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Colossians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian

dan delzell opinion page

The New Testament book of Colossians presents the truth about Jesus Christ, sin, grace, forgiveness, salvation, faith, good works, spiritual conversion and the Christian life. This epistle was written by the apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and addressed to Christians at Colossae who were "holy and faithful." (1:2)

Paul wrote, "We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints." (1:4) Faith and love go hand in hand in the life of a Christian. And the apostle understood that correct living flows from correct believing. It reminds me of something Oswald Chambers penned: "The greatest need we have is not to do things, but to believe things." If you get the foundation wrong, everything that follows eventually comes crumbling down as well.

The foundation and the fruit of Christianity are clearly presented throughout the New Testament. Believers are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) on the front end of our relationship with the Lord, and then good fruit begins to develop. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

In addition to fully understanding what it means to be "saved," Paul also had a firm grasp on "the obedience that comes from faith." (Romans 1:5) Theologians use the terms "justification" and "sanctification" to explain that a person is justified at the moment of spiritual conversion, and then sanctified throughout their life of discipleship. It's too bad that Catholic and Protestant theologians didn't jointly stand on Scripture and affirm these basic points of Christian doctrine 500 years ago. (See "The 'What If's' of the Protestant Reformation.")

In the introduction of his letter to the Colossians, Paul essentially summarizes the entire Christian life. He points to "the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the Gospel." (1:5) This Christ-exalting epistle is readily available for consumption by Catholics, Protestants and every Christian. It feeds the soul and teaches believers the basics of Christianity. And as with Paul's other epistles, Colossians is rooted in the cross where Christ was sacrificed for sinners.

Every Christian is justified, redeemed, saved, born again and forgiven on the front end of their relationship with God. Paul points to the glorious riches that are already "stored up for you in heaven." (1:5) And so if you are a believer, go ahead and begin thanking God today that heaven is your home because of what Jesus did for you on the cross. It is not presumptuous to thank the Lord for the free gift of eternal life in paradise. It is actually a beautiful expression of faith in the Lord, especially since you already received this gift at the moment of your conversion. By the way, you may or may not know the day you were converted. Regardless, you can be sure that your Redeemer lives and that your soul is eternally secure in Christ because Jesus died for you. (See "How Can I Know I Am Born Again?" and "Can Catholics Have the Assurance of Salvation?")

Once a person is saved and forgiven of his sins, he wants to do God's will in response to the Lord's amazing grace. Paul wrote, "We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will" (1:9) so that "you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way." (1:10) This calling belongs to everyone who has come to "share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." (1:12) Our Father in heaven has "brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (1:14) Believers already "have redemption" through faith.

This letter was written to a church under attack from false teachers who were saying that Jesus is not actually God. Paul responded with this clear explanation in order to correct the confusion and refute the false teaching: "He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together....for God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him." (1:15-17,19) "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." (2:9) The fullness of God is found in all three Persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And it is only through the death of Christ and faith in the Son that we have been reconciled to the Father. "He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the Gospel." (1:22,23) Did you catch that? We are now "without blemish" in the Father's sight because the death of Jesus paid for our sins and the blood of Christ has cleansed us.

Believers are "free from accusation" as we cling to "the hope held out in the Gospel." In the words of a well-known hymn: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." I am not trusting in my works for salvation, but only in the blood of Christ that was shed for my sins on the cross. I am trusting in Jesus' death for me, rather than my works for Him. Belief in Christ comes first, and good works always follow faith. But our works can never save our soul or take away even one of our sins.

Christians place their hope in the Gospel rather than in the Law. Why? Well, the Law offers no cleansing from sin and no assurance of salvation. It only tells us what to do, whereas the Gospel tells us what Jesus has done on the cross to secure our redemption. We have been saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. Paul refers to this beautiful message as "the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints." (1:26)

And since the believers at Colossae were saved by grace through faith, Paul directed them to keep going. "Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (2:6,7) After receiving Christ through faith, (John 1:12) a spirit of thankfulness begins to flow within your soul. Grumbling and complaining will only interrupt that flow of peace and power. And so Paul reminded the believers of how far God had brought them. "When you were dead in your sins....God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins." (2:13) Spiritual conversion is a miracle the Holy Spirit works the moment you trust Jesus alone for salvation.

Meanwhile, the battleground is definitely the mind. This is why Paul instructed the saints to "set your hearts on things above....set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (3:1,2) As your thought life is being transformed on a daily basis, remember that you have a guaranteed inheritance in heaven. God's Word is certain: "When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." (3:4) Paul didn't say you "might" appear with Him, but rather, you "will appear with Him in glory." And so until that day arrives, we are called to say "no" to sinful desires and "yes" to pure thinking and righteous living. (Titus 2:11-13)

Paul explained it this way: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." (3:5-8)

Paul laid out the blueprint for every follower of Christ. He instructed believers to "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." (3:12-14)

The Holy Spirit produces supernatural fruit within believers as we walk closely with Christ and seek to do His will in everything. (Gal. 5:22,23) Colossians provides a beautiful recipe for contentment. Paul wrote, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (3:15,16)

With this noble goal in mind, it is important to remember that discouragement and temptation are lurking around every corner. Therefore, it is essential for believers to feed daily on God's Word and to pray often. Paul gave this instruction: "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (4:2,5-6)

There is no question that this marvelous epistle provides rich food for hungry souls, as it empowers Christians to walk in faith, hope and love. Catholics, Protestants and every Christian can benefit greatly from the book of Colossians. Thankfully, this epistle has been enabling believers for nearly 2000 years to "stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured." (Col. 4:12)

Other articles in this series:

"Galatians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian"

"Ephesians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian"

"Philippians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian"

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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