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Growing in Christ | The Key to Growth
May 14, 2023
1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
Holy One, we gather as your people, giving thanks that we can be together to hear your word, offer our prayers, and sing your praises. Draw us together in your love, that we may know you more deeply. Open our hearts to a deeper understanding of your will, and work within our lives, that we may produce the fruit of compassion. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 67:1-7
1May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2That your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
5Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
6The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
7God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!
Summary and Connection
Recently we began a new sermon series entitled, Growing In Christ. In this series we examine the theme of spiritual growth. For followers of Jesus, the whole purpose of their Christian life is to grow up into maturity in order to become the fullest versions of themselves as God has ordained. Furthermore, a serious examination of our spiritual life not only fosters growth, but most importantly, it also acts as a corrective, exposing any false understanding of faith and spiritual growth.
This week’s discussion is based on Colossians 3:1-4. Paul wrote this letter to the church in Colossae from the confines of prison. In this letter we see Paul warning the Colossians about the danger posed by false teachers who were imposing strict rules about eating, drinking, and religious traditions. These false teachers were promoting Judaism. The ‘high moral code’ of Judaism was appealing to the Colossians—who lived in a pagan culture—as it gave them a sense of superiority and exclusivity. Paul warns them about the utter inadequacy of self-righteous moralism in matters of spiritual growth and maturity. Paul exhorts the Colossians by pointing them to the superiority of Christ—the substance, over all human philosophies and traditions—shadows. In 3:1-4, Paul encourages the Colossians to change their perspective—from seeking their identity as Christians in things that are on earth (philosophies, traditions, and fame), to setting their minds on Jesus, who is their true identity (verse 3). In verse 4 Paul reminds the Colossians about the day when God will flood the present creation with the new life which is currently hidden in the heavenly realm. When Christ appears in glory, those who are in Christ will also appear as the new creation—gloriously renewed human beings they already are. Most importantly, in this passage, Paul describes a doctrine that is foundational in enabling us to live the fullest versions of ourselves as God has ordained: Our union with Christ.
Union with Christ is the foundation of all our spiritual experience and all spiritual blessings. Union with Christ could be defined in simple words like this: You are in Christ and Christ is in you.
You Are In Christ
First, let us consider what it means to be ‘in Christ,’ and how we get ‘into Christ?’ ‘In Christ,’ ‘in the Lord,’ and ‘in Him’ are technical terms extensively used by Paul (occurs 164 times in the letters of Paul alone). While Jesus referred to his followers as disciples, Paul’s preferred way of addressing the followers of Jesus was ‘in Christ.’ It is the most fundamental way to locate the identity of a follower of Jesus. In other words, to be a Christian is to be united with Christ. A Christian’s union with Christ is spontaneous. It happens the moment you place your faith in Jesus. This doctrine undergirds the vine-branch illustration of John 15. Christians are organically united to Christ as a branch is in a vine. Furthermore, to be ‘in Christ’ is to acknowledge Jesus as our representative head. We participate in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and glory. Whatever is true of Jesus is true of his followers. We receive all spiritual benefits by virtue of our union with the source of all spiritual blessings. How do we get ‘into Christ?’ The Scriptures’ resounding reply is by faith. Oftentimes we hear Christians describe their salvation experience by saying, “I received Jesus into my heart.” While that expression describes a Christian’s subjective experience, it does not capture the objective reality. Sinclair Ferguson makes an insightful observation: “Occasionally the New Testament speaks of becoming a Christian in terms of receiving Christ, and thus getting Christ into our lives. But the emphasis is on the need to be taken out of ourselves and our sin and be ‘found in Christ.’ That gives union a very important practical dimension. It is not thought of primarily as a subjective experience which encourages us to look in and down. Rather it is something which lifts us up and out and draws us on to the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
Christ Is In You
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes that the deepest mystery that was hidden for generations has now been revealed. The great mystery is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (1:27). If you are united to Christ, then, as Paul writes to the Colossians, your life is hidden with Christ in God. In other words, your task is not to try to become someone you are not, but rather to set your mind on the truth and live out the new reality you have already received in Christ. The reality of the Christian existence on earth as ‘new creation,’ flows from what Jesus has first accomplished for us. Jesus became what we are through his incarnation, so that we might become what he is through our union with him. Our union with Christ works through the Holy Spirit. To be united with Christ is to have the Spirit of Christ within you as the real, and dynamic bond between Jesus and us. As Jason once put it in his sermon, “the only thing better than having Jesus beside would be to have Jesus within you at every moment of your life.”
Practical Implications Of Our Union With Christ:
As Christians we often forget our identity in Christ, and we either strive hard to seek our identity in things of the world or justify our identity in Christ by our self-righteous efforts. We often fail to believe and acknowledge what is already true of us in Christ. As one commentator puts it, “learning to believe what doesn’t at the moment feel true is an essential part of being a Christian. This is what the life of faith is all about.” As we grow in knowledge of our union with Christ, we display the truly human life we seek—the life of genuine and glad holiness that shines right through our personality. Here are some of the practical implications of our union with Christ:
1. The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us a new identity.
2. The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us a new family/community.
3. The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us a new destiny.
4. The knowledge of our union with Christ provides us with great dignity.
5. The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us confidence in prayer
6. The knowledge of our union with Christ protects us in temptation
1. Looking at the Bible
What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage?
- In this passage Paul talks about the past and the future of the Colossians. What according to Paul has already happened and will happen in the lives of the Colossians?
- What is ‘Union with Christ?’ What does it mean to be ‘in Christ?’ and what does it mean to have ‘Christ in you?
- What are the practical implications of our union with Christ? How does the knowledge of our union with Christ provide us with dignity, confidence in prayer, and protection in temptations?
2. Looking at Jesus
At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
- How is our union with Christ both a subjective and an objective reality? How does this knowledge foster our spiritual growth?
3. Looking at Our Hearts
The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.
- How does your union with Christ transform your identity, your family, and your destiny? What comfort and encouragement do you draw from these truths? How do these truths challenge you?
- In verse 2, Paul says, “set your mind on the things that are above.” According to you, what does this actually look like in practice? What obstacles in your life pose a threat to practicing “setting your mind on the things above?”
- How would it change the way we go about our daily lives if we really believed that Christ is “our life” (verse 4)?
4. Looking at Our World
- How does the reality of our union with Christ invigorate us to lead a faithful life as God’s instruments of grace in this city?
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1: In this passage Paul talks about the past and the future of the Colossians. What according to Paul has already happened and will happen in the lives of the Colossians? In verse 1 Paul writes about the past of the Colossians: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” In the previous section (2:12-15), Paul reminds the Colossians about their death. The Colossians died to the world—customs, and traditions—with Jesus, and were buried with Jesus. When Jesus victoriously rose from the dead, these Colossians believers also rose with him. In other words, the followers of Jesus are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. What is true of Jesus in his death is true of his believers in their death to the demands of the law. What is true of Jesus in his resurrection is true of his believers in their new creation. Where Jesus goes, his followers go. Imagine the profound implication of this claim: As followers of Jesus, we have ascended with Jesus to heaven. In Christ, we are in heaven already. Our union with Christ is not mere escapism but an undeniable reality that gives us a renewed perspective of our existence on earth, and also fosters our faith and spiritual growth (Romans 8:34-39).
Furthermore, in verse 4, Paul talks about their future: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Our union with Christ provides us with confidence to patiently wait in the present and a future hope of being found with Christ in glory. As Christians who already experience the glorious reality of our future hope, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to live our lives in preparation for Jesus’ return. Our future hope invigorates us to actively seek God’s glory on earth.
Refer Summary and Connection for second question.
The six practical implications of our union with Christ are enumerated in summary and connection.
The knowledge of our union with Christ provides us with dignity: When we look at ourselves, we only see patterns of failure, guilt, and shame. Life without Christ is intolerable as it exposes our depravity, and our utter inability to carry the burden of self-belonging. However, as Christians we are united with Christ as joint heirs of all his riches. What is true of Christ is true of us, irrespective of our circumstances. When we realize this truth, it gives us dignity, grace, and power to live.
The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us confidence in prayer: Since we are united with Christ, all that is his is ours. As long as your heart, will, and mind are one with Jesus who intercedes on your behalf, you can confidently approach the throne of grace knowing that your prayers will be heard and answered.
The knowledge of our union with Christ protects us in temptation: Our union with Christ is our strongest weapon to guard against temptations. Oftentimes we fight against temptations on our own strength, desperately trying to please God. When we fail, we are overwhelmed with guilt and shame of letting God down. However, the knowledge of our union with Christ gives us a new perspective in understanding sin and facing temptations. While tempted, you can address your heart by asking these diagnostic questions: How can I, who am united to Jesus, give way to this temptation? The very reminder of your identity in Christ, and your growth in grace is a constant defense against slipping back into what you were by nature.
Question 2: The doctrine of our union with Christ has both a subjective and an objective aspect to it. French theologian and Reformer John Calvin wrote, “We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us…All that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him.” All our righteousness, holiness, and blessings are found outside of us—in Jesus Christ. However, Jesus is not only the righteousness, but most importantly, he is our righteousness. Mere intellectual affirmation of Christ as the righteous one is ultimately useless without a firm belief that Christ is your righteousness. Theologian Michael Horton writes: “The very Jesus who has done everything necessary for our salvation in history outside of us now comes to indwell us in the person of his Holy Spirit. While our assurance is rooted in the objective work of Christ for us, it is also true that “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13).”
