The Pastor’s Role in Art as Worship. Reasons for Art as Worship, pt. 3

(This is part of a series. The first two installments are here and here.

Pastors have a great many tools by which they can serve, teach, and love their congregation. Preaching, prayer, writing, one on one counseling, hospitality, acts of service, leadership, administrative tasks, etc…  All exist in the toolbox of the pastor for the sake of accomplishing the equipping of the body of Christ. In many modern churches, preaching is the primary tool that is used to engage the congregation and is often supplemented by blogs, writing, and activities designed to aid in discipleship. Pastors are adept at these tools and we frequently use them in powerful and meaningful ways. In our modern church, the pulpit is used mightily and songs are frequently used to enhance the ministry of the pulpit. Yet, there is another tool that the Christian community appears to have forgotten. That is: art.

Art as worship is not new

ricardo-gomez-angel-367741-unsplashArt is not a new tool in the discipleship of Christians. Francis of Assisi, Jerome, and even Luther recognized the power of art for the discipleship and worship within the Church. Ancient churches were covered with stained glass, paintings, and statues that were used to instruct and inspire! In Christian history, art was used to magnify God through worship, teach people of His great character, and even evangelize those who do not know the truth. One cannot study art history without recognizing the dominant themes of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the day of judgment, and the creative power of God. Art was used to teach, inspire worship, heal, and even console the believer in times of turmoil. Yet, in modern churches, we have reduced the use of art to backgrounds on a screen or environmental lighting.

Art is a tool for worship

markus-spiske-378490-unsplashArt can be a profound tool that can provide a balm to the soul of longing Christian. To gaze in wonder at a piece that is designed to glory in the character and nature of God, or to wander through a poem that challenges the intellect and engages the soul, or to rejoice in the motion of a dance that tells the story of redemption can engage the soul on a level that a sermon of solid conversation cannot. It cannot because it lacks the freedom to uniquely engage the audience without explanation. A freedom found in most clearly in works of art. Two people can be moved in completely unique ways by a piece of art. One can see the beauty and majesty of God in the rendering of a landscape while another can be deeply moved by the courageous-loneliness of a tree within the field of that same landscape.

The Pastor’s responsibility to utilize art.

The pastor of the local church has a profound responsibility in discipleship of their congregation. We are commissioned to love and train the souls of people. We must use all the tools afforded to us and sometimes that means stretching ourselves beyond our ability or preferences. In order to do this, I believe pastors must re-shape the way we think about our role. We must begin to understand our role within our congregation to include: pastor as creative artist, pastor as curator, and pastor as conductor.

  1. tim-wright-506560Pastors as Creative Artist: If we are to teach our people to utilize art in worship, we must model it. You don’t have to be a good artist to model a striving to utilize art in worship. Especially in your personal worship. Draw pictures, use visual aids when you teach, read poetry, exhibit a thirst for material that challenges the intellect and soul without blandly explaining every aspect of itself. Art engages through mystery and expression! As you strive to engage the Lord beyond words, your soul will be strengthened and your ability to lead your people to worship will be enhanced. It might be difficult to do, but your congregation will benefit from the artistic/poetic soul that will result through engaging them on a level beyond their own ability to verbally express themselves. Show them that they can create worship beyond words! Strive to model art as worship through your own efforts.
  2. dev-benjamin-219172-unsplashPastor as Curator: Pastors must curate art as worship. So you can’t paint, draw, or write poetry, and rhythm and message of dance escapes your ability. If you desire to use artistic expressions to teach your people, engage your people in worship, or provide some salve to the soul of your brothers and sisters, then stretch yourself by studying and curating a volume of art that engages the soul. Study art! (Some recommending readings are at the end of this article.) Collect a compendium of poetry, artwork, and performances that exalt the name of God in powerful ways. Then, when your people are in need of inspiration, healing, or teaching, you will have more than just an exposition. You will have an aid to your exposition that will inspire them to worship beyond your ability to verbalize God’s character.
  3. radek-grzybowski-74331-unsplashPastor as Conductor: While you may not be a competent artist, you are surrounded by people who are. I say that in utter confidence, you ARE surrounded by artists. You must enable them to express themselves. You must conduct the worship of your congregation by utilizing the gifts of your people in worship. A conductor does not play every instrument. The conductor directs the combination of the various artists to make one expression. Likewise, the pastor needs to find creative ways to combine the expressions of the various members of the congregation to display Christ! Dig deep into the expressive talents of your people. Equip your people to engage their souls in worship to God! Even if you don’t understand art and it does not resonate with you. It resonates with someone in your congregation!

