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The Christ-Centered Life

April 29, 2018 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Colossians

Passage: Colossians 2:6-7

Introduction

I’d like to begin my sermon today with a pop quiz, because everyone likes a pop quiz, right? Our pop quiz concerns my introductory sermon on Colossians from way back in January, which I’m sure all of you remember in great detail. Actually, I know my sermons aren’t that memorable, so I passed out a handout called “Nuts and Bolts of Colossians” so that you could have a quick reference of what we covered. If you still have that handout, we need to give you a prize after the service but you can also cheat on our quiz. 

The only question on our quiz is this. What is the key verse of Colossians? Colossians 2:6 is the key verse in Colossians, which summarizes the central point of the book. Today we are going to cover Colossians 2:6–7, and really hit at the heart of Paul’s message (read)

Not only is v. 6 the key verse, but if you have the handout, you can also see that it comes at a major hinge point of the epistle. The handout states that Colossians 1:1–2:5 is the Introduction to the letter. That’s a pretty long introduction, and now that I’ve been in the letter for a couple of months, I’d probably change it to “Introduction and Theological Foundation.” 

This is because throughout this section Paul introduces himself, his love for the Colossians, and his God-given mission, but he also lays a theological framework for what is to come. This is especially true of 1:15–23 where Paul lifts up Christ as Lord of creation and Lord of the new creation through his reconciling work. 

But with 2:6, the letter turns in a different direction. One simple example of the shift is that Paul does not give a single command in the introduction and theological foundation, but with 2:6, the focus shifts toward applying this foundation. This focus continues throughout the body of the letter, which extends through 4:6. 

Therefore, 2:6 is an important verse in an important spot in Colossians. In light of everything Paul has said to this point, he boils the entire Christian life down to 3 words—walk in Christ. It is a very important command but one that we may struggle to fully understand.

Therefore, I want to explain what that means and encourage us to do it. But to understand this command Paul says that we must first go back to the beginning of our faith and remember how the Christian life starts. Therefore, notice in v. 6a…

The Beginning of My Faith (v. 6a). 

As we work our way through v. 6, it’s important to keep in mind the little connector “as.” It tells us that Paul’s purpose in v. 6a is not to describe every detail of conversion but to make a comparison between the beginning and the continuation of the Christian life.

The first part of this comparison is that when I got saved…

I received a body of truth.

I say this because the verb translated “received” is almost always used in the NT for the transfer of core apostolic doctrine (1 Cor 15:1–3). In this context, Paul is concerned with the transfer of the essential truths of the gospel. In v. 3 Paul says that he “received” (same word as our text) (from the Lord) the authentic details of the gospel. And in v. 1 he says that the Corinthians “received” (same word) this authentic gospel. 

It’s clear, especially in v. 3, that Paul is not so much concerned with the conversion experience but with the transfer of a body of truth.  

And this kind of emphasis fits well in our text. Again, false teachers were trying to persuade the Colossians to move off the foundation of the gospel. Therefore, Paul is concerned that they stay grounded in the truth. As a result, he begins v. 6 by reminding them of how their Christian experience began. It began by receiving a core body of doctrine—the gospel. 

This fact ought to be obvious, but it’s kind of troubling how often people don’t emphasize the content of the gospel in evaluating someone’s faith. This week, I heard a preacher mentioned that there is a movement to claim Mother Theresa as a genuine Christian. The basic logic is that she did so many “Christian” deeds that she must have been a Christian regardless of what she believed.

In contrast, Paul says to the Colossians that they became Christians by receiving a doctrinal tradition. Of course, there’s more to becoming a Christian than passing a theology test, but he wants them to remember, and he wants us to remember that understanding and embracing the core truths of the gospel is at the center of salvation. 

That’s why parents, Sunday School teachers, and all Christians need to be very intentional about communicating the truths of Christ and making sure that those under our care really understand and believe, because if they don’t they cannot be saved.

