To the Christian, specifically my fellow seminary students…
A sermon manuscript on Colossians 2:6-7, prepared for my homiletics class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Close your eyes. Think back to the first memory you have of knowing Christ. Can you picture it? Allow it to fill your senses. Feel what you felt then. Re-experience it. Do you have it? In that moment, what were the first thoughts and feelings you had? Okay, now open your eyes.
For me, it was June 20, 1994. I was a sophomore in college, and I thought my sin had destroyed a relationship with someone very dear to me. I remember being up crying much of the night – which was very unusual for me. I was overwhelmed with grief. But suddenly, in the midst of all my twisted notions about no longer being good enough for God to love me, the Lord brought rushing back upon me all the Bible trivia I’d played as a child. If I wanted to, I could be free. I wasn’t trapped in my sin, and I hadn’t forfeited God’s love because of it. Far from earning something from God, I could literally hand over the broken pieces of my life to God, and He would make them something beautiful. On my own, I was dead … wretched and weak, destructively sinful and completely helpless. But if I let Him, Christ would save me … and give me a new life. Even all these years later, I remember those feelings of utter dependence on Him like it was yesterday.
Over the next year, God healed that relationship and literally overwhelmed me with His amazing goodness. Although I had glimpses right away of the life God had planned for me, it would take well over a decade after that day for God to drive home to me the truth that Paul is expressing to the Colossians in our passage today: that we are just as dependent on Christ to walk in new life with Him as we were to receive the gift of new life from Him in the first place.
Invitation to Turn to Passage
Open your Bibles with me, please, to Colossians 2:6-7. <Repeat reference>
Introduction to the Text
While you’re turning there, let me briefly introduce and give you some context for this passage.
Within only a few decades of Christ’s ascension, the church at Colossae had begun to blend elements of the pagan worship of angels and Jewish mysticism into their concept of Christianity. In response, the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians to elevate Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency for them in all things. He desired that they would abandon these “useless arguments” and trust fully in Christ. Paul argued that it is neither necessary nor profitable to turn to anything in creation for spiritual life, but rather – as he states just a few verses earlier – that in Christ are found “all riches”, “all understanding”, and “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.
In the context of this larger argument, we come to the portion of His Word that God has for us tonight. But before we read the passage, let’s pray that He would illuminate it for us.
Prayer for Illumination
Please bow with me in prayer…
Reading of Scripture
Colossians 2:6-7. Please follow along with me in your Bibles, as I read what Paul writes (from the ESV):
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
The first thing we notice in this passage is a number of transition words. The whole passage starts with the word “therefore”, and Paul reinforces his teaching in v7 with the words “just as you were taught”, which is a reference to what he means by the word “faith”. To this point in his letter, Paul has been explaining that Christ is preeminent in all things and that He is everything the Colossians need. Here, Paul refers both to his own teaching and to the weight of everything Jesus, the Apostles and their own pastor Epaphras have taught them.
What faith? What have they been taught?
In the next phrase, Paul specifically references what the Colossians have been taught with the phrase, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord”. He doesn’t give us any detail here, but they knew what he was talking about, and so do we. In the opening moments of this message, I invited you to remember with me how it felt when you first came to Christ – how you first received Him. I hope this reminded you of a sense of utter dependence, a helplessness and smallness before a holy God, the unequivocal need for a Savior. This is how every Christian truly receives Christ, and Paul is inviting the Colossians with this phrase in v6 to remember their first love – just as I invited us to remember Him together a few moments ago. Paul may be implying much more by this phrase “as we have received Christ”, but certainly not less.
Primary Claim / Organizational Sentence
With those thoughts fresh in their minds, Paul then proceeds in the text to call his readers to three specific ways in which their daily lives must actively depend on Christ. Paul is calling both the Colossians and us to walk with Christ just as we were saved in Him: in active dependence.
