6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7
Advent 2022 — December 9 – Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast
Suffering. Over the last few weeks of studying to write these Bible studies, I have found myself thinking about it again and again, and with it a question: is there anything in my life for which I would willingly suffer?
Of course, you can imagine the answers that would receive a willing yes – or at least ones that I would hope to say ‘yes’ to or that I at least should be willing to suffer for: Jesus, family and loved ones. But what is the likelihood that I – in the normal scope of circumstances and the trajectory of my life – would have to be willing to suffer. At most, the things in my life that approach suffering are mere shadows of it or discomforts.
Last week’s passage looked at how Paul suffered on behalf of the church and, more importantly, why he was willing to suffer. First, he found the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) to outweigh the discomfort of worldly suffering. But, second, he toiled and struggled to “present everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28-29) so that “no one may delude [them] with plausible arguments” (ch 2:4). He was willing to suffer so that the church would grow closer to Christ and be presented “mature” (ch 1:28) – that the church would have the life that the Bible talks about (and live it).
As a pastor and teacher of the Word – as a disciple of Christ who is supposed to be making disciples (Matthew 28:19), that is pretty much the goal: to reach people with the gospel of Christ and help them grow closer to Him. But that leaves me with more questions. I’ll offer them to you as well:
- Is this a goal (making disciples and helping them mature in their faith) that would drive you to be willing to suffer, or is spiritual maturity something you care about at all?
- Do the lives of those who profess Christ make everything that Christ has promised His people – the lifestyle and character traits as well as the blessings – seem right and true?
This would be an easy place to turn and bash the church. Bashing, or even just bad-mouthing, the church is a popular activity even among those who claim to be a part of it. I wish I could say that I have not done it, but I have come to realize that how I view – more importantly how I treat – the church, the Bride of Christ, says a lot about me. I cannot imagine someone coming to me to bad mouth Candice. Wrath would be readily available and grace in short supply. The church is to Christ what Candice is to me – and more.
The longer I walk with Christ and the more closely I am grafted into that body through my local church, I find that I have great hope for the church: His name is Jesus. And I pray that He sees fit to use me to help her – to make a difference through the ministry of the local church He’s called me to serve.
But that is never easy. Suffering may be involved. It is good that the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” is more and better than any bad suffering can bring.
I cannot think about people who love and care for the church and who would willingly suffer to see her members grow in maturity without my mind being drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pronounced BON-hoff-er). He was a pastor, a theologian, a teacher, a spy, and later a martyr under the Nazi regime in Germany. His story is now viewed as remarkable, but he would not have thought it so. He pastored and trained pastors, many of whom were imprisoned or martyred by the Nazis themselves. Much of his time and ministry was spent helping young ministers know and grow in Christ.
The aspect of his story that comes to mind here is when his compatriots convinced him to be smuggled to America so that he would be safe and be able to continue to serve God and be active in Kingdom work. When he got to America, things were so much more peaceful than in WWII Germany, but he had no peace. The only Kingdom work he could think about or focus on was back in Germany – back where nothing good awaited him. He fell under the conviction that he had left where God had called him to be. So, he repented. He got smuggled back into Germany where he would eventually be arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in various places until he finally reached the Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Bavaria.
That is the kind of hope that comes only from Christ. The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” makes every other thing of considerable value to be counted as “rubbish” or dung (Philippians 3:7-8). Knowing Him and seeking His Kingdom is like discovering a treasure worth more than everything you own – worth so much that you would cash it all in to possess it; it is realizing that you have found a relationship with the One whose value so outweighs your own and rejoicing that He loves you despite your unworthiness (Matthew 13:44; Romans 8:31-39).
That is the hope that made Paul willing to suffer and follow Christ’s example and sacrifice. Suffering paled in comparison to seeing others come to know Christ and follow Him. Suffering on earth is temporary, but God’s Kingdom has no end! And that is the hope that I want to help point us to today. If you have “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, you can “walk in Him” by being “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith”.
