Do please take a copy of the Scriptures and turn once again with me to Paul’s letter to the Colossians. We’ve been working our way through the letter to the Colossian Christians; page 983 if you’re using one of the church Bibles. Actually, 984, I beg your pardon. We’re going to read Colossians 2, verses 6 and 7. Peter O’Brien, one of the commentators on this letter, says that these two verses “are the heart of the letter.” They form sort of a hinge. The first part leading up to this point, Paul uses many of the same phrases, much of the vocabulary that has been at the very heart of his message thus far is used in these two verses so there’s sort of a summarizing going on in these two verses of everything he’s said. But he’s also about to transition to a new segment of the letter where he’s a little more pointed in responding to the mistakes of the false teachers who had been troubling the Colossian churches. So this is a pivotal portion of the letter; it’s the heart of the letter.
And you may know that our theme, our teaching theme for the year is “Rooted: Learning to Live from Our New Identity in Christ.” It comes from these two verses. That is their theme. Paul is concerned to counter the mistakes of the false teachers that were leading people away from a simple reliance upon Christ. He wants us instead to know and to live from the central truth of our union with Jesus as we trust the Gospel.
And we’re going to work through these two verses under three headings together this morning; three themes to look out for. First, the gift. What is it that you get in the Gospel? When you believe the good news about Jesus, what do you receive? The gift. Secondly, the call. When you receive the gift of the Gospel, there’s an implication, there’s a “so what,” there’s a call for us to live in a particular way in the light of the grace of God. So the gift, the call, then finally, the tools. There are two in particular mentioned in our passage that we’ll think about together; tools that we can use to help us as we seek to live out the implications of our union with Jesus Christ. So the gift, the call, and the tools. That’s where we’re going as we consider the text. Before we read it together, would you bow your heads with me as we pray?
Lord, we pray that You would help us understand and believe and obey Your Word. Amidst all the competing voices clamoring for our attention, amidst all the distractions that we carry with us, speak and grant that Your servants my hear, for we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.
Colossians chapter 2 at the sixth verse. This is the Word of God:
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.
Most of you, many of you will have seen the movie, Saving Private Ryan. It's an older movie now, but the story is James Ryan is a private during World War II, his brothers have all been killed during the Normandy invasion, and so the army decides it's time to rescue the last remaining brother. And they send Captain Miller to go and bring him back. And when Miller finds Ryan, at one point in the movie, Miller receives a mortal wound, he's on a bridge, he's dying, and he gives Private Ryan his last order. "James," he says, "earn this. Earn it." And eventually at the end of the movie we see Private Ryan an old man revisiting the grave of Captain Miller. And he utters words that are intended to be incredibly poignant - they are poignant, but actually, they're far more tragic than the scriptwriter or the director probably intended. Here's what he says standing at the grave, talking to Captain Miller at his graveside. Ryan says this, "My family's with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn't sure how I would feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge, ‘Earn this,' and I've tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that it was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes I've earned what you have done for me."
Tragic words because they tell us, they give us an insight into how Ryan has been trying to live the rest of his life since he made it home from the battlefield - trying to pay off a debt. There’s a burden of debt that has been shaping how he’s been living and he’s not at all sure he’s been able. Now here he is at the end of his life and he’s still not really sure he’s been able to pay the debt.
I fear that many of us live our Christian lives like Private Ryan. Christ dies for us, we trust the Gospel, we believe in Him, and we know better, we know we don’t earn our salvation, and yet operationally, functionally we’re living every day trying to earn it, trying to live up to it, trying somehow to merit it; hoping but not sure that we’ve earned it. What a miserable, not to mention futile way to live the Christian life. You know, don’t you, that the cross of Jesus has purchased a gift for free by His grace. It doesn’t come with strings attached. Sure, there’s a life that results from the salvation Jesus has purchased to which we are called as we’re going to see, but the gift is not something for which you must pay. You don’t receive it upon condition that you will subsequently earn it by your good behavior. And yet I fear many of us live as though that were the case, as though we had to pay off the blessing that we have already received, as if Jesus never said with a shout of triumph, “It is finished!” but instead like Captain Miller giving his last orders to Private Ryan on the bridge, Jesus said to us instead, “Now you need to earn this.” That’s not the Gospel. And Colossians 2:6-7 help us with that. They give us something of an antidote.
