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"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,"
"Salvation is entirely a work of God's grace and cannot be earned or deserved. It has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ and is offered to all in the gospel. God in his love forgives sinners whom he calls, granting them repentance and faith. All who believe in Christ are justified by faith alone, adopted into the family of God and receive eternal life."
How good are your memories? Do you remember what happened in April 1970?
Two days into the journey to land a team of astronauts on the moon an explosion occurred on board Apollo 13. The scheduled landing had to be aborted as the space craft was seriously affected and the astronauts onboard were in grave danger.
Mission control was under enormous stress as scientists on earth tried to work out how to bring the stricken craft back to earth. Four days after the explosion the module re-entered earth’s atmosphere. But it wasn’t over yet. Re-entry is always accompanied by a radio blackout – but the black-out went on a minute longer than expected – was everything to be lost at the last moment? This delay actually went on for 87 seconds before contact was re-established. Then the module splashed safely down in the South Pacific; just 45 minutes later the crew was taken on board the recovery ship – the astronauts were safe, they had been "saved".
Millions followed closely the unfolding of that particular drama. We could say exactly the same for many other situations too. We are drawn to accounts of rescue plans being put into action in order to save human lives.
Salvation is one of the major themes of the Bible. It is all about people being rescued and delivered from a very real and a very grave danger. The plan of salvation that is recorded for us in the Bible is not a plan conceived by human ingenuity and put into action by clever men and women. The Bible’s plan of salvation is Almighty God’s plan of salvation and it focuses upon God’s Son the Lord Jesus Christ. The name "Jesus" means "God saves" and the opening chapter of the NT tells about the salvation he came to secure:
Mt.1:21 "he will save his people from their sins"
This morning as we think about the fundamental beliefs of the church as expressed in our Statement of Faith, we are going to consider this great salvation. In order to do so we will focus our thoughts on Col.1:1-14.
Salvation as illustrated by the Christians in Colosse
The Colossians had become Christians:
The first thing I want you to see may seem pretty obvious but it will be important as we proceed. Paul wrote his letter to people in Colosse who were Christian believers. We will see in a moment this had not always been the case. But it is clear that when Paul they had become believers: we see that in v.2 where he addresses them as:
"saints" and as "faithful brothers".
By referring to them in this way Paul did not mean to imply that they had somehow done something exceptional in their own lives that earned them favour with God. It was not that they were exceptional people and therefore God was pleased with them rather it was because God had been gracious to them that he had made them exceptional people.
When people talk about saints today, they usually have in mind the kind of people who are particularly good and who do particularly good things. In the same way if people talk about saintly behaviour what they have in mind is remarkably good behaviour. But that is not how the word is used in the Bible.
To be a "saint" is not a reward for good behaviour as though the person so called is somehow inherently good and has merited his or her sainthood. To be a "saint" simply means that a person has been set apart for God in a particular way.
These folk at Colosse to whom Paul wrote were not people who had an impeccable track record, they were in fact people who had had a very murky past but who by the grace of God had come to experience his salvation in their lives. (Nor was this a one-off experience that was confined to the past, they continued to experience the outworking of this salvation in their lives.)
Before the Colossians could be described as Christian it was absolutely necessary for them to experience God’s salvation in a personal way. And this is a truth that it is vitally important for us to understand.
Now why is that?
It is because none of us are born into the world as followers of Jesus Christ. We may be born to Christian parents, we may be born into a Christian culture, we may have always been exposed to Christian influences and values, but at most all that can do for us is to make us cultural Christians. But to benefit from the Jesus’ salvation we must personally respond to him and become one of his true followers.
Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Colosse but the way in which he described their spiritual condition before they became followers of Christ is applicable to us all.
To put it simply the Colossians were not Christians before they became Christians. Similarly if you have never become a Christian, a disciple, then you are not a Christian either. Oh yes, I know that men and women might consider you to be a Christian but it is not what men and women think that counts but what God does. We will consider in a moment what becoming a Christian involves. But first we must understand what our true state is like before we are brought to faith in Christ.
What does Paul have to say about this in these verses?
The Colossians Pre-Christian Condition
Paul says some things directly about the condition the Colossians were in before they came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and by the way in which he describes the changes brought about in their lives he implies yet more about their pre-Christian condition.
According to Paul before the Colossians were transformed by the gospel of God’s grace they lived in:
1:13 "the domain of darkness"
And life in that domain was not pretty; they were
1:21 "alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,"
2:13 "dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh"
2:14 a "record of debt... stood against us with its legal demands."
In describing what God had done for the Colossians Paul also helps us appreciate something more of the needs which had to be met – their needs and ours.
1:12-14 "the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
It is the Father who qualified the Colossians – and before he did they simply weren’t qualified to share in the benefits secured by Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. And it was the Father who qualified them, they didn’t, nor could they, qualify themselves. God in his mercy and grace did something for them, he acted on their behalf. In other words, left to their own devices the Colossians were debarred from sharing in the inheritance of the saints in light – they were in the domain of darkness and unless and until God delivered them they were forever stuck there.
The deliverance that God brought about was not partial. He did not set them free from darkness and leave them to work out the rest for themselves. No, he did it all and it was he who transferred them into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
As long as they dwelt in darkness they were lost. They needed both to be found and to be set free. That redemption was, and is, found in Christ and only in Christ.
