Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.[1]

Colossians 3:9-11

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

When we first started in these devotions a few years ago, all we had was an opportunity to help people dive more deeply into God’s Word and a desire to make that possible. We have, for the most part, been able to keep that going on a weekly basis, but for the next little while that will not be possible. Our desire has not changed. We still want to give opportunity to help people study God’s Word. The study that makes it possible sometimes requires a bit more time than life offers.

Part of that study will be completed in May. As I have mentioned before, I am getting to be part of a Master of Theology program at William Carey University. I began this past February and am thankful for all I have learned, am learning, and will learn before it is over (as well as continue to learn as these skills are applicable for the rest of my life). But that level of study, especially as a husband, father, teacher, pastor, and aspiring writer, takes time – time that takes me away from writing Bible studies like these, but time that also better equips me to write them.

Please, do not take this as complaining. I am thankful to get to do everything God allows! However, I am definitely learning my own limitations as He grows me more into who He is making me to be.

Having said all that, I am glad to be back in our study of Colossians, especially as we transition out of what we once were in our trespasses and sins (dead) and into looking at what new life in Christ is meant to look like.

When a person comes to Christ, more happens than simply joining a church or walking an aisle. Everyone who is not in Christ is dead in their sin (Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 2:1-2) no matter their religious affliliation. So for us to say that we have new life in Christ recognizes 1) that the old has gone/died and 2) there should be a marked difference in the new because that which was dead now lives through Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5)! When Paul transitions in our passage today from taking off the sins of the old life to putting on Christ, he is doing more than talking about behaviors; he is showing the Colossians what the new life in Christ is supposed to be like (and what it is not).

Seeing That You Have Put Off the Old Self with Its Practices (vv. 9-10)

The last of the sins Paul told the Colossian believers to “put…away” in verse 8 was to put away “obscene talk from [their mouths]”. In verse 9, he tells them not to “lie to one another, seeing that [they] have put off the old self with its practices” (emphasis added). You can see here that this is more than morality and the monitoring and modifying of behavior – it is about the “new self” (v. 10).

Too often, Christians and church-folks[2] put either too much or a wrong emphasis on behavior, so, for us to understand what Paul is talking to them about, it may be helpful for us to first clarify what we are not talking about.

Church-folks worry a lot about the way behaviors look. They hurry up and stop arguing as they pull in the church parking lot. They have expectations about the way that people carry themselves while at church, too. They think no cussing should occur in the church building; no obscene talk in there. If a lost person comes into the building, they want them to learn how to act and behave because the image of being sanctified or reverent or holy is more important than being sanctified, reverent, or holy. They are a caricature of Jesus said the Pharisees were like: “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). Basically, they want to look like they have been changed by Jesus – look like they have new life – when they are actually still dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2, Colossians 2:13).

If they were to repent of their sins and seek Jesus, everyone would know that they are not perfect. Everyone would know they are sinners. If this describes you, I hate to tell you, but people already know. Church-folks ain’t fooling anyone.

What Paul is telling the Colossians when he says “you have put off the old self with its practices” (v. 9) is a reminder that they have encountered Jesus. It is a reminder that they do not have to live like dead men and women because Jesus has made them alive! That would be like Jesus coming back to Bethany to visit Lazarus after he had been raised (John 11, 12:1) and finding him hanging out back at the tomb. That would be foolish, right? No, after Lazarus had been called out of death and hopped out of the tomb, Jesus found him in the house reclining at the dinner table (John 12:2). He was eating and hanging out. He was alive and no longer dead because Jesus made him alive (John 11:43-44, Ephesians 2:4-5)!

What about you?

Has Jesus made you alive, or are you still dead in your sins? Are you trying to convince others that you are not a sinner or yourself?

Paul wanted the Colossians to be reminded that they have “put on the new self” – that who they are after coming to Christ is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (v. 10). Everything that sin has done, is doing, and will do since the Fall (Genesis 3) has effectively marred how man bears God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). When Jesus saves us – when He brings us from death to eternal life in Him, He begins correcting that image. We go from looking like the world, little-by-little and day-by-day, to looking like Him again. The longer we walk with Him the more significant the change!

That’s good news!

Here There is Not…. (v. 11)

Think about all of the categories and labels that Paul lists in verse 11 and how that compares to the image of God: Greek, Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free. Each of those words was a worldly description of somebody in the church at Colossae. Some of those categories were even Biblical or are part of the unique and beautiful way that God created that person. Others came from the way that other men had labeled them to either belittle or marginalize them. But none of them compare to what it is to be in Christ!

Those who are in Christ are His (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Titus 2:14). They have been adopted into His family (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5). The labels and categories that are so emphasized here on earth just cannot compare to belonging to Him – to being alive in Him. That is why Paul tells them that their ethnicity, their religious affiliation and practices, their nationality, or even whether they are free or owned by another person pales in comparison to “Christ [being] all, and in all” (v. 11).

There will not be a gate for entrance into heaven for American Christians, Evangelical Christians, Catholics, or Protestants. Their will not be gates per ethnicity or culture. Those are qualifications sinful people make up to either lift themselves up, tear others down, or some mixture thereof. No, in heaven there will be none of that foolishness! I love the beautiful picture from John’s vision of heaven in Revelation 7:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

Revelation 7:9-10

Everyone will be together. All those who are in Christ will stand before His throne. He will be the focus. Amen!

He is either “all, and in all” – or He ain’t. To paraphrase Ricky Bobby: if Jesus ain’t first, He’s last.

Wrapping Up

 Since today’s verses are transitioning from our last passage to what comes next, I am afraid that this might have come across a bit disjointed, so I want to clear things up a bit. To do so, there are two statements my pastor John Goldwater has made at Christ Community Church recently that stand out in my mind as I write this. Let me paraphrase them for you:

  1. There was a Sunday a while back where we had a noticeably large group of visitors. During the announcements, he told them that if they had come to Christ Community looking to see their social status raised by attending or are looking for some sort of worldly benefit they had come to the wrong place. He told them all we had to offer was Jesus and His gospel and that those looking for social capital would never find it with us.
  2. He is preaching through Matthew and was going through the passage where the Pharisees were angry at Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:1-14). As he talked about how the morally-elite and religiously-superior Pharisees were lecturing God Himself on what He should and should not have done, he reminded us that we do not have time to teach people how to act in church because that is all they will learn (acting). No, he reminded us that if we point them to Jesus – if we share His gospel with them, they can learn Christ, be saved, and Jesus will change their lives. All acting will do is teach lost, dead sinners how to hide how dead they are.

What Paul was doing for the Colossian church, and for believers today, is helping them to see that there is supposed to be a difference between those who have been saved – those who are in Christ – those who have been made alive by grace through faith in Christ alone – and those who are still dead. I hope you can see, beloved Sojourner, that there should not even be a comparison here much less confusion. We should be able to easily tell the difference between death and life. We should not be satisfied going back to the cemetery when Jesus is preparing a room for us in the Father’s house (John 14:1-6)!

But, sadly, we allow ourselves to be. “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20)

If someone taught you to act like a Christian but you have not been born again (John 3), you are dead in your trespasses. No amount of service or behavior or the Academy Award quality acting that even has your grandmama fooled will get you through the gate. Those who are not in Christ will not hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) because they are not His servant. They will cry out that they had preached in the name of Jesus, done mighty works in the name of Jesus, and had even cast out demons in the name of Jesus (Matthew 7:22), but they had never believed in Jesus (Acts 4:12, Romans 10:9-10) – they had never called upon His name to save them (Romans 10:13). No, all acting will get is this declaration from Him: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

On the other hand, there are those who have called upon Him and have been saved. They have been convicted in their hearts of their sins (Psalm 73:21), repented (Psalm 51), and confessed Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9). They were dead, but Jesus made them alive.

They may not always act right, but Jesus is still working on and in them. They need to be reminded like their Colossian brothers and sisters of old to stop doing the sins of the old self and put on Christ and His new life. They need to be reminded to get out of the cemetery and come to the table. They need to be reminded that Jesus has more for them than this world. He has given life and His Spirit to help them live it.

Which describes you?

John was right. No amount of social capital can compare with an encounter with Jesus. And no amount of acting will earn heaven when the credits roll.

I am reminded of my son Xander when he got saved about a month ago. He had asked questions for months and months. He understood that everyone is a sinner and that those who die without believing in Christ go to hell. He knew lots of information and details. The more he asked, the worse he acted. There were times where he was so worried over acting this way or that – over trying to seem like he did not sin at all – that his behavior was worse than it had ever been before. He seesawed between trying to earn salvation and acting like hell until he finally changed his question. Mid-sermon one Sunday morning, he turned around and, instead of asking how to be saved, he asked, “How do you know God will save you?” He was shocked at how simple the answer was: “You do what the Bible says to do to be saved, and you trust God will do what He promised for them.”

He was relieved. None of it depended on him. It all depended on Jesus. I imagine the Colossian church was relieved, too. They did not need to be circumcised because they had been saved. They did not need to act this way or that, or celebrate this religious festival or another, because they had been saved. All they needed was Jesus. And, dear Sojourner, that is all you need as well. If you do not know Him, I would be glad to talk to you or help you find a pastor or believer where you live to sit down with you. If you are part of a church that gives acting lessons over the gospel, I would love to help you find one where the Word of God is open and His gospel offered freely. As always, know that I am praying for you and thankful that the Spirit works through His Word!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:9–11.

[2] When I say church-folks, I mean religious people who go to church who use the name Christian without actually having been saved. The area of the southeastern United States where I live is inundated with church-folks. Even within my denomination, Southern Baptist, which prides itself on regenerate church membership (fancy seminary term for you must be saved to join the church), there are people who are allowed to join the church for what they bring to the table – for their gifts, talents, or, sadly, the size of their bank account – instead of having been made alive in Christ. This is important to clarify because, despite how it looks to the outside world, a church building full of dead people is not a church. It can’t be because the church is a people not a building or organization. Christ’s church is made up of those He has made alive. Church-folks are something else entirely.

Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.[1]

Colossians 3:5-11

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

What a whirlwind year this has been. I guess it has really been whirlwind season for the past two years! So much has changed – but so much remains the same. Some things have gotten worse, others better, and a whole lot of things have gone from worse to better and back! One thing is certain, the Fall (Genesis 3) is still falling, and those who belong to Christ (Nahum 1:7, Galatians 4:4-5) are feeling the pains and crying out that this world is not our home (Philippians 3:20) and “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)!

For all that changes in our lives, unfortunately sin still lingers. For the past two Bible studies in our Jesus Over All study (July 21 and July 28), we have been dealing with the subject of sin and how the Bible teaches that we are to put it to death and take it off. I know that this is not a popular subject, but, if we profess to believe that what the Bible says is true, we need to know what it says and especially know what we do not want to hear from it. Stick with me as we move from today looking at what we need to take off (negative) to walk with Christ to next week when we look at what we need to put on (positive) to be the Church!

We had our introduction to this in the last study, so we will just dive on in today.