Pastor, you are a talker… I get it. I’m a talker too. I preach and I value preaching. I engage the Lord through expository sermons and classic hymns of the faith. I like to read weighty theological books and sermons by old dead preachers. And still, I must recognize that my congregation is not going to be solely comprised of people who respond to reading a theological treatise on the impassibility of God or the theologically rich hymns of Martin Luther. There will be some who engage beyond words. They paint, draw, ponder, dance, create, and provide a richness to worship that is valuable and necessary to the empowerment of your congregation and the engagement of a lost world. Stretch yourself! Pastor, this is not about you! Get over your hang-ups and conduct worship, curate volumes of great art, and create expressions of art for your congregation. They will be stronger Christians because of it and you will engage the lost world on a level you would otherwise fail to realize.

What do you think? Is there another role that the pastor can play to help engage the congregation in this unique way? put it in the comments.

chasin francisChasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron 

Chasing Francis is an excellent fictional story about a mega-church pastor who leaves the ministry and is forced to re-evaluate ministry in the face of changing paradigms. He goes on a journey in which he learns about Francis of Assisi and rediscovers what church is.

Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life by Makoto Fujimurafujimura

Culture care is an excellent treatise on engaging culture beyond mere words. Many bemoan the decay of culture. But we all have a responsibility to care for culture, to nurture it in ways that help people thrive. Artist Makoto Fujimura issues a call to cultural stewardship, in which we become generative and feed our culture’s soul with beauty, creativity, and generosity. We serve others as cultural custodians of the future.

ReCreated_4Re-Created: A Poetic Walk Through The Gospel of John by J. Novis Elkins

Re-Created is my own offering to exemplify the gospel through artistic expression. It is a book of poetry intended to be read alongside the gospel of John. As the reader walks through the Gospel, it is my hope that they will encounter Jesus in a fresh and powerful new way.

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his letters and papers from prison, Bonhoeffer expresses the value of art in worship. He wrote poems and hymns while imprisoned and models for us the artistic soul of a Christian in captivity. That is a soul that can never really be held captive by anything other than Christ.

piperThe Misery of Job and the Mercy of God by John Piper

This book was my first introduction to the pastor’s use of art to shepherd and teach. Piper lays out a fantastic example of how to utilize poetry and art in worship. It is worth your time and labor to engage with poetry. John Piper is not an artist. His poems are simple and easy to access. He is a pastor who models the use of art in the ministry.

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Colossians 3:1-4; Brief Thoughts

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

What one believes has a profound effect on how one lives. If someone claims to adhere to a religious system or a set of moral principles, then those principles and that system ought to be played out in everyday life. So it is no different for the Christian. If someone claims to believe in Christ, identifying Him as their savior and lord, then that person must have a lifestyle and a perspective that is influenced by that belief. Moreover, if that belief is based on a present reality, then that belief must alter the perspective of the adherent.

From the outset of chapter three, Paul challenges the faith of the reader. “If then you have been raised with Christ” is Paul’s gentle way of asking if you really believe. Because, if you really believe then what follows is a potential. However, if one has not been raised from the dead with Christ, then they cannot do what Paul is exhorting them toward in the following verses. In order to do what Paul urges Christians towards, you must first be a Christian.

