Tag Archives: Holy

Galatians 3:15-18 pt. 1; Brief Thoughts

15To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Old Testament covenants were permanent. They were not simply laid in place until something else came along. Covenants were not easily amended and they were certainly not annulled once they had been confirmed or applied.[1] When one party made a covenant with another, the covenant was confirmed by an action. In the covenant between Johnathan and David, Johnathan confirms the covenant by giving David his armor and robe (1 Sam 18:3-4). The Elders of Hebron confirmed their covenant with David by anointing him with oil (2 Sam 5:3). When God makes His covenant with Noah, he hangs floods the earth to confirm it and then hangs His bow in the sky (Gen. 6 and Gen. 9:8-17)! Further, the nature of the covenant was secured by the character of the strongest party involve. Pause for a moment and consider the implications of God’s character on the security of the covenants He has made. There is no greater name by which a promise can be secure. The God who holds all things together has covenanted with you. The God in whom we live and move and have our being has come down from Heaven and covenanted with people. There is no greater character by which your promises are secure.

The specific covenant Paul references here in this passage is found in Genesis 12. Abram is called by God to go to a new land that God will show him. He is told that God will give his offspring that land and Abram builds an altar in worship to God for the promise (Gen 12:4-7). Three chapters later, God ratifies his covenant with Abram through one of the most beautiful symbols of all Scripture. He has Abram kill and cut in half multiple animals and then line them up with a path through the middle of the split animals. Then Abram has a vision/dream of a torch and smoking pot going through the two halves of the animals.

In the vision, God is represented by the torch and the smoking pot. Abram is watching from the side. In essence, God establishes that He alone is the keeper of the covenant. In this act, God declares if either party breaks the covenant, may He be torn in two like these animals. And so, when humanity breaks the covenant with God, Jesus is rent in two in order to pay the price of the covenant! The ratification of the covenant of Abram is fulfilled and completed in Jesus. God maintains the covenant with those who have faith by dying for us. Oh What a great God who holds us together and lays down His life for our salvation!

So this is the covenant that Paul references in Galatians 3. This is separate from the covenant of Circumcision given to the Jewish people in Genesis 17. That covenant is a covenant based on the behavior of the Jewish people. It requires adherence to the law of God. God is still gracious and offers mercy through the law, but there is no righteousness gained through law. The Law serves only to show man’s sin. The only way to be righteous is to trust in Christ, who tore Himself in two for your salvation! Repent from your sin and confess to Christ that you need Him to save you! The blessing of Abraham is secure for those who have faith in the work of Jesus Christ – The Offspring! He owns the land of salvation! So, when we trust in Christ, we become “fellow heirs” with Jesus and receive the promise of salvation and presence with God (Eph. 3:6; c.f. Romans 8:16-17).

 

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Covenant. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 531). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Galatians 1:8-9; Brief thoughts

8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

The Gospel is simple. The Gospel is Jesus, come to earth, died for sins, rose up conquering death, and is coming back. It can be reduced to one profound and yet simple statement: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. The profundity is discovered as the words are unpacked. The simplicity is that there is nothing else to do than believe this. If you could simply believe that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, then you could have eternal life. Not merely life after this physical life, but much more! You can have life where death has reigned. Where the requirements of law and the bondage of sinfulness have restricted your own ability to love, you could have life and freedom from the dictates of the adversary. You could be free if you simply believe the gospel.

The gospel preached by Paul and his fellow-laborers to the Galatians churches was one of such magnificent simplicity. It requires nothing and costs everything. It is freedom and yet, if truly believe it, results in surrendering everything. Everything. All your good deeds and self-righteousness. All your worldly desires and self-interest. Everything. The gospel demands nothing, yet we are compelled to give everything out of a deep sense that joy is found in the surrender. So Paul called the Galatians to leave their legalism, their paganism, and their idolatrous attempts to find righteousness on their own. Yet, someone has come to teach them that they must submit again to a yoke of slavery to the law. These vile false teachers have taken the gospel and added the clause: you must obey the law. So their message became, in order to follow Christ you had to become Jewish first. They were teaching that one must be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be saved by Christ.