And so when I got saved, I received a body of truth. Paul then goes on to say that this body of truth is centered in a person. 

I received Jesus who is Lord and Savior.

It is noteworthy that Paul assumes the gospel is centered on a person, not primarily on the things that he gives. Getting saved is fundamentally about being united with Christ, not about eternal life or deliverance. 

But as well, in light of what we just said about the verb “received,” Paul’s primary focus is that in the gospel, we receive a particular system of beliefs about Jesus. This comes out in the title Paul uses for Jesus. In the Greek, it is literally, “the Christ Jesus, the Lord.” It’s actually the only time in the NT this particular title is used. And most commentators agree that Paul especially wants to emphasize the final title. Jesus is “the Lord.” 

Colossians has already said a lot about the lordship of Christ. We saw in 1:15–17 that Jesus is the Lord of creation. He is the eternal God who made everything and sustains everything. And he made all of it for his glory. 

But then we saw in 1:18–23 that he is also Lord of the new creation. Jesus died for sin and rose again so that he could reconcile sinners to himself. He is our spiritual life (1:13–14). And someday he will completely fix his creation when he “reconciles all things to Himself” in the Kingdom.

Therefore, Christ Jesus is the Lord. And Paul’s point in 2:6 is to say that when the Colossians received Christ, at the center of their confession was acknowledging his lordship. They saw that he is the sovereign creator who rules over all, and he is the Savior, who died on the cross and is fully sufficient to rescue me from the consequences of my sin. 

And so I want to emphasize today that becoming a Christian is fundamentally about receiving these basic truths about Christ. In order to become a Christian, you must acknowledge that Jesus alone can rescue me from the darkness of my sin through what he did on the cross. He is the only redeemer, and I must cast myself on his mercy. 

But I also must acknowledge his lordship over me. This is important because most people don’t have a problem acknowledging his general lordship over all sorts of things out there. But where the rub really comes is over acknowledging his lordship over my life because he is my creator, and I exist for him, not for me. There are all sorts of people who want to be forgiven, and they want Jesus to be there when they need him, but they don’t want to acknowledge him as their sovereign Lord. But folks, the lordship of Christ is at the core of the gospel. 

And so have you received Christ Jesus the Lord? Have you come to him recognizing that he alone can save you from your sin and have you cast yourself on his mercy? And have you bowed the knee of your heart to his lordship over you? I’m not asking if you are perfect because you aren’t. But by the grace of God have you said that I want to turn from my sin to Christ? If you have never received Christ the Lord, won’t you see Jesus today as everything the Bible says that he is. He is Lord, and he is the Savior who can save you from your sin. Receive Christ Jesus the Lord today. 

And if you have received Christ, then I would urge you to simply remember what God did when he saved you. You received Christ, and you received all of the grace that is available in him. You are forgiven and eternally secure. Praise God! But you also acknowledged Jesus as your Lord because you saw his glory and beauty. And so be very careful to remember that original vision of who Jesus is and stay faithful to your commitment.

And this leads us very naturally to the second half of v. 6, which transitions to…

The Continuation of My Faith (v. 6b)

I’d like to point out three important grammatical details before I get to the ultimate significance of what Paul is saying. 

Paul is making a comparison between the beginning and the continuation of the Christian life.

The tiny, little word as is very important to understanding this verse. God says that in some sense the way we received Christ is the same way we are to continue walking in Christ. I’ll tell you in a moment what the point of comparison is.

The second grammatical detail is…

The emphasis remains on Christ.

The Greek literally reads, “in him keep walking.” Just as Christ is focus of the beginning of my Christian experience, Christ must remain the focus throughout my Christian life. I must live a Christ-centered life. Third…

God is commanding us to walk this way all the time.

The command to walk, which again is the first command of the book, is intended to picture an ongoing action. I’m not just to walk in in Christ some of the time or just when life is really hard or really easy. I am to walk in him all the time. 

This is why Paul chooses the picture of walking. The NT describes the Christian life as walking along a path many times. This picture emphasizes the fact that my faith must control every aspect of life. 