Let's look at verse 6 together first of all and think about the gift. The gift. Paul is beginning a new section. It begins, it's translated here, "Therefore." Really probably better, "So then" - he's introducing the new section - "So then, since you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him." Now just press "Pause" there for a moment. What did you get when you believed the Gospel? What does verse 6 say? You received Christ Jesus the Lord; Christ Jesus Himself is the gift of the Gospel. Not abstractions, not mere blessings and benefits - forgiveness, a new heart, a clean conscience; wonderful as those blessings and benefits are; they come in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the gift of the Gospel. That's such an important point to get clear. If you think of blessings as the principal gift of the Gospel, you will likely view the Christian message in contractual terms. You know, "I have a need. God can supply my need through Jesus so I give Him what He asks and in return, He bestows on me the blessings that I seek." It's contractual. Jesus is the mechanism by which the blessings I need can be delivered to my life.
Reduces Gospel Message
And that’s problematic for all sorts of reasons. Let me just highlight two. First, it’s problematic because of what it does to the Gospel message. We reduce the Gospel message to a sort of quid pro quo. I meet the conditions - faith and repentance. God fulfills His side of the contract and He pardons me by means of the cross. If you have a contractual view of the Gospel, you will likely have a contractual view of how you relate to God for the rest of your Christian life. You know, “I do what He asks. He is now obligated to give me blessings,” which is often why people fall apart when tragedy strikes. The Christian life begins to crumble. “I don’t understand. I’ve prayed. I’ve been to church. I’m a good person. Isn’t that how this works? God is contractually obligated. Why? What’s going on? If I do this, He will bless me with that.” It’s a subtle but real and living form of legalism that creeps back into our Christian lives. A contractual view of the Gospel - looking for blessings from God in exchange for meeting certain behavioral conditions. That’s the seedbed of legalism. That’s the first problem. It distorts the Gospel message.
The second problem is maybe even more dangerous. It has to do with what it does to our understanding of Jesus. Jesus is reduced, you see, to a mere means to an end. "I want forgiveness. I want to escape hell. I want a clean conscience. He will give me what I need from Him if I give Him what He demands of me." So Jesus is reduced to a mere supplier of religious goods and services, a sort of cosmic spiritual retailer and we've become His customers. Let me ask you this. Have you ever seen a customer serve a retailer? When was the last time you walked into the store and said to the person behind the desk, "Would you mind awfully if I mopped the floors and cleaned the toilets?" You don't serve Amazon.com, do you? You use them. That's what you do. Customers use retailers. I meet the conditions; you provide me with the benefits and then we're done. If you have a contractual view of the Gospel you will treat Jesus like a cosmic retailer and you will not likely live for Him. You will not die for Him; you will use Him. No, says Paul, what you get when you become a Christian isn't the fulfillment of a contract; it's not quid pro quo. You get Christ Himself. He comes to you. You become His; He becomes yours. You are united to Jesus. There's communion with Christ, and in Him, there is everything you need.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:30, talks about that when he says that “Because of God you are in Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God.” So God’s answer, God’s provision, wisdom from God. That is our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. So that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Jesus, having Jesus, being in Christ means that in Christ you receive all the blessings of the Gospel. But the blessings of the Gospel are merely facets of being in Christ. They’re dimensions of your relationship to Jesus Christ. Christ is the gift of the Gospel. This is a profoundly relational thing. Christ is not a cosmic retailer of abstract blessings to be bargained with and then moved on from. He is Himself the gift of God. He is Himself the precious possession of every believing heart and having Him, we may be satisfied and secure. You don’t bargain with a Savior like that; you delight in Him and you serve Him gladly. The gift. Do you know the gift? There’s a gift available to you. It’s free. It is Christ Himself. The same Christ who obeyed and bled and died and rose on the third day and ascended to glory and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. That Christ offers Himself to you. Do you know Him? There’s a gift.
