How hungry are we to grow in our faith in Christ?
Colossians 2.6-7: As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Today is the third in our sermon series based on our readings from St Paul’s letter to the young church in Colossae. Colossae was a large and prosperous settlement on a trade route, located in Western Turkey about 100 miles north-east of Rhodes.
I love this letter. It’s Paul at his warmest. He doesn’t go into deep theological arguments. It’s practical. It’s packed with teaching about Jesus. If you haven’t recently read the whole letter for yourselves, it will only take about 30 minutes without rushing it. Many years ago my wife Elizabeth and I spent a number of evenings going through it with another young couple. I think they survived our clumsy attempts at Bible teaching.
And – this is totally unplanned – today’s reading from Colossians is right on the mark for a baptism service. Some of the words in the service are lifted directly from this reading. I love the way God engineers coincidences.
For all of us, baptism is the start of our journey in faith in Jesus. When our reading says “continue to live your lives in him”, Paul’s Greek is literally “to walk about”. We shouldn’t be content in staying where we are. Paul uses the image of a plant whose roots must spread and grow deeper if the plant is to reach its full potential. Mixing his metaphors, Paul sees Christ as the foundation for building our lives on – a foundation that won’t need to be rebuilt. The original work is always going to be strong enough to take the weight of whatever is laid on top of it.
Paul reminds us that we need always to be a thankful people – thanks to God for answered prayer, thanks to God for His blessings, thanks to God that Jesus died on the Cross to take away the consequences of sin, and rose from the dead so that we can have fullness of life in this world and the next.
Even as Christians, we can sometimes say to ourselves, “Is this all there is? Don’t we need a few spiritual add-ons? Perhaps a pilgrimage or becoming a radical environmentalist to prove to ourselves and others that we’re really Christians?”
Paul says quite simply no. Our growth in faith is organic. What we do is a response to our experience of Christ, not a bolt-on supplement to it. In an echo of the reading we looked at last Sunday about Christ being the image of God, Paul now says
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
Jesus has given us this fullness, we don’t need anything else.
It’s possible that the Christian converts at Colossae were being nobbled by some Jews who reckoned that the Christian faith was a sort of tolerable version of the Jewish faith. They might have been saying to the chaps that in order to be a complete sort of Christian you had to be circumcised like a full member of the Jewish faith. If so, Paul says that the only mark or badge of our faith is baptism.
It’s in baptism that the old self, like Christ at the end of Good Friday, is truly dead. In baptism we are also raised as Christ was as new people. To quote one of my favourite verses, from 2 Corinthians 5.17:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
In baptism we have new life.
Paul reminds us that we can’t separate the Cross from our faith. We may not completely understand it, but on the Cross Jesus took upon Himself the sin of all humanity. Our selfishness. The stuff that means we’re not the fully human people God wants us to be. The stuff that condemns us in the eyes of God. That was nailed to the Cross in Christ. We walk as freed and unburdened people.
Our reading ends with Paul using the image of a Roman general’s victory procession to describe how all these things that make us less than fully human in God’s eyes now appear – a raggle-taggle bunch of prisoners from a defeated enemy. Never think that the power of evil is greater than the power of Christ.
So what do we take away today?
- First, for all of us baptism is the start of our faith and not the destination. We should always want to go deeper in our faith – in prayer, in study of the Bible, in putting it into practice in our lives.
- Second, our faith is organic – we don’t need add-ons from other faiths or lifestyle gurus to supplement it. As my colleagues have included a C S Lewis quote in their talks, I will add mine: “Look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in.”
- Third, a Christianity without the Cross is a shadow faith. We can’t shy away from it, however much we may find that Jesus’s crucifixion repels us or is hard to understand.