And so in some sense, v. 6 commands us to continue in Christ just as we began in Christ. But what in particular does Paul have in mind? In light of what we talked about earlier regarding what it means to receive Christ, I believe Paul has two points of comparison in mind. The first is…

I must remain faithful to the truth.

Most people today miss this point, but it is actually Paul’s primary point. As I emphasized last week, the false teachers were pushing the idea that they had something more than the gospel offered. They claimed to offer a superior knowledge of God than is found in Christ and a superior righteousness through obedience to man-made rules. 

Therefore, Paul’s basic point in v. 6 is to remind the Colossians of all they received when they got saved. They received the true message about who Jesus is. He is Lord. And they received the true message of what he offers through his death and resurrection, which is complete forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal life. We saw last week that everything we need for spiritual life is found in him. 

As such, Paul is begging the Colossians in v. 6 to keep walking in the same truth they originally received in the gospel. And folks, we also need this challenge. When you got saved, you received the best news the world has ever known. Gospel means good news. 

But maybe some of the shine has worn off your original faith. You don’t have the same joy and motivation you once had. Worldly ideas that once seemed absurd now seem very plausible and appealing. Your once passionate Christian experience now feels like a blind, weighty walk in the dark. If you are honest, you aren’t sure you really want to go forward. 

If that’s where you are, I first want to urge you to talk with someone. God doesn’t want you to bear such a serious burden alone. But second, I want to urge you to remember what God did when he saved you. You received God’s eternal, life changing truth. You saw Jesus in all of his beauty through the eyes of faith, and you felt the relief of his gracious forgiveness. You received the best news in the world. Remember what you received and keep walking in Christ. 

And so the first point of comparison is that I must remain faithful to the truth I received. The second point of comparison is that…

I must continue relying on Christ’s grace.

When Paul commands us to “keep walking in Him,” he is picturing Jesus as a bubble of protection and strength. You could think of it as riding inside a military tank during an intense battle. The tank’s armor protects you, and the tank’s engine, heavy tracks, and big guns give you the power to go forward. And in a similar sense Paul is saying everything you need is in Christ, so don’t get out of the tank.

In particular, in light of the heresy threatening the Colossians, he is saying don’t try to step outside the perfect righteousness and forgiveness you received in the gospel because there is nothing you can do to add to your acceptance by God. 

Sadly some Christians really struggle with resting in God’s love and forgiveness they received in the gospel. They’re always feeling a pressure to earn God’s love. Folks, that’s as foolish as jumping out of an armored tank during war to fight with a pistol. Just rest in Christ. 

And the other threat that is always inherent to the sort of legalism that was threatening Colossae is that we begin to view spiritual growth purely in terms of our own will power rather than depending on Christ’s power to change us. We look at the commands of Scripture as a mountain that I must climb, and we forget that we are united with the resurrection life of Jesus. Therefore, I don’t have to climb the mountain alone. I can just drive the tank, so to speak. 

Therefore, God commands us here to walk in Christ. He is your security, and he is your strength. And so run to Christ by living in the Word, by seeking God in prayer, and by meditating day and night on God’s promises. 

Folks, it is so important that we not lose sight of the fact that all of the Christian life must be lived in Christ. So often people trust in Christ to get saved, and then they practically forget him. They think that now, it’s up to me to keep God happy and to be holy. They get in the tank, and then they have this urge to get out and fight on their own. 

But God commands to live a Christ-centered life. Every day, we must remember what Christ did for us in the gospel, we must remember that we are secure in his love, and we must remember what he promises to do today and in eternity. Walk in Christ.

And v. 7 follows by giving a fuller description of what the Christ-centered life looks like. I’d like to describe v. 7 as…

The Outworking of My Faith (v. 7)

Verse 7 is built around 4 Greek participles, which all serve to explain what it means to walk in Christ. Notice first that…

Christ began my faith.