Secondly, notice there’s also a call. You have received the gift; you believe the Gospel. Now what? Theologians sometimes talk about indicatives and imperatives. Indicatives - it’s the way of talking about God’s blessing, His promises, what He has done for you. And imperatives are commands - in light of the blessing, here’s how to live. That’s the Biblical, Gospel relationship between indicatives and imperatives. When you get them around the other way, you’re back in that contractual, conditional way of thinking about things. “If I do what God commands, He will bless me.” But actually, the Gospel says, “God will bless you, has blessed you and brought you to Himself. Now then, here’s how to live.” And that’s the pattern you find in verses 6 and 7. Look at them again. “Since then you have received Christ Jesus;” “as you have received Christ Jesus” - there’s the indicative - “so walk in Him” - there’s the imperative, there’s the duty; the call, the summons to a particular way to live. “Now that you have been united to Christ,” Paul says, “live it out.” The whole of your Christian life is really nothing more than living out the implications of your union with Jesus.
And Paul tells us actually with three metaphors what that looks like. There’s an agricultural, there’s an architectural, and there’s a legal metaphor. Look at the passage. Verse 7, first the agricultural metaphor. And if you’ll spare the grammar lesson for a moment, pardon it for a moment, the verb “rooted” is a perfect tense, so it’s an action in the past. Your roots have been sunk in Christ. Part of what it means to go on in Jesus is ensuring that your roots are sunk deeply into the rich, fertile soil of Jesus Christ. That implies a couple of things, I think. It implies a source of life - nourishment. That’s why trees sink their roots down deeply to receive nutrition. So our life comes from Christ so that when drought conditions strike, we’re like the man in the first psalm planted by streams of water. Our leaves are evergreen. We have a source of life that is never diminished by the challenges around us. Our roots are sunk into Christ. It also implies security, doesn’t it? Why aren’t trees uprooted by the hurricane winds? Because they have deep roots sunk securely and so they’re stable and firm. And when the trial strikes, you’re not moved because you are secure in Jesus Christ. That’s how you’re able to go on, to walk in Him. You draw your nutrition and your life from Christ and you’re secure, immovable in Christ. The Colossian false teachers were trying to Jesus, “Yes, yes, Jesus and, Jesus but; you need more than Jesus. Jesus is fine but you’ve got to listen to what we have to say; we have some extra, some new ideas, some extra data, some fresh techniques.” Paul is saying, “No, no. Sink your roots down into Christ. That’s where your life comes from. That’s where security is to be found.”
Let me say this to you. There’s no way to go on, to walk in Christ, if you don’t have roots sunk down deeply in Him. Are you rooted in Him? Is your life derived from, is it sourced in, does it come from Christ? Do you live because of Jesus? Otherwise, if you’re not in Christ, otherwise all you have is a form of religion that denies its power; the crushing burden of obligation and empty ceremony. You really don’t need more praying, more singing, more doing, more philanthropy. If you don’t have Christ, all of that will do nothing, nothing for you. You need Christ. Life comes from Jesus. Do you know Jesus? Get yourself to Jesus Christ. Walking in Him, he says, going on in Him, can only happen when your roots are sunk down deeply into Him, when your life is nourished by Him and you’re held secure by Him. The agricultural metaphor.
