46. The Energy of God

Meditations in Colossians: 46. The Energy of God

Col 1:29    To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me

There are some things that appear in the Bible that seem so obvious that they don’t even warrant us to pause over them, and yet the truth is that because they are obvious we miss them, taken them for granted and thus fail to appropriate them. Paul has been speaking about the Gospel which he has been called by God to deliver. Now imagine Paul sitting in a deckchair on a Mediterranean beach somewhere, relaxing in the sun and eventually finds himself thinking, “I really ought to share this wonderful Gospel with somebody one of these days.” Now I hope your response to that is the same as mine: “Paul, sitting in a deckchair relaxing? Wondering whether to share the Gospel? You’ve got to be joking! This is not the Paul I know and read of in the New Testament!”

Absolutely right! That picture is about as far from the real Saul of Tarsus as you can possibly get. Everything we read about this man says, no, he is all out for God, all out for the Gospel, all out for new believers, all out for the church! And he doesn’t sit around wondering about it; he gets up and does the stuff. If he can’t get to one of the churches he’s heard about, he’ll write to them – and he’ll certainly pray for them. Look at the words in this simple little verse: labour – struggling – energy – powerfully – works. This is all about strong action.

When he says, “To this end I labour,” he is speaking about expending energy to pass on the Gospel and teach the church. When he speaks of “struggling” he indicates and reminds us that it is hard work, often a battle. But then when he speaks of  “all his energy”, he is talking about the power of the Holy Spirit who is his resource provided by Christ to enable him to work out his ministry, and then when he adds, “which so powerfully works in me,” he acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is his motivating force, his driving force, his energizing force, his power force. He is what he is because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit acting like a power turbine providing all the energy he needs. But the Spirit is more than this for He also provides motivation and direction, He puts burdens on Paul’s heart which stir him into action.

Now we may be thinking, why isn’t it like that for all of us? There are two answers that come to mind. The first is that the energizing of the Spirit is directly proportional to our heart desires. There is a mystery here, why some people are all out for God, some are for Him  but to say they are ‘all out’ would be an over-statement, and then there are some who are definitely half-hearted and others who appear stationary. But why are we all different? I don’t know. As I said that is a mystery. What I do know is that the Holy Spirit will be there to take us as far as we want and I am sure that if we see little signs of His activity it is either out of ignorance or lack of will – our ignorance and lack of will, never His! If you truly set your heart to go all out for God, He WILL energize you and guide you and lead you out in new ways.

But there is a second thought: we DO get this energizing without realizing it. Despite what I have said above, I am sure the Lord takes us into what He sees we are capable of handling. For instance if, say, He took me into signs and wonders ministry, would my pride be able to handle it or would I become conceited, arrogant and brash? Is He saving me from self-destruction because He sees my heart could not handle that ‘success’? Is this a cop out? No, I don’t believe it is. The loving Lord gives us what He knows we can handle. Here’s a list of things that I believe the Holy Spirit will energize us into doing well: being a good wife or husband, being a good parent, being a good boss or worker, being a good servant in the church or the community, becoming a teacher of His word, becoming a prayer warrior, becoming an encourager, becoming a bringer of His prophetic word or words of knowledge, becoming a leader in worship, becoming a powerful deliverer, becoming a healer, becoming a miracle worker, becoming an evangelist…..

We’ll stop there. Here’s the point: as you read through that list you may have heard certain feelings about where you felt comfortable in that list. God gives us the faith to enter into the things He sees we’re good for. Check out how you feel about each of those things in that list. NO one thing is better or greater than any others in that list. You may be a husband or wife, but you may be called to be single. You may be a boss or a worker, but that is only what you are today; in five years time it may be different. The thought of ‘being out front’ at church may scare the life out of you, but you may be a bringer of grace, mercy and encouragement to others and that is just as great.

Listen to Paul’s words to the Romans: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”  (Rom 12:3-6) When we come to Christ, we come with good things and bad things in our lives and we start a life of change, but the Lord knows us through and through and He knows exactly what is best for us, what we are best at, how far we can go, what we can achieve and He loves every one of us exactly as we are.

