Mature in Christ: A Gospel-Centered Vision

Each week we are invited to participate in corporate worship in our local churches. There are various elements of worship including singing, praying, sharing confessions, giving, and most importantly there is the element of public preaching of God’s word. What is it exactly that motivates preachers to share from God’s word each week? When we look into Paul’s ministry we can see at least two motivations for a Gospel-centered ministry according to Colossians 1:24-29.

A Gospel-Centered vision of ministry is always seeks to proclaim God’s word. (v.25)

Paul writes that he became a minister to fulfill the word of God. You may recall that Paul received his call to ministry while on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9) When the Lord Jesus spoke to Saul he specifically instructed him to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. Paul did not viewed his ministry as fulfilling the word of God. This is why his message can be trusted against the message of the false teachers in Colossae. You see, false teachers are always self-appointed, but Gospel teachers are commissioned by a calling from the Lord as well as support from the local church. False teachers concern themselves with self-promotion, but true Bible teachers concern themselves with Savior-promotion.

The message of the Gospel is simple, yet profound. Jesus came to reconcile image bearing sinners back to the Father. His message is our only message. He has commanded us to share the Gospel with all people groups and nations. We fulfill the word of God when we preach the text of the Bible. 

It’s appropriate for us to argue for expository preaching. Expository preaching is preaching the text in such a manner that the intended meaning is conveyed. Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, contends that there are three marks of genuine expository preaching:

1.) It is authoritative.

2.) It is reverent. 

3.) It is the center of Christian worship.

I would like to thank Welch College for teaching me expository preaching. Thank you for teaching me that the pastor has no authority apart from God’s word. Thank you for teaching me that only the Word of God has the power to change lives, not silly gimmicks. Thank you Welch College for showing me that the Word is to be at the center of Christian worship, following the pattern of the Reformers. Thank you for showing me that God’s word should be central in preaching, but also in singing and praying. I do not claim to have mastered the art of expository preaching, however, I want to make it my aim to better articulate God’s word to His church.

I hope you see my point. As preachers we have one message and it is the Good News of Jesus. Our sermons should flow from the text of Scripture itself, not merely from cultural cues. Culture changes but the Message never changes.

There is another motivation for a Gospel-centered ministry.

A Gospel-Centered ministry always seeks to present believers mature in Christ. (v.28) 

Paul wanted desperately to see the church at Colossae grow in their faith. There is an eschatological focus here. Paul looks toward the day when believers will be presented as perfect or complete in the returning Messiah. We can be certain of one thing: if we are not striving to live as a greater reflection of Christ now, we will not be presented before his throne as faultless. Salvation includes both a now and later aspect. We are saved and we are being saved. We should strive on to maturity in Christ. This is not an option. It is the only road available to true believers. Do we believe that sinless perfection is attainable on this side of life? Absolutely not. We do believe that sanctification is a progressive progress. We will only  be complete when Christ returns or calls us home.

I’m calling you to consider your maturity as a believer. Maybe you are a genuine believer and I trust that most of you are. I have to ask you this question: where is your relationship with Christ? Could you look at your life and see significant growth from five years ago? Ten? Fifteen? There is no standing still in the Christian journey. Yes, we will fall and make mistakes which is why we must rely constantly on God’s strength. (1:11) You are either progressing or declining in your walk. There is no standing still.

What is it that kept Paul awake at night? He wanted to give his best service to his master Jesus. He wanted to plant seeds of truth so that the church at Colossae would be presented as perfect in Christ. What Paul is getting at here is that spiritual maturity isn’t reserved only for the spiritual elite. In Christianity, all teaching is relevant to all. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others in the church. We need to stop being jealous because someone has gifts you don’t have. We need to thank God for the gifts he has given us and serve Him faithfully all our days. The problem in Colossae was that false teachers were saying only the spiritual elite could know the wisdom of God.