Then there's an architectural metaphor. Do you see it? Not only rooted by "built up." The tense has changed now. It's not just a perfect tense; now it's a present tense. You are being built up, he says. God is doing it; it's a passive voice. God is doing it. It's being done to us. We are not doing it. We are being carved by the Master Builder, chiseled away at, so that each stone, "living stones" Peter calls us, are fit snuggly to every other and the whole building fit into Christ, the chief cornerstone. God is at work among us. Sometimes it's painful. You and I, if we are Christians, we are a renovation project. Sometimes that involves some deconstruction. There's a wall here or there that needs to come down. There's a floor to be torn up. There's plaster that needs to be replaced and paper on the walls that needs to be stripped. That's what God is doing sometimes in our hearts. It's painful, the renovation project. It feels like deconstruction. But God's Word reminds us as much as it may feel sometimes like deconstruction, there's a glorious destiny when the work, at last, is finished and we, with every other child of God, are the temple by which He dwells by His Spirit. God is at work in your life to remake you, to renovate you. You're being built up in Jesus Christ. Rooted in Him. Built up in Him.
And the last metaphor - agricultural, architectural - the last metaphor is legal. It doesn’t really come out in English translation. The word is “established.” “Rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith.” It’s a word that was used for legal documents, a contract that had been verified and certified as true and reliable. And it’s an assurance word, isn’t it? God is saying, “I keep My promises. It’s a guarantee. The faith that you believe is a faith you can trust. And all My promises are sure.” That’s how you can go on. That’s how you can walk in Him. You can bank upon His promises and rely upon the faith “just as you have been taught.”
An interesting fact about these three metaphors, these three verbs, is that they are all passive. That is to say, we aren’t doing them; they are being done to us and for us an in us by God. And that raises a question. Doesn’t it? So there’s the imperative, “walk in Him” - that’s the call of God upon us. We have to do it; it’s our duty. It’s a command we must obey. And as Paul explains what walking in Him looks like, he uses language that teaches us actually God is at work enabling, equipping. How do you fit those two things together? The obligation, the call to obey, and these passive verbs that suggest God is doing it. Isn’t it just Philippians 2:12-13? You remember Philippians 2:12-13? “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” - there’s the imperative, the call. It’s your duty. “For God is at work in you to will and to work for His good pleasure.” In other words, there’s a command and a promise. We’re back at Augustine’s prayer; we quoted it a few weeks ago. “O Lord, give what You command and command what You will. Command what You will; give what You command.” He may call us to the highest pinnacle of obedience and we may know it’s utterly beyond us, but whatever He commands, whatever work He may call us to, He supplies the grace for it every time. “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
And that ought to be, I hope, enormously encouraging. It is to me. How many times have you felt like you were running on fumes. You know, the light is on and there’s still so much to be done. Take heart from these verses. There’s a promise laced throughout them. To every child of God, to everyone in Christ, everyone called to walk in Him, God has sunk your roots down deeply into Christ so that your life comes from Him and you are secure in Him. God is reconstructing you, remodeling you into the likeness of His Son, and God guarantees that His every promise will not fail. So there’s a call.
The gift. The call. Finally, very briefly, notice the tools. There are two of them in the passage, several of them in the Scriptures, two of them in particular here. There are tools, instruments we may use to help us walk in Christ and live out what it means to be in Christ Jesus. The first of them is the instrument of the Word. In verse 6, the Greek word that’s translated here “received” - “You received Christ Jesus the Lord” - is in the New Testament a technical term for the reception of the apostolic tradition, apostolic teaching, which is now preserved for us exclusively in the New Testament Scriptures. And Paul is saying you received apostolic teaching. That’s what they would have expected to follow that verb, “received.” You received the doctrine, the faith, the truth, the tradition. What he actually says is, “You received Christ Jesus the Lord.” the point is this. When you embrace the apostolic Word, you come to know Christ by it. The way you’re brought into union with Jesus Christ and kept in your union with Him is by the instrumentality of the Word of God. That’s made more explicit in verse 7. “You are established in the faith, just as” - what? - “just as you were taught.” You were taught the faith. That’s the instrument by which you are established and strengthened as you seek to live out the implications of what it means to be one with Jesus Christ.