In righteous fury, Paul lovingly admonishes the Galatian believers telling them that anyone who would pervert the gospel ought to be cut off from the Kingdom of God. He uses the Greek word ‘Anathema’ meaning “cursed, cut-off,” or “banned from the camp.” This word implies damnation. The perversion of the gospel is so severe that it demands hell as punishment. Consider this illustration: You have labored for years to provide for your children. In love, you labored before their birth to give them everything they would need to live a lavish and comfortable life. You built them a home with a never-ending supply of food and delights. You serve them and raise them to see the wonderful gifts that you have for them. Then they come along and add locks on all the cabinets and refrigerator. They put requirements on their younger siblings. Requirements you did not impose. They say, “if you want to have Daddy’s love you must obey these rules that He did not impose and yet to which we hold.” Consider the gravity of such an offense. They have stolen your love for your children and turned it into something unrecognizable. They have perverted your love. So it is with the gospel and the Galatians. They have listened to a gospel that added locks to the open door. Paul is shattering the locks in this letter.

Take note of some specifics with regard to Paul’s words. Even if another gospel is proclaimed from heaven, it is not to be received! The power of the cross is so great that even the Heavens cannot proclaim another gospel. No angel, no heavenly being can change what God has done. Jesus is Savior and Lord and none can take that from Him. Second, not even Paul can change the gospel message. If Paul came and said, “that’s what I said, but now I’ve changed my mind,” then Paul would be wrong. Stick to the gospel that was taught at the beginning! Finally, if the new message contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is to be rejected.

Three simple ways to recognize false gospels.

  1. Read the Bible and compare what you hear to what it says. Take the Bible for what it says and test all things by what it says (be like the Bereans, Acts 17:11).
  2. If the gospel message taught does not confess Jesus Christ came in the flesh and literally died and rose again, it is a false gospel (c.f. 1 John 4:1-6).
  3. If the gospel message is not evidenced by a life of love, then it is not the gospel (c.f. John 13:34-35).

There are certainly other ways to ensure that you will not be blown off course by false teaching, but none are so definite as knowing the scripture.

 

Galatians 1:1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle – not from me nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead – 2and all the brothers who are with me.

All the goodness and efforts of man cannot compare with the holiness of God and God’s own work. No amount of human strength can rescue the sinful man from their own disposition. No about of effort can redeem a man’s heart or rescue a man’s soul from death. Yet, the very word of God brings life. The Lord created the world with a word and brings life to the dead through very same means. God speaks, we breathe – that’s how it works.

Confronted by a leagalistic heresy, a mass of well-intentioned church people, and a culture that demanded religious observance and public piety, Paul wrote the church in Galatia about the miraculous and profound nature of salvation. There is no power that can free a man, no law that can restore a man to right relationship with God, only the gospel of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross can rescue mankind. One must trust Him for salvation. Thus, Paul begins his message to the Galatians by asserting his authority and message are from Jesus, not man nor any work of man.

Paul is an apostle. The word apostle means one who is sent. Paul has been sent by God with a message from God. He does not simply commend a message from God or reference a message from God. Rather, he brings the message from God. The words that proceed from the pen of Paul are words of tremendous conviction and are of a confrontational nature. Paul establishes, before engaging in the nuances of the Christian life, that this message comes from Jesus. He brings the word of the Lord to bare on the conscience of the reader.

Further, Paul’s apostleship did not come from his own ambition or from the urging of other men. Indeed, Paul’s original ambition was to remove every semblance of Christianity from the earth (Acts. 7:58-8:3). His own ambition was no longer a viable part of his life. He had surrendered his rights to promotion and self-exaltation in effort to see the gospel advance. Likewise, there were not many who believed that Paul should be in ministry. His history of persecution over the church was not lauded with tremendous zeal for him to begin Christian ministry. Indeed, it is much more likely that many were wary of his ministry given his history. Ananias, the first Christian to reach out to Paul even objected to the Lord’s command to go to Paul saying, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much even he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13) Yet, the Lord saw fit to redeem and call Paul an apostle. No committee or vote was held, no church ordination, no seminary degree was required, only God’s calling an commission were present. Paul’s apostleship was unique from all the others. He was commissioned by Christ on a road and the Holy Spirit in the desert (c.f. Acts 9).

