Let The Power Of God Produce What You Cannot

Colossians 1:11

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,

Would you consider yourself a patient person?  Would you consider yourself someone who has a lot of joy?  Are you someone who endures the trails of life well?  If you said no to these questions you are not alone.  These are all areas of my life that at times I struggle with as well.  It can be hard for me to be patient and wait on God, and it can also be hard for me to be full of joy when hard times come.

However, Paul is challenging you and me to something different within this verse.  If you remember my previous post God Is Our Highest End, I talked about how Paul was calling us and the Colossian church to seek God as their highest goal and how that naturally leads someone bear fruit and live in a manner worthy of the Lord.  Paul is now building off of this idea, and, in a prayer like fashion, is telling them that all power for endurance, patience, and joy in this life comes from God.

These are not attributes that we can produce in our own lives and when we try to we often fail.  I can think of many times in my life that I have tried to be patient or I have tried to convince myself to be full of joy when I am clearly not seeking God for my joy.  The result is utter failure, that leads to frustration, which leads to sorrow over my lack of victory in these areas.  But it is in these times that God is trying to show me that all my efforts are vain attempts to try and make my life better.  They are feeble attempts to produce a completeness within myself that only God and God alone can produce.

As I said before, our highest end as Christians is to seek God and God alone.  He should be the beginning and the end of all that we think and do.  And because of the finished work of Christ applied to us as Christians, we live with the hope that He is the one who works in us and through us to accomplish His purposes and to produce the fruits of the Spirit within our lives.

When we begin to understand this we will little by little give up control of our lives.  We will stop trying to produce within ourselves what only God can produce.  We will stop trying to be patient and joyful and we will cry out to God and say “Lord, fill me with an understanding of you, and produce within me by the power of your Holy Spirit what I cannot.”

As we lay down our man-made efforts two things will happen.  One we will stop being so hard on ourselves; beating ourselves up over every little thing, and we will begin to live under the grace of God.  And two, we will begin to see God producing within us the fruit that we tried so hard to manufacture on our own.  Does this mean that we don’t have any responsibility or that we shouldn’t work hard to follow God? No!  But what it does mean is that we live knowing that all of the endurance, joy, and patience that exists in our live is wholly wrought within us by the triune God who says that he will keep us and sustain us for eternity.

So lay down your strivings and your man-made efforts and lean on Christ who will produce within you what you cannot.  Trust in His finished work on your behalf and know that he will bring to completion what he has started within you.  Remember, He will give you all power, according to His glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy.

God Is Our Highest End

Colossians 1:9-10

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Do you ever wonder what the Christian life is all about?  If you ask people what the Christian life is supposed to be about they will give you a multitude of answers like missions, prayer, doing good, discipleship, etc…  All of these are good answers in some sense, because they are a part of the Christian life, but we must remember that they are not the whole.

However, there are times in scripture, and particularly in Paul’s epistles where he sums up a concept for us in a couple verses, and in a few words gives us keen insight into a particular topic.  I believe that these verses in Colossians 1 are doing just that.  They are giving us a condensed but complete look at what the Christian life is supposed to be about.  It’s about being filled with the knowledge of God that leads to wisdom and understanding, it is about walking in a manner worthy of the Lord and pleasing Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is about bearing fruit in our good works.

If I were to condense this down even further I would say that it is about loving God, growing in our understanding of God, living for God, and doing good for kingdom purposes.  Now people might split hairs on my word choices as I have summed up these verses, but what strikes me about what Paul is saying is the Christian life is about God.  And, of course, we would all agree with that; yet, we will often shift our focus to something else like prayer, missions, discipleship, etc…  Again, not that these things are bad but they are not the main end of our Christian lives.  God is our highest end.

A robust love for, devotion to, understanding of, and experience of God is our highest end and our goal.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?”  And it answers the questions this way, “To glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”  So our goal as Christians is God; to glorify him as we grow in our knowledge of Him, and as we love Him more and put our full hope in Christ and in His finished work on our behalf.  This results in a life that is worthy of the Lord, because as we seek God, we live in a way that is pleasing to Him, and as a result we begin to bear fruit in every good work by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I realize that this is not new concept, but as a minister of the gospel I need to be reminded that my goal is God.  Too often I can make the good works my goal instead of realizing that they are a natural consequence of a life that is seeking hard after the Lord.  And when we look at what Paul says, he even concludes his talk on bearing fruit in our good works by calling us to increase in our knowledge of God.  Also, I am reminded that when I make my works the end of my Christian life I stop relying on the Holy Spirit to do good through me and I instead try to create my own good (even though I have no inherent good within me).

