Sunday, July 13, 2008

Slave or Free?

Slave or Free
Colossians 2:9-15
4 Questions to Determine If You are a Captive

Read Text

Sermon Introduction:

In the 1740’s the slave industry was thriving. A slave trader, sea captain, or ship owner could amass a fortune in his business. This attracted a young man by the name of John Newton, who at the time was a crewman on a naval ship. In 1745 a slave trader paid off a naval captain to let young Newton work for him. As Newton’s biographer says at this point, “Newton was brimming with so much confidence in his new employer that he had not doubts about his good faith. In that spirit of hope mingled with greed Newton traveled with [his new employer] to the Plantane Islands just off the coast of Sierra Leone. His career as a slave trader had begun.

However, through a miserable turn of events by his 21st birthday in 1746 Newton who had hoped to become a wealthy slave trader had now himself become a slave. He was enslaved by the very employer that promised him wealth and luxury. He was promised splendor and the freedoms of financial security but in reality he wound up a slave.

I share that story because it is often our story. We may not have physical chains but we often are taken captive. This is Paul’s warning to the church at Colossae in Colossians 2:8. See to it that “no one takes you captive”; his words echo what happened to a young John Newton. This is exactly what the false teachers in Colossae where doing. Promising fullness and in reality enslaving the people. Look at what Paul calls it; “empty deceit”.

Their teaching is according to “human tradition and elemental spirits” and not “according to Christ”. We could go into quite a bit of detail about what this teaching is and we could get really specific and try to draw some similarities with our own day. Some of the superstitions, the weird belief systems, the continual preaching of tolerance as the greatest virtue, and on and on we could go. Yet, it is summed up the best by seeing what it is not in accordance with—Christ. Therefore, it is any teaching that does not line up with Christ and what Scripture says about who Christ is. As one commentator put it, “the basic principles of the world” cover all the things in which humans place trust apart from the living God revealed in Christ; they become gods, and humans become their slaves.

The truth is that anything but Christ is going to lead you enslaved. Sin enslaves. Jesus sets free. There are four evidences, or reasons, that Paul gives to encourage the Colossians not to be tricked into slavery. These are four things that Christ has done in the lives of believers. Therefore, what Paul is saying here extends far beyond the Colossian church.

The question for us tonight is whether or not we are enslaved or if the benefits of Christ have been purchased for us. You are either free tonight or you are enslaved. I pray that these four questions may help you to determine the truth.

Question 1: Are you enslaved to deceit or are you made complete?

Paul begins by reminding the Colossians of who Christ is. Contrast verse 9 with the heresy that was running wild in Colossae. We really have a difficult time discerning precisely what this heresy is; but one thing that many believe is that the false teachers were throwing around the word “fullness” quite a bit. In ancient Greece (where Colossae was) they believed in, and often feared, the pleroma. The pleroma was the totality of divine powers. It was all the spirit beings that the Colossians would have probably feared—or at least had a great deal of respect for. This was, more than likely, part of their philosophy that was according to the elementary spirits of the world. But remember what Paul used in verse 8 to describe this teaching? Empty--the exact opposite of fullness. Now notice what word Paul uses in verse 9. In Him, that is Christ, the whole “fullness” (the Greek word pleroo, which is where pleroma came from) abides permanently. And so that we can see the beautiful picture of who the unique Jesus Christ is, 100% God and 100% man, Paul adds the word bodily. He is fully God in the flesh.

What then is Paul saying? He is looking at all of the false gods and angels that are controlling the Colossians lives and the false teachers are teaching whole doctrines based on this pleroma. Then Paul says, in Christ the entire pleroma of deity dwells. Meaning Jesus Christ is fully God. Why then are you worshipping all of these inferior things? Why give your life to something that is not the ultimate. This is a similar argument to what Paul was giving in Colossians 1:27 and 2:2-4. If Christ is the storehouse of all treasures and pleasure then why bother going somewhere else?

Now, Paul extends this thought even further. He says that in Christ we have been made complete. The Colossians were being tempted to look in other places for their Christian growth and even for their salvation. Paul is saying that because of their union with Christ (the fullness) they are made full. In other words you do not need to do all of these things that the false teachers are telling you to do. It will add nothing to your Christian growth and it will add nothing to your salvation.

Why go through other mediators? Why would you pray to an angel or a departed saint when you have direct access to the Father through Jesus? Why would you trust in anything but Jesus for salvation? Why would you trust in your baptism? Why would you trust in your church for your salvation?