Our union with Christ is also an objective reality. The life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming of Jesus points to the objective reality of our union with Christ. The work of Christ on our behalf is rooted in history. Our union with Christ is a federal union. Jesus is our representative head. God established a covenant relationship between Christ and his people—what Christ does becomes theirs by virtue of their union with him. All of fallen humanity is “in Adam,” possessing all that Adam possesses: original sin, judgment, condemnation, fear, shame, alienation. There’s nothing we can do to secure our redemption. However, the ones who have put their faith in Christ, are “in Christ,” possessing all of his righteousness, holiness, eternal life, justification, adoption, and blessing. Nothing on this earth, including death itself, can separate a Christian from his Savior. The cross, where Jesus bore the wrath of God carrying our sin and shame, stands as historical evidence to our union with Christ. Although we are separated from the event of crucifixion for over 2000 years, we still receive the benefits of the union with Christ through the Holy Spirit who powerfully works in and through us.
Our union with Christ fosters our spiritual growth. The spontaneous nature of our union with Christ provides us assurance in times when we struggle in our faith: When Christ became ours, he became ours in his entirety in order to work in us a full salvation. This is true of all of us all the time. Remember, the one who began the work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6).
Question 3: In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The doctrine of union with Christ challenges both the traditional and modern approaches of identity formation. In traditional cultures an individual’s identity is determined by the family and the community. This could lead to stifling one’s individuality. In modern cultures, the individual must be free to determine their identity. This leads to existential paralysis (too many options), existential anxiety (too much pressure to perform) and discontentment (too many unmet expectations). According to Alan Noble, the author of You Are Not Your Own, “Responsibility of Self-Belonging requires new techniques to cope with the stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and inadequacy.” Noble describes two distinct postures of coping—posture of affirmation, and posture of resignation. A posture of affirmation runs you ragged. You become consumed with self-improvement that only leads to dissatisfaction, anxiety, and guilt. A posture of affirmation leaves you aimless and dispirited. You live with “the meaninglessness of it all, the impossibility of ever doing anything that matters. You are exhausted by the inhuman demands of the world.”
In contrast, the doctrine of union with Christ transforms your identity. “In Christ ‘’ your identity is not determined by your family, your socio-economic class, your ethnicity, your gender, or sexuality. You are freed from the posture of affirmation and resignation as your identity is not a construction of your own making based on your ever-shifting preferences, accomplishments, and affiliations. Your identity is firmly rooted in Christ. Rather than searching for an identity by trying to “find yourself,” you discover who you truly are by being “found in Christ’’ (Philippians 3:9). Our union with Christ transforms our family. As Christians we belong to Christ and each other. We are brothers and sisters in Christ (Hebrews 2:11), and as the new people belonging to God, we are a family—a temple made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). Our union with Christ transforms our destiny. So extensive is your union with Christ that you can say Christ is your life. From before the beginning of time, God destined you to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). As Christians we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, and in the end, you can be confident that when Jesus appears, you shall be like him and you will finally see him as he truly is (1 John 3:2).
The second question is a personal application question.
When we truly believe that Christ is “our life” it drastically impacts our justification before God. If you are not your own but belong to Christ, then there is nothing you can or must do to justify your existence. Imagine the practical implications of this in your daily life. According to contemporary anthropology “you don’t need to justify your existence as you are special just the way you are, and you are important to yourself, because you are the only voice that matters.” However, “You are special the way you are because you are you” is merely a metaphysical way of pulling your existence up by its bootstraps. According to Noble when you truly believe that you are not your own but belong to Christ you will realize that “your existence is good and right and significant because a loving God intentionally created you and continues to give you your every breath. Your life is significant whether you choose to see it that way or not, which is almost the opposite of the responsibility to self-justify.”
When we truly believe that Christ is “our life” it drastically impacts our identity before God. If you are not your own but belong to Christ then the entire premise of identity formation and expressive individualism is a sham. If Christ is your life, there is no image for you to maintain because you are made in the image of God. Anglican theologian Rowan Williams aptly captures the Christian understanding of identity: “You have an identity, not because you have invented one, or because you have a little hard core of selfhood that is unchanged, but because you have a witness of who you are. What you don’t understand or see, the bits of yourself you can’t pull together in a convincing story, are all held in a single gaze of love. You don’t have to work out and finalize who you are and have been; you don’t have to settle the absolute truth of your history or story. In the eyes of the presence that never goes away, all that you have been and are is still present and real; it is held together in that unifying gaze.”
Question 4: This is a personal application question.