’s before all things. He existed long before there was anything. He’ll exist long after everything is gone.
Revelation 22, verse 13. Jesus says this about himself, “I’m the Alpha and the Omega.” Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Omega is the last letter. He says, “I’m the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He’s not just the source, but he is the sustainer of all things.
Now, I’m gonna geek out on you a little bit, you know. I love science. I have a lot of friends who are Christians who are scientists and they understand that God created everything. It’s really interesting how scientists, they’re struggling with how does everything hold together? How does it all hold together, and they’ll talk about ionic bonds, and covalent bonds, and metallic bonds, and you get to the human genome and they’re gonna start talking about laminin as a glycoprotein that holds things together. You get down to the atomic level and they’ll talk about quantum electrodynamics. And you get down to the proton level with the quarks and gluons and things like that, and they’ll talk about quantum chromodynamics and all this other stuff.
But here’s the point. All of it shows order. All of it shows intelligent design. All of it shows that this isn’t random. There are laws that are at work. There are things that can’t be explained. How does everything have such order? The answer is there’s an intelligent designer, his name is Jesus. Do you know him? And if you just take enough time, to be honest about it, study of the creation will point you to a Creator. “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord,” the Bible says.
I’m so excited the number of scientists, the number of people who love science but also love Jesus is just… It continues to grow in this world because it all points to him. He’s the Creator of all things. He’s a sustainer of all things. He holds everything together. So here’s the question. If he can hold the whole world in his hands, and, by the way, that’s very theological. He holds the whole world in his hands. He holds you and me, brother, in his hands. He holds you and me, sister. A very theological song. If he can hold all universe together, hold the world together, hold the mountains together, what do you think he can do with you?
Is there really any issue in your life that Jesus can’t come in and sustain you? Is there anything that you’re gonna face that he can’t uphold you, and lift you, and take care of you? He said, “I’ll never leave you or forsake you.” He’s an ever-present help in time of trouble. So I don’t know what you’re going through these days. I don’t know what the problems are. I know that I got a whole lot of things. These last two years have just been hard. And I just have to remember that Jesus is number one, that he’s first over all creation, he’s first over everything that goes on in this life, and I just have to choose to trust him.
It goes on in verse 18. It says… He’s not just the head over creation. It says, “And he is the head over the body, the church.” So he’s first over creation. Second thought it says, “He’s first over the church.” He’s first over the church. The Gnostics attacked his position, they attacked his person. They also attacked his power. “He’s not first over the church. There’s lots of things that the church has to deal with.” And the Gnostics were wrong. So Jesus is the head over the church.
There’s a lot of allusions to what the church is in the Bible. Some say it’s a house, some say it’s a temple, some say it’s like a bride, some say it’s a flock, but here it talks about the head, and it says, “Jesus is the head of the church.” Heads are really important. I mean, a body without a head is dead. A body with two heads, that’s a monster. You don’t want that one, either, you know. But Jesus is the one head of the church. When I get an opportunity to come to places like this people ask me, “Whose church are you going to?” And I say, “Well, I’m going to Craig’s church because Craig and I are friends.” And they know Craig, and I have to change that. This isn’t Craig’s church, is it? It’s Christ’s church. It belongs to Jesus.
I think actually, I do some work around the world with different groups. And I have a group called the Global Alliance for Church Multiplications, about 80 organizations that are trying to start churches in the least-reached peoples of the world. And our goal over the last 10 years was we would plant 5 million new churches. And we didn’t plant 5 million. We did, by God’s grace, plant 2.5 million churches in the last 10 years, by God’s grace on that. Yay, God.
I’m working with another group called Finish the Task. They have a leader. His name is Rick Warren, and Rick got his teams together. And my job is to help the denominations of the world to work together. Pray for me, all right? So we work together and we’re seeing some traction in that. And I always get asked, you know, how many churches are in Converge? And how many churches are in the United States? Does anyone know? How many churches are in the world? And my answer is always the same. One. There’s just one church and there’s just one head of the church. His name is Jesus. Do you know him?
And so when we wanna talk about our preferences or the way things we want done and whatever, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what does Jesus want the church to be? What is the church supposed to do to honor him? How are we gonna become like Jesus and join him on mission? That’s how you say it here at Mission Hills. We wanna make sure that Jesus is first. He’s the head of the body, the church. It goes on to say this, “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” So he’s the first over creation. He’s first over the church, and now it says he’s first over death.
Now I love this. It is like, is this rank or is it timing? He uses that word firstborn again, which is that I think it’s probably both. How could it be both? Aren’t there stories in the Old Testament of people rising from the dead? Yeah, there are. Aren’t there even stories in Jesus’ ministry where he rose people from the dead? Yeah, how can he be first if all these people were before him? How could it be a timing thing? Well, it’s because it was a different kind of resurrection.
See, all those people rose back to life, but then they died again. That’s not resurrection. That’s resuscitation. They came back and they went back, you know. But Jesus rose once, never to die again. Romans chapter 6, verse 9 says, “But we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again.” That’s different than everybody else. So he’s first in timing. But he’s also first in rank because it says this, “That death no longer has mastery over him.” Death no longer has mastery over him. So here’s the good news for us believers. If death no longer has mastery over him, if he’s the master over death and he’s also the master over us, that means that he conquered death, so he owns life and he can give it to whomever he pleases. Aren’t you glad he gave it to you and to me through his death on the cross? Jesus is first over death.
It goes on and says this in verse 19, “For God was pleased to have,” circle these words, “all his fullness dwell in him,” in Jesus, “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” The first words, the “all his fullness,” that word “all” is used seven times in the passage we’re reading today. The word “all” is an English word translated from the Greek back to the English. Do you know what it means, all? That’s seminary work right there. You know, there you go. It means nothing’s left out. So all of God’s fullness was in Jesus. Again, he’s just reemphasizing, “Listen, Jesus is God.”
Now all this fullness was put to work. It was put to work for the biggest issue in the world, the biggest problem that needs to be solved. Let me just tell you right now, the biggest problem in the world is not political. The biggest problem in the world is not social. The biggest problem in the world is not educational. Those things can’t… They’re not the biggest problems, and they can’t be solved by those things. The biggest problem in the world is spiritual, it’s relational. And it’s not just… It has more to do with our relationship with God. The biggest problem is relational. And the good news is this, Jesus is first over sin. According to this passage, he’s first over sin. It uses some words here about reconciling and making peace. The biggest issue is that, whether we realize or not, we’ve been at war with God our entire lives. That there’s a gap between us and God. It’s called sin. Sin is missing God’s perfect mark, not doing exactly what God has said. Did anyone ever sinned? Yeah, me too.
And the problem is that sin separates us from God. It says in Romans chapter 6, verse 23, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And so here’s what happens. And this is where the Gnostics got it wrong. The Gnostics said, “We have the secret knowledge, and if you work with us, and walk with us, and do the things we tell you to, you can earn your way into God’s favor, you can earn your way into his presence, you can earn your way into a relationship with him.” And Paul’s like, “No, that’s not the Gospel. That’s achieving. That’s what we do.” And none of that actually works, according to the Bible. See, it’s not about achieving, it’s about believing and receiving. It’s not about earning, it’s about learning and yearning. It’s not about what we’ve done, it’s about what Jesus Christ has done. And so rather than us working our way to God, God in his love, and mercy, and grace, worked his way to us and the person of Jesus and said, “This is a gift. All you need to do is believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin.”
So this passage in this part talks about his incarnation is becoming flesh, but it also talks about his atonement. That’s not a word we use very much, but an atonement is paying a debt for somebody else. It’s making reparations for a wrong that’s been experienced. And what Jesus did is he came and he lived a perfect life and then he died on the cross. He paid our penalty. The wages of sin is death. He paid that for you and I and said, “Listen, if you’ll trust in my death as payment for your sin and my resurrection for power for your living, you could have eternal life. You can have this repair between you and God.”
So here’s the good thing to think about. When it comes to our salvation, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been. It doesn’t matter what’s been done to you. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been gone, or how deep the hole is that you’ve dug. Jesus is bigger, Jesus is stronger, Jesus is better, Jesus is able, Jesus is sufficient. He is enough and he is supreme. Jesus is the answer to everything. Jesus plus nothing is everything. He’s the one that allows us to have a relationship with God. Let me ask you, do you know him? Is he number one in your life?
Let’s go on, and it says this in verse 21. It says, “Once you were alienated from God…” and now he’s explaining what happened. “Once you were alienated from God and you were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” This is where we were. “But now,” change, “But now he has reconciled you,” he’s made peace, “he’s reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. If you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the Gospel.” He says, “The Gnostics are telling you a different gospel. It’s all about earning but it’s not. It’s not about achieving; it’s about believing and receiving.” He said, “This is the Gospel that you heard,” the Gospel of Grace. “This is the Gospel that you heard and was proclaimed to every creature under heaven of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
Once more we see Jesus is first. He’s first over creation. He’s first over church. He’s first over death. He’s first over life. He’s first over sin. And here’s the point. Here’s the landing spot. Jesus is first over each one of us. He’s first. Considering all that he’s done, he’s first. I mean, think about this picture. Paul starts with the cosmos. He starts with all creation and he gets down to the church, and he talks about life, and death, and sin, and all that sort of stuff. And it’s all up there. He says, “All that’s just background. Let’s talk about you.” Let’s talk about you and Jesus. Do you understand what he’s done for you? Are you excited about it? Do you grasp all that he’s done for you?” Because Jesus, he changes everything. Everything’s different because of what he’s done.
Look what it says, “You were alienated, enemies, and evil.” It’s how it starts off. “But now you are reconciled and what’s right relationship, wholly without blemish and free from accusation.” You were helpless, hopeless, homeless, and God gave you help, and hope, and a home. You were foreigners and now you’re family, you enemies and now you’re adopted. Your objects of wrath are now your objects of affection. Experiencing all God has for you. Are you thankful for what Christ has done? Jesus is first.
And Paul’s conclusion is this, “Jesus has first place full authority and final say.” He says this in verse 18, “So that in everything he, Jesus, might have the supremacy.” So how does this apply to us? I mean, what do we do with this kind of thinking? Well, here’s the thing. Let’s go back to verse 15, where it says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. That word “image” is the word icon. It’s actually used both in positive and negative ways in the Bible. In Exodus chapter 20, talking about the Ten Commandments that says, “You shall not create an idol of God.” The word “idol,” that is image, icon. You shouldn’t create an icon of God. It was a bad thing to create wood, and metal, and stuff like that, and put on a shelf because that just doesn’t represent God very well.
But you go back to Genesis chapter 1, verse 26, and the same word is used. In Genesis 1, God has spoken everything to existence, you know, all the universe, and the planets, and the stars, and things like that, and dark, and light, and animals, etc. And then he says this in verse 26, he says, “Let us make mankind in our what? Image,” icon. It’s a positive use. And some people look at that passage and say, “Let us… That’s like it’s referring to the Trinity that’s Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and God the Father talking.” Well, no, no, not really. It’s actually more likely a use of what’s called the majestic plural or the royal plural. When kings would talk, they would talk about lots of things, but when they got down to kingdom business, they would say things in the plural, “Let us. Let us go to war. Let us declare peace. It was kingdom business. So here’s the picture. All the stuff, again, is in the background. Let’s create the universe, etc., whatever. But now we get to verse 26. And this is kingdom business. This is the most serious thing I could do. “Let us make mankind in our icon, in our image.”
Paul talks about that again in Romans chapter 8, verse 29. He uses that idea of image or icon. He says, “For those God foreknew,” and it was those who would come to Christ, those who would trust him for their salvation, “He also predestined to be conformed to the…” there it is, “image,” icon, “of their Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” So now we see, you know. We named this series “The Image of the Invisible God,” and we’re talking about Jesus today and it’s kind of the centerpiece passage. And I always love it when a great theologian like Craig puts me on stage to talk about the most theological thing in the entire book. Thank you so much, Craig, you know.
But here’s the picture here, that Jesus is the image of God and we’re being conformed in his image. And the way that Jesus radiates the glory of God, we’re supposed to reflect the glory of Jesus. In other words, when we talk about the image of the invisible God, you realize it’s not just talking about Jesus, it is in this passage but in the Bible, it’s also talking about you and me that we are supposed to be his image, the seen of the unseen when it comes to God. Here’s what it means. It means that when you’re in your workplace and you have that coworker that’s just so hard to get along with, you’re supposed to reflect the image of the invisible God. Well, when you have that neighbor that’s just so hard to get along with and never with a lawn, drives you crazy kind of stuff, your response should be the image of the invisible God. You should be looking at him, “Listen, we’re not the radiance like the sun, we’re more like the moon reflecting the image of God.”
So here’s what the reflection looks like in everyday life, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other, forgiving one another, whatever grievances you have, forgiving, Jesus Christ forgave you, and beyond all these things, putting on love, which binds them all together. It’s letting your light shine in such a way that people see your good deeds and they realize you’re a reflection of God and they glorify your Father in heaven.
So here’s the question. It’s been a crazy couple of years. How are we doing on that one? Are we reflecting the image of the invisible God? Are we reflecting the priorities of God and the character of Christ to the power of the Holy Spirit? Are we becoming like Christ and joining him on mission? I don’t know about you, but I could do better. But the only way to get better is to remember that everyone has something that’s number one in their life. Whatever is number one in your life will control you. And God wants to be number one, and he loves you.
One last thing. So in 1893, there was a World’s Fair in Chicago. It was the biggest World’s Fair in the history so far of all World’s Fairs. Twenty-seven million people from around the world showed up in 1893. How many of you went to the – Liar. So, you know, you’re not that old. But yeah, it was an amazing thing. A whole lot of things were introduced at that time, the Ferris wheel. It was the very first Ferris wheel was there, the first moving walkway like they have at the airport here. The first moving walkway was there at 1893. Cracker Jack showed up that year, Juicy Fruit gum, Pabst Blue Ribbon, you can’t cheer for that because you’re in church. I mean, all these different things, Cream of Wheat showed up that year. There’s all sorts of things that happened there. There was also a World Parliament of Religions that was there.
