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 — 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.

Refresh & Restore — March 31, 2022

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.[1]


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 hope this week’s Bible study finds you well and safe. As I write this today, I am at home, sitting and writing where I can see out my window. Torrential winds are going to come, or they will not. A massive thunderstorm may come, or it may not. I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”[2]

Jesus spoke those words as a close to the greatest sermon ever to be recorded, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). There are two reasons why I think they have come to mind right now: 1) I am trying to organize my thoughts to continue walking through the Christ-centered hymn in Colossians 1:15-23, and 2) I am a bit scared. The first reason is obvious as it is what I am doing now. The second is for many reasons. If the forecasted weather comes through, it is likely that my home could be damaged or the home of family, friends, and neighbors could be damaged. More than that, my family is with me here now, so, if the wind and the rains come, I could lose one or all of them. Yet somehow, I continue to sit here and type.

That somehow is faith – faith in the One who “upholds the universe by the Word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3), the One through Whom “all things hold together” (v. 17). And, thinking about what we are studying today and all that we have studied previously, faith is essential in understanding how it all works together. We are jaded and skeptical by nature, and it takes faith to believe that Jesus is Who He says He is in His Word. It takes faith that is birthed out of the belief that we are sinners in need of a Savior – belief that He is the only Savior, “our blessed hope…, our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us” (Titus 2:13-14).

We began walking through what we are calling the Colossian hymn last week. Verses 15-17 lay the foundation for everything we are looking at today. Verse 15 tells us that Jesus is God and, rightfully, has all authority, dominion, and power. Verse 16 illustrates how there is nothing in all of Creation that can remotely hope to attain to His power and glory; in fact, all creation finds its beginning and continuation in Him. And verse 17 clarifies that everything He created is still held together by His power.

Today, we will tackle verses 18-20 and see how last week’s verses point us to the reconciliation of God and sinners like you and me.

Diving In

And He is the head of the body, the Church. (v. 18a)

One of the aspects about Jesus and beliefs about Him that I believe is often overlooked is what those beliefs mean to those who believe them versus those who do not. First and foremost, it must be understood that, while we hold that the Word of God is important and the truths it holds are of the utmost importance, God’s Word is true whether we believe it or not. For the Church, His Word is where we find everything that can be known about Him (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But, for the unbelieving world, it seems like foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The beginning of verse 18 helps us to see how this Colossian hymn fits into the lives of believers. Those who are saved are part of what is known as the Church, or the body of Christ. Simply put, Jesus is the head of the Church; He is, ultimately, its sole leader and guides it through His Word and His Spirit.

Look at the “and” at the beginning of this verse; it points us back to verse 17 which says that “He is before all things” and “in Him all things hold together”. The “and” here in verse 18 tells us that, just as He is set over all of creation and is actively holding all of it together, it is the same in the Church. Look at the way that Paul describes it to the church at Ephesus: “…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).

The church at Colossae – and our churches today – need to remember this! We are not the necks that turn the head. Christ, the head, is in the lead. The image created here is a body with members (parts), so if we find ourselves following something else (idolatry), we can no longer call ourselves part of the Church as we have dismembered it by severing ourselves from it. There were false teachers seeking to do that in Colossae, and there are those today who seek to tear down and ravage the body of Christ (1 Peter 5:8-9, Matthew 7:15-19, 2 Peter 2).

We would do well to look to the head, to Jesus, and remember His words from Matthew 7 that we looked at earlier: the wise man, the man whose house is not washed away in the torrents of the storms, is only wise because he “hears these words of mine and does them” (Matthew 7:24).

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. (v. 18b)

I write often about how we have no ability within ourselves to save or to receive glory. But Jesus is worthy of His titles, not just because of His status before the foundation of the world, because He continually proves Himself to be worthy. To say that He is “the beginning” points to Him being the origin of everything we know, but to say that He is “the firstborn from the dead” highlights what He has done for His Church.

