Dear Colossae Week 3: Icon
The book of Colossians. It was a letter written during one of Paul the Apostle’s many trips to prison for declaring Jesus as Lord. And not just any Lord. A Lord who has died and risen again. The letter’s addressed to a community of people that Paul had never met, who made up a church community that he did not start. So, here’s some insight. Colossae was located in the Lycus River Valley near Hierapolis and Laodicea and was under the influence and rule of Persia, Phrygia, Greece and, most importantly, Rome.
An interesting note is that Hierapolis and Colossae had water systems where one was hot springs and the other had cold springs. Well, Laodicea had to have its water aqua-ducted in from both Hierapolis and Colossae, thus it became lukewarm by the time it had arrived. Doesn’t that sound somewhat familiar? Hot, cold, lukewarm?
Back to Colossae. The Lycus Valley was known for its production and dying of high quality purple wool called colossinus. Not only that, but it was also on a trade route. Do you wonder if living on a prosperous trade route made it difficult for people to come to Christ? Did it affect their Christianity? Lots of background to think about.
Dear Colossae, dear Church of Christ, these letters were written to encourage you. Please read them well.
Well, good morning to everybody and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We are in a series called “Dear Colossae.” I think most of you all know this. If you’re new, this will be something that I’m sharing for the first time. You’ll understand this. As a pastor, I decided several years ago that what I wanted to do is at least once a year — and that would be at the very minimum — to work through a book in the Bible or an epistle or a letter with the church.
The reason I wanted to do that was for a number of reasons. One, I’m committed as the pastor of Grace Community Church to Scripture. I think that understanding Scripture and learning how to read it is vital. So, modeling that as a church to say, “Hey, we’re going to take a chunk of time out and we’re really going to go through an entire book in the Bible,” shows that we take God’s Word seriously. And I think we take God’s Word seriously even when we’re not doing that, but this is a commitment to that.
Secondly, I feel like when we do these things publicly and we talk about it — and you can talk about it with your friends, or you watch it again — it helps all of us learn to read Scripture. I mean, every one of us is learning. I mean, I’m learning all the time. I see things all the time that I’ve missed. How did I miss that? You know? We all do that. But when we read it collectively and we go through a book collectively, it helps us all go home and feel like we’re a little bit more comfortable at understanding this.
Third, I’ve hoped in my lifetime — and I have no idea how long I’m going to live. I mean, with the diet that I have of pizza and Mountain Dew, I’ll probably live to 105. So, that being said — I’m just kidding. Some of y’all are like, “What?” I do like Mountain Dew, though. But, anyway, that’s because I’m from Kentucky. That’s God’s country and God’s basketball team. Anyway, that being said, I realize when we go through these — and I’m hoping if I live long enough that I can have some catalogue of teaching where I’ve gone through every single book in the Bible because I hope that people are studying stuff at some point and they can go back and study the Bible with these things and they’ll become tools to help people understand the Bible as a legacy thing.
So, all that stuff is really important to me. So, we’re looking at Colossians and we’re going through this epistle. That’s what this series is about. So, if you’ve been here, you’ll probably know this. If you’re not, it’s a good summary of what we’ve done. We’ve gone through 14 verses so far in the book of Colossians. So, based on that, by about 2027, we should be done with this epistle. I’m just kidding. We’ll be done before then. But the point is we’ve gone through 14 verses. I want to do a quick summary of what we’ve done.
We’ve realized that Paul did not found the church in Colossae, nor had he visited the church in Colossae. A man named Epaphras was the one who had preached the Gospel to the Colossian church. They had come to faith. Epaphras has come to visit Paul while he’s in prison to tell him about the church and what’s going on, and some of the deficiencies, some of the things he’s concerned about, so that Paul can sort of chime in and give an apostolic letter to help them in their deficiencies and to grow.
So, Paul starts off the epistle with saying that him and Timothy both are sort of cowriters. The reason he can write to the Colossians is because he’s an apostle and he does his typical Pauline greeting, which is, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” And then what he does is he says, “Hey, I thank God that the Gospel’s come to you, that Epaphras shared the Gospel. You guys heard the Gospel and you received it and it’s bearing fruit in you and increasing as it does in all the world. You have a hope in heaven. You know that this world is not all that there is. You’re loving people and the saints and you’re doing the things because you realize that Jesus resurrected from the grave, and so that changes the way you live your life because this world is not all that there is.”