And the idea from the designers was, “Listen, if we can get all the religious people of the world to get together and agree, maybe there’ll be no more fighting in the world because…all that kind of thing. And people in the church were like, “Okay, we don’t believe the same things they believe.” And so the churches in Chicago were getting kind of upset. And there was a pastor there named D.L. Moody. Now, D.L. Moody, he was during that time the pastor of a large church called Moody Church. It wasn’t called Moody Church there, it was called something else, but they later on. Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute, all came from his ministry. And they were like, “Are you gonna come and preach?” Because he was pretty famous at the time. “Are you gonna come and preach?” He said, “Well, of course, I am.” They said, “Good because you can talk all against these other religions. You can just tell them you can curse the darkness, how bad they are.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna do that. I don’t need to do that. I don’t need to curse the darkness. I’m just gonna proclaim the light. In fact, I’m gonna say so much about Jesus, how good he is, how amazing he is, all the things that he’s done. I’m gonna make Jesus look so good that no one will want anything else.”
Moody understood what it meant to be the image of the invisible God in his season and his time. And now it’s our opportunity to reflect the glory, the goodness, the kindness, the compassion, the grace, the mercy of our Savior because he’s first. Whatever is first in your life will control you, and God wants to be first in your life because he loves you.
Will you pray with me? Father in heaven, today, we just acknowledge that you’re first, that there’s no one like you. Jesus, you are sufficient. You are enough. Jesus plus nothing is everything, and you are supreme, which means you’re number one in our lives. And I know, I’m an experienced Christian, I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but there are days when you’re not number one. And so today, I again just reaffirm, Jesus, you’re number one in my life. I wanna listen to you, I wanna honor you, I wanna reflect your glory, I want people to see you in me. I recognize that my superpower is in my secret identity, and my secret identity is I am an image-bearer of the one true God. I’m an image-bearer of a Savior that loves us so much that he sacrificed everything. And I wanna be that representative. I wanna do that in my life.
I know there’s some people listening today that have never made the decision to put Jesus number one when it comes to their salvation, and so I just ask those people pray with me. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. I realize now that I have a sin problem, that I’ve not gone the way you want me to go. And I just acknowledge that I can’t pay for my sin, I can’t achieve, I can’t earn, I can’t do anything to make me close to you. What I can do is I can believe and receive. I can believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. I can receive the gift of eternal life, and I choose to do that today. Whatever situation these people are in, would you meet them where they are and show them your goodness, your kindness, your grace, your mercy, your forgiveness, your power, your wisdom, and you’re with them, you’ll never leave them or forsake them? Help us all to make you first in our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Listen, today if you made the decision to make Jesus first and to ask Jesus in your heart to say yes to Jesus to do us a favor, text us, let us know. Just type the word “Jesus” to 80875. We’d love to celebrate what God is doing in your life. Regardless, may God be with you, may he bless you, and thank you so much for the privilege of being with you this weekend. God bless you.
THE GLORY OF GRACE
Christ dwells in us through our faith in Jesus. When we are not plugged into the Holy Spirit, there are abundant resurrection resources that we fail to access by distancing ourselves from God. Jesus can handle everything we’re struggling to manage. Take time to examine your current faith-state, and commit to reconnect.
Well, hey, we are in a series in a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote. The Apostle Paul was a man that went around, he was an evangelist, he was a church planter, dedicated his life on behalf of this thing called the Gospel. The Gospel simply translated; the word simply means good news. So, you have the Gospel of Jesus, the good news about Jesus. This is what Paul gave his life for. And actually, his life, he wasn’t always like this, he was actually known by his previous name, his Jewish name was Saul, his Roman name was Paul. When he was going by his Jewish name of Saul, he was a persecutor of Christians. Someone that would kill Christians, someone that was an enemy of God.
Then he had an encounter with Jesus, and that encounter with Jesus dramatically changed his life. And I wonder how many of us would say that we too have once had an encounter with Jesus that changed our life. And maybe that encounter with Jesus that changed our life is something that has sustained, and you have come back to that. Or maybe you had an encounter with Jesus years ago, and that encounter seems to be a completely different person in a different lifetime because life just does not seem to be going the way it should if you call yourself a Christian. Or maybe you haven’t had an encounter with Jesus yet, or maybe you’re saying, “I just have questions, and I’m just here.” Maybe someone forced you to come. I don’t know. No matter who we are, I believe what we’re gonna talk about today is gonna give us insight on what this Gospel message really is about.
Paul wrote this letter to a church, to this church in Colossae, which is in modern-day Turkey. It’s about 100 miles away from Ephesus, which is a church… Paul planted a church in Ephesus called…to the Ephesians, to the Ephesian people. And he wrote a letter to the Ephesian people that we read in the New Testament called Ephesians. And Paul himself had actually never visited Colossae. He had not been there. He had not visited the Colossian people yet.
He had heard about their faith, and he had heard that this church had started, presumably, this church started out of an overflow of what was happening in Ephesus, that presumably there was people that came from Ephesus that went around to communicate the story of Jesus and the Gospel message. And so these people, these Colossians would gather in homes in secret. And the reason they gathered in homes in secret because the first-century, Roman culture was not very friendly to the Gospel message or to these people that were called Christians, people of the ways of Jesus.
It was incredibly oppressive. And there was a lot of persecution for these Christians because they would align themselves with this allegiance to a King, this King Jesus and that was a direct threat to those that wanted to live on behalf of the Roman emperor. So, the Romans viewed them as enemies of Rome, and so they would be killed and persecuted. You see, this culture in Colossae was a really difficult culture. They faced problems that we too face. You see, this was a culture that was every man or woman for themself. Life really wasn’t that important that it really… Life was all about how much can you accumulate, and who do you need to step over to step on to get what you get. Life was all about outward image. And life was about getting as much as you can, that whoever wins with the most toys wins.
And actually, in a lot of ways, Roman culture was not very different than what we experience here today. However, Roman culture was pretty horrible. Think of like the cesspool that is social media on steroids, like, that was Roman culture. That’s what they experienced. And yet, you had some people that really wanted to follow Jesus. They had this desire to follow Jesus, maybe just like us. We have a desire to follow Jesus, but not entirely sure how do we take the culture that we live in, this culture that is very me-centric? How do I take some of these practices? Because in that day and age, they would take these religious rituals, they would take Jewish observances, they would figure out what does the culture doing and they would mix all of that together, and that would become their faith.
And sometimes if we still had a lot of bookstores, you would walk up and down the aisles of the Christian section of the bookstores, or maybe even the Christian section on Amazon or wherever you get your books and it seems that is very prevalent today. How do we mix in things of the world? How do we mix in all this stuff, the new age stuff? The stuff that seems to be working, how do I mix that with Jesus and get life to be where I want it to be? But the reality is, this is exactly what Paul was talking about and he wanted people to see Jesus a little differently. And here’s what’s interesting about this letter to the Colossians. That Paul never chastises people for their sin. He never once calls them out being… I wonder for us, I’m not even sure we, a lot of times need to be called out for our sin. But Paul, actually, centers this letter on this Jesus, the magnificence of Jesus, the image of the invisible God.
So, Paul simply reminds them of who Jesus is. You see and here’s one of the principles that Paul wanted to communicate, this is a principle that we’ve got to understand as we walk through the rest of this message here, and to understand what Paul is saying to the Colossians. “The Christian life is not expressed by performing for God.” See, a lot of us think Christian life is about performing, if I do this for God or do that for God. But the Christian life is expressed by our posture before God. And there’s a difference between performing for God and our posture before God. And so we’re gonna get a little bit of insight on Paul as he saw this.
So, would you meet me in Colossians chapter 1? We’re in Colossians chapter 1, verses 24-29. If you have a Bible, I encourage you to open up to Colossians chapter 1, verse 24. If you’ve got a device, go there. However, you engage Scripture, the Mission Hills app, but go to Colossians chapter 1, verses 24-29. And I wanna read through this as we dive in, starts off. This is Paul writing, says, “I rejoice in what I am suffering for you,” weird start there. “I rejoice in what I’m suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regards to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 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. To them, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, 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.”
Her name was Cathy Boone. If you don’t know Cathy Boone’s story, I encourage you to look it up. It’s a fascinating story. Cathy Boone died in January of 2020 in a homeless shelter in Astoria, Oregon. She actually spent the last part of her life going from shelter to shelter to shelter. She struggled with mental illness and was homeless. She didn’t have a penny to her name, and just kind of wandered around, and just kind of aimlessly was going from place to place. And then January of 2020, she passed away. Her father and her siblings were frantically trying to find her for about the last year of her life. They would check old emails to no avail. They would make phone calls to numbers of people that she might know, but no one knew where she was. They went on social media. They even hired a private investigator to try to find her, but they could not find their estranged family member.
You see, they really wanted to find Cathy because they wanted to tell her that actually, her mom had passed away. And so they spent lots of money, and they spent lots of time and resources trying to find Cathy, but it was too late. Cathy had died. And actually, as they were searching for her, her obituary popped up online. And that’s how they had found out that she had passed away. They were disappointed that they weren’t able to see Cathy. One, because she was a family member that was estranged, they knew she struggled with mental illness. But they wanted to tell her that her mother had passed away. And actually, her mother had actually left money for Cathy in her will. So, as Cathy was going from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, she passed away with $884,000 that her mother had passed down to her, that was simply sitting in an account that she had no idea about, and she couldn’t reach. She had resources that she couldn’t access.
Her father, Jack, after her passing, this is a quote for me, it said, “It just didn’t make any sense to me. That money was just sitting there, and she needed help in the worst way.” Cathy was in poverty, homeless, abundant resources at her disposal, life-altering resources that she never took advantage of. You see, before we shake our head at this tragedy of this homeless woman, who died with $884,000 in an account, before we just simply shake our head and say, “Man, that is so sad.” The reality is this is a story of many of our lives right here, right now. That there are abundant riches, there are abundant resurrection riches and spiritual blessings that are simply waiting to be tapped in by each and every one of us. And this is what Paul is writing about to the letter to the Colossians. That this is our story, that we have resurrection resources in Christ, in the Christian life that we fail to access.
Even though we have these riches, these spiritual blessings, we find ourselves in a place where we struggle in life. That the Christian life, the Christian experience is nowhere near the victorious life that is preached about in the Scriptures, that for many of us our life seems lifeless, not full of life. That, in our Christian experience, we live defeated because our flesh, or our sin, or our sinful nature is running up the score on us. You see, we’re struggling with addictions, with alcohol, with pornography, with mental illness, or finances are scarce, work’s not going so well. Children, parenting is really difficult or maybe our marriage just seems like it’s dead and it’s lifeless. And we don’t know where to turn. And for many of us, we are living this life, this Christian life, not victorious, but we’re living defeated. And here’s what we need to know. If God can handle a dead Lazarus and a dead Jesus, then he knows how to bring life back into our marriages, and back into our circumstances, he could handle us. You see, there are resurrection resources at our fingertips. The question for us is, how do we access it?
You see, let me read to us just some words that Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. I just wanna read, I’m not gonna read the whole section here. I’m just gonna read a few verses. It says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be wholly and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Listen to this, “To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given to us in the One he loves. In him, in Jesus, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment, to bring unity to all things in heaven, and on earth, and under Christ.”
You see, we are bankrupt, we are spiritually bankrupt without the grace that is found in the Gospel. So, just as Paul didn’t wanna spend time chastising the Colossian church, but yet, simply reminding them of some things. I wanna spend a little bit of time reminding us of the truth of Scripture, the truth of God’s big story. You see, oftentimes, we can talk about God’s story, the story of God and his people. If it was a play, if it was a story, there’d be four acts to the play in God’s story. Act one, chapter one, would be creation. Genesis chapter 1 and 2, God breathes, God speaks, and life comes out. The mountains are formed, and the seas come to be, and humanity begins, and animals roam the earth and swim in the oceans. Act one is creation. Act two is a very short act, but it impacts the rest of the acts. Act two, the second part of God’s story is what we would call the fall. Genesis chapter 3, it’s when sin entered humanity. And then we fell away from relationship with God because of sin that we choose to disobey God.
And then we have act three. And act three is actually where we live. We are in act three right now in God’s story. And that’s redemption. And it’s God’s story of redemption that he initiated. And that goes from Genesis 4 all the way to Revelation 20. That, literally, from Genesis 4 to Revelation 20, this is the story of God’s redemption process. His redemption that he initiated this redemption. And yet, over the course of time, humanity has tried to reach God and reengage God. And so in humanity’s way of doing it, humanity has created rituals to reengage God. But the problem is we are not meant to, we are not created to speak the language of rituals so they seem foreign to us. So, God, because he knows us, he’s created us, that we are created in the image of God. God is relational at his core, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, all three, the Triune God have always been in relationship with one another, that we are creating in that image, so we don’t speak the language of rituals, we speak the language of relationship.
So, the Father sent Jesus to come be with us, to initiate that redemption process. And it’s at the cross, where Jesus’s statement at the cross, not a verbal statement, but in the act of what he was doing. This is what the statement of the cross, this is what this redemption is all about. Jesus at the cross says, “Hey, you give me your worst, and I’ll give you my best.” Like, that’s a pretty good deal. Like, you give me your worst, I’ll give you my best. And that’s what happens at the cross. That’s the reality of this redemption process that he wants to reengage with us. So, he gives us a language we can understand, not rituals, but this relationship. And this relationship, the currency for this relationship is not performance, but its grace. It is grace. This is why we’ve been given this beautiful grace and this gift. There is glory to this grace. This grace is glorious, and it’s found in Jesus and nowhere else.
I’ve got a friend who is a pastor, and he goes on…he goes across the world to train others, and to communicate the Gospel, and to fulfill the great commission. And he was telling a story about him being in a Southeast Asian country. And he was in a Southeast Asian country, and he was actually at the base of this mountain. At the top of this mountain was a shrine to a goddess, and people would go up to the shrine and they would worship this goddess. And yet, he was having this conversation with a gentleman who actually worships the goddess. He goes up to that shrine, that’s his village, it’s where he lives. And he was speaking with another man, who actually followed another faith system, another religion. And then my friend, who’s a Christian, the three of them are talking about God and having conversations about God. And the other two were actually trying to convince my friend that all religions are the exact same, that all pathways lead to the same God.
