You can only understand the true grace of God when you understand your true status before God – completely hopeless, helpless, wretched and depraved.
YouVersion link: http://bible.com/events/349168
This past week I reached out to Ben Calhoun just to see how life and ministry was going for him. You might remember that a year ago Ben preached here on a Sabbath morning. Over the past year I’ve tried to keep in touch with him. I texted him, and within a few hours Ben got back to me. I was pretty stoked because, well, Ben’s a rock star!! (Just kidding) Things seem to be going well with Ben, but every time he talks to me he brings up an embarrassing subject.
So when Ben was 13 and I was a seminary student I taught the middle school kids during the week of Conference which is the annual pilgrimage of SDBs. The annual pilgrimage will be in Kenosha at Carthage College during the first week of August this year. Anyway, part of my teaching was dedicated to “dating God” for a year. Instead of doing the whole dating thing, it was a challenge to teens to focus their attention on growing in their relationship with the Lord because sometimes the girlfriend/boyfriend thing can be a distraction from our most important relationship.
Ben really took this to heart. In fact, he not only dated God for a year. He didn’t have a girlfriend for about 10 years. At one point his mom, Lannette, came up to me and held me responsible because she didn’t know if Ben would ever get married. So, it all worked out in the end because Ben met a girl and they got married and had kids and their lives are focused on the Lord. It so impacted Ben that he often tells this story about dating God and his “youth pastor” who challenged him to do it. That’s the embarrassing part. Ben talks about it all the time. Ben told me he told this story twice last month during concerts. I’d like to stand up and say that I am really not responsible. I want to tell him, Ben, do you really have to always tell this story?
For Ben that was a significant decision that affected his life. He over-exaggerates my role in it. I just shared a message that the Lord had prepared him for and Ben responded to it. He shares it, all the time, because of what God did in him. Ben always talks about it.
What would make you want to always talk about something? What is that one thing that the people who know you best say, she always says that? He always tells that story? What is your broken record conversation?
The apostle Paul had a broken record streak in him, and it happened when he prayed for the church people where the gospel had reached into their hearts and changed their lives. Every time that he and his apostolic church planting team prayed together, and that would have been daily, that were thanking God for those believers in Christ.
We are taking a closer look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians in our “Held Together” series. In verses 15-18, which I spoke on earlier this month, we saw the truth of Jesus’ supremacy over everything. He is the one who started everything. He holds everything together now. And he will bring everything in this present world order to a completion at the time of God’s own choosing.
So what that means for those of us who follow Christ today is that we must build our lives on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any part of our lives that is does not come into conformity with the Lord will not hold together. This is not something to be worried about, whether or not we get everything “right”. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s all about humbling ourselves before God so that he can do the work in us, both individually and as a church – the work that he started, that he is working on right now, and that he will bring to completion.
As I said Paul was always thanking the Lord, every time they prayed, for these new creations in Christ the Colossians. His incessant thanksgiving came because he heard of the powerful work of God that was going on in these people – the work of faith, love and hope.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus
Normally we think of Paul as the one who walks into a city, tells people about the good news of Christ, gets in trouble with the Jews who don’t like what he’s preaching, then gets run out of town. But Paul wasn’t the one who first talked to the Colossians about Christ. God gave that job to Epaphras who actually happened to be from that area. It was his home town. Paul was in prison at this time (as he seemed to frequently be), so he couldn’t go from city to city talking to people about Jesus.
However, Paul wasn’t alone in this mission. He had gathered around him like-minded people who were “all-in” with the great commission of Jesus. The New Testament tells us about some of these people. At first there was Barnabus and Mark. Then Silas, Timothy, Luke, Tychicus, Prisca and Aquila, Justus and the list goes on. Just like Paul, they owned the mission that Jesus left with his disciples which was to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19)
I can just see the wheels spinning in Epaphras’ brain. He’s thinking about the people that he knows, that he grew up with, that have played such a big part in his life, and they haven’t heard the message of Christ. I imagine him thinking, “I’ve got to go tell them.”