As with verses 5-7, we are going to rely on a single lexicon/dictionary (Spiros Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament[2]) and lay out the definition and verses that contain the same word so that we get the full picture and context.

Now You Must Put Them All Away (v.8)

In verses 5-7, there are specific sins listed that were plaguing the church at Colossae (and likely its sister church Laodicea), but the sin in verse 8 seems to be more of a heart-set and mind-set than specific actions. Each of these things can lead to sins like those listed in vv. 5-7 but evidence more of what is going on within a person rather than what is visible in their lives. Also, these are the sins Paul says are sins in which we “too once walked” and lived in but have no place in the new life in Jesus Christ. This is because those who are in Christ have been brought from being dead in their trespasses and sins – again “in which [we] once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2) – to being “made alive…in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Those who believe in Christ and confess Him as their Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9-10) are saved from their sin and the wrath that accompanies it. But it is not a new or a New Testament phenomenon; it goes all the way back to how God showed it would work back in the Old Testament prophecies (Ezekiel 36:26-27):

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

It was made abundantly clear – and continues to be made clear through God’s Word – that one’s life matches one’s spiritual standing. Those who are dead in their trespasses and sins live that out. Jesus Himself clarified in Matthew 15:18 that “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person”. What is inside will come out! It will come out because the life that comes from believing and learning Jesus (Ephesians 4:20-21) is not a learned set of skills and cannot be faked. Like Ezekiel said above, God puts His Spirit in His people. His Spirit causes His people to walk in His ways. Even the desire to do good comes from Him.

So often the world says, “Fake it ‘till you make it.” Well, dear Sojourner, that just will not cut it with the Christian life because what God does is the genuine article. Just as sure as turkey does not make tasty bacon and tofu will never satisfy like a ribeye, only the divine power of God by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ will produce the genuine article. And we need to be sure that if we are not taking off these things that Paul talks about here and are content to live in them, we are more likely to make a convincing turkey than being a child of God.

Here are those things that the Holy Spirit (through Paul) is telling us does not belong in our lives.

The last in this list is “obscene talk” which essentially goes back to what Jesus said in Matthew 15:18 – what comes out of our mouths evidences what is really in our hearts. And, ultimately, it is the heart that matters. Works do prove faith (James 2:17), but there are those who appear to do good works that fall away.

Wrapping Up

There was a man named Demas who Paul mentions at the end of Colossians. In Colossians 4:14, he tells the church at Colossae that Demas “greets” them just like Luke did. In Philemon (which was mailed with the letter to the Colossians), Paul calls him one of his “fellow workers” (Philemon 24). Yet in 2 Timothy 4:10 when Paul was in his final years and a prisoner in Rome, he reported that Demas, “in love with this present world”, deserted him and went to Thessalonica.

There is a saying in contemporary America that is used to justify whatever a person wants to do, especially things that someone might call sinful: “The heart wants what the heart wants.” It is the verbal equivalent to shrugged shoulders and communicates that people cannot help what they want to do. This is right and wrong. For those who do not know Christ, it is right. They want what they want and can do what they want. One cannot get more lost. Those who are dead in their sin are dead and cannot get dead-er. But the Bible does not leave room for those who profess Christ to take that path.

Demas was able to act like a Christian convincingly. He even convinced Paul and Luke! But he could not hide his heart – eventually he did not want to hide it. 1 John 2:19 tells us that the enduring mark of faith in Christ is whether we continue in the faith – that those who “went out from us” were not “of us” because those who are in Christ continue in the faith until the end. Pretend does not endure. Acting does not endure. But what Jesus does on the inside is long lasting.

So, Sojourner, we have some soul-searching to do.

Jamie Harrison has been teaching through the book of Revelation at Christ Community, and right now we are in the letters from Jesus to the seven churches. One thing that Jamie has done consistently through this section is remind us that Jesus is speaking to us and our churches by His Spirit through the reading and hearing of His Word. And He points to where the Bible gives us application. That is fitting here because we may be tempted to work our way out of any of these sins that are present in our lives. That will not work. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus and repent, trusting in His Spirit to give us what He promised back in Ezekiel 36.

Let Psalm 139:23-24 be our prayer as we look at our own lives and seek to take off these sins – as we desire to love and follow Jesus and not allow our love for our sins draw us away like Demas:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

I am praying for you as always and want you to know that you are not alone in the struggle against sin. Sometimes it seems harder to take certain sins off than others but know this: Jesus has paid the penalty for our sin and made a way – the only Way (John 14:6) out of death and into His eternal life. Will you trust Him or continue in sins? Do you love Jesus, or are you in love with this present world? I pray He helps you see which and draws you to Himself.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:5–11.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[3] The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament in the 3rd-2nd centuries BC by Jewish scholars who understood Hebrew (and Greek) better than anyone who has lived in the last 1,800 years.

Refresh & Restore — July 28, 2022

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.[1]

Colossians 3:5-11

Greetings Sojourners!

Today is my 37th birthday, and birthdays are a good time for introspection.

Younger me had a lot of different goals over the years – plans for where I thought I would be by this point in my life. At 7, I wanted to be a “singing-preacher” (what I thought a minister of music was). At 17, my plans included teaching for a few years, getting my master’s degree, becoming a principal, and having a doctorate by 35 years old. At 27, I wanted to overcome the burnout and depression I was experiencing. I had burned out and quit ministry a few weeks before my 30th birthday and moved back home.

If someone had told me in 2015 that I would have the contentment and peace I have today in my walk with Christ and in my home life, I would have laughed in their face and probably told them they were full of something. I spent so long wanting to be something that I lost track of who I was. My identity became wrapped up in my job. That is a very modern way of putting the situation. Biblically, workaholism is a form of the sin of pride. Burnout, for me, was when my prideful pursuit of being somebody turned into the realization that work or status could never give me what I was looking for – was never intended to provide the feelings and validation I craved (really, coveted).

All of that sounds really negative (it definitely felt negative), but as I sit here in reflection today, God has blessed me and fulfilled me over the past seven years in ways I never could have imagined. The first blessing was finding Him in His Word and in prayer and realizing that He had never moved. The second blessing is realizing how amazing and beautiful a life God had built me by giving me Candice and the kiddos. There were more blessings than I can possibly list here, but ultimately, finding my identity in Christ helped me see which aspects of my life needed to removed – or put to death. Work had to have its place. Success and recognition had to have theirs, too. Eventually, after a lot of repenting, life rearrangement, correction through the Word, and more than a little training from Candice, I found joy in pastoral ministry that I never had in the years prior to burning out.

I do not want you to miss this: the issue that burned me out was sin. Pride is a dangerous thing. It is like the carbon monoxide of sinfulness – tasteless, odorless, and deadly. It crept in subtly and slyly. It began with a mix of not getting the recognition I felt I deserved. People told me that. Church folks, even. Then, I got a taste of recognition. Humility left quickly. I wanted more. The idea that I could become something quickly overtook my ministerial life. The fulfillment that came from compliments and attaboys was fleeting. The larger my pride became, the smaller my satisfaction. I just wanted to quit – and did! But pride tainted that, too. I faked a sabbatical so I would not have to live with the reality of failure, intending to extend it until I could bear the reality that I was spent.

As I said, there were things in my life that needed to be killed – that needed to be dead to me. There were areas of my life that had to be pruned, cutting away some of the weeds and thorns that were keeping me from growing. That is what Paul is talking about in this section of Colossians. In the midst of their dealing with false teachers, they had sin of their own that needed to be taken off as well as aspects of being like Christ that they needed to put on. We, like the Colossian church, need to be active in putting to death the sin in our lives and taking it off so that we can live the life we have in Christ.

Put to Death (vv. 3-7)

There is a famous quote from the puritan pastor John Owen: “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”[2] In that quote, he describes a daily process of examining one’s life in order to kill – mortify, as he calls it – sin before it kills you. If you compare that to the way we talk about sin today, Owen sounds a bit crazy. How can he take something so seriously that obviously is not anymore? Either he is wrong, or the modern view of sin is. Which one lines up with the Bible? Owen, obviously.

There is a lot of anxiety around talking about what sin is. I have read or heard no fewer than a dozen people – in the last month, mind you – who talked about how things that used to be a sin or actions that people used to consider sin are sins no longer. This is related to the necessary presuppositions we have been talking about over the past month. If you believe the Bible really is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then what it calls sin is sin. If you believe that those who are saved are different, as taught in the Bible (Ephesians 4:20-24), then what is taught to be sin in the Bible should no longer be a part of our lives. God knows what we need and how we need to live – and not live.

Before we dive into what appears to be the first of two lists of sins, we need to ask ourselves a question: if sin really is as deadly as the Bible says it is (Romans 6:23, James 1:14-15), why would someone want to convince us otherwise? It reminds me of the difference in the way people talk about cigarettes now versus how they did thirty years ago. Thirty years ago, the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel were cool culturally and iconic. Then, the dadgum surgeon general decided to attack the tobacco industry and act like cigarettes could cause lung cancer. I remember seeing commercials in the 90s talking about why “big tobacco” wanted to downplay the cancer risk of smoking: they wanted to sell cigarettes. Who would take advantage of us like that in regarding sin?

Ultimately, Satan! Look at the way he is described in Revelation 12:12: “But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). His agenda is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He is dangerous in that since “he knows his time is short” he is like a predator backed into a corner. But understand this: he is not looking for minions to rule over in hell. He is not going to be in charge there. He is going to be an inmate. And he is spitefully evil and wants to see as many people misled as he can.

As we begin to look at these sins listed, we need to acknowledge a few things. First, God’s Spirit gave the list, not Paul. These were not pet peeves that Paul had and wanted to get rid of or to pick on. We need to be careful and guard against calling “evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Second, we must be careful to present it as it is in the Bible. There is always a temptation to emphasize sins that we hate while making light of sins we either commit ourselves or that we just do not think are a big deal. God alone gets to set the agenda regarding His righteous standard and sin. We must guard against letting our own agendas try to steer the text of Scripture.

I have thought a lot about how to present this information and have decided to merely list it out in a chart format. I have used the same lexicon and Greek dictionary on all the words to present their definitions fairly. Even when there are not quotations in the definitions, the information comes from Spiros Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament[3]. More importantly, I looked at every verse in the New Testament and a few from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament, 3rd century b.c.) that contained these words. This may seem like a boring way to present the information, but I want to make sure you can see what the information is and keep it as objective and free from bias as I can. Take notice of some of the passages that are used multiple times as it shows that those particular sins were affecting multiple places, people groups, and churches.

These are the sins Paul says we need to put to death – things that are “earthly” rather than godly:

“sexual immorality” πορνεία (porneía)This is a catch-all term that describes anything sexual that deviates from the intimacy between husband and wife. The WSNTDICT uses “fornication” as a part of the definition, which means any sex outside of marriage, emphasizing that the sin is not merely an issue of timing (like calling it premarital sex) but emphasizing that marriage between a husband and wife is God’s plan for sex.1 Corinthians 6:13 – “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” – and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

1 Corinthians 6:18 – Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

1 Corinthians 7:2 – But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

2 Corinthians 12:21 – I fear that when my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality….

Ephesians 5:3 – But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality….

