The revival preacher and teacher Roy Hession once told the story about a gold mine in South Africa that sank shaft after shaft in a quest to find new gold. Finally, they came to the conclusion that all the new shafts that they were sinking were finding nothing, and they faced the fact that they were being misled and disappointed in trying to find gold in these new shafts. They finally went back and started to dig deeper in the first shaft of the mine, and there they found all the gold that they needed and wanted.
Hession then drew a very apt comparison of that South African gold mine to many modern believers. They are trying to find more ‘inspiration’ in many sources, such as new books, conferences and speakers, the most popular musician of the present and the latest spiritual fad. But they constantly find that they are being misled and disappointed. Rather, they need to go back and fix their attention on the one true source of life and love, that which they received through the relationship with the living Lord Jesus himself. If one has truly been saved by Christ and born again of his Spirit, there will always be an inner hunger there that only Christ will satisfy.
Do you ever get the feeling at the beginning of a contemporary church service that so many are trying to dig themselves out of a spiritual pit and recapture a feeling which they’ve sinned away by what they were doing on Friday and Saturday nights? Does it seem like they come in empty and under heavy conviction of the Holy Spirit because they’ve been whooping it up and engaging in immorality like the world without Christ, so they make a frantic effort to deal with their sin and hypocrisy? Does it seem like they’re trying and begging to get back a feeling of closeness with God that they once had, without dealing scripturally with the sin, instability and hypocrisy of their own lives?
So there needs to be a renewed emphasis on remaining in this relationship with Christ, since so often it seems like so many in our churches seem simply to be coming back Sunday after Sunday to try to stumble back into a stability which they never should have either neglected nor wandered from. And even more, when we talk about revival in the scriptural sense, it simply is the return and restoration to then in this relationship, the way of scriptural revival and restoration a return to this relationship with Christ that means spiritual stability and spiritual reality. This relationship with the living Lord Jesus is the only source, basis and foundation of of true spiritual stability in this life. And I would submit to you that this is what too many contemporary Christians woefully undervalue and underestimate.
This is the same kind of problem that the apostle Paul was addressing in the letter to the believers in Christ at Colossae. The latest fad teachings were leading the Colossian believers astray from their relationship with Christ. These fad teachings of the spiritual hipsters were not based in scriptural truth, but rather a strange mixture of pagan philosophy, mysticism and Jewish legalism added on to some ideas borrowed from apostolic teaching. These ‘add-on’s to scriptural teaching, to what the apostles had been passing on, which went back to what Jesus had taught and what he had done for them in his death and resurrection, were in fact a wholesale subversion of their walk with Christ that began at their conversion. They were in fact iron pyrite – fool’s gold – which sparkles like gold but is of little real value in comparison to the real thing.
So the intention of this whole letter to the Colossians was Paul’s attempt to persuade them to come back to and stay in, without any wavering or distractions, in the saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And the center of this letter is a sentence which remains significant for every believer today since we also life in the middle of many, many the distractions and falsehoods that attempt to entice us away from the one fundamental and precious reality, that is the saving fellowship with the Savior, Jesus Christ. And here is what the apostle had to write to them, and the sentence through which God speaks to us today:
“So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, conduct your life in him, as you are rooted and built up in him and are made stable in the faith just as you were taught and as you overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).
The whole point of genuine saving faith is continuing on in the daily relationship with Christ. A genuine reception of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has as its logical outcome this daily relationship with Christ. The initial reception of salvation from Christ by repentance and faith should then mean continued trust in him and obedience to him, and this will then mean that the believer in Christ will remain in that wonderful saving relationship with him.
