The Christ-Centered Life

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Rooted in Christ: Paul's Letter to the Colossians

Date: February 10, 2019

Speaker: Jeff Breeding

Series: Rooted in Christ: Paul's Letter to the Colossians

Scripture: Colossians 2:6–2:7

The Christ-Centered Life

When you read the New Testament, you come across a number of vivid images of what it means to live the Christian life. Jesus, in John 15, speaks of the vine and the branch. Believers are the vine, while Jesus himself is the Branch. To live the Christian life, we must be rooted in him. The apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 2 that we read this morning, speaks of living stones being built together into a spiritual house. Again, believers are those living stones, while Christ Jesus is the cornerstone upon which we stand. To live the Christian life, we must be built on the Cornerstone. And then the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians, speaks of a body with many members, all working in connection with the Head. Believers are those individual members, while the Lord Jesus is the Head. To live the Christian life, we must remain connected with him. All through the NT, there are these vivid, memorable images. The vine and the branch, the living stones and the Cornerstone, the body and the Head – each image illustrates what it means to live the Christian life.

Here in Colossians 2, the apostle Paul decides to take a number of those images and jam them together into one expertly crafted, insightful sentence. This is a text that vividly illustrates the reality of the Christian life. Paul picks up Jesus’ vine-and-branch imagery, when he says in v7 that we are rooted in Christ. Paul employs Peter’s imagery when he says we are being built up in Christ. And then to keep things interesting, Paul adds his own image, most likely from the Psalms, that envisions God establishing or strengthening the faith of his people. Rooted, built up, established – like the rest of the NT, Paul employs some familiar imagery to picture for us the reality of the Christian life.

But in the midst of that familiar imagery Paul does make a unique point here in Colossians 2. For Paul, the Christian life is a Christ-Centered life. That is Paul’s point in this passage. Vv6-7 of Colossians 2 show us that the Christian life is a Christ-Centered life. If you think about the context of this letter, then you’ll quickly see why Paul would make this his central point. The Colossians had begun well in following the Lord Jesus. They had received the gospel from Epaphras, but over time, some folks within the congregation began to insist on the need for other ideas and practices. These new teachers were not denying Christ; they merely wanted to add to Christ. And you can understand how this might have appealed to the Colossian church. The Colossians, like any other group of believers, wanted to grow. They wanted to press further into the Christian life. They wanted to know more of God and experience more of his fullness in their lives. Again, what group of Christians wouldn’t want such things? And that’s how the false teachers got their foot in the door, so to speak. They latched on to this legitimate desire for growth, and they twisted it in an attempt to undermine the sufficiency of Christ.

And that’s why Paul writes this letter. More specifically, that’s why Paul writes these two verses. More than any other place in the letter, vv6-7 summarize Paul’s aim in writing. These verses are the heart of the letter, the turning point even, of all that Paul writes. It’s not an overstatement to say that if you understand vv6-7, then you understand the letter as a whole. These verses are that important.

And again, the point of these key verses is what we said just a moment ago – the Christian life is a Christ-Centered life. Paul wants his readers to understand that the Christian life is not merely related to Christ. The gospel is not step 1 that is then followed by something other than Jesus. No, Paul’s point is both simple and crucial – Christ must remain at the center of the Christian life, or else we lose the heart of what it means to follow him. Like a tree with its roots or a building on its foundation, believers must be live each day in connection with Christ.

Of course, the question then becomes what does this Christ-Centered Life look like? In one sense, Paul will spend the remainder of the letter answering that question. But here in vv6-7, Paul does give us a preview, so to speak, that prepares us for what is to come. This text has four parts, and from those parts, we see four marks of a Christ-Centered Life. Let’s consider each one together.

 

The Christ-centered life begins with a confession of Christ’s lordship

The first comes from the opening of v6 – the Christ-Centered life begins with a confession of Christ’s Lordship. Notice the opening phrase of v6 – “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord.” That statement looks back to all that Paul has said so far in the letter. To confess Christ Jesus the Lord is to confess that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. It is to declare that Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead. It is to proclaim that in Christ all things hold together. It is to believe that Christ reconciles sinners by making peace through the blood of his cross. All of those incredible truths are summed up in the title Paul uses for the Lord Jesus. He is Christ Jesus the Lord.

