Now if you would take your Bibles and turn to Colossians chapter 1, Colossians chapter 1; page 983 in the church Bibles. If you were here last week, you will remember we were looking at Paul’s remarkable prayer. You’ll find that in verses 9 through 12. Let me quickly remind you of where we were last week. Paul prays in verse 9 that the Colossians might be “filled with the knowledge of God in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” So he wants them to know God’s will. And he’s also interested in the outcome. What will happen if God answers this prayer and they come to know more of God’s will? He says he wants them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that, verse 10, “so as they might walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.” So knowing the will of God more and more produces a changed life; a life that is fully pleasing to Him. We said it produces the family likeness in us and that pleases God.
And then Paul tells us four things that characterize and marks this emerging family likeness, a life that is pleasing to God, in verses 19 through 12. Do you remember the four things? A life that is fully pleasing to God is a life that is first "bearing fruit in every good work." Secondly, it is "increasing in the knowledge of God." Thirdly, it is "being strengthened with power for endurance and patience with joy." And finally, it is a life that is "giving thanks to the Father." How do you live a life that is fully pleasing to God? In what does the family likeness consist? It is a life that is bearing fruit, increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened, and giving thanks. That was last time.
This time, I want to go back to the end of Paul's prayer, verses 12 through 14, where Paul is trying to help the Colossians not just understand that they ought to give thanks but to actually feel gratitude and become thankful. He's doing more than exhorting them to thankfulness. He's trying to fan the flames of gratitude in their hearts and he does it by rehearsing three great Gospel truths in verses 12 through 14. We can sum them up in three keywords. They're all found in the text. If you'll look at verses 12 to 14 for a moment, let's see if you can spot the three keywords. The first word is "qualified." The Father, Paul says, "has qualified us for a share in the inheritance of the saints in light." Qualified. The second keyword, "transferred." Do you see it in the text? The Father has "transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son." Qualified. Transferred. And the third keyword, "redeemed." "We have redemption in Christ, the forgiveness of sins." Those are three simple words – qualified, transferred, redeemed – three words that sum up the Christian Gospel. Three words Paul is saying that will feed the fires of Christian gratitude and make us thankful to the Father.
Before we look at the passage and consider each of those keywords more fully, let me invite you please to join me as we pray. Let us pray together.
O Lord, open our hearts, our minds, to the truth of Your Word, and draw us by it to Christ, who speaks to us in it. For we ask it in His name, amen.
Colossians chapter 1. Let’s read from verse 9. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy Word.
The first keyword we said that sums up Paul's message here is the word, "qualified." We spend a great deal of time and effort and energy and money and resources becoming qualified. Don't we? We work hard in school and in college to be the best qualified we can be, to position ourselves for the next phase in life and for advancement. In fact, so much is becoming qualified – a preoccupation of our culture – that there are few things that carry a greater burden of shame than the thought of being disqualified. It's one thing if we are unqualified. If you're unqualified, well then maybe you can go back to school. Maybe you can learn a new skill. You can become qualified. It's another thing entirely if you've been disqualified. You think about the Russian Olympic team that was disqualified from the Winter Olympics. You remember that? They were disqualified because they were found to fail drug tests. They were breaking the rules; they were cheating. And because of their offenses, they were disqualified.
The Bible says that is our condition; that’s our circumstance. It’s not that we are unqualified for the kingdom of God. If we were merely unqualified, then perhaps it’s conceivable there was something we could do about it. No, that’s not the situation. The situation – we are disqualified from the kingdom of God, from life forever with Him. And that means we are guilty; we are condemned in His sight by the standards of God’s own infinitely holy character. Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Like the Russian team that was excluded from the Olympics, we have been found guilty and excluded, disqualified, from life with God. That is what our sin does.
Now Paul wants the Colossian believers to understand clearly the glory, the wonder of the Christian Gospel. He wants to do more than merely exhort them to be thankful. He wants to help them feel the power of Christian gratitude in light of the good news. So he reminds us of that Gospel. God Himself, he tells us, has acted on our behalf. We were disqualified. But according to verse 12, the Father Himself has “qualified you for an inheritance among the saints in light.” God has made provision for people like me who deserve to be excluded, so that despite our unworthiness, we might be included.
We often think of ourselves as pretty good. Don’t we? We reassure ourselves that if we fall short, we only just fall short. When I lived in London, the primary means of getting around the city was the underground, the tube system. And it’s an amazing way to see the city. It covers almost everywhere; you can get everywhere on the underground. But if you’ve visited the city and if you’re used the underground, especially during peak times, rush hour, you will know that the underground tunnels are just clogged, the foot tunnels are clogged with millions of commuters, all of them going in every which direction trying to get to the places they have to be on time. And so it's not at all uncommon, despite having battled your way through the crowds, and you sort of emerge onto the platform panting and sweaty and disheveled, just as the doors of the tube train close in your face and it pulls out of the station. And in that moment, it really doesn't matter how close you came to catching the train. It doesn't matter how much effort you spent in getting to the platform on time. If you miss the train, you miss the train! Nearly and almost, are no good.
