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I’ve been spending time in recent mornings poring over the apostle Paul’s remarkable letter to the Galatians – specifically, meditating on the theme of sonship.

The thread of the idea of sonship runs throughout the New Testament – maybe it’s not one of the most prominent themes by volume of word usage, but I can’t help concluding that it is, in fact, a dominant theme of the entire gospel.

Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came to redeem and re-create fallen people, and make them God’s sons (and daughters).

So why has this amazing truth been so hard for me to digest over the years? I mean, really digest on the level of emotions. Having and enjoying a conscious relationship of sonship with my God.

Why would I hold back from a loving Father? What’s with the nagging, overarching feelings of dread and doubt that have seemed to swirl in my heart despite such clear teaching? If I’m a beloved son, why don’t I feel like a beloved son?

I see others who so easily take in these bright beams of gospel light and rest, at peace, knowing that God’s smile is not faded, fickle, or dependent on today’s state of mind. I always been jealous of such brothers and sisters.

After all, are my children any less my children, any less loved, on any given day? Is not our father-son relationship something of enduring permanence, simply because…it just is?

The fact is, I think we all tend to worship a God partially carved in our own image, and much of the Christian life is spent unlearning this idolotry, and replacing these defective God-pictures in our hearts with truth. Some think God is unrelentingly harsh and live in cringing fear. Some feel that He is so full of gushy-love that holiness is way at the back of the bus. Maybe our internal “wiring” and past experiences have much more to do with our view of God than the Bible does.

I’m a systems-thinker. I am compelled to figure out how things proceed from one thing to another, how things fit together – I ask questions and poke and prod and try to understand inter-relationships. Undoubtedly, this is why I gravitated, early on in my Christian experience, to theological studies. Figuring out God’s truth, His plan, His…(here’s where the trouble begins)…system.

God and truth as system.

Systems have outlines and connections and flow charts. Systems have right and wrong. Systems don’t have…heart. Systems don’t have children. Systems don’t dive into the messiness of live and embrace returning prodigals.

No wonder it’s been taking me so long to absorb sonship. I’ve preached sermons on it. I’ve known the theology of it. I “get” how sonship fits into the redemptive purpose (system).

But what I really need is to learn to be a son.

I love springs.

You’re going along, hiking in the woods, and all of a sudden you see water seeping – or flowing – out of the ground. It’s fascinating – how does that happen?

In simplest terms, when a (perched) underground water table meets the surface of the ground (almost always there’s a slope involved – see image below), the water has no choice but to flow out. Spring water then flows downslope until it joins with a valley stream.

spring water table

When the water table is pure, springs are a wonderful place to drink – especially during a long walk. If you’re not thirsty, a spring is a nice curiosity; but when you’re parched, it’s a huge bounty.

As long as the water table is recharged via regular rainfall, the spring won’t run out – it just keeps flowing. You can stick a cup under there, you can put a barrel in, you can sit and bathe in the discharge basin, you can drink all day long – you’re not going to empty it out. It just keeps flowing.

This is why God’s grace is compared to a fountain. No matter how desperate your need, no matter how unclean your sinfulness – the spring of God’s cleansing mercy is ever-flowing, ever-fresh, always available. You cannot exhaust the resources of the God of the universe.

spring water

Your thirst – your need – is finite, even though great. God’s grace is infinite.

Let us drink deeply today. And tomorrow.

Jesus = All

(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:15-20)

As we noted in the prior 2 verses, the salvation promised in the Christian gospel involves being transferred into a new kingdom – we are delivered out of the dominion of darkness, and brought into the grace-filled realm of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

But is this Jesus really such a big deal? Aren’t there lots of prophets and religious leaders trotting out various schemes of religious “salvation”? Why Jesus and not, say, Mohammed? Or Buddha? Or my own efforts? Or why bother with any of this business – can’t I just go my own way and ignore Jesus and this Christian message entirely?

