Shadows versus reality - Colossians 2:6-23

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 9th November 2008.

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We all know some questions have an obvious answer. Let me give you a few examples.

Would you accept more money for the same number of hours you work? Would you accept more money for less hours?

If you have a tracker mortgage, were you pleased when the Bank of England slashed interest rates by 1.5%?

If you are a Tigers fan then would you like Hull City to win the Barclays Premier League?

There are some questions with an obvious answer. And here is another one.

If you are a Christian, do you want to make spiritual progress in the next 12 months? The answer is obvious. No Christian wants to stand still in their faith. We want to mature. We want to become wiser. We want to make progress in our spiritual lives. The only question is, how?

How can we, as believers in Jesus, reach new heights in our spiritual development?

Listen to what Paul says in verses 6 and 7. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and build up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

At first sight this may seem like an anti-climax to us. It all seems so ordinary to us. Paul is essentially saying, as you started the Christian life, keep on going. If you want to make progress then keep on doing the things you did at first.

What was that? Two things I want to highlight.

1.    They received Christ Jesus as Lord
2.    They received Christ Jesus as Lord by hearing about Christ Jesus the Lord

First of all, they received Christ Jesus as Lord. This is how they became Christians. This is how they made the transition from spiritual death to spiritual life. They submitted their life, they surrendered their will, to the loving leadership of Jesus Christ. They acknowledged they were rebels against the Father’s appointed king. They surrendered to Jesus, they asked for his forgiveness on the basis of his atoning death and they decided to follow him forever.

This is what it means to be a Christian. I say this for the benefit of those who have come along tonight and are not yet Christians. What makes you a Christian? How do you do it? It’s not Christian heritage. It’s not church attendance. It’s not even bible knowledge. It is a surrendering of the will to Jesus Christ. It is receiving Christ Jesus as Lord. That’s how you begin the Christian life. And what does Paul say about how we continue the Christian life? Well, he says it’s actually quite simple. As you started out, keep on going. Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord keep on acknowledging him as Lord every day of your life.

Or if I can put it like this. When you became a Christian you declared your intention to allow Jesus to rule your every thought and action, well for the rest of your life actively make that intention a reality.

Do you remember what Jesus says in Mark 8:24? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” There are two aspects to this. There is the original denial of self. To deny something means to say no. We all know what it means to deny something. We say no. I have to constantly deny I have a ridiculous pair of Tartan Trousers. I say ‘no, they are magnificent.’ We say no to our own self rule. But it’s not an overnight transformation. We must pick up our cross daily until we and walk to the place of execution, where eventually the old self with be killed forever.

Just as you started, keep on going. One of the key measures of spiritual growth. How evident is the rule of Christ in a believers’ life?

The second thing I want to highlight from what Paul says in these verses is how the Colossians received Christ Jesus as Lord.

Do you remember how? They learned the Christian faith. They were taught it by one of their own citizens, a man called Epaphras. He came to them with the authorised message about Jesus, he explained it to them, they believed what he said and they responded accordingly.

How did they receive Christ Jesus as Lord? Through a message. Through words that were spoken. They did not have a mystical experience. They did not have a vague inner feeling. They heard real words spoken by a real person and these words gave rise to real spiritual life in the Colossians.

And Paul says, as you started the Christian life so continue the Christian life. The authentic Christian faith is unashamedly a word based religion. Words matter for spiritual growth. We are not mystics. Our calling is not to retreat to a distant mountain and listen to the voice within but to keep on listening to the authorised words of Jesus, to understand them and to put them into practice.

Paul says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and build up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

We become rooted when we hear the authorised words of Jesus and we remain rooted and are built up when we come to the same words. This is the way to authentic spiritual growth.

Where can we find the authorised words of Jesus? His own words but also those he commended. The Old Testament. The people he authorised to speak on his behalf. They are called apostles. The sent ones. Not the only criteria for a book to be given a place in the Bible but it was one of the most important. The authorised words of Jesus are found in the Bible.

This is why it’s not particularly wise to stand for the Gospel reading or to have bibles where the words of Jesus are in red.

If we want to make spiritual progress we must never leave Jesus. We must always stick with him. But we must never leave the authorised words of Jesus. These are vital if we are to grow up in our Christian maturity.

Some people will say, I used to be like that but I’m moved on to other spiritual traditions. No you haven’t. You have ripped up your roots and have placed them elsewhere but not in Christ.

We are to treasure the words of Jesus. Do we? How are we listening? How are we attending?

Christian growth happens by rooted ourselves in the written word of God and allowing it to change us day by day so that we increasingly allow Jesus to rule us.

All this may seem very ordinary and unexciting to us. It may even frustrate us from time to time but when it does what should we do? At first I thought of the Karate Kid. Remember the Karate Kid (1984). Daniel wants to get to The Scare Crow but at first Mr Miyagi only tells him to paint the fence and wax on/wax off. He must trust the instructor. He knows what is best. But this is not a very good illustration for us. Engaging with the Word should never be dull and we never move on from it. What a wonderful joy it should be. Listening to the voice of God. If we want to move on we continue to stick with it.

This is vital for us to not just to know but to believe. There will always be alternatives for the Christian keen to make progress. There are many ways to authentic spiritual decline. We need to be fully convinced of the authentic way of Christian growth.

We also need to be aware of consequences of giving up on Jesus and his words. This is what Paul moves on to talk about in verse 8. He says, “See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human traditions and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

The danger is that we move away from Christ and his word to alternatives which promise so much but which don’t deliver. They look attractive and inviting but they are dangerous.