There are some things we can be sure of: Jesus died for us, God loves us, and we are now indwelt by His Holy Spirit. But then life is filled with variables: who I am, my natural characteristics, my spiritual characteristics that He is working in me, the things He has on His heart for me, the things I find my heart rising to.  It is a complex mix but at the end of it, check out how open you are for Him to come in greater measure into your life, be aware of the heart yearnings that you have that may well have come from Him, and ask for revelation to recognize and understand more fully, his energy, which so powerfully works in me (and you!)

45. Paul’s Aim for the Church

Meditations in Colossians: 45. Paul’s Aim for the Church

Col 1:28    We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

Perhaps there is nothing so dispiriting as church without an aim, a church that just exists and performs week by week where nothing changes and everyone is complacently happy and content with the status quo. It is a lifeless church. Perhaps it comes from an overstated view of the sovereignty of God – we don’t need to do everything because God is sovereign and He will do what He wants. Well yes He is, but it makes pointless all of the encouragements and exhortations in the New Testament which basically say, “You do….”  In other words we have a part of play. But simply fulfilling commands also becomes lifeless orthodoxy. Our activities and the changes that take place in our individual lives and the life of our churches should come from the vision that we have put before us in the New Testament.

In the previous meditation we considered Christ, the mystery revealed of God’s will planned from before the foundation of the world.  So when Paul now says, “We proclaim him,” we see he is referring to Christ, but the verse clearly does not merely mean revealing Christ for who he is, but it clearly goes on to speak of the effect of Christ’s work in respect of our lives. We see he describes how he goes about this: “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom.” It is by correcting and challenging (admonishing) and by bringing instruction and guidance (teaching) with the insight God gives (wisdom). I have, sadly, been on rare occasion in a church where all you hear on a Sunday morning are mere platitudes and platitudes do nothing to admonish or teach, and leaders use platitudes simply because they have either  never seen the goal they should be aiming for, or they have but have backed away and opted for the easy life – for it is easier not to challenge or provoke people and risk their negative responses. It is easier not to teach and risk people reacting negatively, but the truth is that that IS our calling, to mature people – as much as they will allow us to be involved in their lives.

Paul was clear on his goal: so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” Now those who wish for the comfy approach say, “Well, yes, that obviously refers to the work of bringing people to Christ, for when we do that they are, as we saw earlier, perfect in God’s sight – “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (v.22) And that is exactly true, that is the first step of ministry. Of that there should be no doubt and that is exactly what the apostle Paul did, but remember what he said earlier, why he prayed for the Colossians: “that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” That is an ongoing work and when Paul, as he often did, stayed weeks or months with a new church, and when he wrote to churches he had never been to, he admonished and taught them and sought to enable them to grow in their new faith.

Do you remember Jesus’ teaching: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) ‘Perfect’ there means complete or whole. There is a sense that when we come to Christ and we receive his presence in the form of his Holy Spirit, we have everything we will ever need “in Him”. However we know from daily experience that this new life is a learning process and although we have taken the biggest step it has simply opened the way for us to enter a lifetime of learning and developing and growing and maturing, so when Jesus said, “Be perfect” he was speaking in a long-term goal way – work at it, receive from my Father all He has for you so that you will change and grow and develop.

Do you also remember Paul’s teaching about the Ephesians 4 ministries? What is their goal? “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12,13) Now does this happen straight away or is it working towards a long-term goal? Both!  It happens straight away in as far as we each have His Holy Spirit within us with all the resources needed to do the will of God but there is a difference between a) having the resources, b) knowing you have the resources, and c) using those resources. Part of the teaching package is enabling people to come to a place where they realise who they are and what God has given them – (b) above. But part of the teaching package is then encouraging them into taking hold of and using those resources – (c) above.

Again, do you remember Jesus’ final words in Matthew’s Gospel, part of the so-called Great Commission: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) The first half is about bringing people to Christ and the second part is about maturing them in him. The teaching there is (c) above, using the resources God has given us to DO the things Jesus taught us to do.  So again we will suggest, Paul is not content to bring people to Christ; the whole tone of all we have read in this chapter is about his desire for these Colossians to grow and be seen to be perfect in who they are and that, as we said, is a long-term ongoing goal that should be before every Christian leader in their desire for their people. May it be so.

