Acts of the Spiritual Life

I want to start first by complementing you all.  Many of you have volunteered time serving at Heartland Hope in Omaha.  We are proud to partner with Heartland Hope in their efforts to serve the poor and the needy and the near poor.  We think so highly of them and all they are able to do with the limited resources they have.  Well at their annual fundraising dinner on Thursday night they honored Journey Church as their faith based church of the year award.  So thanks to all of you who are making a difference in the lives of people in our community.  And we are humbled by their kind expression of appreciation.

It’s okay to celebrate that.  We are studying the book of Colossians – and in the very first few verses Paul writes to the church in Colosse and says- We’ve heard good things about you – we hear about your faith in Jesus and the love that you display towards others – faith and love that spring from the hope within you.  And so in this sense, Heartland Hope is serving as the role of Paul – and they are thanking you all for your faith and your love.  So congrats…

This morning we continue our study in the book of Colossians, and this week we are in Colossians chapter 1 again, this time verses 21-23.

Now we’ve mentioned this before but the book of Colossians is in the New Testament.  And if you need to look it up in your table of contents go for it.  There is nothing wrong with making it easy to find what you are looking for.  This is a picture of the Bible I normally use in my office – I bought that bible in 1987 at the Toccoa Falls College bookstore – the first day I started college to become a pastor.  And I want you to notice that on the side there are these little tabs – well I bought those tabs at the same time I bought the bible and I glued those bad boys in there so I could easily find the books of the Bible.  Because there are 66 books of the Bible and at the time I started my studies to become a pastor I couldn’t find any of them without doing the fan thing.  So I bought this and I’ll tell you they really are helpful.  

So do whatever it takes to make it easy for you to be able to use this book.  Tabs, table of contents, whatever…  But if you have a bible with you turn to the book of Colossians 1.

So we’ve learned so far that Colosse , like Gretna, was a smaller town on the outskirts of a larger city.  We learned that the church, like Journey, was a young church, probably only in existence 3-4 years.  We’ve been around here for 6.  

We’ve mentioned that it was written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Colosse – even though Paul himself had never been to visit them before.  He was writing to them to compliment them on the faith and works, and to assure them that the message that they learned about Jesus was the right message.  

And what is this message?  What is this “Good News?”  Paul sums it up in Colossians 1:13

For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Isn’t this a wonderful definition of the word “Gospel”?  God has rescued us.  We were once living in a kingdom that is best defined by the word darkness.  Jesus came and rescued us from the darkness and transferred us into a different kingdom.  This is as good a simple definition of what the good news of Jesus – AKA The Gospel – means.

Last week Jim spoke on Colossians 1:15-20, which is simply one of the most powerful descriptions of Jesus ever written.  Paul is going to paint a picture of Jesus that goes far beyond this image of a simple street preacher, or a good man.  Paul paints a picture of Jesus being the center of the universe.

And so what do we learn about Jesus in these verses?  We learn that Jesus is the image of God.  That he is supreme over all creation – which makes sense since it also says that Jesus created all things – visible and invisible – heaven and earth – all things created by Jesus and for Jesus.  This Jesus is the one who is holding all things together – including your life – Jesus is the one who created you and sustains you.

In just a few short verses Paul sums up the power, and the person and the work of Jesus.  Its a truly remarkable piece of scripture.

Now in just a couple of verses, Paul is going to sum up your spiritual life.  He is going to describe your life in the spiritual world.  From Jesus to you. And just as Paul sums up Jesus in six verses, he is going to summarize your spiritual life as well in just a few verses.

Paul is going to write about your spiritual life.  If it were a play he might title it “Your Spiritual Life”  And I’m going to suggest that there are three acts to the story of your spiritual life with God.  

Act 1:  Yesterday I was:  A Broken Down Mess.

Now let’s set the scene for this act.  We can start with a field.  Ain’t it perty?  And of course there is a house on the field.  Except the house is on fire.  Thankfully you got out okay.   It looks like the fire may have singed most of your hair off but you seem happy.  I guess that’s because you were able to get your dogs out of the house.  That’s Bucky and Bucky and DaBucky.  

Okay I’m trying to make a joke – and really though this is no laughing matter.  If you have not yet responded to the invitation from Jesus to enter into the Kingdom of heaven, then your story is setting up to be a tragedy not a comedy.  Because you are – spiritually – a broken down wreck.  And so I’d suggest that Act 1 of the story of your spiritual life would be titles:  Yesterday, I was a Broken Down Mess 

Here’s how Paul describes it…Col 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 

Now the audience that is receiving this letter are people who are followers of Jesus.  They have already made a decision to believe that Jesus was who he said he was, and that he did hat he said he did – and so Paul is able to make a clear distinction that he is referring to their past.  

