We have begun a new study of Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse. This was a church that Paul had never visited but it was one that he was indirectly involved in. You see, most people feel that Paul was probably the agent God used to lead Epaphras to Christ. Epaphras is thought to be the man who started the church in Colosse and was possibly the “Pastor” of the church.
The people in Colosse were hearing about all the ideas and experiences of the people around them and were wondering if maybe they were missing something. Maybe they needed more than their faith in Christ. These questions were among those Epaphras shared with Paul when he came to visit him in prison.
It does not surprise us then that Paul begins his letter quickly affirming the genuineness of Colossian faith,
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth. (1:3-5)
Paul uses a familiar “shorthand” to describe authentic Christianity: an authentic Christian is characterized by a faith in Christ and a love for others that is anchored in the hope of eternal life. Let’s look at this simple description.
Faith in Christ Jesus
We hear lots of people today who tell us they have faith. Others tell us that faith is very important in their lives. We are living in a day when faith is quite popular. However, we must avoid making the mistake of assuming that everyone is using the term the same way we are.
First, we must always ask, “What is the object of your faith?” You see faith in and of itself has no intrinsic value. Faith has no power . . it is the object of your faith that is significant. You see, many people have faith, but the object of their faith is: experience, reincarnation, theology or philosophical systems, their own goodness, the free market system, the goodness of men or even religion or the church.
The true believer has faith in Christ Jesus . . . not in the things of this world. How quick we are to forget this. We are prone to quickly revert to our old approach to faith. Christian confidence and faith is not in anything we have done or can do . . . our confidence is in Jesus Christ: in His sacrificial death, victorious resurrection and His present intercession.
But this leads us to the second question: What does it mean to have “faith”? Some would say that having faith is to feel good about something. But when the Bible talks about faith in Christ, it means to believe Him, depend on Him, follow Him. It means to believe what He says about God, about salvation, about ourselves. When John G. Paton was translating the Bible in the Outer Hebrides, he searched for the exact word to translate “believe”. Finally he found it: the word meant “lean your whole weight upon.” [Wiersbe, Be Complete p. 24] To have faith in Christ is to “bet our life on Him.” Having faith in Christ means believing that His death really was the payment for our sin . . . just as He said. It means believing that He loves us . . even though we feel unlovable.
The third question follows, where does this faith come from? Notice something interesting from this text . . this faith is not the means to salvation; it is the result of our salvation. Paul tells us that this faith “springs from the hope that is stored up for you in Heaven.” Faith doesn’t produce the hope . . . it comes from the hope.
Now this is different from the way we usually talk. We usually make it seem that we have to come up with faith in order to be saved. Paul says this faith is evidence that we are saved. Paul wrote the Ephesians “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith – and this (the faith) not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (2:8,9)” Faith is something God creates in us. He produces faith in us.
Now, why is this important? Because many of us will become very introspective trying to will ourselves to believe. We try to create faith. What we need to understand is that faith does not come from looking inward . . . it comes from looking at God. Faith is the fruit of seeking Him. So if you want to have more faith — don’t read more books on faith . . . spend more time looking at and seeking God.
This is a good time to make this very practical. We must ask: “Where are we placing our faith?” Many people talk religion. But the crucial question is this: Who or What do you really trust? Be honest. Don’t take the first answer . . . look for the honest answer. Are you confident because you are talented? Decent? Competent? Well-respected? Are you trusting your financial acumen or your determined spirit? Open your eyes my friend! Do you see you are building your life on the sand?
Is your confidence in your ability to learn the right principles? Make the right changes? Or is your confidence in the one who has loved you since before you even existed? Is your confidence in the one who died in your place and rose from the grave to everlasting victory? Are you trusting in the King of Kings, the Great ‘I am’? Or are you settling for some cheap substitute? Perhaps it’s time for you to “put all your weight” on Jesus. Maybe it’s time to stop playing the game and get serious about your trust. It’s time to stop looking at others and look at Him. The question is crucial: do you believe Him? Do you trust Him? Do you take Him at His Word?
All of life hangs on this question. Don’t shrug it off casually. Don’t just listen to the arguments . . . look at the Savior.