And what they were doing, this is the illustration. They came up with saying, “It’s like if God is on a mountaintop.” And some people, like the one who worships the God, like some people gain enlightenment or get relationship with God by going up the mountain on this side of the mountain. The Muslims, they take this route here, or maybe Buddhists take this route here, or whatever. Like, everyone’s just taking their own route, but everyone’s gonna actually end up in the same place at the top of the mountain. And my friend’s talking to them, and he’s saying, “Well, no, that can’t be right, because your God needs you to worship this way, and your God needs you to worship this way. How can that be the same God?” So, my friend says, “Well, what if this happened? What if it’s not God on a mountaintop and that people or different religions are taking up their different pathways, different trailheads, and going up to God. What if God got up off the mountain, and actually came to the base of the mountain before anyone had to climb up and get to the top.” And the others said, “Well, that’d be awesome.” And my friend said, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.”
And Jesus got up from his throne, and he came down to be with us to initiate this relationship. And this is what it leads us. He’s for a lot of us act three is where it ends. Act three is like it, the story of God ends at the cross or even ends at the empty tomb. But the reality is that’s not the end of the story. That’s just three-quarters of the story because act four is where Paul is going in this letter. Act four is restoration. There is still two chapters left in Revelation, Revelation chapter 21 and 22. You know what they speak of? The ultimate restoration of God’s creation, that one day Jesus will return. And when Jesus returns, all things will be made right. All pain will go away, all tears will be collected, there will be no more tears, there will be no more death. That everything that was intended to be in Genesis 1 and 2 in act one will one day be again. That’s the hope that we hold onto in Jesus. So, it’s not three acts, there’s four. And that fourth act is one that we are waiting for with anticipation. And this is a perspective that gave Paul a posture that we can emulate. And this is why I’ve titled today’s message, “The Glory of Grace,” because there is glory in this grace that God extends to us through Jesus. And there’s an opportunity for us to live in a completely different manner.
So, let’s go back and peel back some layers in this passage, and walk through this. In verse 24, Paul starts off. And again, I mentioned, this is a little weird. We’re gonna dive into this. “I rejoice in what I am suffering for you.” Like, there’s not a lot of us that would rejoice in suffering, let alone suffering for other people. And he says, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking, in regard to Christ affliction, for the sake of his body, which is his church.” So, basically, here’s what he’s saying. He goes, I am suffering and I’m actually rejoicing in my sufferings. But I want you to know my sufferings, no matter what I’m going through, don’t even compare to what Christ has suffered on our behalf. You know what some of the sufferings are that Paul endured? He listed in 2 Corinthians 11, that he’s been in prison, he’s been flogged severely, five times, he received 39 lashes. He’s beaten with rods, he was pelted with stones. He’s been shipwrecked. He has slept at the sea. He’s been in danger from bandits, danger from Jews, danger from others, danger from religious people, bitten by snakes, gone without sleep, gone without food, known hunger, been cold, been naked. He’s experienced all of this.
And then he’s like, “I actually rejoice in that.” And he doesn’t rejoice in it because he enjoys suffering. You know what the problem is with pain? It hurts. The problem with suffering is that it’s painful. But what Paul is saying is, “Even in pain, there is a hope that we can hold onto.” So, Paul is saying, he’s not experiencing pain for the sake of pain, but he’s experiencing pain for the sake of the Gospel being expressed in his life and in this world. You see, Christian… Here’s the truth. Some people think Christianity and Caleb, and the message, and Hallmark we’re watching and VeggieTales, they’ll want you to think that Christianity is like you tie a nice, neat, like, bow on your life. Everything is all good, there is no more problems after you become a Christian. But here’s the truth. Christianity has always been the hope of God through Jesus played out in the lives of real people, living in real circumstances. It’s not a hypothetical faith. But yet, it’s something that we experience and hold onto as we walk through the difficulties of this life.
So, when he says, “I rejoice in what I’m suffering for you.” It seems impossible. But it seems impossible when you look at it from a human or a worldly perspective. Listen to how James, the brother of Jesus, who was actually the Bishop, the leader of the church in Jerusalem in the first century. Listen to what he says, James 1, verse 2. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. Like, consider it joy, not if you face trials, when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And you let perseverance finish its work, so you might be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” So, what he’s saying, there can be purpose in pain. Now, what this is not saying is that God creates suffering for us so that we might be mature and complete. Like, God doesn’t create pain for us. There is enough pain in this world because of the evil, and death, and destruction that invaded our world in act two. Remember, Genesis 3? Because of act two, we now have pain, and disease, and discomfort, and death, and disheartening circumstances.
You see, there’s this phrase that I’m afraid that a lot of us use. A lot of Christians use this phrase, and we think we’re actually being helpful, but we’re not, because the phrase is a bad phrase. When people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Well, everything happens for a reason. So and so something… Everything happens for a reason. Like, that’s not true. Like, no, not everything happens for a reason. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, everything happens for a reason. You see, there’s no good godly reason for cancer in this world. There’s none. There’s not a good reason for it. But yet, pain, and death, and destruction entered our world through sin. And it has even infected our bodies century after century, generation after generation. There is no good reason for people to climb into airplanes and fly into buildings on 9/11. There is no good reason for someone that is so compelled by evil and disregard for human life, that they would walk into a school and shoot children and teachers. There’s no reason for that. That’s not what the Scripture… Scriptures don’t say that everything happens for a reason, what it does say, Romans 8:28, is that “In all things, God can work good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”
So, God doesn’t create suffering, God doesn’t create pain. The world does a good job of that on its own. But it’s God and only God that can take what people meant for evil and actually turn it to good. God is the only one that can flip evil back on itself and turn things to good. And this is where Paul is going. This is what Paul is saying, “That there is an opportunity to have a perspective and a posture in suffering, that can lead us to eternity.” Paul actually lays this out a little bit more in his letter to the Romans. And his letter to the Romans is actually just a deeper dive of what he said to the Colossians. In Romans 8:18, this is what he says. He says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” You see, he’s not saying that sufferings aren’t real. He’s not saying that we should put our sufferings away and put a smile on our face, “Hey, God is good.” That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying actually our suffering is real. The emotional pain that we’re experiencing is real. The mental health issues we have, those are real. The discomfort, or the disagreements, or the difficulty in our parenting, in our families, in our finances, in our marriage, all that stuff is real. But he’s simply saying, they’re not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.
Here’s the imagery. Imagine one of those scales, you know, those scales where you put one weight on one thing and one weight on another, and you see what weighs more? I think what Paul is saying is he’s actually saying, if you take your pain and you’re suffering, you put it on one side of the scale, man, that scale’s gonna drop through the ground. Like, pain and suffering is real. And I think maybe some of us just need to hear that, that it’s not a figment of your imagination. Your pain is real, and God’s not afraid of it. But for many of us, we put our pain and our suffering on a scale. It’s just gonna, like, it’s woo. It like goes way down. Paul isn’t saying that our suffering doesn’t weigh anything. Here’s what he is saying. When you compare our pain and suffering to what’s gonna happen when God restores, to the glory that we hold on to, the glory that we hope for. You see, there’s a difference between wishes and hopes. Wishes is like, “Man, I just wish that would happen.” Hope is, “No, I’ve got some certainty.” Like, I have certainty, I have seen God come through in my life. I’ve watched God come through in Scripture, and I know he is gonna come through again in the future. That is hope.
So, he is not saying that, “Hey, disregard your pain and suffering.” He’s saying that your current sufferings, although they’re real and although they’re waiting, they can’t compare to the glory that’s gonna be found when all things are restored. I will tell you, no matter what you’re going through right now, your pain and your suffering will come to an end one day. I don’t know when that day’s gonna be. And for some of us, that day may not make sense until the day that Jesus returns, and maybe we have even passed. But Paul’s reality in our consideration is, that “The pain we experience in the present cannot compare to the glory that is to come.” That’s what we hold onto. We hold onto the glory. He continues in verse 25 and 26. He says, “I have become the church its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the Word of God in its fullness. This mystery, that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.”
Boy, this is beautiful. He talks about, I am a servant of the church. The word there is actually the word diakonos, it’s where we get the word deacon or one that serves the church. The meaning is almost like a waiter that we would know in a restaurant, but actually not just a waiter. It’s as if that word, what that word means, it’s like the one that comes to your table, takes your order, goes in the back, cooks your order, brings it back to you. It wasn’t done right, so they take it back and cook it just the way that you wanted it, brings it back with the dessert, the drinks, the silverware, all of that stuff. After you’re done eating, takes all of those dishes back, cleans up the kitchen, does the dishes. That’s what this… Basically, mom. That’s what this word is… Am I right, moms? Yeah. Yeah. Basically, that’s what this word is talking about. Somebody who is given themselves to serve. He says, “I am a servant of the church by the commission God gave me.”
And I wanna spend some time on this because the commission that God had given Paul is not a commission for professional Christians. The commission that he gave him is not vocational, is not a vocation, you know, just for vocational…it’s for everybody, every one of us, like this commissioning, like everybody, as like young people would say, like, this commissioning is for everyone, every single one of us. And here’s the commission. One of the last things that Jesus said to his disciples is what we call the Great Commission. And if you know relationships at all or anything like that, you know that the last thing that’s communicated, if someone’s holding onto something till the very end, it’s really important. This is how important Paul took the words of Jesus. Listen to what Jesus said. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you. And surely, I’m with you always to the very end of the age.”
Jesus first starts this commissioning and Paul will take this seriously. And I think we need to take it seriously as well. Because it’s a commission for every one of us. Jesus starts, he says, “All authority on heaven, on earth has been given to me.” Like, we think we have authority. Like, you might run a business, you think you have authority over that business? I’m sorry to say you don’t. It’s Jesus’ authority, he’s just letting you use it. We don’t have authority over our families, our spouses, our children, our finances, our relationships, we don’t own that authority, he owns it. All authority belongs to him. We’re just simply stewards of what he allows us to steward. All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. And then he says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.” Like he says, “Go.” And that go doesn’t mean when we read that, we think that means go to Africa, go to Guatemala, go to South America, go to the inner city. Like, it doesn’t necessarily mean go, like, all nations, doesn’t mean geographical political borders. It’s ethnos, it’s ethnic groups, groups of people. That word go is actually, as you go about your life, in your coming, in your going, you’re going to work and coming home, going to school and coming home, going to practice, going to Costco, wherever you are. As you go about your life, make disciples.
And there’s a difference between a convert and a disciple. I’ll even say there’s a difference between a Christian and a disciple. And Jesus did not say, go and make converts of all people, go and make Christians of all people. I will say this as somebody who is a “Profession…” You know, I work in ministry as a missionary and as a pastor, like we have totally jacked this thing up. I’ll admit it, that we have taken the Great Commission as, instead of therefore go make disciples, we look at it as like, “Hey, go make Christians, go make converts, go create events so the auditoriums are full.” Like, we have done a really bad job of this. God doesn’t say, go and make sure that everyone votes the way that you vote, or makes sure everyone views politics the way that you view politics. He doesn’t say, make sure everyone listens to K-Love. He doesn’t say, hey, make sure people don’t listen to bad music, or say bad words, or smoke, or drink or… He doesn’t say… He says, “Go and make disciples of all people groups.”
And I wonder the question for us is, are we a disciple? Or have we settled for that label of convert or even Christian? The beauty is you put your faith in Jesus, you’re grafted into the family. You’re on the team, you’ve been drafted, but that doesn’t mean you’re playing the game. Being a disciple means giving your life to the words, and the teachings of Jesus, and bringing other people alongside. And some of us might think, “Well, dude, I didn’t know I was supposed to do. I thought that’s why we like text money in or put money in the plate for like other people to go do that stuff. Or maybe we’re saying, “I can’t do that. Like, I don’t know enough about God. Like, I don’t know. I got all this sin in my life.” Y’all know the first evangelist that Jesus sent out was a woman that was so ashamed of her life, that she went to go get water in the middle of the day, in the summer, in the Middle East. Like, y’all think it’s hot out here in July. Like, I was born in Iran, like, it is hot times hot in July in Iran. And she was so ashamed of her life. That’s when she went to get water, and Jesus gives her hope, and he says, “Now go tell everybody.” And the entire town came to know Jesus.
The next evangelist that Jesus stands out was a guy who lived in the tombs. Like, he lived at the graveyard, and he was possessed by demons. And every day he would cut himself, and he was naked, and he was hairy. And can you imagine his hair, and his teeth, and the smell, and the stench, and the feces? Like, he lived there. Jesus gives him hope, delivers him from being possessed by demons. And then he says, “Hey, I need you to go and tell all the people what has happened to you.” So, you got one woman who’s so ashamed of her life. She’s going to water in 115-degree temperature. And a guy who lived in the tombs who smells like feces. And those are the evangelists that Jesus sends out. We think, “Well, I don’t know enough theology.” Go and make disciples of all nations, of all people groups. I gotta hurry up in verse 27. He says, “To them, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles, the glorious riches of this mystery. And here’s the mystery, Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
The glorious riches of this mystery is found in one thing and one thing only, the reality that Christ lives in us. There is no other faith system. I grew up Muslim. And I know in Islam, there is no chance of God or Allah coming and not only dwelling with people, but dwelling in people, like, Christ in you is the hope of glory. The hope that we hold onto is there is restoration. And here’s the beautiful thing about Jesus. Jesus was resurrected from the dead. And if Jesus was resurrected from the dead and Christ is in us through our faith and belief and what he is done on our behalf, if Christ is in us, you know what that makes us? That makes us overcomers. That makes us resurrection people. The Christian hope is not to live to 85, 95, 105. Christian hope isn’t even to leave a legacy or a godly legacy in our family. Christian hope is not political gain or political agendas being… Christian hope is not a country following Christian doctrine. Like, that’s not Christian hope. Christian hope is resurrection. That’s the ultimate hope that we hold onto. And hope is the assurance of this resurrection of the dead. That’s what we hold onto. When we are in Christ, we are a resurrection people, that our eyes go beyond what we experience on this earth.
