Monday, February 23, 2009

Abounding with Thanksgiving

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

A couple weeks ago we learned that not only is our walk with Christ to be conducted by faith but it is to be conducted by faith in a specific person. Faith in itself is no virtue. For faith to be virtuous it must join one to Christ; for trust in any other is not virtue but idolatry.

Today we are reminded of the attitude which our link with Christ ought to engender in our lives. Understanding the grace of our Lord Jesus – that though He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men; that being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross; and that, what’s more, He has arisen from the dead so that we too might rise to newness of life – ought to cause us to “abound”, Paul tells us, in the faith with thanksgiving. Of all people, Paul insists, we should be the most thankful, the most joyful, the most riotously happy.

But instead of being known for exuberant bubbly thankfulness, we Christians are more often known for our restrictions, our uptightness, our angst. Paul calls us to something different – he calls us to thankfulness.

Thankfulness for what? There’s the rub. We of course find it easy to be thankful in prosperity, to be thankful for the blessings that come into our lives, to be thankful for the good news that God has forgiven us in Christ. But Paul calls us to be thankful in all things – and in so doing reminds us that nothing is not a blessing for us as the people of God.

Paul exhorts us in Ephesians to be “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” He excludes no times – we are always to give thanks. When the car starts right away in the morning, when the car won’t start at all; when there’s six inches of snow on the ground, when it fails to snow at all; when we’re feeling robust and well, when we have the stomach flu; when work is going well, when we have trouble with employees; when our children obey, when they disobey. We are always to give thanks. Our demeanor should be one of grateful acknowledgment of the wisdom of our Father – not just when it appears wise to us but when it is in fact wise, namely, always.

But not only are we always to give thanks, we are also go give thanks for all things. All things, we ask? Surely Paul didn’t mean to say it quite that way. But I’m afraid he did. For all things that enter our lives come from the hand of our loving Father who has orchestrated them for our good and for His glory. Thanking Him – for the kind and the hard providences – is the key to glorifying him in the midst of both. And this, to some extent, explains why we are to give thanks “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” – for he too gave thanks to God while suffering. So do we thank the Father for the hard providences, the failure of the crops, the loss of our job, the rebellion of a child, the loneliness of singleness, the frustration of working at a job we don’t enjoy? According to Paul we ought to. Why? Because God is the one who has brought this into our lives for a very good, distinct, and just reason. Therefore, we are to abound in thanksgiving.

And so, reminded that rather than abound in thanksgiving we frequently complain and grumble, let us kneel and confess that we are an unthankful people.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why Confess the Creeds?

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

Last week we considered Paul’s admonition to us in this text that we are to walk in Christ in the same way in which we received Him. Just as we received Him by faith – rejecting all attempts at self-deliverance or self-justification – so we are to walk by faith, looking to Him and to His promises to fulfill in us that which is good and pleasing in His sight.

Today Paul admonishes us to be rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith which we have been taught. Paul calls us to be faithful to the faith as it was handed down in the churches, to (in his words to Titus) hold firmly to the traditions which we have been taught. Like Jude, Paul wants us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. To rejoice in the goodness of God, who has delivered us from our sin and rebellion and restored us to a right relationship with Him through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, who lives and reigns together with the Father and the Spirit for all eternity.

This injunction which Paul gives the Colossians is one of the reasons that we, each Lord’s Day, recite the Nicene Creed together. As this summary of Scriptural teaching rests in our bones and becomes part of us through corporate confession, we are being rooted and built up in Him. For each Lord’s Day we grow in our knowledge of Him – where did He come from? He was eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds. Who is He? God of God, light of light, very God of very God. Is he a creature? Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. What has he done? Through whom all things were made, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, the third day He rose again from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Christ we worship. The very one who is worthy of all glory, laud, and honor. The very one who created all things and to whom it is right and fitting to give glory and dominion. And it is in this One that Paul tells us to be rooted and grounded and in whom we are to grow.

And so, coming into His presence, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to appreciate fully His glory and to honor His name accordingly.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Walking by Faith

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:6-10

No sin is more common among those who have a passion for righteousness and purity than to imagine that these things are to be achieved by human striving rather than divine grace. The Pharisees fell into the trap, the Galatians fell into the trap, the Judaizers fell into the trap, Peter fell into the trap, and, according to our text today, the Colossians were in danger of falling into the trap. After all, nothing makes more sense than to say that if we want to pursue the righteousness of God, then we must earn it; we must strive for it; we must achieve it.

Today in our sermon we consider the weapons of our warfare – the tools that God has given us to fight against the enemy. It is imperative as we learn to utilize these weapons that we do so in the way that our Lord intends – that we not turn the muzzle the wrong way and end up shooting ourselves or our allies rather than our enemy. It is to alert us to this danger that we look at Paul’s exhortation in Colossians today.

Paul exhorts us to walk in Christ, to conduct our lives, according to the same principle that united us with Christ in the first place. And what was that principle? Faith. Faith united us with Christ, was the appointed means by which God credited to our account the righteousness of Christ, was the gift that enabled us to emerge from the shadow of darkness into the light of life.

Let us be absolutely clear that we understand what this means. Faith brings nothing of its own to the transaction; we did not receive Christ because we were wiser than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because we were more intelligent than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because of anything in us. For by nature we are all children of wrath, deserving of destruction, committed to waste and profligacy. What then does faith do? Looking to self and despairing of any self-deliverance, faith looks to Christ and rests upon Him for deliverance – save me O Lord, for I am helpless and needy; have mercy on me, for I am a sinner worthy of death.

And so Paul urges us to pursue our growth in grace with this same basic framework. Look, Paul exhorts us, not to your own worth, not to your own deserving, not to your own wisdom, but look instead to the grace of God, the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who frees us from our self-absorption and enables us to pursue righteousness to the glory of God. God will not honor those who strive to achieve righteousness on their own strength. For the very message of the Gospel is that we cannot achieve such righteousness; and that to try to do so is to proclaim the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus worthless and to trample underfoot the blood of the covenant by which we were sanctified.

And so, reminded that God’s grace is the source of our strength and wisdom; that that which distinguishes us from our neighbor is not our commitment, not our determination, not anything of ours, but rather the completely free grace of God, let us kneel and confess that we often fall into the sin of imagining that having been justified by faith we are sanctified by our own works, that we are called to fight the battle in our own way.