44. The Mystery

Meditations in Colossians: 44. The Mystery

Col 1:26,27   the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 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.

For those of us who have habited church for any length of time and have heard the Gospel proclaimed many times, we almost certainly take for granted this revelation. However if we went back to say 100BC then this revelation did not exist; it had not yet happened and had not therefore been revealed. Even when Christ came, the early church struggled to understand the significance of his death and resurrection and only gradually did it become clear that it meant forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and adoption as His children – all because of what Christ had done on the Cross!

To check the context remember the previous verse: I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness….” and this word, he now says, was a mystery. Paul uses this word ‘mystery’ a number of times to speak about the Gospel. Here he simply says it had been hidden for ages and generations but is now disclosed.

He used it in Romans to refer to what has happened and will happen to Israel (Rom 11:25)  but at the end of that letter he referred to it clearly as the gospel: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.” (Rom 16:25,26)

He also used it in respect of what will happen to us at the end (1 Cor 15:51) but it is not until Ephesians and Colossians that he really gets into his stride in using it: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,” (Eph 1:9)  i.e. God’s will had been a mystery until Christ came. But then comes a longer explanation: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 3:2-6)

First of all here he says that this mystery had been the administration of God’s grace, i.e. how God had come and expressed His grace. Second, that it was about the mystery of Christ, i.e. there had been hints through the Old Testament era of one who would come, a messiah figure, and yet it was unclear who or what he would be. Some scriptures seemed to indicate a suffering servant, and others a triumphant king. The third mystery was how God was going to deal with the whole world, that He has in fact dealt with Jew and Gentile the same way – through His Son’s death.

It comes up again a few verses later: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,” (Eph 3:8-10) This mystery includes the unsearchable riches of Christ. We so often hear preachers using this word to mean the enormity of his riches that cannot be measured, but in fact in the context of this mystery, it is more likely to mean riches that had not previously been made obvious and were there like a treasure trove waiting for someone in the know to unearth it. This mystery here also extends to include the bringing about of the church (through the work of Christ) which will reveal the will of God to the rest of creation.

Paul also uses it in the same context near the end of his letter: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains,” (Eph 6:19,20) but there he uses it to simply describe the gospel that needed revelation.

As we come into Colossians we find our present verse which describes this mystery as “Christ in you.” No one could have dreamt that one of the outworkings of the plan and will of God was that the Spirit of His Son would indwell every believer. In the next chapter he goes on to say, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, (Col 2:2,3) or as the Amplified version expresses verse 3: In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom ([a]comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden.”  The JBP version puts it more simply, “For it is in him, and in him alone, that men will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In other words the mystery is that if you go looking for wisdom and knowledge, you will only find it in a real sense in and through Christ.  He uses it just once more in Colossians:pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ,” (Col 4:3) There it is, very simply, bringing out into the open the wonder of Christ which spiritually blind eyes have not been able to see; this is the Gospel.

There is one more element; “the hope of glory” which refers to “the hope that is stored up for you in heaven,” (v.5) which we considered in some detail in the ninth of these studies. Just stop and think about it for a moment. If you lived say in 100BC could you have ever guessed that God’s will, the plan that the godhead formulated before the creation of the world, would include the Son of God leaving heaven and coming to earth, to reveal the Father, and to die on a Cross and be resurrected from the dead before ascending back to his place in heaven? Surely not!  But even more, could we have guessed the consequences of that – that our sins could be forgiven, we could be cleansed of them, the power of Sin broken over our lives, we be reconciled to God, we be adopted as children of God, we receive His Holy Spirit to guide, direct and empower our lives for the rest of our time on this earth, and then we be taken to heaven to enjoy the wonder of God’s presence in eternity? Surely not! You may take it all for granted today, but then, back there, you wouldn’t have had a clue, for it was a complete mystery to a wondering world. How incredible!

43. Commissioned

Meditations in Colossians: 43. Commissioned

Col 1:25   I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness

And so we come full circle. It is interesting to contemplate how Paul went about writing a letter like this, probably dictating it to a scribe-colleague. He must have had an overall idea of what he wanted to communicate and to whom he was writing. Thus, writing to a people he has never met, there are little comments designed to verify who he was and to give credibility and authority to his writing. Thus in the opening line of the letter we found, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” and now we find the echo to that, “by the commission God gave me.”  No doubt Epaphras would have told them about Paul and the other apostles but time and again, Paul describes himself as one sent by God to bring the Gospel.

