In Christ Alone
July 17, 2016
Jesus loved the Colossian church. Through the Apostle Paul, Jesus warned the church about worthless things that promised spiritual growth and maturity. And through the Apostle Paul, Jesus reminded the church about himself and about their marvelous and excellent union with him. Jesus warned the church. Jesus reminded the church. Jesus loved the church.
And he was going to bring them back to him.
Many worthless things captivated the Colossian church. Many worthless things promised them spiritual growth and maturity. There were so many that if each thing were a monster, you would need almost twenty Poké Balls: philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, elemental spirits of the world, questions on food and drink, festivals, new moons, sabbaths, shadows of christ rather than the substance of christ, asceticism, worship of angels, visions, regulations, human precepts and teachings, worldly wisdom, self-made religion, and severity to the body. That’s a very long list! Many things captivated the Colossian church. Paul had his work cut out for him.
It is easy to be hard on the Colossian church. But the fact of the matter is that, sadly, the list of worthless things that promise spiritual growth and maturity lives on today. For example, when people start to think of new ideas on their own and add to God’s laws and commands, that is basically human precepts and teachings. When Christians stop doing things that are right and start doing things and teaching things that feel right or seem smart or practical, that is similar to self-made religion. When churches compel their members to practice severe or over-the-top self-discipline on the body, that is basically asceticism. When folks re-enact the suffering and death of Christ and actually have an actor crucified so that people can weep and get more serious about their faith, that is severity to the body, demonic captivity to elemental spirits of the world, and reckless insanity. When churches add things like lent to their calendars and call it special and hold their members to it, that is a throwback to the issue of festivals and new moons. When seminar speakers advocate business methods over and against biblical methods for running churches, that is worldly wisdom and philosophy all over again. When leaders decide to have their churches celebrate Jewish holidays, that is really a going back to the shadows of Christ. When Christian books encourage supernatural experiences or affirm mystical powers, that is akin to the Colossian struggle with visions and with the worship of angels.
Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the list lives on today. And I want you to be warned. There are worthless things everywhere. There are so many things out there that are not according to Christ. They promise spiritual growth and maturity. They look good and sound right. They seem to work. But they do not. Paul says, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom… but they are of no value.” And he says that such things are all “empty deceit.” Brothers and sisters, be warned.
But do not just be warned. Be what you already are, which is “in Christ.”
First, be content knowing that you have been filled in Christ. We have been once and for all filled in him. And we have him! We have the very Son of God, the Creator of all things, the one who is the head of all rule and authority. Therefore, be content with the fact that you have been filled in Christ.
Second, be at peace knowing that you were spiritually circumcised in Christ and buried with him. This means that your old self has been cut off and eliminated. This means that you have died to sin that are no longer enslaved to it.
Third, be encouraged knowing that you have been raised with Christ and made alive with him. This means that your new self has been born. This means that you are forgiven and loved. This means that you can grow and mature and change.
All of these blessings - the blessing of being filled in Christ, the blessing of being circumcised in Christ and dead and buried with Christ, and the blessing of being raised with Christ and made alive with him - are fully yours! You have everything you need for spiritual growth and maturity. You have Jesus Christ. He is enough.
And all you need to do is hold fast to him with faith.
As your brother and friend in Christ, Paul knew a thing or two about holding fast to Christ - about spiritual growth and maturity.
For in Romans 7, the Apostle Paul wrote about his Christian life. He wrote about his sanctification. And it’s some of the most honest and heart-wrenching words in all of the Bible. Paul said that he did not understand his own actions. He talked about the sin that dwelt in him and how he had the desire to do what is right, but how he did not have the ability to carry it out. He described a spiritual war in which he was taken captive to the law of sin. And so in light of all of this, Paul cried out these words: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Brothers and sisters, Paul had every reason to have confidence in worthless things. Compared to anyone else who could dare to boast about their worthless resources for spiritual growth and maturity, Paul had the most to boast about. For he was circumcised on the eighth day. He was of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. As to the law, he was a great Pharisee. As to righteousness under the law, he was blameless. But in the seventh verse of the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote this:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Listen to the very words of Christ himself. His words to you.
Christ says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.” Christ says, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore….” Christ says, “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Christ says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Christ says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Brothers and sisters, in closing, I ask three things from you. First, do not just be Christ-centered in your theology. Be Christ-centered in your piety and in the practice of your faith. Second, be careful not to add to Christ. The Colossians didn’t technically deny Christ or his work. But they added to him and his work. And that was the danger. Do not add to Christ. Third, I humbly ask and encourage all of us to examine our Christian lives, our piety and our practice, and reform it if necessary. I encourage you all to cut ties with worthless things that are personal or familiar to you. Worthless things that you have been loyal too. Perhaps you have a list of your own. And perhaps you have things such as self-made religion or asceticism or other things on your list. Well, I ask that you put that list down. Because when it comes down to your spiritual growth and maturity, you don’t need a list. You need a person.
And you already have him.