Paul was made an apostle through Jesus Christ. He did not merit the apostleship. He did not earn it through years of study. He was made an apostle through the work and effort of Jesus Christ and Christ alone. Note the name by which Paul calls Jesus – Jesus Christ. He is the Christ. The one whom the law points all mankind. The Savior. The bringer of freedom. The righteousness of God and salvation for all who believe. The Christ! The anointed one in whom freedom and Sabbath is found! Paul’s apostleship comes from this Lord. This King who rules over all with the word of grace and life. Further, it is not simply through Jesus, but also with the authority of God, the one who brings resurrection and life. Paul’s apostleship comes from the very seat of life and creation. The very hand that wrote the law on tablets of stone and lead the Israelites through the wilderness into the promised land is the same One who gave Paul the commission of “apostle!”

Consider the power of such an authority. Is there a greater authority available? Is there a power stronger than the one who can defy death? Is there a strength greater? No… no there is not. The mission and authority by which Paul writes is unparalleled.

Finally, Paul does not write in a vacuum. He writes with the witness  of the community of grace. He calls to a community within the context of a community of faith that loves him well. Consider the focus of this letter – the law verses grace. Where law is overcome by grace, community thrives. In a community of grace, the apostleship of all Christians is recognized and self-inflated piety dissipates into nothingness because Christ has covered all who trust in Him.

This letter to the Galatians is much more than just a commentary on the Law. It is about living in grace. Christ has freed us from the Law. He has freed us from sin and death and enabled us to live in right relationship with Him and also with each other. This repaired relationship is the context by which Paul writes.

Who are the people with Paul? Colossians 4:14; Brief thoughts about Luke and Demas

14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.

Who are these people?

Luke – (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24.)

Luke is often a misunderstood character in church history because of the position he holds as “physician.” In modern times, physicians are men of extreme education who are venerated as highly skilled purveyors of life. However, in the first century, physicians were not such highly respected men. Often slaves served as physicians and the designation as “doctor” bore little more significance than asserting a special responsibility within a master’s household. Some have speculated that Luke might have been a freed slave that joined Paul on his missionary journeys after his master set him free. It is common to speculate that Theophilus, the one to whom Acts is written, may have been Luke’s master. However, fascinating these speculations, nothing can be proved as there is nothing specifically stated in Church history or the Bible.

As a physician, Luke serves as the prototype for medical missions. Moreover, he shows the value of maintaining a physician in the service of missions for the sake of tending to Paul’s ailments. As aforementioned, the medical profession during the first century was not a highly regarded field. Often scorned as useless in favor of idolatry, doctors were considered a rejection of the cultic practices of common Roman religion. While there were some places where physicians were employed alongside temple practices, most were rejected as superfluous in favor of the gods. The fact that Luke is used by God in such a tremendous capacity as Paul’s traveling companion is a rejection of the power of idolatry.

Imagine for a moment: you enter a city and find a temple of idol worship that claims to heal the sick through observance of ritual sacrifice. People are sick and are clamoring for their false gods to answer their pleas. You happen to have a physician who knows that the answer is for them to eat some fruit, take a particular herb, and drink lots of water. People begin to get better as a result of the physician’s advice and now you have an open door to the gospel. The education and talents of a man rejected by the common practices of the world are thereby used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven!

Further, there is no doubt that Luke utilized his education to write both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. His ability to write served to record the history of the early church and the story of Jesus. His ability as a physician, while not specifically stated, was certainly used to keep Paul and his companions healthy, and the surrendering of his gifts to God was used as a part of His mission. God used a talent often rejected by the culture of the time, to advance His kingdom.

Luke remained with Paul through Paul’s imprisonment. His affection for Paul as a brother is evident in his presence with him in Philemon 24 and in 2 Timothy 4:11. While everyone else left Paul in prison, Luke remained. He was devoted to Paul. More than that, He was devoted to the gospel work.

Demas – (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:9-10, Philemon 24)

Demas is referred to in Philemon as a “fellow worker.” He was part of the cohort of Paul that traveled and served with him. However, somewhere between the writing of Philemon and 2 Timothy, Demas fell “in love with this present world.” No matter the devotion he once showed, his faith did not prove to be genuine. It is valuable to recognize that Demas’ affections were for “this present world.” Demas lacked an eternal perspective and thought it better to achieve in this life rather than the next. Let this serve as a warning. Strive to maintain an eternal perspective, lest you fall away for the affections of this life.

