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)

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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!”

Worthy Jesus: Part One

Have you ever wondered why we pray in Jesus’ name? For that matter, why do believers call themselves Christians? C. S. Lewis said that believers are essentially “little Christs”. In Acts we learn that the term Christian was used in a slanderous way. Christians were those who walked in the way of Jesus because they accepted him as messiah. This can be seen in the discussion on Barnabas. Barnabas left Tarsus to seek after Saul who would later be named Paul. When Barnabas found Paul he brought him to Antioch where we learn that “the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11:26) I am thankful that I can call myself a Christian. I am thankful to bear Christ’s name and I pray that I can live my life in a Christ-glorifying way.

Why does the church emphasize the centrality of Christ? We often hear terms like Christ-centered or Christ-driven in reference to the ministry of the church. I’m reminded of the common answer children give when asked to comment on Biblical themes. When the teacher asks the question students often eagerly proclaim that the answer is Jesus. Although one post cannot adequately discuss the supremacy of Christ, it is my goal here to give you a few reasons why Jesus alone is worthy of our attention and devotion based on Colossians 1:15-20. With Jesus there is life, hope, and peace. His cross is the dividing point of human history.

Paul’s writings are worthy of much appreciation, especially his depiction of the earliest Christian hymns. If you have been around me at all you know that I appreciate hymns that are rooted in Scripture and portray a picture of our communal fellowship with one another. Some have questioned whether or not the hymn in Colossians 1 is original to Paul or not. It would be characteristic of Paul to include examples from the church while making the hymn unique in his own way. As you read through this hymn, think about Christ’s work in creation and redemption.

[15]  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [16]  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. [17]  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. [18]  And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. [19]  For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, [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 1:15-20 (NKJV)

Jesus alone is worthy because he takes an active role in creation. (vv.15-17)

In Colossae the false teachers were attempting to say that no one could represent God. In the Greek world the physical world was viewed as bad and the immaterial or spiritual world was viewed as the greatest good. Paul makes an interesting claim in the first part of his hymn to Christ. He said that Jesus was the image of the invisible God. That is, we need not wonder what God looks like because he has been revealed to us in the person and work of Jesus. In Hebrews 1 we learn that Jesus was the exact imprint of God. Every attribute of Yahweh in the Old Testament is given to Jesus in the New Testament because Jesus is Yahweh. Paul’s praise intensifies as we go throughout the passage.

Not only does Jesus represent God to us, but he also serves as the firstborn over all creation. What does this mean? Psalm 89:27 mentions the firstborn as ruling on David’s throne. The term used for firstborn can be understood as a reflection of Christ the new Adam. One writer suggests that this term means that “Christ is the firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified as its exalted Lord is glorified.” (See BDAG, πρωτόκος) Bauer helps us understand Christ as the second Adam. This is one of the primary emphases of our reconciliation to God. If you are having trouble following me here I suggest reading Romans 5. This passage further elaborates our discussion of Christ, who is the second Adam. Paul praises Christ because he is the only means by which we can access a relationship with God.

Christ is also worthy because he actively engages in creation. We are wrong to conclude that the Son had no role in creation. In Genesis 1:26 we read that God said, “Let us create man in our image. The us there certainly refers to the Trinity. John 1 reminds us that in the beginning was the Word, meaning that Christ is the eternal λόγος. Paul praises Christ because all things were created by him. The point here is that nothing is higher than Christ, for he created. He existed before everything else.

I want to pause here and reflect on verse 17. In many ways it serves as an interlude between the first and second parts of the hymn. As I reflected on this verse I was blown away by Christ’s splendor. In Christ all things continue to have their existence. Without his sovereign guidance the universe would literally split apart. There is balance in the universe and this points to the sustaining power of Christ. We serve a God who personally created the universe and who personally continues to sustain it. Because there is balance in the universe there are many fallacies associated with the Big Bang Theory.

A 2010 article by the ministry Answers in Genesis discussed the problem with the Big Bang Theory. There is a certain balance in the workings of the universe, but this balance cannot be reconciled with the Big Bang Theory. In fact, the Big Bang Theory cannot explain why the matter density in the universe is not greater causing it to collapse on itself, or less, which would cause the universe to split apart. The Big Bang should have produced exactly equal amounts of matter and antimatter. The Big Bang is a secular model of the beginning of life on earth. Secular models come and go but God’s word doesn’t. It remains the same throughout time and space.

I want to encourage you to stop reading and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to your Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. He holds the world together. I have often heard people say, “If God is good then why do all these bad things happen in the universe? Were it not for the guiding hand of God things would be much worse. Stop and give thanks that in Jesus all things hold tightly together. Sometimes we think we have life under control, but when disaster strikes we are all too aware of our human limitations. If the universe would split apart without his guiding hand, how much more would our fragile human lives? I’m amazed to know that Christ is holding us together by his amazing grace. Because of this, Jesus alone is worthy of our worship and devotion. There is none greater than the exalted Christ. Sadly, many do not know him as their personal Lord and savior.