And he says, “Because I know that’s always going to be difficult, how that looks and how that works out, I’m going to pray for you that you will receive the download of what God wants for your life in a spiritual way so that you’ll have spiritual wisdom in understanding so that you can walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing to Him, bearing fruit and all of those great things.”
And then he says, “And, by the way, just so that you all know, God took you out of the kingdom of darkness and He transferred you into the kingdom of His Son.”
He’s using Exodus language like the Old Testament, and he’s saying, “God has started a new creation, a new church, a new community of the people of God.”
And you would expect by the end of Colossians 1:14 that Paul has sort of laid everything out. He’s prayed for them, he’s introduced himself and all of that good stuff. So, normally, you would think that about this point is when Paul would say, “Okay. Now, let me start dealing with some of the deficiencies that are going on in Colossae,” but he doesn’t. What he does is he absolutely takes a moment and he just lifts Jesus up in a magnificent way. Some people have called this a poem. Some people have called this a hymn. Some people have said this is an early Church creed.
We simply don’t know. What we do know is that it is beautifully written, as we’re going to see. It’s structured beautifully, as we’re going to see. But it’s sort of an insert into the middle of what Paul is saying. It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “You know what? If I can lift Jesus up in such a way that they really understand who Jesus is, they’re going to realize they don’t have to add anything to Jesus for everything that they need. He is sufficient within Himself for everything that people need.”
Because we’re going to find out, as we move forward into this epistle, that they’re starting to add things to the Gospel. “Don’t touch. Don’t taste. Worship this day. Do it this way. Make sure you’re this way.”
And Paul wants to make sure that people understand that the Gospel is a very simple message. It is Jesus is God in the flesh, He came and died on a cross, He rose again on the third day and He’s going to return one day. That message in and of itself, with nothing else, is the power of God unto salvation, and the local church needs to proclaim that, it needs to live that and not add to it. So, Paul lifts up Jesus with these great, great, great words that we’re going to see. He does it in such a beautiful way. So, let’s get into our text for today and see how Paul does this.
He says, “He is the image of the invisible God,”
The Greek word, “eikón,” we get our word “icon” from. It’s a resemblance. He is the image. In other words, He is in a visible way what the invisible God is. People ask me, because people come to their house and, knock, knock, “We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. We don’t believe that Jesus is God.” And they go, “Chip, does Scripture think that Jesus is God?”
You don’t need John 1:1, which still says that. It’s all through. I mean, even Matthew when Jesus goes up on the Sermon on the Mount and says, “Hey, you’ve heard it said.”
Well, who wrote those commandments? That was the finger of God. So, He goes up on the mountain and says, “You’ve heard it said, but let me tell you what it really means.”
Who in the world could do something like that than God? So, He’s God. He’s the image. He is a tangible view of the invisible God. He is all that God is. In fact, Jesus says that in John 14. Right? He says, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
This is what God looks like. He is the image of the invisible God. He’s God, but He’s God in a way that we can see Him.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
This word, “firstborn,” created a lot of controversy in the early Church because people didn’t know how to take that because the word can denote certain things. It can denote the firstborn. Like, in my family, I was the firstborn child. And then my brother Bobby was born. But I was the firstborn. Okay? So, was Jesus like the firstborn of creation? Like, there was creation then He was born? So, does that make Him less than God? Which you shouldn’t be thinking that way because He just told you He’s God. How you would miss that — so, what I want to do is to do a textual interaction here.
The idea of firstborn denotes supremacy in rank. It can mean the firstborn, but it also has other meanings. Like if I take the word “set” and I say, “I’m going to set this Perrier right here,” and I say, “Hey, let’s go play a set of tennis,” well, the words have different meanings. What Paul is saying here — and I did my own translation. I don’t normally do this, but I tried to make it to where it was really clear. This here:
“He’s the exact visible image of the invisible God, supreme above all creation.”
In other words, He’s God. Everything that God is, He is in visible, tangible form. And He is supreme above all creation. Why is He supreme above all creation?