Consider the contrast between Luke and Demas for a moment. Both begin faithfully working alongside Paul. Luke’s life is turned upsidedown and radically changed by the gospel. (Especially if he was a slave as many speculate.) Demas’ ventures into gospel ministry for a time but refuses to let it alter his measure of value. One surrenders everything in this life for the sake of following a gospel call that will inevitably land him in prison or end in death. The other abandons the glory of heaven for the glory of this life. Which one are you? Demas or Luke?

Colossians 4:9-11; Brief Thoughts

and with [Tychicus], Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus.[1] These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

Who are these people with Paul?

Onesimus – (Philemon 8-22).

Onesimus was a runaway slave who became a believer in Jesus and connected with Paul. In his letter to Philemon, Paul explains that Onesimus had become useful to the gospel witness and he pleads with Philemon to take Onesimus back as a brother and not a servant. Paul calls Onesimus “faithful and beloved,” the very same descriptors of Tychicus. These brothers are entrusted to deliver the message of God to the Colossians.

Consider for a moment that a former slave who has been transformed by the gospel  is delivering the message of Colossians. This letter is been focused on discovering the Christian’s new identity as it is in Christ. It is quite appropriate that a man who has had such a dramatic shift from slavery to freedom is responsible for delivering a message that speaks of a dramatic shift from slavery in sin to freedom in Christ. Onesimus is a living analogy for salvation.

Aristarchus (Acts 19:29, 20:4, 27:2, and Philemon 1:24)

A Macedonian believer, Aristarchus was one of Paul’s “companions in travel” (Acts 19:29). He was present at the riot in Ephesus and spent significant time with Paul in Ephesus. In the midst of extreme danger, Aristarchus remained faithful to stand by Paul. Further, exemplifying the Macedonian spirit, Aristarchus has given all of himself to the mission of God. He has sacrificed his own comfort and position by following the Lord even to prison. This man is a bold follower of Christ who stands by Paul in some of the most difficult circumstances. Even in this letter, he is a “fellow prisoner.” What a great encouragement to have brothers such as Aristarchus who will serve even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Mark (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 15:37-39, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24, 1 Peter 5:13)

John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, was greatly involved in the ministry of the early church. He was a member of Paul’s missionary cohort early on, until he fell sick and had to return home. He and Barnabas worked to advance the Gospel apart from Paul for a time before they were evidently reunited at Paul’s request in 2 Timothy. Mark’s own journey was one of transformation. He went from being a nuisance to being a valuable part of the mission of God. In his first attempt to live on mission, he was overcome with sickness and then rejected by the leader of the mission. Yet, he persisted and grew as a disciple, faithfully proclaiming the gospel when given the opportunity. So, over time, he is transformed from the sickly and annoying boy that Paul does not want to bother with to being one whose presence is requested because he is “useful” (2 Tim. 4:11).

So it is with many Christians. As we grow in the Lord we often find the journey to becoming useful to be a long and rather slow process. Most Christians are more akin to John Mark than Paul. We seldom have a Damascus road experience that changes us overnight. Most of us must walk through failures and successes and learn slowly. Although we have been changed in a moment, we still must grow into that change as Mark grew.

Jesus called Justice (Only mentioned in Colossians.)

This brother was among the faithful cohort of Paul. We know little about him because he is only mentioned in this one verse of Colossians. We know that he is with Paul as he writes Colossians. We know that he was Jewish (that is what “among the circumcision” means). And we know that he was involved enough to deserve mention in the letter. Beyond that, we can only know Justus through his relationship to the others.

Identifying these men as “among the circumcision” draws the mind of the hearer to the hostile circumcision party that is mentioned throughout Acts. The church at Colossae would have been well aware of the adversarial nature of the Jews. They would have noticed how Paul was frequently followed by wealthy Jewish leaders who wanted to push the gospel message out of the cities of Asia Minor. In his identification of these brothers as “among the circumcision” Paul is sharing a victory with the church! The gospel has converted and transformed even those who were adversarial to it!  The transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends all boundaries. Even the most antagonistic can be transformed to become an encouragement and a fellow worker in the Kingdom of God!

[1] There are some other “Justus” mentioned in Acts. They are not the same as the Justus mentioned here. Both the names Jesus and Justus were common names among Jewish people in the first century and as a result it is easy to conflate the various men with each other.

Colossians 3:13, Brief Thoughts

13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

The final three marks of the new nature of a Christian listed in verses 12-14 are identified as longsuffering, forgiveness, and love (in verse 14, to be considered in the next post).