We can try to reassure ourselves that we are pretty good, you know, graded on a curve. If we miss the mark, we only just missed the mark. And I suppose that might afford us some measure of fleeting comfort, but the fact remains – if we miss the train, we miss the train. If we fall short, we fall short. “All have sinned,” Paul says, “and fall short of the glory of God.” We were disqualified. The train has left the platform. We missed it. And there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s nothing we can do about it. But, Paul says, when we were disqualified like that, God in His rich mercy, He qualified us. The qualifications were met in full for life with Him forever. We had no hope of earning a place in His presence. He “qualified us for an inheritance among the saints in light.” Paul’s talking about the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isn’t he? The qualifications the Father provides, they’re not our qualifications; they are Christ’s qualifications. The Father is pleased to accept Jesus’ record of perfect obedience in place of our own. Christ’s blood makes us clean. Jesus’ obedience robes us in a righteousness that is not properly ours, but His. We fall short, but Jesus meets the mark. We are shut out, but Jesus brings us all the way home.
Our message to you is not that you need to exert more effort, clean up your act, do better and try harder in order for God to accept you. Listen, after all the effort is expended, all the work is done that we can do, we still miss the train, we still fall short, we’re still disqualified. That’s not our message. Our message is that God has provided everything necessary for disqualified sinners in His Son, Jesus Christ. He has done it all. You don’t need a strategy to work your way into God’s favor. You need a Savior to qualify you for an inheritance among the saints in light. “Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul. Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole. Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God. Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load. Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease the weight of sin. Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within. Thy love to me, O God, not mine O Lord to Thee, can rid me of this dark unrest and set my spirit free.” The first word that sums up Paul’s message is “qualified.” What a glorious Gospel word. Jesus Christ is God’s provision for disqualified sinners, that by His righteousness, we might be “qualified for an inheritance amongst the saints in the light.”
Then notice the second word. The second key word here is “transferred.” Qualified then transferred. Verse 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” So Paul is picturing two countries, two kingdoms. The first, he says, is ruled by a terrible dictator. It is the “domain of darkness.” The word “domain” could equally justly be translated, “the tyranny of darkness.” In Acts 26:18, Paul is defending his ministry. He recounts his apostolic commission. He says he was sent to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” The realm of darkness is a dictatorship where Satan presides, and there he holds all who do not know Jesus Christ in a terrible bondage and slavery. But there is, Paul says, another country, another kingdom. He calls it “the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.” More literally, and I think much more beautifully, it is “the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.” The kingdom of the Son of God’s love. It’s not just that the Father loves His Son; that’s true. But it is that God’s love characterizes His Son and informs the way His Son rules. His kingly reign is the reign of love.
Now everyone in this room lives as a citizen of one or other of those two countries. There is no DMZ. There is no neutral ground. No space between. You are either a citizen of the tyrannical kingdom of darkness or you have come to be a citizen of the kingdom of the Son of God's love. The good news is, everyone who is a citizen of the kingdom of the Son of God's love, every one of them was once a citizen of the kingdom of darkness. There is a constant one-way traffic out of darkness and into light.
You see what God does through the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a kind of new exodus. You remember the Exodus story? The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, living under the dreadful tyranny of Pharaoh, the brutal tyranny of Pharaoh, helpless and in bondage. And God acted with an outstretched arm and a mighty right hand and He brought them out of bondage, out of their slavery, and into a land, into a kingdom of promise. Paul is telling us Jesus Christ breaks our chains and sets us free and brings us into the realm of His love and His outstretched arm and His mighty right hand. We were prisoners, helpless, powerless, in bondage, held enslaved under the bootheel of sin's terrible tyranny, and Jesus brings us liberation. Jesus can set you free.
And that actually brings us to the third word that's closely related to this exodus motif. We have been qualified, we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's beloved Son, then thirdly, Paul says we have been redeemed. Look at how Paul puts it in verse 14. We have been transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God's love "in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Redemption is one of those great Bible words that sums up the very heart of the good news, the Gospel. It's a word that means "to buy back" a slave out of their slavery; to give them manumission, to set them free. It's what God did, archetypally, in the exodus. But of course the exodus is really only pointing us to the true, final Passover Lamb by whose blood we come to be set free. When the judgment falls, though He has died, because He has died, we live. The word "redemption" really homes in on the shedding of blood, freedom through the payment of the price, the sacrifice of Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And Paul says we have redemption. Because He died, we live. Because His blood was shed, we go free. We have it in Him.