“received Christ Jesus the Lord”
There are so many ways that people describe what it means to be in Christ – saved, born again, Christ-follower, Christian, etc. Sometimes it can feel like people are speaking Christian-ese or some sort of church language. To a certain extent, those terms are simply biblical ways to describe what happens when people repent of their sins and believe in Jesus, but that also sounds Christian-ese. Then, there are some who use these terms to camouflage their disbelief and navigate the waters of church culture. Even Demas was able to serve alongside Paul, completing “Christian” work until he “in love with this present world” abandoned him to go to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10).
There are many today who once claimed Christianity but have abandoned the religion – or deconstructed their faith to construct something different in its place. Where I live in the southeastern United States was formerly known as the Bible Belt. There was a church on every corner and everyone seemed to know (at least) about Jesus, but that is not the case anymore. In fact, the predominant worldview in America as of 2021 is “moralistic therapeutic deism” which helps people speak of God generically and hold to whatever beliefs make them feel most comfortable, even attending churches for community when believing none of the Bible’s teachings.
In a world where we sometimes casually speak about Christianity, especially in the church, I think it is helpful for us to look at what Paul means here when he says “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord” (v. 6). Jesus did not die for community. I like the way Jesus Himself put it: He came “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). He is “Jesus Christ the righteous…the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). He, “being rich in mercy”, came to make those who “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” to be “made…alive together with Christ”, saving them by His grace (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5)! He died – and raised from the dead – for more than shallow religion offers.
Surely Paul would not willingly suffer – much less Jesus die – for people to generically call on Him as a label for their community while denying Him as Savior and Lord. In fact, the Bible speaks to this specifically. Paul clarifies this as a spiritual matter in 1 Corinthians 12:3:
“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
Basically, one cannot decide to accept Christianity while rejecting – essentially saying “to Hell with” – the Christ of Christianity. He is the Lord of the saved and rejected by all others. Romans 10:9, the model for true belief and what it looks like to be in Christ, leaves no room for someone to claim Him without submitting to Him as Lord:
“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Submitting to Him is the confession – not lengthy or difficult doctrines. Confessing to the world that He is your Lord – with your mouth and especially your life – and that you commit to believing what the Bible says about Him, namely His death and resurrection are the hallmarks of being saved. The language is important because it comes from the Bible. It is important because it teaches us how to be saved and, then, what it means to follow Him.
That word “receive” from our passage today is a good indicator of what it means to “be saved” and for Jesus to be one’s “Lord”. In the original language, that word meant “receive with or to oneself what is given, imparted, delivered over…to receive into the mind, be taught”; it meant that something of value had been offered or taught to be implanted and become part of the learner. The message of the gospel tells the truth about man, sin, and gives invitation and opportunity to repent of sin and believe in Jesus – to have faith and trust that He is who His Word proclaims He is and that He will do what He promised, namely bring lost sinners from death to eternal life. For those who get “saved”, they hear this message and respond to its call in repentance and faith, or they remain in their sins by rejecting the message and continuing on unchanged.
To reject the message means it is not received. This is clear. There are people who seek after many religions or philosophies. They would reject the idea that Jesus is who the Bible says He is. But, to “be saved” is to “receive Christ Jesus the Lord” – to believe what the Bible says about Him and live life the Life He gives following His example and commands. This is not a legalistic set of laws but a response of love to Him who loved us and thankfulness toward Him for all He has done and is doing on our behalf (v. 7).
This is a good opportunity, dear Sojourner, to assess whether or not you have received Him.
Jesus Himself speaks about this in His Sermon on the Mount:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
These words give me pause every time I read them. They do today. Salvation does not fall on me and my works, though. It lies solely on Him. Have I received Him – not just using His name and trying to work in His name? The Bible is clear that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13) – those that call out to Him to save them, submitting to Him and trusting in Him as Savior.
Paul talks about a difference between the lives of the world and in those who have received or learned Christ in Ephesians 4. He describes those who have not received Christ as walking “in the futility of their minds” rather than walking in Him (Ephesians 4:17). He says that those who have not received Christ are “callous” – hardened due to “sensuality” and practicing all manner of “impurity” (Ephesians 4:19). Then, he issues one of the most chilling litmus tests for believers:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ – assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is with Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24)
Paul – really the Holy Spirit appealing to the church through Paul – does not leave room for one to have “learned Christ” while living like the world. When he talks about “assuming that you have heard about Him”, it chills up my spine as I examine my own life. This is not a question of my perfection or track record – but His!