What exactly did Epaphras tell them? Paul calls it in verse 5 “the word of the truth, the gospel.” Every day you and I see and hear lots of words. At times we are bombarded with words like a game of dodge ball. We live in the information age. We have lots of data. We have lots of facts, but more and more it doesn’t seem to matter if the words are true or not. The reality is that if you say something long enough and loud enough, the majority of people are going to believe it.
What people believe may change like the changing of the weather, but the truth of the gospel never changes. In this day of postmodernism, truth is more than just relative; it’s non-existent. But you can see that there is such a thing as truth, and that the gospel is truth because of what happens when people hear it. The gospel of Christ is more powerful than any other word you have ever heard. Romans 1:16 says the gospel, “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The gospel has the power to make a spiritually dead person come to life.
These Colossians were spiritually dead before Epaphras came to them with the word of the truth. Like many people that we see every day, they were on a collision course with disaster, and they didn’t even know it. Then they heard the gospel, and they believed. Listen closely, they didn’t do anything. They heard, and they believed. Paul describes what happened to them really clearly in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Is it really that simple? Yes, it really is. The word “gospel” simply means “good news.” But just like a game of telephone, even good news can get muddied and changed when we don’t understand it. We humans have a tendency when we don’t really understand things to fill in the gaps with things that we already have in our brains. But in order for the gospel to be the power of God that changes everything in someone’s life, they first have to understand “the grace of God in truth.”
Paul says in verse 6 that the Colossians heard the gospel and “understood the grace of God in truth.” Lots of people misunderstand the grace of God. Grace, generally speaking, is a gift. Specifically, grace is a gift that we do not deserve. In fact, we deserve just the opposite. But see you can get that – that you don’t deserve God’s gift – but miss how God’s gift works.
You see many people think of the grace of God as something like a spiritual can of Red Bull. In our grow group this quarter on Martin Luther and the Reformation, this is the comparison that one author used. It’s like there is a wall between God and us, and this wall is so high that we are having a hard time getting over it. But if we drink a can of spiritual Red Bull, we will have enough strength to get over the wall and get to God. It’s like people think that with enough help, with just enough of God’s grace, they can work hard enough to be good enough for God. And it is all just a bunch of bull.
In the gospel we learn that grace is the gift of the righteousness or the goodness of Jesus Christ to completely depraved and wretched and helpless humans who on their own have no ability or power or strength to be good at all. The grace of God in truth is not something that God gives us so that we can make ourselves good enough for heaven. The grace of God is the gift of Himself. Jesus gives himself which includes his righteousness to anyone who trusts him.
When these Colossians trusted Christ they became saints which is what Paul calls them. A saint is not someone who does a miracle or is a better Christian than anyone else. The Greek word for saint means “holy one.” Paul doesn’t call them saints because their behavior suddenly became 100% pure and holy and without sin. He doesn’t call them saints because they were superstar Christians. He calls them “holy ones” because the righteousness of Christ was given to them. Their status before God changed in a heartbeat. Because they understood the grace of God in truth, God declared them righteous. One moment they were wretched and without hope in this world. The next moment, by faith, they were righteous saints of God. This was not on the basis of what they had done, but because of what Jesus did in his life and death on the cross.
In the same way we who have trusted Christ have been declared righteous and holy by God, not because of what we have done but because of what Jesus has done. As a result of this glorious, powerful and miraculous work of God in bringing us to belief in Christ and opening the eyes of our heart to the light and the glory of the gospel of Christ, we have peace with God. We have relationship with the Father of all creation.
The grace of God in truth reveals that, no, in fact we are not good people apart from Jesus Christ. Without Jesus we are totally wretched and depraved, but by his grace we have been given a new status before God and a new heart which God then begins to mold into his own image.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of… the love that you have for all the saints,
The Bible tells us in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love.” We know from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that love is a fruit of the Spirit. So when the Spirit of God takes up residence in a person because they have placed their trust in Christ, God begins to grow love in them.
I have a pear tree in my back yard. Once a year pears miraculously appear on this tree. I don’t do anything. They just keep showing up. I don’t know a whole lot about fruit, but I do know one thing. Fruit doesn’t show up on a dead tree.