The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It should have been an 18 certificate because of him! Lollypops and children. It looks like a lovely truck but it’s a cage.

This is what alternative spiritual systems offer. Whether they be other religions, other philosophies or even those masquerading as Christian but not the authentic Christian way through the Christ’s Word.

What does Paul says about them? They will take you captive. Instead of being liberated by Jesus and knowing his forgiveness and the transformation that results from this event, you will be trapped by all sorts of rules you cannot keep or experiences you cannot attain. In the end you will feel guilty and inadequate.

How do you judge the authenticity of a spiritual system? Two common criteria are age and popularity.

Age. Not just religions. Just walk down the high street and you’ll see ‘family bakers’ advertising they were established in 1886. Age still counts for something. Same with religions. Tradition – it’s been done like for such a long time.

Popularity. If many people are doing it then maybe it’s okay.

Look at the criteria Paul gives in verse 8.

“See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human traditions and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

It must be based on Christ. The reason is given in verse 9. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

He is one of the three members of the Heavenly Royal Family. He can speak from a vantage point of truth. All the fullness of the Deity lives in a body.

If not on Christ then religious systems are based on human traditions and the basic principles of this world. Just because something is old or popular doesn’t mean it is genuine. It’s very popular to say that good deeds will get you to heaven, almost as if it is self explanatory – a basic principle of religion, even of life. But no Christ says this is nonsense. He should know because all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form.

It is very easy as a Christian to forget the wonderful blessings we have been given in Christ. So for the next few minutes I want to take us on a tour of verses 10 to 15 and remind us of the rich blessings that are ours.

1.    Vs 10 – “you have been given fullness in Christ.” We have everything we need in Christ. Do we need to know anything about God? Look to Christ. Do we need to know anything about life? Look to Christ. There is nothing we need for life and godliness that is not found in Jesus Christ.

2.    Vs 11-12 – “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men by with the circumcision done by Christ.”

•    In the OT all Jewish boys aged 8 days old were circumcised and adult male converts. Part of the foreskin was literally cut off.
•    As Christians we have been circumcised. Christ has done something to us. Relieved to know to our spiritual hearts. Cutting off of the sinful nature. The sinful heart.
•    We have had a heart transplant. Done by Christ through his Spirit.
•    Verse 12 may worry some of you – “having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” I though repentance and faith saved you. What is all this talk about baptism? In the NT baptism took place almost immediately someone decided to become a Christian. Instead of putting a hand up or walking to the front or filling in a card they were baptised. So here baptism is just a different way of speaking about the conversion event which linked them to Christ.
•    In Christ we have been circumcised. Good news. Other religions and other systems only have two real solutions.

i.    Focus on external rules.
ii.    Deny the heart has a problem.

•    In Christ we have been taken to the operating theatre and the Spirit himself has removed our old bias and given us a new heart. So we are now ready to live for Christ!

3.    Vs 13-14 – “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us, he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

•    Our sins cut us off from the life of God and because of our sinful bias there was no way we were going to come back in his direction. But God stepped in and linked us to Christ and so we now have spiritual life.
•    What he has done with our past and our future is amazing. He forgive our sins. How many sins? See verse 13. All our sins. Everyone of them.
•    How did he do it? He was able to forgive them. He cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that stood against us.
•    Paul is using imagery from the money market. A massive IOU note. It has regulations. There is a penalty for going into debt and not being able to pay. Cannot just we wiped off. Penalties must be paid.
•    God pays the penalty himself. The The Father sends the Son to die on the cross. Nails the IOU and pays the cost himself.
•    All of our sins are forgiven.

4.    Verse 15 – “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

•    He disarmed evil powers who had a mighty weapon. The weapon of guilt.
•    When the voices come.
•    The blood of Jesus has paid for all sin.

What does all this mean for us? Paul tells us in verses 16 to 23.

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however is found in Christ.”

Remember it’s all about spiritual development. What about these other things? What if they don’t have a rigorous eating and drinking regime? Perhaps regular fasting. Or perhaps they don’t keep all the religious festivals. Even a Sabbath day. Are they performing spiritually well? Will they make spiritual progress? All you need is Christ.

A Christian doesn’t need to keep any of these by law. Some may out of conscience choose them but t they are not a law and are only helpful if they point us to Christ.

If anyone ever looks down their nose at your lack of physical habits and feast days don’t be condemned. Maybe don’t follow the lectionary of some other ritual. All we have is Christ and his word. In that case we have everything!

Paul makes a second point in verses 18 and 19. “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lots connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

These words are very sobering. It is possible to call yourself a ‘spiritual’ person and be very ‘unspiritual’. Even if you have had the most vivid spiritual experiences and yet if they are not connected with Jesus then they are empty and idle.

Beware Christians of those who speak of heavenly adventures but what they say is not rooted in the written words of Christ. We must be connected to the Head if we are to grow in our faith.

The last implication of what Paul has said about Christ is spelt out for us in verses 20 to 23. “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations have the appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

We all want to change inside. How does this happen? Again it’s back to the words of Christ. We have the Spirit. The question is how much control does the Spirit exercise in our lives. We allow him more as we read the word of God and put it into practice. That’s the way to restrain the body. Not by being like the Albino monk in the Da Vinci Code but something much less dramatic.
Reading our Bibles, praying for understanding and for the power of God to keep on changing us from the inside out.

Do you want to make spiritual progress in the next 12 months? Stick with Christ by sticking with his Word.

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