So, I ask you to examine yourself. Have you “received” Him? If so, He has surely received, saved, loved, and adopted you as His! If not, I invite you to repent and believe!
“rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith,
just as you were taught”
Until one has “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, there is no need to attain for maturity. Knowing Christ is not a class – although there are Bible teachers in churches who are meant to teach you what the Bible says for how to live your life. What I mean is that there is no program to progress through – no degree to attain. If one is not in Christ, he or she is dead. There is no maturity in death, only decay!
I find it interesting that Paul found presenting “everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28) as worthy of “struggling with all [Christ’s] energy” (ch 1:29) while all of our – honestly, I am speaking for me and the local church I serve – energy and focus goes elsewhere. We have to constantly be reminded that the Great Commission is about making disciples – not converts. Part of the reason is that making converts seems to be relatively easier – all we have to do is proclaim the gospel; Jesus does the saving!
Making disciples (discipleship) is difficult for us because it takes time. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can travel somewhere, preach the gospel, and let someone else disciple the converts. But, unfortunately, we have many who profess Christ who no one disciples. They are handed a Bible, often given a job or ministry in the church, and wished good luck on their efforts. No one really took a concerted effort to disciple me until I had already been in ministry for over a decade and had burned out. To think, I was a little offended when an interim pastor approached me in my thirties and asked if I was interested in being discipled and growing in my walk with Christ. I am thankful for the offense, and, now, I seek to offend others in the same way!
I never realized what all it took to disciple someone – to truly labor and desire for their maturity – until a few years ago when my daughter received Christ. I also never fully understood the difficulties. She sees more of my walk with Christ than most anyone else, definitely more than anyone but Christ Himself and Candice. She sees my failings. She sees when I need to repent and whether or not I do. She sees when I read the Word and whether I worship God at home. What I try to teach her from the Word cannot remotely hope to compare to what she sees me living out. It is terribly frustrating at times, but, ultimately, it is a great joy to get to struggle and strive. I cannot imagine being satisfied with my own comfort if she would not be found mature in Him.
Paul did not have a wife or children. He cared that way for the churches he was called to serve. He looked at the Colossian church the way I look at Keri. He did not plant the church there, but the gospel he preached at Ephesus birthed that. Now, as I grow closer to Christ myself and mature to see more of what He has called me to, I understand more of what Paul wanted for the churches – and why he wanted them to be “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [they] were taught, abounding in thanksgiving”.
To be rooted in Christ lies in that foundation – “just as you were taught”. This reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9. Some of the seed was sown on the hard packed earth of a path and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on shallow soil over bedrock; there was not enough depth for roots to develop that would sustain growth. Similarly, some seeds feel among thorns and were choked out. But the seeds that were sown on the good soil developed healthy roots, received all of the nutrients the soil offered, received all of the light and water they needed, and grew into healthy plants that multipled “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8).
Roots not only provide a means to gain sustenance but also support and strength. Think about how many times following a storm there are large trees whose roots snap off below the ground. The roots were enough to sustain the tree to grow large, but they never developed enough to withstand the pressure that comes with winds and storms. Yet there are very large and extremely old trees that line areas of the Gulf Coast in southern Mississippi. Their branches are gnarly as they have been whipped by hurricane after hurricane. Their branches bear the marks of the wind, but their roots have sustained them and held them safely in the ground.
So it is with Christ. To become mature, you must be rooted in Him. Like the branches of a grape vine have no hope of producing grapes without being attached to their vine, “apart from [Christ] you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The same gospel that brings the invitation to receive Christ also sustains. A Christian will never outgrow the truth of the gospel but, rather, studying and knowing it more means that our roots are dug deep into its good soil. Continuing to study the Word and walk with Christ draws sustenance and leaves us firmly planted in Him.
In the coming weeks of this study, we will look at the winds of false teaching that were attacking the Colossian church. There are similar winds today. The only way to withstand is to be rooted in Christ.