The domain of darkness from which the Colossians needed to be delivered was not a pleasant place: it is dominated by sin – sinful actions, sinful thoughts and sinful inclinations – forgiveness is needed, somehow the slate must be wiped clean, and somehow a new life with a fresh start must be given. We too need deliverance from this domain.
All of those who are still in the domain of darkness have great needs whether or not they are actually aware of them. The needs are so great that only God can satisfactorily resolve them. Happily that is just what our God has done:
In the place of alienation Jesus had secured reconciliation by means of his death (1:22). This reconciliation is effective for all those who receive Christ.
God also has an answer to the problems of death and guilt:
2:13-14 "God made (you) alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."
A Summary of the Change
Delivered from the domain of darkness
Given a new set of qualifications
Transferred into light, the kingdom of Christ
Redeemed (or bought back – the payment of a price that liberates or sets free)
These are the changes to which Paul refers as he describes what God had done for these Colossian Christians, what God does for all Christians.
Wonderful blessings! And to these we could add further blessings eg. from v.5 Paul writes about "the hope laid up for you in heaven"
But how are these blessings transmitted to spiritually dead, yet actively rebellious sinners?
To that we now turn.
How God brings his Salvation to Sinners
If sinners are to be transferred from darkness to light then God must be active, but how? Does he just zap people from heaven or how does he proceed?
Well our God is a God of order and he proceeds in an orderly fashion by the use of means.
In these verses Paul underlines the major means that God employs in bringing a man or a woman to Christ:
The Word is preached:
v.5 "the word of the truth, the gospel,"
It was Epaphras who shared this message with the Colossians and the message of the gospel is a true message concerning the grace of God.
Jesus taught that for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God it was essential for them to be born again, this new birth was the work of the Spirit of God brought about through the application of the word of God:
1Pet.1:23 "you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;"
There was a time when the Colossians had never heard the message of God’s grace, they had never heard that God had freely made provision for the forgiveness of their sins through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and before they heard and responded to that message they lived on and on in the domain of darkness.
This is why it is so important that the word of truth, God’s word, be shared and gossiped, taught and preached. The word of God is living and active and it always will accomplish the purpose for which God sends it out.
Word heard and understood:
The word of God is powerful in God’s hands when it is both heard and understood. When that is the case it can and does bear fruit the world over.
Paul emphases the fact that the Colossians had heard this message but not only that, they had understood it and appreciated that it spoke about the grace of God.
It is not enough to have access to the truth, it is not enough to possess a copy of the Bible, it is not enough to be in a place where others believe and trust the Lord Jesus – it is essential that we personally hear and understand God’s truth for ourselves.
Such an understanding of God’s grace does not require us to be great intellectuals because this understanding of God’s truth is not dependent upon having great brain power. God’s truth is something that is spiritually discerned. A small child can understand the message of the gospel while the finest philosopher of the land fails to "see" what it really is all about.
I must ask you a question: Have you heard and understood the message?
The message of God’s grace tells us two things – it tells us some bad news and then it tells us some good:
- The bad news is that we haven’t passed God’s test and try as we might we never will.
- The good news is that what we can’t do God graciously does for us: Jesus died so that our sins will not be held against us while his righteousness is at the same time credited to our account.
Word responded to with faith
While hearing and understanding the message of salvation as it is in Jesus Christ is essential it will only bear fruit in your life if it is met with the response of faith and such faith is not sterile, it is always accompanied by fruit.
The salvation that Jesus Christ offers to us is not some insurance policy that allows us to go on as we always have done before only now providing us with indemnity from the consequences of our sin and our sinful tendencies. The salvation Jesus brings is a salvation from sin, a salvation that sets us free to live in a new way, a salvation that must and will produce real and significant changes in our lives.
The Colossians heard and understood the message that Epaphras had preached and they had actively received and welcomed the message with faith. The genuineness of their faith was accompanied by the evidence of fruit: love for the saints:
Col.1:4 "we heard of your faith and of the love that you have for all the saints."
Col.1:8 Epaphras "made known to us your love in the Spirit."
Faith fruit bearing
Finally and briefly we must see that this salvation is not to be restricted to a one-off decision that a person takes. Faith must have a beginning but genuine saving faith is not to be confused with easy-believism.
Genuine faith keeps going on and on – the disciple will and must follow his Master. We can see this from the way in which Paul prays for these believers in Colosse. While fully realising that they belong to Jesus Christ and have been saved by him Paul also realises that they have progress to make and so prays for them: in Paul’s view salvation is anything but static:
Paul prays for: (vv.9-11)
> Lives lived to please the Lord
> Lives lived worthy of the Lord
> Continued fruitfulness
> Growth in knowledge of God and his will
> Strength for endurance
My friends, this is what God’s salvation focusing upon Jesus Christ is all about. It is the salvation that every man and woman, boy and girl needs to possess.
Are you in possession of this salvation? It is the work of God’s grace to be received as we come in humble repentance and faith, calling out to the Lord to be gracious and merciful toward us.
Come to Christ and live. And having come to Christ go on following him as his disciple daily growing in grace.