Revelation 9:21 – …nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
“impurity” ἀκαθαρσία akatharsíaThis basically means unclean, but it not as clear cut as the idea of being unclean in the OT. This means that something has been tainted by sin and gives a connotation of being rotten. This sort of sin can be by oneself or with others.Romans 1:24 – Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.

Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality….

1 Thessalonians 2:3 – For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive….

Matthew 23:27 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  
“passion” πάθος páthosThis word is only used three times in the NT. Our passage and the one from 1 Thessalonians imply or include lust while the Romans usage is accompanied by “dishonorable”. The understanding is that these particular passions negatively affect those who participate in them.Romans 1:26 – For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature….

1 Thessalonians 4:5 – …not in the passions of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God….
“evil desire” ἐπιθυμία epithumíaThis word is stronger than the English portrays. There is a longing – almost lust – that accompanies this desire. It is like an appetite that needs to be satisfied.1 Timothy 6:9 – But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction….

2 Timothy 3:6 – For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and lead astray by various passions….

2 Timothy 4:3 – For the time has come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions….

Titus 3:3 – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

James 1:14-15 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

1 Peter 1:14 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance….

1 Peter 4:2-3 – …so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensualities, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

2 Peter 1:4 – …by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

2 Peter 3:3 – …knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.

Jude 16-18 – There are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires, they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
covetousness, which is idolatry” πλεονεξία pleonexíaThis is an interesting word. It means covetousness or greediness, but it has a kind of inherent meaning of being the root of other sins – like greediness that sparks a desire to do other sins.   It is idolatry because it seeks to forsake God as the object of worship by being filled or satisfied by things of earth.Romans 1:29 – They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips….

Ephesians 5:3-5 – But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.

Luke 12:15 – And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Wrapping Up

He follows this list saying that “on account” of these sins “the wrath of God is coming” (v. 6). The wrath of God is not to be taken lightly. It describes the attitude of God toward sin. He hates it (Psalm 5:4). That hatred drives His wrathfulness toward sin.

I mentioned earlier how we need to be careful not to over-emphasize or de-emphasize sin but rather to look at it the way it is presented in the Word. There are many preachers who use sin and fear of God’s wrath (which is appropriate) to, in a sense, scare the hell out of people – to motivate them to follow Christ out of a fear of God’s wrath and eternal damnation.

What I want you to see here is that, for those who put their faith in Jesus, He bore the wrath of God our sins deserve on the cross (Colossians 2:13-14, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 9:26, Isaiah 53:10-11). We are all of the things represented – all of the wickedness – in the lists above. Jesus is none of those things. But “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Love is a much better motivator than fear!

So, if you read through those sins and looked at the verses that show them for what they truly are – that show us sinners who we are, you can either decide to ignore what you know about the wrath of God or you can embrace the offer of love and forgiveness.

I do not sit here and type this in judgment. There is no ulterior motive of condemnation. No, I am a sinner, too. The difference is that I have put my trust in Jesus – what He has done on the cross, His resurrection, and what He is doing and going to do. I have given my life to Him. And little by little, day by day, year by year, He makes me more like Him. The sin that I clung to so closely becomes distasteful. And He appears more lovely and dear.

Will you take an honest assessment of your life? I hope that in doing so you realize your need for Him. If you would like to talk to someone, reach out; I would love to help you. If you realize that you have become distant from Him, repent and turn back; He has not moved. Remember the warning from John Owen: you better be killing the sin in your life because it is surely killing you. But Jesus…. He offers life.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:5–11.

[2] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 9.

[3] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

Refresh & Restore — July 21, 2022

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.[1]

Colossians 3:5-11

Greetings Sojourners!

If you look back over the first seventeen installments of our study of Colossians (this is the eighteenth!), I have said again and again how much I love the book of Colossians. And I do. How much I love to study it. Again, I do. But the book of Colossians can be tough – it is meant to be, yet it is loving in its toughness. I am not particularly excited to write on this particular section, though. Why? It deals with sin.

Oftentimes, if asked, church folks would remark that sin is a constant topic in sermons they hear. And it may be in some places. I am reminded of an episode of The Andy Griffith Show that features Barney Fife, sitting right on the front row, sleeping through the sermon of a prestigious visiting preacher. As they were filing out of the church, Aunt Bee, Andy, and Barney stop to talk to their pastor and the visiting preacher:

Aunt Bee: Oh, Dr. Breen, your sermon has such a wonderful lesson for us.

Andy: Yes, sir, you really hit the nail right on the head there.

Barney: Yes, sir, that’s one subject you just can’t talk enough about…sin!

The studio’s laughter follows as does Andy’s embarrassment, but this reveals something about the nature of people’s attitudes toward preaching and studying the Bible – especially within the church. There is a hellfire-and-brimstone view that has left many callous toward talking about sin, in some cases injured by a misuse of talking about sin, or ignorant of it because some pastors refuse to talk about it at all.

When we talk about sin, read about it in the Bible, or listen to sermons from passages that deal with sin, what do we say, understand, or hear about it? If asked, most who are part of a local church would say that they believe the Bible is true and what it says is necessary to live, but what about when we get out into the world? What about our lives and the lives of those around us? When the rubber hits the road, the majority of us would definitely disagree with Barney and feel that we have had enough talking about sin.

Before we get into this passage, I believe we need to have a brief reminder of the presuppositions – “basic beliefs that are essential for a particular type of study to be conducted”[2] – that we have stated to be necessary to study the Bible.

  1. The Bible is what it claims to be (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is God’s Word. It is true. It contains everything that can be known about God and is sufficient to bring us to Him.
  2. There is a difference in the lives of those who know Christ – are saved/born again – and those who do not – are lost/dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-10, 4:20-24).

Today, we add to those the fact that God has authority over creation, which He Himself created. What He intended to be right is right, and what He intended to be wrong is wrong. What He says (see presupposition one) goes. That means He has the authority to declare what sin is. Again, most church folks would say they agree with those statements, but what about when His Word declares an activity you enjoy as a sin? What if it was your family, friends, or kids?

What happens when one of your presuppositions or your world view is challenged by something you come across in the Bible? I am quick to say that, when confront with this in theory, my beliefs will change if I find they are contradictory to God’s Word. That is theory; what about when that theory intersects real life?

This is where the pre- part of presuppositions is extremely important. These beliefs need to be nailed down before the rubber hits the road. Look at people in the Bible who we would call “heroes” whose beliefs before their trials and tribulations made the difference in how they made it through.

  • Joseph survived his brothers faking his death, selling him into slavery (Genesis 37:12-28), being slandered by his master’s wife (Genesis 39:1-21), and ending up forgotten in Pharaoh’s dungeon (Genesis 40). Yet he was faithful throughout because of the beliefs that came before and could say to the very brothers whose jealousy set all those terrible events in motion that led to Joseph being exalted by Pharaoh: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:19-20).
  • Job’s worship of God was tested in ways we never hope to experience. God Himself described him as being unlike any other person on earth – “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8, 2:3). Satan took his children. His great material wealth was brought to nothing. Satan asked even to be able to attack his health because if one were to “stretch out [their] hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse You to Your face” (Job 2:5). So, Satan made it so their were sores from the tip top of Job’s head to the soles of his feet (Job 2:7). Yet despite all the loss and pain – including three knot-headed friends and a disparaging wife – Job never recants his faith in God.
  • Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego) were taken from their homes, imprisoned, indoctrinated, and made into eunuchs (Daniel 1). Their names that spoke of Yahweah were traded for names proclaiming gods of Babylon (Daniel 1:7). Yet they continued the faith in Babylon as they “had done previously” (Daniel 6:10) and saw God strengthen their bodies (Daniel 1:8-21), answer their prayers (Daniel 2:17-18), give interpretation to dreams (Daniel 2:19-45, 4:19-27), stand with them in the midst of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16-26), and shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:16-24).

The faith and beliefs that come before mattered when it came time to live them out.

For that reason, today’s Bible study will serve as a reminder of what the Bible teaches about sin and why Paul wrote Colossians 3:5-11.

How Sin Works (James 1:13-15)

Most of the time when we talk about sin, we talk about it generically. If asked in church who is a sinner, we are quick to remark that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). At Christ Community, if one of our pastors asks the congregation what the “wages of sin” is, there is a resounding “death” (Romans 6:23). But that is generic. That is hypothetical sin. What about when it gets personal? We see it in other people’s lives and are well-acquainted with their sins. But, when it comes to recognizing it in ourselves, we are like the hypocrite Jesus describes in Matthew 7:1-5; we have a giant log stuck in our eye (unconfessed sin we are willfully ignorant of) while trying to point out the sawdust in the eye of another (sin we would rather recognize). We know how sin works in the lives of others but all too often fail to recognize it – and repent of it – in our own lives. It is important for us to know and understand how the Bible talks about sin and let our lives – “assuming that you have heard about [Jesus] and were taught in Him, as the truth is” (Ephesians 4:21).

If we were to describe the workings of one’s life, we call it the life cycle. James 1:13-15 clearly defines the cycle of sin from temptation to death:

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.[3]

In this brief passage, we see three things that are necessary for our understanding of sin.

First, we see that sin does not come from God. To see it one needs only to look back to the Fall in Genesis 3 and the first sin ever to be committed. God told Adam what was right. He gave Him the idyllic garden of Eden and every tree in the garden for food – except one. God told Adam that to eat of that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, would cause him to “surely die” (Genesis 2:16). There has been debate as long as there has been a Bible as to who made whom sin: Adam, Eve, or the Serpent. The serpent had his role, to be sure, but Adam and Eve each made their own decisions to disobey the commandment of God. But, as we said in our third presupposition above, God has the right and authority as Creator to declare what is right in His creation – and to command against going against that as sin. Adam, who heard the command from God Himself, willingly disobeyed. And every one of his descendants from the beginning until the return of Jesus has dealt with the repercussions and struggles that come from their own sin (Romans 5:12).

Second, we get a picture of what exactly temptation is. Temptation originates in our “own desire”. James gives a fishing analogy. Temptation is like a lure attached to a fishing pole. Fishing lures are designed to look like the most appetizing food for certain types of fish. When a fish sees the lure moving through the water, it cannot help but bite it. Then, the hook hidden within the lure is set, and it is too late for the fish. They are reeled into the real-life consequences of biting onto the lure.

For humans, it is not a shiny lure attached to nearly invisible fishing line but be assured: there is a lure. It looks like what we desire most – what we want that we either know we should not have, or our wants wrapped in a way we should not have them. Do not be mistaken; the sins we desire are attractive to us. So often the struggle one has with sin is because of the great desire they have to commit that sin. Think of the time spent thinking or fantasizing about sinning – not planning to commit said sin, of course, just looking.

Think about King David. He could have easily made the list of “heroes” above as Joseph, Job, Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were all sinners, but David gives a better example of what it looks like to be hooked. David was described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). David’s lure was lust and desiring sexual sin.

Early on in David’s narrative, he married Saul’s daughter Michal (1 Samuel 18:27). Later, he met Abigail who was described as “discerning and beautiful” (1 Samuel 25:3). She helped keep him from making mistakes due to her husband Nabal’s treachery, and Nabal’s death happened to coincide with Michal marrying another (1 Samuel 25:44 – though 2 Samuel 3:13-14 shows David never stopped considering her his wife). It would make sense if David simply married Abigail, yet David married her and a woman named Ahinoam at the same time (1 Samuel 25:43). God never supported polygamy but intended marriage to be between a husband and wife (Genesis 2:24-25). David obviously wanted three wives to support his appetites.

Fast forward to 2 Samuel 11, and we see David chose to stay home rather than be where he should be – at war with his soldiers, on his roof with a clear view of a naked woman – Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, and his sending of his servants to take her (2 Samuel 11:1-4). In 2 Samuel 11:2, it says “It happened, late one afternoon”. What happened? Sin. His looking gave way to taking. David’s sin had him hook, line, and sinker. And what he thought would be casual sex – that 2 Samuel 11:4 seems to say he thought could not result in conception – produced live evidence of their union.

That is a good segue into the third thing James 1:13-15 teaches us about sin. The fishing analogy gives way to the analogy of conception and birth. That desire that lures in verse 14 is compared to conception – to human biology. Conception is when a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg. Lust does not do this. Sex does. Conception is supposed to lead to birth. The baby has a life. But sin is about death. The conception of sinful desire in the mind and heart ultimately leads to committing the sin. It is rarely enough to just enjoy the guilty pleasure of sin once. The behavior grows into a lifestyle. And sin, “when it is fully grown” brings forth death. That life of sin earns – remember “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23) – death.

Wrapping Up

When we look at sin, it is tempting to question all this talk of sin producing death and doubt and whether a good and loving God would allow such – whether He would really let the consequences of sin be death. To that, I would remind you 1) of the existence of death, and 2) what our good and loving God did for sin was to give Himself as a sacrifice to bear the death we deserve on the cross, not ignore it.

Next week, we will begin diving into the specifics of Colossians 3:5-11. The sheer volume and span of the lists (there are two) of sins will hit us all more than once. It will not be enjoyable. It will be uncomfortable. You may even be mad at me before it is over. I promise you that I have been mad at me in studying this, too.

I urge you to meditate on what we have seen from James 1:13-15 and in Colossians 3:5-11. Search your heart. As you do, consider the Holy Spirit’s motives for giving such a passage to the church at Colossae and to us today. Why would He take the time to tell us here – and again and again throughout Scripture – what we should be putting to death in us (Colossians 3:5) and what we should be taking off as if it were a filthy garment (Colossians 3:8)? Does He just not want us to get to do what we want to do and be happy?

God is the Creator. He knows how He designed life to work best. He knows what truly brings happiness – following Him, and He knows what brings death and sorrow – sin. He knows how to take lost sinners who are dead in their trespasses and sins and make them alive together by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10).

So, I pray that God grants repentance for you where you need it. I pray the same thing for me. And I pray that God helps us to learn to pray like David in Psalm 139:23-24:

23  Search me, O God, and know my heart!
        Try me and know my thoughts!
24  And see if there be any grievous way in me,
        and lead me in the way everlasting!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:5–11.

[2] F. Leroy Forlines, Biblical Systematics: A Study of the Christian System of Life and Thought (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 1975), 5.

[3] ESV, Jas 1:13–15.

Refresh & Restore — July 7, 2022

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.[1]

Colossians 3:1-4

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

I love the way that Paul’s letter to the Colossian church builds and builds and builds. Where we see sections or passages, there was just a letter from an apostle to a church that needed help. Paragraph by paragraph the help he offers them is pointing them to Jesus.

In chapter 1, we see Paul presenting Jesus in a beautiful hymn highlighting how Jesus, God incarnate, is preeminent over all and yet cares for them enough to deliver and redeem them (and us) “from the domain of darkness” to His Kingdom (ch 1:13-14). Chapter 2 saw Paul helping them to understand what it is to be alive in Christ and helped them understand that receiving Christ and walking in Him (ch 2:6-7) is necessary to combat the false teaching attacking their church.

And, as we begin chapter 3 where Paul lays out for the Colossian church – and again, the church today – what new life in Christ is and is not, the final verse from last week’s passage (ch 2:23) strikes me a bit stronger: “These (human precepts and teaching) have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

We looked at it in the context of last week’s passage, and we need to look at it as the hinge that opens the door between last week’s and ours today. The “human precepts and teaching” (ch 2:22) were spoken of in the context of the false teaching plaguing the Colossian church – that people were trying to tack on additional religious practices to the gospel and distract from it. But, as we are about to begin looking at precepts and teaching given by Paul, it is fitting that we clarify the difference between human precepts and those “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Sins are going to be listed – not Paul’s interpretation of a religion but speaking from God as He was “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). So, as we talk about what is taught in Colossians, we must be careful to focus on and look at what God is saying to the church – then and now – through Paul. We must be careful to recognize the authority of Scripture to teach us what to believe and correct us when we are wrong – to teach us how to live and correct us when we sin – to give us everything we need to live this new life in Him.

There is temptation to blunt what God makes sharp regarding sin – to call good what God called evil (Isaiah 5:20). There is also a temptation to take God’s Word and use it to hurt people rather than to point them to Him. Both are dangerous. Both are trying for “human precepts” instead of the divine. God’s Word says what it says, and it has power. But the former, the man-made or man-twisted have “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”. Thankfully, Paul’s answer to both – the answer that has been consistent throughout Colossians and will continue to be through the end is Jesus.

If You Have Been Raised (vv. 1, 3)

The first word of today’s passage is “if”. As a parent and a high school teacher, I understand that this word carries the utmost importance.

Daddy, can I go to __’s house Friday? Yes, if, you clean your room. Mr. Harris, if we all make __ or above on the assessment, you should buy us donuts. I sure will if you hold up your end of the bargain. When Friday comes or the assessment is over both sides play the parts of expert lawyer explaining how I am bound to do this or how I should change my mind because of how close they got to the agreement. Yet if leaves extraordinarily little wiggle room. If is conditional. Any agreement containing if means that its completion is contingent upon whatever in-the-event-that occurs.

In the case of today’s passage – “If then you have been raised with Christ”, the condition is if someone is in Christ, whether or not they have been “raised with Christ”. One either is or is not. Think back to the way that Paul has presented this state of being in Christ throughout the letter: either in “the domain of darkness” or “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (ch 1:13), either reconciled to Him through “the blood of His cross” or “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (ch 1:20-21), either “dead in your trespasses” or “made alive together with Him” (ch 2:13). So, to say “If then you have been raised with Christ” is to say you are either dead in your sins or raised to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

It is important to the message Paul is communicating because the teachings are for those who have been “made alive…with Christ”, saved by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:5). These are not principles for a good or successful life. They are not suggestions or even a how-to manual for faith or practice. Look at the rest of that conditional statement: “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”. Basically, if you are in Christ, seek Him. Verse 3 clarifies it even further because, once one is saved, the former pre-salvation life is over and life is “hidden with Christ in God” – eternal life is contingent upon His life, His resurrection.

This is why the new life that comes from being in Christ is not simply a how-to manual or list of instructions – it is real and lasting transformation, life change that occurs when one goes from the “wages of sin”, which is death, to “the free gift of eternal life” (Romans 6:23). Seeking Christ is more than reading His Word or praying to Him as a religious exercise, it is seeking the One who rescued you and redeemed you – who saved you. If you have been raised with Christ, why would you not want to seek Him?

Set Your Minds (vv. 2, 4)

There is good news in the command to seek Jesus, namely that He will be found! Look at this beautiful passage in Isaiah 55:6-7:

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call upon Him while He is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

This is often viewed as an invitation – which it is – for those who do not know Christ but let us look at what it means for those who do know Him. If you have been raised with Christ, He will be found when sought and near when He is called upon. But also, if one’s wicked ways have been forsaken and unrighteous thoughts laid aside, one surely has sought the Lord and received His compassion and forgiveness – received His life – because human beings do not lay aside their wickedness of choice easily.

The command here moves from seeking Him, though, to setting one’s mind on Him. That word “set” means be mindful of, to be devoted to”.[2] Think about it like we would set a thermostat or an alarm. A thermostat ensures that our house stays within the confines of temperatures that will keep us comfortable. An alarm ensures that appointments are kept and things that one really does not want to miss. As a resident of Mississippi in July, I am devoted to making sure my thermostat is set correctly as the humidity and heat would quickly overtake my home. Alarms are necessities for things I want to make sure I do not miss and things I must do and are set as needed – as often as needed, as often as I need to be mindful of a time or date. What about Jesus?

Paul tells the Colossian church to “set” their minds “on things that are above” – the same thing that he just commanded them to “seek”. The mind of the church, its members, should be set on Jesus “not on things that are on earth”. Set – like a thermostat – to keep one’s mind consistently where it needs to be, on Jesus. Set – like we would an alarm to remind us of where we need to be. Set.

Now, I have heard people say that there is a danger of being so heavenly minded that one is no earthly good, meaning that one can be so focused on “things that are above” that things below are forgotten about. They would have a sort of monastery view that would isolate them from the world.

I would argue that I am of no earthly good if my mind is not set on Christ. When we look at the rest of the larger section that today’s passage begins, what follows comes from setting one’s mind on Jesus. The sins that are crucified are because of focusing on Jesus and the life He gives. The behaviors that characterize the new life follow in the way that He lived – and lives!

This leads to the ultimate goal: meeting Jesus. If we look at verse 4, this is the goal – the expectation of seeking and setting one’s mind on Christ – “When Christ who is your life appears”.

This is the sort of expectant devotion that reminds me of my son. The first day I spend alone with my son, he was barely a month old. He screamed. He cried. He was upset. But everything changed when his mama called to see how everything went. As soon as he hit her arms when she got home, he was at rest. Now, I know it would be hard to say that as an infant he was thinking this or that. Yet last week while my wife – his mama – was chaperoning a youth mission trip for my daughter, every audible car noise from the street brought, “Are Mama and Keri home?” Every buzz on my phone brought questions whether it was his mama on the other end. And, as hard as he tried to play it cool when we picked them up at the church when they got back, everything was right in his world once his mama was home.

Expectantly setting one’s mind on Christ shows devotion. But, more than that, it is a connection between the one you confessed as Lord and the life you actually live. And when He appears – when He returns, He comes to take you with Him. And those who are His will be ready.

Wrapping Up

It is so easy to regiment our lives to fit everything that we want. We can schedule and plan. There are immovable commitments in our lives that will trump anything that comes up. I can be in the middle of something that has everything else in my schedule detouring around it and have it all upended with a single emergency call or text from my wife or kids. In that moment, everything else pales in comparison. The immovable becomes movable.