“For by him all things were created,”
In other words, if you want to know who Jesus is, He’s the one like back, back, way back there. Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God. Yeah. That’s Jesus. Jesus is the God that created everything. He is God. And in fact, it’s hard for us because we go, “Okay. There’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How does all that work?”
Nobody knows exactly how that works. We just know that that’s true because when Jesus is baptized, He’s in the water, the Spirit comes and descend upon Him and the voice of the Father says, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
It’s definitely a trinity there. And even in Genesis 1 there’s a trinity because in Genesis 1:26 it says, “Let us make man in our image.” It’s a Hebraic plural. It’s a majestic plural showing that there is a community here. And so, He is the God who created everything. He’s God. He’s the visible image of who God is. He is supreme above all creation.
“For by him all things were created,”
If you sort of go, “Well, what did He create? Was it some things?” Paul says, “No. Lean in here. In heaven and on earth.” So, if there’s anything up there or anything down here, He created it. Visible and invisible. Even things you can’t see, Jesus created.
“Whether thrones or dominions or rules or authorities.”
Nothing was not created by Him because He’s supreme above all creation because He is the visible image of the invisible God.
“All things were created through him and for him.”
This is — I mean, Jesus is exalted. I said this in the last service, I’ll say it in this one here. This is how awesome God is. This is how awesome the Lord that we serve is. You can’t even exaggerate about Him. Let me let that sink in for a minute. You cannot exaggerate about how great God is because our words cannot adequately describe how awesome He is. Paul is exhausting all language that he can exhaust, and you still can’t do it all. He says, “All things are created through Him and for Him.”
So, let’s do a textual interaction here and jump out of that for a second. Creation language is being used on purpose here. There’s a reason why he’s talking about Jesus as the Creator. Because Paul is saying, “Okay, listen. Lean in here. The world, everything that there is, whether you see it or don’t see it, Jesus created that. Only Jesus. There wasn’t anything else needed. Not anything else. Jesus only creates the world.”
Because where he’s going to go is he’s going to say that the one who created the world and everything that we see and can’t see, and rulers and thrones and all that is the one who’s bringing new creation into the church there at Colossae and to the church here in Sarasota at Grace Community Church and other places. That the God who created is also the God who creates His people. And the God who created didn’t need anything but Himself. Nothing else. And so, the God that creates the Church, the new community, doesn’t need an addition. Jesus only.
He says, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
In Him, all things consist. Just take a moment here and just have a mind-blowing moment here as we jump into a textual interaction. There’s nothing else in all creation needed to hold things together other than Jesus. Now, think about how — I call it a functional unbelief that we have. I have it at times. You have it at times. Where we go, “Oh, no. If I could just get this thing here right, then the world would be good. If we just get this problem solved, then the world would be good.”
As if something else was needed to hold the world together. That’s a functional unbelief. The person — not a religion, not a system, not a belief. The person that holds everything together, every bit of the universe, every atom, every gravity, every planet, everything — the one that holds everything together is the one who created, and He is a person and His name is Jesus. Think about that. Paul is saying, “Hey, let’s make sure we understand who Jesus is.”
“And he...” — this person — “...is the head of the body, the church.”
He is our message. The one that created, the one that all things hold together by, He is the head of the body, the church.
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,”
You should remember, “I just heard ‘firstborn.’” Yeah. Because we’re going to see here in just a second how all this flows together in a beautiful literary style. But He’s the firstborn, now, of the dead. Well, why is that important? Because the one that created the universe, the one that is the firstborn and supreme above all creation is also the one that conquered death, hell and the grave. Because He did that, He is now the creator of the new community.
“That in everything he might be preeminent.”
So, listen, because Christ raised from the dead, He’s now the initiator of the new creation. And then Paul says:
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,”
Everything that God was dwelt in Him. Now, let’s pull back and let’s look at how beautifully this is constructed. This is called “chiastic literature.” What we’ve got here is the way Paul has written this, or if Paul has taken a hymn or a creed and put it together, that’s the way it’s been written. The image of God and the fullness of God are bookends. In other words, whatever God is, that’s Jesus. Jesus is all God. Everything about God, that’s Jesus. Want to know what God is? That’s Jesus. Do you want to know what God looks like? That’s Jesus. Do you want to know who God is? That’s Jesus. He is the image of God. He is the resemblance. He is the icon of God. He is the fullness of God dwelt in Him. He is fully God. Everything about Him is God.