In fact, you can close the door of your mind and soul to Jesus Christ, and many have; but before you do, let’s take a look at some of the startling descriptions of Jesus made here by the apostle. Because clearly, He is not displayed as just another mere mortal. Low thoughts of Jesus certainly don’t find their genesis in the Scriptures.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, 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. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. 19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.

Now these are some way-out-there claims. In fact, if you take every supreme ruler, every conquering king, every president or potentate or pope or CEO or any other earthly wielder-of-authority, roll them all up and stack them against THIS description, they are as mere ants in comparison.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God. In His unfolding plan to reveal Himself, God did not settle for mere words, or displays of power. He came, incarnate in the form of man, to show forth His glory – and love. Do you want to know God? Get to know Jesus.

Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. There are deep theological mysteries here, but think of Him this way – all creation came into being through Him; and all will be summed up in Him. Jesus, the image of God, is Creator and King. All things, seen and unseen; all subordinate rulers; EVERYthing derives from Him.

Jesus is the all-powerful sustainer of the universe. There is not a thing in existence (including you and me) at any moment which is not under His rule and control. All things hold together, not by impersonal forces, but by the hand of the living God. From thousands of years past, to endless eternity future, nothing has had or will have its ongoing existence apart from Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the head of His church. Jesus rules over every inch of His creation, true; but there is a special rule that He exercises over His chosen people on earth. He has joined Himself to those who call upon Him in faith; His church is His body, and He is the resurrected forerunner of His people, who will also be raised in Him to newness of life. In all things, Jesus has gone first, and occupies first place, for His spiritual family.

Jesus is the fulness of God. All of the riches of God’s divine, immortal, and immeasureable bounty are shared by His Son. Jesus was never about being a mere spark of the divine. He is the divine.

Jesus is the God-creation reconciler. Somehow, the gap of sin that created a huge gulf between God (perfectly holy) and man (defiled and fallen) had to be bridged. In the curious and wondrous genius of God, it was through the once-for-all sacrifice of His Son on a cross. The curse on the creation will be removed; those fallen in their father Adam who call upon the second Adam, Christ Himself; we will be renewed, forgiven, and glorified. All of heaven and earth will be reconciled and restored.

We who are Christians are never to have low thoughts of Jesus – as if he were some slightly elevated man-angel, barely able to hold his own against the forces of evil, and regularly thwarted by creatures who don’t acknowledge his rule. Re-read the passage above and look at the repeated use of the word, “all.” We worship the One who has created all, is above all, rules all, knows all, and will bring all into subjection to Himself. Away with wimpy thoughts of Jesus! We ought never to slink about in fear when such a King lives among us and in us.

— Prior posts in this series —

Colossians 1:1-2: Why Listen to this Paul Character?

Colossians 1:3-8: A Harvest of Gospel Fruit

Colossians 1:9-12: Praying for Progress

Colossians 1:13-14: The Great Transfer

The Great Transfer

(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:13-14)

The claims contained in this couple of verses are absolutely mind-boggling. If anyone thinks Christianity is just another of many “religious systems,” this passage puts a stake through the heart any such notion:

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

– You mean, He hasn’t given us a new set of rules to follow? Not the point.

– Jesus isn’t all about high ideals and a great example to follow? He is, but that’s not His main mission. 

– The Christian faith is not just one of many equally valid ways to get to God? Not even remotely.

Here is what this passage teaches, and it’ll rock your world once you begin to see your spiritual reality clearly.

1. We are under the dominion of darkness. Moral, spiritual darkness. That’s right, you and I are not free agents. We are in captivity – blinded and helpless to serve God. It’s called sin – and if the Scriptures are clear about anything, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s the sinful condition of all mankind. Including you. And me. And them. Everyone.

2. God delivers people through Jesus, His beloved Son. Was God content to leave us in darkness? No – He sent His Son to be the Savior, so that any who are willing to escape the clutches of darkness can call out to Him for rescue. Yes – any=you.