In verse 28, 29, “He is the one we proclaim, 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.” You see again, for a lot of us, life seems lifeless. We feel defeated. For a lot of us, our life feels like a lump. It’s like just a lump. Like, I just don’t know what to do with it, it’s just kind of there. And Paul talks about this power, this energy that so powerfully works in him, that in his own strength, there is no chance of him experiencing sufferings the way that he did. So, he talks about this power, this energy, this source that is in him. And this source is the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is the power source for you and for me. But here’s a problem with the Holy Spirit. Like, the Holy Spirit he’s got a branding problem. Because, like, you know, we say Holy Spirit but growing up, people know him as the Holy Ghost. Like, that’s creepy. Like, I can understand God the Father, I get God the Son, Jesus, but who’s this Holy Ghost? Like, what he’s like Casper’s Christian cousin or something like that. Like, I don’t get it.
But the problem is Holy Spirit, it’s not an it, it’s not a power source. It’s not like a power source that kind of hovers, the Holy Spirit is a person, and that person dwells in us. It’s almost like God says, “Dude, you’ve got the power. You’ve got the Holy Spirit. All you gotta do is be plugged into it.” Because when you’re plugged into the Holy Spirit, then, and only then are you able to fulfill the purposes for which God created you for.” Ephesians 2:9 and 10 says, “You are a masterpiece.” Like, God took his time on you. He didn’t throw you together. Like, you are God’s masterpiece created in Christ Jesus to do good works that He created in advance for you to do that you might walk in them. Like, he knew you in your mother’s womb. He knitted you in your mother’s womb.” And when he knitted you, He had ideas, and thoughts, and things that he wanted you to accomplish. But if you’re not connected to the power source, then those spiritual blessings that are talked about, and those resurrection riches, the purpose for which God has us created for, this Great Commission, this life that he wants us to be on mission for, to be like him and join him on mission, we don’t have access to it. It can’t grow in us. It actually starts becoming more and more lifeless and limp.
So, the Holy Spirit’s power is what we plug into on a regular basis. And only then are we able to fulfill the purposes for which God created us to be. You know, for a lot of us, we kind of view the Holy Spirit as an app on our phone. Like, after this service, I’m heading to the airport, and the ministry I work with, we actually have a conference in Milwaukee. So, I get to see the beautiful metropolis of Milwaukee. But when I get there, I’m gonna open up the Uber app. I’m gonna use the Uber app to get from the airport to the hotel and the conference center. And you know what I’m gonna do after that? I’m gonna close the app and put my phone back in my pocket because I don’t need it anymore. This is how some of us have viewed the Holy Spirit. This is how some of us have viewed the gift that God has given us, his glorious grace that God has given us. That, for us, it has become when can I use it? And how do I use it for my benefit? And when I don’t feel like I need it, I’ll put it away. And then we wonder why our life seems lifeless, or we feel defeated.
And again, I’m not here to condemn, there’s now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But I’m here to remind us that just like Cathy Boone, there are spiritual riches available to every one of us, all we simply have to do is tap into them. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit is God’s bank card that he’s given us to access these riches. Without a bank card, you cannot access the money in your account. Without the Holy Spirit and his powers working so powerfully in you, you can’t fulfill those things that God’s created you for. I think a lot of times I hear people say, “Why can’t I have more of God in my life? I need more of God in my life. I need more of God in my life.” You have all of God, all of God. He didn’t put half of the Holy Spirit, you have the whole, you have all of God. The question is, does he have all of you? That’s the question.
So, we might be able to realize, hey, I’ll never lose God’s presence because of his grace, but we will be disconnected from his power. And how do we get reconnected? There’s nothing special. There’s no rituals. It’s simply an act of the will. It’s surrendering. God, I surrender. My allegiance is going from me to you, and I want to live the life that you’ve created me for. So, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna do something so unMission Hills-like, but it don’t matter because Craig’s not here and you guys won’t tell him what I did anyway, so, I trust you. I know this, I know there are people here that this message is connecting with. You know how I know that, it’s because it’s connecting with me. If I could tell you the difficulty my wife and I have gone through the last six months, eight months, with work. and our relationship, and parenting. and friends. and finances, all of that stuff, and the counseling we’ve walked through, like, I’ve been feeling disconnected, totally disconnected from the power, trying to do life on my own. And yet, I wrote this message this week and the team, we have such a great team that they need the message ahead of time. So, they do all the things on media, and the apps, and all that stuff. And I call them on Friday morning, and I was like, “Yo, I need to rewrite this entire thing.” Because I felt that God was stirring on my heart. So that’s how I know it’s probably connecting with you because it’s connecting with me.
So, here’s what we’re gonna do, totally unMission Hills-like, but it’s okay. We’re not going to put the lights down, have everyone close your eyes, and raise a hand if this is… But here’s what I want to say. If you are somebody that for the very first time in your life, you know you need to be connected to the source, that you’re saying yes to Jesus, that you’re sick and tired of living life on your own in a few moments, when I count to three, I’m gonna ask you to stand. And I know that’s scary. But again, Craig’s not here, so we’re going to do it. I’m also going to ask the second group of people to stand, and the second group of people I’m going to ask to stand are people that would say, “Man, I used to be connected. I remember when I was connected. To be honest, I didn’t even realize I was disconnected. But you know what? I totally am. I’ve been settling for being a convert or a Christian. And today, I’m making an act of the will that I want to be a disciple.” And the only way to be a disciple is to be plugged into the power source.
So, whether this is your first time saying, I want and I need to be connected, or you want to be reconnected, I’m gonna count to three, I’m gonna ask both of us, both groups to stand, and I’m throwing myself in there. If I was standing up here, if I was sitting right there, I’d be standing too because I need this. So, I’m gonna count to three, if this is your first time or a recommitment to be connected as a disciple, connected to the Spirit. I’m gonna ask you to stand. One, two, three. Friends, let’s give these courageous people, just let them know we love them. and we’re here to support them. And here’s what I know, if you’re still seated, I know life’s not perfect, and I get that. But for those of you who are standing, thank you for your courage. It genuinely takes courage to say, “This is where I’m at in life, and I need you, Jesus.” If you’re seated, would you please, if you’re able, would you please stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters that are standing and allow me to pray for us before we walk out of here?
Lord, thank you for your grace and your mercy. Thank you for who you are. Thank you that you speak to us, you lead us and you guide us by the power of your Spirit. We surrender. And we recognize that we have no hope apart from resurrection hope. That’s the hope that we hold on to that one day all things will be made right. And may we look with anticipation to the glorious days of Revelation 21 and 22. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
We sometimes experience a gap between what Jesus promised in a relationship with Him and what we expect. Check out this week’s message and explore the foundational message of Colossians and drawing near to Christ. Jesus has everything you need.
There’s always a gap. Jesus said, you can expect this in a relationship, but we don’t always experience that. And so it feels like there must be some kind of a secret to experiencing everything that Jesus said was possible in a relationship with him. And I’ll just go ahead and tell you right now, it’s not really that much of a secret. The reality is that all those things are possible in Christ. They’re all available to us when we’re close to Jesus because Jesus is really everything we need. That’s what I wanna talk to you about today. I wanna talk to you about what it means to stay close to Jesus, what it means to stay in Jesus. If all these things are available to us in Jesus, then the question is really just, what does it mean to stay in Jesus? What does it mean to be there? That’s what I wanna talk to you about today.
If you wanna follow along, we’re gonna be in the Book of Colossians starting in chapter 2, beginning of verse 1. And while you’re making your way there, let me just kind of get you caught up if you’re just joining us today for the first time. The Book of Colossians is written by a man named the Apostle Paul. He was the guy that God used to write more of the New Testament than anybody else. And he wrote this letter to a group of followers of Jesus who were living in the Roman City of Colossae. And the reason he was writing them this letter was basically because there were some people that were coming in and trying to tell the followers of Jesus, the Colassae, say, “Hey, Jesus is great. Don’t get us wrong. Jesus is awesome. But if you really wanna experience spiritual power, if you really wanna be truly spiritual, and if you wanna have all the things that God intends for you to have, you need a little more than Jesus. There’s some rules, and some rituals, there’s some regulations, there’s some things that you gotta do that that will tell you about in order to really have all these things that that you’re looking for.” And Paul is basically writing this letter to go, “Yeah, no. No, that’s wrong.” All those things are already yours in Jesus. And so, again, the question is just, what does it mean to stay in Jesus? And that’s what we’re gonna talk about today.
Paul writes this, he says, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea,” which is a nearby city, “And for all who have not met me personally.” And all he’s saying is, “Listen, I know we haven’t met each other, like, we don’t have a personal relationship. You’ve heard about me, I’ve heard about you. We haven’t met face-to-face. But I want you to know that even though we haven’t met personally, I care a lot about you. I’m invested in you and I’m invested in the church there at Colossae. It’s important to me.” He says, “I want you to know how hard I’m contending for you.” Meaning how hard I’m fighting for you. And the evidence that he’s fighting for them is how much he’s suffering for them. Reza talked about this a little bit last week, back in Colossians 1:24.
Paul suffered probably more than any other follower of Jesus in that era. Because he was arrested more times, he was run out of town more times, he was beaten with rods more times, he was stoned with stones. I mean, he suffered a lot. And then the question, of course, becomes, like, well, what exactly was he doing that was causing all the suffering, right? What was he doing that was leading to all this pushback. And the answer is Paul taught that Jesus is all that we need. That was this man’s crime. He taught that Jesus is all we did. He told Jewish people that came from a Jewish background, Jewish religious background. He told people that came from a Greek or a Roman religious backgrounds, he said to everybody, he said, “Jesus is all that you need. Jesus is the source of your salvation. And he’s the source of everything that you need to experience life as God intended it, starting now.” Jesus is all that you need. That’s what got the pushback.
And to be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure that that would’ve gotten as much pushback as he got. But he went a little bit farther than that too. He actually said, “Hey, since Jesus is all you need, what that means is that all of your religious traditions, all your religious rules and your rituals and all that religious stuff, you can basically take all that stuff and shove it where the sun don’t shine.” And I know some of you’re like, “Paul did not say that.” And you’re right, he did not. He came really close though. He came really close. In Philippians, writing into the church at Philippi. He said this, this is Philippians 3:8. He says, “What’s more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, of knowing Christ Jesus is my Lord, for whose sake, I have lost all things. And I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ.”
And the New International I’m reading for has very helpfully cleaned up the word garbage for us. The original Greek word there actually is a Greek word for excrement. Paul basically said, “All the religious stuff.” And he’s talking about religious stuff because just before this, he’s been talking about the fact that he was raised in Judaism, in the Jewish faith, and he was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He had all the rules and the rituals and the traditions. He had him down pat, he’d achieved tremendous success in all that religious stuff. And he says, “All that stuff is basically poop.” That’s what he literally says. So, no, he did not say, “Take all that stuff and shove it where the sun don’t shine.” He just said, “All that stuff is the stuff that comes from where the sun don’t shine.” It’s a pretty radical statement. That’s the kind of thing that got him in trouble because he said to Greek and Roman and to Jewish religions, “All that stuff…” He said, “All the rules and the regulations and all that stuff that you’re saying is gonna get people somewhere, it’s not. It’s not gonna get you anything that you really need. Everything you need is found in Jesus.”
So, he says, “I’m suffering for you guys. I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting to help you hold on to that truth.” And then the question becomes, okay, but why is he willing to suffer that? Why is he willing to continue getting that kind of pushback and punishment for what he’s doing? And he says very clearly what his goal is, verse 2, Colossians 2:2. He says, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart.” They, being all the followers of Jesus, even the ones I haven’t met. “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love.” Now, on the surface in English, at least it kind of sounds like he has two goals, that they would be encouraged in heart and united in love. But in the original Greek, it’s pretty clear, it’s actually only one goal. His goal is that they would be encouraged in heart. The united in love is actually the means to the end. He’s saying how it will happen, how they’ll actually be encouraged in heart. You could literally translate what’s there as, my goal is that they would be encouraged in heart, being united in love, or by being united in love. It’s a means to the end. The end, his goal is just that they’d be encouraged in heart.
Here’s the problem. We hear encouraged in heart, and we kind of think we know what he means. And we’re probably wrong because both the word encouraged in heart in modern English means something very different than they meant in the ancient world. When we hear the word encouraged, we usually think that that’s about feelings, right? It’s about emotions. So, I’m feeling sad. Somebody tells me something nice, and I feel better. I’ve been what? I’ve been encouraged. So, it’s about feeling better. But in the ancient world, encouraged didn’t mean feeling better. It actually meant made stronger. When somebody was encouraged, it literally meant that you would come alongside them and lend them your strength. You’d come alongside them, and you had made them stronger. It was the word that you would use for like somebody who’s got a weak leg, that they’ve been injured and they’re limping, and you would come alongside them, you’d put their arm over your shoulder and you would stand up and you would lend them your strength, you would make them stronger and able to move forward. That was what encouraged meant.
My daughter called me last week, she’s just struggling with some stuff at work and trying to figure out how to deal with it. And she needed some encouragement. And what that meant was, or it didn’t mean was it didn’t mean I was supposed to go, “Oh honey, you got this. I believe in you.” She’d been like, “Thanks. I’m looking for a little more than that.” What she wanted was some wisdom, she wanted some help thinking like, “How should I think about this issue? And what is it that God would want me to do as I face it?” And so I kind of helped her think through some stuff. And I think by the grace of God, I gave her some advice about some strategy that was of help. And when we finished the conversation, I think by God’s grace, she was able to face them a little bit better. She was stronger. She didn’t just feel better emotionally, she was actually stronger to be able to deal with those situations.
That’s what the ancient word encouraged meant. It meant to come alongside and make stronger in some way, not just an emotional thing. The other problem, I think, we have in understanding this phrase is the word heart. In modern English, means the center of emotions, right? We go, “Oh, yeah. You know, she broke my heart. She made me feel really sad by what she did.” Right? But in the ancient world, heart wasn’t the center of emotions, it was the whole being. It was a way of describing the whole person or the whole organization. In this case, the church, a way of describing the whole church. We use it a little bit like that today where we can say something like, “You know, I love you with my whole heart.” And there’s a little bit of the feeling stuff in there. But whole heart, what we mean is like, everything in me loves you. All of me loves you. In the ancient world, heart meant the whole person or the whole thing.