Next, because He’s God and because that’s who He is, He’s the firstborn of creation and He’s the firstborn from the dead. He’s the one that created the whole universe, and He’s also the one that is creating the new community because of His resurrection. You can trust that God can do what He can do because He’s the one that created everything in the first place and there was nothing else needed. He didn’t need to add anything to Him. He did everything. And so, He’s also the firstborn from the dead.
In all things. In the original language it’s really clear the way this is flowing, but you can underline it in your Bible. All things. All things. All things. All things created, whether you see them or you don’t see them, whether tangible or intangible. All things created for Him. He’s before all things. All things hold together. This is who He is. He is God. He is the firstborn of creation, the firstborn of the dead. And everything that there is, He is in control of, He is God over. He has it all. In fact, nothing can get out of His way. Everything holds together because of who He is. And He is the head of the body, the church, which means the message of this He’s the head is this.
This is who we proclaim. This is who we talk about. This right here is enough information for people to know who God is. Jesus is sufficient. And then he says to the church:
“And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
How did He make peace? How did He reconcile? How did He do it? By us getting everything right? By us being able to recite certain creeds or catechisms? Or by getting our theology right? Soteriology? Ecclesiology? Eschatology?
“What are those words?”
You don’t need to know them at all, but some people think you do or you’re not in. No, no. All of this happened. He made peace by the blood of His cross. So, Paul’s saying, “Hey, listen, I know there’s some stuff going on in the church. Listen in. I’m writing you a letter. Timothy’s with me. Grace to you and peace from God the Father. I’m grateful that Epaphras has shared the Gospel with you. I’m grateful that the Gospel is bearing fruit. I’m grateful that you have a hope that’s in heaven. So, I’m going to pray for you because you’re going to need to download, and the download’s going to need to be a spiritual download because you’re going to be confronted with all kinds of things to add to this Gospel. I want to make sure that you walk in a manner worthy of the Lord bearing fruit in everything that you do. So, let me tell you about, and remind you, who Jesus is. He’s God. He created everything. Everything bows to Him. He’s the head of the body, the Church. The way the Church was formed was not through anything other than Him.”
And then he says this: “And you,” — the Colossians — “who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,”
“I mean, we’ve already talked about this, but I want to bring this back up again because I’m trying to make a point,” Paul would say. “Follow my logic. Follow where I’m going. Follow what I’m saying. The Gospel has come to you and I’m praying for you. I have all this great stuff and God’s done all this stuff. But I want to make sure that you understand who your Savior is. I want to make sure that you understand that Jesus didn’t need anything else to do all the things that He needed. So, we don’t need to add anything to it. And you, because you remember I just told you you’ve been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His Son. You know that. You know you experienced that. But let me reiterate this again.”
“And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,”
“So that nobody misses it.”
“And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,”
“You’ve got the right doctrine. You’ve got the right issue. You did the right things.”
“And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,” — listen — “he has...” — he, a person, nothing else needed.
“He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death,”
He did it. The initiator of the new creation, the initiator of salvation in your heart was Him. Not getting everything right. Not getting everything perfect. Not making sure every checkbox was done. Not getting on this issue or that soapbox or whatever. He’s the one who did it. Can I just share something with you here just so that you understand? Do you want to know your idols in your heart? I’ll give you the Chip Bennett way of knowing your idols in the heart. I’m going to tell you how you can know what the idols of your heart are. What do you get fired up about? When you’re watching TV or you’re on social media or whatever, and you get fired up on the inside about it, it’s an idol because it’s distracting from your attention of your Savior. It’s something that you can add to the Gospel and sort of say, “Well, Christians wouldn’t do that,” or whatever.
It becomes an idol because the only person that is required — and it’s not a belief, and it’s not a body of doctrine. It is a person that we preach. His name is Jesus. He’s the one who reconciled in his body of flesh by his death. Listen, this is important:
“In order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,”
In order to do these things — and here comes the word. Here’s the word. It’s so important because Paul’s writing to a church that might be taking a deviation, that might be moving away, that might be adding some things. “Don’t touch. Don’t taste. Do this thing. Worship at this time. Do it this way. This is the way you’ve got to do it or you can’t be this.”