Today we have churches that teach a form of higher spirituality. They teach that if you can just be holy enough you will have greater spiritual gifts, including the so called gift of tongues. Friend, we are all called to pursue excellence through Christ. (Some of my favorite passages include 2 Cor.10:5 and Philippians 4:4-9) There is no level of authentic spirituality that is unattainable to you.

Maybe you struggle with your Bible reading and prayer time. Do not believe the lie from Satan that you are not smart enough to understand God’s word or prayer. God’s word can be understood by a child, yet it causes the most brilliant mind to stop and think. The Gospel is understandable, yet complex. If you are struggling in these areas, maybe the problem is your method, not you. (Donald Whitney, Simplifying Your Spiritual Life.)

I hope you have seen my point and Paul’s point from the end of Colossians one. Paul labored diligently to present the church as mature in Christ. Even though Paul did not found the church in Colossae he considered it is personal responsibility to oversee their spiritual well-being. He prayed and worked to render the believers mature in Christ. That’s what I want for you. I want to see you grow into the fruitful plant God created you to be.

Authentic believers will want to grow spiritually. Maturity will be pursued and attained only through the grace of God. The goal of a Gospel-centered ministry is to help Christians grow in their faith. As pastors and leaders in the church we need to labor diligently like Paul did to present our congregations mature in Christ. Spiritual maturity happens as a result of hearing God’s word, which must first be proclaimed.

Conclusion

A Gospel-centered vision rests on the inerrant, immutable, and transforming word of God. Maturity happens when we submit ourselves to the teaching of God’s word. Pastors, center your vision on the Word. Congregational members, encourage your preacher. Challenge him to feed you from God’s word. Most of all, realize that it is God himself who enables us to grow. Thankfully he has given us all we need to be godly and holy. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Pardon as the Basis for Walking in Wisdom

Occasionally I like to reflect on the Psalms in addition to other devotional reading. Just the other day I was reflecting on Psalm 32. There the Psalmist reflects on the beauty of forgiveness, which is the basis for transformed living. This Psalm meditates on the role of forgiveness in everyday living. My purpose in writing is to encourage you to live a life of wisdom based on the great pardon given to you by Jesus. Before you proceed please take a moment to reflect on the Psalm for yourself.

The Psalm opens by reflecting on the blessing of being forgiven. It’s especially interesting to note the connection between sin being forgiven and sin being covered. As I meditated on these terms my mind was drawn back to the creation narrative in Genesis. Just after Adam and Eve had sinned against their covenant Lord and hid themselves from him due to their shame, He made them garments of clothing. (Genesis 3:21)

You and I have been given a new garment of righteousness from Christ. We don’t have to hide from our Lord any more. He welcomes us as His children.

The rich theology in this Psalm is furthered when David says, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” As long as human persons remain in Adam God holds them guilty. He DOES impute iniquity for those who remain in Adam. How could the Psalmist say that there were people who did not receive the imputation of Adam’s iniquity? He looked forward to the day when the Messiah would come and count his followers righteous based on their faith in him. (2 Corinthians 5. We are counted as righteous when we willingly accept the atoning work of Jesus the Messiah.

David continues his discourse by saying, “And in whose spirit there is no deceit.” As humans you and I are completely sinful. We are born in iniquity. As humans we all have a tendency to be deceitful. Jesus is the only one who was free from such deceit. He is the true Israelite with whom there is no deceit. (John 1:47)

With God there is blessed forgiveness. We have committed the highest form of treason against our creator yet we are given a second chance through the atoning work of Jesus. 

Before we can be forgiven though, we must be deeply convicted about our personal sin. That’s what happened to the Psalmist. He was under such conviction that he felt the life draining out of him. David said that God’s hand was “heavy upon him.” I praise God for the calling of the Holy Spirit. I rejoice that He can sometimes make us miserable until we rest in Him. No, conviction is no fun place to be, but the Scripture reminds us that God chastises those He loves. He loves us too much to allow us to continue wallowing in our sin. So how must we respond to the gracious conviction of our Lord?