I recall David Platt recounting a conversation between a Christian missionary and two religious leaders, one Muslim and the other Hindu. They were concerned that some of their people were forsaking Islam and Hinduism and following Christ. They presented the missionary with a metaphor they believed would convince the missionary to leave the territory so that everyone could just keep on believing what they were before he arrived. They were in agreement that religion can be understood through the metaphor of a mountain. Life is man’s journey up the mountain trying to get to god in his lofty paradise. There are many paths, they argued, to get up the mountain but that the destination was the same. They felt quite confident in their presentation until the missionary told them that Christianity was not at all like that. Christianity, he told them, was different because man was completely and utterly unable to make it up the mountain, and God, rather than condemning them for their inability to make it to Him, came down the mountain and made a way for man, basically carrying them up the mountain to be where He abides. The religious leaders were disappointed and left to continue trying to make it up the mountain.

Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” because, in Christ, God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He lived a full and sinless life on the earth despite encountering all the temptations we do (Hebrews 4:15). And “for our sake God made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21) – that is, He died the death we deserve to make a Way for us (John 14:6)! More importantly, He did not stay dead but “He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4)! He is “firstborn from the dead” because death could not hold Him, and His Life is the source of our eternal life!

That is why He is “preeminent” – supreme, sovereign, superlative! Paul illustrates this beautifully in Philippians 2:9-11:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[3]

He has always been worthy because of Who He is to everything that exists. He remains preeminent because He never changes and proves Himself again and again. That’s good news!

For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. (vv. 19-20)

We have already seen that Jesus is fully God in verse 15, but here we see an example of why that is so important: reconciliation.

Reconciliation means “to restore harmony or friendship between two entities formerly divided”.[4] When we use this word in the present day, we use it to describe a relationship where some wrong done by one of the parties has caused a rift in the relationship and the rift is somehow healed. It could be as simple as two friends allowing a misunderstanding to come between them and, upon clearing the issue up, reconciling and renewing their friendship. It could also be used to describe a married couple deciding to stay together and weathering the storm of some indiscretion or issue that could have ended the marriage. In the case of God and man, we caused the rift; our sin did the dividing.

Romans 5 does a better job than I ever could painting the picture of God’s love despite our sin and what His desire to reconcile cost Him:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[5]

Our sin made us enemies of God. He has wrath toward sin and toward His enemies. Now, I know this is a scary prospect (not to mention very unpopular), but it is necessary to understand what He did for us – and why it is so important that in Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.

You see, God would have been absolutely just if he had wiped the slate clean when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:1-13). He could have smoked them right then and there and been done with the whole lot of humanity in one righteous and just smiting. He did not have to rescue Noah and his family from His wrath in Genesis 6. He would be totally righteous and just if He would have not forgiven me of my sins or reconciled me to Himself. I am a sinner. He has wrath toward sin and toward His enemies. But instead of being only righteous and just, He provided a means for reconciliation that would not compromise what is right – He decided on grace, mercy, love, and propitiation. God Himself paid the penalty for the sins of the world on the cross (1 John 2:1-2).

There is a price to pay for sin. It has a cost. It is different than merely declaring that the stormy sea be calmed because He has already laid out penalty for sin all they way back in the beginning – death. Yet Jesus, in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”, cancelled the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” and set it aside, “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). God did it all!

Think on it like this:

“…[A]n altered relationship now exists between God and sinners by Christ’s interposing sacrifice on behalf of fallen humanity. The point of the reconciliation is that God, for Christ’s sake, now feels toward sinners as though they had never offended him. The reconciliation is complete and perfect, covering mankind both extensively and intensively—that is, all sinners and all sin. The cause of rupture between God and sinners has now been healed, a truth wholly independent of humanity’s mood or attitude. While sinners were still the objects of God’s just wrath, Christ, in full harmony with the gracious will of his heavenly Father, interposed himself for their sakes, for the restoration of harmony.”[6]

Or as the hymn of old[7] put it:

“Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.”

