Series: Colossians: The Core
Don't Let Go of the Gospel
- Jun 22, 2008
- Mark Vroegop
- Colossians 1:21-23
June 22, 2008 College Park Church
The Core: Living with Jesus at the Center
“Don’t Let Go of the Gospel”
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Col 1:21-23).
My parents live on a lake in Southern Michigan, and it has been a right of a passage for me to teach each of our boys how to water-ski. I have many fond memories of floating alone in the middle of Bankson’s Lake watching my kids take off after I was holding their skis under water.
The twins learned to ski when they were six years old. Now Jeremiah has always tried to keep up with his older brothers, and he usually does a pretty good job doing so. We’ll the summer that the twins learned to ski, he was insistent that he try too – even though he was only 3 years old. So rather than have an argument with him over it, we put skis on his little feet, and we decided to let him try.
But before I ever let my kids ski I give them this speech: “The most important thing to remember when you fall is that you have to let go of the rope.” You see, I’ve seen way too many people eat serious water because they panicked and held the rope.
I told Jeremiah this because I was sure that there was no way that a three year-old was going to do anything but be pulled up and right back down into the water. Really, he was just a baby still. Well, Jeremiah shocked us all! My dad “hit it”, Jeremiah popped out of the water, and at three-years of age he was waterskiing. I was in the water celebrating! “Way to go, Jeremiah! Hang on buddy! Don’t forget to let go of the rope!”
When you water-ski you can never forget to let go of the rope. A key to successful water-sking is to never forget that you need to let go. When it comes to the gospel, it is the exact opposite – don’t forget to never let go of the gospel.
We are concluding the first section in our study of Colossians. Today is the final message in this section, and then we will move on to section two which will help us understand what Jesus-centered ministry looks like. In Chapter 1 we looked at the following themes:
• A broad overview of the book identifying Christ as the core
• How our present culture is not much different than Colossae – remember Oprah?
• The relevance of the gospel to our daily lives – remember how I applied the gospel to picking up Cheerios and how Sarah applied it to moving?
• How to pray for people we love – remember the swarm of people up here praying for God to intervene in the life of someone they love.
• Jesus is supreme over everything and all of us with glorify him either by our repentance or by the judgment of our sins
•Learned to embrace dependency, our powerlessness, and how valuable Christ is.
• Finally, we learned that the heart of this is to simply say, “Jesus Can!”
My aim through chapter 1 has been to help connect our lives to the centrality of Christ. I have been trying to help you understand that Jesus is the core, and we need to deal with it. Our passage this morning draws this idea to close by bringing us back to the gospel reminding us to not let go of it.
You see, that was the temptation for the church in Colossae – to slowly drift from the centrality of Christ and His gospel. And to be sure that we don’t do that, I’d like to exhort you to (1) don’t forget and (2) don’t let go.
Don’t Forget! (vv 21-22)
Verses 21-22 are a reminder of why the gospel is incredibly important. The word “gospel” means good news, and it is a single word used to capture the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross to make a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. The gospel is the message that God, through Jesus’ death, can forgive you of your sins and make you a new creature. Therefore, the most important decision you ever make is the one where you admit that you are a sinner and throw yourself on Christ, asking him to be your Savior and Lord.
Strange as it may seem, over time we can begin to forget the amazing reality of what God did in that moment. Somehow Jesus can become too common, too familiar, and we might live as though we have forgotten the miracle that happened to us. Therefore, Paul tells them (and us) that we should not forget our past, the price, or the purpose of the gospel. And it is good for our hearts to rehearse these things.
Let’s do something here: I want you to think of the worst sin that you’ve ever committed, and in 30 seconds I’m going to pick a few of you to stand and tell us what that sin is. Okay? Now, most of you are panicking inside right now, and let me take you off the hook. I’m not really going to do that. But I want you to remember the feeling that raced through your heart when you considered the possibility of having to share your worst sin.
There is something valuable and right about a balanced view of your past. It is too easy for us to forget how bad our spiritual condition was before we met Jesus. Certainly we should not be captive to the past and allow it to control us in the present, but we also should never forget what we were delivered from. Therefore, it is helpful for Paul to remind us about our past. Here is what he says:
First, the problem was our alienated and hostile disposition. The text says that the problem was with our mind (“alienated and hostile in mind”). This word for mind (dianoia) means much more than just your brain or what you think about. It refers to the way that you think or the intention of your life. In the Greek Translation of the Old Testament, the translators used the word mind to describe the heart. You could think of it like a disposition or a bent of your will.