Love for all the saints
Stuart Briscoe tells this wonderful story. The King of England’s two sons were in Hyde Park. The Prince of Wales said to the Duke of York, “I bet you a shilling that all that policemen have bald heads.” The Duke said, “You’re wrong. ”
Just then, a fat policeman came along on cue. They didn’t know how to dislodge his British policeman’s helmet, but fortunately there was a little Cockney kid from the east end of London nearby. They said to him, “I say, old fellow [that’s Kings sons often tend to speak], do you think you can dislodge that officer of the law’s helmet?” “Yes,” he said. “We’ll give you a shilling if you do,” they replied.
“I’ll do that for nothing,” he answered.
He picked up a stone and threw it …Bulls-eye! Off came the policeman’ helmet. Sure enough, the fat policeman had a bald head. The prince of Wales turn to the Duke of York and said, “You owe me a shilling. “
They were settling their debts and their winnings when the portly officer descended upon them, grabbed the boys and in typical police fashion, got out his little notebook, licked his pencil, and said, “What’s your names?”
“Prince of Wales,” said the first boy.
“First you assault my person, then you insult my uniform!” The officer snarled. “I could have you on charges for this. What’s your name, then?”
” I really am the Prince of Wales,” came the reply.
“I don’t believe you. What’s your name, then?” He asked the second boy.
“I am the Duke of York,” the boy said.
“Well, I don’t believe you, either. ” Turning to the third scruffy little kid, he asked, “And what’s your name?”
At this the lad nudged the other two and said, “Don’t worry boys, I won’t let you down. Officer, I’m the Archbishop of Canterbury. “
Briscoe concludes this story with this, “the problem with a claiming to be the Prince of Wales when you go around knocking off policeman’s helmets is that nobody believes you. A noble status demands a disciplined life. Christians find their fulfillment and purpose in being filled with the knowledge of God’s will and have an overriding concern to live a life worthy of him. (Spiritual Stamina, Multnomah p. 129,130)
We must always look out for those who talk Christianity but don’t walk it. Mark Twain used to say that these kinds of people were “good men in the worst sort of way.” A loveless goodness, an orthodoxy without charity, a profession without practice, all make for a questionable faith .
The Apostle John wrote,
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 Jn. 3:16-18)
James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (2:17) James is not arguing that we have to be good in order to get into heaven. . . he is arguing that anyone who has truly been reborn by God’s Spirit acts differently. Faith is not passive . . but active. The Colossians showed the reality of their faith because they not only professed faith . . . they reflected love.
But what does it mean to love each other? Christian love is unique, it is characterized by,
- a sense of family. It is certainly true that we should never refer to the church as they it should always be we. Our love is anchored in the fact that we are related to each other in Christ.
- seeing another person not for who they are . . . but for who they can be by God’s Spirit. We understand how radically God can change a life. We never write another off as one who “will never change” because we know better. We know what God can do because He has begun that process in us.
- by a desire for the good and spiritual happiness of the other. This is different from the way of the world. In the world we “love others” because we think they can be good for us or because they make us happy. I know it sounds harsh . . but I still believe it is true. I see remnants of this attitude in my own life. We use people. We see people in terms of what they can do for us. We love them if they do what we want. We discard them if they don’t. Christian love desires the benefit of the other person. It is concerned with building up the other . . . not ourselves.
- a genuine delight from being with each other. Christian love means we enjoy being together. That’s why it is so delightful to come into a church and hear laughter. Worship should not be drudgery . . . it is a time to do something special (exalt God) with our friends. When a group of friends get together there is talking, laughter and joy.
- an overlooking of faults and infirmities. It’s not that we minimize these things. Christian love understands that we are all sinners in the process of being transformed. So, we do not focus on the sin and failure . . . we focus on the progress and growth. People who love each other dwell on the admirable and praiseworthy not the blemishes and struggles. We “cut each other some slack.” Unfortunately, isn’t it true that in many churches the members are much less patient with each other than they are with their friends who are not Christians?
- a love that is without barrier. Our love for each other is based in something much deeper than our economic class, gender, race, age or any other category of men. Our love is anchored in our common experience of grace and our common destiny of Heaven.
Obviously we realize that we are a long way from achieving this goal perfectly. We are still prone to pettiness and competition. But the true believer is moving toward this goal of Christlike love. They want to love this way. The are learning to love this way. They delight when they love this way.