All I know is that He could have poured His wrath out upon me but loved me instead. He could have made war on me as His enemy but instead made peace “by the blood of His cross”. That kind of love at such a cost as “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19) is worth singing about. More than that, a God like that is surely preeminent because there is none like Him in all of existence.

Wrapping Up

I keep thinking back to Jesus’ words from beginning of today’s Bible study (Matthew 7:24-27). They came to mind because of thoughts of wind and rain, but Jesus was talking about so much more. He says that we will either build on a bedrock of faith – a foundation that is not determined by our own ability or strength but His, or we will build a foundation determined by what we can (and cannot) accomplish on our own. He says that His words – listening to Him and, most importantly, obeying what He tells us – ensure that when the rains, floods, and winds come – and they will, the foundation of His Word will never fall away. Those who build on Him will not fall because they have been founded on the rock!

Look at the beautiful words of the hymn “Be Still My Soul”[8] (1855):

“Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He lived below.”

What amazing truths are held in those lines! He has rebuked storms, telling them to be still, and He has allowed storms to rage. He has parted a sea, piled a river into a giant heap, and walked across water like it was solid ground. There are many who are skeptical of such things, but I believe them. I have faith, and that faith is rooted in my rejoicing that I am a sinner who has been reconciled to God by the blood of His cross. Without Him, there is no hope. Without Him, I am just dead in my sins. The more I read of Him in His Word, the more I see my sin. And, the more I see Him for Who He is and me for who I am, I am thankful and humbled that He would love one such as me. The storm is still raging outside my window, and the storms of life still rage as well. But the words of the Colossian hymn – words that proclaim a God who died yet lives, a Messiah who took the wrath I deserve while giving me love and grace – giving me hope. I pray they do for you also.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:15–23.

[2] ESV, Mt 7:24–27.

[3] ESV, Php 2:9–11.

[4] Barbara E. Bowe, “Reconciliation,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1112.

[5] ESV, Ro 5:6–11.

[6] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 1113.

[7] “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, John Wyeth | Robert Robinson © Words & Music: Public Domain

[8] Franz Dickerson | Joel Chernoff © 2002 Galilee of the Nations Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Refresh & Restore — February 10, 2022

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.[1]

Colossians 1:3-14

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 am excited to dive further into Colossians with you today! We have the context of the letter – the author (Paul), the recipients (the churches at Colossae and Laodicea), and some of the history and purpose, but, today, we are going to see what motivated Paul to write to them.

The passage listed above (ch. 1:3-14) will be our passage over the next few weeks so that we can keep our study in context. This is important because it is easy to forget that the verses and sentences are part of paragraphs and sections and chapters (and in this case whole letters or books). It is also important because there is a lot that can be mined from this section that we still need as the Church today.

The verses in this section are a prayer of thanksgiving from Paul to God on behalf of – and because of – the church at Colossae. It might help you to see it broken down a little bit[2].

  • Paul thanks God often for what he has heard about the church at Colossae – their faith in Christ, love for each other, and hope found in Him – because of the gospel bearing fruit in their midst (vv. 3-8).
  • Paul prays specifically for their continued growth in knowing God and walking with Him so that they can continue the gospel work in Colossae (vv. 9-12).
  • Paul reminds them that the gospel that they believed is the basis for their faith in Christ and his prayer for them – which is enough to combat the false teaching they are encountering (vv. 13-14).

Today, we will dive into verses 3-8.