If you neglect the Bible, you will not grow. Period. When was the last time you opened the Scriptures? Was it the last time you were in church? No wonder you’re struggling. No wonder you’re stumbling, wandering in the dark. Those of you who are married, if that’s how you treated your spouse - you know, when they talk you don’t listen. I don’t just mean here and there, but ever. If your eyes roll back in your head and your eyelids shut and your head begins to nod, what would happen to your marriage? Nothing good. Right? Nothing good would happen. It likely wouldn’t survive if you never listened when your bride or when the bridegroom spoke. The heavenly Bridegroom is speaking in His holy Word. His Word is the instrument He will use to nurture and strengthen you as you seek to live for Him. Are you listening? Open the Word. Be in the Word.
Discipline of Thanksgiving
And then there’s the final tool Paul mentions. It’s the discipline of thanksgiving. Notice how he puts it. We are to “walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” He doesn’t say “abounding in thankfulness,” but “abounding in thanksgiving.” I think there’s enormous pastoral wisdom in that because the truth is, I don’t often feel, or always feel thankful. In fact, sometimes my rotten heart is downright ungrateful, entitled even, angry, frustrated, proud. I don’t feel grateful. Now how do you fight that? How do you fight discontentment and dissatisfaction and a complaining spirit? You count your blessings and you name them one by one. You count your blessings and you see what God hath done and you say thank you. You practice the discipline of thanksgiving. You give thanks for a family who love you, for the mundane everyday blessings - food and clothing and a place to lay your head - you give thanks for the Gospel, the cross, the empty tomb, for your new birth, your new heart, for the fact that God, though you grieve Him, does not withdraw from you but continues with you, for the ministry of the Holy Spirit, for the Word of God, for blessing after blessing after blessing. Exhaust yourself in naming them. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” Name them. Fuel thanksgiving. And what will happen to your heart? You will find the fires of gratitude rekindled and dissatisfaction and discontentment and a complaining spirit will begin to wither and die.
And just as we close, did you notice the two sides of a relationship implied in all of that? We said earlier that the gift of the Gospel isn’t a contract, it’s not a quid pro quo where you do this and God does that. It’s a relationship. You’re entered into a relationship, a union with Jesus Christ, and here’s the practical living out of that relationship - He talks to you in His Word. The Bridegroom speaks to His bride, His beloved, in holy Scripture, and we respond to Him in thanksgiving and praise. It’s a beautiful picture of the dynamics of the Christian life. It’s a call, isn’t it, to the renewal of our dedication to private and family and to public worship. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re listening to the Bridegroom and we’re saying, “Thank You.” Let me plead with you not to neglect the Word and to remember and renew the discipline of thanksgiving. It is the practical expression and the practical cultivation of your fellowship with the risen Christ.
The gift that we receive in the Gospel is Christ Himself. Have you received that gift? Do you know Jesus Christ? There's a call that comes to all who can say, "Yes" to that question. There's a life, a duty placed upon us. We are to live out all the implications of our union with Christ but be encouraged as you hear that call - He will supply the grace you need to work out your salvation. He will work in you to will and to work for His good pleasure. And there are tools that you can use. Please do not leave the Bible shut on your shelf, on your bedside table when the Bridegroom is speaking. Please, will you listen, and will you learn again to fight dissatisfaction, discontentment, an entitled spirit in gratitude with the discipline of thanksgiving, of saying, "Thank You," to the Lord Jesus who bought you and has shown His grace upon you. May the Lord bless you and help us, all of us, as we seek to walk in Him for His glory and praise. Let's pray together.
Many of us know what it is to feel like we’re running on fumes, and so we praise You for Your Word and Your promise. When You call us to obey, You promise to supply the grace we need to help us obey. We cling to that promise now, pleading it before You, and we pray for those around us who may not be Christians, they may not be in Christ Jesus, the Lord, rooted in Him, deriving their life from Him, finding their security in Him. O Lord, show them how empty a thing, how dark and heavy a thing religion is without a Savior, and draw them not ever more deeply into the bondage of self-righteousness, but into the liberty of union with Christ. Help them to run to Him now, today. Save sinners, O Lord. Strengthen weak knees and feeble arms amongst Your people. Enable us to run our race with perseverance as we seek to walk in Christ. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
© First Presbyterian Church