In the pews, you may still see some bookmarks with the teaching theme for the year on them and you’ll see if you look at them that our teaching theme focuses our attention on the great doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ. That’s the theme of verse 14. “In Him, we have redemption.” In union with Jesus, it’s when, by the Holy Spirit through faith, we are united to Christ. All the benefits of His work become ours and we are redeemed.
And notice the particular focus or particular aspect of redemption to which Paul calls our attention. “In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The Christian message is this. We are guilty, you and I, and God is holy, infinitely holy. And so judgment, justice is waiting for us. But this holy God loves you. His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, loves you. And so they work to secure our pardon. The Father sends His Son to obey and bleed and die. The Son bears our guilt and sin at the cross. God treats Him as if He was guilty with the guilt of my sin, your sin, and condemns Him at the cross so that when we trust in Christ, God might treat us as if we were righteous with the righteousness of His Son and He forgives all our sins forever. He forgives our sin forever.
The Good News
Friends, let me ask you if your sin has been forgiven, if you've been redeemed by Jesus Christ, set free. Are you a citizen of the kingdom of the Son of God's love? Have you been qualified by the Father for an inheritance amongst the saints in light? Well, what should you do if you have? If you answer, "Yes," Paul wants you to give thanks. Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you, who has transferred you, who has redeemed you by the blood of His Son. Give thanks. I remember once preaching in my hometown in a small Church of Scotland congregation and the question was asked – it was a very liberal church and I was there as a student on placement, not by choice; I was required to be there. And one week the liberal preacher would preach and the next week I would preach. And then during the week, we would give each other feedback. They were fascinating conversations! And when I got my feedback, I would always try to preach the Gospel as clearly and as urgently as I could, Sunday by Sunday, and when I got my feedback quite often the preacher would say to me, "David, do you think that the people in the pew are not Christians already? You keep preaching the Gospel to them. Don't you think they need to hear something else?" And I said, "I just don't understand a Christian that does not thrill to hear the good news."
Does your heart thrill to hear the good news? Qualified. Transferred. Redeemed. Christ has done it for you. He’s done it all for you. There ought to be a reservoir of gratitude that nothing can empty or drain away in your believing heart. You remember Horatio Spafford’s amazing hymn that really gets at this, doesn’t it? “My sin, O the bliss of that glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” If today you stand forgiven, you remember the hymn? There may still be sorrows that roll like the sea billows, Satan will buffet, trials will come, yet this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded our helpless estate and has shed His own blood for our soul, so that you can sing through tears perhaps, through unbelievable trials and griefs of many kinds, still you’ll be able to sing because of the Gospel that generates joy, “It is well with my soul!” Forgiven. Qualified. Transferred. Redeemed. That’s fuel for endless eternities of praise. Isn’t it?
Has the Gospel gotten old and tired? Are you looking for something else? Here’s the root and fuel of Christian joy. But what if you know today you can’t sing these words. What if today you know you have not been forgiven. You have not come to Christ. You’re outside of Him, unclean, unforgiven, a citizen under the domain of darkness. Well let me plead with you, let me beg you in fact, to see what God has done for sinners in His Son. All the qualifications needed are available in Jesus Christ, all the righteousness to cover our every offense. He can take you from slavery and bondage, the slavery and bondage that life on your own terms always will condemn you to, and only He can set you free. There is nothing to do to receive the qualification of His righteousness, the transfer from darkness into light, the redemption from slavery into freedom, nothing to do to receive it but trust Him. No words you need to say, no formula you need to use, no ritual you need to perform. You don’t qualify before you come to Jesus. You just come as you are right now – disqualified, unclean, unforgiven – you come to Him and you say, “Lord Jesus, wash me! Lord Jesus, break my chains! Lord Jesus, set me free!” And He will. And He does. Today’s the day. Don’t leave the building without the matter settled. We are qualified, transferred, redeemed. All the reasons we need for a life of gratitude, an eternity of thanksgiving. Do you know anything about it? Do you know anything about it? Today’s the day. Please don’t leave the building without the matter settled.
Let’s pray together.
O Lord, the truth is, we have become practiced at looking right and saying the right things. We can sing the songs and we know the vocabulary. We put on our Sunday best and slap a smile on our faces. And yet inside, we are cold and dark and far away from You. We have not yet come to the place of surrender where we recognize that we are helpless apart from Your grace and we need You to come and break the chains that hold us in bondage. And so now, today, before You, we cry out, O Lord Jesus, please wash us and we will be clean. Break our chains and set us free. Forgive us for our sin. Clothe us with the robes of Your righteousness that we may be qualified for an inheritance amongst the saints in light. Grant that the great transfer may take place, for many in this room, out of darkness and into Your marvelous light. You are the only Redeemer of God’s elect. Be our Redeemer today. In Your name we pray, amen.
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