But how does God fit in my life? Is time with Him immovable in my schedule? I learned – and sadly later than I should have – that there are times that, if I do not schedule time with my wife I will run out of time – the same with my kids. I felt bad initially because it seems so impersonal to schedule things as important as time with my wife and kids. Then, I realized that it is better to schedule than miss something important and that was the reason I had a calendar in the first place – to ensure that important things do not get missed.

I must do the same with for my time with the Lord – in His Word and praying. It has become part of my daily routine (which I know also sounds impersonal). And, if I do not start my day in His Word and in prayer – if I do not set my mind on Him at the very beginning of my day, I will be off. I will be more like the old self than the new.

Important things are set. They are fixed.

And so, it must be for the minds of those who claim to be saved.

If you are reading this and find that you have no desire to set your mind on Christ or that you can make it through days or weeks or months or years without caring about spending time with Him in His Word or praying to Him, there is a problem. Remember that conditional if. If you are His, you will seek Him. If you are His, you will desire to spend time with Him. If you are His, there will have to come a time when you are set – fixed – on Him. It is conditional. Know I am praying for you. I am praying for you to have a desire to meet God in His Word and talk to Him. I am praying for His Spirit to help you set your mind on Him and seek Him while He may be found. And, if you come to realize that you are not in Him, know that I would love to talk with you and pray for you. I would love to introduce you to Jesus.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:1–4.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

Refresh & Restore — June 30, 2022

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.[1]

Colossians 1:16-23

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

I have started and restarted today’s Bible study in my head several times. Over the past few weeks, I have seen several examples of why today’s text is important, and I want to be careful to communicate exactly what it is saying and why it is so important in the life of a believer. It is extremely important to understand that the Bible serves as the guide for Christian practice and not outside sources or traditions.

Before we go any further, there are two passages that are important to form context for this passage. The first is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

We enter every conversation, every interaction with something called a presupposition – “basic beliefs that are essential for a particular type of study to be conducted”[2] or assumptions we already hold that affect our thinking on a subject. For the Christian, it is imperative – vitally important – that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 be our presupposition; we need to have the belief that the Bible is God’s Word. What we believe about the Bible affects the way we interact with the Bible. Do we see it as important or merely a valuable influence? Does it contain absolute truth, or can it be of value to us as we form our own truth? That matters.

The second passage we need to help us with today’s passage is Ephesians 4:17-24:

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

There are two statements Ephesians 4:20-21 that is vital to us, especially when it comes to passages like ours today: 1) “but that is not the way you learned Christ!”, and 2) “assuming that you heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus”. For the church in Ephesus – and the church today, Paul’s statements clarify that there is a difference between knowing Christ (learned Christ, were taught in Him) and not knowing Him. Furthermore, there is a difference in one’s way of life not knowing Christ and knowing Him.

This is an unpopular view, but the Bible means what it means. It had specific meaning for its original audiences and for us today. It is supposed to inform our beliefs and behaviors (part of that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 presupposition). Now, there is freedom within some of those beliefs for variety of action among the saints – grace to practice differently within the confines of Scripture. But there are some beliefs that are so fundamental to the faith that there is no wiggle room. For example, the Bible is clear on salvation and the message of the gospel – no wiggle room. There are, however, choices of personal conviction – or even conviction on the part of a local church – that do not contradict Scripture but take staunch stances on that every church does not have to take. For example, worship style or instrumentation.

For the Colossian church, there were added difficulties, and we have touched on them before. First, their pastor did the best he could with the limited knowledge he had. Second, false teachers saw that limited knowledge and lack of depth in discipleship as an invitation to bring wolves to attack the sheep. The Colossian church had learned Christ (see Ephesians 4:20-21) but there were gaps. And it is the false teaching shoved into those gaps that Paul has been correcting in our passages for the past two weeks. We have looked at what it means for doctrine to be “not according to Christ” (v. 8). We discussed how the false teachers were seeking to take the church “captive by philosophy and empty deceit” (v. 8). Today’s passage is going to get a bit more specific.

Due to the nature of today’s passage and my desire to be even more careful than usual in dealing with them, I want to streamline the way we break down today’s passage. I usually write out the Bible study like I would say it if I were teaching it or preaching it. Today, we are going to take it phrase-by-phrase or sentence-by-sentence through this passage and give brief clarification and application for each.

Phrase-by-Phrase/Sentence-by-Sentence Clarification and Application

Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (v. 16)

The “therefore” points back to verses 13 and 14 that explain what Jesus did for us in salvation and verse 15 that tells us the result of Jesus’ finished work on the cross and through the empty tomb on Satan and his forces. It is because of Jesus’ work that we do not have to allow people to be able to pass judgment on us – because He is the Judge – and His Word prescribes what needs to be prescribed.

The issues of eating and festivals falls into the way that some of the false teachers seemed to try to implement the Jewish dietary laws and Old Testament festivals and observances as necessary for salvation. The point here is not that believers are above judgment – again Jesus is judge and there are issues He has called His church to be watchful over their fellow believers; the issue is that we must be careful who we let prescribe practices to the church. That is part of that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 presupposition: God prescribes practices and gives mission to the church through His Word.

These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (v. 17)

The Old Testament practices that the false teachers were trying to add to the Colossian church’s practice were not meant for them. Many things in the Old Testament were meant to point to Christ. They were shadows – opportunities to see glimpses of what would be when God’s promises would be fulfilled, but shadow is not tangible (Hebrews 8:1-5). Shadows have the shape of the substance but are not the thing they point to. Jesus is the substance. He is the embodiment – literally – of the Law, and all the Scriptures (OT and NT) point to Him (Luke 24:27).

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head…. (vv. 18-19a)

The most important phrase in these verses is “and not holding fast to the Head”. This begins Paul’s description of the Church as the body of Christ with Christ Himself being its head. So, before we look at the specific religious beliefs that people wanted to use to disqualify the Colossian church, understand this: they were religious beliefs not centered on Jesus. That needs to sink in, so you may need to hear it again: Jesus is at the center of Christianity. If there is no Christ, there is no Christianity – not Jesus+ but Jesus-centered.

The religious practices in these verses were common in people trying to exhibit their own worthiness and how superior their religious practice was over others around them. That is still common today with people wanting to be holier-than-thou in their practice. In ancient Colossae, these were the practices that the false teachers thought put them above everyone else and, from their perspective, put everyone else below them:

  • Asceticism is the “voluntary abstention from the satisfaction of bodily and social needs, including food, drink, sexual activity, sleep, clothes, wealth, and social interaction”[3]. It was purposefully doing without to appear humble and more righteous or pious than those around them.
  • The worship of angels is meant to elevate them to seem like they have a closer connection to heaven. It is a lot like name-dropping in the present to elevate one’s status. It was a means to give the impression that there was a higher plane of religion than following Jesus.
  • When it says “going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind”, it is referring to people who claimed that they had a vision from Jesus that altered everything that had been proclaimed 1) by Him as contained in the gospels, and 2) by His apostles in the early church. This points to self-made religion created in the image of Christianity. Wicked men wanted to piggyback on the perceived success of Christianity and branch out on their own. It was the equivalent of selling time-shares and staged faith-healing but back in first century Colossae.

…not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (v. 19)

As I said earlier, there were people who noticed the growth and spread of Christianity who wanted to try to recreate it in their own ways. But Jesus is not a business model; He is God. He saves people and adopts them into His family. They become a part of His body – the church. Think of how vital a human head is in the operations of a body, all the things that we do not have to think about like breathing, walking, talking, swallowing, keeping our hearts beating, etc. that we take for granted because the brain just makes it happen and keeps it going. Jesus is that for the church.

This highlights the foolishness of the false teacher’s message. Would you rather be put on a ventilator so that you can free your brain up to work on different things? No, that would be a last resort in life-saving efforts. Jesus is the head. He is God and the originator of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). We need to follow Him.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? (vv. 20-22)

Think back to our previous passage (vv. 13-14a): “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.” Paul clarifies that believers were formerly dead in their sin until Jesus made them alive “together with Him”. If you were dead and are now alive, why seek after the things and ways from your death?

Imagine being dead and being resurrected at your wake or funeral. There would be people who were scared, but there would be rejoicing. What if you told your loved ones that, as much as you were glad to see them, you would rather just go on and lay back down in your comfortable coffin, get them to shut the lid, and just carry on? That would be unheard of – you are alive, why take part in the rest of the funeral? If you are in Christ, your being raised to life with Him means that you have died to the old self and the old ways. Trying to go back to the old normal is the same as getting back in the coffin. Following the same old “human precepts and teaching” that did nothing to bring you life is dabbling with death.

These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (v. 23)

All the practices a false teacher offers can seem to offer hope or seem to be of value. But eventually the false teacher is going to want what he or she was after. I compared the false teachers to people selling time shares earlier. Essentially, they want you to buy into their program and promise benefits, but they often take the money and run leaving the followers poor and dejected and alone. There are people who want to try to improve on Christianity, but how does one improve on resurrection? What is better than moving from life to death?

Religious practice can look really good and have attractive qualities, but without Jesus we are still dead in our sins (2 Timothy 3:5). He has value. He has the power. And it is Him alone we need.

Wrapping Up

We are quickly moving to a close in our study of Colossians. As we get into chapter 3 next week, you will see that, like today’s passage, things are moving from beliefs to practice. Things will move a bit more quickly than in chapters 1 and 2. But, before we do, I would like to offer you something different than the false teachers offered the Colossian church.

As we have seen, the false teachers saw the lack of knowledge of the Colossian church and the limitations of their pastor’s knowledge. I would like to offer a few practical applications that can help you not fall into the same traps:

  1. You have access to the Bible. You have something that no one in the Bible had – the entirety of Scripture. You have access to everything than can be known about God, what He has done, and what He has called His church to do. You do not even have to read it because there are so many audio options available, many of which are free (YouVersion, ESV.org). If you claim to be in Christ, you need to be in His Word. Non-negotiable. No excuses. Know what it says or find yourself in danger of either falling prey to a false prophet or finding that you were never saved in the first place.
  2. I am (probably) not your pastor. Unless you are a member of Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS, I am not your pastor. Even if you are a member of CCC, I am not the pastor but one of the pastors there. You need a pastor. The word pastor means shepherd. Pastors are just men – they fail and are not perfect, but their job is to protect their flocks from the wolves and to teach them what it is to be in Christ. If you are not part of a local church, you are in danger. If you are reading this and are currently rationalizing your position of technically being a member but never gathering with your flock, you are in danger. A lone sheep is an invitation for wolves. Or, as in the case of the Bible above, a lack of desire to gather puts you at greater risk of being swayed by outside sources or false teachers and may show you that you were never saved in the first place.
  3. Do not neglect – or grieve – the Holy Spirit. He is better than a pastor because He is God dwelling in the hearts of His people. If you are in the Word and walking with Christ, His Spirit will prompt you when something is not right with someone’s teaching, preaching, or critiques of your faith. That is a good thing. Even better is that, since the Holy Spirit dwells in all believers, someone in your flock may be better situated in the Word to recognize danger before you do (which highlights another reason believers are meant to gather). Trust the Spirit to lead you away from danger. Follow His guidance. If He says run, it is best not to stay. If you have never felt His guidance, seek Him in His Word.