Therefore, the only way that the love of God can grow is if God’s seed, which is the good news of Christ, is planted in a person’s heart through the word of the truth that they hear. As I said, this includes understanding the grace of God in truth. We don’t “get” the depth and height of God’s grace and love until we see in truth how wretched we are and how far away from God (who is holy). Then at that moment we begin to see the love of God in truth as we understand that God’s love was demonstrated in its fullness by Jesus’ death on the cross. The greatest need (our sin) had to be met by the greatest sacrifice (Jesus’ death) which revealed the greatest love.
What is love of God like? The Bible says in Romans 5:8 that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Unless you get the truth that you are a sinner and are spiritually dead outside of faith in Christ, you cannot understand this verse. You can’t understand that Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love.
I think that somehow we can believe what the Bible says about the gospel in truth, and we can grasp the love of God for us and for other believers, but almost secretly inside we kind of hope that for people that aren’t Christians there is another option available. It’s almost like we hope there is a secret passageway in the back. After all, we see people every day who are loving and kind but haven’t trusted Christ. We almost ask ourselves this question: is this gospel thing really the only way? For the people that I know?
When we talk about the love of God growing as a fruit of the Spirit we can’t talk about it outside of the shadow of the cross. What I mean by that is that if we define love using the dictionary of the world instead of the revelation of the Bible, we are going to misunderstand what true love is. Just like people misunderstand the grace of God, they also misunderstand the love of God.
The Colossians had been rocked by the power of God in the gospel message. Because of what God did in them, they began to display the fruit of God’s love in their daily lives. Paul calls them faithful, and tells them that their love has been reported to him by Epaphras. Now Epaphras himself is qualified to give that report because he received the grace of God by faith alone and has grown in the fruit of the Spirit of faithfulness.
Faithful love for God’s people is the result of God’s presence in the lives of those who trust Christ. Remember that just like fruit God grows His love in people. Sometimes that love is just barely poking its head out of the branch. Sometimes it’s just not ripe yet. Sometimes it’s getting pruned back so that it can grow to be bigger and better.
When we examine our love or the love of others we must not judge it based on the quantity or the quality but based on the presence. Is there a love in our hearts for the people of God? It may be small. It may not quite be ripe yet, but is it growing? Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Now this love, just like the love of God which it grows from, is not based on what people do but on who God is. We love not because all Christians are easy to love, but because of how God loves. He showed us how he loves by going to the cross for those who didn’t deserve it.
Do you have some difficulty with loving all of God’s people? Are there some that you would rather not have to love? Are there those whom you would recoil at the thought of loving sacrificially because, frankly, they don’t deserve my love? Yes, in fact, this is the point. When Christ enters our life by faith alone through his grace alone he pours out his kind of love in our hearts. How are you nurturing the kind of love for others that God showed to you?
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,… because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
The end goal of our faith is to be with the Lord forever in all of his glory. Some people look to heaven only because they are afraid of going to hell. Their faith is really based on fear. Instead, love is the greatest reason for turning our eyes to heaven. It starts by realizing how great the love of God is for all of desperately hopeless humanity, receiving the gift of that love by faith, and waiting with great expectation for the fulfillment of that faith and love which will be realized in heaven. This kind of hope is not the “I hope so” kind. It is the sure and confident hope that only grows stronger the longer we know the Lord.
There are many who would call themselves people of faith that don’t have this kind of hope for heaven. The reason is because they don’t understand the grace of God in truth. The Colossians really got the message of the gospel. They got the grace of God in truth. They understood how desperately they needed Christ. They understood that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone. They got it. They understood the truth.
Truth still exists in the world today. Postmodernism hasn’t run it out completely because the gospel is still available. If Paul was to show up here in Milton and he looked at our church, I wonder what he would think. Would he affirm our faith in Christ alone? Would he affirm our love for all the saints of God? Would he affirm our rock solid hope in eternal life with Christ in heaven? I think he would say that God has done a good work, but I also think he would say that the Lord isn’t done with us yet. He is building a great church, the kind of church that the gates of Hell will not destroy. That church will be built on the spiritual foundation of Christ alone, by faith alone through grace alone, it will be growing in the love of God and it will be filled with hope for this life and the life to come. That’s something to always thank God for. That’s the kind of broken record that I want to hear.