3. Salvation involves a very real, supernatural transfer. When Christ lays hold of a sinner who seeks Him, there is an actual regime change. We may not see it with physical eyes, the way we might see someone fly from one country to another on an airliner and seek refugee status, but it is just as real. The kingdom of darkness has lost a subject. The kingdom of God has gained a reborn child. And this is a permanent status change. You’ve been made a citizen of a different realm.

4. Entry into this new kingdom meets our most profound spiritual need. God hates sin, and uncleanness cannot abide in His presence. So He brings about redemption through Jesus Christ – all of our sins are punished in Him (our substitute) on the cross; so that we might experience full and free forgiveness and cleansing. You see, the doorway into God’s kingdom requires a payment for all our sins, a price we can never conjure up ourselves. Redemption is a gift of grace, not a wage we earn.

When we embrace Jesus Christ in the gospel (“good news”), we come under His loving, beneficial rule. He is our Lord, and we would have it no other way, remembering the cruelty and folly of our life under the dominion of darkness.

Militant Islam, on the other hand, would impose the rule of Allah on all, setting up the dominion of a Caliphate on earth. It is the kingdom of an iron fist. You will be transferred by force into the bondage of Shariah law, or be killed for resisting. Bad news, for sure. Jesus, on the other hand, does not move us from one form of darkness to another. His kingdom moves us into the realm of light, and grace, and love. That’s why His message of deliverance is good news.

Finally – and this is implied all over this passage – there is no Christianity without direct, powerful, divine, supernatural, and personal intervention. There are many “shells” of Christian expression that have abandoned the power of the gospel, for a mere outward form of empty words and powerless rituals. Where you find the captives being set free from sin and darkness, there you are seeing the gospel in action.

— Prior posts in this series —

Colossians 1:1-2: Why Listen to this Paul Character?

Colossians 1:3-8: A Harvest of Gospel Fruit

Colossians 1:9-12: Praying for Progress

Emmanuel: God With Us

Emmanuel

For every person who has ever lived, there are truths that surround us like the sky above – God is above all, and in all, and we owe our every moment of life to Him.

“I have created you – carefully designed you from the smallest cell all the way to the color of your eyes.”

Wonder-filled thought, that God Himself knit us together in our mother’s womb.

“I know you – your every thought and desire; your every hope and pain; your every deed and disappointment.”

How often we feel alone and unknown in this life – yet God knows us far more deeply than we know ourselves.

“I care for you every moment of every day, even when you are blind to Me.”

Today’s provision of food and water and a stable earth; the blessings of sun and sleep; the next breath and the next after it – all are from His generous hand.

I am.

The universe is not some cold, meaningless place in which we drift, alone and void of meaning. We are, because God is. We are created by an infinite King with nobility woven into our DNA.

Yet, blinded by the hostility of sin, we refuse to love Him – even acknowledge Him – in the midst of all of His blessings.

But to the Christian, the marvels don’t end there. Even greater riches are poured out upon us through our adoption as sons and daughters in Jesus Christ.

I am your Savior.”

We could not and would not come to Him; but He comes to us as the loving, powerful rescuer. In the very name of Jesus is the meaning, “Deliverer.”

I am your God and Father.”

God as Creator, Lord, and Judge – these are frightful realities for a sin-stained soul. But God as adoptive Father, embracing the wandering sons and daughters of Adam and bringing them home to Himself – this is unspeakable mercy.

I am with you – always.”

Life on a fallen world is scary. With a sovereign God going before us, however, pledged never to leave or forsake us – we can move forward with confident faith.

I am in you.”

Through the outpoured Holy Spirit, God takes up actual, personal residence in our souls, uniting us to Himself for time and eternity. No force inside or outside of us is greater than His presence.

These are the pillars on which we build our lives. Jesus’ coming to earth is not some faraway feel-good narrative; it is the story of God not only overseeing the universe He has created, but reaching down to the very creatures who have despised Him, and pouring out mercy upon mercy. Not just once 2,000 years ago; but today, this moment.

Emmanuel – God is with us. Our denial does not change His reality. He is; and He comes to us today, inviting us to a table overflowing with reconciliation and grace. Let us not be ungrateful rebels and refuse Him entrance into our hearts.