And Paul emphasizes that this is the truth the Colossians have received. Note that word received. That probably sounds pretty nondescript to us, but for Paul received has a significant emphasis. Paul uses this word to describe the reception of authoritative, divine truth. 1 Corinthians 15 is a good example. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received.” You can hear the emphasis on the Corinthians receiving the apostolic gospel. And then later, Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” Paul too received this gospel truth. He didn’t make it up; he received it, and then passed it on to others, including Epaphras, who has now passed it on to the Colossians. When Paul speaks of their having received Christ Jesus, he’s reminding them that they stand in this chain of believers whose lives rest on divinely-revealed truth.

And so, you can hear what Paul is driving at, can’t you? The Colossians did not receive some man-made message about salvation. And neither did they receive a half-truth that needs to be supplemented with some other idea. No, when the Colossians received the gospel, they embraced the very Word of God, revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. That is their confession of faith – that Jesus of Nazareth is both Christ and Lord. Jesus is the Promised Redeemer of God’s people, and Jesus is the sovereign King of the universe. He is worthy of their faith, he is worthy of their obedience, and he is worthy of their praise.

Paul is getting at something very important here, not only for the Colossians but also for us. When we think of receiving Christ Jesus the Lord, we tend to think of a personal decision that has happened in the past. There was a moment in my life when I passed from death to life – a point when I, for the first time, submitted to Christ by faith, confessing my sin and trusting in Christ alone to save me. That’s how we tend to think about receiving Christ – a personal decision that occurred, by God’s grace, at some point in the past. And in one sense, that perspective is absolutely necessary. To be a Christian, you must bow the knee in faith to Christ Jesus the Lord. You must submit your life to him, trusting in his work alone to save you. If you do not know Christ today as your Lord and Savior, this is where you must begin – with submission to him in faith, trusting that he alone can save and that he alone has the authority to direct your life by his Word. Receiving Christ Jesus the Lord is certainly a very personal reality that has a definite expression in time.

But at the same time, we need to recognize that receiving Christ Jesus the Lord is not solely a decision made in the past. This is so important. Receiving Christ Jesus the Lord also means submitting to his authority in the present, in an ongoing way. It means I acknowledge that I do not have authority over my own life. There is a truth outside of me that defines who I am, a truth that I did not create, and a truth that I must not neglect or distort. I received that truth, and therefore, I am now committed to upholding that truth with my life.

I don’t know if many of you remember the musician Rich Mullins. He died many years ago, but he had a song called Creed, based, as you might guess, on the Apostles’ Creed. The song is built around the refrain “I believe” – Mullins’ sings it over and over, “I believe.” But in the chorus, there is this one line that always sticks with me. Mullins says, referring to the gospel, “I did not make it – no, it is making me. It is very truth of God and not the invention of any man.” I did not make it – no, it is making me. That’s what Paul is getting at here in v6. To receive Christ Jesus the Lord means I recognize there is a truth outside of me that demands my allegiance, a truth I not only must believe, but also a truth I must uphold.

This is astonishing to think about. For 2,00 years, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has been confessing together this one truth – that Jesus is both Christ and Lord of all. Down to today, that is the truth we have received by faith. And part of our calling is to remain faithful to the confession we have received.

You know, there is a lot of talk in our day about how the church must adapt to the changing world. There is a lot of talk about being on the right side of history, on getting in step with what’s now considered to be true. Brothers and sisters, in the midst of such a world, part of our calling to hold firm what we have received. By all means, we need to reach the world with truth. We need to pray and labor for sinners to be saved. And at the same time, an essential part of the church’s calling is to stand right here – on the lordship of Christ – and say to those around us, “No, this is what God has revealed. This is what we have received. The right side of history is defined by the lordship of Christ.” Are you prepared to stand firm, brothers and sisters? Are you, even today, seeking to grow in conviction that we have received is, in fact, the unchanging truth of God? We should be. It’s part of our calling. We did not make this truth; it is making us. The Christ-Centered life begins with the confession of Christ’s lordship, and that should remind each of us of our calling to hold fast to what we have received.

 

The Christ-centered life continues in the way it began

As we continue in v6, we find the second mark that completes the first –the Christ-Centered life continues in the way it began. Listen to v6 again, and notice Paul’s emphasis on continuing – “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” In one sense, there’s nothing new here. Having reminded the Colossians of their confession, Paul now calls them to continue living out that confession. That’s the sense of this command. In fact, you could render the verse, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live in him.” The emphasis is on a continual outworking, a continual expression of faith in Jesus Christ. “What you confessed at the beginning, keep living that way,” Paul says. Continue to walk in Christ.

Now, what’s striking about v6 is that this is the first command Paul has given in the letter. This is the first imperative, the first “this is what you should do” kind of instruction. Think about that. Paul has spent 34 verses primarily focused on doctrine. He has written 733 words about truth, about what the Colossians should think and understand. And it’s only after laying that solid foundation that Paul begins issuing commands. That is Paul’s model for discipleship – it’s doctrine first, application second. It’s truth first, then commands.