Perhaps the most valuable shift a Christian can make in their life and their pursuit of holiness is in their perspective. It is easy for a man to be consumed with the affairs and activities of this life, yet in Christ, we have been given an eternal life that exists beyond our present condition. So it must be that Christians turn their focus to eternity and view their present circumstances through the lens of Christ and His resurrected status. Take note that Paul does not say that your mind ought to be set on Christ’s work of atonement or His life on earth. Paul calls you to think about eternal/heavenly things because that is where Christ is seated. Christ is currently seated next to the Creator of all things and the Lord of all Lords. He is currently on a throne… on THE throne. So, Christian, shift your perspective to that understanding.

Jesus is not fighting a war, He has already claimed victory over the darkness and is seated as King! Though there are battles that rage on this earth, He has defeated sin completely, overcome the bonds of death, settled the debt of the law, and has risen from this earthly dominion, thereby making Himself King over all things. He has resurrected from the dead and, if you have believed, you have been raised victorious over sin with Him!

In light of Christ’s victory, the Christian is to “set [their] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (v.2). This is perhaps one of the most unsettling character traits that a Christian can exemplify before the lost world. The eternal perspective of a Christian makes much of what is considered so precious on earth, worthless and vain. Further, it gives value to things that are commonly disregarded or might better be thrown off or set aside. When suffering arises in the life of a Christian, it is “momentary and light” (2 Corinthians 4:17). When a believer can make the choice between material gain or investing in things that have spiritual significance but no material reward they will choose the spiritual (Romans 15:26-27). When a believer considers their actions, they do so on a different values system than that of the world surrounding them.

The perspective of a Christian would not be possible were it not for the reality of death. Those who have trusted in Christ Jesus have put to death the things of this world. They have put to death that nature that once bound them to sin and law (c.f. Romans 6 and Galatians 5). That sinful nature that bound humanity to this earth has been done away with (Romans 6:1-11). After trusting in Christ, the life of a Christian is hidden with Christ. This is not to say that life is postponed and Christians are now in some sort of earthly purgatory. Rather, Christ has secured eternal life for those who believe and, as a result, the life of the believer is secured in Heaven with Christ. To put it simply: people on this earth cannot see heaven. The life of the believer has been secured by Christ, who is in heaven. Therefore, the proof and security of the believer are “hidden” from the eyes of the world. Now, take a moment and revel in this truth: one day Christ will return and unveil the eyes of all humanity. Life will be made manifest in the presence of our King and we will rejoice in the full revelation of life in Christ! There is much to be said about the glorious day when Christ returns, but for now, let’s set our minds on the spiritual truth of Christ’s victory over death and that coming day when He will return.

Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 2

This is part 2 of a series on art as worship. You can find the first one here.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify: I am not talking about representations or images of God in this article. That is a necessary debate, but not one I am going to undertake at this time. This blog is about utilizing artistic expression in worship. Images of God is a different subject. For a full discussion on that topic, see J.I. Packer’s wonderful work: Knowing God.

As stated in the first article of this series: modern church culture has diminished the value and beauty of art. That is not to say art does not exist in churches or is not utilized. Many churches have embraced performance arts and strive to create atmosphere through lights, worship backgrounds, and décor. However, few have sought out how to engage and lead their congregations to worship in and through art. Yet artistic expression offers the pastor/leader a powerful tool to engage and shepherd the congregation. As I see it, there are at least four different reasons art could benefit our worship.

logic-vs-emotionFirst, art has the ability to engage mind and heart simultaneously. When a person truly engages with art, the mind and heart are both engaged. Art has a special way of conveying emotion and expression that can be interpreted by the viewer. The interpretation is seldom directed, though good art delivers a clear but profound message. Artworks (both performance and static) are observed, seldom explained, and invitational. Good art invites the reader to interpret as they observe. As such, the observer must enter into engagement with the work. Indeed, the Psalmist exclaims God’s greatness through admiration for The LORD’s art in Psalm 8 (c.f. Psalm 92, 102, and 143). When we consider the “work of the hands,” our mind are called to think about what the work communicates. Our heart must search for the application of the work. We find ourselves engaging with the work and responding accordingly. We become the interpreter of the effort and thereby engage in worship.

togetherSecond, art offers an expression that is unique and can express the heart of the individual in a powerful and deeply personal manner. From the artists’ perspective, the production of art allows for individual expression of worship. All people are different. All people are given different gifts (c.f. 1 Cor. 12). A brief study of the tabernacle will reveal that there were many artisans God called and empowered to build and design the tabernacle (Exodus 36). Think about how powerful it would be if churches empowered the artists in their midst to produce art as an act of worship! We would add yet another method to worship the Triune God. We are a vast and multi-talented cast of worshipers! Worship should not be restricted only to those who sing and speak. Local churches ought to reflect the talents that God has given in praise to His name.