Praying for Progress

(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:9-12)

As Paul rejoices in the evidence of God’s work among the saints in Colossae, he goes beyond giving thanks. Past and present grace point to future growth: he beseeches God for progress – for increase, and the continual outworking of practical godliness.

This is gospel hunger; when we see Jesus at work, in us and in others, we want more. In fact, when it comes to ongoing sanctification, that’s one place where God is quite happy for us be greedy!

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

We need (and seek) filling. While the initial work of salvation by faith is a marvelous work of transformation, it is only the beginning. Each day, we need more and more of God’s Spirit. He is an unlimited God, and our minds are darkened by sin; we can never gain enough wisdom and spiritual understanding. Today’s 30 watts of light is to draw us forward to tomorrow’s increase to 40.

We need (and seek) holiness. Walking worthy of the Lord means that our heart of faith is manifested outwardly by clean hands, bearing good fruit instead of returning to defiled, God-displeasing ways. A few external changes to please men won’t cut it here – this is a lifelong pursuit of conformity to Christ in order to please the God who loves us.

We need (and seek) power. Humbling ourselves to be saved by Christ makes us painfully aware of our weakness – our utter powerlessness to save ourselves. In fact, as we make progress in grace, we see even more of the depths of our weakness – and thus, we pant after the power of God to strengthen us. We know that we’ll never attain patience and holiness and fulness without a constant increase in God’s powerful work in us.

Paul understood that salvation was not merely the one-time embrace of a message. It is a death and resurrection, with constant infilling by the Savior who is determined to make us after His image – in this life, and in the life to come. Gospel salvation is progressive in its outworking.

Since we are to share in the inheritance of light with all the other saints in heaven, we gladly embrace the joyful hardship – the painful liberation – of making progress day by day along with our fellow saints on earth.

Colossians 1:1-2: Why Listen to this Paul Character?

Colossians 1:3-8: A Harvest of Gospel Fruit

(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:3-8)

As Paul begins his letter to the believers in Colossae, he does so with a heart of thanksgiving – because stuff is happening in that church! This isn’t some building with a sign “Christian Church” in front of it; sterile on the outside and sleepy on the inside. No, this is a group of people where God is actively at work. Gospel fruit is coming forth. Paul is encouraged because there is abundant evidence of supernatural life:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Here we see depicted the true evidence of the hand of God in a gospel work.

There is faith in Jesus Christ. Note: the Scripture no where validates faith in faith. Nor are we to have faith in one of a buffet line of possible deities. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ (see our previous study on verses 1 and 2), sees that the gospel message has turned former pagans to the one true Savior, Jesus Christ.

There is love for the saints. Throughout the New Testament, one of the hallmarks of a true gospel work in the heart of men and women is holy, sacrificial love. Of all of the fruits of God’s supernatural work, a surpassing love among formerly selfish people shines brightest. This comes about by the indwelling of the Spirit of God – it is more than human affection.

There is hope for the future. Paul here is underscoring the objective hope of a resurrected future for all believers; but that message of God-secured hope also births a subjective sense of hope in the heart of the Christian.

There is increase. The gospel is not some set of dogmas, embraced but without any real effect. No, the work of Jesus Christ bears fruit; growing fruit, increasing fruit; wherever the gospel is embraced. Lives are changed.

There is truth. In our day, people love to separate “spirtuality” from truth (capital T truth). Paul knows of no such thing. The message of the gospel is specific, and a messenger such as Epaphras is considered faithful because he has not only embraced the truth, he is accurately teaching it to others.

We will always be surrounded by a culture that wants to use God-words (grace, love, truth, jesus, spirit, etc.) divorced from God-meaning. Those empty forms of belief or religion will never bear gospel fruit, because they deny gospel realities. No church is even close to perfect, but where the Spirit of Jesus dwells, we’ll see the evidence Paul describes above. The gospel is not mere words – it is power.

Transformation and orthodoxy and fruit-bearing all dwell together in the living church of Jesus Christ.

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