Genuine saving faith in Christ is the beginning of the relationship with Christ. We need to keep emphasizing that the reception of salvation, when a person comes to that point of receiving him by faith as Lord and Savior, is only the beginning point the time of that saving relationship that is intended to continue through this earthly life and through to eternity. It is true that for many, many years many believers and churches have held fast to the gospel of salvation, the foundational truth of salvation by grace through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone, so that the Biblical truth about how to receive salvation through Christ is familiar to many in our churches. Unfortunately though, the basis of living in that saving relationship afterwards is not very well explained often enough, so that many who make professions of faith in Christ often only stumble toward spiritual stability in Christ while they desperately try to find some way out of the sins from their past and the foolish notions of the surrounding culture that continue to try to ensnare them again. But even more, I would submit before the North American churches and their pastors and leaders that they have fallen into a trap of underestimating and even disdaining the value of a consistent and stable lifelong walk of faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord. Too many see that as not enough – or that horrible distractions, spiritual infatuations and backslidings are no big thing and do not extract a horrible spiritual cost from the life of the believer and the lives of those around the spiritually unstable, distracted and infatuated.
This, then, is right where Paul finds and addresses the Christians in the ancient city of Colossae. This is why the apostle Paul starts out with this phrase: “So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord.” This was Paul’s way of describing how the Colossian believers had received salvation by faith in Christ. The words are almost exactly like what Paul had also written in Romans 10:9-10, about “ . . . the word of faith which we proclaim, that if you confess with your mouth that,”Jesus is Lord,” and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, because it is with your mouth that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”. Paul was giving them his reminder to them of how they had responded to the gospel, which they had heard from his associate Ephaphras and had received eternal life some months or years beforehand. Note also that he gave an emphasis that salvation had to do with acknowledging Jesus as Lord, and for someone in the first century in this situation that word ‘Lord’ was not a merely honorific title but the acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and Master of one’s life.
In some years past it was fairly common among many believers in our culture to talk about Jesus as either ‘the Master’ or ‘my Master’, but that rarely seems to be heard anymore. The Colossian believers would have instantly understood that, and they would have come to remember and understand that the reception of salvation was for them not only the reception of a gift by faith but also the commitment to a new Master of one’s life. While there was a brief controversy a few years ago about the matter of ‘Lordship salvation’, it is indisputable that the apostles were not afraid at all to talk about and to expect a change of loyalties, to where Christ would be the new Lord and Master of one’s life, as being the expected and reasonable outcome when someone passed from death to life through by salvation through faith in Christ alone. Everyone knew in those days that repentance and faith was the entrance to a new life of transformation with Christ as Lord, Savior and Master.
In modern times there may be a number of paths where believers hear the gospel come to faith in Christ, and it’s possible to describe the circumstances of their conversion experience. Some believers may have had what could be called the “sawdust trail” experience, where they went forward in a church service or evangelistic meeting in response to an appeal to come forward and receive Christ. Others may have come to Christ in an experience of corporate worship, the in the emotional atmosphere which could be described as the “raised hands together” experience. Still others may have come to hear the gospel in a small group Bible study, perhaps even in their college years, and we could call this the “parachurch” experience. Still others may have received Christ as very young children, perhaps under the influence of their parents or a Sunday school class, and we could call this the “mother’s knee” experience. What does not matter so much is the experience but that in the midst of a pagan world, where “ . . . even if there are so-called ‘gods,’ whether in heaven or upon earth, just as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’, but for us there is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist and we ourselves are through him” (I Corinthians 8:5-6, Dale’s sight translation). And what matters is not the particular sins which dominated and tyrannized our lives, but that “ . . . such some of you used to be, but you have been washed, but you have been made holy, but you have been declared righteous and innocent in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:10-11, Dale’s sight translation). And this is the salvation to which Christ has brought us through faith in him, and the starting place to the life of spiritual stability in Christ, from where we first ceased to trust in anything else for our eternal salvation, even ourselves, and put our trust entirely in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, as our Lord.
So then, the first thing that we need to address with any professed believer who is distracted to being infatuated with unBiblical forms of spirituality and ideologies and stumbling into pride, defiance, hardheartedness and other more visible sins, is to bring that person back to remember where he or she first received salvation through Christ as Lord. When we would ask them when and how they might have received salvation through Christ, we’re not looking to try to lead anyone who can give a scripturally sound account of having placed his or her faith in Christ to repeat a prayer so that we can crow about it afterwards, or to try to steal them away from another church. Rather, it is reasonable to ask to remind them of where and when they might have entered the relationship of salvation so that they can move forward in that saving relationship with Christ.
