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Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

August 23rd, 2019

…the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Whatever mankind might achieve in terms of diplomacy, peace between nations, multiculturalism, or even widely shared artistic achievements — all of these fall far short of the majestic proclamation of God in this simple verse. 

The context was the proclamation that the Gentiles were joint heirs with the Jews — more correctly, that the Gentile believers were joint heirs with the Jewish believers. God had revealed the glorious riches of His grace, and it came down to a simple point — that Christ indwelled the whole church, individually and corporately, and it was His presence in them and among them that raised the entire church to the highest, most dignified and blessed standing of any in the world.

The Majesty of the Incarnation

Jesus of Nazareth is the only Christ we know. We are staggered when we consider the miracle of God becoming flesh. In Him was the fullness of God, and though there was an “emptying” of glory in the incarnation (Phil. 2:7), the true glory of character and compassion and wisdom was fully there. He was fully man and fully God. Earlier in Colossians Paul wrote:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him.

He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 BSB)

Christ revealed God to us, His character, His compassion, His holiness, His wisdom. Jesus of Nazareth was not a merely a good, moral man pointing us toward a distant god. He was, rather, God Himself in human form calling us to Himself, taking our sins upon Himself, reconciling us to Himself, rising from the grave, and also indwelling the church. The Christ we meet in scripture we also meet in our hearts. Christ is not merely a principle. He is a Person. 

This Christ in Us

The passage also declares an equally staggering truth, that this same Christ is among us. If it is difficult to understand how the fullness of holy God can indwell a single person in the incarnation, it is even more difficult to understand how this fullness can indwell a fallen and sinful people. As concerns the incarnation, we might be able mentally to more readily accept that one person in the history of the world might be of such a noble and moral character as to be indwelled by God — though this is a misconception of the doctrine of incarnation — than we could that holy God could indwell a whole people. 

But this is precisely the biblical teaching, and so, this is another reason why I believe in the doctrine of eternal security, that the only way such a thing could happen, that a whole people could be indwelled by God, would be that God did something so great in our salvation as to fundamentally altar the very nature of a human being. And this is precisely what the Bible teaches. 

One mistaken image of salvation is the thought that in the gospel what we have is a fallen people grasping up to take hold of something divine. But what we actually have in the Bible is not that but the teaching that holy God has reached down and taken hold of a fallen people, brought about a work of repentance, conversion, and sealed them with Himself, and taken up residence in them! His choosing, His calling, His convicting, and His sealing are the facts that lead to His indwelling. 

We will leave the mystery of our faith and our response for a discussion elsewhere, for we surely must believe, but without a doubt God has the greater part in our salvation than do we. And His work is the only valid basis for our salvation and for His indwelling us. The difference between the effort through legalism of the Pharisaical Jews (not all were Pharisees) was explained elsewhere by Paul:

What then will we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because their pursuit was not by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone… (Romans 9:30-32 BSB) 

The stumbling stone is, of course, Christ Himself. And when He indwells the church He brings with Him His love and transforming work in our hearts. The work of freeing our souls from addictions to sin, the work of transforming us, and of transporting our imaginations to godliness and holiness.  That is His glory! Unmerited love to a fallen world. Patient, tender, strong, and loving redemptive to troubled people. Compassion to the victims of injustice, as well as to the perpetrators of injustice — which normally turn out to be the same persons. He places in our hearts the reality of true and godly hope.

The Power of Hope

We cannot live without hope. This is what Christ brought on earth — the hope that God was at work redeeming the world unto Himself. Christ said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). 

We all know the turning moment in a story, when evil seems as though it is about to win, when the hero has been all but beaten and seemingly utterly defeated. But then at the darkest hour something turns, the hero arises over the overwhelming odds and becomes victorious. This is why we read novels, why we go to see plays and movies, for that hope that such stories spark within us. 

This is the very story of the gospel, that the crucified One rose from the grave, and that He now brings His compassion and His life to those who believe. This is the hope that leads us to stand in His name and for His mission — for His mission has become our mission. The overcoming Christ now dwells among His people, who likewise now go out to overcome in Him.

  1. What does it mean that God has chosen us before we chose Him?
  2. How can we choose Him in return?
  3. What is the difference between feeling guilty about doing something wrong and the true conviction of the Spirit of God? (See John 16:8-11)
  4. How is a group of believers different from a group of non-believers?
  5. When has Christ given you hope in your life?
  6. Describe an example of Christian compassion that you have seen in others. 