So my hope for myself and for all believers is that we will seek God for God.  That we will make Him our ultimate goal and will stop making the fruit of a life with God our ultimate god.  And when Paul calls us to bear fruit in every good work we can realize that this fruit will be as a result of a life lived in close fellowship with God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Beginning And End Of Our Fruit

Colossians 1:5b-8

Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

What an amazing truth it is that the gospel has gone forth and is going forth in the whole world bearing fruit and increasing.  It is exciting to think about how God is undoing the tragedy of the fall and how Christ is the one who is redeeming a people for Himself from every tribe tongue and nation.  This is the mighty God who deserves all glory honor and praise.

But as much as I would like to stop there and agree that it is amazing that God is redeeming people all over the world and that the gospel is bearing fruit in the nations, I am also confronted with the reality that it is this gospel that has saved me and is also bearing fruit within me.  It is the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified on my behalf; the One who bore the wrath of God so I wouldn’t have to; the One who gloriously rose again so I can live in the hope of an eternity with God.  It is the grace of God applied to me through Christ that by the power of the Holy Spirit is bearing fruit in me.

Yet, to say that the Holy Spirit is bearing fruit in me at times can be so hard because the reality is that there are times where it is seems like little to no fruit exists.  I wrote in previous post about how annoyed I was by my daughter ruining my desires for my morning only to realize how much I was putting my hope in my plans and desires and not in God.  Often, this can feel like the revolving door of sin that keeps pervading my heart.  Just when I think that I have found victory over something the revolving door smacks me in the face and my sin becomes so evident to the point where I at times ask, “am I really even a believer?”

Now it might seem to some like I am being too real and open in this post, or someone may read this and think, “somebody needs to confront him about his sin.”  But I am writing this for more than just mere confession.  I am writing this because the reality for many people is that they feel this way.  They feel like the reality of their sin and circumstances are so great that they don’t have a clue how they are going to overcome them.  But like Paul, we must all daily turn to the cross and remind ourselves of Romans 8:1-2 which says:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

There is now no condemnation because of Christ!  We are set free by Christ and we daily have freedom from this world because of Him.  Sure, it is a daily struggle to walk in the light of the gospel.  There are times that we will fall, and there will be times where we feel like complete failures.  In fact, you might even feel like this on a daily basis, but you must stand firm on the reality that you are set free by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and because you are set free you can proclaim from the roof tops the truth of Philippians 1:6 which says:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

And the good work that God is doing in you and me is that He is making us more like Christ.  In the same way that God was producing love in the lives of the Colossians by the power of the Holy Spirit, He is also working in us by the power of the Holy Spirit to produce love and to conform us to the image of Christ Jesus our Lord.  So take heart, don’t give up, fight the good fight of faith on a daily basis.  Know that you will fall and fail daily, but be assured that the gospel of Jesus Christ is producing fruit within you if you are a believer, and be assured that God will complete the work in you that he has started.

Where Is Our Hope?

Colossians 1:3-5

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

As I sat down to begin writing this post I was jolted into reality by my 11 month old daughter screaming from her upstairs bedroom.  Now, I wish that I could say that my natural response was love for my daughter that flowed from a genuine love for Christ, and from my desire to comfort her in her time of distress.  However, instead of doing that, I found myself in a place of annoyance.  I was annoyed at the fact that I wanted to pray, read God’s word, and write without any distractions, yet my daughter somehow did not get that memo, and was breaking into what I believed to be my time that I deserved.

Now, my daughter is awake, playing with toys, and I am sitting here staring at a passage of scripture that is telling me about believers who had faith in Christ, loved God’s people, and who were putting their hope in an eternity with God.  Now at first you might be asking the question, “how does this relate to what happened with your daughter?”  And on one level it might be easy to try and separate this passage and it’s application from this situation, but God has powerfully convicted me through this passage this morning.

You see, Paul was commending the Colossian church for their faith in Jesus Christ, meaning that they had a lot of faith.  They had put their hope in heaven as it says in verse 5 and as a result their hope was not in their daily circumstances working out according to their plans.  Unfortunately this morning, my hope was in fulfilling my plans for the morning, not God’s, and my daughter screaming from upstairs, and in turn my response, was a great reminder that I was putting more hope in my plans and desires than in an eternity with Christ.  Because if my hope was in an eternity with Christ then I would be looking to His plans, and something like my daughter waking up would be seen in light of an eternity with Christ and would become an opportunity to love and minister that hope to my little baby girl.

So my point is this.  When we set our hope on an eternity with Christ like the Colossians did we stop trying to make life all about us and our plans.  Instead we live life realizing that our goal is to glorify God and as a result to find our joy in serving him.  This means that the so called inconveniences of life fade away as we come to grips with the reality that they are opportunities to minister Christ to those around us.  This is the truth that I need Christ to work in me this morning and every morning for the rest of my life.

