Today I want to introduce to you a new series I am hoping to begin. Since this summer, I’ve been wrestling with the question of what to do after we finished the book of 1 Corinthians. I’ve had a number of ideas as to where to go, and I even started working on a series preaching through our new EFCC statement of faith - I even sent out an email to the worship team telling them what to prepare for - but as I started writing that series, I realized my heart and my spirit weren’t in it. So I went back to prayer like a carpenter returns to his workbench, and I want to present to you this morning what came out of that struggle.
I want to direct you this morning to a passage of Scripture that I have been studying a lot this past year with different groups of people. It is Colossians 2:6-7 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.
In this verse, Paul is talking about two aspects of our Christian faith. The first is our conversion: as you received Christ Jesus the Lord. In the first chapter, Paul has already made several references to their conversion. In particular, in writing to them he wants them to know of the great transference that occurred at that moment they came to faith:
The Great Transference: Colossians 1:12-14 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Colossians, having come to faith in Christ were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light and been completely forgiven of all their sins before they ever walked a day with Christ. What bliss! Could we just sit here for a moment and recapture the simplicity of that moment in which we came to Christ with nothing in our hands but our dirty, bloody sin, and he took it from us and gave us blessings innumerable.
Yet this is not the point that Paul wants to leave them at, and that brings us to the second aspect of our salvation, and it seems that this is where Paul is trying to get us to – not only the bliss of coming to know Christ, but the experience him having come to know him. Let’s read once again: 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. There are a number of important ideas presented in the second half of this verse that I want to look at this morning. The first is the idea of walking in Christ.
Here’s the picture: being saved is like turning a key in the ignition of a car. Before the key is turned, the car is dead. It is still. It won’t go anywhere. But after the ignition is turned it is in the operators hands to go where he wills. A person doesn’t start a car to go nowhere, he starts it to go somewhere. You’ve been turned on, Paul says, so walk with Christ. In using the language of walking in Christ, Paul uses just about the most non-threatening language I can imagine about how to live the Christian life. He’s not trying to scare us away. He’s definitely not trying to lay a burden on us that is more than we can bear. Just walk. It’s a very simple picture. No need to run, no need to hurry, you’ll get there. But keep walking. Keep moving forward. One foot in front of the other. Always making progress. Together with Christ. That’s not so scary is it? Follow me, Christ says, my yoke is easy, my burden is light. Some translations interpret the idea as “live” in Christ, and that’s appropriate too. As I walk in him, no matter where Christ leads me I live in Him for he is my life. So you, new Christian, don’t be intimidated by how far you have to go in your journey if faith, just start walking in Christ. Don’t look at how fast others are going – keep your heart close to Jesus and you’ll be amazed at how far you’ll go. The second idea is that of being rooted:
At some point as you are walking with Christ, it should become clear to you and others that you are established in your faith. Open up with me to 1 John 2:12-14:
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men, because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
The little children in the faith – they know that their sins have been forgiven and that they are God’s kids. And really, that’s enough isn’t it? But as they walk, as they live, as they grow, they become young men, more mature, more established, and they have learned how to overcome the evil ones influence in their lives. They are now strong having God’s word abiding in them – they are rooted, established in their faith, to use Paul’s language. Now what is amazing to me about these passages is it seems that to be established in the faith is a bit quantifiable. It seems that it’s a point that you reach where is can be said of you that you are established.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying you can reach a point of perfection – not even Paul reached that point so he continually pressed on in his faith toward that goal – but a point of maturity. This is indeed what Paul’s goal was in ministering to the churches. He writes just a few verses back in Colossians 1:28-29:
Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
This was the point that Paul longed to see believers in the churches arrive at: people who are established in their faith. Being established in the faith is a lot like learning an instrument. When you’re learning an instrument you practice, practice, practice. People see you carrying your case and ask, “Oh, you play?” “No, I’m just learning you reply”, mortified that they may ask you to play for them. But you keep practicing and someday, sooner or later, guess what – you play. If someone asked you, “do you play?” you’d say, “yes, I do” and if they heard you play they would say that’s right. You’re a piano player. Are you perfect? No. But you play. No if I asked you – when did you become a piano player – you most likely have no idea. You just practiced and kept at it and it slowly happened. That’s how becoming established in your faith happens. When you first come to Christ you may be a wreck. You may get discouraged easily. You may succumb to temptation easily. You may experience doubt or disillusionment at times. But you keep walking. Step by step with Christ. You keep praying, Lord help me. Step by step. And someday you may hear someone say, “that Lynda, she’s really strong in her faith,” and you say, “what?” but then you look at how far in Christ you walked and you realize that your times of doubt or failure or whatever seemed to have left you somewhere along the way. And at that point you overflow abounding in thanksgiving, because you are seeing how much love Christ is pouring on you and how much work Christ is doing in you and you look up and realize how far you have come by his strength. That’s where we are trying to get each of you. To that point where you are strong. Where you have overcome the evil one. Where you have God’s word abiding in you and you’re no longer driven from here to there. Paul says he toiled, struggling with all Christ’s energy to present his beloved one mature in Christ.
