- 1Corinthians 10:5-17
- Colossians 1:1-8
There are 7.6 billion people on earth. Of this 7.6 billion a great deal are not Christians. About 2.3 billion profess to be Christians, which, in theory, makes Christianity the largest religion by numbers. Between 2010 and 2015, an estimated 223 million babies were born to Christian mothers and roughly 107 million Christians died – a natural increase of 116 million. But among Christians in Europe the reverse is true: Deaths outnumbered births by nearly 6 million for the same period. In Germany alone, there were an estimated 1.4 million more Christian deaths than births from 2010 to 2015. Most interesting, or maybe, mostly interesting.
There is a big problem with these statistics, in America, of the people who identify as Christians about only 10% believe that the Bible is the only Word of God. So, obviously, there are Christians who think it is possible to believe in God without reading, studying, or even knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we read it in the Bible.
So, here’s a challenge: If we have to begin the church all over again, how would we do it, and what mechanism/s would we use? Are we going to follow a different strategy than the early apostles and even the evangelical church over the last few centuries? People like Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, John Huss, Hudson Taylor, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon and others used only one tool: the Bible.
It is the same tool the apostles had at their disposal. Is it still the most effective tool, or should we add development programs, leadership seminars, growth strategies, and other leadership strategies of which the bookstores are so full these days?
According to our statistics, we’ve established the not all Christians are Christians. And this begs the question, “What is a Christian?”
The Shorter Catechism asks this question, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” In other worlds, “What is a Christian?”
The answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, through which we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation as He offered to us in the Gospel.
Three things stand out:
- The proclamation of the Gospel
- Jesus Christ alone
- Salvation by grace
With this in mind, let’s turn to our reading from Colossians 1:1-8. Keep in mind the topic of this sermon, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The proclamation of the Gospel
We take two verses together:
…you heard … the word of the truth of the gospel which has come to you… you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras…(Colossians 1:6–7, NKJV)
First thing, “the Gospel has come to you.”
In the normal scheme of things, God uses the proclamation of the Gospel through servants He calls and appoints. This is what Paul stresses in Romans 10:
For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13, NKJV)
Paul asks the next logical question,
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14, NKJV)
This then begs the next question,
And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15, NKJV)
Is this “Gospel of peace” the only tool in the hands of the Church to reach out into the darkest and deepest corners of the world? Will people really give an ear to just the Gospel?
Now we may ask if not everyone is impressed by the preaching of the Gospel, should we not try other methods? We might even try entertainment—we can have dramas based on the Bible or plays to bring across the central messages in the Bible. Some Christian groups have gone this way. Instead of reading and preaching the plain text of the Bible, which they think is just too boring, they act it out in dramas—all along to make it more attractive.
We need to have loud and up-beat music, or programs for the children and youth or they would not come. We might think to preach to the seekers in a way they would find interesting. Listening to the preaching of the gospel is boring, especially certain parts of the Bible should be avoided to not put people off.
Paul answers this question in the next verse,
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Romans 10:16, NKJV)
In another text, Paul puts it this way,
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ, we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (2 Corinthians 2:14–17, NIV)
Some people, purely because of the nature of the Gospel, receive it as an aroma the brings death; there’s not much we can do about it; they will even find the drama and the concert boring as soon as they find out it’s about Christ, sin, grace and their commitment to flow Him.
But thank God, to other the aroma of the Gospel brings life. This life does not spring from the eloquence of the preacher or the beauty of the music; it is forever the work of the Holy Spirit who through the Gospel calls people to Christ and gives them the new life. Preachers are just sowers; the growing of the seed is God’s business.
Paul was not peddling with the Gospel, because he preached Christ in the presence of God, of whom he was only the messenger. It is to God he would give account.
This is exactly what he means with the introductory words of his epistle to the Colossians,
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, … (Colossians 1:1, NIV)
Paul understood very well that he had only one mission: to speak the words of God who called him.
So did Epaphras. He too was a “faithful servant, a faithful minister of Christ”. The only words in their mouth were the words of Christ—no additions, nothing omissions.
May God forgive us when we assume the Gospel is not the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16), for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, sa righteousness that is by faith from the first to the last … (Romans 1:17)
Jesus Christ alone
The gospel is about Jesus Christ, nothing more and nothing less. The Bible tells us that the message the Colossians heard was the truth of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).
The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had an everlasting effect on them. What happened? Verse 4, they believed the Gospel. What happened in the process? Paul spells it out further down this chapter. The Gospel of Christ qualified them to share in the inheritance of the holy people of God. At first, they were enslaved under the dominion of darkness—which is just another way to say they were in the clutches of the prince of this world, the devil—but after they heard the Gospel of Christ and believed it, they were brought into the dominion of the son of God. They received salvation in his Name because of the perfect redemption He procured through his death and resurrection, and they received forgiveness of their sins.
What our Lord said is so true: the truth will set you free. The Gospel is the word of truth!
The marvellous thing about this Gospel is that it seeks out the lost. Paul writes, “the Gospel has come to you.” God calls and equips his preachers—as we learned it from Romans 10—and sends them out. They herald the Gospel, and through their message, the Gospel goes out to sinners and set them free. Why? The Gospel is the gospel of Christ, the Son God loves. Can you see the connection between this verse and John 3:16,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
Or we can just move on to Colossians 1:21 to hear the same message in other words:
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— (Colossians 1:21–22, NKJV)
What a message! By grace sinners are reconciled and made holy, spotless, and free of accusation.
If we trade this Gospel for another means of getting through to sinners, we have no hope to have any effect. People may enjoy the music, the lights, the clapping, the fellowship, the meals, the conversation, the activities—but if they have not heard this Gospel, they will never be changed; they will forever be searching, or just walk away in disappointment.
The outworking of the Gospel
What does the Gospel do? It brings faith in Jesus Christ—and because of this, is brings salvation and the forgiveness of sins—but it also has very visible consequences. Paul writes,
… we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints… Epaphras also declared to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:4-5, 8, NKJV)
Something they never experienced, they then experienced—true love and true hope in Christ which stands firm in heaven. That spurred them on to love one another as only God’s people can do. They way they loved one another was contagious; it was remarkable to the point the Epaphras returned to Paul and told him, “Those people really love one another. They love one another the same way as the Holy Spirit loves Christ and the children of God.”
When lost sinners are called to become the people of God, something of heaven must be evident. If God is a God of love, then surely, his church must be people who know love and live out love.
The church is different from all groups of people. You may join a tennis club but love for the other members is not a prerequisite; you may become a member of a political party, but you not sing up just because you love them and they love you. With the church it’s different; members in Christ share their love of Christ with others who also love Christ. More than that, they love all people they come in contact with. This is what sets the church of Christ apart from all other institutions. This is the attractive part of the Gospel.
How different would the church be if Christians understood this principle! How attractive will the church be if we really love one another because we understand that Christ loves us and has taken us out of the clutches of Satan to call us his children of one family?
We would then not need all special programs and activities to attract people. By our love for Christ and for one another, they will know. And does this world not need true, meaningful relationships purified in and by the blood of Jesus Christ!
What is Christian? It is someone who heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believed it.
How does someone become a Christian? He hears the Gospel, and by the work of the Holy Spirit he receives it and believes it.
What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ about? It is the true message of salvation and forgiveness based on the grace of His Name who on our behalf has made it possible to know God as our gracious Father.
What is the outworking of the Gospel? A new community of Christian believers, with one faith, love and hope—a community of people who knows and practices true love as exemplified in Christ Jesus.
May we be such a community. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 August 2018