He says, “Listen, all of this stuff, you were once alienated. He’s the one that has reconciled you. In order to do this...” — listen, this is so important.
“If indeed you continue in the faith,”
Are you going to deviate? Are you going to get moved away?
“If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast,” — listen, this is so huge — “not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard,”
This is Paul’s concern for every church. “Do you realize that everything you need is in Jesus?” There is no “Jesus, plus.” There is no Jesus in addition. There is no Jesus and, by the way, you’ve got to get these things right. Jesus is the sole message. And he says, “I’m concerned.” Now, he doesn’t think that Christians are not going to continue on. This is not a negative. This is an assumption that he makes is that this is what Christians do. Christians, they may get deviated for a while. They may get distracted for a while. They may take two steps forward and five steps back at a time. But when they’re confronted with the truth of the Gospel, they say, “Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. I am deviating a little bit. I have got off track a little bit.”
Because, to Paul, we continue. We don’t shift from the hope of the Gospel that we’ve heard. And he says:
“Which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
“I preach the Gospel. I talk about the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and creates this new creation. The new people of God; the Church.”
I’ll just give you a real quick thing here off the cuff. This is not really part of the message, but I think it’s important. When Cain kills Abel in the Old Testament — and this is the trajectory of Genesis from Genesis 1 through Genesis 12 where it starts in Genesis 12:1. Cain kills Abel, and the very first thing that Cain does after he kills Abel is he founds a city. That’s what he does. He founds a city. Because, in the city, he can have security. In the city, he can take care of everything. In the city, he can have commerce and economics. In the city, he can find all those things. And then you’ve got to defend the city and you’ve got to do all those things. That’s the city.
The Bible tells us that Cain — you can read it — has the lyre and the harp and some tools. You read that and you’re like, “Why would that even be in there?” Because later on, in the five books of Moses, those specific instruments that are talked of are talked about in the construction of the tabernacle where God will reside. Because the writer of Genesis is telling you that Cain has a city that God is not in. God’s not in that city. God’s not in any cities. God has another kingdom, another city. We see this trajectory as cities move and people move. They keep moving east of Eden. They keep moving further away from God until, in Genesis 11, we’ve got the ultimate city, Babel. They’re going to build all the way to God. They’ve got God in the city and the city in God. They’ve fused it all together and made it work, and God comes down. So, what does He do in Genesis 12? Because He’s told you something in Genesis 1-11 about the way God works, He says to Abraham, “Leave your city. Get out. Take a journey. Follow me.”
And what does Hebrews 11 say about Abraham? He was looking for the heavenly city. All the way back then. Like, we act like the Old Testament is this crazy book that nobody — all the way back then, Abraham had more faith and more cognizance of what’s going on. He’s looking to the Savior as much as we are. Saved the same way we are. Genesis 15:6 said, “He believed God, and God said he was righteous.”
Same thing. He’s looking towards the heavenly city. All the patriarchs are. Read Hebrews 11. They’re all looking for the city because they realize that what God has done is formed a new community that is to look like Him. And the cities of this world will bring us down. They’ll get us bogged down in all of the things. And we’ll fight about it and argue about it and it’ll distract from the message. The message is Jesus. The message is this world isn’t what matters. What matters is there is another world and everything in this world is moving towards that world. Everything in this world is either taking us into this world in a positive world or into this world that’s coming in a negative way.
And if we deviate from the message — because the only thing that can save anybody is Jesus. Not all the other things that we get bogged down on. So, let’s look at this practically here and try to download how this can work in our lives practically. First, Jesus is the wholly sufficient content of our Gospel message. We don’t need anything else. He’s the message. He’s wholly sufficient because He’s the Creator of the world and the new creation. All things are in Him. Do you believe that at the name of Jesus — not in addition. Do you believe in the name of Jesus there is salvation, there is deliverance, there is healing, there is all of these great things? Do we believe that? Is He the wholly sufficient content of our Gospel message?