And this strikes me as being essentially the opposite of how we tend to approach discipleship. By and large, we tend to start with the commands, and then only later fill in the truth. Or, to say it another way, we tend to downplay doctrine in order to emphasize application. You even hear it in the way we sometimes derisively refer to doctrine as just “head knowledge,” as if what a person thinks was somehow unrelated to how he or she lives. But Paul’s model here reminds us that what we think shapes how we live. What I believe informs and even determines how I act. That’s why we need to recover Paul’s model for discipleship and prioritize the teaching of truth. Listen, sometimes the application of a passage is to believe what God has said. Many times the aim of a text is to change the way we think. Is that because Scripture is unconcerned with how we act? No, far from it. The Bible is always aiming at our actions, always aiming at our hearts. But the way we get there is through our minds – through what we believe to be true.

And that’s why we must never pit application and doctrine against one another, as if they were enemies. Doctrine is the seedbed of application. Truth is the foundation for godliness. And therefore, it is never a waste of time to study the things of God – to think God’s thoughts after him. Read books about God. Read the Bible in order to learn God’s thoughts, God’s way. Parents, teach your children truth. By all means, insist that your children obey you, but teach them that obedience matters because God matters. Help them to see that your authority as their parent flows from God’s authority over you. Do you see the connection? I mention parenting because it’s a specific example of what’s true for discipleship in general. It is doctrine – truth! – that gives application a solid foundation. That’s what we see here with the apostle. He first reminds the Colossians of the truth that defines their lives, and only now is he ready to issue commands.

And what about that command, we ask? Paul calls the Colossians to walk in Christ. What does that mean? We have to read the rest of the letter to answer that question! The remainder of the book is the explanation of this one command. But at this point, we could summarize the command like this. To walk in Christ means that every area of life should reflect Christ’s lordship. Every area of life should show the world that I am not the final authority. Christ is, for he is Lord of all. From our personal character to our relationships; from our homes to our workplaces; from our life within the church to our life out in the world – every area of life increasingly submitted to lordship of Christ.

Of course, that requires more thought, and that’s why we’re preaching through the entire letter – so we can hit on each of those areas. But for today, I’d like to ask each us to prayerfully consider just this one question. Is there an area of my life I know I am not currently submitting to the lordship of Christ? Maybe it’s in the workplace – not working hard, not being honest, not following procedure. Maybe it’s in your relationships – harboring bitterness, not seeking to serve, insisting on your own way. Listen, we’re very good at compartmentalizing, aren’t we? We’ve got the work life, the home life, the church life, and on and on it goes. And as long as my church life is straight, then I’m good. But Paul’s letter won’t let us get away with that. Christ reigns supreme over all. His lordship calls for every area of life submitted to him, not just one or two areas.

So before we dive in to all the specifics over the next several weeks, perhaps the best place to start is prayerfully considering the question – is there an area of my life that I know I am not submitting to the lordship of Christ? Ask God to soften your heart. Ask him to bring conviction. And as he does, confess that area to him and seek forgiveness. Even as you examine your life, brothers and sisters, don’t forget the gospel – “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin.” If the Lord brings conviction, confess it to him. Bring it into the light, and even ask someone to help you grow.

The Christ-Centered life continues in the way it began – with submission to the Lordship of Christ. If we want to walk in Christ as Paul commands, then we have to start here – with some honest examination of where we stand.

 

The Christ-centered life depends on God’s work in the gospel

The third mark takes us into v7 – The Christ-Centered life depends on God’s work in the gospel. Notice again what Paul writes, v7 – “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught.” As we mentioned at the outset, here Paul packs together a number of vivid images. Rooted is from the world of agriculture and speaks to the vital connection between root and branch. Built up is from the world of architecture and speaks to the essential role a foundation plays in supporting a structure. And established likely comes from the Psalms and speaks to the result of being rooted and built up – you are strengthened in the faith. You can hear Paul’s essential point. To walk in Christ means we maintain this vital connection with the source of our life, our foundation, and our strength.

But here’s the key piece for understanding v7. All of this is dependent on God’s work in me. In fact, Paul’s language here makes it clear that God is the one carrying out these actions. You could render v7 like this – “having been rooted and being built up in him and being established in the faith.” Did you hear the emphasis on God’s action? We’re not rooting ourselves or building ourselves up. No, it’s God who has rooted us in Christ. It’s God who is building us up in Christ. And it is God who is establishing our faith in the Lord Jesus. Living the Christian life calls for an ongoing dependence on God’s work in us. Christians are not a self-made people. We are a dependent people. Our lives depend on God’s grace working in us.