Thanksgiving for the Work of the Gospel in the Colossians (vv. 3-5a)

I mentioned in the last devotion that one of the things I love the most about Paul’s letter to the Colossians is how relatable it is to churches today. It was planted by a regular, everyday guy named Epaphras who cared enough about the people in his town that he shared the gospel with them. This is also important because it reiterates God’s design for the spread of the gospel – for all who are saved to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The gospel is spread through us sharing. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Holy Spirit through Paul tells us that we are “ambassadors for Christ” and that God makes His gospel “appeal through us” to “implore [people] on behalf of Christ [to] be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Epaphras did that. He was God’s ambassador. And, now, Paul writes to the embassy – the church – that God planted there regarding how thankful he is to God for the work!

Paul prayed for the Colossian church often, which is cool, but, what strikes me even more is why Paul said is the reason he is thankful in his prayer for them: faith, love, and hope. Let us look at these one-by-one.

Faith

He tells them that he has been praying for them “since [he and those with him] heard” of those at Colossae’s “faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 4). This is important because this is the basis of what a church is – and what it is not. This is not a group of like-minded people who decided to start a social-religious organization. It is not a group of people who share moral values who want to reform their community to certain standards of living and behavior. No, this is a group of people who were formerly “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2) who God, “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us…made…alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4)! They were the local body of Christ, “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [they] should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

He is rejoicing that people had been saved from their sins by putting their faith in Jesus Christ alone. That same faith should be a pillar in our churches today.

Love

Paul was also thankful for “the love that [they] had for all the saints” (v. 4). We may think that this is an amazing attribute to be seen in a church today, but Paul mentioning here shows that this is something accomplished by God’s Spirit in churches – not in the ability of people to tolerate or be polite. Love is part of the fruit of God’s Spirit dwelling inside of you (Galatians 5:22-23). This love occurs because of the love that God showed us in Christ Jesus, and it is to be the hallmark of a genuine church (1 John 4:9-10, 19). It is such a big deal that the Holy Spirit had John write that if someone had hatred for a brother while professing to love Christ that the person “is a liar” (1 John 4:20-21).

Just as Paul saw the faith of the Colossian church and thanked God for it, he recognized the love that he heard about (remember, Paul had not been there to see this in person) – by reputation – and thanked God for that fruit (evidence) of their faith.

Hope

Just as their love flowed out of their faith, the hope that the Colossians had did, too. Their hope was “laid up for [them] in heaven” (v. 5). This may seem like a moot point, but I think we need to be reminded that Jesus is the prize – not heaven. In fact, He is the reason heaven is worth having! The Colossians came to faith in Christ not to escape hell. They loved one another because they had been loved well. And their hope was found in trusting that the object of their faith had a place prepared for them (John 14:2-3). Their hope was that “living hope” that the Holy Spirit wrote of through Peter that was rooted in “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [them], who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

To truly have hope in Christ that impacts now and echoes into eternity, is something to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving for the Work of the Gospel around the World (vv. 5b-6)

Paul’s next area of gratitude is that “the Word of Truth, the gospel” is “bearing fruit and increasing” (vv. 5-6). I know that we have looked at what the gospel is many times in these devotions, but we should never tire of hearing it or think we have grown past it. Rather than trying to sum it up myself, I would rather point to a passage that sums it up very well; after all, the Bible says that “the Word of Truth” is the basis for hope (Psalm 119:43):

For I delivered unto you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….”

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

That message has power because Jesus is alive! For two thousand years people have been proclaiming the gospel – the good news – that Jesus died to save people from their sins and rose again.

I believe that was particularly good news for Paul to hear about – that the gospel was working through others – because he was nearing the end of his life. But the end of his life was not a lengthy retirement reaping the benefits of his 401k; no, Paul was in chains in the Mamertine prison in ancient Rome awaiting execution for preaching the gospel. Paul was encouraged that the gospel was still being preached. He was thankful to hear of the faith, love, and hope that it produced.

