Progress God's Way

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Colossians 2:7-15 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Somewhere in this world there’s a teenage girl who feels like nobody sees her. She feels like she has to wear the right clothes so someone will. She also feels like she has to walk down the hall plastering a smile on her face; say the right things; and run in the right circles. She feels like she has to do that so that people will love her, respect her, and make her feel like she matters - or at the very least blend in enough so people don’t do the exact opposite.

Somewhere else there’s an unhappy employee. You know the kind. He’s shown up to work. He’s been loyal. He’s done his job and put in the time. He’s even gone above and beyond to get the recognition of his peers and supervisors. But he’s been passed over for every promotion. He goes home and he tries to pretend like it’s ok with him - that life is ok and maybe even good, but he can’t shelve his disappointment. He wonders what he can do to move on.

Somewhere else there’s a hurting woman. She is going to the office with the best of intentions. She is telling herself, “Today will be the day that I’ll put on Teflon and my co-workers won’t be able to hurt me. Today will be that day.” And then it isn’t. She knows that if she confides this to her friends that they might be catty and her husband - well - he doesn’t seem to notice her like he used to. She’s looking. She’s searching. She’s wondering how she can put her life back together.

Paul wrote to people like that. He wrote to people who had heard about Jesus, but were still looking for something to fix their lives. And people came to Colossae promising just that. They promised to heal hurts and grow self-esteem. They promised to make family life tick and careers take flight. They promised the world. They said things like, “We can give you access to angelic spirits.  We’ll teach you to rise to a higher spiritual plane.”  They said, “If you follow the steps in our plan – you have to celebrate the right festivals, drink the right drinks, etc. – then you will gain control.” They said, “You aren’t being as successful as others because you haven’t learned our secrets. We’d be happy to initiate you into our knowledge of the cure.” The Colossians started to buy it. They thought, “This is actually kind of exciting and convincing. Maybe this is the right way forward. Maybe this is the way to a more abundant, peaceful, and joyful life.”

It’s always been like that. Broken, hurting, and spiritually bleeding people are vulnerable. They’re open. They’re ready. They’ll buy in to a newly designed solution, special system, or model for life. They’re willing to try any path that promises a way for them to dig themselves out of their problems. And the fundamental idea driving the bus is one, single, age-old idea. It’s the idea that it’s up to you. You have to figure out how to make the bleeding stop and to make God get behind you in life. That’s why Paul made such a big point to warn about this. He said, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (vs. 8)

Paul calls this way of thinking the basic principles of the world. It’s up to you. You choose. You make. You do. Think of how big a deal this is in the world. What’s the most popular part of the bookstore? The self-help section. What’s one of the fastest growing jobs out there today? Life coaches. Even the kids TV show Sophia shows this. I was watching it with Elliana the other day. It’s a show about a princess who has a special, magical amulet. Her sister, Amber, stole it and the whole family ended up getting cursed because of the crime. No one could figure out how to fix the curse until Rapunzel showed up to sing Amber a song and explain how everything gets fixed, “To make up for your deed and prove you’ve grown try putting others’ needs before your own. Your family’s in a spot. Give it all you’ve got and dare to risk it all. Just stay tough and dare to risk it all.”

Those are the basic principles of the world. It’s up to you. You fix it. What we don’t always see so clearly is that we can’t deal with sin and its effects. It’s like bailing water out of a sinking ship. We’ll just go under. That’s why Paul gets so drastic and forceful. He has to crush our dreams of self-healing. He has to wring every last drop of self-help out of us. Listen to how forceful and clear he is. “You were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature.” That’s bad. It would be bad enough if Paul took us to the ICU and said, “Look around. This is how bad off we were spiritually. We were all on life-support, but we can get better if we work hard enough at healing.” But Paul didn’t do that. He was much more drastic, clear, and forceful. He took us to the morgue. He said, “You want to know how bad it really was? You were dead, inanimate, frozen - say whatever you want about it. You were in the spiritual morgue.”

Why does Paul remind us of that? So we don’t go back. So we don’t return to the old, dead-end principles of the world. We don’t need to find a higher, spiritual plane. We don’t need to access to angelic spirits. We don’t need to follow a new program, or a new model for life. We don’t need yet another fix-it strategy. What we really need is a better understanding of what we already have. That’s what Paul was saying when he wrote, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (v. 9-10) Fullness. That’s what Paul just said. You have been given fullness. Christ is the fullness of God. You have been given Christ, which means that you have fullness. Understand what that means. Any movement past or away from fullness means accepting less than fullness. That’s not progress. That’s backsliding.