Because, see, Paul believed that a proper view of Christ would keep the Colossians from deviating from the Gospel. That they wouldn’t add something to it. So, the question I have is this, for everybody: “Do I really believe that Jesus being preached is enough? Do I believe that?”
Do I believe like Paul, who goes into the church in Corinth? And this is a place where wisdom is — they were sophists. You could read in chapter one. He’s say, “Where is the debater of this age?” These people stood on the street corners in Corinth and philosophized about the world and rhetoric and argued and all this stuff. I mean, everything was all based on wisdom and everything. So, Paul says to them, “When I came to you, I didn’t come with great words of rhetoric. I didn’t come with fancy speech. I didn’t come with all kinds of bombastic words. In fact, I came with fear and trembling.”
Corinthians 2:2: “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus and him crucified.”
Is that message enough or is it not? To Paul, who says the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Do we find in the Philippian jail cell when the Philippian Jailer looks at Paul and Barnabas and he says, “Man, I want to get in. What do I got to do?”
And they go, “Oh, okay. I’m glad you want to get in. Let’s open up the book here. We’ve got to clean you up a little bit because you don’t have it all right right now. Hey, what’s your view on ecclesiology? What do you think about women in ministry or not women in ministry? What’s your view on eschatology? Are you post, mid or pre trib? What are you at here? When do you think Jesus is going to come back? Because you’ve got to get these things right, brother, or you can’t get in. How’d you vote in the last Galilean election, by the way? Because I need to know that before I can let you in. And what’s your view on this issue and view on that issue? Because if you get all these things right, then we’ll talk about it.”
No. He says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
Is that message enough? Because, if it is, therefore, our faith cannot rest in the body of our beliefs, but solely in Jesus. And this is so subtle. It’s so subtle. We start to believe that the things that we believe are the things that save us. We’ve got to have the right beliefs rather than the right person. That’s right. Because, like in Matthew 16, doesn’t he say to Simon, “So, tell me what you think about me?” Right? “Tell me what you think, doctrinally, about me?” No. He says, “Who do you say I am? Who do you say I am?”
That’s what matters. “Who do you say I am?” So, what happens is we develop a system rather than trust in a person when our preaching, whether we intend it or not, becomes “Jesus, plus.” It’s like, “Well, yeah. I mean, you’ve got to believe in Jesus.”
So, let me give you a Chip Bennett down home recipe to know if you sort of maybe have, or I maybe sort of have a little bit of a system going on rather than just the purity of the Gospel. It works like this: “Well, they can’t be a Christian because...”
If you’ve made this statement, and the other thing isn’t, “Because they don’t believe in Jesus,” — if you’ve added anything else here, you have a system. You’ve added something to the Gospel because what you’re really saying is, “They don’t do their Christianity exactly like me.” This is a sobering message because it’s so subtle. Listen to me. Listen to me. I’m not saying there are not things that are not important. I’m not saying there are not doctrines that are not important. But let me tell you something. If you got every doctrine right and every view right and every political issue right and every social issue right, in a person’s life, they still would not know God because the only person that can save is Jesus.
We’ll spend so much time and energy on all the other things as if that’s what’s going to make the difference, rather than simply letting people know about who Jesus is. And so, here’s the deal. Listen, we end up fighting and arguing our system, or our systems, rather than proclaiming the Savior. And you see it in the Church. It’s rampant right now. I’ve got Christians on Facebook that I’m going, “Goodness gracious.”
I mean, they’re excommunicating each other from the faith. “You’re not a Christian.” I’m just going, “Man, I know both of you guys. You both get down on your knees every night. You both love God passionately. You just disagree on stuff that really isn’t that important. It is to you. But what’s important is that people know who Jesus is and not a “Jesus, plus,” or a “Jesus in addition.” And if you go through Scripture, you can read it over and over and over again. Paul’s concern. Read it for yourself. Go to the epistle to the Galatians.
He’s like, “You’ve deserted the Gospel. You’ve changed it. You’ve made it say something that it doesn’t say. It’s not hard. It’s not getting everything right. Listen, I’m here to tell you I’ve been following Jesus to the best of my ability for over 30 years. There’s been times where I’ve been on the mountaintop and it’s been like me and God are right there and I feel God’s presence. There’s been times when I’ve been in the valley of despair wondering if God even exists and being mad at God at times and being frustrated at God and all of those things.