“A Christian, therefore, knows that if he were to die tonight and stand before God, and if God were to say, ‘Why should I let you into my presence?’ the Christian would say, ‘You shouldn’t let me in. I have sinned and owe you a debt that I cannot pay back.’ But he wouldn’t stop there. He would continue, ‘Yet, because of your great promises and mercy, I depend on the blood of Jesus Christ shed as a substitute for me, paying my moral debt, satisfying your holy and righteous requirements, and removing your wrath against sin”.

Trusting in anything other than Christ for your growth or salvation is nothing more than empty deceit, and it will leave you enslaved to that.

Question 2: Are you enslaved to depravity or has your sin nature been stripped?

Verse 11 and 12 are very difficult verses to understand. It talks about a few things that are very foreign to our culture. There are words and concepts that have very little meaning to us today. We probably know what the word circumcision means at least biologically? But what significance does the word circumcision have? What is this body of flesh that is referred to? I will try to do this in as non-graphic as I can.

Circumcision literally means to cut off around something. Typically circumcision is a removal of the foreskin of the penis. In the Old Testament God commanded that every Israelite male be circumcised as a sign of His covenant [agreement] with them. It was to serve as a graphic symbol to the Israelite of sin. As pastor John MacArthur suggests: "God selected the reproductive organ as the location of the symbol for man’s need of cleansing for sin, because it is the instrument most indicative of his depravity, since by it he reproduces generations of sinners.”

Circumcision then was to symbolize a putting off of sin. It is a physical way of showing what is to take place inwardly. As God said to the Israelites in Dt. 30:6, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live”.
Now lets take that understanding into Colossians 2. “In him (that is Jesus) also you were circumcised (so we know that somehow in Jesus our sinfulness has been dealt with)…and now notice this, “with a circumcision made without hands”. What does that mean? It means that God fulfilled his promise in Dt. 30:6. Circumcision is something that is done with physical hands. It is something that we can do. The type of circumcision here is something that God does. It is not man-made or done by man, it is done by God.

Now we are ready for the how he does it; as it says in verse 11, “by putting off the body of the flesh”. Remember what circumcision means in the physical sense? A cutting off of the flesh. Now what does it mean in a spiritual sense—“done without hands”? A putting off of the flesh. What does “flesh” mean in the spiritual sense? When you see the word flesh in Scripture most often it refers to self-righteous humanity apart from God. It refers to the drive that man has that is opposed to God. Romans chapter 3 is an accurate description of the flesh; read Romans 3:10-20.

But what has Christ done? Whatever this “circumcision of Christ” is a reference to we know that the effect is that it has stripped away this sinful nature. So, that as a believer that is united to Jesus Christ we do not still have the same wicked heart. We do seek God. We are given understanding. We have not turned aside. Our throat is not an open grave. We know the way of peace. We do fear God. All of these negative statements are turned upside down. Our nature is completely and totally changed.

This is what we see in Paul’s next phrase in verse 12, that we have been buried with him in baptism. More than likely this is not talking about the actual act of baptism. This is—like the circumcision—that which is done without hands. It is speaking symbolically here; saying that somehow when we are linked to Christ we are also linked to his death. So that when Christ died it did something to our fleshly nature and it too died.

How then do you know the answer to our question? Or another way to ask that is to say is Romans 3 still true in your life? Are you enslaved to the depravity of Romans 3 or has your sinful nature been stripped?

Well what are your desires like? Do you desire and seek after God? Do you want to be pleasing to Him no matter the cost? Do you long for Christ? Is your worship passionate or is it dead and formal? A good question here is not, “do you sin”; it is what happens when you sin? Are you broken by it? Is your heart pained because of the potential for broken fellowship with Jesus? Is your love for Christ so great that it hurts you when you fall into sin? Or do you treat sin lightly? Is it, “really no big deal everybody does it”? Do you try to fix it yourself? Or do you run to Christ with it? What happens when you mess up? Do you even consider that you have messed up? Is there even a conviction for sin?

In the life of a believer sin will be foreign. It will go against your new nature. It is incompatible with your new life. It will burden you, and it will pain you. If you are enslaved to depravity then you will not think about sin. It will come to you as second nature. Even if you try to “be a better person” you will have very few victories. And even if you do have “victory” it will not be done in thankfulness to Christ and in dependence upon Christ.

Oh, do not hear this and “try harder”. Do not hear this plea and run to yourself. Run to Christ in the midst of your sin and depravity. If he does not change your heart it will not be changed. You cannot change it. This must be a work of Christ.