Progress means that we grow in our understanding of how undeniably personal and powerful this giving of Christ to us was. “.... having been buried with him in baptism, (you were) raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (v. 11-12) Christ didn’t go to all the trouble to be born of Mary, get beat around, die on a cross, get buried and rise from the dead to keep that to himself. He did that so he could gift it to you. Paul says that happens in baptism. That’s when the old you was buried with him and the new you rose with him. Not in a magical way. Baptism is not a wand that you wave over a person and then suddenly they spiritually die and rise from the dead. Paul says faith is required, but when faith is included the old you is buried and a new you rises from the dead. That’s incredible power that shouldn’t be moved past in life, but applied to life.

Think of the power that’s been unleashed for you and in you. I was really close to my Grandpa Bourman. He taught me to cheer for the Vikings. He was tall, skinny, and bald. Just like me. He taught me to ski, and fish, and water ski. He split wood with me and snuck me donuts when my parents weren’t looking. He was my Grandpa Bourman. I’ll never forget walking up to his casket. I saw his inanimate, frozen looking face and quickly walked out of the church. It was so final, so powerful, so horrible. That was my first close encounter with the power of death.

Jesus was like that once too. The spark left his body. It hung there limp, empty of his spirit… just a corpse. But then his eyes lit up again. His limbs moved with power. His frame stood upright and words came from his lips. Life came where there was once only death. That’s power. That’s power that trumps the most final, most powerful, most horrible power we know on earth. Did you catch what Paul said about that power? The same power that raised Jesus from the dead raised you from the dead. You have abundant, spiritual power. You have power to live now. And I do mean live even in a world with sin and its effects.

That’s power for the teenage girl that’s out there - the same one walking down the hall trying to earn the respect and affirmation of her peers. It’s power that allows her to bury that old part of her that looks for the kind of affirmation and respect that comes from people. It’s power to rise with real spiritual light in her eyes and life in her limbs. It’s power that allows her to see that everything she is looking for is already hers. She has God’s respect, God’s love, and God’s affection. She has God’s fatherly eye, a refuge for her soul even as she walks down that hall.

It’s power for the unhappy employee. It’s power that is so great it allows him to slowly watch his hopes for status get crushed in the vice-grip of passing years and his career aspirations slip away even as others are promoted around and over him. It’s power to bury that lower spiritual plane and be resurrected to a higher one. It’s power to know what real status looks like and what a real promotion consists of. He believes that real status is what God considers him to be and that he already has the highest promotion anyone can get. He is a child of God.

That’s power for the hurting woman too. It’s power that actually bestows the coat of Teflon she’s always hoped for. She puts it on through the burial of her old self that was so interested in the notice and approval of people and the rising inside of her a person confident that she’s noticed by the one being that matters - her Savior. And not just noticed. Appreciated. Loved. Saved.

But honestly, it’s not just people out there. It’s people in here. That resurrection power is ours. The hard part is having the wisdom to see how it intersects with your personality and soul life. That’s why I want to show you what this looks like in me.

God made me an achiever. Like it or not, it’s how he’s wired me. I go and go and go. If you haven’t noticed that about me yet, you will. If that part of me isn’t buried with Christ in baptism, it becomes the reason for my existence and my life becomes a mess. I will go and run another marathon in 2:42 or I’ll consider myself a failure. I will work incessantly to get this church plant off to a good start. I’ll even do it at the cost of a healthy marriage and a chance to parent my daughter. I’ll do that because the old me believes that if I can achieve those things then I’m worthwhile and maybe even special.

That’s why that old me had to be buried with Christ. That old me had to die so that I can live. That’s why I need resurrection level power today - that I now have. With that power I can run for my health - not to make another mark. With that power I can plant a church not to achieve success, but for the sake of the gospel. With that power, I can even go home and be with my wife even though not everything is done because I truly Christ achieved everything in my place. That’s real, resurrection level power for the hurts and hang ups of today.

And that’s what Paul meant when he told us that when it comes to healthy Christian living it’s never time to go anywhere. It's always time to make use of the power we already have. Or to say it another way, it's time to put down deeper roots right where our faith has us. Here’s how Paul said it: “Continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (v. 6-7) Healthy, abundant living isn’t about moving on, forward, or past with the help of the latest and greatest spiritual pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps scheme. That's would be leaving behind the greatest, spiritual power known to man. Bad idea. Better idea? Rise again today to the fullness we have in Christ. Amen.