In a day when heresies were counter-attacking the true Gospel, it was important for credibility to be established. Although he had written to the Romans, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation,” (Rom 15:20) he was not averse to backing up his colleagues’ work with letters such as this and along the way he sought to verify his own credentials for writing. In defensive mode with the Corinthians he wrote, “men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Cor 4:1-4) There he strongly makes the point that he is answerable to God, a servant of Christ, entrusted with the wonders of the revelation of the Gospel.

We see Paul’s commissioning through the message of Ananias: “the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15,16)  Again and again in Scripture we see that it is God who takes the initiative with us. Do you remember His words to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew (or chose) you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5) God knows what we are like and what He can do with us. This, I am certain, is the basis for His choices.

In a wider sense Paul wrote, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11-14) See there the things he says: 1. We were chosen (& predestined) by God.  2. The basis of His choice was His will worked out from before the foundation of the world. 3. This was brought into present day reality when we heard and responded to the Gospel. 4. When we did that he imparted His Holy Spirit to us who gave us a new life and equipped us with gifting to work out the will of God, in and through us today.

When the Lord apprehended Saul (as he then was) on the road to Damascus, He knew Paul’s background – “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless,”  (Phil 3:5,6) – and saw this man who was all out for Him, even though he was misguided, and so He takes him and puts him on the right track so that all of his endeavours from now on will be given over to sharing the Gospel. He had been confronted by the risen Christ and he will never be the same again. Now he knows the truth and the Holy Spirit within him will convey the truth more and more to his understanding.

When he says, “I have become its servant” he refers to the church (from the previous verse). He is part of the Church and as a servant of Christ, he also serves the Church and that is the reason why he now writes. He wants them to grow (v.9-12), not just stand still after their initial salvation. Paul always has a twofold goal: first to bring the Gospel to people for them to be saved, and then for them to grow in their faith, built up as children of God.

It is this that he has in his mind, I suggest, when he says, “to present to you the word of God in its fullness.”  The word is first to bring people to Christ, but it doesn’t stop there; the word of truth continues to come to guide and direct and develop and grow and mature people in the faith. The ‘fullness’ of the word is the continuation of the word to bring continual ongoing change in our lives to develop and mature us. A ministry that simply brings people to the Lord and then walks away is inadequate. Our concern should always be that those who come to Christ should now grow in Christ. Being an instrument to bring new birth is excellent but it is only part of the package, for these new believers now need the fullness of God’s word to take them on, bring them knowledge and understanding and help them grow in Him. May it always be so.

42. Suffering for the Church

Meditations in Colossians: 42. Suffering for the Church

Col 1:24   Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

And so the strange, even alien, phrases continue to appear before us in Paul’s writings, phrases and concepts we are so often happy to pass by with little thought. From the great and glorious paragraphs about the gospel, salvation and the wonder of Christ, for a moment it seems, we fall back to see Paul himself again. There has been much pure doctrine in the verses we have considered but every now and then Paul himself comes to the fore: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,” (v.3) and we have heard of your faith,” (v,4) andwe have not stopped praying for you,” (v.9) and “This is the gospel….and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (v.23) and then finally our present verse. Paul’s letter contain a lot of doctrine but also a lot of personal expression.

So he starts this verse with, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you.” The truth is that the Gospel never comes easily. Paul’s focus there is on what was “suffered for you.”  Someone had suffered to get the Gospel to them there in Colosse and that person had been Epaphras (v.7). He had obviously brought the Gospel to them, established believers and then came under attack from the heresies of the day, so he returned to Paul in Rome (probably)  for him to write this letter countering so much of the heretical teaching that had been going on. It is a battle to bring the Gospel and a battle to hold on to the truths of it. Beyond this we don’t know what Epaphras went through. We do know that it would have cost time and energy to travel so slowly from place to place, often on foot, often by sea with its perils in the Mediterranean.

When we come to the middle part of the verse we come across an idea or concept that is alien to many of us: “and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” Taking the latter part first, there is implied that for Christ to bring the Gospel to his world – whether in the single body during his earthly ministry, or his wider body, the church, throughout history – he (and we) will suffer afflictions. Now an affliction is simply something imposed on us from outside of us. A missionary in Africa or Asia might be afflicted with malaria. They may also be afflicted with persecution. Now I believe we may also stretch the word ‘affliction’ to include things we impose on ourselves by taking up the call to go with the Gospel, so we may speak of sacrifice of family ties, and home comforts, and the affliction of loneliness, misunderstanding and so on. These things are part of the package that goes with the Gospel being shared around the world.

Paul spoke of the things he suffered in the course of his ministry in an amazingly open outpouring: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:23-28) His life and ministry may have been exceptional but these are the sort of things he refers to when he says, “I fill up in my flesh.” i.e. these are the things I have physically experienced. Read back over those verses above and see that so much of it involved physical struggles.

Modern sharing the Gospel across the world is mild by comparison. In the past when I have traveled abroad I was away from my family for up to three weeks (in a day before Skype or e-mails provided a link). In the middle of the night in Hong Kong, I suddenly became aware of the thousands of miles of rock between me and my wife as I imagined her on the other side of the globe. Sitting on a plane for ten to thirteen hours is tedious and tiring but nothing like the endeavours of Paul and his fellow apostles. When I first went east, I suffered culture shock, a relatively minor shock to the system. And then I came across some missionaries in preparation. One couple were about to make their way to Outer Mongolia where the nearest Westerners would be over five hundred miles away. As I encountered these and other similar missionaries getting ready for a life of privation, I recognized that I was in the company of a different brand of people. These were those who were giving up their lives, giving up their families, giving up their careers, to go and take the good news of Jesus to peoples who had never yet heard, and all they looked forward to was affliction! These are mighty people!

Paul finishes the verses with, “Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”   Christ is in the business of growing his body so that his Father’s kingdom may be expanded and the world blessed and his Father honoured. These afflictions come and are experienced that this end may be achieved. Jesus himself was misunderstood, reviled and rejected and then crucified. These were his afflictions  while he was on earth in a single body. Since then his body has received beatings and burnings, impositions and imprisonments, derision and death, and so even today in varying measures around the world, it continues. It is the cost of sharing and maintaining the Gospel.

41. The Ever-spreading Gospel

Meditations in Colossians: 41. The ever-spreading Gospel

Col 1:23b    This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

This is one of those verses that you have to point out to those who say we have to take the Bible literally throughout and say, no, the apostle Paul was not meaning for every word to be taken literally; he was using hyperbole, which is overstatement to make a strong point. He does that here when he speaks of “every creature under heaven” in the same way as in verse 6 he used the expression “all over the world” referring to the spread of the Gospel, Perhaps we might say, in his shoes, this Gospel has been shared far and wide all over the known world. In the eleventh study in this series we tracked the spread of the Gospel.

I suspect we take for granted the concept of this particular body or piece of knowledge that Paul shared that we call ‘the Gospel’, but there is specific content although that was not always completely shared when Paul referred to it. In an earlier study we summarised it as, ‘Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins.’ The other side of the verse about conditions that we previously just studied, Paul had outlined the Gospel: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (v.21,22) These are the words he refers to when he now says, “This Gospel….”

It is interesting that although the word Gospel is used nine times in the four Gospels, it is rarely given content. Mark refers to it as, “the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (Mk 1:1) and a few verses later says, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near.” (Mk 1:14,15) At its most basic it was that Jesus , the Son of God had come and was revealing the kingdom of God, but of course at that point he had not died for our sins. That was remedied by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost where he spelled out who Jesus was and what he had done when he had died on the Cross (Acts 2:22-24, 36-39) where he also speaks of the required repentance which will bring forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When he shared with Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends, he began by speaking of, “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36) He then spoke of, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him,” (Acts 10:38) explaining Jesus’ earthly ministry, and then added, “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen,” (v.39,40 explaining the Cross and resurrection. He concluded with, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (v.43) When he got that far the Lord poured out His Holy Spirit on them as if to say, “That is enough Peter, and because they believe what you are sharing, here is my Spirit for them too.” So there is was: Son of God incarnate doing wonderful things, crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins.