The seventh character trait Paul exhorts Christians to is that of long-suffering. The Christian community ought to be the most welcoming and hospitable group that one can identify with. As believers, Christians have experienced a forgiveness that transcends all reason. They have been forgiven an offense that is so great as to warrant eternal damnation. Further, they were not seeking to be forgiven, nor acknowledging their need for forgiveness (Rom. 3:9-20). Instead, it was lavished upon them by the grace of God (1 John 3:1). In this forgiven state, Christians must recognize that they were in no way better or wiser than another person. Rather, they were enemies of God whom God bore with great patience until the day of their repentance (C.f. Rom. 5:8 and 2 Peter 3:19). In this recognition, there is no one that Christians are incapable of “bearing with.”

Accompanying the long-suffering of a Christian community is forgiveness. True believers forgive. As mentioned with long-suffering, Christians forgive much because they have been forgiven much. Jesus explains that one who recognizes the depth of forgiveness they have received will lavish love and forgiveness upon others because they have experienced it themselves (Luke 7:47). Therefore, a lack of forgiveness might serve as a test of the authenticity of one’s faith. Christians forgive, it is part of their nature to do so.

Living in community together guarantees that there will be conflict. When human beings gather together, whether, for worship, labor, or leisure, there will inevitably be opportunity for sin and subsequent complaint against others within the community. Though in an ideal situation, no one will feel the need to complain against another brother or sister, we live in a sinful world in which ideal situations do not truly exist. When one person is upset by another, there is struggle and frustration. However, God has renewed the spirit of Christians and given them new natures from which Christians can love each other in spite of sinful desires that cause quarrels (James 4). So, Christians ought to be marked by a forgiveness that transcends their own need to be right or their need to fulfill their own desires.

This overcoming of desires in favor of forgiveness is only achievable when the community realizes that God has empowered every individual to forgive the way Christ has forgiven. Consider for a moment what extent of love and forgiveness that Christ has poured out upon those who believe. The eternal Christ made Himself mortal and put on human frailty (Philippians 2:1-11). He lowered Himself from exalted heights to love a people who despise and reject Him (John 13). He lives perfectly, forgives extravagantly, serves humbly, and surrenders Himself to the charges of the wicked, in order to save the lowly. After accomplishing all of that, He grants those who believe in Him a new nature that is clean and then consistently renews that nature after His own image until He completes it (Col. 3:9-10 and Philippians 1:6). This is why Christians must forgive – they have been forgiven.

It is not enough for a Christian to forgive alone. They must forgive in the same way Christ forgave. A Christian’s forgiveness must transcend the simplistic forgiveness that the world affords. The forgiveness of the world is transactional – I’ll forgive A if B is done. The forgiveness of Christ says I’ll forgive A no matter what. The forgiveness of Christ does not complain about past grievances or hold a record of wrongs. The forgiveness of Christ separates the sin from the person as far as east from west. This is a mark of Christianity – the Christian forgives with love. If someone claims Christ, but cannot forgive in this way, then that person needs to examine themselves to see if they really know Christ, for it is by the fruit of our hearts that we testify that He has changed us and that He is our Lord.

Colossians 3:9-11; Brief thoughts

9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

The most damaging subterfuge a Christian can suffer is that of self-deception. When a true follower of Christ agrees with a lie, that believer denies the power of their own identity as granted by Christ. In that denial, Christians fail to exercise their God-given strength and power to overcome sins. The acceptance of falsehood brings further damage when the Christian begins to believe deceptions that are about their identity. One of the greatest attacks of the adversary is the attack on the Christian’s victorious nature.

For many Christians, the identity that has been established for them through the work and efforts of Christ has been masked and held captive by an erroneous belief that their “old self” or “sin nature” or “flesh” has some authority or ability to conquer them. However, when confronted with these verses in Colossians, Christians are empowered to trust in the power of Christ within them!

In order for truth to reign as truth in the life of a Christian community, it must be ever present on the lips and in the hearts of believers. This is why Paul admonishes us not to lie. The one who has trusted Christ has removed the garment of the old self. The word for put off indicates a removal as if stripping off clothing. So here, one who has believed in Christ Jesus has taken off the old and has dressed in the new. It is important to recognize the tenses used in this passage. The putting off of the old is a past tense verb that focuses on a single time action.[1] So the Christian has “put off” the old self and has dressed in the new nature that has been given to them in Christ Jesus. This changing of one’s spiritual clothing occurs when Christ has redeemed the Christian. Indeed, it is part of the justification of a believer. (Ongoing sanctification is present at the end of verse 10, we will address that below.)