The Psalmist responded by acknowledging his sin and transgression against the Lord. God graciously forgave the Psalmist immediately after confession was made. When I learned the “Romans Road” I was most perplexed by Romans 10:9-10.

[9]  that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. [10]  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:9-10, NKJV

When God convicts us we must not run away from Him. He chastises us because He loves us. The safest place for the ruined sinner is the shelter of the cross. 

Once we have been forgiven we are given instruction to walk in wisdom. It’s fascinating to me that this Psalm is called a Maschil, meaning instruction. Commentators differ on exactly what the term Maschil refers to, but some have said that a Maschil is some form of musical instruction or a song enforcing some element of wisdom. This Psalm seems to do both. What kind of life must forgiven people live? The Psalmist answers us in the latter part of the Psalm.

The reader is encouraged to pray to God for forgiveness. Forgiven people walk in wisdom. They willingly come to Christ the Savior. People who have been forgiven draw near to God because they don’t have to be controlled like a horse. (James 3:3) The Psalmist reminds us that those who have been pardoned should willingly come to their covenant Lord. The way of wisdom guides us home to the shore of God’s presence. Why does it matter whether or not we walk down Wisdom’s path?

Those who have been forgiven belong to a new community of people who are obedient and submissive to their Lord. They are not like the wicked who will have “many sorrows.” (v.10) Mercy and wisdom permeate the life of the pardoned sinner, whereas chaos and destruction follow those  who are wicked. Who are the wicked? Those who have yet to put on the garments of Christ’s righteousness and who remain in Adam are called wicked.

You and I were wicked before we accepted Christ’s gracious pardon by faith. But now we have been washed, sanctified, and justified through the active and passive obedience of Jesus. 

That’s why we can rejoice in the Lord and shout for joy. (v.11) We have been pardoned. To whom much is forgiven, much is required. Because we have been richly forgiven we should consider what kind of life we live. We will walk in the way of wisdom because our Savior is the source of wisdom itself. (Col.2:8-10) He gives us his Holy Spirit so we might live godly and holy in the present age as we await his glorious return.

So many times we attempt to modify behavior without mentioning pardon. We cannot expect people to change their mouth or their shirt before they change their heart. Once we have been so richly pardoned in Christ we will WANT to live in wisdom, the way of God. The life that brings God most glory is the life lived in wisdom on the basis of pardon. Christ has pardoned us from our blood guilt. Let’s apply ourselves to knowing Him more through the Word and prayer. This is the path of wisdom.

In my next post I will pick up with our discussion on Colossians.

Worthy Jesus: Part Two

In my last post I shared with you that Jesus alone is worthy of our worship because he takes an active role in creation. In this post I will conclude my thoughts from Colossians 1:15-20. 

Christ alone is worthy of our worship because he is our redeemer. (vv.18-20) 

Not only did Christ take an active role in the creation of all things, he also takes on an active role in restoring the Father’s creation. Paul tells us that Jesus is the head of the body, the church. The life of the church is dependent on Jesus. He provides life for his church. We are all members of the same body, but Christ is what keeps the body alive. Without him we would swell up and die. In South Georgia where I am serving blueberries are one of the key cash crops. Those blueberry plants would die if they were cut off from their root source. The church depends on Jesus as its life source.

Jesus is the head of living organism called the church, but he is also axis of redemption because he is the firstborn from the dead. This reminds us about Christ being the new and better Adam. Death had no authority over Jesus as our new head. Jesus as God was the author of life. Death’s curse only extends to those who remain in Adam. Christ created Adam, so death had no dominion over him. I would encourage you to read Romans 5 to help you understand this more fully. Remember Paul’s point of this letter is that there is nothing superior to Jesus. He alone is worthy of our worship and devotion. (that in everything he might have the preeminence.) As redeemer Jesus conquered death.