Third, art offers a mode of expression that engages senses differently than merely singing, speaking, or listening. In a typical church, there is music and speech. If your church is wealthy enough to add graphics and lighting, there will also be some supportive artistic expression. Graphic arts and setting the atmosphere for worship are valued to some degree in some churches. However, they are seldom considered an act of worship in themselves… only support to worship. It is my contention that churches should think deeply about the art they produce and consider going beyond simply utilizing worship backgrounds. Produce art that can hang and be observed and engaged with. There was a time when even the windows of our churches were efforts to praise God! Produce art that is performed and can inspire the soul. When someone sings, the hearer and the singer are blessed with the beauty of the music, the meaning of the words, and the joining in the song. So our hearts and minds are engaged through our ears and voice. We can do more. We can engage through sight, smell, and touch as well. Art can provide an avenue in which to do that.

DSC00132Fourth, art allows for new corporate expressions of worship that can be blended in a tangible and powerful illustration of the Christian life. When I was a student pastor I used art as an instructional tool to teach students about corporate worship. (You can read those articles here: part 1, part 2.) Painting a large canvas together is a unique way to teach about worship and to train your people to worship well. It stretches our sensibilities to engage in worship with these unique means. We serve a great and transcendent God! Our worship should stretch us. Artistic expressions that stretch us are powerful opportunities for worship.

Art is beautiful in its uniqueness and presentation in a way that no other expression could be. We should produce art as worship for the sake of praising God through beauty. Artistic expressions in our congregation ought not to be diminished but heralded. We must raise the bar for worship. There are expressions that are tremendously powerful and that can ignite the soul that are being under-utilized because we have become artistically illiterate. This can change and our congregations will be the better for it.

If you would like to examine some stretches in worship, I have a few suggestions:

natashas book

First, check out my friend Natasha Miller’s work. She has written a devotional journal that is accompanied by music. The work journal itself is beautiful and the music that accompanies it is inspiring. You can purchase her work here.

 

ReCreated_4

Second, I wrote a book of poetry through the Gospel of John. The poetry and art are my attempt to worship the Lord through artistic expression. You can find it for purchase at Amazon or at Lulu.com.

Finally, I would encourage you to examine the works of Makoto Fujimura. His art will certainly stretch you. A word of warning, his work requires that you linger and let your eyes settle on it in order to adjust to the layers and beauty of the piece.

mako4

O, Christian… Stretch! Stretch yourself in this way, you will be more powerful as a worshiper if you do.

 

Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 1

Modern western Christianity has lost a great foothold that once was a bulwark and balm of Christian discipleship. There was a time in Christian history when the Christian community’s senses were engaged and the mind was elevated to new heights because of the efforts of its adherents to worship the Lord in unique ways. joel-filipe-191372There was a day when we sought to learn of God through the arts and worship Him through artistic expression. We commissioned art, lead society into deep thoughts and engagement with the arts, and even sought to express theology through in our artistic works. Christians once lead the world in expression through the arts. Yet, modern Christians have reduced the Christian’s artistic expression to paintings with crosses in them and songs with short memorable choruses. This should not be! Art of all kinds should spill out from the heart of the Christian community.

There are many reasons to embrace artistic expression in b

oth corporate and private worship. One of the reasons is the infinite character of our God.