The text tells us that when it came to God, our natural bent or disposition was alienated and hostile. To be alienated means that there is a barrier between God and you. It means that you don’t belong, you don’t fit, and it isn’t natural for you to be where you are. But it is even worse because we are also described as hostile which means that you are an enemy, hateful, and opposed to God (see also Rom 5:10, Eph 2:14,16). In other words, everyone’s past is exactly the same—we all started as enemies of God. The heart of every man and woman is set against God. There is no one who is neutral.
Secondly, we expressed that rebellion by taking up specific sins. That is why the text says “doing evil deeds.” The evil deeds were a product of an alienated and hostile disposition toward God. So sins like lust, greed, immorality, drunkenness, covetousness are much more than just sins that violate God’s law. They are weapons of our rebellious warfare; they are the declaration that we will not be ruled by God! You see, lust wasn’t just your problem; rather, lust was the arms that you took up against God. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity stated it this way: “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement. He is a rebel who needs to lay down his arms.”
So let me take you back to the sin that I wanted you to remember a few minutes ago? Remember the embarrassment that you felt? Well that sin was the least of your problem! That sin was merely the outward expression of something far worse—a heart set against God. And it is really important to never forget what God saved you from: He saved you from yourself!
We also must not forget the price of the gospel. Namely, that it was Christ’s suffering death that created the possibility of reconciliation between God and his human enemies. Last week we saw that addressed (v 20) by two words: blood and cross. Here we see the price emphasized by two more words: flesh and death. To bring reconciliation between God and mankind, Jesus hung between heaven and earth absorbing the wrath of God so that God’s justice could be satisfied and we could be forgiven.
So there are two things that should motivate you to not forget: the despicable nature of your rebellion against God and the indescribable worth of the Son of God, who was murdered to bring you back. We out not forget these things!
Finally, we see a reminder regarding the purpose of the gospel. Whenever you see words like “in order that” in the Bible you ought to know that a purpose statement is coming. Verse 22 captures the purpose of redemption with this glorious, grace-filled statement: “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” So this is the goal, the purpose, the end-game of the gospel – to present you as something that you would never be without Jesus.
So it is good to remember where you’ve come from, but it is also good to be reminded about what your future holds. There will come a day when we will all stand before God (Rom 14:10, 8:1, 8:33), our day in court before the holy gaze of God. On that day there will be no swearing to tell the truth because you will not need to testify. There is no discovery hearing, no motions, no depositions, and no one lies because God knows everything! Can you imagine?!
Well, the aim of gospel is to prepare you for the day when you meet God face to face. The gospel changes your standing before God such that even though you were God’s enemy and involved in the heart-based insurrection against him, you are declared holy (morally pure), blameless (free from every fault), and above reproach (guiltless).
Imagine that in the hills of Northern Afghanistan Usama Bin Ladan is finally captured, and he is flown to the United States for trial. Every television station in the entire country would be covering his trial. The enemy of the United States, the mastermind of greatest attack on the homeland is going to finally be brought to justice. Now imagine that the President of the United States makes a stunning decision that in order to bring peace to the Middle East he is going to summarily pardon Usama Bin Ladan of all charges. He clears him. But then he goes even further. He gives him honorary citizenship and creates a new cabinet position – Director of Middle East Relations – to which he appoints Usama. What would the headlines say? It would be scandalous!
That is what happened to you. So it should be no surprise to you that when Paul uses a Greek word to describe the work of the Cross – skandalon (see Rom 9:33, 11:9, 1 Peter 2:8). And what an appropriate word to use! God calls you morally pure, faultless, and guiltless—and it is scandal of grace for him to say this about you! Don’t forget that!
Don’t Let Go! (v 23)
Verse 23 brings Paul’s point to a sharp and clear conclusion: don’t let go of the gospel. Everything that he just told them in verses 21-22 is now focused in this final exhortation and warning.
Now what we have here is an important warning passage written to believers about the perils of falling away. That raises some questions, doesn’t it? For instance: Does Paul think that these people could lose their reconciliation? Does he think that it is possible to a believer to permanently fall away? Why does he make the reconciliation of verses 21-22 seem to be conditional? How does this fit with other passages that clearly teach the security of the believer or the perseverance of the saints?
It seems to me that there are three things that frame our thinking on this:
1. It is clear to me that the Bible teaches that those who genuinely receive Christ are eternally secure (often said this way: Once saved always saved) since God is the one who does the work of justification (Romans 8:28-39, Eph 1:1-14, 2:8-10).