I. We depend on Christ for daily life in Christ. (7a – “rooted … in Him”)
First Paul explains that we depend on Christ for daily life. <Read> Paul uses the same imagery here that the Apostle John uses in John 15 when he describes Jesus as the vine and His followers as the branches. As the branch must be rooted in the vine to remain alive, so we as Christians must remain rooted in Christ. If you were to find a vineyard – which was easy to do in Paul’s or John’s day – chop a branch from a vine, and bring it home with you, it would wither and die. Not at first, but eventually. At first it would seem perfectly fine, but in truth, the very moment it was severed from the source of life, it began to die. So it is with us. We depended completely on Christ to be born again, but it is no less true that we must remain rooted in and connected to Christ for spiritual life.
Consider a light bulb in an otherwise dark room. It produces light and heat. But we have no way to carry that light or heat away with us to another room. If we want light and heat, we must remain near the bulb. God’s life-giving presence is the same way. To possess it, we must remain in it. James MacDonald says it this way, “God doesn’t dispense [strength for living] the way a pharmacist fills a prescription.” His point is that God does not equip us to independently live the Christian life, but rather that our relationship with God is the Christian life. I agree, and so does Paul, as he demonstrates here.
So what does that look like in our practical everyday lives? God is calling us to remain in Christ. God supplies life in the vine. Our task before God is to remain rooted in it, that we might continue to receive its life. This means that we abandon any concept of searching for life in other places. We resist the temptation to depend on anything but God Himself as life-giving. We tear down idols and overturn altars to other gods, some of which can be extremely subtle. Ministry success, good grades, financial security, the approval of others, health and fitness – all of these are good things in some measure but to the extent they might claim to bring us life, they become the lies that would drag us from light and heat into death and darkness.
There is only one source of life and the power to live it, and that is Christ. To the extent that we depend on Him, we will have all the fullness of the life God promised us. But any other approach – the life lived for my sake or my desires, my agenda or my security – gives only the appearance of life, as does the branch when recently detached from the vine. But also like the disconnected branch, the disconnected spiritual life it is in fact dead.
II. We depend on Christ for daily building up in Christ. (7b – “built up in Him”)
This leads very naturally to Paul’s second point. First, we are to be rooted in Christ – dependent on Him for life. Secondly, Paul exhorts us to be “built up in Him”. <Read> Paul is using construction terminology here. The word translated “to build up” means to erect the first floor of a structure solidly on its foundation. The implication is that of a careful plan and skilled artisanship to achieve it.
However, a building does not build itself. Thirteen years ago, when I had my home built in the suburbs of Chicago, it started out as a plan and an empty field. An experienced architect drew up the design. The plan was approved. The foundation was dug. And finally, skilled laborers built my house on top of a well-thought-out plan and a firm foundation – both of which pre-existed its construction. So it is with the Christian life. God carefully designed your life and mine. Christ laid the foundation for it. And now (as the Apostle Peter put it) we are day-by-day being built up into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5) … and that, by God Himself. God is both the Architect and the Builder. He has unmatched skill. And in the end, our lives will look precisely as He planned for them to look. We are neither architect nor builder. We are the objects of God’s handiwork – the clay in the Potter’s hands. We are no more capable of effectively designing our lives or building what God has designed than my house was capable of designing and building itself.
So here too, we find ourselves dependent on Christ. In addition to remaining in Him, Paul is calling us to submit to Him.
We who are working hard at seminary degrees would be wise to take particular note here. It is God’s design, God’s plan, God’s goals, and God’s work in us to achieve His goals. We work hard, and rightly so, but let us be careful not to work as if we are building God’s house, believing that somehow we accomplish God’s plans with our labor. God alone designs and builds the lives He desires for us, and it is critical that we wait on and submit to Him. His priorities must trump ours. His definition of success must rule over ours. Christ must be our first and highest love. Our humility before God and His rightful place as King in our hearts must precede our labor for Him.
So, let’s get really practical. If we’re going to take seriously Paul’s charge to be built up in Christ, we can’t hurry through or skip over time with the Lord because we have a ton of reading to do or a big test to study for. It means we take God’s call to resting in Christ seriously, despite the voices that tell us that we can’t afford it. It means we’re careful not to neglect our God-given responsibilities to our marriages and families for the sake of ministry. And it means being unwilling to accept high grades if they come at the cost of a shriveled soul.