Paul has now been dead for the majority of those two thousand years, but the gospel is still “bearing fruit and increasing” (v. 6). It is still working because God’s Spirit is still working. It is His power that moves on the hearts of men and women who hear the Word preached (Romans 10:9-10, 17). And it is still “bearing fruit and increasing” long after Paul’s death and then after Epaphras’ death. In fact, if Jesus’ tarries, it will bear fruit and continue to increase after my death and yours. The gospel is not dependent on men and women who can die. It is dependent on Jesus, and He’s still alive!

Thanksgiving for the Worker Who Took the Gospel to Them (vv. 7-8)

At the time that Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians, apparently Epaphras was with him. I love the descriptions that Paul gives of Epaphras having shared with him about the Colossian church. This proud pastor did not boast of numbers or programs but of faith, love, and hope. He did not brag on accomplishments but of how people were hearing and understanding “the grace of God in truth” (v. 6).

This is refreshing.

Paul is not jealous that Epaphras planted the church instead of him. Epaphras is not seeking recognition. They are both celebrating what God is doing through His gospel and the power of His Spirit. This is the same sort of spirit that John the Baptist displayed when Jesus came, which effectively ended his ministry: “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Remember how I said that I loved how a regular, everyday guy brought the gospel to Colossae? Look at how Paul described him here. Paul called him a “fellow servant” – a syndoulos[3] – which is basically honoring Epaphras by saying that he was of the same service as a bondservant of Jesus that Paul was. Epaphras surely would have never described himself as such, but Paul did. Paul recognized the love that he had for his flock as their “faithful minister of Christ on [their] behalf” (v. 7).

Reflecting & Closing

I pray that at least some of what we have looked at has caused you to think and reflect on your own situation. Most of all, I pray that you find yourself reflecting on your relationship with Christ.

Since this passage (which we will continue to cover in the coming weeks) is focusing on a prayer of thanksgiving, I want to close with an opportunity for you to be able to pray, too. I am not going to write out a prayer for you to pray because I do not think we have to be eloquent pray-ers. Feel free to look at these points to help you get started or guide you, but, ultimately, prayer is you talking to God. I do not want you to feel limited by only the things I have listed. If you are thankful, He would love to hear from you!

If you come to places that talk about having faith in Christ or a relationship with Him and you do not, please do not hesitate to reach out. I would love to talk with you about that or help point you to someone where you live and help you learn more about that.

If you come to the part where the prayer guide points you to pray for your church and you do not have one, I would like to help you find one of those as well. I know there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the continual pandemic, but, reaching back to God’s call on us as “ambassadors” earlier, we cannot do this work alone or without an embassy! If you do not have a church home, I would love to help you find one. If you have not been back with your church family in a while, I pray that they will welcome you back with open arms and the love we saw in the church at Colossae!


Thanksgiving for the Gospel in Your Life

  • Thank God for your getting to hear the gospel and come to faith in Him.
  • Thank God for loving you and giving His life for you.
  • Thank God for the hope of eternity with Him.

Thanksgiving for the Gospel in Your Church

  • Thank God for having a faith family.
  • Thank God for the way the gospel worked in building your embassy.
  • Thank God for the opportunity to be part of His Kingdom work.
  • Thank God for your pastor like Paul did for Epaphras.

Thanksgiving for the Gospel in Your World

  • Thank God for the opportunity to get to be an Epaphras – a regular, everyday person with the best good news anyone could hear.
  • Thank God that His gospel is still bearing fruit and increasing around the world.
  • Thank God for those involved in preaching that the gospel and pray for people who have yet to hear to have the opportunity to come to faith in Christ.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:3–14.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 81.

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

Refresh & Restore — January 13, 2022

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.[1]

1 Peter 5:5-7

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!

I am excited to begin writing again as we embark in 2022! I intended our first study together to be the book of Colossians, but a thought struck me yesterday and spurred today’s devotion and delayed our start of Colossians until next week.

We will begin with a question: what comes to mind when you think of the hand of God?