So, encouraged in heart didn’t mean feeling better in their emotions. Encouraged in heart means made stronger as a whole. Are you with me? That’s Paul’s goal. He says, “The reason I’m willing to fight, the reason I’m willing to struggle and suffer is because I wanna see the church of Jesus Christ made stronger as a whole.” Now, why does he want the church to be made stronger? What do they need that strength for? And the answer is they need it because the church has a mission. The church exists to accomplish a mission. The church is a missional organization. It’s not one of the things that we do. Sometimes we get confused in the church because we like, “Well, we have a mission’s program.” We go like, “Well, mission is a program.” No, no, missions is not one of the programs of the church, mission is the purpose of the church. The church is a missional organization. We have a mission, but it’s not an easy mission. And so we need strength.
And so really what Paul is saying, and really what God is saying through Paul to us is that God wants us to be strong enough as a church to engage in the mission of the church. Are you with me? God wants us to be strong enough as a church to engage in the mission of the church because the church is a missional organization. Something we say here at Mission Hills a lot. Maybe you’ve heard it before, maybe you’re new and you just need to hear it for the first time that the church is not a building we go to, it’s a mission we choose to be part of. Okay. What is that mission? Well, our mission is to shine the light of the Gospel in the darkness of the world. That’s our mission, to shine the light of the Gospel in the darkness of the world. And why do we need strength for that? Because it’s not an easy mission because there are nasty things that live in the dark. And I know everybody’s like, “Amen. I know that.” I’m 51 years old and if I’m coming out of my basement and I flip the lights off too soon, I leave the basement faster. Anybody else? Like, I don’t know, I’m 51 years old, they’re still a part of me it’s like, “I don’t know, scary things live in the dark, right?”
Well, I think part of the reason we think that is because, in the world, it’s absolutely true. There are nasty things that live in the dark. There are evil spiritual forces and there are evil people, and they love the dark because the dark is where they hide. Jesus himself said, “Some people love the dark rather than the light because they don’t want to be revealed.” They don’t wanna be caught out in the open where everybody can see exactly what they are. There are nasty things that live in the dark. And so shining the light in the darkness takes strength. It takes strength. And so Paul says, “I want the church to be strong enough as a church to engage in the mission of the church.” Okay. Where does that strength come from? How do we get that kind of strength? Well, he says, “By being united in love. By being united in love.” And what he’s basically saying is this, he’s saying, “The mission of the church depends on the love of the church.” Because follow me on this. He says, “We have a mission, shine the light of the Gospel in the darkness of the world. But that mission depends on our strength.” Right? You gotta have strength in order to accomplish the mission. “But our strength,” he says, “depends on our unity because a divided church is a weak church.” Division weakens. So, we have to be unified. Otherwise, our strength is being sent off in lots of different directions, and it’s not allowing us to move forward on our mission together.
But by the way, I need to say this, unity is not the same thing as uniformity. Do you know that? Sometimes people hear about the unity of the church. Like, well, the church all has to think the same, and act the same, and believe the same, and like exactly the same things, and have the same perspectives and all. That’s not the same thing at all. Unity is not the same thing as uniformity. Unity is about having the same mission. Unity is about moving in the same direction. Uniformity is about everybody doing exactly the same thing. The Bible says, “We have to have unity.” The Bible commands us against uniformity, actually. The Bible says that God has made us all different and he’s given us different gifts, and experiences, and paths, and cultures, and races, and all those things. And we’re stronger as a church when they come together and move in the same direction. That’s unity.
I was watching some people do an outrigger canoe last week. And it was interesting to me, the canoe was moving really fast through the water, but the people were all doing different things. There was a group of guys that were paddling on the left side, and then there were a group of guys that were paddling on the right. So, they’re both paddling, but they’re paddling in very different ways. Then there was a guy on the front of the boat, he wasn’t paddling at all. He was just yelling out a time, like, in and out, he’s creating a rhythm for the paddling strokes. There was a guy in the back who had a paddle, but he wasn’t using it to paddle. He had it in the water and he was using it to steer the thing. That is not uniformity. You got a bunch of people doing different things, but it was a great picture of unity because they’re moving forward. So, the mission of the church depends on the strength of the church. Of course, the strength of the church depends on the unity of the church, because a divided church, a church is not moving in the same direction is going to be weaker.
But what does unity depend on? He says unity of what? Of love. Because love is what keeps our differences from becoming divisions. Love is what keeps our differences from becoming divisions. And so, in fact, what he says here is the strength of the church being strong enough as a church to engage in the mission of the church depends on our love. He’s basically saying that love is our foundation and our fuel. As a church that has a mission, love is our foundation and fuel. Love is the foundation and the fuel of our mission, which shouldn’t be really surprising to anybody because the Bible’s really clear about this. The Bible’s really obvious in telling us that love is the foundation of the church. It’s John 3:16. Even if you’ve never been in church, even if today’s your very first time, you’ve probably heard John 3:16 quoted at some point in your life. It’s one of the most famous verses in the Bible, but it tells us that love is the foundation of the church. It tells us the reason God invented the church is because of His love. John 3:6 says, “For God’s so…” what’s that word, Church?
Loved. Let’s say it together. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.” The reason Jesus invented the church is because he loves us, and he wants the world to know that he loves them too. And the church is his chosen instrument for letting the world know of his love. Love is absolutely our foundation; the Bible could not be clearer.
But love is also our fuel. It’s what fuels our mission on an ongoing basis. Jesus said, “By this, everyone will know that you’re my disciples if you…” What’s that word? “If you love one another.” That’s how people are gonna know that you’re my followers. Because if you’re following a God who loves enough to send his own Son to die for our sin, then we should be people who love the world in a similar way. So, it’s our foundation and our fuel. Love is the foundation and the fuel of our mission. But we probably need to ask ourselves an uncomfortable question at this point, which is just this, does the world have enough evidence to believe that love is our foundation and our fuel? Does the world have enough evidence to believe that? Our track record’s not perfect.
I mean, the church, over the years, has sometimes gotten off track. And so the church has given the world things like the Crusades. And I don’t think many of us would look back in the Crusades and go, “That was an unbelievable example of love.” But the world remembers that. We had the Inquisition and, again, I don’t think many of us would look at the Inquisition and go, “What an unbelievable example of love?” But the world remembers that. And that’s in the past, right? But we have some ground to make up from those things. But then we’ve got the modern world, and in the modern world, we have social media. We have social media. And sometimes the reality is that the way Christians talk to other people or about other people on social media does not say to the world, “Yeah, this is a group of people that are founded and fueled by love.”
And I’ve had people sit in my office that aren’t followers of Jesus and they’ve said to me things like, “And I hear you talk about love and I understand the Bible talks a lot about love, but all of my interaction with Jesus’ followers says not love.” And please understand, these are not people who are arguing with what we believe. Okay? They don’t believe what we believe, but they’re not necessarily arguing with what we believe about Jesus or God. They’re upset about and impacted by how we behave, how we talk to other people, how we talk about other people.
So, what do we do about it? Well, we have to start with ourselves. And so we have to ask ourselves a difficult question, and the personal question we need to ask is, “Am I making it easier or harder for people to believe that love is our foundation and fuel?” Ask yourself that question. I encourage you to wrestle with that question this week. Are you making it easier or harder for people to believe that love is your foundation and your fuel?
And listen, I understand this is complicated. Some of you are thinking, “Well, it’s just not that simple. Love is a tricky thing. We live in a broken, fallen, and messed up world.” You’re right. It’s not an easy thing. And some people will go, “Yeah, it’s not an easy thing because if I don’t call sin what God calls sin, if I don’t agree with God that it’s sin, then I can’t really love somebody. I can’t love somebody and not acknowledge that what they’re doing is taking them farther from God.” And you’re right, you can’t. You’re absolutely right. You don’t love an alcoholic by buying them booze. You don’t love an alcoholic by offering them to drive them to the liquor store. But other people are going, “Yeah, but I’m not really loving somebody if by condemning what they’re involved in makes them feel like I don’t want anything to do with them. Then I’m never gonna have a relationship where I can draw them to Jesus and shine the light of the Gospel.”
So, how do I deal with that? I mean, it’s a tension. And it’s not an easy question to solve, but it’s solvable. It really is. I know it’s solvable because Jesus solved it. You look at the life of Jesus, and what you’re gonna see is that he somehow managed to do both of those things to call sin sin, and yet to let people feel like he loved them enough that he wanted to be in a relationship with them. That what he was calling sin was genuinely for their good and not just because he was disgusted by them. Jesus wasn’t disgusted by sinners. He was distraught over the fact that they were far from God. Somehow Jesus communicated that while calling sin sin. Now, I love that example. Find it in John 8, where they brought him a woman who’d been caught in adultery. No question about it. She’d been caught committing adultery, clearly sin. And they threw her down in of Jesus and they said, “Hey, she was caught. And the Old Testament commandment says that she should be stoned to death. So what should we do?”
And Jesus didn’t say, “Well, let’s define adultery.” He didn’t say, “Well, you know, that’s your truth, but maybe it’s not her.” He didn’t do any of that. He said, “Yeah, okay. How about this? Whichever one of you is without sin themselves, why don’t you go ahead and throw the first stone?” And they were like, “That just sucked all the fun out of a good stoning.” And one by one, they dropped their rocks and they left. And then Jesus looked at this woman and said, “Hey, is there no one left to condemn you?” And she said, “No.” And he said, “Then neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more.” Whoa. Somehow he walked that rooftop peak, right? It was truth and love. And that’s not an easy thing to do. But if we look to Jesus and we can learn how to do it, and we have one huge advantage that we so often forget about, we have the Holy Spirit.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, when you put your faith in Jesus, several things happen, you’re forgiven of your sin, you are adopted into the family of God, and you’re given the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the person, the power of God. And Jesus taught us that one thing the Holy Spirit does is he shows us, he helped us to remember what Jesus did. And so here’s the thing, we have this unbelievable opportunity. And Reza, I know, talked about the Holy Spirit last week. And I’m so glad he did because we so often forget about this reality. If we have the Holy Spirit as followers of Jesus, then we have God in our lives and we can be asking the Holy Spirit, “Hey, Holy Spirit, what would Jesus do here?” And the Holy Spirit will show us what to do. And we’re not always gonna get it right, we’re not always gonna hear and be led perfectly, but we can start to get it right more often than we get it wrong. We can thread that needle; we can walk that line because the Holy Spirit will show us how to do that. And in that way, what we’re telling the world is love. It’s not just our foundation, it’s also our fuel. And so the same love that drew us into a relationship with Jesus will draw them as well.
Here’s one other piece of good news, not only do we have the Holy Spirit, and by looking at Jesus, can we figure out what it looks like to do that, but as we do that, something really powerful happens for us. It doesn’t just draw other people to Jesus. It doesn’t just shine light in the darkness. It doesn’t just advance the cause of the Gospel and the mission of the church. It actually does something very powerful to us personally. The book by Paul says. He says, “My goal is they may be encouraged in heart by being united in love so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding.” Just curious, how many of us would like full riches of complete understanding when it comes to God? Yeah. “In order that they may know the mystery of God.” How many would like to know all the mysteries of God? There’s a few people who are like, “Nah, I’m pretty good staying in the dark.” Right? The rest of us kinda like, “Yeah, I’d like to know the mysteries of God.” By the way, notice, he says, “The mysteries got, namely, Christ.” He’s kinda like it’s not that much of a mystery. It’s just Jesus. Just look at Jesus. “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Anybody want all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge? Do you wanna treasure map to the hidden wisdom and knowledge that we all long for?
By the way, I don’t know about you, but it kind of sounds to me like Paul’s laying it a little bit thick there, and he is using some interesting language. And I think what’s going on here is actually, what Paul’s doing is he’s using some of the language of the people that we’re trying to get into the church and take people a little away from Jesus. And he is using some of their language. Because they were coming in, and when they were coming in, they were saying, “Hey, Jesus is great. But if you really want spiritual power, if you really wanna experience everything God has for you, you need to follow these rules, you need to do these rituals, you need to go through these traditions and that kind of thing.” And they were using some language. The language that he’s using was actually very common among this different kind of weird, like, religious stuff and movements that were happening right there. They would use language like the mystery of God. They would say, “If you wanna be initiated into the mystery of God, you gotta go through our rituals.” They would say things like, “If you really wanna full understanding, if you wanna have a fullness of understanding, then you need to follow our rules. If you wanna find all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge, we can show you the steps you have to take to get to them.”
And so what Paul’s doing is he’s taking all that language, and he is kind of flipping around. He’s going, “Yeah, they don’t have that to offer, but Jesus does.” And there aren’t any secrets to it. You just have to be in Jesus. And so what he’s doing here basically is he’s giving us kind of the big idea for the entire Book of Colossians. In fact, if you miss every other message on this series, this is the one I’m glad you’re not missing. Because if you learn nothing else from the Book of Colossians, this is the one bedrock truth you need to take away. Everything you need is found in Jesus. Do you hear me, church? Everything you need is found in Jesus. If you wanna know what God’s like, you look at Jesus. Because we saw this a couple of weeks ago when Scott was here. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He’s the visible manifestation of who God is. So, it’s not a mystery what God’s like, we just look at his Son, Jesus. If you wanna know what’s important to God, look at what was important to Jesus. If you wanna know how Jesus felt about how God feels about people, look at how Jesus felt about people, and how he interacted with people. If you wanna know what it looks like to live a life that honors God, look at the life that Jesus led because we’re told, “Not only is Jesus is the image of the invisible God, but he’s also the firstborn.” Romans adds to that, and says, “He’s the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” That’s us.
We’re never gonna be the Son of God in the way that Jesus is because we’re created beings, Jesus is an eternal being, but he’s supposed to be the firstborn. He’s the older brother who’s showing us what it looks like to live a life that honors God, all we need to do is look at Jesus. Everything we need is found in Jesus. We just have to stay in him. We just have to stick close to him. And it’s all ours. Paul says, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” He says like, “I know the people are coming in and trying to get you a little bit off Jesus. I know what they’re saying sounds pretty good. I know they’ve got good arguments, maybe even they’ve got, you know, Scriptures probably taken out of context, but they got Scripture verses they can cite.” And you’re listening to them, you’re like, “It kind of sounds right.” He says, “I know they’re fine-sounding arguments.” It’s still garbage. It’s still poop. It might be poop or rescented poop, but it’s still poop.