Again, I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’ words in Mere Christianity. In discussing the divinity of Jesus Lewis remarks,

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing people often say about him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is one thing we must not say…you must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.” (p.52 in my copy)

Jesus is worthy of your worship. I have to ask you to consider what are you worshiping more than Christ? Is it entertainment, pleasure, lust, success, money, or anything other than Christ? Christ alone is worthy of the throne of your heart. We serve a great and worthy King. In that I greatly rejoice. 

In my next post I will discuss the final stanza of Paul’s hymn, which reflects on Christ’s work in redemption. If you would like to receive updates on my posts, please enter your email in the space provided on the right hand side of the page. Thank you for reading.

Praying like Paul: A closer look at Colossians 1:9-14

I am currently serving as a summer intern at Pine Level Free Will Baptist Church. One of my responsibilities is to preach through Colossians on Sunday evenings. For the next few weeks I will be posting a weekly review of some key element of my sermons. I hope these posts encourage you in your Christian pilgrimage.

As Christians we all know that we should pray. We even have special services called prayer meetings. There is a great deal of conversation about prayer. We all seem to recognize that prayer flows from a relationship with our Creator, yet we sometimes struggle with the practice of prayer. Maybe we just need a refresher on how the early church and the apostles prayed. Paul prayed specifically for the church at Colossae. This is fascinating in light of the fact that he first heard about this church through Epaphras. (1:7)

Paul often prayed for the churches within his scope of influence. His prayer for the Colossians is what we want to think about today.

[9]  For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; [10]  that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; [11]  strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; [12]  giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. [13]  He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, [14]  in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14 (NKJV)

There are four key themes in Paul’s prayer for the Colossians:

1.) A prayer that the church would be filled with the knowledge of the Father’s will. (v.9)

We love this prayer. “Lord, just let your will be done.” We should pray this way because our Teacher prayed to the Father in this manner. Even so, sometimes Christians pray about God’s will as if it is a mysterious thing. God’s will is revealed to us in his word as well as the person and work of Christ. False teachers believed in obtaining a superior knowledge that would enable them to transcend the material world. Paul’s argument is that true knowledge is found only in the context of a relationship with the creator. True knowledge of God’s will drastically changes the way we live our lives.

We too can pray that other believers would be filled with knowledge concerning God’s will. With lives at stake we should intentionally pray that other believers will grow in their understanding of God’s will. This really is a prayer that others will mature spiritually. I don’t know about you, but I certainly appreciate people praying that I will know His will so that I can love Him more fully.

2.) A prayer that the Christians would walk worthy of the Gospel. (v.10)

The Lord himself said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48) Those of us who have been entrusted with Christ’s liberating message are to a greater decree of accountability. How do we walk worthy of the Gospel? Paul tells us that to walk worthy is to be fully pleasing to our Savior and to bear fruit. Paul’s point is that faith is worthless if it does not change the way we live. Our worth is found in Christ alone, but there remains an impetus for us to live a transformed life. Christ paid much to high a price for us to treat grace cheaply.

When we pray we should pray that Christ through the Holy Spirit will help us grow in our holiness. This is not only a prayer we pray for ourselves, but also a prayer we pray for other believers. We need each other’s prayers because it is not easy to be holy. There is no greater encouragement in pursuing holiness than knowing that brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for our success.

3.) A prayer that Christians would be strengthened by Christ’s power. (v.11)

The great feat of Christianity is that God doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. We do need to strive for holiness, but we recognize that God in Christ provides the strength and endurance we need to become more like him. Our creator and redeemer takes an active role in restoring us to the Father. We don’t pursue a more mature spirituality by relying on our own talents and abilities. We pursue maturity by relying on Christ’s power. There is none greater than Christ anyway.

God will make his presence known when his children are actively seeking it. The next time you pray for fellow Christians you should pray that God will supply strength for their various situations. As I write this post, I can’t help but think of Josh and Lydia Provow. They have been struggling to get their visas so that they can serve in Bulgaria. Josh and Lydia, I am praying that you find strength in God’s power. He is able to work this out for his glory as well.

4.) A prayer that joy would permeate every aspect of the believer’s life. (vv.11-12)

Paul prayed that the Colossian believers would be strengthened with all joy and patient endurance. He wrote this letter while he was in prison. Paul possessed an unimaginable joy based on his union with Christ. He prayed that the Colossian Christians would find deep joy in Christ.

Christians should be the most joyous people on the planet. This is not a false joy that is characterized by positive thinking. Every day is not a Friday, no matter how much we would like to convince ourselves that this is true. Even so, Christ’s work on our behalf should bring a new joy to our lives. What exactly has Christ done for us?

Paul answers that question in verses 12-14. The Father has qualified us to be heirs of the promise. He has set us free from darkness. He has invited us into the kingdom of Christ. He has released us from sin’s curse and God’s wrath. He has forgiven us for every and I mean every evil dead. Wow!

When we pray for others we must pray that they will find joy in Christ. As we await the hastening day of our Lord’s return we need only rest in the joy of the Lord. Joy in Christ will give us renewed strength as we continue on this journey. After all, the joy of the Lord is our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

An Example to follow

The apostle Paul has left us a great example of how we should pray. No matter who we are praying for, we can pray that they will be filled with the knowledge of God, that they will walk worthy of the Gospel, that they will rely on God’s strength, and that they will have joy. Implement these principles into your prayers and the kingdom of God will advance through Christ’s transforming power.