Question 3: Are you enslaved to death or have you been given new life?

It would be one thing for Christ to strip our old nature from us. It is quite another for him to raise us to new life. Imagine with me for a moment that a soldier is gravely wounded in battle. His clothes are filthy with his own blood. The site of him at this moment would be deplorable for his family members to see. It would be a deep grace for someone to remove his filthy clothes. Yet it would be an even bigger grace for someone to put new clothes on him. This is similar to what we see God doing here in this text.

He is removing the filth of our sin—but not only filth but the source from which it flowed. He is changing our very heart. This is where our metaphor breaks down. Because what God has done is so much more significant than simply changing a dead mans clothes. This is taking a dead man and bringing him to life; a God hating dead man that God Himself rises to life.

This is the second half of what we see in verse 12. Not only were you buried with Christ but you were also raised with him. Baptism is a symbol of that. Baptism has no saving power of its own. Baptism is a symbol—a very special, gospel preaching—symbol, but it is a symbol nonetheless. Baptism is a wonderful picture of what God has done. First of all we died to our old selves. He put off our sinful nature by the circumcision of Christ, and by grace through faith we are given a new life.

I am not sure—actually I am certain—that we do not fully know what it means for us to be new creatures. Do you really believe that you have been brought from death to life? This is not almost dead. This is totally dead. And this is not even comparable to a man that has died and gets a new lease on life because someone administered CPR. I say it is not comparable because that man was raised from death to life only to die again. This that we are talking about is eternal life.

This is being introduced to Psalm 16:11. “You make know to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Now, what if this verse is true? Of course I believe it is. But lets set our hope on this and do a little dreaming. “Fullness of joy”, that to me is mind-blowing, pee-your pants, I can hardly contain this I am so overflowing with joy right now times infinity type of joy. It is holding your wife’s hand for the first time multiplied by a million. It is the exuberance of seeing someone come to Christ multiplied to the tenth power. The greatest joy that you could fathom right now, pails in comparison to this joy expressed here. Now “pleasures forevermore” that means that they are forevermore. Unending. Never going to stop. Now, lets match this up to John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” So, what is eternal life? What is this life that we are raised to? It is knowing the God in whose presence is fullness of joy. It is being at his right hand where there are pleasures forevermore.

This thought is not original with me, but imagine with me for a moment the most mind blowing joy that you possibly can imagine. Let me give you a picture of heaven. If what you are imagining right now is something other than God then you are way off. Now, lets pretend that there are days in heaven. Day one you drink from the fountain of this fullness of joy. Your mind is blown with how much joy there is. It is stretched to its capacity. You cannot contain the joy it is so full. Wow, this is amazing. The next day God increases your capacity for enjoyment. And then fills it up. You have more joy today than you had yesterday. Yet, somehow both days were full. Every day is like this. Stretching and filling with more of God Himself. He is inexhaustible in His glory and our enjoyment of Him. This is life. And when does this begin? This begins once we know Jesus Christ. This is what is being referenced here in verse 13, that God made alive together with him”. What does that mean? It means that you have been given new life—eternal life.

And you tell me that believers are missing out on life? I love what the Puritan John Flavel said, “All of the delights in the sensual life are but as the putrid waters of a corrupt pond where toads lie croaking and spawning, compared to the crystal streams of the most pure and pleasant fountain”. Life is found in Jesus. As Flavel would later point out Scripture says that those not in Christ are dead. “Some think it a rare life to live in sensual pleasures, while Scripture will not allow so much as the name of life to them, but tells us they are dead while they live.”

What about you? Do you have life?

Question #4: Are you enslaved to debt or has your debt been conquered?

Verses 13-15 are some of my favorite verses in Scripture. It shows what stands in between us and God and how that is conquered. First let’s look at what stands between us and God. We can lump all of the first three points into one—you are enslaved to deceit, depravity, and death. That can really all be summed up by saying that you are dead spiritually. You do not desire Christ, your heart is deceitful above all things, and you will never come to treasure Christ. Because of our wicked heart we are sinful. We sin against a holy God. And sinning against a holy God is never wise. He created us. He created us to be holy. We have rebelled. He has every right to wipe us out the second that we sin. Because we stand guilty before him, and because of this two other things stand against us and Paul discusses them in verse 14 and 15. First the “record of debt” stands against us.