He also contained all the fullness of God. (v.19) This verse literally translated can be rendered, “Because in him willed all the fullness to dwell.” God’s will was that Jesus would be fully divine. Jesus was never meant to be a lesser being. The Father willed that Jesus would contain his full and complete glory. God willed or decreed that all of his nature would be found in Jesus. Not just part of it, but the whole thing. There is a heightened appreciation for the work of the Father in verse 19. Jesus was a mistake or plan B, but God’s original plan A.

Only the God-Man could redeem us. He had to be one like us, but he had to be God. Jesus Christ is our kinsman redeemer. In him we have access to the throne of God. 

Our hymn reaches its conclusion in verse 20, the final stanza of our hymn.

[20]  and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. Colossians 1:20 (NKJV)

            Jesus has exchanged our hostility for friendship. That’s what the word reconcile means. Our relationship with God the Father was broken in Eden and finds its restoration in the person and work of Christ. There are three ways we can think about this work of reconciliation: (The New American Commentary)

1.) The Scope of Reconciliation: The whole creation; Jesus is working to reconcile all things to the Father. Humans were not the only ones’ to face the consequences of the Fall. If so, Paul would not have wrote all things in Colossians or the whole creation in Romans 8. All of creation has in some way or another been touched by sin. When I preached this passage I referred to harmony between humans and snakes. Before the fall in Eden humans and animals enjoyed a greater harmony than they do now. Christ’s work of redemption is for the human race, but it extends to the entire created order.

2.) The Goal of Reconciliation: To make peace through Christ’s shed blood on the cross. In Jewish circles one of the most common phrases you hear is Shalom, which means peace and mercy. Someone told me once that this peace is only present where sin is not. When Adam and Eve sinned in Eden they tried to hide from God because of the shame of their sin. We do the exact same thing when we sin. An example would be a child when they do wrong against their parents. Rather than running up to dad to hug him after work, the child who has done wrong (maybe a bad grade or smart mouth toward his mother) tries to avoid the parent. I recently heard a story about a contractor who did not complete a home construction project he promised to finish after the couple had already paid him. This contractor would see the couple in down and immediately turn his head down.

Sin destroys the harmonious relationship God intended us to have with Him, but there is good news for you! God has sent Christ to mend your broken relationship with him. You can have peace through Christ’s atonement. This peace is not merely a feeling but a present reality for the believer. The turmoil caused by sin is no match for Christ’s peacemaking work through the cross.

3.) The Means of Reconciliation: The cross is the only means by which our relationship with God is restored and we are allowed peace. Jesus work on the cross renews the harmony between creation and Creator. Only the cross of Jesus makes it possible for us to know God in the context of relationship.

Christ has done a beautiful work in restoring us to fellowship with the Father. God wants to restore our broken relationship. He invites us to come by faith and receive the engrafted word which is able to save our souls. That’s why Jesus alone is worthy of our worship, love, and obedience.

To conclude this post I would like for you to reflect on the hymn “See The Destined Day Arise.” These lyrics have been provided through the generous courtesy of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I was introduced to this song through the ministry of Sylvan Park Free Will Baptist Church in Nashville Tennessee.

See the Destined Day Arise

Lyrics: Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-600), tr. Richard Mant (1837), Public Domain;

Alt. words, chorus lyrics, and music: Matt Merker, © 2014

 

See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!

Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;

Jesus, who but You could bear wrath so great and justice fair?

Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Lamb of God for sinners slain!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ, we praise your name!

 

Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain,

And with tender body bear thorns, and nails, and piercing spear?

Slain for us, the water flowed, mingled from your side with blood;

Sign to all attesting eyes of the finished sacrifice.

Holy Jesus, grant us grace in that sacrifice to place

All our trust for life renewed, pardoned sin, and promised good.

Grant us grace to sing your praise, ‘round your throne through endless days,

Ever with the sons of light: “Blessing, honor, glory, might!”