Oh God, forgive me of my sin and grant that I would set my hope fully on an eternity with you and not my own vain plans, and as a result that I would love my family and your people because of the love that you have given me.  Amen.

Where our calling starts and our strivings cease

Colossians 1:1-2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

In life there is always a very real sense and desire that we have to work and toil so hard for whatever we get.  We are running at a hundred miles a hour just to feel like we are in control of our situations and feel like we even have a grip on life.  Unfortunately, we are people who try to have a strangle hold on life because that is the only way that we know how to live and work.  We believe that if we grab on to life hard enough somehow we will get the results and ultimately the happiness that we desire.

But the apostle Paul continually destroys this type of thinking within his letters and one of the places that he does that is within the introductions of his letters.  Particularly, as I sit and read the introduction to the letter of Colossians I am confronted by my own desire for control and manhandle my life. To conform it to my image instead of Christ’s.

Yet, Paul in two short verses takes these desires and shreds them to pieces.  He reminds us that he is an apostle by the will of God.  This means that Paul did not choose to be an apostle but it is something that God bestowed upon him.  And because he was called by the will of God then he must conclude, as we should, that God is the one who is going to lead him and guide him in his calling as an apostle.  This points to the reality that it is God who is in control of Paul’s life and not Paul him self.

In the same way, even though we are not apostles, this applies to us as well.  This is why Paul writes in Philippians 2:13:

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Paul could write this because he knew that it was God who called him to be an apostle and it was God who was working in him to will and act in accordance with the will of God and not in accordance wit the will of Paul.  This means that Paul would have to let go of his own desires for control and would have to live in a new reality where God was and is sovereignly in control of his life.

This is what gave Paul the strength to endure the hardships that he continually faced, and if we let it, it is this reality that will allow us to stop trying to work so hard to make life what we want it to be.  When we see that God is the one who called us we can lay down all of our strivings and stresses, and we can be full of the same grace and peace that Paul applies to the Colossians in verse 2. The grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ applied to us and the peace of knowing that God’s plan is at work within us and that he will sustain us and lead us in it.

I will admit that living in the reality of being called and sustained by God is hard.  Everyday I am confronted by my own desires to be in control, and I am confronted by my lack of faith that God is the one truly working within me to will and to act according to his purposes.  This requires daily repentance for my lack of faith, and it forces me to always remind myself of the gospel that has saved me and was freely given to me.

Maybe you are struggling with the reality of God being the one who called you and is sustaining you in Christ.  Maybe, like me, you are trying to put a stranglehold on your life in the hopes that it will conform to your will and will somehow bring you the results and the happiness that you desire.  I would encourage you to stop trying so hard and remember that if God has called you then he will sustain you, and if he is the one who sustains you then your peace is found in his work in you and not in your own efforts.  May the grace of God in you be your peace this day.

A Vain Hope for Salvation

Psalm 33:16-17

The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

As I have been sitting here this morning and have been reflecting on this text I have been struck by the truth that this text is so applicable to my life.  As Christians we say all the time that Jesus is the one that we trust; yet, in application that statement often does not really bear as much fruit in our lives as we would like.  This is true for me today.

You see, recently I just took a new job as a youth and worship pastor in a small church in Minnesota.  Of course it is a great fit for me and my family because it puts us closer to our families and the church itself is one that is centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ being paramount in everything that they teach, preach and do.  Yet, even in this setting I find that my heart at times can be more focused on what I am doing in my own strength as opposed to what Christ has done for me, and how that frees me to work and toil for his kingdom and not my own.

I can become the king who looks at all that he has build and is proud as if God will now use me for great things because of what I have build.  Or I can be like the warrior who trusts in his own strength and abilities to do ministry as if I am able to do anything of value apart rom the effectual working of the Holy Spirit in and through me.  I can also find myself trusting in the war horse of ministry structures that will some how be what carries me through the daily grind of ministry and will magically bear fruit for the kingdom.

However, there is another side to this.  The reality is that when I turn to myself and trust in what I can do or have done I am struck by the reality that I am a feeble human being.  I am struck by the truth that I am so fallen and unable to save myself.  And instead of making me turn to Christ I find myself in a place of worry and doubt.  I find myself in a place where I am constantly stressed out because of all the things that need to get done; yet not wanting to do anything because the weight of work and ministry feel at times crushing.

I can imagine we all have felt this at times, but this morning I am struck by the fact that I need so badly to run to Christ.  I need to look in the face of my feeble and fallen state and I need to run to the one who reminds me that my salvation is not of works but is a free gift so that no one may boast.  I need to return to the one who tells the weary and the burdened to come to him and find rest.  Because true rest is only found in him and in the truth that I need to trust that he is working on my behalf because of the finished work of Christ freely applied to me.