Some think of the picture above which has been adapted from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. In that painting, you see a depiction of Adam (the hand on the left) and God the Father (right hand) reaching out toward one another. You will notice that the hands just do not quite meet. Some argue that Adam is reaching out to God but unable to grasp his hand (because of sin or inability). Others argue that it symbolizes God trying to reach out to Adam but not quite making the grasp Himself.

But there are other perspectives on the hand of God than just Michelangelo’s mural.

There are some that see the hand of God as a tool of vengeance. They see it poised for a good smacking when all His little children get wayward. Some who hold this view wish for God to strike people down with a mix of Old Testament fury and some Zeus-like lightning bolts. This hand is hard, calloused, and ready to strike and represent a definitively angry and wrathful God.

There are some who view the hand of God like those of the European-looking Jesus shepherds – hands that have nothing but soft cushiony care as they caress the little lambs in their grasp. These hands would never strike, nor would they ever need to because they represent a God of only love and no anger whatsoever.

Yet when the image and thought of the hand of God came to my mind, it brought with it the Scripture above from 1 Peter. As we study this particular passage today, it is my prayer that you see God in accordance with His Word and not by any alternate points of view no matter how lofty they appear.

Context

To understand this passage, you need to look at the context of the book of 1 Peter and, especially, the context of the paragraph and chapter where it is found. 1 Peter is a letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1), a group of people who were likely dispersed due to persecution – maybe even those who were forced to leave Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen when Paul was Saul (Acts 8:1). These were believers, many of which were probably Jewish, who had been forced to leave their homes and the land they had grown up in. They were afraid and felt alone. They needed to be reminded that God knew who they were and had a plan for their lives (1 Peter 1:3-5) and that, even in their suffering and troubles, He cared for them.

Peter lays out for them how to “conduct [themselves] with fear [of God] throughout the time of their exile” (1 Peter 1:17) and reminded them that even though they “were not a people” and had previously “not received mercy” that “now [they were] God’s people” and “now…received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). It is a letter of good news in the midst of a lot of bad news.

He reminds them of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone and the hope of eternity with Him. And He reminds them through many specific instances that the gospel of Jesus Christ gives hope in every area of their lives from the tyrannical governments they were suffering under to their relationships and daily lives. That good news is for us, too.

Today’s passage is part of 1 Peter 5 which begins talking to the “elders” who were “shepherd[ing] the flock of God” where these exiles were living (1 Peter 5:1-2). He wrote to the pastors of their local churches and talked with them about how they should serve. He reminded them that they were to “shepherd” in such a way that, “when the chief Shepherd appears” (1 Peter 5:4) – when Jesus returns, they would have exhibited His love, care, instruction, and correction as He would have them: “not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). You see, the pastors were to be examples because the same sort of example (“likewise” – 1 Peter 5:5) is to be followed in the relationships of the generations in the church as the young are to “be subject” to the elders (both the pastors & older, more mature leaders/disciplers in their churches) following the same pattern.

The beautiful thing about this is God uses the imagery of the hand of God to show what this is like.

Humility v. Mighty

Sometimes there is a fine line between humility, being humbled, and humiliation. Many people who define themselves as humble are everything but that. Some people get too big for their proverbial britches and need to be humbled or brought back into reality. But for others there comes a time where their lives end up at a screeching halt because their pride has written a check too big for their…britches to cash. Then comes humiliation. A force greater than them applies pressure and knocks them down a peg. We often cheer at those who do the knocking down and jeer at those who find themselves in the humiliation that (in our humble opinions) is much needed and deserved.

Peter’s advice – really the Holy Spirit’s advice, since this is Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17) – is that the way the church needs “to be subject” to each other and especially to God is for them to “clothe [themselves] with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). He clarifies that this is not just some or they thought should have to; no, he says to them “all of you” (1 Peter 5:5), which goes from the pastor to the back pew. To back this up, he quotes from Proverbs 3:34 and reminds them that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. That proverb sounds like a tough warning from stern God, but, really, it is a proverb of pleading. It is a reminder of our need of grace and how dangerous a distractor our pride is, especially when we need to repent of our sin. This is seen in the command that Peter follows up with in the next paragraph: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6).

