As we start our new sermon series in Colossians, it is important to remember the foundations on which the early Church stood. Living in Christ, for the early Church, was the same as living at an address, and it had large implications for how they viewed themselves. In this sermon, Greg points out some of these implications and also gives a little history behind Paul’s letter to Colossae.
Last week, after six years, we finished our study on the book of Luke. This week, we’re starting a new series on Colossians. This book of the bible is very different from the book of Luke, namely that it is a letter written from Paul to the specific people living in Colossae (modern day Turkey). In order to fully grasp the book of Colossians, we need to dive into the context surrounding the letter.
The author of Colossae is Paul, a former Pharisee, well educated, and passionate man. He persecuted Christians for the first years of the early Church and then he had a vision or experience with Jesus and became an apostle of the early Church. Paul writes this letter from prison, and he wrote it to the believers in Colossae, which is in modern-day Turkey. Back then, it was part of the Roman Empire.
As a province of the Romans, Colossae was expected to follow “Pax Romana”, which meant that the Romans let them live and protected them as long as they paid taxes and pledged allegiance to the Caesars and Rome. This wasn’t expected to be heartfelt–as long as people expressed allegiance on the outside, paid taxes, and showed respect to the empire, then they could believe whatever they wanted on the inside.
Paul, however, pledged no allegiance to the Roman Empire, and instead pledged all of his allegiance to the Kingdom of God. This got him in a lot of trouble with the Roman Empire, and is why he is currently in jail. Paul is writing to the Colossians to become subversive to the Empire as he is subversive. He is not attempting to overthrow the Roman Government or to supplant it with Christian ideals, but rather he is attempting to invalidate it when compared to the Kingdom of God.
Paul refers to the Colossians as a holy people. This was not because they were saints and never sinned, but rather, they were set apart and different from the Empire around them. They believed in a different king, kingdom, and ambitions. They had a kindred connection, and the people of Colossae and other early Christians viewed themselves as family, which is why Paul refers to them as brothers and sisters.
The main challenge that we face as Christians today is to get back to that subversive tract that characterizes the early Church. The culture that we live in has it’s own Empire trappings that pull us away from being holy people. Whether it is the extreme individualism or the culture absorbing Christianity through co-opting the values of the church, we see that it can be difficult to be as subversive as Paul. However, this is our primary goal at Woodland Hills Church, where we want to be subversive and set apart from the world around us.
One of the main ways to remain subversive is to remember that we are “in Christ.” When Paul writes this in the first few verses of Colossians, it is strikingly odd. He equates being in Colossae (their physical location) to being in Christ. For Paul, being in Christ is like living at an address, and it comes with two different aspects of seeing the world.
The first aspect is realizing what is real when being “in Christ.” When we are in Christ, we are like a toy that is put in a glass (the glass is Jesus). When God looks at the glass, he sees us. When God looks at us, he sees the glass. We become the same as the glass in the Father’s eyes. Our new address is in Jesus. This has a lot of implications for our reality.
Whatever is true of Jesus is true of us. We gain the righteousness of Jesus, and we gain the identity of Jesus. We are holy, blameless, participate with God, and are fully loved by God. This is our reality when we are “in Christ.” However, our experiences in life may tell us otherwise.
The second aspect of being in Christ is recognizing how our own experiences get in the way. All of us have experiences in this life that tell us we are not worthy of being in Christ. Whether it’s parents who told us we were never good enough or our own failings that we never seemed to get over, we have tracks in our head that tell us we are not holy, blameless, or fully loved. And while we don’t discount our own story and the things that formed us, our story does not determine our reality. God does. The whole goal of Christian discipleship is to grow in Christ. This means that we face our experiences, and we shatter the lies that speak against being in Christ.
When we move into our new address of “in Christ”, we invariably find ourselves at odds with the Empires around us. Living in Christ is naturally subversive to the ways of the world. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we commit to our journey of living, in Christ, together. We need to recapture the sense of family that was a part of the early Church. And as we study Colossians, let us commit to journey together in learning how to experience our true address of “in Christ.”
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