But this is what happens, I had a student when I was a youth pastor, came from just a really strong Christian family. The mom and dad, honestly, just unbelievably mature followers of Jesus. And they raised their family so well to follow Jesus. Their son got off to college, and their relationship, he ended up in a cult, honestly. And that cult said, “Hey, if you really want to know power and have spiritual experiences, Jesus is great. I’m glad you heard about Jesus growing up. Jesus, he’s really important. But if you really want spiritual power, you have to be baptized in a particular way. You have to be baptized by a group that teaches that baptism is what saves you and ushers you into the mysteries of God.” And they knew how to make it sound good. They had arguments and they had fine-sounding rhetoric. And eventually, he allowed that wedge to be shoved in between him and Jesus. And he said, “Yeah, I do need that.” And ended up that he came back to his family, and he said, “Yeah, I know God, you don’t. I have spiritual power, you’re weak. I’m going to heaven, you’re not.” It was fine-sounding arguments. It was potpourri scented poop. It’s still poop.
Paul says those arguments are out there, and they sound good. And you need to be really careful because if an argument, in any way says, “Yeah, Jesus, but also…” Oh, stop. Because they’re gonna make it sound good. I think one of the ways we see this happening a lot right now is in the deconstructing Christianity movement. I see a lot of videos on social media from people who are coming out of church backgrounds, and they’re basically going, “Yeah, listen, I love Jesus, but you know what? The church has got it all wrong. If you really wanna experience Jesus, you gotta deconstruct your Christian faith. You gotta deconstruct the whole thing. And I’ll tell you how you can really have a relationship with God, how you can really get close to God.” And I’ll be honest, it sounds pretty good. And I think it’s having the same impact on the church today that these people are having on the church in Paul’s day, because there’s really nothing new under the sun. They’re fine-sounding. But the moment it says anything other than Jesus, pay attention.
He says, “Though I’m absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and I delight to see how disciplined you are.” He’s not writing because they’ve gotten away from Jesus. He’s actually writing because they’re sticking close to Jesus. And he wants to affirm that and say, “Stick with it. Stay disciplined. Stay close to Jesus. And how firm your faith in Christ is.” He says, “You’re putting your faith in Jesus. It’s not in rules, it’s not in rituals, it’s not in traditions, it’s in Jesus. And I’m so proud of you.” He says, “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.” By the way, that phrase, as you were taught, it’s a really interesting phrase because the way they were taught the faith was 100% based on stories about, guess who? Jesus. They didn’t have a New Testament. It was still being written when they came to faith. Most of them didn’t have access to an Old Testament either. They were aware of it, but nobody had their own personal versions. These were Greek believers. And so probably in their town, they may not have even had access to a Greek version of the Old Testament.
So they weren’t taught their faith from the Bible. They were taught their faith from people telling the stories about Jesus. They were taught their faith from eyewitness accounts of what Jesus was like, of what he said and what he did. That was how they were taught. And so he says, “Hey, remember how you came to faith by looking at Jesus?” That’s not just how you start your faith. It’s not just how you end your faith. And it is how we’ll end our faith.
We’re gonna walk into heaven someday. And some people have this idea that when you get to heaven, God’s gonna look through a ledger and go, “Did your good stuff outweigh your bad stuff?” I hope you understand, that’s not gonna happen. Because we’ve all sinned and sin separates us from God, which means that we’re gonna get to heaven and God’s gonna go, “I don’t even need to look at the ledger, I know the balance of your books, it ain’t good. But I’m not worried about your balance. I’m worried about whether or not you know Jesus. If you know Jesus, that’s all forgiven.” If we say, “Yeah, I put my faith in Jesus.” He goes, “Yeah, these books have been put away.” So, that’s how you started your faith. That’s how you’re gonna end your faith. But he says, “That’s also how you live it every day of your life. It’s in him.”
Bottom line he says, “Listen, stick close to Jesus. Stick close to Jesus.” How do we do that? Let me give you three practical things that you can do to stick close to Jesus like we’re being told to here. There’s more. I’m not saying for a second this is all of them. You may have some other things that help you stick close to Jesus. That’s awesome. Lots more things we could do. But let me give you three things that I think are really important that we all do.
The first one is just this. You can learn everything you can about Jesus from Jesus himself. And what I mean is, you can spend time regularly reading the Gospels, the eyewitness accounts of what Jesus said and did, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have access to those. How many of us have access to a Bible? Yeah. That wasn’t true in the first century. But we have access, we can keep going back to them. We can constantly be reminding ourselves and learning who Jesus was, and what he was like, and what was important to him, and how he treated people. And we’re told that he’s the image of the invisible God. So that’s teaching us who God is. So, the first thing we can do to stick close to Jesus is to learn everything we can about Jesus from Jesus himself. Make reading the Gospels a regular part of your life. I read the Gospels constantly because it’s all about Jesus.
The second thing you can do is we already talked about this, you can develop that habit of asking the Holy Spirit to show you what Jesus would do. You don’t need a bracelet, you got the Holy Spirit. What you need is a habit. And if the bracelet helps create the habit, that’s fine. Whatever. Okay? But what we need to do is we need to create that habit, that when we find ourselves in these difficult situations, what does it look like to love people in the way that God wants us to love them, the way that Jesus wants us to love them? Is go, “Well, what did Jesus do?” The Holy Spirit. What would that look like for me in this situation? And the more that’s fueled by what we know about Jesus already, the quicker it is for the Holy Spirit to remind us, say, “Hey, you remember that? That’s how you apply that here.” Awesome. That keeps us close to Jesus.
The third thing we can do to stick close to Jesus is we can look for opportunities every day to follow Jesus on mission. If you’re gonna stick close to Jesus, one of the best things you can do is look for opportunities every day. And there are opportunities every day to follow Jesus on mission. Because here’s the thing, Jesus didn’t say…you’ve heard me say this before if you’ve been coming any length of time. Jesus didn’t say, “Come follow me. I’ve booked some rooms in the Marriott, we’re gonna hang out and have a good time.” No. Jesus said, “Come follow me.” Follow me, implies that Jesus is a moving target, that he’s moving because he’s moving out on mission. He has people to serve. He said, “The Son of Man, and favor to himself. The Son of Man didn’t come to be served. He didn’t come to sit in place and have people bring him things and do things for him. The Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That was a mission and mission implies movement. So, Jesus is moving. So, we come, “Jesus, I put my faith in you.” He’s like, “Awesome.” And then he takes off. And we’re like, “But I like it here. Couldn’t we just… Oh, you’re gonna… All right.” And we gotta move. If you wanna stick close to Jesus, you gotta follow him on a mission. And so we need to look for those opportunities to shine light in darkness. We need to look for those opportunities to serve others, to live generously, to invite other people to find and follow Jesus with us. The third way you can stick close to Jesus is looking for those opportunities every day to follow Jesus on missions.
Let me just ask you this question today, what’s one thing you can do this week to add to the evidence for someone that love is our foundation and fuel? What’s one thing you can do to add to their evidence that they can actually believe that the church is what we claim it is? A group of people united in love and moving forward in a mission that’s founded and fueled on it. A group of people who are, in fact, sticking close to Jesus.
Would you pray over that with me? Jesus, we thank you for your love. We recognize that you loved us when we were still sinners. You loved us so much, you came and you died for us to pay the price of our sin while we were still sinners, while we were still running in rebellion from you. And we’re grateful for that love. We were drawn to you by your love. And we ask for your forgiveness for the ways that we have not communicated that same love to the world. And Lord, we recognize that sometimes it happens, sometimes we fail to communicate the love because we get confused. It’s not easy to figure out how do we love with truth, how we balance those. But Lord, we’re grateful for your Holy Spirit. We’re grateful for the example of Jesus, the image of the invisible God. Jesus’s example and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives means that it’s possible for us to stick close to Jesus. Even though we ask that you reveal anything in our lives that’s tempting us to step away from Jesus to think it’s Jesus plus something else. Because we realize that it’s only in Jesus, that all the things that we long for are actually ours. All the things people promise us are ours. If you just do this, and this, and this, no, no, no. It’s all ours if we stick close to Jesus, so help us to do that. And we know there’s no better way to do that than to follow him on mission. Lord, we pray right now for those people who are listening to this message that don’t have a relationship with Jesus.
And maybe that’s you, maybe for the first time, you’ve understood something about this thing that we call the Gospel, this good news that God loves you so much that he sent his Son on to die for you, and that he rose from the dead, and he offers you a relationship with him. He offers you forgiveness and salvation just by faith, by putting your trust in what he’s done. And if you’ve never done that before, I wanna encourage you to do that right now. You can experience the love of God and everything that God has for you right here right now by putting your trust in Jesus. Here’s how you do it. Just have this conversation with him right now, wherever you are. God, I know I’ve sinned. I rebelled against you. I’m the reason that there’s a separation between us, and I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying on that cross to pay for my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. And I’m ready to trust you. Jesus, I’m gonna follow you from here on out. I’m yours for now and forever. I accept your forgiveness and a new relationship with a loving God. Amen.
Can we celebrate those who’ve made that decision this weekend? Hey, listen. If you made that decision for the first time this weekend, we’re so excited for you and there’s so much in store for you. We would love to celebrate it. Would you do us favor, would just let us know you made the decision? That’s all we’re asking. You can do that by just texting the word “Jesus” to 80875. If you’re joining us online, you can also click the button you’ll see right around me. Let them know if you made that decision. We’re gonna send you some free stuff just to help you begin experiencing everything that is yours in Jesus. Hey, would you stand up? Before we head out into the world where we’re supposed to shine this light into the darkness, live on mission with Jesus, we gotta make sure we’re close to him. And worship is one of those powerful ways that we stick close to Jesus. So, let’s take a few minutes to worship him and to draw close to him.
As most people think about it, religion is a set of rules for behaving that result in belonging. In other words, if you behave – according to the rules – then you belong, both with God and with His people. Today, as we continue our series through Colossians, we’re going to talk about what’s wrong with that.
Technically, religion deals with the big questions, right? You know, like, who is God? Who are we? Why are we here? What happens next? But that’s technical. Practically, when most people talk about religion, and honestly, what we’re gonna see today is that even when the Bible talks about religion, what it means is actually rules for behaving that result in belonging. That’s how everybody uses the word religion, even the Bible. It’s rules for behaving that result in belonging. It’s the idea that if you follow the rules, if you follow the rituals, if you follow the traditions, if you’re good enough at behaving, then you get to belong to God, you get to go to heaven when you die, and you get to be part of God’s family. And so that’s practically how both people and the Bible actually uses the word religion. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. I want to talk to you about what’s wrong with that idea that how we behave determines whether or not we belong.
If you wanna follow along, we’re going to be in Colossians chapter 2, starting in verse 8 today. So if you just start making your way to Colossians 2:8, I’ll just go ahead and tell you. You might notice I’m limping just a little bit today. I did a really dumb thing this weekend. I was hanging out with Coletta’s brother and his kids, my teenage nieces and nephews. And they decided they wanted to play football, and they wanted me to play, and I was like, “Sure, why not?”
There’s all kinds of reasons why not actually. But at one point, my niece Emerson, she threw a perfect pass, and I caught it, and I saw an opening to the endzone and I took off like I was an 18 year old athlete. And about halfway towards the endzone, something happened to my hamstring. And I know all the guys are like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, did you score?” I did. I did make it to the endzone. I did do the touchdown. Thank you. I appreciate that. But I’m still paying for it. And so what I realized is that there’s a big difference between behaving like an athlete and being an athlete. And that’s kind of what we’re going to talk about today. There’s a difference between behaving like a spiritual person and actually being a godly person.
That’s what Paul is going to talk to us about. He’s writing to the church in the city of Colossae because even though there were followers of Jesus, and people would come in and basically say, “Hey, it’s great that you love Jesus. We love that. But if you really want to be spiritual, if you really want to be godly, if you really want to have access to God’s power in your life, you need a little more than Jesus. There’s some rules you need to follow there. There’s some regulations you need to obey. There’s some traditions you need to keep. There’s some rituals you need to go through.”
And Paul’s basically writing to say, “No, no, no, that’s not true.” In fact, he says this. He says, “See to it, that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” He says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” His concern is that what’s being told to the followers of Jesus in Colossae isn’t going to lead them to power. It’s not going to lead them to a closer relationship with God. It’s actually going to take them captive.
And that’s a big deal, because the Gospel is all about freedom. The Gospel is all about freedom. Jesus himself said this. He said, “He,” meaning his Father, “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Jesus is all about freedom. Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free…” meaning “If I set you free, you will be free indeed.” And Jesus is hinting there at the idea that there’s a lot of things out there, there’s a lot of religion out there that says, “Hey, if you just follow our rules and regulations and traditions and rituals, then you’re gonna get free.” And Jesus says, “Actually, the truth is that that’s not the case. But if I set you free, you actually will be free.”
But Jesus is hinting at what Paul is concerned about when he says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” By the way, when we hear the word philosophy in the modern world, and we tend to think of something very different than religion. Philosophy, you know, it’s Descartes, it’s Kant, it’s Plato, it’s Aristotle. Remember your high school or your college philosophy classes? We think of philosophy as something very different than religion. In the ancient world, philosophy and religion were basically the same thing. It’s a way thinking about how to live the good life, the godly life even. So you could just as easily translate that as, you know, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive religion.” Because those things don’t have the power to set you free, and we all want freedom, don’t we?
Let me ask you a question today. Before I go any farther, let me ask you this. What are you longing to be free from? Would you wrestle with that for just a moment? What are you longing to be free from? You know, for some of us, it’s a sin that we’re trapped in. It’s something we know isn’t what God intended for us. We know that it continually drives a wedge between us and our experience of God. But we just can’t seem to get out of it. We’re trapped by it. And we just want to be free from it. And for some of us, it’s guilt. It’s just the crushing burden of guilt from the things that we’ve done, or the things that we didn’t do, all the ways that we’re just not good enough. Or maybe that’s it. Maybe you just want to be free from the unbearable weight of constantly feeling like you’re never going to be good enough. Or maybe it’s anxiety, or whatever it is, what what are you longing to be free from? So, the good news is that Jesus wants you to be free of that too. As much as you might long to be free from it, your longing is actually nothing compared to your Creator. Your longing to be free is nothing compared to how deeply God longs for you to be free from that.