300px-Olsen_O_Jerusalem_small

 

  1. God is infinitely creative, therefore his people ought to strive to reflect that creativity. Consider for a moment that God created the earth from nothing and that He commanded man to expand His image across that earth. In the expansion of His image across the earth, that same creativity of God that birthed life must also be reflected in subduing the earth. Likewise, Christians ought to exemplify the creativity of God, for they are the redeemed image of God incarnate! If we claim that Christ has redeemed and changed us, we must display His creativity.
  2. God is infinitely vast, therefore there is no exhaustion of him as a motive for and source of our own creativity. O Christian, if you will try to exhaust the character of God, you will find yourself creating art and beauty that exceeds the scope of understanding. Art has a unique way of simultaneously expanding a mystery and providing intricacy. Unlike almost every other form of expression, artistic works do not narrow the field of view but expand it. Thus, we create art, not to try to narrow our understanding of God, but to expand it. As the expression of worship grows and develops, so our view and understanding of God grows.
  3. God is infinitely expressive, therefore those who claim to know Him ought to create expressions of infinite variety. If we are God’s people, then our communities should produce a variety of worshipful expressions. Poetry, dance, paintings, graphic arts, speeches, music, and anything else imaginable ought to be manifest in the worship of believers, be it corporate or individual. God created you to be His image. That image was marred in the fall. Now, in Jesus, He is re-creating you (Col. 3:9-10). So, be His image bearers and express His character in infinite methodologies.
  4. God is infinitely distinctive, therefore the expression of His glory and character must be infinitely unique. There is never a sunset repeated. There is never a moment the exact same. There is never a cloud that is perfectly mirrored in another. God produces a unique product! Further, there is no copy of Him. There is no other God like Him. Even when someone attempts to copy, mirror, or represent God, the effort is always wholly inadequate. God cannot be replicated, He is too unique and the more we get to know Him, the more distinctive He becomes. He is like none other! Therefore, when we are producing art in praise of the most creative, vast, expressive, and unique being, we must be unique. Worship must be distinctive. Artistic expressions allow for that distinct nature in a way that no other form of expression can.

tim-wright-506560There is much more to say about The Infinite God. What other infinite qualities would you argue for? Put it in the comments. Our communities must recapture the arts. For too long the arts have been the domain of the secular world, it is time we make some waves and produce art for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ! So, what are you waiting for? Go grab a sketch pad, notebook, musical instrument, dance shoes, or computer and create! Express praise to God through the arts.

I have contributed some to this effort most recently by producing a book of sketches and poetry. You can check it out here.

If you’re interested, you can purchase the book

here: Lulu.com  (Use promo code: BOOKSHIP18 for 10 percent off plus free shipping)

or here: Amazon.com

 

 

Colossians 2:20-23; Brief Thoughts

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

A Christian’s silence in exemplifying and proclaiming the gospel is one of the most profound indications that something is wrong. Christians are the witness of Christ. By definition, witnesses are not silent precisely because they testify to something. A witness proclaims something… a Christian witness proclaims Christ. Christ commissions Christians to be His witnesses to the whole earth (Acts 1:8). Therefore, when a believer is silent in the face of a dying world, there is something dreadfully wrong.

In Psalm 32, David explains the war of a believer against sin. First, David recognizes the forgiveness of God and then he acknowledges his pain in attempting to keep silent and finally, he confesses his sin. It is this silence that is so terrifying. It is a silence that burns and burdens the heart of a Christian. It is silence that hinders the gospel proclamation.

What is it that causes this silence? The adversary attempts to lie and create subterfuge and sabotage the Christian’s life by laying upon them guilt for that which has been forgiven. The adversary silences Christians by engaging them in excess. Either the excess of license or the excess of legalism. Here in Colossians 2:16-23, Paul warns us not to allow the adversary to lay upon us the excess of legalism. He recognizes this legalistic attempt to self-righteousness will inevitably silence the voice of worship so necessary to the gospel life. Make no mistake, Christian, the adversary is lying. Anytime a demand is placed upon you as a requirement for your faith, it is a lie. When someone attempts to hold over you religious practice as a necessity to be saved or a requirement for Christian living, they are attempting to force you into self-righteousness and works based salvation. Do not let the adversary hold these things over you.