2.Those who are genuinely saved persevere to the end (called the perseverance of the saints). In other words, while they are not perfect, their faith in Christ remains because they have been born again by God and they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 10:28, 1 Peter 1:8-9, 23)
3.God frequently uses warnings to those who he knows will persevere as a means of motivating them and cautioning them to remain vigilant. In other words, the warning serves as a vehicle to guard them from doing what the warning suggests. Charles Spurgeon wrestled with this and gave the following counsel:
“But what if those cautions are the means in the hand of God of keeping His people from wandering? What if they are used to excite a holy fear in the minds of His children, and so become the means of preventing the evil which they denounce.”1
My favorite verse to show you this is Hebrews 6:9 where the writer, after giving one of the sternest and scariest warning passages in all of the Bible (Hebrews 6:1-8) says, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case — things that accompany salvation” (Heb 6:9).
1 The Final Perseverance of the Saints - Job 17:9 from Spurgeon's Sermons, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.
2 Peter O’Brien. Colossians and Philemon: Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, Texas: Word Publishers, 1982. p. 69.
3 Paul uses the same word in Rom 6:1, 11:22, 23, 1 Tim 4:16
I know this as a Father because I often warn my kids with an extreme example to make a point, knowing that it will never apply to them. “Son, the reason that we are saying these things is because we don’t want you to end up in prison!”
4.This approach (warning about what you won’t do) is further verified by the language of verse 23. “If you” can also translated as “provided that”, and it does not necessary express doubt. The tone of the Greek language is actually expressing confidence: “at any rate if you stand firm in the faith—and I am sure that you will.”2 The same thought is expressed in 2:5, “…rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.”
Therefore, the admonition here to not let go of the gospel needs to be seen for what it is: a powerful warning meant to motivate us to cling passionately to the core of our faith. Notice that the verse is a clear call to not lose their hope in the gospel, something that had come to them through Paul and his ministry. Therefore, he calls them to the following:
•To continue—to a life marked by a perseverant in trust in the gospel. The danger of drifting from the gospel needed to be resisted at all costs!3
• To be stable and steadfast—two words which are related to the idea of a foundation of a house, something very solid and sure (see Matt 7:24-27). There are two texts that shed some further light on this idea of the gospel being the key to steadfastness:
“…if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:57-58)
The church is a pillar and buttress (a form of steadfast) of truth because the gospel is at its heart. When the church loses the focus on the gospel, she loses her power to speak the truth! Further, individual believers are called to live in light of the power of the gospel. They are to be steadfast in the gospel while continuing in their service for Christ.
Therefore, I want to call you today to not let go of the gospel—the simple message that Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Timothy 1:15). And here’s how I’d like you to do that:
• Rehearse the gospel often! Keep the main one (Jesus) the main thing. The gospel is so much more than just knowing you are going to heaven. It is the message that Jesus can make the enemies of God his friends.
• Use your past, don’t let it use you. Use it to glorify God. Don’t glory in it; don’t magnify it. But don’t forget it. Remember where you were, and rejoice in what God has done in you. Every now and then I see this bumper sticker or t-shirt: “When Satan reminds you about your past; remind him about his future.” Okay that’s decent, but I’d rather say, “When Satan reminds you about your past; remind your heart about the gospel.”
• Learn to connect life to the gospel. Don’t separate trusting Jesus in the details of life from the beauty and the power of the gospel. Keeping going back to the foundation of your hope. Namely, that Jesus is worthy of your trust. Trust him to help you be victorious over a sin, or trust him to love your spouse, or trust him that he’s got a good plan for your life, or trust that his timing is perfect. All of this is grounded in the gospel.
• When you are tempted to quit, cling to the gospel. The hope of the gospel is a firm safety line in the midst of hard times and storms. Come back to the truth that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39)
A few months ago, we took our kids to the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Part of their visit included doing the climbing wall. My kids love climbing walls, and, frankly, they are much better at it than what I would be. Well, part of the climbing wall experience involved me holding and securing the safety line. As they climbed up I was sitting on the floor pulling up the slack in the line. As they began to climb I noticed that the safety line was not only for safety, it was for confidence. You see as they would reach for a hard rock, they would look back to me and say, “Do you got me, Dad?” And I would tighten the rope tighter. The feeling of a tighter rope gave them confidence to push forward to the next rock, and then Savannah, Mom and I would cheer! “Get the next one…I’ve got you covered,” I would shout. The assurance that the safety rope was tight gave them hope for the next rock.
And some of you need to hear this simple word from God today: “The Gospel has got you covered. Reach for the next rock!” College Park, don’t let go of the gospel!
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