On the Plains of Moab Blog
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August 4, 2015, 8:02 AM

Two Temptations for Christians



Sunday's sermon ended up a little long, so I had to edit it down to fit in the service. This is the sermon in its entirety.

August 2, 2015.
Rooted in Christ: Study in Colossians
"Rooted in Christ"
Colossians 2:6-23
Sermon #4
By Cameron Smith

The Japanese introduced a tree to the world that is called a Bonsai tree. It is measured in inches instead of feet as other trees are measured. It is not allowed to reach anywhere near its full growth potential but instead grows in a stunted miniature form.

The reason for it growing in stunted form is that when it first stuck its head out of the ground as a sapling, the owner pulled it out of the soil and tied off its main tap root and some of its branch feeder roots and then replanted it. By doing this, its grower deliberately stunted its growth by limiting the roots ability to spread out and grow deep and take in enough of the soils nutrients for a normal growth.

What was done to the Bonsai tree by its owner is what is done to Christians when they neglect prayer, neglect of time in God’s Word, embrace bad teaching masquerading as good teaching, get broadsided by circumstances, encounter hard times and allow personal superstitions to run wild. These, among other things tie off our faith tap root, preventing us from growing deep roots into our Savior.

This morning, our Scripture opens with an exhortation to guard our spiritual tap roots by reminding us of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ (2:6-7):

Paul says, 6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The immediate context here is a young church of mostly Gentile converts in Colossae trying to make its way in an area where there are many synagogues competing with their newfound faith in Jesus. You can imagine these new, excited believers getting major pushback from their Jewish neighbors.

Now, truth in advertising here, no one knows exactly who the opponents were in Colossae. Some think they were Christian converts from Judaism who still insisted on the keeping of the Law of Moses. Whether they were still Jews or converts from Judaism or a Judaism run amok in mysticism, the flavor of the practices Paul warns against seem to boil down to this: If you want to be a true follower of the Messiah, you must do this; and this; and this!

The last half of our passage fleshes out the nature of the threat (Col. 2:16-23): …Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on…worship of angels, going on in detail about visions… 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations-- 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 …according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have…an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (ESV).

Whoever the opponents are, Paul wants his young church to stand firm and keep growing deep roots in Christ (2:8): 8 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.

The circumstances here are somewhat similar to the situation during the period of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, insisted that the Roman Catholic Church had veered from the Faith by majoring on extra-biblical requirements, like the selling of indulgences; the worship of Mary, the veneration and mediation of the Saints; prayers for the dead and the withholding of the Cup from the people in Communion. The Reformers were good Catholics who simply wanted to steer the people back to Jesus and his Word -- the true and only tap root of the Faith.

Now, when I began thinking about this sermon and where I could apply the teaching to your life here, I Providentially happened upon a sermon by a wild Presbyterian minister in Oregon exhorting his flock to dump our pre-modern, barbaric, product of dead Middle-Eastern, patriarchal men’s Bible and create our own loose leaf Bible with our favorite poems and articles and sacred texts that were meaningful to our own souls.

But, that’s low hanging fruit, and I know that there’s not a single soul in this sanctuary that would ever be taken captive by that vain deceit. Besides, this is my 300th sermon in this pulpit today, and if you were tempted by that kind of teaching, you would have long ago vacated this place!

No, we need to find where this sweet wisdom from Scripture speaks to you. Where it gets down to the foundation of your soul.

I think there are two areas/temptations where we find the necessary corrective provided here in this passage by Paul.

First, there is the temptation to add something else to the Gospel. Jesus plus something. Salvation can’t be as simple as just trusting in Christ. We need to be better people or maybe God won’t accept us. We need to volunteer for more things to get us over the heavenly threshold. We need to give more or maybe heaven’s door won’t open for us.

Sometimes, we get so busy measuring our own righteousness by other fallible people and forgetting that our righteousness is found only in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not Jesus plus. It is Jesus, period; and then life is freed up to a life of gratitude.

The second temptation is to bargain with God. Here you psych yourself out by thinking that God is mad at you with every little slip up. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone came up to me and said that they’d come to church or a Sunday school class or Bible study or some church event because they felt that God was mad at them and that if they did this, God wouldn’t be mad at them. They bargain with God. If He’ll call off the dogs, they’ll promise to be good from now on.

Man, that’s an awful way live life. Methinks that makes you more neurotic than holy.  After all, Paul says that these human ways of doing religion are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. That means, anything we add, or when we bargain with God for a good deal, it doesn’t answer for our sin. It doesn’t reconcile us to God. That’s because sin has already been answered for. In Christ we’ve already been brought back to God.

Let’s back up towards the beginning of our text where Paul provides pastoral advice to them and to us. Colossians 2:9-15. Here’s God’s answer for your temptation to cut off your spiritual tap root by adding to Jesus in salvation or thinking you need to cut a deal with an angry God so he’ll call off the cosmic dogs.

I. Col. 2:9-10 You were given all you need in Jesus

9 In him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Jesus is not just another good rabbi. He is God. He is not half-god. He came from the Father’s side for a purpose. And that purpose was to fulfill God’s purpose for humanity. He is Prophet, Priest and King. And as Jesus has called you to himself, he has made you worthy in his Father’s eyes. You have been filled in him, that is, you are in Christ. Nothing in all creation can ever take that away from you.

II. Col. 2:11-12 You were embraced in baptism

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.

I love how Paul uses the practice of circumcision to show how in baptism identifies us with Christ as cuts away the sin in our hearts and makes us his very own. In Christ, we have died to sin and have been raised in his power to walk worthy in his sight. This is a work that was done in the past, and carries us through life. It can’t be improved upon!

III. Col. 2:13-15 You were accepted even with your sin

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.

I love the great one-liner from Jonathan Edwards: “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” The testimony is this, we were all dead in our sins, the uncircumcision of our flesh. We weren’t just ignorant. We weren’t just misguided. We weren’t just bad. We were dead. Dead people don’t come back to life unless God works a miracle and resurrects the dead person.

That is what God has done for us! He has raised us from death. He has given us life. He has forgiven our sins, and to make that point even more vibrant, he says that our sins were nailed to the Cross of Christ. All the powers of hell were defeated on Calvary two thousand years ago.

My friends, the work of salvation has been done. If you have Jesus by faith, you have him for life and after death and life after life after death. He is yours and you are his. 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.

You have heard the Word of God. Please consider it so very well.   Amen.


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