If we hold to one of the views of the hand of God that we looked at earlier, this is a frightening image. If it is the hand from the Sistine Chapel, we cannot reach it nor can He reach us, leaving us hopeless instead of humble. If it is the hand hurling lightning bolts and smacking sinners about, we can hope for humiliation and hurt instead of help. And the weak and soft hands of the European shepherd, the hero we need is nowhere to be found.

The “mighty hand of God” that Peter tells these exiles about is different altogether. The call is not to humble oneself out of fear or shame. The call is to humble oneself in recognition of the hand of the mighty God of the Bible. It is the “mighty hand” that Moses spoke over that represented His “greatness” and begged the question, “What god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?” (Deuteronomy 3:24) It is the “hand of God” that was “on Judah to give them one heart to do [what was] commanded by the Word of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 30:12). It is the “good hands” of God that were on Ezra when he got to leave Babylon and come home to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:9). It is the hand of God that Nehemiah said had been upon him “for God” and gave strength to the hands of those involved in the “good work” of rebuilding Jerusalem after returning from Babylon (Nehemiah 2:18). It is the same hand that Israel was taught to sing of that God would “lift up [His] hand” and “forget not the afflicted” (Psalm 10:12).

Yet it was the same hand that was upon Jeremiah that “filled [him] with indignation” (Jeremiah 15:18). It is the same hand that was raised at His enemies to strike them down. Yes, the same hands that the writer of Hebrews wrote of when he said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Which hand is reaching out to the humbled in 1 Peter 5?

The reality is that it is the same hands. The hand that punishes is the same hand that protects; the same hand strikes and saves. All of God’s attributes work together in harmony. He is everything the Word says about Him. And this is the reason we humble ourselves. We recognize that He is greater. We recognize our sin as we recognize our need for a Savior.

We humble ourselves because our pride cannot earn us heaven as we have “fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and realize that “the wages of sin” – all that we can earn or accomplish – “is death” (Romans 6:23). And in that humbling, we submit to Him – are willing “subject to” (1 Peter 5:5) Him – as our Lord and Master (Romans 10:9).

Peter’s call for people to humble themselves “under the mighty hand of God” is to submit to Him that “He may exalt you” – to lay down their lives at the offer and promise of His Life and Righteousness (John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:21). And the hand that reaches out – the mighty hand of “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (Titus 2:13-14).

Wrath and love are intertwined in that mighty hand. You see, the same hand that reaches out to the humbled was the same one what was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The God who people expect ready and waiting to smite the wicked with curses “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13, cf. Deuteronomy 21:23). He is the God who loved us enough that He showed “His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), dying for us to pay for the forgiveness of our sin. He saves sinners “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands…nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

That’s good news!

God’s Mighty Hand & You

Look back at that picture from the Sistine Chapel. More frightening than any anger or weakness would be a God who would not or could not reach down at all. God not only reached down, He came down, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He set the example in humility:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

Philippians 2:4-8

And that hand reaches out to us offering eternal life in the grandest gesture of love to ever be found. The hand that punishes wickedness and sin is the same hand that reaches out “at the proper time” to lift us up (1 Peter 5:7). It is not weak for forgiving but even stronger, the same hand of care still shows strength as Jesus said of those who are His, that He gives them “eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27).

The mighty hand of God is better than the Sistine Chapel. It is stretched out in love to those who repent and believe in Him. It represents the God who is not far off but close enough to cast your anxieties on. It is reached out “because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

That’s good news!


STARTING NEXT WEEK!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 5:5–7.

Songs for Sunday, December 12, 2021


The Christmas story is summed up aptly by the angels to the shepherds: good news of great joy!

CCC Advent Guide

I love the preaching of the angels in Luke 2!