So often the beginning of revival is when professed believers in Christ remember the beginnings of their faith in Christ. They may then come to another realization, the realization that things were different then than with the way that their spiritual life has become right now. And furthermore, the realization that things have changed in some way may bring the further realization that somehow by little compromises and distractions added gradually, one upon another, they have moved from Christ as Lord of all their lives. Sometimes this did come from a fall into a heartbreaking sin of which they have become heartily ashamed, but sometimes this has come in a life where all the formulas are followed and the meetings are services are attended, but the heart has simply become cold, chilly and distant toward the Lord Jesus. And this is how Vance Havner described revival: “We hear much about revival these days, but the heart of revival is the Lordship of Christ. A mere emotional upheaval, a spurt of religious excitement, is not revival. When Christians become convicted of rebellion against the rule of Christ in their lives, confess their sins, renounce self, take the cross and let Jesus have the first and last word in everything, that is revival by whatever name you call it.”
And then, having started right, having a saving relationship with Christ, then calls for the believer to live daily in harmony with Christ. This daily relationship means fellowship with him, trust in him, and submission to his will. But this relationship is not simply a minor optional add on to a life which is still primarily caught up in oneself and doing everything that for self satisfaction and personal enjoyment and entertainment. Rather, this means one’s attention, loyalty and obedience must be to Christ alone even amongst the other seductions, distractions and enticements around us.
In the second half of verse 6, Paul continues with a phrase which I have translated, “ . . . conduct your life in him.” The New International Version translates this “ . . . continue to live in him . . . “ The King James Version translates the phrase literally: “. . . walk in him . . .” Paul often described the Christian life described as a continued walk with Christ, and this meant following him and trusting him. It could be described as a long and continued faith in and obedience to Christ. The word ‘walk’ would come naturally to Paul because of his background as the rabbi Saul, where conducting oneself as a loyal and faithful Jew in following the Law of God was also described as a ‘walk’ (halakhah). So, what Paul was calling for was the true Halakhah in Christ from the Colossians. The Colossians may have rubbed shoulders closely enough to their Jewish neighbors in Colossae to have some understanding of the term, and the false teachers of their time may have actually used a similar term to describe the life that they were calling for in the strange mix of pagan mysticism and Jewish legalism which seems to have been the distraction in Colossae.
As Paul continued in chapter 2 of Colossians, it becomes clear that he was calling them back to the reality from which the false teaching was trying to lead them, away from Christ. There was someone, perhaps more than one who was making false claims of spiritual experiences and seeking to entice them to false acts which looked pious and worshipful – fool’s gold — but were not a part of the gospel that they had received. Paul was pointing out that the spiritually misled among them were seeking and claiming relationship with the wrong spiritual beings – angels and not Christ. Even more, Paul was pointing out that the false notions they were receiving and the false experiences someone was claiming were missing the whole point of the saving relationship with Christ and the daily fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ, the Christ in whom “. . . are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Even more, this is the supreme Christ whom Paul has already described in chapter one as “ . . . the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of all creation, because in him all things in the heavens and on earth have been created, both seen and unseen, whether thrones or lordships or authorities. All things are through in and all things were created for him, and he is before all things and all things maintain their existence in him. . .” (Colossians 1:15-17). So Paul emphasized not that angels and other spiritual powers do not exist, but that Christ, as the eternal Son of God, supreme Lord of all creation and eternal Savior, is so far superior to any that do exist that any attempt to live in fellowship with them and follow them is a sadly mistaken quest and settling in what is by far second best.