Remember that today’s passage fits in the context of our last two sections and leads to next week’s. If there is something in the discussion of today’s verses that is sticking with you, I urge you to test whether it is issue with the way it is presented, maybe a disagreement or issue, or possibly the Holy Spirit convicting you. Remember that the basis of today’s passage, again, is how it fits in this particular section of Colossians. There were false teachers distracting from following Jesus. Are you distracted by the world or dedicated to Him? Jesus is enough – in fact, He is everything. I love you and hope that this was helpful to you. As always, know I am praying for you. If you are not a part of a local church, I would love to help you connect with one!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 2:16–23.

[2] F. Leroy Forlines, Biblical Systematics: A Study of the Christian System of Life and Thought (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 1975), 5.

[3] Mathias Nygaard, “Asceticism,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.[1]

Colossians 2:11-15

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

I know that I have mentioned time and again how Colossians is one of my favorite books of the Bible and that my walk with Christ is seemingly married to this book. Today’s passage gets right to the heart of that. It also illustrates again one of the most beautiful aspects of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae: Jesus is at the heart of the issues they are facing, He is the solution to their troubles, and He is the hope they have for the future! Jesus – period!

This passage is sandwiched inside of Paul’s response to the false teaching infiltrating the Colossian church. Just prior to this was our passage from last week that told them (and us) what to watch out for that is seeking to capture the church – philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, elementary principles (v. 8). The issue was that those things were “not according to Christ” (v. 8) who is God (v. 9) and is above all things as “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10). This highlights something beautiful and important about this letter: every opportunity Paul gets, he makes much of Jesus. He could have offered them philosophies or traditions or strategies to try to fend off false teaching. No, “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) stays at the forefront of his writing because that is the foundation of his worship. And what we worship is clearly seen in our lives – and in the solutions we seek ourselves and offer to others.

There is a temptation when looking at passages like this one to dismiss it because of words that seem foreign or that challenge our presuppositions or maybe even hurt our feelings. We need to remember that the Bible is not concerned with keeping our status quo. It is not meant to be twisted and contorted to fit human agendas or to support things contradictory to it. It is, however, meant to point us to its Author, and, in meeting with Him, there are going to be things that challenge us.

My prayer for today’s Bible study is that you find yourself willing to come face to face with Jesus, “the founder (or Author) and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and see what He has done for those who put their hope in Him. Knowing Jesus – not knowing information about Him or following in the footsteps of people who knew Him – is the only way to eternal life, the truth that transcends everything the world has to offer, and the only hope in the face of the wages of sin.

Let’s Start with Circumcision

I can promise you that this is one of the last subjects I wanted to write about today. It is awkward. It is a little weird to talk about in general. It comes off as very old-covenant, and many preachers and teachers just kind of loosely compare it to baptism and stay on the baptism side of the discussion. I have been one of those guys. But the older I get and the longer I walk with Christ – the more I grow into Him and find my mind renewed by His Spirit (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23-24), I want to hold onto and dig into every part of Scripture I get to study. So, study this we will.

Look at the way Paul brings up this subject. He is writing to the members of the Colossian church – to those who have been saved. He reminds them that not only have they been “filled in Him” (v. 10), but they were “also” circumcised “with a circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). Circumcision was introduced in Genesis 17. God had already made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 to give him offspring that would number like the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5), promised the trials of Egypt and the prosperity that would follow (Genesis 15:13-16), and now He continues that covenant calling for Abraham (at this point ninety-nine years old) and all of the males in his household to be circumcised as a sign of their covenant.

Covenants at this time in history were done in very bloody and threatening ways. Throughout the near and mid-East at that time, covenants were known as covenants of halves. If you go back and read Genesis 15, you can see why:

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram….

The covenant of halves is illustrated in the way the animals – in this case a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon – were, well, halved. They were slaughtered and cut in half, leaving a bloody path between the halves. When two parties were going to make a covenant, they would both walk through the bloody halves before agreeing or promising to keep the covenant, giving the understanding that whichever party broke the covenant was forfeiting their life. The one who broke the covenant would share the same end as the animals.

It was a very bloody picture, but it was meant to hold both parties in a covenant to their word. I imagine it was quite a convincing scene! But think about man covenanting with God. Mankind is sinful and deceitful and prone to break covenants. God is the opposite. If God covenanted with mankind like men did with one another, He would have to pour out His wrath again like He had on the world in Noah’s time (Genesis 6-9) but with all mankind and no ark. There is an important difference in God’s covenant and the covenant of men, and it is through two easily overlooked details in Genesis 15:12 and 17: God put Abraham to sleep, and God alone (see the smoking fire pot and flaming torch – that’s Him!) walked through the halves!

God never intended on His covenant needing man to be faithful. He alone is faithful. He already knew that mankind would break the covenant, and He had already decided “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) everything that He would do in Jesus on behalf of the world. God Himself walked the bloody path between the halves. Thousands of years later, He would walk a path to a place called Golgotha to reconcile people to Himself and make peace “by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:19-20).

So, as far as circumcision went from Genesis 17 to the cross, it was a symbol of the bloody sacrifice God took upon Himself. Mankind could not keep the covenant nor would man’s death as a result of breaking the covenant do any good. Circumcision was a way to (forgive the pun) give man opportunity to have a little skin in the game – to have a reminder that there was cost involved. Understanding that circumcision does not equal salvation was important for Israel, but, for the church at Colossae, it was important because there were false teachers known as Judaizers who were proclaiming that they needed Jesus plus circumcision to be saved, which led to Jesus plus the Law and Jesus plus festivals and so on and so forth. Our passage today reminds us of the formulas we saw back at the beginning of this study:

Jesus + nothing = everything                       Jesus + anything = nothing

Circumcision pointed to the covenant God made with Abraham. But the blood pointed to Jesus. He alone is what the Colossian church and every sinner has ever needed for salvation. To add to Him, to add to His gospel is to give a different one (Galatians 1:6-9). There is no other Jesus (Titus 2:13). There is no other way (John 14:6).

The Importance of What Jesus Did

When we go back to today’s passage, it makes what Paul was saying clearer. The circumcision he is talking about in his letter to the Colossians is not the physical removal of the foreskin of males but “a circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). It reflects the way God through Ezekiel talks about the new covenant that would be made through Jesus: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The idea was not cosmetic surgery; it was a transplant! God knew we could not keep His covenant, so he kept it for us. He knew the “wages of sin is death”, so he prepared a way – through Himself – to transplant people from death to eternal life!

As I mentioned earlier, circumcision and baptism are often talked about together, and the Bible clarifies how. They are both outward symbols of things that occur in the heart, but, more importantly, those activities are supposed ways to proclaim faith in Him. In the Old Testament, circumcision pointed to the way that God ratified His covenant with Father Abraham as we discussed above. But, now with baptism, we see a reflection of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in the way He saves people (see picture below). When one repents of their sin and believes in Jesus, they are saved. That means that when it says that “having been buried with Him in baptism…you were also raised through faith in the powerful working of God” (v. 12), that means you were raised from being dead in your trespasses and sins (v. 13, Ephesians 2:1-2) to be “made alive” in Christ (v. 13, Ephesians 2:4-5)! Paul says it beautifully in Romans 6:4: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” That’s good news!

The rest of the picture shared in our passage today is good news, too! Our trespasses – times when we have strayed from the path of what is right and good by sinning – and uncircumcision – lack of faith/covenant in God – produced death in us, just as it did in all people since Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. The emphasis Paul is making to the Colossian church is not that they are still dead and not that they have lost salvation when being led astray by false teachers. He is emphasizing to them that those who are “filled in” (v. 10) Christ have been “made alive” in Him (v. 13)!

This beautiful picture continues to unfold with layer upon layer of God’s love, grace, and mercy through Jesus! He who makes lost sinners found and the dead in sin alive has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (vv. 13-14). This is something we need to understand. If we are in Christ, it is because He has forgiven us – He has changed our standing – He has brought dead sinners to new life in Him! His forgiveness is important because it is God we have sinned against (Psalm 51:4). The “record of debt” and its “legal demands” are results of our sin – death (Romans 6:23). The righteous and holy God who declares what sin is must not shirk payment. It would not be just for Him to simply let people off the hook – payment has been demanded. Thankfully, He is not only just but also the one who justifies (Romans 3:26) those who have faith in Jesus! He paid with His life to cancel our “debt”, “nailing it to the cross” (v. 14, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 John 2:1-2).

Once one has put their faith in Christ and believed upon Him, they find themselves living in new territory: freedom. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. He was condemned in our place covering us with His righteousness in the exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21). No one on earth would – or even could – do that for us. And this changes our lives. Galatians 2:20 describes the change: our flesh is “crucified with Christ” that we may live since “Christ lives in [us]”; and the lives we live from that moment forward are lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]”. It changes everything.

Satan hates those changes. He hates what God has accomplished in Christ. I often hear people talking of something being final and they describe the circumstances by saying that the final nails have been driven into a coffin, sealing it. The nails on Jesus’ cross (v. 14) ring with that sort of finality for Satan, his demons, and his followers/false teachers. As the Roman hammer nailed Jesus – God in flesh – to the cross, Jesus was disarming “the rulers and authorities and put[ting] them to open shame” – the cross was not a loss for Jesus but triumph (v. 15)! When He arose from the tomb, He “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10)! Once again, that is good news!

Wrapping Up

There are so many opportunities to argue and debate over what is and what is not true belief or true religion. I used to be very interested in the field of apologetics and giving a reasoned defense for what the Bible says versus what other religions or other worldviews believe. But I find myself more and more coming back and pleading for the gospel – the good news of Jesus – like Paul did here.

Now, I am not saying that there are not times to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); there are times and places for that. What I am saying is that there is immense value in sharing what Christ has done. I want to see people come to know Christ more than I want to win a debate. I hope that there would be opportunity for faith in Christ through these Bible studies more than refuting false belief. I specifically pray for this Bible study to be used to point people to Jesus.

But I recognize Paul’s context here. Wolves had entered the sheepfold. False teachers were attacking the Colossian church. The church needed – and needs today – to be protected. But the answer is still the same – the debate is only over one thing: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, I ask you, dear Sojourner, as I close today: do you believe in Christ – are you in Christ?

It is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of life. It is easy to get side-tracked by focusing on so many distractions that we lose sight of the big things. False teachers are convincing, but our own deceitful hearts are even more convincing. Today is a good day to look at your life and assess where you are – or where you aren’t – with Christ. But, if He has granted you today, there is opportunity for salvation!

That’s good news!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 2:11–15.


Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.[1]

Colossians 2:8-10

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

My heart is heavy after the evil events this past month in Uvalde, TX and Buffalo, NY. I have tried to form words on this to write here, but have failed. Plain and simple, there is evil in this fallen world. We feel helpless and small in its wake. But I find myself clinging more and more to Jesus’ words and John’s response at the end of Revelation:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20)

We need Him. Come, Lord Jesus!