 

Colossians

The Commissioned Church

August 21st, 2019

I became its servant by the commission God gave me to fully proclaim to you the word of God, the mystery that was hidden for ages and generations but is now revealed to His saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:25-27 BSB)

The text above does not directly teach the truth that the church is commissioned by Christ — we find that truth proclaimed elsewhere, such as in Matthew 28:19, “Teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” which means the command to take the gospel to the ends of the world is a command for the whole church, as much as it was for the original apostles. But the text above does imply this truth, because of the words “to fully proclaim to you the word of God.” A full proclamation brings with it a full obligation to obey.

Christ in us

The truth that this proclaimed was still radical and difficult for the Jewish Christians to grasp. The Gentiles were included by grace in the church just as the Jewish believers were. Today this is commonly understood by most believers, but in the first century it was radical. The Jews assumed that they were accepted by (a) their race, just as many Western Christians had felt through the centuries that they were Christians by their race, not by their faith, and (b) by their good works, as those who were raised in the church have assumed as well. Good upbringing, proper genetic stock, good family background, mixed with good character and good works presented then and it presents now a strong argument for being worthy of heaven.

The gospel in Christ changed all of that — “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’ … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:9-23). Salvation is gained the same way by all — repentance and faith in Christ — and it rests not upon our good upbringing or our good works, but upon the standing and sacrificial work of Christ. And, thereby, both Jew and Gentile receive the same salvation of Christ’s righteousness and the same blessing of Christ’s presence.

Christ calls us first to repent and second to receive through faith – we receive freely our salvation. Yet there is a problem with this, and it reflects the human nature that was made in the image of God and is redeemed to become the image of Christ. That the new man in Christ wishes to earn his own way, and not to simply coast on the work of another. How can these two realities – the fact that we can only receive salvation through faith, coupled with the fact that the new person in Christ wishes to be responsible and to pay his own way – find agreement?

The solution of God is so brilliant, and so simple, that we are indwelled by Christ, individually as believers and corporately as the church, and the Christian life is now Christ at work in our lives in a fallen world living out His life. His struggles become our struggles, and our struggles become His struggles. Several years ago I wrote the following:

We are only saved by the grace of God, the merit that He bestows on us that we have not earned but freely receive through faith. And in this grace we progress in our spiritual life. We are not saved by grace only to mature by works – it is by grace through faith from first to last.

Yet there is a call to struggle in our faith. “The religion that costs us nothing is to us worth nothing” wrote Adam Clarke. Christ called us to daily pick up our cross and follow after Him, and this means nothing in the spiritual realm if it has not practical application in the physical realm. The nature of the faith-struggle is both physical and spiritual – for we remain very physical beings on this earth. A sickness, a difficulty, a misunderstanding, a betrayal, and suddenly we are transported into the realm of spiritual warfare. These physical world problems are not the only forms of spiritual warfare, or the main ones we have to deal with, but they are real. http://nighttimethoughts.org/?m=20140701

I believe I was right. There is something within the new man in Christ in each of us that does not wish to boast in our achievements, but neither wishes to appear before Christ empty-handed. And it is the reality of Christ living in us that makes this make sense. We do not go out brashly and proudly to do what we think we ought to do in God’s name. Christ in us, however, leads us into service and conflicts and witness and circumstances that require loving endurance, and hope against hope.

If Christ was not abiding in us, if He were not at work in us, then this would be simply our efforts, for our glory. But because He is resident and working, then He leads us to serve and to bear fruit by Him and for Him. It is still by faith, for we believe first and foremost and constantly, but, to paraphrase James, we show our faith by our works (James 2:18).

Christ through us

How different would our commissioning be if Christ did not reside in us. We would then be doing for Christ whatever came to mind, and feeling quite good about ourselves in the process. But because He does reside in us, then we are called to His mission. And like the apostles the whole church is commissioned in a permanent, binding, lifelong way, to bear eternal fruit. As Christ said:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the keeper of the vineyard. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful. (John 15:1-2 BSB)

The idea of a fruitless Christian is a contradiction in biblical thought. If there is no fruit, then there has been no faith, for the very nature of Christ at work within us means to be re-oriented to think like Him. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

Here in this passage we have this incredible rich statement: “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” There is a thought that we can go to work on for centuries and not exhaust its meanings. We will examine this more tomorrow.

Consider:

  1. Do you feel superior to others based on your race or upbringing? Why is it wrong to feel this way?
  2. What is the difference between doing something good to gain salvation and doing something good because you are saved?
  3. When we see someone struggling in his faith and in his Christian walk, what should be our attitude toward him (or her)? How can we help them?

Colossians