Christians hold fast to Christ because they have died with Him. In Romans 7:1-6 Paul explains that man, before Christ, is bound to sin by marriage to the law. This sinful flesh that characterizes every person ties man to the law and thereby condemns man. Yet, in Christ, your flesh has died and the contract that bound you to the law is nullified in your death with Christ. If you have believed in Christ, you are no longer bound to the law. In Christ, believers have been given victory over the law and have been rescued from their sin. This is true. Christians must live as though it is true.

Paul poses the question, “why?” If it is true that you are no longer bound to the law, then why do you submit to legalistic nonsense. Consider for a moment the gravity of that question. It is as if Paul is asking: if you have been given the keys to a car, why do you continue to push it from the rear? The effort and labor have the appearance of holiness, but the car does not move. Further, the Christian who refuses to throw off self-righteous legalism looks incredibly holy. Indeed, Paul acknowledges that “these have an appearance of wisdom” (Colossians 2:23). However, this pursuit of self-righteous religion bears no fruit. There is no victory over sin by laying religious activity on top of faith. Religious activity is not what overcomes sin. Only devotion to Christ and trust in the gospel can do that.

Let us no longer be silent in acquiescence to the lies of the enemy. Let us speak boldly that Christ has conquered our sin and freed us from the law of sin and death. Let us live a life of holy, devoted worship that proclaims the righteousness of Christ over our own self-exultant efforts. Speak, dear Christian! Shout and roar the call of the gospel! Do not let the adversary accuse you and call you unworthy by some religious standard! You speak because Christ has died, not because you have merited some worth! You are a warrior in the Kingdom of God. So live like it!

Colossians 2:16-19; Brief Thoughts

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Those who would accuse the Christian have been sufficiently disarmed. The letter of the law that could once be used to incriminate is now rendered useless in the condemnation of Christians. That Law which once bound the soul to sin and laid such guilt upon the human disposition is now fulfilled in Jesus so that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). If God no longer lays the judgment of the law upon believers, then no one else has the authority to do so. Because the law can no longer hold the believer in the chains of guilt, the Christian can no longer be held to religious requirements for righteousness. Yet, the disarmed adversary will attempt to bind the believer to the false worship of legalism. So it will be that all true believers will at some point encounter someone who argues that they are to be enslaved to a religious practice.

The adversary, having been made impotent, will inevitably attempt to use subterfuge in the effort to destroy a healthy Christian. Subtle lies and distractions are the only weapons afforded in the arsenal of the enemy of Christ. Though the people who submit to such wicked devices and sinful surrender are confident that their efforts will be rewarded, it is a tragic truth that all their efforts to self-made-righteousness will fall far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Convinced of the enemy’s lies, the people who fail to grasp the Grace of God in Jesus Christ will attempt to hold all of Chrysostom to their own faulty convictions. So Paul admonishes, do not let them. These religious practices that claim to provide righteousness are false and do not deserve the attention and devotion of Christians.

On a side note: not all religious practices are wicked. However, whenever a religious practice is presented as a requirement for righteousness or fellowship, then that practice becomes legalistic falsehood. It is not wrong to observe a feast or festival. It is wrong to require that observance. Christians are not required to adhere to a system of holiness. Christians strive to be holy, not because it is required, but because they find their delight in holiness.

Religious practices, ordinances, and sacraments (named as such depending on your denominational affiliation) are merely a shadow of the greater reality that is Christ. The substance of faith and the joy of life is secured in Jesus and His work on the cross. Further, the joy of the disciple is found in an ever-deepening pursuit of the knowledge of God. The greatest joy for a believer is knowing and delighting in the presence of God. It is for this reason that Christians can worship with clarity. Christians who recognize that there is a deeper truth within these practices are in the fortunate position that permits them to worship with a greater joy and richer depth. Just as the author of Hebrews explains in Hebrews 8-10, the religious activities that we engage in are not supposed to be the end goal. Rather, these activities are supposed to point us to the deeper reality of Jesus Christ, the Righteous. Understanding this truth can bring meaning to worship and delight to what might otherwise seem rote and forced repetition.