I’ve had all of these things. I’ve changed my mind on things on a number of occasions and all kinds of stuff. Things that I believed passionately. Things I argued people into. I mean, things I beat people over the head with the Bible into. And can I tell you something? I’m just being honest here. None of those things ever changed anybody’s life. But what did change people’s lives is when I stood up in the platform, stopped preaching my opinions and my thoughts and started telling people about the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and His name is Jesus. When I started getting on that message, people’s lives changed.
And when I read the Gospels, I see how passionate Paul is and I can’t, as a pastor, sidestep that. I have to go, “Man, that’s my job.” If there’s one thing I’m called to do, it’s to keep Jesus the focus of the church and to not get distracted.
The last thing I’ll say is this here: We simply can’t afford to get distracted. Or, in theological terms, we persevere. Paul says, “If you continue in the faith, steadfast and stable, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.” In other words, Paul believes, as do the other New Testament writers, that we’re not the ones that shrink back. We’re not the ones that drift fully. There may be times. But we’re the ones that continue on. God lives within us and He encourages us and He moves us and He shapes us. And what happens is when it comes to salvation, we usually do two — and it’s this way in everything. I mean, please hear me on this. Please, please, please stop going to extremes on everything.
Please. We just go to extremes on everything. And then we yell at each other and scream at each other. Seriously. Do you think we look like Jesus when we’re doing that? No. Goodness gracious. And like we would know anyway. Like, you think you’ve got all the facts? I mean, I teach. I’m a professor. I get in front of my class all the time and go, “Probably about 33% of what I know is wrong.”
And they’re like, “What?”
I’m like, “Yeah, because I don’t know everything.” We go to extremes. And when it comes to salvation, here’s the way it works usually. It’s, “Say this prayer.” And nobody knows exactly how that prayer works, but it’s like, “Here’s the prayer,” and it’s usually got something about Jesus. “I’m a sinner. I need You. Forgive me and whatever.”
“Say that prayer and you’re good.”
First of all, there’s nowhere in Scripture that says, “Here’s the prayer you’re supposed to pray.” That’s a problem. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter didn’t say, “Now that I’ve preached, bow your head, close your eyes, raise your hand.” He didn’t do that. Okay? I’m not making fun of that prayer, I’m just saying that we have this thing that we go, “Say this prayer and you’re good. Just do it and you’re good.”
“Well, what about living that?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
You know, that’s not biblical. That’s a cheapening of grace. And then the other side is you’ve got to do all these things and jump through all these hoops, and it becomes this legalistic thing and everybody’s like, “You’re not a Christian. You’re not a Christian. You’re not one. You didn’t live up.”
And, basically, what they’re saying is, “You’re not living up to the way I see it; the way it should be.” And everybody’s pointing fingers at everybody, and they’ve got this stuff. Let me try to explain to you what Paul sees with salvation, how he sees all this stuff and why he makes statements about that we don’t shift and we continue on.
Because of this: Paul sees salvation as not just this monolithic thing. It’s complex. It’s not just something that you just pull out and go, “Okay. You said this prayer.”
No. Paul thinks salvation starts with the initiative of God. You and me are dead in our trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:1. Not like sort of, maybe or have got a snorkel up out of the water and we’re just about to drown, but we almost are there. No. He says, “You’re on the bottom of the ocean, dead. Your skin is sort of buckled up. You’re blue. You’re not breathing. There’s no bubbles coming out of your mouth. You’re just dead. In fact, the fish are starting to feed on you. You’re dead. Okay? You’re dead. You’re dead in trespasses and sin.”
And God, in His grace, comes to you and me. You didn’t have to clean up or get anything right. None of that stuff. He comes to you and me where we are and meets us there with the Gospel. He’s the initiator of it. Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father unless the Spirit draws him.”
If God didn’t take that initiative, none of us would go. None of us. God comes and meets us where we are and meets us with this grace that is absolutely incredible. It is extravagant. It is crazy grace. I mean, unbelievable. But that’s not the end of it. It doesn’t stop there. That would be such a cheapening of what God has for you and me. That grace that meets you where you are doesn’t leave you where you are. It gives you ability. It gives you the Spirit of God within you to move you forward. And you may not be better than your pagan neighbor, but you’ll be better than you were before you met Jesus.