Someone will object at this point, “But if I have been given a new nature, why do I still struggle with sin?!” This question presupposes that one requires an “old self” in order for sin to be present. Consider for a moment the state of our first patriarch, Adam. Adam need not have a sinful disposition to rebel against God’s command. He had no need for original sin to derive sins origination in himself. He simply volitionally chose to sin. So it is with one who has been given a new nature. We sin because we choose to do so. If it were not so, then why would Paul assert that this new nature is “being renewed?” Being renewed is a present tense passive verb, indicating a continuous action being done from an external source. If a sinful nature were required for sin to exist, then the new nature would not need continuous renewing. Yet, Paul’s reminder is that sin is still present in this world and therefore still effects a redeemed Christian but, not in the same manner with which it used to rule over that Christian. Rather, now the Christian is capable of overcoming sin! Praise the Lord!

Christians are given a new nature that they must now learn to live in. Much like the fairy tails in which a prince or princess is plucked from the position of a pauper and thrust into a royal court, a Christian must learn to live in the royal court of God’s majesty. The one who was once a slave must now learn to live as one who has been made free. The adjustment to freedom from sin takes time. This is called sanctification and it provides the evidence of salvation. Once one has been justified in Christ and the old clothes have been cast off, now the believer must learn to live in their freedom, pursuing the fulfillment of God’s image on this earth!

What a joy to be free from sin and to know that we have been set free! We have been set free! Because of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection, we have been set free from sin and are made new! Do not believe the lie that you are still bound! You are free.

In this freedom, all worldly definitions of your identity fall by the side. All definitions that would confine you to this life are removed. Indeed, your nature is no longer bound to cultural identities or monikers of society. Your identity is found in Christ and in Christ alone. So, Christians regard each other as family, no matter the background or history. Christians are united in the restoration of the image of God within their souls! What a freeing delight to ponder. No matter what your background or difficulty may be, you’ve been granted freedom in Christ Jesus to live as the image of God on this earth, unhindered by any nature, history, cultural baggage, or generational sin. You have been set free in Christ Jesus, live like it!

[1] This is called an aorist tense in Greek. The aorist tense can be used rather loosely in translation, however, it typically indicates a past tense action that happened once. The emphasis of an aorist verb is most often on a single time action.

Featured image Photo by Paweł Furman on Unsplash

Colossians 3:5; Brief thoughts

5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Throughout his letters, Paul issues instructions pertaining to the Christian life. When modern readers read these instructions, our natural tendency is to read them as corrective commands (e.g. “stop doing what you are doing and do this instead!”). It is easy for the reader to understand these instructions as commands to be fulfilled or something that must be corrected. After all, they are instructions to the Christian life. Yet, all of Paul’s instructions are based on a previously established theological truth about the person he is addressing. These instructions, therefore, are better understood as exhortations or encouragements rather than corrective commands. Paul is not scolding the reader for failing to live up to some sort of law. Rather, Paul is encouraging the believers to live a life that matches the reality of who they are in Christ.

This particular exhortation begins with the encouragement to “put to death.” The word here indicates a complete cessation of activity with regard to that which is “earthly” (v.5). Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Cost of Discipleship. London: SCM Press, 2001 p44). The Christian life is one of complete surrender to the will and work of Christ. It is an exchange of kingdoms. Believers have traded the glory of this earth for the glory of Heaven. In such an exchange, the kingdom of earth is thrown off for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. So Paul calls the believer to put to death the things that are earthly. Notice there is no softening of this exhortation. He does not say, try to put to death or strive to put to death. No, Paul says “put to death.” This imperative drives the point that Christian is to completely cut off the influence of these earthly things. These earthly things have no place in the Christian life (Ephesians 5:3). They are to be cut off and destroyed. The mind of the Christian and the life of the Christian is focused on Heavenly truths and must have no association with these lower earthly things.

It is the tragedy of modern Christian culture that there is little that differentiates the world from the church. When Christians are supposed to be pointing people toward a radical heavenly mindset, the best that many modern churches offer is simplistic moralism. There is little call to holiness in our pulpits and seldom a demand to turn away from earthly things. Yet, Paul’s call for a heavenly mindset is immediately followed by the complement of rejection of earthly things. Christian, we cannot serve in two worlds. We must recognize that we are “resident aliens” on this earth and we do not and cannot fit into this world’s passions and pleasures. Our Kingdom is far too great to be subject to such base desires.

Paul provides us a list of that which is “earthly” for the reader to identify. Interestingly, each word has some connection to sexuality. The first word is “pornea” where we get our word porn from. In our sex-saturated culture, there is little need for elaboration on this subject. Pornography is one of the greatest blights on the soul of man in modern times. It has shaped the way our culture views women, marred the nature of man and degraded the value of sexuality in the human spirit. Our modern struggles with sexual harassment, gender identity, and gender toxicity can be directly linked to the hidden obsession with this idolatrous activity. This practice of sexual immorality must NOT be present in the life of a Christian.

The second word Paul uses is “akatharsia.” This is the negation of the word catharsis, meaning clean. Adding the alpha to the front of the word negates the word in its definition. So catharsis or clean becomes akatharsia- meaning unclean. In this way, Paul calls Christians to think about the innate value of what they fill themselves with. Believers must fill themselves with that which is clean and not that which is unclean. Connected with the definition of akatharsia is a sense of worthlessness. That which is unclean is that which is worthless to the Christian. It has no weight in the Kingdom of God and serves no purpose.

The third word Paul uses to describe earthly things is pathos, meaning lusts or lustful desires. This word is closely related to the concept of misfortune or calamity. Indeed, when we surrender to our baser lusts and desires, we often find that calamity follows. So Paul exhorts the believer to change their focus from the lower earthly passions and seek to be consumed by the greater passions of God’s heavenly kingdom.

The fourth phrase Paul uses is “evil desires.” I trust that the careful reader can acknowledge that little exposition is needed to explain Paul’s meaning in these words. His straightforward tone is hard to dismiss. Christians are not to be controlled by desires and affections that are rooted in this world. Rather, our affections are to be manifestly different. We are to be so consummately holy (that is to say “set apart”) that we are identified as complete aberrations to this world.

The Final phrase used to describe that which is earthly level our sensibilities. Earthly is covetousness, which is idolatry. Indeed, Modern Americans have extreme difficulty here and Paul leaves no room for us to rationalize our attitudes. The spirit of greed and selfishness is bound up in covetousness. But at its root, coveting is the result of idolatry. It is the result of worshiping something other than the One True God. Further, all that is listed here in verse 5 is the result of idolatrous activity. It is an attempt to satisfy our own needs by insisting that we know better than God. It is seeking to satisfy our desires rather than deny them for the sake of greater joy.

Christians look different from the world and must be faithful to that end.

Colossians 1:18a; Brief Thoughts

18 And he is the head of the body, the church.

The Church is the collection of people who have united around the common faith that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. That is to say, Christianity is based on the truth that Jesus is the one who died for the sins of the world and who rules over all things. Here in the center of his hymn of praise to Jesus, having already asserted Jesus’ primacy in priority and time, Paul proclaims Jesus’ headship over the church.

Jesus is the head of the church. He is the first in priority over all creation, as such, He is the first in priority over the Church. He is before all creation and by Him, all things are created, likewise, the Church has existed because He called it into existence. He is the sustainer of all things and He is the purpose for all things, in the same way, the Church is sustained and derives its purpose from Him. Christ is the chief authority over the Church. It is His Church, He created it, He leads it, He is in charge.

In modern churches, the question of authority is often met with convoluted answers. When the question is asked, “Who is in charge at your church?” the answer usually asserts some sort of pastor, committee, deacon body, or leadership board. Seldom is the answer, “Jesus” or “God’s word.”  Yet, the truth remains – Jesus is the head of the Church. The direction of the Church is not determined by leadership or ecclesiastical polity. The direction of the church is established by Jesus Christ and His word. In general, churches have lost the fundamental understanding of authority. Many modern churches do not know how to answer the question of authority. Paul reminds his readers that Christ is the head of the church. The head of the Church is not a pastor or a deacon body or even an elder board. The head of the Church is Christ.  Though much of the Western Church has forgotten this simple truth, it remains true, nonetheless. Local churches must reeducate the congregations to understand this truth.

Re-education starts with a biblical ecclesiastical structure. In order to re-orient our churches, leadership must model submission to Christ through the word of God. Local churches must determine their leadership structure and function from the Scripture. (If you’re searching 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are good places to start.) Instructions to the congregation must be unambiguously directed from Scripture. Further, any engagement or discipleship of a believer within the community must be rooted in Scripture. Leaders must submit to Christ, recognizing that they have no authority apart from Him.

The local church and church leaders must also establish the Scripture as the central authority within their congregation. If Christ is the head of the Church, then His word must be placed at the forefront. Every congregation member must understand that they have equal spiritual authority to every other member, including the leaders. While there may be a pragmatic and structural leadership that is in place for the purpose of effective church ministry, the one supreme and primary authority is His word. The elders, deacons, pastors, committees, and directors have no more spiritual authority than any other member. They may have greater responsibility, but they share equal submission to the Word of the Lord.

Finally, the church must prize surrender. People, in general, do not value surrender. We often place a high premium on self-reliance, yet Christ models surrender. Surrender to Christ’s precepts and to the authority of Scripture must be seen as a high value. Surrender to Him as the head must be praised and acknowledged. In exalting surrender, the church will diminish pride and self-righteousness. In doing so, the church will lead the congregation to a fuller understanding of Christ’s headship.

Leaders, model Philippians 2 for your flock. Christ is the head… act like it.

Colossians 1:17: Brief thoughts

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Before the light burst forth into the void, before the waters that covered the earth laid their torrent upon the land, before the land rose to peaks and habitable pastures, and before the earth existed, Jesus, the Christ, existed. He was there before time. He was there before the fall of man that so grievously broke the communion of creation with Creator. He was present before the first leaf blossomed and directed the unfolding of all creation. His tender hand saw fit to mold the earth in the beauty of His love. Every blade of grass, every creeping animal, and every aspect of creation came into existence by His voice.

Jesus is before all things. He existed before time could measure existence. Further, He created all things and “In Him all things hold together” (v.17). In the beginning, God created an earth that was filled with beauty and was perfect. Mankind’s sin fractured and damaged that creation to the point of continuous slow decay. As a result, death entered the world and now death rules. However, Jesus’ grace upon creation has not ceased. So great was the sin of man that all of creation could have been justifiably obliterated. Yet, God saw fit to redeem His creation and in love worked to sustain that creation. In spite of man’s willful rejection of God, God acts in grace, even before Christ came to the cross. Jesus holds all things together, maintaining His creation. It is because of grace that the world does not spin out of control.

In saying that Jesus “holds all things together,” Paul is recognizing a kind of common grace to all mankind. God, in His infinite grace, allows wicked men to persist in living. He patiently waits for those who will repent and believe. His restraining hand holds back the effects of sin. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul repeats that God “gave [men] over” to their sin. In this simple phrase, Paul explains that God is restraining evil to the extent of restraining the consequences on the heart of men. So it is that common grace exists. This common grace is the grace to breathe air and live. This common grace is found in the ability to exist. It is called grace, because no one actually deserves life. The result of sin is death. The patience of God is common grace that does not demand immediate remittance of that debt. Man has rejected God. Still, Jesus holds all things together: this is grace.

Not only is Jesus sustaining life, He also makes sense of all things. In one sense He holds all things together, literally sustaining life. In another sense He holds all things together in that life has purpose and reason in Him. Jesus holds all things together because He is the purpose of creation. Creation exists to glorify God. In Jesus man is given the ability to glorify God. Thus, Jesus holds, within Himself, purpose. It is in knowing Him that trials and joys make sense. Without Him, nothing makes sense and all is meaningless. The life of a man is a vapor (James 4:14). In Jesus, life is eternal and has significance beyond the grave. Without Him, life is a meaningless mist that is here for a moment and is quickly dispelled by the winds of death. A man can either, delight in Jesus and live a meaningful life that extends beyond the momentary vapor of this temporal existence, or he can deny the truth of Christ and waste the vapor.

The glorious God of all creation has come to make Himself known to you. He is before all things. He has seen your every failing and rejection of Him. He has patiently waited for you to know Him. He holds you together. Further, He calls you to purpose. He has granted you some semblance of reason to your life. Praise God!