Christians are marked by a tenacious grasping hold of Christ and His character. It is for this reason that Paul exhorts the believers at Colossae this way. No one can stand in judgment or a believer. Further, no one can disqualify a believer because they are holding fast to Christ.

In the modern church, there is a trend towards self-inflated spirituality. Pastors claim authority based on position and assert some sort of mystical power because they are “pastor.” Some denominations train their people to claim that they are speaking the Word of God, encouraging thoughts and attitudes that lead them to address people with obscure prophecies. Even more, engage their congregation by appealing to their emotions and asking them to seek with their hearts. Scripture is the authority among believers. There is no other authority by which one can measure their life. So, when someone attempts to hold another authority above God’s word, that person should be disregarded and called to repent and trust in Christ.

Colossians 2:13-15; Brief thoughts

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

The person who becomes a believer in Jesus Christ has exchanged the death of this world for life. When a person is born, they are born enslaved to the flesh. The flesh is that nature that is compelled to sin and serve its own affections. It is a nature that can do nothing but sin. This is a nature that must be cut away and destroyed. According to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way to accomplish such a surgical necessity within the heart is through faith in His atoning work on the cross. Prior to faith, every person is in bondage to sin through their flesh. After faith in Jesus, the believer is given a new nature and the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. They need no longer live enslaved to their sins. They are free.

It is important for Christians to remember the depth from which God has drawn them. The believer did not start their journey of faith from a sure footing that they established by their own works. The believer was dead. Consider the implications of that for a moment. Dead. The believer was dead. Not sick, not tired, and certainly not simply misguided. The believer was dead in trespasses, enslaved to sin, and incapable of life. Jesus did not merely offer salvation, but He actually brought life to someone who was dead. A dead person cannot resurrect themselves. They cannot make decisions. They cannot do anything, much less that which is right. A dead person is not capable of good. A dead person is dead.

Where is boasting in this? It is excluded. When a believer truly comprehends that he or she was incapable of life apart from Christ, then there is no judgment cast upon the failures of others. When one can recognize that all people are dead and that there is no hope apart from the work Christ accomplishes, then there is true sympathy and understanding towards the struggles of others. The non-believer is dead. I was once dead too. If I truly grasp this, then there is no judgmental anger towards the non-believer, only pity. For such once was I.

God has given life to dead men in Christ’s resurrection. When Christ was resurrected, God redeemed and rescued those who believe. He took the punishment for sin and laid it on Christ, canceling the debt owed to the law. In Romans 3:21-26, Paul illuminates this profound truth by explaining that God is justified in Jesus’ death. That is to say, Christ Jesus is the reason that God is able to pass over your sins. Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law by serving as the atoning sacrifice for your sin. You have only to believe and trust in that righteousness.

The debt that was laid upon man, because of sin, is canceled in Jesus. The law demanded that your soul be forfeit for the sake of righteousness of God. But God, in His mercy, provided a way for His righteousness to be revealed through Jesus Christ! How tremendous! God set the requirements of the law aside by laying them on Jesus.

In the death of Jesus, God disarmed the enemy! Sin has no claim on the Christian. If you have believed in Jesus Christ, you are no longer enslaved to sin. Indeed, the adversary and rulers of darkness have been disarmed. Think about that for a moment. The enemy has no weapons with which to accuse you. The demands of the law have been answered. The only thing the adversary can do is lie and perjure himself before the court. Just as the high priest Joshua stood before the Lord, accused by Satan, so you stand before the Lord with the assurance that Jesus stands beside us and replaces our filthy rags with His own righteousness (Zechariah 3)! “For who can raise a charge against God’s elect!? It is God who justifies!” (Romans 8:33, c.f. Romans 8:31-39). The enemy is disarmed because of Jesus. God has claimed the victory. O Christian, you are on the winning side! He is faithful and He has won the battle. You have only to trust and learn to walk in Him!