In the week since TX and nearly month since NY, there can be seen a different sort of wickedness. Here in the United States, there is a lot of partisan finger pointing with both sides calling the other bad (and all sorts of other things), but this particular wickedness is one of the few bipartisan efforts in the US government today. It is opportunism.

Lives were lost, and one side says that this pain needs to be used to push through gun legislation. Senseless killing is seen as an opportunity to push policy. People made in the image of God were slaughtered, and the other side blames the first for the murderers to have opportunity to kill in the first place. We need to repent of such. In times when the evil seems to much and the words just do not come, it is okay to be quiet. But, when evil happens and you see opportunity for advancement – of yourself or your platform or agenda, it is time to assess what is going on in your own heart. When hearts should be rent in sadness and hurting for others, especially hearts professing to be “comforted by God” and by His Spirit comforting others (1 Corinthians 1:3-5), but take time to talk policy first, the worldliness of our own hearts can be seen, too.

I remember back in February 2019 in the aftermath of the Aurora, IL shooting. Similar opportunities arose – again from both sides. News took the stories and ran with them. It was the fault of gun legislation and the lack thereof. There should have been this and that. And, in the midst of that, there were reports of the plant manager texting his wife that he loved her as his last act before passing. People took that and ran with it, too.

That plant manager, Josh Pinkard, was my friend. He was my youth pastor while he was a student at Mississippi State University. To his wife, that text was more than a story. His children and parents did not see it as an opportunity to push legislation or deny it. Even as I wipe away tears and type this now, the opportunism stings. I imagine it does for some in Buffalo and Uvalde as well.

It stings for me because it reminds me of the original perpetrator of evil here on the earth: Satan. It is his MO to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He lives for the opportunity to devour and destroy (1 Peter 5:8). He looks for weaknesses to exploit. That’s what he did in the garden, too. He saw an opportunity to tempt Eve, and “her husband who was there with her” (Genesis 3:5) – to exploit on their curiosity and pride and point them toward sin, and the rest of us through that Fall (Romans 5:12). Satan even tried to tempt Jesus Himself when He was physically at His lowest and hungriest (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), but Jesus did what our original ancestors did not: He held to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9) and resisted the devil (James 4:7).

For the Colossian church, their lack of knowledge gave opportunity for Satan and his false teachers. Remember that this was not a church started by Paul. The churches he started were often accompanied by longer visits filled with teaching and discipleship. This church was started by Epaphras who was saved and brought the gospel back home with him. Now, there were false teachers on all sides prying at the edges of what the Colossian church knew about the gospel and seeking to tear it to shreds with their false gospel. Looking at their struggle and reading how Paul sought to help them can help protect us today. Satan is still on the prowl for such opportunities today. Let us look and see how the same message that Paul gave the Colossian church can help protect us and ours today.

See to It That No One Takes You Captive

That command seems too simple when reading it for the first time. If only it were that easy: do not get captured. We have already looked at how evil the world is today, would that command alone be enough to protect people? Absolutely not. I cannot imagine sending my daughter off with friends or on a church trip and saying, “Hey, you know I love you; don’t get kidnapped.” Negative. Her mother and I have talked and talked and taught and tried to train her to watch out for things – to be wary. We have actually given her a list (a very short list) of people that can be trusted – at the exclusion of every other person on the planet!

Paul does similarly with the Colossian church in today’s passage. He does give the command to guard themselves against capture, but, in doing so, he lists specific dangers – specific captors – who are prowling and wanting to abduct the church from the safety of the gospel and imprison them in damning false gospel.  He even gives them a list of people that they can absolutely trust not to lead them astray with the gospel, but Paul’s list is even shorter than mine: Jesus. It is important to understand this before diving into the various false gospels. It is not as important to understand all of the facets of each area of false teaching; it is important to realize they are “not according to Christ” (v. 8). As we talked about in last week’s Bible study, one must know what the Bible teaches to protect against false teaching.

Paul has already gone to great lengths and, through the Holy Spirit, has given them that beautiful Christological hymn in 1:15-20, but now, again through the Holy Spirit, is going to help them see the danger that is already in their midst.

Philosophy and Empty Deceit

The word philosophy is a compound word in the original language: philo (love) + sophia (wisdom).[2] There have always been people who love wisdom – really who love knowledge and facts and can talk/debate them all day long. The teachings of Plato and Aristotle had been around for nearly 500 years at that point, and their use of logic and discussions running parallel (or added to) religion were fairly widespread. There were people then, like today, who sought to supplement their religion with philosophy. And that sort of false teacher was trying to do that with the gospel among the believers at Colossae.

Think of opportunists who try to ask questions today that are reminiscent of Satan’s question in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say ___?” They allow logic and reasoning to allow them to take God’s Word and pick and choose what is correct. What they end up with is very little Bible and mostly what appeases their own intellects and desires. The false teachers appealed to human logic and reasoning to “delude…with plausible arguments” as Paul wrote about earlier in v. 4. Test teachers to see whether they proclaim Christ or argue against His Word (1 John 4:1-6). If you are not in the Word, you are in danger. See to it that you are not captured.

Then, there were those who Paul refers to simply as “empty deceit”, basically empty promises. This could be from a false god or simply promises that take advantage of the church’s lack of biblical knowledge to lead them astray. There are many forms of this today that picture how easy it would have been for the Colossian church, especially since they did not have the Bible like we do today and their lack of discipleship. Think of how many people are hoodwinked by faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers, wicked men and women who stage miracles and perform sleight-of-hand trickery to get rich at the expense of the unhealed and the poor. Think of the people who write books promising hope and health and prosperity under the guise of Christianity or being a preacher who produce disciples whom Hank Williams described in his song “Dust on the Bible”: “not one word of Bible verse, not a Scripture do [they] know”.

God’s Word is full of promises He has made. The Colossian church struggled to tell the difference between the false and empty with the genuine promises of God because they lacked a teacher and the Word. We have access to both today. See to it that you are not captured.

Human Tradition

It is said that the seven words that can kill an organization are we’ve never done it like that before. In the case of the Colossian church, there was a deadlier phrase: we’ve always done it this way. Human tradition is powerful. But, more powerful than tradition is ignorance. How many of our traditions do not go back as far as you think? For example, there is a popular end-times theory that God plans on rapturing His church before the time of tribulation begins. I have heard several people in the last two weeks specifically reference this as what the church has believed for 2,000 years. Yet the earliest known teaching was by a man named John Nelson Darby in the 1830s.[3]

This is going to sound like something an English teacher would say, and, since I am one, I will not argue against it: you need to check your sources. Where are you getting your information? Are your sources using the Bible – all of it and not a few proof-text verses – to get their biblical information, or are they presenting you with opinions. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17. They were eager to receive the gospel but not so eager as to take it immediately but were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Again, the Colossian church had limited means to check the sources of the false teachers, but there are so many ways to spend time in God’s Word today that we are without excuse. Often, we are led astray because we want to hear what false teachers are preaching. We would rather believe that God is going to snatch up His church before tribulation starts because that seems nice rather than recognizing that Jesus Himself promised the church that she would have tribulation (John 16:33) and that the Bible teaches that the church has experienced tribulation at the hands of Satan since it began (1 Peter 5:9). See to it that you are not captured.

Elemental Spirits of the World

The word translated “elemental spirits” is actually a word used in the original language to talk about the alphabet or, basically, “elementary principles”.[4] I think John MacArthur gives a good illustration for this: “To abandon biblical truth for empty philosophy is like returning to kindergarten after earning a doctorate”.[5] Basically, Paul is describing trading the gospel of Jesus Christ to childish beliefs or that a childlike mind could make up.

Paul asks a question regarding the elemental spirits later on in v. 20 that can help us see the issue here: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…?” Why trade Christ for lesser things?

Of course, the difficulty here is that the things of Christ are to be taken on faith. Faith is “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), while the “elemental spirits” can be observed and seen. It is definitely easier to walk outside and feel the warmth of the sun than to understand that Jesus, the Son, “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3) – that while creation reveals the Creator, one is seen and the other requires faith to see His handiwork. But once you have seen His fingerprints in creation, how can you go back. How can you trade the God who is Light Himself (Genesis 1:3, 1 John 1:5-7, Revelation 21:23-26) to worship the sun that could not exist without Him? Yet Satan exploits that opportunity – the desire to see and the difficulty of faith – to make fools out of men who think they are wise when they exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23). See to it that you are not captured.

Wrapping Up

We will continue looking at the way that Paul talks about these false teachings over the next few weeks, and I hope that they help you in your walk with Christ. It is scary to think that there is evil in the world. It is scarier to me to see how we respond to the evil. My pastor reminded us last Thursday night that evil does not win and shared a verse with us, Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is an important reminder and one that reflects Paul’s writings here in Colossians. He does not give more focus on the dangers than he does to Jesus. If you are “in Christ”, it serves you well to remember that Jesus is God – that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (v. 9). If you are “in Christ”, you have been “filled in Him” (v. 10), that is, His Spirit is in you (1 Corinthians 3:16). Jesus is “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10) and is “greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

As we looked at in the beginning of today’s Bible study, there are those who would exploit evil situations to give opportunity for their own agendas. But there is opportunity for hope in Jesus Christ, even in the face of such evil and wickedness. There are two passages of Scripture that were referenced in our Bible study that highlighted the evil attacks of Satan and the trouble we have in this world. I want to close by looking at the fuller context of them to show the hope that can be found even in the midst of attack.

  • John 10:10-11: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
  • John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Do you see why the context of the Word is so important? We are not left with death and tribulation because life is offered – hope is offered – by Him who has already overcome the world! He does not offer peace by way of legislation or empty promises, He has made “peace by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:20). And He offers that peace to all who would have faith in Him.

I am praying for you, dear Sojourner, that you can find the only peace in the tribulation of this world: Jesus Christ. I am praying that you are in His Word and spending time with Him in prayer. And I pray that you “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1-6) to see what is of God and what is not.

I am thankful for Jesus. And I again echo the cry of John in Revelation 22:20: Come, Lord Jesus!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. 2000. In Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 4:400. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Feldmeth, Nathan P. 2008. In Pocket Dictionary of Church History: Over 300 Terms Clearly and Concisely Defined, 49. The IVP Pocket Reference Series. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

[4] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. 1996. In Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., 1:587. New York: United Bible Societies.

[5] MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1992. Colossians. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022


24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.[1]

Colossians 1:24-2:10

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

For me, this is a week of transitions. I am a public school teacher, so I have transitioned from the regular school year to summer. I will transition right back next week for summer school. I will also start my second trimester at William Carey next week.

This is also a good time to look at the transition Paul makes in the book of Colossians.

He spends so much time in the first chapter of Colossians sharing his love for them and the deep and beautiful Christological doctrines they need. I have tried to show how he moves out of those topics into why he was writing to them and the church at Laodicea in the first place: false teachers/false gospel had made its way into their churches. He has shown them Christ and shown them love because he was about to have to tell them some things that they needed to hear that they may not want to hear. Since this letter is also from the Holy Spirit to every believer from then on to Christ’s return, there are some things that we need that we may not want.