Built Up in Him
What good is a foundation if no one builds on it? What good are roots if there is no tree?
We looked earlier at some of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4. Earlier in that chapter, he spoke to this:
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Disciples grow as they study God’s Word and put it into practice. That’s right: practice. Too many people have been allowed to profess Christ with their mouths on a single occasion and deny Him with their lives in every moment following it. (This typically cues a chorus of “Thou shalt not judge”.)
Paul illustrated being build up in Christ to the Ephesian church by talking about love being the catalyst. Jesus Himself said that all of the law could be summed up by loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:36-40). Love is an action. Love is a constant choice to remember what God did for us in Christ and to share that with others. Love requires effort. The church is not built with bricks and mortar but with those who have received Christ serving Him and sharing Him with others.
Established in the Faith
This word is more closely related to assurance – that one can know that they have received Christ. To be “established in the faith” is to have the Spirit of God in you, leading and guiding. Honestly, and I am trying not to generalize this too much, if any of the things written about in this Bible study (receiving Christ, being rooted, and being built up/growing in Him) are missing, there is reason for concern, especially receiving Him.
One of the greatest issues for people in the former Bible Belt is false assurance. If someone has been allowed to profess Christianity with no connection to Christ, no fruit for decades, there is little to convince them otherwise. Think back to that chilling warning from Jesus in Matthew 7; there will be people who have claimed Christ in name only who will not be welcomed into eternity with Him. This is why Paul was willing to suffer to see people presented as mature. They were faced either with assurance of faith in Christ or outed as frauds. Demas could only stay with him so long before his love for the world overrode his words.
It is an uncomfortable thing to be confronted with a harsh truth. The harsh reality that your life does not bear fruit of a relationship with Christ offers opportunity for repentance and faith – opportunity to receive Him. But it does no one any good to save their feelings on earth if only to allow them to die and go to Hell. One way is love; the other hate.
Maybe you do not feel as if you are “established in the faith”. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes our trees need pruning. Sometimes we need to be confronted with present sin and repent – to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). But, maybe, you have merely talked the talk. Maybe you learned enough Christian-ese to converse and fit in with the locals.
It is a good thing to be confronted with harsh truths. If you realize that you have never received Christ, it is not too late. The same words that showed us earlier what it means to believe show us how to receive Him now. Romans 10:9-10 says:
“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
There is no better time for such a confession than right now. If you would like to talk, I would love to help you; feel free to reach out any time.
I have gone on longer than normal, but I definitely feel that this is important. Anything worth suffering over is worth our attention. And the state of our soul in the face of the holy and righteous God of the universe is worth attention.
I began by talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how his repentance led him back to Germany and, ultimately, to Flossenburg Concentration Camp. But I did not tell you what happened to him there.
This is usually the part of the story where something inspirational comes, and that definitely happens here. But nothing comes out of the wings to save Bonhoeffer from the fate one would expect at a concentration camp.
As WWII was drawing to a close – Hitler had already committed suicide and the Third Reich was preparing to surrender, the Nazis still harbored great hatred toward Bonhoeffer. They hated him so much, in fact, that one of their last official actions would be to have him executed rather than letting him go free after the surrender.
The morning of his death, he was not sad. He preached a sermon to people in the camp with a fellow prisoner, a British officer, standing watch and Nazi soldiers waiting to accompany him to his execution. When he finished preaching, he went with them willingly. In the moments before his hanging on the morning of April 9, 1945, he bowed his face to the ground, prayed to the Christ he would meet face-to-face minutes later, and uttered the words: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”
From an earthly perspective, this seems like such a sad story. But, the longer I walk with Christ, it is a story of hope. How could a man not fight against his executioners? How could he proclaim the gospel truth to his killers on his way out of this world? Hope. Hope in Christ that comes from being “rooted and built up and established in the faith”. Hope that comes from receiving Christ Jesus the Lord.
I cannot boast of great courage like that in my future. I can boast only in Christ and the hope He gives me now.
I pray He gives the same and more to you.
Hallelujah, and amen.
 Barna, George. Rep. American Worldview Inventory 2021, Release #02: Introducing America’s Most Popular Worldview – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Glendale, AZ, 2021.