The problem is that so many of the things that we pursue because they promised us freedom actually become another kind of prison. And that’s what Paul’s talking about. He says, “I don’t want anybody to be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy.” It’s hollow. It looks solid, but the problem is that you get into it, and it turns out, it’s another cage that you’re trapped inside. You’re trapped inside that hollow thing. It claimed to give you truth, but in reality, it was lying to you. He says, “I don’t want anybody to be taken captive, because the Gospel is about freedom.”
Okay. So how do we recognize this hollow and deceptive philosophy? He says, “See to it then, that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy or religion.” Okay, well, how do we reckon? How do we know if it’s hollow and deceptive philosophy? Well, he goes on and he says this. He says, “Which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ, rather than on Jesus.” He says, “Hollow and deceptive philosophy, hollow and deceptive religion, basically comes from one of two places. It comes from human tradition, or the elemental spiritual forces of the world.”
Let’s unpack those, human tradition. Let me just say this, tradition isn’t always a bad thing. There are good traditions and there are bad traditions. Not all traditions are created equal. And Paul’s not, you know, aiming at every kind of tradition. He’s aiming at a particular kinds of tradition, but there are good traditions, okay. And here’s the thing, good traditions… I like to think of it this way. Good traditions are things that we repeat because they remind us of something we need to remember. That’s a good tradition. We repeat it. We do it regularly because it reminds us of something we deeply need to remember.
My family has a tradition at Christmas time. When we put ornaments on the tree, we actually…we’re not primarily looking for what the tree looks like. We’re actually taking ornaments that, in some way, remind us of some way that God’s provided for us that year, some way that God has been good to us. And so, we find an ornament that reminds us of some particular act of God’s kindness that year, and we put it on and we just say a couple sentences about, “Yeah, I saw God do this, and I’m remembering that.” That’s our tradition.
And by the way, I know some of the women are like, “Yeah, but what does the tree look like when you’re done?” And the answer is not good. It’s not a pretty tree. So my wife has another tree that goes in the foyer that’s a very pretty tree. That’s not the real tree, though. The real tree is this one that it’s a result of our tradition. And it’s a good tradition, I think, because we’re doing it, we repeat it every year because it’s a reminder of things that we desperately need to remember, the goodness of God. And maybe you have some of those in your life.
But not every tradition is a good tradition. There are bad traditions. And here’s what we mean by bad traditions. Bad traditions are the things that we repeat because we believe that they’re the basis for belonging. Somebody’s either told us, “You have to do these things, and you have to keep doing these things. Otherwise, you can’t belong to God, you can’t go to heaven, or you can’t belong to God’s people, you’re always gonna be in the outside.” So we repeat them because we’ve come to believe that they’re the basis for belonging.
And the crazy thing is sometimes good traditions go bad. Sometimes they’re actually great traditions. We did them because they reminded us of who God is, they reminded us of important things we needed to remember. But over time in human hands, those traditions turned into more than just a reminder. They turned into the basis for belonging. In the 1st century, when Paul’s writing, the Jewish people were often struggling with this kind of thing. They had a lot of traditions that God had actually given them in order to remind them of who he was, but over time, they said, “But if you don’t do these things, you don’t belong to God. If you’re not regularly doing these things, you’re not one of God’s people.” And those are the kinds of things that were coming into the church at Colossae, and they were saying, “Hey, it’s great that you have Jesus, but you also need these things in order to belong.” So that’s the first place that hollow and deceptive philosophy, hollow and deceptive religion comes from, human tradition.
But he also says it comes from elemental spiritual forces of this world. What is that? Probably the best way to understand that is this, elemental spiritual forces are the demons who currently control the earth because of our sin. And I know that’s a strange thing to hear. We don’t think much about that in the world. But the Bible is very clear that there are spiritual forces, there are these things that we call demons, and they have a great deal of control over the earth and over the human population on earth. And they have it because we sinned.
Human beings were made as God’s image, human beings were made to take care of creation. But when we decided to follow Satan, when Adam and Eve first decided to listen to Satan and not to God, we essentially cast our lot with him, and we handed over control of the world that we were supposed to be caretakers of, we handed it over to him. And so, Satan and his forces have a great deal of control over the world that we live in right now. And the Bible is very clear about that. It’s why the Bible uses language to describe Satan where they call him the god of this age, meaning it’s temporary. The age is going to pass and he’s going to be revealed for the imitation that he is. But at the moment, he exercises tremendous control. And the Bible calls him the prince of the power of the air and uses language like forces and principalities and powers and authorities to talk about these evil forces.
And so, what Paul says is, “Hey, some of this hollow and deceptive philosophy, hollow and deceptive religion comes from human tradition, but some of it actually comes from evil spirits. They’re giving religion. They’re actually communicating religious ideas.” And you might go, “Why on earth would Satan want people to find religion?” Now, because there’s no better way to keep somebody out of a relationship with Jesus than to slip religion into the mix. No better way to keep somebody out of a relationship than to communicate the idea that, “Hey, if you want to have a relationship with God, you just got to be good enough. You just got to check off the boxes of dos and don’ts. You just got to behave right. You just got to be good enough.”
And Satan and his forces know we’re never gonna be good enough. God is holy and perfect and pure, and the moment that we sin even the slightest way, we are so vastly different from him that there’s nothing that can ever create, nothing that can ever create a sense in which we naturally belong with God. Sinful people don’t naturally belong with a holy and pure God. And so, Satan goes, “Yeah, you just need to try harder. You just need to follow the rules. You just need to follow the regulation. You just need to go through the rituals.” And they know what’s happening is we’re on the treadmill and we’re running hard, but we’re not going anywhere.
So Paul says, “Like, I don’t want you to be taken captive by this hollow and deceptive, this thing that looks solid, but you find yourself actually entrapped by, entombed by it. And it comes from human tradition. It comes from these evil spiritual forces in the world, but I don’t want you to be trapped by it.” Which of course raises the question, well, how do we recognize it? How do we know that what we’re being told, or how do we know that what’s being shared with us is a hollow and deceptive philosophy or religion? And the answer is pretty simple. A hollow and deceptive philosophy is anything that says you need more than faith in Jesus. That’s how you recognize it. It’s pretty simple, actually. The moment somebody says, “Yeah, Jesus is great, but you also…” “No, stop.” “No, no, no, I’m really glad you have faith. Jesus is…he’s so important. You just also…” “No, no, no, stop.”
The moment somebody tries to add to faith in Jesus, that’s the red flag you’re dealing with a hollow and deceptive philosophy, because Paul says, “For in Christ, in Jesus, all the fullness of the Deity, all the fullness of who God is, lives in bodily form.” It’s the same language he was using a few weeks ago. “He’s the image of the invisible God. He’s the visible physical manifestation of everything that God is.” If you want to know who God is, you look at Jesus. He says, “In him all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ, in faith in Jesus, you have been brought to fullness.” Everything that you are supposed to be becomes possible through faith in Jesus. You have access to everything you need. “He is the head over every power and authority.”
And power and authority is again, it’s demon language. It’s the Bible’s demon language. He says, “Jesus is the head over every power authority.” Why is he saying that? Because he’s addressing a question that people would have had, that they would have gone, “Okay, yeah, I get you, Paul. We need to just have faith in Jesus. But here’s the thing, there are evil spiritual forces, right? And we don’t really want to get on their radar. We really don’t want to like get them focused on us. We don’t want to have them causing us problems.” And there were religious ideas that…there were things that they did. There were practices and things like that that they did to kind of keep the demons happy, to keep these evil spiritual forces away from them. We call them superstitions. Superstition is kind of a side of this religion stuff. We do these kinds of things with the idea that because if we don’t, bad things will happen, right? I mean, come on, guys. How many of you know if you change your wardrobe, your team is not going to win. Come on. We don’t walk under ladders, right? Don’t let a black cat cross your path. Well, I mean, you should stay away from cats as a general principle, but that’s a totally different issue.
What we forget about those things is they’re actually that they’re the result of deep religious ideas that go back where people went, “There’s all these forces, and we need to do these things and not do these things. Otherwise, they’re gonna come after us.” And so what Paul’s doing here is he’s knowing that the Christians there in Colossae, they’re gonna go, “But hang on a second, if we don’t follow some of these rituals, aren’t these forces going to come after us?” And he goes, “Who cares if they do? You understand that Jesus is the head over all power and authority. He has absolute authority over those things. You’re scared of them. You’re following rules and traditions and rituals to keep them appeased, but you don’t need to appease them anymore. You’ve been set free from them. He’s head over all of them.” You see it throughout Jesus’s ministry. When demons manifested, Jesus went, “Get out.” And they left. There were no traditions, there were no rituals, just his authority, but it’s an authority he gave to us. We see it in the Gospels. We’re not under the authority of these things anymore. In Christ, who is the head over all these things, we have power over all these things. And so what he’s saying is, “You’re free. You’re free.” And for somebody to come along and say, “You need Jesus then anything else.” It’s just…it’s just wrong.
Listen, I’m gonna say something super-controversial right now. And I always like…because everybody is like, “Okay, new level of focus.” Right? It’s super-controversial. I know it’s controversial. It’s gonna be controversial with some engineers and some math people. I know it because my engineering daughter, like, gave me a hard time about it yesterday. I still think I’m right. I’ve had some engineers tell me I’m right, so I’m just gonna go with it. Here’s the thing. To say you need Jesus and something else is like trying to add to infinity. See, my thinking is, if you have an infinity, then there’s nothing outside of it to add. If you had something else to add to it, you didn’t have infinity to start with. To say, “Jesus is everything, but you also…” No, no, no, no, you can’t do that. In the same way you can’t add to infinity, you can’t make infinity greater. You can’t add anything to Jesus if Jesus is everything. You hear me church? That these people will come and they’re saying, “Yeah, Jesus is great, but you also…”
Paul says no. He says, “In him, you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.”
Alright, let’s talk about circumcision. Everybody’s always like, “Oh, can we please.” Right? Always a crowd-pleaser, right? Here’s the thing. This is apparently one of the things that some of the people were coming to Colossae and telling the followers of Jesus they needed to do. The followers of Jesus weren’t not Jewish. They were Gentile there in Colossae. And so apparently, there were some Jewish people kind of coming in going, “Hey, yeah, yeah, Jesus is great. We love that. But if you wanna belong to God’s people, if you wanna be one of God’s people, you got to be circumcised, you got to follow that tradition.” And Paul basically is going, “Listen, no, you don’t understand. When you put your faith in Jesus, he performed another kind of circumcision. I mean, they’re telling you to get circumcised and, you know, that’s basically…it’s a minor surgery. They cut off a small piece of the male anatomy. But, like, you don’t need to go through that because when you said yes to Jesus, Jesus performed major surgery.” Not literally. He’s talking figuratively here. He’s not talking about literal circumcision. He’s talking about figurative to circumcision. But he’s basically saying, he’s saying, “When you put your faith in Jesus, he cut out the sin nature that used to control you. When you said yes to Jesus, he came in and he cut out this nasty part of us that used to drive us, that used to control us.”
See, the problem is, that when we sin, it’s not just something we did, it’s something we became. We became sinful. We got twisted, so that we couldn’t do good, we couldn’t be good, we couldn’t be godly. We might do some nice things here and there. We might do some good things, but there was always this part of us that was always just a little bit off track. Have you ever ever had a bad shopping cart? You know what I’m talking about? Like, it just keeps, you know, leaning left or right, and no matter how hard you try, like, with a superhuman effort, you can kind of make it work, but it’s always a fight. And the moment you relax, it’s going off on one side or other, right? It’s kind of like that. Sin twisted us. But what Paul says is that when you put your faith in Jesus, he came in and he took the wheels off and he put some new good ones on, and now the cart can actually go straight.
Now listen, that doesn’t mean the Christians stop sinning. It doesn’t mean that you and I are perfect. Even though the shopping cart can go straight, we sometimes, like, run into people. We run over their feet, we stop paying attention and we bump in. I mean, there’s all kinds of reasons. We have bad habits. We have bad influences. We’re weak physically and spiritually, but we’re not controlled by sin in the same way.
He’s saying, “Listen, they’re telling you, you gotta have this minor surgery. I’m telling you, Jesus has already done major surgery.” And he goes a step farther than that. He also says this. He says, “Our faith in Jesus also means that we were raised to a new kind of life.” He moves from circumcision to baptism. And again, just like circumcision is not literal here, he means baptism, not literally, but figuratively, because baptism itself is symbolic. When we put somebody under the water, when they said, you know, “I’m a follower of Jesus. I want to get baptized.” We put them under the water. That symbolizes that they’re dying to the old way of life, with Jesus, just like he died. And then when we bring them up, they’re symbolizing that they’re raised to a new kind of life, just as Jesus was raised to a new kind of life.
And what Paul says is, “Hey, you do understand that when you said yes to Jesus, you were raised to a new kind of life, and the same God, the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead after three days in the grave, that’s at work in your life. The same resurrection power that brought Jesus back from the dead is bringing you to life. It’s changing you from the inside out in a way that no religious rule can, no regulation can, no ritual can, no tradition can. The resurrection power of God is at work in your life.” He did major surgery, and he cut out the old way. And then, he implanted a whole new power source to a whole new kind of life.
He says, “You’ve been set free.” He says, “When you were dead in your sins, and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.” By the way, notice that, “When you were dead in your sins,” meaning you were still sinful. You hadn’t fixed your behavior. You hadn’t gotten the list of dos and don’ts, right? Even then, “God made you alive with Christ by faith. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us.”
See, there’s a wage to sin. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” But Jesus died in our place. His death paid our price. “He’s taken it away. He’s taken our sin away, nailing it to the cross with Jesus. And having disarmed the powers and authorities….” And there’s, again, that demon language, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” And what he’s saying, again, is it’s really just what he started out saying. He says, “Don’t let anybody take you captive. You’ve been set free, so don’t go back into captivity.” He says, “Don’t go back into captivity to the old ways of thinking about how you belong to God. Don’t go back into captivity to evil spiritual forces. You’ve been set free, following Jesus set you free. So don’t go back into captivity. Don’t let anybody trick you into taking up residence in a whole new kind of prison.”