So, even though there is that call to spiritual reality in the call for the believer in Christ to walk daily with Christ, sadly, experiences with other believers with false ideas, false professions of spiritual experience, and unnecessary and unscriptural actions can distract and even discourage some away from Christ. But despite what others may say and do, nothing will ever be deeper than the saving relationship with Christ, nor the truth of the Word of God. The faith in and obedience to the Lord Jesus has always and will always be the true foundation and expression of the Christian life. The way of entrance into the saving relationship is also the way of continuing onward in the saving relationship. And so, therefore, backsliding is not inevitable for anyone. Nor is even any period of prolonged spiritual dryness or prolonged spiritual darkness. Rather those are strong warning signs of the critical need to return to that relationship with Christ wholeheartedly in faith and obedience, and to let that be the central reality of one’s life.
Make no mistake about how spiritually dangerous the descent into alternative spirituality can be for the believer in Jesus Christ who descends through feeling and enticement but without spiritual discernment. Make no mistake about how damaging this can be. For instance, I once heard Chuck Colson tell about two young women who had been drawn into Wicca through the influence of other women. Eventually they came back to Christ, but they then had to deal with the deep spiritual and psychological damage which came from a first hand, face to face encounter with the demonic. They came to know that the occult, despite an initial appeal of power and knowledge, leads to the encounter with utter evil.
So then, this also means following Christ through faith and obedience without a stringent structure or secondhand script of rules, regulations and adherence to human authorities claiming heady, authoritative, but unscriptural spiritual experiences and position. Too many believers are enticed here by the externally self confident, glib and superficial person into situations where eventually they realize that they’ve been had. So much in the current evangelical religious complex comes down to unscriptural, unreasonable, delusional, magical thinking and fantasies. Too many get caught up in following trends of the hipsters with itching ears, when the real need was to remain centered in faith and obedience to Christ with a dispassionate discernment of the truth. Beyond the exaggerated, distorted, one sided, hyped, sentimental ideas and enticements is the person who is most valuable and precious – the Lord Jesus Christ himself. When we’ve viewed eternal realities with passivity, inattention, laziness and sloppiness, though, he is still there, the most precious and valuable far above the idiocies that have distracted us.
Certainly, then, this need to follow Christ in faith and obedience after the reception of salvation also addresses the problem, throughout our churches, not only of the spiritually and ideologically compromised but also of the secularized saint. This is the person who had not wandered into the counterfeit ideologies and spirituality of this world but who has built a wall of separation between a past experience of salvation and a nominal church life and his or her life otherwise lived just like anyone else in the culture. Most of this person’s life is dedicated rather to the idols of personal peace, affluence, entertainment, prosperity and personal autonomy. And strangely enough, in this pack we will also find the disappointed and embittered religious narcissists who are starting to come to the end of themselves, as God in his providence is crushing their exaggerated self esteem, hubris and personal Messiah complexes. This call to follow Christ comes to them as his call to take up the cross, glorify God rather than yourselves and then to follow Jesus as Lord.
So what this will mean will be new life for the religious zombies among us. They may lifelessly lurch along jerkily, deathly and mechanically in a life of religious legalism and in pet formulas when what they’re missing and what they’re in critical need of is the lifegiving fellowship of walking with the Savior and Lord in faith and obedience. And make no mistake about how hard it can be to deal with an obsessed, legalistic or formula driven Christian with the Word of God. The growing hardness of heart means that they often react to the plain teaching of the Word of God with complete, lifeless indifference. And trying to stop them from unscriptural behavior is often like trying to take out a zombie with a Winchester rifle. They momentarily recoil but keep on going in their lifeless, mechanical and deathly lurching!
When we find Christ, we find the one in whom are all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, as the apostle states in Colossians, and the life of highest wisdom and knowledge is that of continuing to live in him, as the apostle states. Fundamentally, though, continuing in the life with Christ therefore is the simply the honest and ethical fulfillment of the commitment made to him to receive salvation. And the person who pursues this daily fellowship with Christ will then find the kind of results for which he or she and so many other distracted and compromised believers were looking in the first place.
Genuine spiritual stability results from the daily relationship with Christ. This is the true path to security in salvation and growth in Christ. This cannot be reduced to any kind of pat formulas, but rather comes from the living relationship with the Savior and Lord of the universe. And through this relationship his people find everything that they may have thought that they could have found in the counterfeits, in the fool’s gold, and more.