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

I love this passage because of its truth! I love it because of the mercy it displays on those who normally would not be considered worthy to get such news! And I love it because that “good news of great joy” is still – don’t miss this, STILL – good news and for all people even today!

Let’s break this down together.

Mary and Joseph had journeyed to Bethlehem together to be registered counted for the census. For whatever reason, “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7) and were forced to camp out in the stable area. Mary had just given birth to the Messiah, the Son of God. Instead of a baby blanket, she swaddled him in strips of cloth. Instead of a bassinet or crib, she laid in a manger – a feeding trough for animals.

While the most important birth – fulfilling prophecy since the beginning (Genesis 3:15) – was occurring without pomp and attention, there were shepherds in the nearby countryside camped out caring for their flocks. They were no doubt dirty. They were definitely the last group to expect to receive an angelic royal birth announcement. Yet it was for them Christ had come, and, to them, would come this beautiful gospel (good news) message that still rings through the years.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

The gospel message is not for fear but faith and hope. There is no greater joy than celebrating that the lost has been found (Luke 15). The beauty of this gospel of great joy is not in the reality that befalls those who reject the message but in the amazing reality of the eternal life that comes to those who believe – that dead men and women find life in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5) and find a place in the Father’s house as His adopted children (Galatians 4:4-5)! And it is beautiful because it is for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16-17), whether you be shepherd or king, poor or rich, look-like-you-have-it-together or clearly-a-hot-mess, “all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13)!

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

These shepherds were the first to hear the news that the Messiah had been born. Herod remained ignorant. Scribes and Pharisees were left in their legalism. Everyone, from the priests to the powerful, heard after these lowly shepherds that the promised Messiah had arrived in the “city of David”, Bethlehem. So, the best “good news” in history rang out to the most insignificant group of people in the most insignificant city and the least significant time of being counted in a census. And it still rings true to those the world deems insignificant in places that seem insignificant and in times that seem like hope is gone or at least quickly leaving. It still rings true because it IS true. What a beautiful reminder that there is this day a Savior. His name is Jesus. And He cares for us!

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

The shepherds needed a sign to point them where they needed to go. They needed to find Him to worship Him. Praise God, we do not have to look today! They sought Emmanuel (“God with us”) to lay their eyes on Him, yet all we have to do today is believe. He was born, and the shepherds were His witness. He died, and Scripture and, even, history are His witnesses. But He rose again and has given His Spirit. He was and is and is to come (Revelation 1:4). We do not need a sign because we have access to the Savior!

While I write this, “What Child is This?” is playing in the background. There is busy-ness happening all around me. People are buying coffee to fuel their busy-ness. There is chatter throughout the coffee shop. People are driving and walking by. And the poignancy of the words of the song echo the hope I find in this “good news of great joy”.

Read these words and ponder their reality and beauty to prepare your heart to gather with a faith family tomorrow in worship:

What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King!
Haste, haste to bring Him laud!

Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and beast are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading!

Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through!
The cross be borne for me, for you!
Hail, hail the Word made flesh!

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
Come, peasant, king, to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him!

Raise, raise a song on high!
Joy, joy for Christ is born!
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Joy to the World
  • Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.            
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

  • We Have a Savior
  • Luke 2:8-20

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14    “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

  • Away in a Manger (Forever Amen)
  • Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

  • Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)
  • (invitation) The Son of God Came Down
  • (offertory) Mary, Did You Know?

As a church, we are reading through the gospel of Luke each from December 1-4 as part of our Christmas to Calvary advent focus. You can grab a paper copy in the church lobby or download it here.

There are also daily audio uploads if you prefer to listen rather than read. Here’s Luke 4 for today’s reading:


If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. Various variants are still issues in this prolonged pandemic, but prayerfully consider gathering in the 10:00 Bible study where there is plenty of room for social distancing and one could slip out before the worship crowd comes in for the 11:00 service.