So, look in the mirror. Do you see this kind of love growing in your life?
Anchor of Hope
Finally, the true believer is anchored in hope. Once again, we see that this “faith and love spring from hope”. In Paul’s letter to Titus he writes about “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.”
Peter also talks about the significance of hope, “In his great mercy he had given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”
We hear the word “hope” used frequently. We “hope” for a good report. We “hope” to be able to reach some goal. We “hope” for the best. Most of the time we seem to use “hope” as wishful thinking. It’s a “pie-in-the-sky” optimism. But that is not what this hope is about.
The hope that Peter and Paul point to is different,
- It’s a hope based in fact. We are not engaging in mere positive thinking. Our hope is grounded in the promises of a real man, Jesus. We believe He went to the cross willingly and rose from the dead victoriously. We base our hope on God’s testimony and revelation over the years.
- It is a hope that undiminished by difficulties. The Bible tells us the truth about life. It doesn’t promise things will be easy. In fact, it tells us that this world and everything in it is going to pass away. It tells us that the world in which we live in infected with a cancer that is more deadly than the most devastating cancer we know. It’s a cancer called sin. Our hope is not anchored in present circumstances but in a promise for the future.
Paul Ferris writes: “Years ago, a seasick passenger was aboard an ocean liner during a long and rough Atlantic crossing. Before long, he succumbed and leaned over the rail, turning several shades of green. A steward came along and tried to cheer him up by saying, `Don’t be discouraged, sir! No one’s ever died of seasickness yet!’
“The nauseated passenger looked up at the steward with baleful eyes and replied, `Oh, don’t say that! It’s only the hope of dying that’s kept me alive this long!’ It sounds funny . . .but for the Christian it is true. It is the hope of eternity that keeps us going through the rough times of our lives. Our hope is one that changes the way we face the trials and tragedies of life.
- It is a hope that alters the way we live. Our hope is for the day when we will stand before the Lord and hear those wonderful words, “Welcome Home, children!” We look for the day when this world will be cast aside. And because our sights are set on heaven our response to the annoyances, obstacles and disappointments of this world changes.
We must ask ourselves: Is Our Focus Clear? A child of God is called to look beyond this world to the next. It is natural to care for our body. It is appropriate to be concerned for our families. We are right to want to live this life to the fullest. But if our PRIMARY concern is with this life we have our priorities confused. Why give so much priority to that which is temporary and give so little attention to our soul which is eternal? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
And what about in the times of difficulty? Many of you have let me into your lives. I know the struggles and the difficulties you wrestle with. I know this life is not easy. I know that sometimes it’s not even all that enjoyable. But here’s the question you and I have to ask: in these times, do we dwell on the difficulties or do we dwell on the One who will someday wipe our tears, heal our wounds and put our weary hearts to rest? Do we dwell on the struggle or the sure victory? Don you wait for the next “shoe to drop” or for the trumpet call of God to announce our Lord’s coming? Do we dwell on the trial or on the promise that God will use the trial? A true hope changes our perspective on everything.
It is certainly possible that some of you feel at the “end of your rope” today. You are exhausted, worn out, tired of the battle. You can’t sleep because you can’t stop your mind and your racing heart. You examine all the possibilities. You’ve considered all the “what ifs?”. The uncertainty of the future overwhelms you. To those in this state I urge you to change your focus. Look up . . . Look into HIS face. Replay his promises. Know that the future is in His hands. Remind yourself over and over and over again that He is sufficient for whatever comes your way. Even if the worst case scenario comes true . . . His promise is sure. This life is only the title page of the life that is to come. Turn your eyes to His sufficiency and grace rather than the obstacles of the Devil. Make hope your anchor and it will hold you steady in even the most tumultuous waters.
So, there you have it. The simple definition of a genuine believer. It’s not who holds a certain theological position or has had a certain experience. It has nothing to do with the amount of water that is used in baptism or even it’s timing. It is not about the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. It is not a matter of style or worship or version of the Bible you read. The issue is really much more basic than that. A genuine believer is one who trusts God rather than Himself; and shows faith by the way they treat those around them. And they do all this because of the hope that burns in their soul. It is a hope that is anchored in the promises of God. And when faith, hope, and love are at work in a follower’s life —-the other things will take care of themselves.