Deepening the relationship with Christ over the course of days, months and years is what produces real spiritual stability. This is the path to the firm, unshakable conviction of a maturing faith in Christ. This is the path to the faith in and walk with Christ of a mature and continually maturing adult in Christ. This is the way to become the spiritually stable believer in Christ who is sure of what he believes and certain of the direction of his commitment. And this is the adult faith and walk with Christ that so many who have grown up in the church have failed to find because they’ve never been challenged to seek it, find it, and never to leave it for any reason or for any one else – they went for the fool’s gold because they never realized the value of the real gold that was within their reach and within their grasp.
The apostle went on to describe spiritual stability in the first part of verse 7: “ . . . rooted and built up in him . . . “ Make no mistake, closeness to the Savior is the real source of spiritual stability. The word rooted means stability and, built up (being built up) means growth. For the person who has these qualities, it would mean that all the false experiences and teachings in this world, all that there were in the ancient world, would be useless to entice them from Christ. They would be, through their relationship with Christ, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, month by month and year by year, would produce the kind of stability and growth. They would be unshakable, not because of any of their own strength or power, but because they are firmly rooted and grounded in and walking with the Lord who is unshakeable and secure.
Isn’t this something that should be extraordinarily appealing to anyone who has lived in a life of spiritual, moral and emotional turmoil, chaos, confusion and insanity. And, again, this stability and growth through walking in Christ is absolutely necessary for modern believers with the challenges to faith and obedience to Christ that they meet in the modern, or postmodern, or contemporary world. What is more necessary for believers than to be utterly assured in their faith in Christ, immovable in their devotion and articulate in the expression of their faith? What is more necessary than to have an adult faith in and walk with Christ, which has learned to see and live beyond the trite and often childish formulas from our evangelical religious complex, that will not only withstand the challenges to faith, but also provide the most persuasive witness necessary to this world?
This being rooted and grounded in Christ, being built up and growing in him, is the most necessary thing for the wandering spiritual adultescent. We do not need to revamp our worship services for that person nor wail and cry for that prodigal, but rather to point them to what they needed in the first place. We need to recognize that the wandering adultescent is the kind of person that A. W. Tozer called the spiritual tramp. These are the spiritual street people whose spiritual lives consists of no lasting commitment and stability. They rather wander picking up the scraps and handouts of the religious places and people they visit, the latest song which tickles their emotions or the book which contains the formulas seem to promise peace and prosperity now. But rather, what they needed from the beginning was a regular and consistent walk with Christ which would produce the spiritual stability, growth and resilience which is the basis of what they were really seeking and which they would find by walking closely with the eternal Prince of Peace.
But, as the infomercial announcer promises, there’s even more: depth in the relationship with the Savior will then mean growing strength and resilience in saving truth. It will mean strength in the foundational truths of faith in Christ, in the truth which makes all the difference between life and death for all eternity. Here’s how the apostle describes it: “ . . . strengthened in the faith as you were taught . . .” This is a strong reminder that the foundational truth necessary to receive salvation is the basis of growth in Christ afterward and the nourishment for spiritual muscle. The Colossians had already been taught and believed saving truth, but they still needed, through that walk with Christ, to keep on growing in it and to become strong in it. Though they were aware of the basic truths, spiritual stability and its consequence, spiritual strength in Christ, would come from a deeper experience of them and persuasion of them through the life with the Lord of all truth.
Certainly the realization that the foundational truths of saving faith are also the foundational truths of spiritual growth must make believers more receptive to learning to understand the Word of God. The certainty of the truths of salvation not a matter of knowledge only but of keeping the truths fresh in practice and experience. And this means the realization that the daily relationship with Christ not a matter of personal experience – of some kind of emotional high or uplift –but in reality a personal experience with the Lord based upon eternal, unshakeable truth. And certainly for us today, this means learning the Word of God in fellowship with Christ and in fellowship with other believers through the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Certainly there will be new insights and applications that one will find as one walks with Christ daily but, no matter what saving truth itself will remain the same.