That leaves us with a question: How do we become rooted? We may ask, How did Paul work to establish believers in the faith? Well, we already saw in verse 28 how Paul warned and taught each one with all wisdom. Last week we learned about Paul’s overall strategy of establishing churches; remember the Pauline Cycle? Paul would go preach the gospel in a strategic center and gather those who believed in Christ into churches, then he would begin the process of establishing them in the faith until some of them were ready to entrust into leadership. That’s how to establish a church, but what about an individual? Well it seems that if we just tweak the Pauline cycle and look at it through a different perspective, we can see how every individual must go through a similar cycle on their own on their personal journey of becoming established. First you receive the gospel and are baptized as a follower of Christ, then starts the process of becoming established in the faith and in understanding your place in the church and the church’s place in God’s plan, then at some point you yourself become prepared to continue the cycle in someone else’s life now as the teacher/mentor/coach. But how did Paul lead people through this cycle?
Well, in many of the churches he personally worked with people. That doesn’t really help us much, since we weren’t there to observe the things Paul taught them. Yet we know that Paul didn’t visit every church and didn’t stay at every church to see them entirely through the cycle. How did he carry on the establishing process from afar?
Paul wrote at least 13 letters to his colleagues and the churches, some of which he knew very well like Corinth and Ephesus and others that he only knew through personal contacts, like Rome and Colosse. Interestingly, these letters can be sorted into three groups which correspond to the establishing process described in the Pauline Cycle. In Paul’s earliest letters like Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians, he strove to establish churches and believers in the Gospel. In his middle letters, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Paul is concerned with the churches understanding their place and significance in the unfolding plan of God. In Paul’s final set of letters, Paul is concerned with the last stage of establishment – the ordering and training of the next generation of men who will lead the church, men like Timothy and Titus and those that they trained. These letters were given to the church as tools to use to establish us in the faith.
Speaking of Timothy and Titus, it is also important to understand that as Paul brought people through this cycle, there was always personal contact between those who were already established in the faith and those who were still on their way. You can call this mentoring or discipleship – whatever you want to call it, it is clear that churches today have lost this fine art. Today we have a churches in which a handful of specialized teachers train anonymous crowds. This is a far cry from the New Testaments simple injunctions for older women to train younger women, older men to train younger men, and fathers to train their families. When do we do this in our modern churches? Is it any wonder that our establishing process is so slow when we are not being incubated in a loving mentoring relationship? Can you name one person who you would say has poured into your life over a period of time and one whom you have poured into?
These principles bring me back to where I originally started today, introducing our new sermon series. I am actually not going to introduce a series, but a series of series, which I am going to call “Rooted”. The overall series is based on the early, middle, and later letters of Paul, understanding them as tools by which we become established in the faith. In each mini-series we will study a particular book of the Bible to get the main principles necessary to become established in the faith. During the first year or so, we will be studying the books and letters most essential to becoming rooted in the faith. Then, we will be studying those essential to becoming rooted in the plan of God. And finally, we will be studying those essential to becoming rooted in the leading of the church. Over these two years, we will have read and understand nearly the entire Bible, to the point that if anyone asked you what the point of Galatians is and what important principles does it hold, you will easily be able to teach it to others. This is not going to be a survey of the Bible – we want to go a bit deeper into topics of the Bible that affect our faith, but get those topics from the book we are studying. Also, it is very important that this not be an intellectual exercise or something that I do all the work for and you don’t interact with. It needs to transform us. So here’s what I ask of you:
1) Personal Bible Study and Prayer: Self-Feed. Basically – you will have five weeks concentrating on a book of the Bible. I can only cover the main themes in the sermons, so it is up to each of you to read and pray through it. Do it at least once for each book. For some shorter books, read them multiple times. Pray as you read that the word will transform you. If you do that, I guarantee that you will be transformed in two years.
2) Mentoring relationships: Connect. Find someone to read with and that you can ask questions of. I am going to help you in a unique way that we’ll get into next week, but seek out someone to mentor you as your read. If we are in John, go out for coffee once a week and discuss what your reading.
3) Faith in Life: Apply. Each week I am going to try to give some practical application for you to take home. Try it out. Go for it. Give God these two years and see if at the end of the two years you aren’t closer to him. More established in him. Make this your New Years Resolution.
So next week we start: Rooted in Jesus : the gospel of John. Go home and read it this week and we can start walking together next Sunday.