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. ….. that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-3) That is perhaps the briefest version of the Gospel. There is more that can be added, as we’ll see when Paul continues, but these are the basics. This is the basic body of information that has been conveyed down through history to tell us what God has done.

This body of information, we saw earlier had gone with new believers from Jerusalem out to many other parts of the world. Philip preached it in Samaria and then Gaza (Acts 8:5,40) as did Peter and John in Samaria. The word spread and spread. In his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green  highlights various factors that made it possible for the Gospel to be spread more easily: Roman peace and rule and their excellent road system opening up travel, the common use of the Greek language making communication easier across a big area and the widespread Jews who made the early link for such Jewish evangelists such as Paul. But it was the power of the Gospel that transformed lives together with Jesus’ instruction to go and tell the good news, and the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, that really catapulted the good news across the world.

40. Conditions

Meditations in Colossians: 40. Conditions

Col 1:23    if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

When we were considering Jesus as the reconciler we had cause to note about the salvation he brings, that this does not apply to anyone but simply to those who will respond to it. It is not a universal salvation that means anyone regardless is saved.  There is a school of thought that says ‘once saved, always saved’. I do not believe Scripture confirms that. The word ‘if’ here indicates a condition.

Remember the previous verses laid out our salvation: “now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (v.22) Jesus has done everything necessary to make it possible for us to be reconciled to God so that we appear holy in his sight etc. And then comes the ‘if’. In other words all that is true only IF we “continue in our faith”. Note the word ‘continue’ which suggests we started out right, giving ourselves to God through Christ, but then comes the possibility that we fail to “continue in our faith.”

Now we need to bring a word of reassurance here for scripture indicates it is possible to stumble and sin but yet be able to continue. The apostle John says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) That makes it clear that it is possible to stumble and sin, but that is very different from a life that turns away from God which is what is implied in our verse above.

Note the path that is implied in our present verse: “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” Consider the opposites. It is possible to give up on your faith. Everything about the Christian life is faith and so if we give up on faith, we give up on our Christian life, our salvation. We become unstable in our thinking and our believing becomes movable and changing. No wonder our faith is undermined. We move away from the hope that the Gospel presented to us and so we have no assurance and rightly so because we have lost it.

Now for the faint hearted we should bring further reassurances. Yes, there is this possibility and it is a possibility of just drifting away from God so there is no reality of your salvation, and it is possible to be seduced away from God by the lies of the enemy, but realise that in each case we make an act of will to allow that to happen. If you don’t want it to happen, it won’t happen. Jude described God as the one “who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” (Jude v.24)

That is God’s intent and that is what He is continually working to achieve, but He will not override your free will. So if you want, you can walk away – and some do – and when you observe their lives you see dissatisfaction, anxiety, upset, fears ,doubts and all the fruits of the old life again. Yes, they did genuinely make a real commitment to Christ and were even all out for him, and yet somewhere along the way they got lost – but it was an act of their will that took them there. Remember the apostle Paul’s words, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38,39) No one and nothing can separate you from Jesus as long as that is what you want!

The writer to the Hebrew wrote some sobering words: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.” (Heb 6:4-6) Again this is not a one off or occasional getting it wrong; this refers to those who willfully turn away in their lives from God. Be under no illusions, these were born again believers for who else could have these fivefold description given about them:

  • who have once been enlightened,
  • who have tasted the heavenly gift,
  • who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
  • who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and
  • the powers of the coming age.

No, these were believers who had fully entered into the salvation provided for them but somehow they “fell away”, they gave up on it, they lost their assurance, their lost their joy and the many other fruits of knowing God. Possibly one of the most terrifying words of Scripture is found in judges, spoken about Samson who so presumed on God’s grace and thought he could get away with anything: “He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.” (Jud 16:20) The truth is that God is holy and if we think we can get away with sinning continually, we are in danger of forfeiting our salvation. The condition is clear: IF you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

A final warning and encouragement: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cir 10:12,13)  We need to be careful not to fall (and stay down) – that is our part to play. But God will be there for us helping us overcome any temptation the enemy may put before us. Yes, the warning is there, but there are so many positive encouragements that we need not be faint hearted and can be sure that we will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” (2 Tim 4:7,8)   Hallelujah!