But despite the idea that stability and growth in Christ may lack the excitement and drama that the other enticements and fool’s gold of this world promises – rather it results in a deep spiritual and emotional stability in a life of thankfulness. This is not a mere respectful gratitude but an overflowing gratitude to God through Christ. It’s not an emotional high that anyone has to strive after or beg God to restore as part of trying to dig oneself out of a spiritual hole. Rather, the apostle describes it as: “ . . . and overflowing with thankfulness.” So then, Paul’s conclusion to his directions to them then is the declaration that the daily relationship with Christ would be the kind of life that they were already looking for. A believer overflowing with thankfulness, after all, is someone who knows in his or her deepest thoughts and emotions that he or she has been wonderfully and eternally blessed by God and that he or she has already found full satisfaction in Christ. Worship then naturally flows from this stable, daily relationship with Christ.
So what has been missed in the past thirty years in so many churches is that it is not the other way around: that worship does not lead to a stable and satisfying relationship with Christ but it is the other way around. Continuing in the relationship with God through Jesus Christ means a continual exposure to, awareness of the greatness of God. The realization of his holiness, wisdom, might and justice and the realization of the greatness of his love to such sinners as we are isn’t something that someone can work up within himself or herself. Rather the continuous walk with Jesus in spiritual stability and eternal truth will mean a continuing awareness of his greatness and will build up a wonder and joy that must express itself in gratitude and worship. So let no one think that a stable walk with Jesus is boring!
So then, the question comes to each one of us today, to each one of us who has trusted in Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation: have we been living as if the most valuable and precious thing in the world is our relationship with Jesus Christ? Do we live as if the most valuable and precious thing for ourselves, our family members, our friends and everyone of us who has also trusted in Jesus Christ is a stable, growing and overflowing relationship with Christ? And if so, how fresh and growing is your Christian life? This question addresses not where you may have been at some time in the past, but where you are now, at this present moment, with the Lord. Though there will be other struggles and temptations, the reality of eternal life with Christ calls us not to lose that which is most important among other things, namely, our daily relationship with Jesus Christ.
Are you now abiding in Christ? Can you say that at this time that you are living at a place of greater spiritual maturity and stability and of closer fellowship with him than at any other time that you can remember? If you are, continue to live in him, as the apostle directs. This means trusting him at all times; in all the circumstances of your life. This means taking him as being more than Savior from eternal death, as being Teacher, Savior from sins in this life as well. This means following him at all cost, and this means taking him as the Lord in the circumstances of your life. And this means loving him with all your heart as the best, closest Friend to return of your love to him for his eternal love for you.
Has your heart become cooler toward the Lord Jesus? The way back is through repentance for whatever has come between you and the Lord Jesus. This the route to the personal revival and restoration.
What has deceived you and drawn you away from Christ? Could it be:
- Pride and self righteousness – the idolatry of self
- Hypocritical and rigid in unBiblical standards and legalism – the idolatry of self effort
- Irrational stubbornness in the ways of error and sin – the idolatry of my own way
- Disdain for others who are not like them, like the praying Pharisee in the parable, who do not measure up to their own self righteousness
- Outward show of religiosity rather than following Christ from the heart
Make a definite confession before God of where you have failed. The first step is honesty before God on the matter of sin and compromise. Then receive his forgiveness and seek the fullness of his Spirit to have his overcoming power for the challenges before you and, to remove the causes for your backsliding – for that is what that coolness is. There is no way to dig yourself out of that spiritual hole you’re in except through confession of your sin, backsliding and compromise and turning away from that which drew you away from Christ.
Then, once you have set your heart right with God and made the confession of whatever has been your sin and compromise, resume whatever obedience you have neglected. Take that hard look back where the failure has been, where you have fallen and then come back to full obedience to Christ.
Finally, do you have the assurance of eternal life in Christ now? This security of daily fellowship with Christ is for those who have received eternal life by trust in him in the first place. If you have not, enter into it back at the very beginning, with repentance for your sins and putting your faith in Jesus Christ as your eternal Savior and Lord.