This did not get framed this way in my thinking until yesterday. Yesterday was supposed to be a quick and easy work day, wrapping up the 2021-22 school year and getting (just enough of a) head start on next year to dive into summer. I had met Jamie Harrison (he’s been the guy behind the guy as long as there has been a Just Keith Harris ministry) for coffee and to discuss the book we are reading together – Do You Believe? by Paul Tripp. Every teacher up and down the halls was laughing and jovial. There were just a few things on the agenda and the pace and atmosphere of the day reflected all of that. Until my phone starting ringing….

I had been discussing the last few things that needed to be done with our ELA specialist, so I silenced my phone. No sooner than I had hit the button, another teacher burst into my room: “Xander’s busted his head. He’s in Candice’s room. It’s bleeding pretty bad.”

I ran. My mind raced faster than my legs. There was a crowd around Candice’s door. Faces were pale – but, then again, seeing someone “bleeding pretty bad” will do that to you, especially with a head wound.

Candice had everything under control, of course. Xander, on the other hand, was in full blown freak-out. “Am I gonna have to go to the doctor?!?!” Our school nurse then arrived, checked him out, and, when we saw the wound, it was clear to everyone – we were headed to the doctor. We did our best to put our fear down and let just the mama- and daddy-ness show forth. With that, there had to be questions of what happened and how did it happen and how brother and sister had managed to produce such an emergency.

Long story short, what Candice and I had told both of them hundreds of times in their life – and Candice had literally just reiterated to them – was ignored. They were rough-housing. No one was angry (I am thankful that they do enjoy playing with each other), but the roughhousing ended with Xander’s hard head against a harder object with the skin of his forehead in between.

As I drove, faster than I liked – while Keri cried out of worry and Candice held a cloth and ice pack to his forehead – I could not help but ask the question that every parent (Lord knows my parents had to) asks: why didn’t they listen to us? I was not trying to assign blame or punish – it was an accident, after all, but I was scared myself. I could see Candice’s eyes in the rearview. She was scared. There were plenty of what-ifs. Our wonderfully precocious and hard-headed boy’s head is precious to us. That is why we tell him what not to do – and tell him again – and again – and will tell him some more once the wound is officially closed.

That is what God did for us in giving us his Word, what Paul was doing for the Colossian and Laodicean churches, and what God still actively does for His people through His Spirit when they read the Word or hear it preached. And that’s what we need to get today before we move on next week to Paul’s specific teachings regarding the false teachers in Colossae.

Context is Key

If you have been reading the Bible studies I send out or have begun and continue in them, you will notice that I talk about context often. I believe one of the most dangerous questions that a believer can ask is what a particular verse means to you. The Bible means what God meant. The original authors – inspired by His Spirit – meant what the context of the original writing meant. Jesus did not proclaim that He was a Truth or a Way to Life but the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). The Bible means what it means.

Today, that is a difficult concept for us. The idea of truth today is divided between two filters or lenses: moral relativism and post-modernism. Basically, moral relativism means that each individual gets to define their truth, and post-modernism denies the existence of truth outside of how an individual sees their truth. Yet the Bible defines itself outside of those filters. Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

That sentence, in the context of the letter of 2 Timothy and that particular section shows us not only what that sentence means but, by doing just that, clarifies the importance of Scripture and context. Just prior to that sentence, Paul reminds Timothy of the “sacred writings” – Old Testament Scriptures – that he had been taught from by his mother and grandmother; Scriptures that “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). This emphasizes how important the Word of God is for a person being saved, namely that it is a necessity (Romans 10:17). Immediately after Paul defined Scripture, he charged Timothy (and every other pastor after him) “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:1). Again, the context matters. Scripture is essential to salvation and it is clarified to be the only substance of preaching.

Look back at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 again. God “breathed out” Scripture. He produced it. Now, this is where a lot of people decide that this is too much for them. God’s Word – just like He does – must be understood in faith. If a person does not believe in Jesus, naturally they are going to deny any divine origin of Scripture. Likewise, if you deny God’s Word by ignoring it, not believing it, or simply refusing to let it interrupt your “best life” (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help sticking that in), you probably don’t believe in Him. God “breathed out” His Word to be “profitable” in the lives of His people. It is profitable for “teaching” (teaching right belief), “reproof” (correcting wrong belief), “correction” (Holy Spirit conviction of behaviors and lifestyles contradictory to God’s standard), and “training in righteousness” (teaching us how the Creator meant for life to be lived). It contains everything that can be known about God. It is enough, through the empowering of God’s Spirit, to make every Christ-follower “complete, equipped for every good work”.

Consequently, the book that Jamie and I have been reading, put this in a more beautiful way than I have ever heard. I can give you thick, theological answers as to why Scripture is important. I can try to break it down as best I can (which is what I was trying to do above). But, Paul Tripp put it in a way that brings tears to my eyes and in a way that absolutely reflects the context we need to see for why Paul was writing to the Colossian church: “When you get the word of God, you also get the God of the word, and that is a beautiful thing.”[2]

So, as we look at some key phrases in the verses that our last few Bible studies covered, we will be able to understand the context better. Hopefully, this will help us understand what God would teach us through this study.

Reteaching and Remediation of Colossians 1:24-2:10

There was a time when how I taught the Bible and how I teach English was more independent from each other. I tried to be what the school of Education at Ole Miss taught me to be in the classroom and what New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary taught me to be in the pulpit. Well, I just do not quite fit either mold. So, now, I just teach how I teach in hopes of helping whichever context learn what they need to learn. I say that because school-teacher-me is leaking over into our Bible study today.

I have standards that cover various facets of 10th grade English. Whenever I teach the standards (central idea, theme, POV, rhetoric, etc.), it is not about my lesson; it is about what the kiddos need and whether they got it. In some cases where they do not get something, I just teach it again and try to change up my methods a little. But there are times when teachers need to break everything back down to square one and try a different approach. I am bringing a little reteaching and remediation to our Colossians study because God has allowed me a part in your walk with Him and I want to “present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28)!

I have picked out nine phrases or sentences from our passage from the past few weeks (you can find them here, here, and here) and what we started with today to help us have the opportunity to see what God wants us to get and the context that helps us get it the way He meant it. I’ll list the phrase or sentence and break it down as clearly and briefly as I am capable.

…in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church…. (1:24) Our last two Bible studies looked at Paul’s sufferings. We need to understand that he was not being punished. He also was neither complaining about his sufferings nor bragging about his endurance. These people had never met him. He was an apostle – a specific office that only existed at the beginning of the early church (beginning in Acts and going until they died). He was given authority to teach them and help them have the necessary foundation. He was willing to suffer for the church – for them specifically, and they needed to know that.

I know that if Candice was to be in need and me not be available that I have folks who would do what needs to be done. My brothers, Kevin and Erin, have each dropped what they were doing and have come to her aid when it would take too long for me to get there. They would suffer for my kids. I have brothers at church who bear my burdens even when they have more on them than they should, yet they add mine without a thought. Knowing that impacted my relationship with them all. The Colossian church needed that with Paul – they needed to know that Christ would take care of His bride.

…to make the Word of God fully known…. (1:25) That is the point of the ministry of Paul as an apostle and Epaphras as their pastor. That is my goal in these weekly Bible studies. Full disclosure, if your pastor has a platform for ideals and not a pulpit for preaching the Word, you need to move on. The Word of God – all of it, not just the parts that make your heart flutter or your toes hurt – “fully known” is what is needed to be mature in Christ. You can have a PhD in the world issues, your preferred national platform, or the soapbox of your choice, yet being ignorant of the Word will matter more than any of them in the long run because there is no long run for any of them.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone, and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (1:28) Again, preaching and teaching the Word – and living it out through continual repentance and faith – is what is called for. If you want to grow closer to Christ, you need to be fed by His Word. If you do not want Him and His Word interfering with your life, that is a big deal – hence the “warning everyone” and “teaching everyone”. I hate being corrected. But I would hate it more to stand before Him and He tell me, “I never knew you; depart from me, you [worker] of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me. (1:29) The ministry of the Word – discipling other believers and helping them grow to maturity in their faith in Christ – IS WORTH TOILING. It is work. It is hard. But the strength comes from Christ.

…to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ…. (2:2) Preaching and teaching the Bible is not about knowledge. I mentioned earlier that I have things that my school kids need to learn. I help them get the knowledge they need, and that knowledge helps them on their way to the adult they are becoming. And I absolutely love teaching literature and writing. But the gospel is “riches”. I can take a Shakespearean sonnet and understand everything it has to offer. But reaching “all the riches of full assurance and understanding” is too lofty a goal for me to reach, yet it is so rich and valuable that I cannot help but pursue it and teach it and write about it.

I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (2:4) There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of people trying to “delude you”. False teaching will make sense. This is why spending time in the Word is so important. It is a lot like being able to tell the difference between scammers on the phone and legitimate callers. The difference is that false teachers do not want your social security number; they are after your soul. This is a good time to remediate something I said above: if you are letting “preachers” speak into your life about worldly things that, to an earthly extent do matter, at the expense of preaching the Word, you are victim of a false teacher – or at the very least a preacher who cares more for whatever he wants to talk about than the sheep in his care.

…as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him…. (2:6) This reiterates the importance of the Word in the life of the Church. The church in America is currently being called out for not “so walk[ing] in Him”. Receiving Christ means living like He has taught in His Word. When Roe v. Wade is appealed, are you willing to foster or adopt (James 1:22, 26-27)? I am a Southern Baptist and just read the report of how too many in my denomination cared more about getting sued or earthly liability than in caring for people they could have protected and most definitely should have ministered to (James 2:13-17). Walking “in Him” means being hated as He was hated. It means loving like He loved. It means living like He lived. And it may mean dying like He died. If you have not “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, though – if you have not been saved, you will walk away.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (2:8) Next week, we will dive in specifically to this and the rest of the paragraph that follows. It is our responsibility to “see to it that no one takes [us] captive”. This is important. We need to be testing the spirit of those claiming to preach the Word (1 John 4:1-6). We needed to be testing whether the Spirit be in us, too (Philippians 2:12-13). Test what you read here as well!

Wrapping Up

I hope this helps you understand the importance of the Word. I am praying for you, dear Sojourner. More than anything, I am thankful that the God of the Word is sovereign and omnipotent and cares for folks like you and me. Hallelujah, and amen!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Paul David Tripp, Do You Believe?: 12 Historic Doctrines to Change Your Everyday Life Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021, 38.

Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. [1]

Colossians 2:6-7

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

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.[2]

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”[3]; 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.’[4]

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”.

Rooted

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.

Wrapping Up

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.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Barna, George. Rep. American Worldview Inventory 2021, Release #02: Introducing America’s Most Popular Worldview – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Glendale, AZ, 2021.

[3] Zodhiates, Spiros. 2000. In The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, electronic ed. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.