What is that record of debt? It is the Law of God. It is Law that is revealed by God in the Old Testament. We could tone it down by going through the 10 Commandments or we could even simplify it the way Jesus did. “Love God perfectly and love others completely”. We can see clearly by going through the 10 Commandments that we do not have righteousness. We have failed. We have transgressed against the Law. And every sin is written down. God knows everything that you have ever done and he has written it in heaven. And each sin is enough to throw you into hell apart from the goodness of God for all of eternity.

As Galatians 3:10 says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them, now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…” Let’s take just a moment to focus on this. Think of something that you have done wrong. It can be the biggest thing and it can be the smallest thing. It would probably be better for your sake if you can think of the biggest thing…that big ugly stinky sin; the one that if God can forgive, then He can forgive anything. If you cannot come up with one then put your pride or your offensiveness to God for not even being concerned enough about holiness to think about your sin. That sin is enough to separate you from God and all that is good forever; that mind-blowing joy and life that we spoke of earlier, forget about that. Joy and Pleasure is found in God. You will not know the joy and pleasure of God separated from His goodness. You will only know His wrath and His anger and this too for all eternity. This because of that sin. This because of your entire list of sin and because of your offensiveness to a holy God.

Now, that is not the only thing that stands between you and God. It is also these rulers and authorities that are mentioned. More than likely this is talking about demonic forces. Probably the ones that the Colossians were afraid of and trying to please to get to go away. But the chief is Satan. Satan as it says in 2 Corinthians 4 is in the business of blinding the mind of unbelievers so that they cannot see the beauty of Christ. That means that if you do not treasure Christ one of the reasons is because Satan is blinding you. He is using your depravity and death to spiritual things and blinding you from seeing the beauty of Christ. Therefore, you continue in sin and continue to not treasure Christ. You are cool with your depravity. You believe not a word I am saying and continue on in sin. This you will take lightly and perhaps forget.

Now how will they be conquered? How are any of us saved? By the work of Jesus Christ. Look at what he has done here in this text. He has “forgiven us all our trespasses”, he has “cancelled the record of debt”, he “set it aside nailing it to the cross”, and he disarmed the rulers and authorities, and shamed them.

It seems like I have quoted Martin Luther numerous times in the last few months, but here is yet another story that helps illuminate the beauty of the gospel. Luther often envisioned himself battling with Satan. In one particular battle, Satan was reminding Luther of all his sins. Luther asked Satan to bring out the scrolls and show him all of his sins. Satan brings out a scroll, very long. After laboring for a long time, they finally completed the scroll, sin after sin after sin. You can imagine some of the sins on there: lust, anger, pride, rebellion, gluttony, murderous thoughts, not treasuring God and many of these multiple times over. Certainly, Luther could have been replaying in his mind those sins. Some may have even caught him off guard. As they came to the last sin on the scroll, Luther looked at Satan and said, “Is that all?” Satan, surprised by this, goes in the back room and brings out another very long scroll. They go through the same process; Sin upon sin, upon sin. Treacherous sins. Vile sins. Secret sins that nobody even knew but Luther. All are exposed before him. He certainly would have felt the pain of many of them. But he stood and took every one of them. Finally, again after a long time had passed they arrive at the bottom. Again, Luther asks, “Is that all”? Satan, quite shocked by this question again, goes into the back room and brings out another very long scroll. They continue the labor, sin after sin. Each an offense. Each requiring the death penalty. Each enough to separate Martin from God for eternity. Even the smallest offense enough to bring about the full wrath of God. Finally, after a long time passes, they get to the last one on the scroll. Luther, to Satan’s frustration, but perhaps with exhausted glee, asks “Is that all?” This time, Satan trying to hide the wry smile from his face, says, “Yes, Martin, that is everything”. Now, Luther tells Satan to grab ink and a pen. Now, Satan, write upon every one of those, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son covers all sin”.

Can you claim what Luther did?

Are you united to Christ or are you not. I close again with Mark Dever’s quote.

“A Christian, therefore, knows that if he were to die tonight and stand before God, and if God were to say, ‘Why should I let you into my presence?’ the Christian would say, ‘You shouldn’t let me in. I have sinned and owe you a debt that I cannot pay back.’ But he wouldn’t stop there. He would continue, ‘Yet, because of your great promises and mercy, I depend on the blood of Jesus Christ shed as a substitute for me, paying my moral debt, satisfying your holy and righteous requirements, and removing your wrath against sin”.

Are you united to Christ, do you trust the promises?

No comments: