COLOSSIANS #12: THE POWER AND PURPOSE TO BE WHO WE WERE MEANT TO BE

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The only way to become who you are truly meant to be is to surrender your heart and life to Jesus. He is the creator of your heart, and only he knows completely who you are, and what you are meant to be. Looking inside of you, or following your heart, will not be enough. Adolf Hitler had a clear vision of who he was and what he was meant to be. He followed his heart with strength purpose and authenticity; and he was totally evil. Only Jesus can help us to be fully ourselves without becoming monsters.

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Download Colossians Part 12

Colossians #12. Colossians 1:27-29

27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Colossians 1:27-29

Last time we examined the mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” We found that it is not so much that we live our lives for God, but rather that Jesus Christ lives his life through ours. Our part is, in one sense, to get out of the way, and to not hinder the Life that Jesus wants to live through us. Now, in verse 28, Paul clarifies and expounds on this.

First, Paul says that he proclaims Christ, warning all people. The Greek word here  could be translated several ways: admonish, reprove,  caution. The idea is speaking to someone with idea of correcting a problem, or warning about some danger.

In our day and age, preachers and teachers seldom warn or admonish. The most popular preachers at the biggest churches, the ones you see on TV and on the internet, generally avoid telling people things that they don’t want to hear. They frequently have interesting messages that tend to affirm people and make them feel good, and they stay away from controversial or difficult topics.

But Paul is not just telling people what they want to hear. He isn’t agreeing with the culture, or affirming their basic self-centeredness. He is confronting them with the truth of Jesus, and the first part of the message of Jesus is that all human beings must repent.

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17, ESV)

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15, ESV)

31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32, ESV)

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:45-47, ESV)

Repentance is a central part of the message of Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, part of the job of Christian leaders is to warn those who are not repentant. Many verses all over the New Testament tell us that leaders must correct, rebuke and warn. This is an integral part of what it means to proclaim Jesus Christ and his message. The grace and truth of Jesus confront us with our need to change. I believe that many, many of those who call themselves pastors and preachers in this day and age have been failing to warn and admonish. Warning and admonishing is not necessarily an effective church growth policy. People can misunderstand, and leave. Sometimes people understand perfectly, but they are still offended by the warnings, and they still leave. Yet, this is what Christian leaders are called to do. We are not called to create large churches, we are called to proclaim the message of Jesus.

Paul also engages in teaching. I have recently mentioned the importance of that ministry, so I won’t go into that again here. He adds that he warns and teaches “with all wisdom.” The word “all” here means, “all sorts.” In other words, all truth ultimately comes from God and agrees with the Revelation of scripture. Paul uses any and all means to communicate the truth and beauty of Jesus Christ to the world. When he was in Athens, he quoted from Greek poets. When he preached to Jews, he used the wisdom of the Old Testament. I often use analogies and illustrations and stories when I teach, or even movies or songs. All of this is appropriate, since God is the source of everything that is actually true and good. Don’t be afraid if you feel like God touches you through a “secular” song or movie, or book. All wisdom that is actually true and wise comes ultimately from our God, and all of it can be used to help us in our relationship with Jesus. I do want to make sure and add, however, that the ultimate revelation from God is the Bible alone. Confucius had some God-given wisdom, as did Aristotle and Socrates. But they also wrote things that were wrong. We cannot accept every single thing that they say. Instead, we should evaluate it against what we find in scripture. All wisdom and truth must be judged against the Bible. The Bible is the final standard for God’s Truth. It should be our first source, and the source that judges all others.

Paul says that purpose of this warning and teaching is “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” I want to bring out some shades of meaning from the Greek here. When Paul says he want to “present” everyone, there is the idea that people being presented are firmly in a certain condition. They are standing, or existing, in a state of maturity in Christ. Picture a graduation ceremony. Each graduate has completed the course of study, and is ready to move forward.

The word “mature” is the Greek word telos, and the idea behind it is that some thing or person is fulfilling its purpose. A hammer being used to pound nails is accomplishing its telos. It isn’t just what we call maturity, it is the idea that a person is finally being and doing what they were made to be and do. That’s what it means to be mature in Christ.

I want to make sure we don’t misunderstand this. The text makes it clear that the purpose for which we exist is fulfilled only in Christ. You see, these days, we are all about being “who we were meant to be.” But the scripture makes it clear here that the only way to be who you are meant to be is to submit to Jesus Christ. He is the one who created you in the first place. He is the one who has the master plan for each person, and how each person’s role relates to everyone else’s role.

This is extremely significant. Many people think their purpose is to pursue whatever they feel deeply. But the human heart is deceptive and changeable. We do not clearly see our own failings, and we so easily lie to ourselves to pursue whatever it is we want. Sometimes the things we want change drastically as we grow older. Sometimes, perhaps, we want the same thing consistently, but what we want is wrong. As far as I know history, Adolf Hitler was “true to himself.” He was honest about what he wanted, and he pursued what he thought was his destiny with strength, purpose and authenticity. Even so, he was thoroughly evil. Hitler is an extreme example, but it is true that a great wave of unhappiness is in the world as a result of people trying to “be true to themselves.”

The only way to really “be true to yourself” is to follow Jesus. He is the creator of your heart. Only he can lead you, only he can truly fulfill the purpose of your life. You don’t accomplish your purpose by getting to know yourself better, you do it by fully surrendering yourself to Christ.

Paul’s own telos, his purpose, is to help others grow in Christ. His next statement is also very important, because it shows us something about how to live and grow in Christ. After looking at the Greek, here is how I would paraphrase verse 29:

For this goal I wear myself out, agonizingly struggling with the tremendous energy that God himself energizes powerfully in me.

You see two pieces here. Paul is toiling, but he is using not his own strength. The energy with which he toils is power that comes from God himself.

There’s an old phrase that some people find clever: “Are you working hard, or hardly working?” Actually, in Christ, it is both. Paul works hard, but, it is God who works though him. Next time you hear that phrase, let it remind you of the truth that if you let him, the Lord will work through you. Paul teaches the same thing to the Philippians:

12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (NLT, Philippians 2:12-13)

He tells us to work hard to show the results of our salvation. That sounds like it is all up to us. But then he adds that it is God who works in us, both to give us the desire, and the power to please him. We work hard, and yet, at the same time, it is God working hard in us and through us. Paul works hard, but it is God’s energy within him that does the work.

I think the key to all this is to be willing. Part of being willing is making our bodies and minds available to God.  For example, one part that is essential for us if we are to mature in Christ is to read the Bible. If you aren’t a reader, listening to the Bible is just as good. God will not take over your body, make you walk over to the shelf, take down the bible and open it up. You have to do that part. Or, you have to call up the audio Bible on your phone and start it playing. But then, once you read or listen, what you get out of it is up to God. This may surprise you, but the Bible is very clear that results are God’s business, not ours. You need to put the bible into your mind and heart by reading or listening. But the second part – the growing and learning and changing – that is what God himself will do, in his own way, and own time.

I don’t remember every meal I’ve eaten during the past month, but even so, those meals nourished my body. In the same way, the scripture I’ve read during the past month has nourished my soul. Sometimes, I can feel my soul being built up as I read. Sometimes I can’t. But I give God my time and willingness, and he provides the growth in his time and way. I read the Bible almost every day. Many days, what I read does not stay in my conscious mind for very long. But after 35 years or so of regular Bible reading, God has implanted his word deep in my soul, and he uses it to bear fruit on many occasions. How it bears fruit, and when, is up to him. My part is to give him my time, my eyes and my mind. In fact, here is some of what I’ve read during the past month:

4 [Jesus said] Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (NLT, John 15:4-5)

That little piece, which I read a few weeks ago, is bearing fruit right now in this sermon. And it isn’t the first time I’ve read it, nor the first time it has helped me and others. It reinforces what Paul says in our text for today. Our first task is to make sure we are closely connected to Jesus.  Next, we make our voices and hands and minds available to him. Finally, we leave the results up to him.

So it is with everything. Jesus want to love and bless and my family through me. I have to give him my time and my words, but the way those things bring blessings to them are up to Jesus. I have to be willing to spend time with other people Jesus has put in my life. I need to be willing to speak, or help them in practical ways. But even as I give my time and my physical actions, it is  God who uses those things to bless others. I have been saying “I,” but truthfully, this is for all of us. It isn’t just for preachers: Paul made that clear in the Philippians verse I quoted above, and Jesus made it clear in the John 15 verse I just gave you. This is how we live. We use our voices and minds, and hearts and bodies, but it is God working in and through us at the same time.

Later on in Colossians, Paul says these things:

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV, Colossians 3:17)

3 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (ESV, Colossians 3:23-24)

We work, but God works through us. One of the biggest benefits here is that we can have peace by trusting that the results are up to God. I had to study to prepare this sermon. I had to put in a fair amount of time. I had to use my mind, studying the Greek, and remembering other verses that relate to this text. I read some things written by other believers. I used my abilities as a writer to organize these thoughts, and put them down, to the best of my ability, so that others can understand what this scripture means. In a little while, I will record a spoken version of what I have written. The whole process often takes in excess of 30 hours. But now that I am done, I trust that the Lord will do what he wants with it. If it touches your heart in any way, it is because God is working with his energy. Yes, I had to give my energy to God for this, but any positive effect is God’s responsibility. I can relax and trust that He will indeed bless someone through this. I’ve done my best, out of gratitude toward Jesus. He will take it from here.

In the spoken versions of all my messages, I begin with a prayer. The prayer is usually something like this:

Holy Spirit, Thank you for your Word. I pray right now that you will use me to help us understand your Word better. Use the scripture, and what I am about to say, to bless us, to change us, to draw us closer to you. If you need to, change what I am about to say. Or, change what people hear me saying so that we all hear your voice, and are brought closer to you. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

I pray that for each message. But really all of us should pray something like as we begin each day. We are here to be used by him, and the more we are his instruments, the more we fulfill His good purposes for us.

Why don’t you let him take it from here?

WHY WOULD A LOVING GOD SEND ANYONE TO HELL?

hell

OK, the part about hell is a little ways into the message. But here’s a teaser: The essence of love is choice. For love to be real there must be an alternative to it, some other choice that could be made. It is that choice, choosing a person when you don’t have to, that is the essence of love.So what is the alternative to loving God?  What would it be like to be completely separate from the loving Creator of the universe, to be apart from every good, loving, holy thing that exists in the universe? That alternative is what we call “hell.” Hell exists precisely because God is truly loving. If there was no hell, there would be no true love.  

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To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 89

Matthew #89  Matthew 25:31-46

We considered the parable of the sheep and the goats last time. There are still a few things about the text that I would like to talk about. I realize that when we read this parable, it will naturally raise a number of questions about things that are really outside the scope of the text alone. The two that stand out to me are these: “Do good works get us into heaven?” And, “Is hell real?” Since those related questions are pretty important to the Christian faith, I want to look at them before we move on from this text.

At first reading, the passage makes it sound like people will get into heaven based entirely upon how they treat the poor and needy. As we learned last time, we need to refine that to “poor and needy fellow Christians.” Even so, that still leaves us with the problem that it looks like we get into heaven based upon our own good works. Is it true? Did Jesus really teach that we enter heaven based upon what we do?

Now, I did refer to the answer to this question when we talked about the parable of the talents. But even if you already know the answer, I think it is helpful to go through the process, so that as you do, you “practice” interpreting the Bible.

First, let’s look at a possible answer from the text itself. Consider verse 34:

34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matt 25:34, ESV2011)

We tend to read over such things quickly, but there is something startling here. The sheep are invited to enter “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This makes it sound like these people were chosen for the kingdom long before they did any good works; in fact, before they were born.

When we study difficult things in scripture, it is helpful to look at other verses that address the same subject. With that in mind, let’s consider what Paul writes in Ephesians (I’ll italicize parts, for emphasis):

4For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, 6to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4-6 HCSB)

Now, this brings up another difficult subject, that of predestination. I don’t intend to get into that just now, but my point is, Jesus said that the kingdom was prepared for his own people (the sheep) from the foundation of the world. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and passing on to us and explaining the teaching of Jesus, says the same thing. So the sheep could not be chosen, or saved, by anything they did. Their salvation was given to them first, long before they did anything. Their actions simply reflected the fact that they belonged to that kingdom.

So the kingdom was given to them by grace, not by any works they had done. But they did their good works because they already belonged to the kingdom. This reminds me of another verse from Ephesians:

8For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — 9not from works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10, HCSB)

The good works that the sheep did were prepared ahead of time for them by God, just like the Kingdom they were invited to enter.

Let’s make sure we have all of this very clear. The New Testament teaches that we cannot earn our salvation. We are forgiven for our sins, restored to a healthy, joyous relationship with God, and given eternal life, only because of the work Jesus has already done for us. We receive those gifts only by God’s grace, through trusting Jesus Christ, not through any works that we do. Here are some of the verses which teach this clearly. I’ve italicized parts of them, for emphasis:

We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:3-9, HCSB)

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom 3:27-28, HCSB)

He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2Tim 1:9-10, HCSB)

He saved us — not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7, HCSB)

Yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified. (Gal 2:16-17, ESV)

So we have these many, clear verses telling us that salvation is a gracious gift, not a reward for good works. But then we have this passage here in Matthew, and several other passages in the New Testament, that seem very concerned with how we behave:

I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal 5:16-26, HCSB)

20If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. 21And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother. (1John 4:20-21, HCSB)

14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?

15If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?

17In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. 18But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe — and they shudder.

20Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? 21Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?

22You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected. (Jas 2:14-22, HCSB)

Forgiveness and salvation are offered to us as God’s free gift in Jesus Christ. We don’t earn it in any way. But we also need to understand this: a true, living faith will result in good works. A true living faith will express itself in love for fellow-Christians. A true and living faith will fight against sin in your life.

If you continue to live in an ongoing pattern of sin, or if you do not love your fellow Jesus-followers, it may be because you do not have true faith in Jesus Christ. As James says: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Faith without works is not real faith.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that when you are a Christian, you just can’t help yourself from doing good works, and you should sit on your hands until the impulse to do good overtakes you. Good works often require self-discipline. They aren’t always enjoyable. Sometimes you must make yourself do them even when you don’t feel like it. But the point is, you do them because you love and trust Jesus, not because you think they will earn you special points with God. You do them because it is in you to do them (even if that “in you” looks like self-discipline). And it is in you to do them because your faith is real. Again, particularly in this passage of Matthew, the good works we are talking about is to love, and do good to other Christians.

Now, there is an important contrast between the fate of the sheep and that of the goats. The place of the sheep was prepared for them from the foundation of the world. But the place to which the goats were sent was not originally intended for them. Listen to what Jesus says:

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matt 25:41, ESV2011)

There is the contrast. The kingdom of God’s people has been prepared “for you” from the foundation of the world. The eternal fire was prepared “for the devil and his angels.” In other words, though people will be sent there, God intended it originally for the devil and demons, not for human beings. I want to tread lightly here, since we are touching on some very profound subjects. But I think we should understand this: God’s desire is for all people to be saved.

3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle ( I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1Tim 2:3-7, ESV2011)

Although this is God’s desire, many, many people thwart God’s desire, and he allows them to do so. Clearly, in this parable, as well as many other points throughout the gospels, Jesus thinks of hell as a real place into which some human beings will go. Just in case you aren’t sure, consider these other verses, just from the book of Matthew alone (there are more in the other gospels, also):

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:13-14, ESV2011)

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!  (Matt 5:29-30, HCSB)

Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  (Matt 10:28, HCSB)

The rest of the New Testament also affirms the teachings of Jesus about hell. Even so, recently it has become unfashionable to believe in hell. The endlessly repeated question is this: “If God is so loving, why does he send some people to hell?”

That question reveals our huge cultural misunderstanding of love. Love is not something you “fall into.” Love is not something you “can’t help.” The essence of love is choice. If you know someone has no choice but to “love” you, you do not feel loved at all. You feel loved when you know the other person has the alternative not to love you, but does anyway. Think about it: Forcing someone to love you is technically impossible. The very idea of forcing is antithetical to love. For love to be real there must be an alternative to it, some other choice that could be made. It is that choice, choosing a person when you don’t have to, that is the essence of love.

So, God doesn’t have to love us. We don’t have to love God. But what is the alternative choice to God’s love, and loving him back? What does rejecting God mean? What would it be like to be completely separate from the loving Creator of the universe, to be apart from every good, loving, holy thing that exists in the universe? That alternative is what we call “hell.”

Hell exists precisely because God is truly loving.

If there was no hell, there would be no true love.

And now we are back to the parable of the sheep and the goats. The exact difference between them is that the sheep exhibited the love of God in action to fellow Jesus-followers, and the goats did not do so. Their actions revealed their inner choices about God’s love.

Let’s make sure we have this all straight:

  • Salvation is a free, unearned gift of God, offered in the context of love.
  • Those who reject that gift, who choose not to love God, will go to hell, which the New Testament teaches is a real place, or state of being, that is utterly separated from God and all goodness.
  • Those who receive God’s salvation in faith will express it by loving their fellow Christians.
  • Those who do not love their fellow-Christians are shown, by that lack of love, to not have true faith.

 

I think we have plenty to chew on for this time!