And as we humble ourselves before God, we acknowledge that His building work in us is more important than our building work in our careers or classes. We must give God the right and the room to fight battles in our lives we simply cannot fight for ourselves, no matter how hard we work or how long we study, and to develop us into who He wants us to be. To submit is to maintain the proper view of God as Builder and us as those under construction.
III. We depend on Christ for daily establishment in the faith. (7c – “established in the faith”)
Thirdly, having called for their dependence on Christ for daily life and spiritual growth, Paul admonishes the Colossians to be “established in the faith”. <Read> The word he uses here has a number of nuanced meanings: to be strengthened, to be ratified (sealed as law), to be confirmed, and to be made secure. This word is used elsewhere in the NT to describe God’s covenant with man and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, which we know to be firm, steadfast, and secure. God has taken upon Himself the work of sealing our faith like a law ratified and unchangeable. He causes the faith of the elect to stand firm, confirming and guaranteeing it, making it – and us – secure.
Note that it is not by our power that we are established in Christ, but by His power. So here again, we depend on the Lord. To be established in the faith is to know with certainty that God is in fact doing the work we’ve discussed – daily nourishing and building us.
The question begged her is: do we trust Christ? Paul is calling the Colossians to a deep, secure, established faith. This is not the faith that, once it has saved you, can be blended with pagan philosophies, angel worship, and Jewish mysticism. This is an all-consuming faith that does not fear the future and which considers everything else worthless for the sake of knowing Christ. This naturally follows if we remain in and submit to Him. God Himself secures both our present and our future. The Spirit’s call on us is for ruthless trust. This established faith chooses to seek life only in Christ, to worship Him only, to fear Him only, to bow to Him only, to forsake the many other gods who threaten to distract and destroy (as we’ve discussed). This is what Paul elsewhere calls “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).
I think Eliza Edmunds Hewitt puts it well in the 19th century hymn, “My faith has found a resting place”. Listen to the first two verses:
My faith has found a resting place, not in device or creed;
I trust the Ever-living One, His wounds for me shall plead.
Enough for me that Jesus saves, this ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul, I come to Him; He’ll never cast me out.
I need no other argument, I need no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.
This is what it means to be established in the faith. Knowing God’s unfathomable love for us, His great wisdom and His supreme power, we can be absolutely confident in His work on our behalf. He has been clear that He is orchestrating all things for His glory and for our good (Rom 8:28). This should indeed end our fear or doubt. We can trust Him. The whole of the gospel – all that the Colossians had been taught – is ours in Christ. We are firmly established in God’s drama of redemption and specific plan for our lives. Ratified. Secure. Confident. Sealed. We can put our whole weight down on His promises, knowing that they cannot and will not fail us, either in the present age or in the age to come. Let us together lay down fear and distraction, and boldly trust Him as He works on our behalf.
Primary Claim Statement (Restatement)
So Paul says, “therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” (Col 2:6) We were entirely dependent on Christ for salvation, so we are now entirely dependent on Christ in our daily lives.
There is one phrase left at the end of v7, which we can’t overlook and with which I’d like to conclude. Paul ends v7 with the words, “abounding in thanksgiving”. At first blush, we might be tempted to underestimate this as an afterthought, but I don’t think it is. If we, who were helpless before God unto salvation, and are just as dependent upon Him for daily living the Christian life … if we are both saved and sanctified by Him … if we daily receive life and power … are daily being transformed into His image … and are daily reassured that we have been adopted as God’s very children … Then, for all that God has done for us in Christ, how could we do less than to “abound in thanksgiving”? In fact, the word “abound” used here means, “beyond anyone’s reasonable expectation.” I absolutely love that definition.
So, with Paul, I challenge you to allow the person and work of Christ to be everything to you, not just for your salvation, but every day. Not blended with other lesser philosophies or gods, but preeminent and supreme. Just as you were saved, so walk in Him … rooted and therefore remaining, submitting to God’s building work, established and therefore ruthlessly trusting … and grateful beyond anyone’s reasonable expectation!
Let us pray…