And yet, that dependence on God does raise a question. Should we simply do nothing? If we are dependent on God’s work, do we just sit back and wait for God to build us up? Notice the end of v7, that little phrase “just as you were taught.” What were the Colossians taught? They were taught the gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ. Catch what Paul is doing here. Catch how he is answering our question. The Colossians are dependent on God’s work, but where is God’s work carried out? In the gospel, the very gospel they were taught, the very gospel they have received by faith.

And therefore, what the Colossians need to do is to continue in that gospel. That is Paul’s application here. As the Colossians gather for worship, confess their sin, love one another, listen to God’s word, labor in prayer – as they engage in life marked by the gospel, they will find that is where God is working. He works in them and through them by means of the gospel.

And the same holds true for us, brothers and sisters. We are dependent on God’s power to work in our lives. But this dependence is active, not passive. We don’t simply sit on the sidelines, hoping God might do something one day. No, we believe the gospel today, trusting that is how God’s power works in us. We gather for worship, we read God’s Word, we confess our sin, we submit to Scripture, we love one another. Those are the regular rhythms of the Christian life, and they’re far more significant than we tend to think. Those regular rhythms are the means through which God works among us.

Do you want to be more firmly rooted in the truth? Do you want your life to built up in Christ? Then give yourself to these regular rhythms of the Christian life. That’s how God works through the gospel to root us and build us up in the Lord Jesus. The Christ-centered life is dependent on God’s work, and that should encourage us all the more to hold fast to the gospel.

 

The Christ-centered life fights for faith with thanksgiving

The final mark comes at the end of v7, and we’ll close with this. The Christ-centered life fights for faith with thanksgiving. Notice the final phrase, v7 – “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Here Paul shifts from the work God does in us to the work that God expects from us. As Christians, we are called to abound in thanksgiving. The idea is to overflow, to be thankful in abundance. For Paul, thanksgiving to God is an offensive weapon in the Christian life. Thanksgiving is part of how we fight for faith. And that’s because thanksgiving is an act of worship. When I am thankful to God for who he is and what he has done in Christ, I am offering God my worship. And by offering God my worship, I am also orienting my life towards him. And that leads to faithfulness. It leads to perseverance.

Notice the progression. Thanksgiving leads to worship, worship leads to faithfulness, and faithfulness leads to perseverance – which, I might add, is the very thing the Colossians need. The point is that Paul’s call for thanksgiving is not a throwaway statement. It’s not a religious sounding platitude. No, thanksgiving is a powerful weapon in the fight for faith.

In fact, just to drive this home, I want you to notice how Paul includes thanksgiving in every chapter of the letter. This is striking to me. Every chapter, Paul emphasizes thanksgiving. Ch 1, v11 – “May you be strengthend with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father.” Our text, ch2 v7 – “abounding in thanksgiving.” Ch3, v15 – “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” And then ch4, v2 – “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” If you look at Paul’s other letters, you’ll find the same pattern. It’s a mark of Paul’s ministry – thanksgiving is a divinely-appointed weapon in the fight for faith. Thanksgiving leads to worship, worship leads to faithfulness, and faithfulness leads to perseverance.

And so, are you thankful? Are we a thankful church body? Are you a Christian who is marked by gratitude? I’ll be honest I’m not as thankful as I ought to be. But I want to grow, and I’m sure you do as well. Let me offer us this one final encouragement, again from v7. Notice that thanksgiving comes at the end of v7, only after Paul has mentioned God’s work on their behalf. Did you notice that? God rooted them in Christ, God is building them up, God is establishing them in the faith, and only then does Paul say, “Be thankful.”

I take that to be the key to abounding in thanksgiving. I can’t make myself feel thankful. But I can fix my eyes on who God is and what he has done in Christ, and as I behold that glorious gospel truth, I see the reason for thanksgiving. There are days when it is hard to give thanks, I’m sure we would all admit. But on any day, the gospel gives us reason enough for thanksgiving. The Christ-Centered life fights for faith with thanksgiving, and so I pray God would make us a thankful people.

I pray we’ve been encouraged, brothers and sisters. God has given us what we need to live a Christ-Centered life. We have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so may we hold fast to the truth. We are dependent on God’s work, so may we continue in the gospel. And over all this, we have reason for thanksgiving, since God has given us the fullness of his grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.