He says, “Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, or a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come. The reality, however, is found in Christ.” And again, those are the kinds of rules and regulations and traditions and rituals that people were saying to the followers of Jesus in Colossae, “This is the stuff you need to do.” Now, most of them seemed to have a Jewish background to them. They’re going, “Yeah, you got to do these things to really belong.” He says, “No, you don’t. No, you need to follow Jesus.”
He says, “Those things, that they’re not bad things. I mean, God actually gave those traditions, he gave those regulations. But he gave them in order to point to something better that was coming.” That’s why he says, “Those things are a shadow of the things that were to come.” You know, the the Old Testament rules and regulations, they were pointing to Jesus. They were pointing to what God was going to do. And so he told the Jewish people, you know, “Don’t eat certain kinds of food.” That was symbolically separating them from humanity. But it’s nothing compared to the new life, the radically new people we become by faith in Jesus. We become children of God, adopted into his family.
He told the Jewish people, “You need to make sacrifices on a regular basis.” Not because those things take away sin, but because they point to Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. So those things are just a shadow, but they’re pointing to something real. But now the real has come, so why are you going back into the shade? Why would you do that? He says, “Listen, following Jesus provides. It actually gives you what religious traditions could only point to.” You hear me, church? Following Jesus actually provides what religious traditions and rules and rituals and all that stuff can only point to.
He says, “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you.” By disqualify, he just means don’t let them take you off the path. Don’t let them lock you up in a new kind of prison. And he uses a couple of different phrases to describe people who try to do that. He says, “Firstly, they delight in false humility.” In English false humility sounds like arrogance, right? Because we hear humility, you know, that’s the opposite of arrogance. So if it’s false humility, it’s actually arrogance. But in the ancient world, this actually wasn’t talking about an attitude, like arrogance or pride. It was actually talking about actions, not an attitude, actions.
You see, in ancient world humility was self-denial. What you kind of see, you know, if somebody says, you know, “You’re really good at this.” “No, I’m not.” You’re denying self. Well, in the ancient world that was actually a practical thing. See, people who practice humility, often they avoided things, that they didn’t eat certain things, they didn’t drink certain things. You know, they abstained, thinking that that would allow them to obtain other things. They were going, “If I abstain from these earthly things, then I’ll obtain spiritual things.” And he says, “Don’t let anybody who says, “Yeah, you got to abstain in order to obtain, don’t let them trick you. Don’t let them trick you.”
He also talks about the worship of angels. And there’s two different ways to take that. I’m not 100% sure which one it is, but they kind of amount to the same thing. The worship of angels, the religion of angels could be actually looking at angels and giving them worship. And because there was often this idea, especially in Greek religion, that the angels, or are these spiritual beings could give you spiritual power and experiences. And so, you know, you would worship, you’d give sacrifices or offerings to these angelic beings, so that they would give you spiritual power, and things like that, so it could be something about that.
Or he could be talking about the religion that came from angels, in which case, what he’s actually doing is he’s being a little sarcastic. You know, he’s back to talking about the elemental spiritual forces of the world, these fallen angels that are passing on a religion because they know that religion’s the best obstacle to a relationship. Either way, the point is, these people are telling you, “Here’s how you get spiritual power. But that’s actually just the road to spiritual captivity. Don’t go down that.”
He says, “Such a person goes into great detail about what they’ve seen. They love to talk about their spiritual experiences, but they are puffed up. They think more of themselves than they should. They think they’re something special with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.” And that’s such an interesting thing. He says, “They’re trying to teach you how to be spiritual, but in fact, they are themselves unspiritual. They have lost connection,” or literally in the original Greek, I would actually translate it, “They are not grasping a connection with the head, from whom the whole body is supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”
He says, “They’re not connected to the head. They’re not connected to Jesus.” Now, he says, “But on the surface, they kind of look like they got it together.” And he uses this body analogy. And he says, “Yeah, it’s fine to have a body,” right? I mean, but here’s the thing. Like, if you have an Olympic level body, and you take the head off, you know what you have? You have a corpse. Okay? It doesn’t matter how good the body looks. Without the head, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not alive. And he says, “These people, they look good, they they know how to talk good game, they know how to talk about spirituality and power and all these things. But in fact, they’re not connected to Jesus, which means they don’t have any of the stuff they’re telling you that they have access to.” In other words, “Listen, that they talk a lot about spiritual things, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. They talk a lot about spiritual things, but they’re not spiritual. They don’t have access to the spiritual power that they’re claiming that they do. So don’t listen to them.”
He says, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, you died with Christ to all these lies about religion. Why as though you still belong to the world do you submit to its rules? Rules like, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” Because again, the idea is you have to abstain in order to obtain spirituality. You have to abstain from earthly things in order to obtain spiritual things.
He says, “These rules which have to do with things that are destined to perish with use, they’re based on merely human commands and teachings.” They might have started with God, but at this point, the idea that they’re the basis for belonging to God, that’s a human idea. It’s not what Jesus taught. “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom. They sound good, with their self-imposed worship,” or it could be translated religion. “With their self-imposed religion, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
Of course, restraining in sensual indulgence, that’s a word for sin. Because the reality is that all sin is actually indulging an appetite that God gave us for something good outside of the context that keeps it good. All sin is that. I mean, just think of a very easy example. Like, God gave us an appetite for food because God is good and he made good food. And as long as you indulge that appetite inside the context that he’s given it, that’s all good. But the moment you start indulging that appetite outside, you go beyond what we need. You know, we have a word for that, the word is gluttony. Gluttony is a sin. It’s not because hunger is a problem. It’s not because that appetite it’s a problem. It’s just that it’s being used. It’s being indulged outside of the context that keeps it good. That’s true of every sin.
And so he says, “All the rules and regulations these people are giving you, they have no ability to actually restrain those sinful impulses to indulge in these appetites outside the context that keeps them good.” And the reason he’s doing that is because there were people going, “Well hang on a second. If it’s just Jesus, if faith in Jesus is all that you need, then doesn’t that give you freedom to just go and live however you want and just go and commit all kinds of crazy sin?” And Paul’s gonna turn, and we’re gonna see this next week…he’s gonna turn to basically saying, “No, no, no.” But see, the thing is, you’re getting the equation wrong. Since the religion says, “Believing plus behaving leads to belonging.” If you believe the right things, and you behave in the right ways, then you can belong to God. Jesus says, “Believe in me and you belong to God, and that will change the way you behave.”
Paul says, “They’re claiming, to be able to, you know, restrain sin.” No, actually, only relationship with Jesus can do that. Because here’s the truth. Religious rules don’t create godly people. Do you hear me, church? Religious rules don’t create godly people. They create people who are self-righteous. They create people who think they’re better than other people. They create people who are running on the treadmill, looking at other people on the treadmill going, “You’re not getting anywhere. I’m so much farther ahead than you are.” “No, you’re not. You’re on a treadmill. You’re dumb.” Religious rules don’t create godly people. They create judgment, they create anger, they create self-righteousness but not actual righteousness.
The good news is this. Following Jesus does what religion can’t. Following Jesus actually accomplishes what religion promises. Following Jesus changes us from the inside out and we become people. Listen, in the same way that behaving like an 18 year old athlete is not the same thing as being an 18 year old athlete. Behaving according to religious rules doesn’t make you a godly person. But following Jesus does, because following Jesus changes us from the inside out. So the question is just this. What’s it look like for you to follow Jesus? What’s your next step in following Jesus? What’s your next step in sticking close to Jesus? We’ve been using that phrase a lot in this series. Stick close to Jesus, because in Jesus is the fullness of Deity. In Jesus is everything that we need. So, all we have to do is stick close to Jesus.
So, what does that look like? I found that really helpful, and here at Mission Hills, we talk about kind of a grid for thinking about the next step of sticking close to Jesus, the next step of following Jesus. It’s kind of six areas. We call them six keystone habits, meaning, you know, these are things that if you’re doing regularly, then you’re going to experience everything that is possible through faith in Jesus. And so we regularly…I regularly ask myself, you know, “What’s my next step in these areas?” And here’s the six areas that might help you kind of think about what your next step of following Jesus, your next step of sticking close to Jesus is.
The first one is this. It’s just learning about God. When we learn about God, that actually helps us to follow Jesus. And so, you know, maybe it’s studying the Bible, maybe it’s joining a Bible study, maybe it’s listening to gifted teachers. What are you doing to learn about God? What’s your next step maybe in learning more about God?
Another area, we might take the next step is, we call it, spending time with Jesus, because there’s a difference in learning a bunch about God and actually being in a relationship where you’re spending time with somebody. So spending time with Jesus is another place we can take a next step, you know, and that can be things like worship. You know, we’re told that God inhabits the praises of his people. When we praise God, when we worship God, we’re actually…we’re not just learning information about him, we’re actually connecting with him. We’re spending time with him in worship. If you need to lean more into worship, or maybe prayer. Prayer is another way we spend time with Jesus. Maybe you need to take a next step and in your prayer life.
Or maybe this. Here’s the third area where we can take the next step in following Jesus. It’s connecting with others. The Bible says that iron sharpens iron, that when we come together with other followers of Jesus, we actually encourage each other to stick closer to Jesus than we do on our own. So maybe you need to find a group. We’re big on groups here at Mission Hills. Go to missionhills.org and look for a Life Group that you can join. Or maybe you need to connect with some others that can help you overcome some things you’re struggling with. I have mentors in my life. I have older men who helped me, you know, be a good pastor, but also helped me to be a good husband and a good father, guys that are a little farther down the road. That’s connecting with others. That helps me follow Jesus. Sometimes you need to connect with others, like in a hope group. Maybe you’re struggling with grief, and we have a grief share ministry, or you’re going through divorce, and we have a divorce, you know, recovery ministry, or maybe you’re going through adoption and some of the challenges that come with that. We have an adoption help group. But it’s connecting with others that can help you follow Jesus. Maybe you need to connect to a counselor, someone who can help you deal with some of those issues that are keeping you from following Jesus. And that’s all about connecting with others, so maybe you have a next step there.
Or maybe you have a next step in the area of serving others. Jesus said, “The Son of Man…” the title for himself. He said, “I didn’t come to be served. I came to serve.” So if you want to stick close to Jesus, take a next step of following him by figuring out what it looks like to serve other people.
Or maybe it’s a next step in the area of living generously with your time, talent, and treasure,. Jesus did that. He lived generously with everything God had entrusted to him. And when we do the same thing, we’re taking a step of following him.
Or the sixth category where you might go, “Well, maybe this is an area I need to take a next step,” is just inviting others to find and follow Jesus. Maybe it’s somebody in your life who needs to know Jesus, and inviting them to come to know the Jesus that you’ve come to know. Maybe that’s your next step in following Jesus.
And I know some people are going, “Hang on a second. This sounds like a lot of religious stuff.” See, there’s a huge…there’s a world of difference between behaving in order to belong and doing everything we can just to stick close to the One in whom we have everything. So the problem is, Jesus didn’t say, “Come follow the rules.” He said, “Come follow what? Me. He said come follow me. And follow implies that he’s still moving, right? “Come follow me.” He headed out on mission, and so if we’re gonna stick close to Jesus, we just have to follow and we have to live like he lived, and those six categories, where we can talk about taking next steps. They’re all categories of basically living like Jesus lives so that we’re following and we’re staying close to the one who has everything we need.
So my big question for you is this. In which of those six areas is your next step of following Jesus? Figure that out and take it this week. For some of you, the next step is your first step. For some of you, the very next step you need to take is just the first step of saying, “You know what, I’m done with religion. I’m done with rules. I’m done with trying to be good enough. I’m done with the guilt. I’m done with all that. I just want to be with you, Jesus.” And you’re gonna put your faith in his life, death, and resurrection. I’m gonna give you a chance to do that in just a second. But whether it’s the first step or the next step, what is the next step?
Would you follow me in prayer? Jesus, for those of us who have been following you for a while, we thank you that you are everything that we need. We’re so grateful. We ask that your Holy Spirit would move in us right now and show us any places that we’ve tried to be adding to Jesus, some way that we’ve kind of bought into something that says, “Yeah, you got to do this or that or follow this or go through that to really have God, to really have power.” Reveal those things to us. Help us know what our next step of just sticking close to Jesus in whom the fullness of Deity dwells. What that is for us.
And then we pray for those right now that are listening that just need to take the first step. And if that’s you, if I can just speak to you for a moment. It’s not a religion, it’s not a series of rules. God loves you. He loves you so much that he sent his own Son to die on the cross to pay the price for your sin. Three days later, with the power of God, Jesus rose from the dead and now he offers us forgiveness. He offers us adoption into the family of God, eternal life, and real power, just by trusting in what he did for us.
And if you’ve never done that, I’m wanna give you a chance to do it right here right now. It’s a commitment you’re gonna make in your heart. It’s a conversation maybe you’re gonna have with God right now, say something like this, wherever you are, say something like this to God. Say, “God, I’ve sinned, I’ve tried to do life on my own. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross to pay the price of my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. And I’m ready to put my trust in you. Jesus, I’m going to follow you from here on out. I receive forgiveness. I receive adoption into God’s family. I receive a new life. I’m gonna follow you forever. Amen.”
Hey, can we celebrate those who made that decision for the first time this weekend? Hey, listen, if you made that decision for the first time, would you do something for me? Would you let us know you made the decision? If you’re watching online, you can click the button you’ll see right next to me. If you’re anywhere else in any of our campuses, just text the word Jesus to 80875.You’re just going to let us know you made the decision. We’re going to send you some free resources to help you begin following Jesus. For the rest of us, what’s your next step? What’s your next step of sticking close to Jesus?
We need to cultivate better cravings than what humans tend to seek when left to their own devices. Simply adding rules does nothing to change behavior on their own; you have to have a REASON to want to submit to God. Relationship is the key and you can hear more about it in this week’s message.
How many of us are playing dress-up as a Christian, but the Gospel hasn’t permeated our soul? The exact same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us once we follow Christ and are redeemed in Him. Learn more from Reza as he tells us about freedom from human rituals and instead being motivated by what will bring glory to God.
Craig continues in our study of the book of Colossians. This week he unpacks how to close the gap between talking the talk and walking the walk as followers of Jesus – in the up-close and personal places where it’s virtually impossible to hide it.
This is our final week in our sermon series on Colossians. Following up on last weeks’ message with powerful insights from the household code, this weekend Craig will be finishing our series with a reminder of the purpose of the church.