Of the 4 participles in v. 7 all of them are in the present tense except for this one, which is in the perfect tense, meaning that it describes a past action with continuing results. Therefore, the idea is that “I have been rooted in Him.” 

Think of a plant that has deep, strong roots inside good soil. Psalm 1 speaks of a tree “planted by the rivers of water.” Therefore, the idea is that when I got saved, Christ planted me in the rich soil of his grace and life. In him, I have everything I need to flourish and to grow. That’s not to say that I can’t learn from others or that I don’t need to strive toward godliness. But fundamentally my life is in Christ. He is the one who gave me life and forgiveness, and he is the one who will sustain and strengthen me.

And so Christ began my faith, and second…

Christ is growing my faith.

Again with this participle Paul shifts from the perfect tense to the present tense. Therefore, the literal idea is, “Having been rooted in him, I am now being built up in him.” With this participle, Paul shifts from an agricultural picture of planting something to a construction picture of building a building. 

It’s worth emphasizing that both of these verbs are in the passive voice, meaning that Paul is not describing something that I ultimately do but something that Christ ultimately does. He plants me, and then he builds me. 

In particular, he is building me through the process of spiritual growth. Christ is changing me into his image. But again, all of this only happens “in Him.” 

What a blessing it is to know that Christ is changing me and then to see evidence of his work. I’ve been a Christian now for 30 years, and I may not be able to look back over a 3 month period and see some kind of rapid change, but I can look back over 30 years and see incredible evidences of the grace of God building me up into the image of Christ. If you have been saved for any length of time, you can also see that process at work. We ought to praise God for what he has done. You aren’t what you once were. And we ought to be encouraged that he is going to keep building us. Christ is growing my faith. Third…

Christ is maturing my faith.

The idea here is that even as Christ continues to build the building higher and higher he is also putting the foundation deeper and deeper into the ground, speaking of the gospel and the core doctrine that we first received. I was listening to a sermon this week on this text, and the preacher said of this verb that God doesn’t build skyscrapers on the sand. He continues to ground me in the truth. 

We need this because life is hard, and there will be times when a storm hits and beats hard against the walls. And you can’t wait until the wind is howling to lay a foundation. Therefore, Christ is at work through the normal drudgery of life and spiritual discipline to lay a deep foundation that will hold fast when the storm hits. 

This means that is life is sailing along pretty well for you, then you shouldn’t grow lazy. The storm is coming, so strengthen your foundation in the faith while you can. Christian, it also means that if you are in the storm of trial and temptation, then trust in the fact that Jesus knew it was coming. He has established you, and he will not let you go. 

And so these first three participles all describe how Christ has and is working in his people so that we can walk in him and experience his grace and help. But then Paul concludes by shifting the focus to my response.

The fourth outworking of the life of Christ is…

I will respond with great gratitude.

Typically, we don’t think of thanksgiving as a central mark of godliness, but Paul has already told us that it is. In several respects vv. 6–7 parallel Paul’s prayer in 1:9–14. Verse 10 says that God’s goal is that we would walk worthy of the Lord, and it follows with 4 marks of a worthy walk. The last one in v. 12 and the one that gets the most attention is “joyfully giving thanks.” 

Here in 2:7, it ought to grab our attention that Paul only lists one response to the work of Christ in his people, and the one he picks is thankfulness. And BTW, he doesn’t just describe going through the motions. He says our response to the work of Christ is to “abound” in thanksgiving. 

Folks, Jesus has done so much for us. Again, when we received the gospel, we received the most glorious good news in all the world. Christ forgave our sins, and he changed our hearts. And he is continuing to sustain us. God is good, and the only rightful response we can have is to give thanks. 

And so Christian, I want to challenge you again to remember what you have received and give thanks to the Lord. And in light of all that you have received, live a Christ-centered life. Christ is all that you need, so walk in Him.

More in Colossians

May 13, 2018

New Life in Christ

May 6, 2018

Complete in Christ

April 22, 2018

Cling to Christ