And that starts the process of sanctification where we’re moving towards God. And there’s the expectation in Scripture that if this has happened to you, that this will be going on in you. It’s not, “Oh, well now it’s legalism.”
No, no, no. It’s not legalism. Legalism is you’ve got to do these things to be saved. You didn’t have to do anything to get saved. But if you are, there’s an expectation that you’re going to want to become more like Jesus. If you’ve ever been saved, you know that when you do something that you shouldn’t have done, there’s something on the inside that does this number to you that didn’t do that before. Before, it was like, “Alright. Heck yeah. This is awesome.”
I mean, you’re going sinning. You get in your car. You’ve got sin under the seat. You’ve got sin in the side pocket and in the glove box. I mean, you are there to sin and it is fun. I mean, it’s like all in. Then you get saved and you’re like, “Man, I don’t know. This sort of don’t feel right.” You may still do it, but you’re going, “Eh, I don’t know.”
You don’t even know anything about the Bible. You just know something’s not right. That’s the Spirit of God within you because grace just doesn’t meet you where you are. Grace wants to make you more like Jesus. That’s called sanctification. And people that really have the Spirit of God on the inside of them, they persevere. They may take two steps and one step over here because there’s grace for those things, but what happens is we move forward.
So, what Paul is saying is, “Hey, we can’t get distracted. If we’re people that follow God, we need to stay on point.”
We need to make sure that we don’t let anything seep in, creep in or somehow confuse what this message is. The message is a person. The message is Jesus. The very simple mention of the carpenter from Nazareth that died on a cross and rose again on the third day, and one day is going to come back, which means this world is not all that there is, that that’s all God needs to do God’s work. “How can they hear unless someone speaks,” Paul says in Romans. That’s the Gospel that’s spoken.
But when the Gospel is spoken, and Paul calls it the foolishness of the word preached — like, “Seriously? That’s it? That’s the content?”
That’s the content. And anything that we add to that, we diminish because the Jesus that we add to and go, “Well, yeah. But you’ve got this here, this here, this here and this here. You’ve got to add this and you’ve got to do this.” What we’ve done is we’ve made Jesus now in our image rather than seeing Jesus as the image that Paul tells us about: The one that created everything, the one that in all things hold together, the one that’s before all things, the one that’s majestic. That’s who our Savior is. That is our message. And as a church, we cannot afford to allow anything to compromise the message of what we speak. That’s what Paul wants us to understand in the passage that we just looked at.
Dear Heavenly Father, I have two things I want to pray for. One, if there’s anybody in here that maybe they showed up, maybe they came, maybe somebody invited them, maybe they stumbled in here and, for some reason, they’ve heard about this man Jesus and they’re like, “Man, I don’t know what’s going on in my heart, but I know that it’s pumping and I know that there’s something going on,” Lord, I pray that what they would do right now at their chair is they would just say, “Jesus, I want to follow You. I believe that You rose from the dead. I want to be one of Your children.”
Lord, if anybody’s at that spot right now and they’re saying that at their chair, I pray that when they get up when service ends they would find somebody with a name badge on and say, “Tell me what is next. Tell me what I need to do. Tell me where I need to go. Tell me how this plays out,” so that we can get them involved and get them moving forward in their relationship with God. But, Lord, for those of us that say we’re followers of You, I pray, Lord, that today we would just take a real stone cold look in the mirror and realize that the content of our message is Jesus. It’s not “Jesus, plus” and “Jesus and.”
There are so many things that we really do add to the Gospel that are not going to save anybody. So, Lord, help us to remember that. Help us to be the church that I feel passionately that You’ve called us to be. That’s to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Your Son, that reflect Jesus. Lord, help us in this day and age to stay on point and not to get distracted with other things. Our message is Your Son, the King of kings and the Lord or lords, and His name is Jesus.
So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today, that You would watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would continue to lead and guide us. I pray that You would help us get safely to wherever we’re going and bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, continue to help this church stay focused on being what You’ve called us to be: A place that lifts Jesus up in everything that we do. It’s in His name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.