There was a time in their life – oncewhen they were alienated from God.  What does that mean?  It means you were separated from him.  You were estranged from him.  There once was a time when you apart from God.  

There was once a division, a wall, that separated us from God.  We were not just apart – but we are enemies.  Once we weren’t just apart from God, we were actively opposed to him.  And Paul says we were opposing God in the way we thought and the way we lived.

You had nothing going on for you spiritually. You (and I) were alienated from God. There was this issue between us that caused this rift and division between us and God.  And it caused us to be really alone in our broken down life.

What was the issue?  It was our own sin – our rebellion – our own desire to do our own thing.  Our sin was the thing that caused a chasm between our world and God’s.  

We were bad off.  See here’s how the Bible describes how this life before faith operated.  In Romans 1 it says that people have been given all they need to be able to see that God exists.  The existence of God is self evident.  

Now the thing about God is that he has set before mankind an invitation to enter into the Kingdom of God, the right now Kingdom where God governs our life.  He has given us an invitation but he has also given us the ability to reject it.  God will not jam himself down your throat.  He respects you too much.

He loves and respects you enough to even allow you to reject the invitation to enter into this alternative Kingdom to the dog eat dog – every man for himself kingdom of darkness into which we all by default were born.  God treats us with enough dignity that we can reject his invitation to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven, where Jesus wisely and kindly governs our life.  We can reject it – but we always reject it to our own peril.

And so in places like Romans 1 it says that a mind that rejects God grows further and further from God – and pretty soon their mind gets to the point where it has gone to pot.  Gone to pieces chasing things that it thinks is wise but really turns out to be foolish – and once their mindset is set on sinful deeds, the body is all too willing to jump in right behind it.

And pretty soon, according to Romans 1, not only are we so broken that we do the wrong things, but we actively applaud others for their sin as well.  Well done.  “Like”

Now the greatest thing about this description that Paul gives, is that he begins it with a very important word.  ONCE.  Once.  Implying that it is behind us.  That is can be in our past.

And indeed for these colossians that Paul is writing, they have made a decision to accept the invitation into the Kingdom of God, and so something incredible happens when they accept this invitation.

And that would bring us to the second act of the Story of your life with God.  But before I get to Act 2 – I have to first pose the question – is it possible that the story of your spiritual life is stuck in Act 1?  So far the story of your spiritual life is a one act play?  Broken Down:  the story of my spiritual life.  

If so – then this is going to be a good message for you, if you are ready to begin the second act of your spiritual life.  Because thankfully we don’t have to stay there.  You too can be able to say Once I was broken down. 

Now?  Paul writes…

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

NOW.  Paul is making a comparison.  ONCE I was like this.  NOW though…  Yesterday I was a broken down, today I am Born Again.

Now I’m not sure what you think of when you hear that word Born Again.  Maybe you are like whoa – what does that mean?  Sometimes terms like that carry meaning – simply put, that is a term Jesus uses in John 3 – when someone asked him what it took to enter into the Kingdom of God – and Jesus said, you have to be born from above – a new birth – a fresh start with God.

The second act of your spiritual life?  Once you place your faith in Jesus – once you cross the line of faith and say in your heart that yes, Jesus is who he said he was, and he did what he said he did, and I want to live my life for him, well, an amazing transformation takes place.

As you are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God – you are made new – you get a fresh start with your creator- it’s as if you are born again.

And notice the immediate and powerful changes that occur.

ONCE – Alienated Enemies, evil – NOW?   ReconciledHoly.  Without BlemishFree from accusation.

What does it mean to be reconciled?  Well – it’s the same word you and I would use if you and I had an issue come up between us that injured our friendship.  The issue needs to be settled before we can reconcile our friendship.  That issue has to be settled.

Now sometimes I will hear people say things like, well why can’t God be big enough to just say, forget it man – let’s be friends.  I will accept you with your sins – you’re just you being you.  Why doesn’t God just overlook sin?

And the problem is that since God is holy – all sin gets burned up in his presence.  Sin has as much of a chance of surviving in God’s presence as a marshmallow does in a campfire.  it’s going to get burned up.  

And the problem is that if we are carrying our sin, then we cannot enter God’s presence  -we’ll be toast.  So our sins needed to be forgiven and Jesus was the one who volunteers to carry our sins on him.  And when Jesus died our sins died with him.  And when Jesus was buried our sins were buried with him.

And when Jesus rose from the dead, he left our sins in the grave.  And now you and I can be seen by God as Holy – without blemish.  There is no stain of our past sins or regrets.  Whatever behind us has been forgiven and forgotten.  Because God is love and love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.  

We are free from any accusation that we don’t belong.  That God doesn’t accept you.  You are free from any accusation about your past.  And Romans 8 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Nothing, of course.  No height or depth, not the past and not the future.  No angel or demon can keep Him from pouring out his love upon us.  Not even death can separate God from his love toward us.  He declares us to be his beloved and nothing can separate us from His affection.

You know what that means?  We don’t need to live our life feeling guilty for our failures.  It’s been forgiven.  Time to let go of your past.  God’s cut the cord – don’t you dare pick up that baggage and carry it any longer. 

My wife Jody and I have three kids and when they were younger every once in a while they would get into a fight and as it would happen one of them might say something mean to the other.  Maybe it’s something – you’re stupid – or your ugly – whatever – you get the idea.

And if I heard that kind of thing I would often step in and say – hey – who do you think you are?  Who do you think you are talking to?  You are talking to my son.  You think I’m going to sit around here and let anyone call my son stupid?  You think I’d let some stranger walk past and shout something at my daughter?  That ain’t happening.  I wouldn’t let a stranger do it and there’s no way I’m letting my son do it.  

I wanted them to understand that you can argue without resorting to tearing one another down.

And I bring that up because I think there are some in here who feel that your past has disqualified you from being able to be loved by God.  

And here is God’s word for you today.  God says to you, Who do you think you are to be talking to yourself that way?  God wouldn’t let some stranger talk about you that way.  He’s sure not going to let you talk about yourself that way.  

In Christ you are beautiful,  Beloved.  Without blemish. You are Born Again.

There’s nothing on heaven or earth that can keep God from pouring his love and affection out toward you.  His love is lavish – it’s overboard, it’s abundant.  You are his beloved.  ONCE you were – spiritually – a broken down mess.  But Now?  You are Born Again.  It’s the second Acts.  Everything is different through faith in Christ.

Which brings us now to the third act of your spiritual life story.  

Act 1 – Yesterday – you were broken. 

Act 2 -Today – through faith in Jesus we are Born anew.

Act 3 Tomorrow?  What does Tomorrow bring?  And the answer has to be….

TBD. 

Let’s see… 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because o] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

Here’s an interesting truth about the Chritian life.  It started – I was a mess of my own doing.  I was rescued by Jesus and God did all the work – salvation is a gift from God – not earned – All I did was to believe the gospel – the message about Jesus – was true.

Bu Act three is a unique blend of God working in me, as I work in conjunction with God, to become established and firm – to become transformed so that I begin to act and think and feel the way Jesus would act and think and feel if He were living my life.

So Act three of my Spiritual life – the title is To Be Determined.  And it’s to be determined in large part by wether or not I intend to grow in my faith.

Check out these verses that really do a good job summarizing this – we find it in 2 Peter 1.  

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Make every effort.  God has given us everything we need to live a godly life and to participate with Him in this thing we call life in the Kingdom of God.  But it doesn’t happen without some effort on my part.  God desires to transform my life, but it takes some intention on my part.

What do I mean by intention?  Well for instance – if I told you I want to learn Chinese in the next twelve months – you’d say well that’s interesting.  What’s your plan?  Are you going to use Rosetta Stone?  Are you going to take a class at a local college?  Are you going to hire a tutor?  

And If I said, well every day I am going to wake up and just pray that God makes me know Chinese – you would say – oh okay.  So you aren’t very serious.  You don’t really intend to learn it – you just wished you learned it. 

Make every effort – Peter says.  But he is just one in a long line of biblical writers saying the same thing.  That’s why Paul says, about the faith in 1 Tim 6:12 to fight the good fight of faith.  Or in Phil 3:14 that we are encouraged to strive toward the goal.  Or in 1 Corinthians 9 we are told to run the race set before us and to run to win!

Or the writer of Hebrews encourages us to hold unswervingly to the faith we profess.

All of these things bring about the idea of steadfast intention.  Of not giving up.  Of not letting up.  Of pressing forward, moving onward and when we find ourselves in a fight for our faith we stand firm.  We hold fast.  

It takes intentionality to become the person you want to become on the inside.

What does that look like?  Well, it takes intentional efforts to help our mind think differently – maybe effort to memorize a new portion of scripture.  When was the last time you set out to memorize a larger portion of scripture?  Was it when you were a kid in Sunday School and the only reason you did it was for a lollypop?  

Maybe you set about trying to memorize this section from 2 Peter 1?  That’s a great little section.  I’ve thrown out the idea of memorizing Col 3:1-17 before – how’s that going?  Well I’ve only gotten a couple of verses into it – it’s hard!  Well good – you need a challenge.  Keep going.

We will talk more about the means of transformation next week.  The goal this week is to simply ask you- what do you intend the title of the 3rd Act of your life to be?  

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