I am writing this because it serves my heart and acts as a confession and a prayer to God.  But I am also writing this because I know that many more are in the same place.  We say we believe Christ yet practically we live as if our hope for salvation, effectual ministry, and life are in something else.  If this is you I encourage you to examine the depths of your heart and all that you are doing and really ask God, “Where am I putting my trust?”  You may be shocked by the answer that you receive.

But all is not lost.  We as believers in Jesus Christ may come to the living fountain of water and  be renewed by his grace applied to us and by the power of his Holy Spirit within us.  We can come and confess our sins and can plead with him to take our self wills and transform them and conform them to his will.  We can come to Christ and confess that we cannot do it on our own and can return once again to the author and perfector of our faith who has already forgiven us in Christ and desires to give us rest as he guides and directs us.

So come all you who are weary and burdened and find your rest in Christ.  Lay down your desire to trust in yourself and realize that your true freedom is found when you stop trying to control everything and you let Christ have control of your life.  Realize that your life and your every step are guided and directed by him so that you may stop trusting in your hands and can trust in the one who will bring his good work to completion in you.  This is my prayer for myself and I know that it is my prayer for you.

The Gospel Project Reflections: God’s Way Session 2

No Other God’s: God Deserves First Place in Our Lives 

Introduction:

Highlight:

  • The first commandment sums up the other nine, and when we break the first commandment it leads us to break the other nine.
  • The first commandment is also connected with the last commandment in a way where if we can keep those two commandments all the others fall into place.
    • First commandment: Have no other God’s before me.
    • Tenth commandment: Do not covet.
    • Both speak to a heart attitude where we are to desire God above all other things and that our satisfaction is supposed to be found in Him.
  • Also, if we break the other commandments then we are also breaking the first commandment.
  • Lesson Summary.

Questions:

  • What is the first commandment?
  • Why is it important to understand that breaking the first commandment makes us break all of them and vice versa?  (Because it shows us that all sin ultimately happens when we start to love something more than we love God).
  • What are the similarities between the first and last commandments? (They both speak about heart attitudes).
  • Why is it important to trace our behaviors back to heart attitudes? (It helps us get at the root of our sin, because all sin comes from within our heart).

 

God has demonstrated His love by redeeming us: (Deut. 5:1-6).

Highlight: 

  • Read Deuteronomy 5:1-6.
  • The commandments are not rules handed down to us by an impersonal force they are given to us by a God who has redeemed and adopted His people, and as their savior he wants what is best for them.
  • Deut. 5:2-3: Moses reminds the people that God made a covenant with them.  He is not a distant deity, but He is a God who makes personal promises.
  • Deut. 5:4-5: Next we see God’s grace in revealing Himself to His people.  God revealed Himself to them and gave Moses as a mediator between Him and them.
  • Deut. 5:6: God does not only make promises but He keeps them as well.  He does all of this for the good of His people and for the glory of His name. 

Questions: 

  • How does our view of rules change when we separate them from the personal relationship with the one who gave them?
  • What does Moses as the mediator of Israel point forward to?  (Christ as the ultimate mediator).
  • How should God redeeming us drive us to want to obey His commandments?
  • Why is it important to believe that God wants the best for us?

 

God deserves to have first place in our lives: (Deut. 5:7).

Highlights: 

  • Read Deuteronomy 5:7.
  • God is not only to be number One but the only One.
  • Like a husband or wife who loves their mate demands to be the only spouse in that person’s life, so God demands loyalty from His children because of His love for us.
  • If we put other things before God they are considered to be idols in our lives.  An idol is anything we love more than God. Trust more than God, or obey more than God.
  • So God must be the One we love supremely, trust entirely, and obey completely.
  • And when we are given to idolatry and break the first commandment it leads us to break all the others.
    • Take at least a few of the commandments and show how breaking the first law causes us to break those.  (Refer to page 26 of the leader guide.)
  • So the areas where we are breaking the commandments are like smoke.  Follow the trail back of smoke back to the fire and you will arrive at the idols in your life.  You will see what you are putting before God.
  • So worshipping something or someone else besides God is what leads us to sin.  So we must seek to put God first and to make Him the only God in our life.

Questions: 

  • Do you think it is appropriate for God to demand first place in our lives?  Why or why not?  How does this show us that God loves us?
  • Are there idols in your life that cause you to put your hope, trust, and happiness I them rather than God?
  • Do we often spend time asking what the root of our sin is or do we just try to change our behavior?
  • Why is it always important to get at the root of our sin?

 

A vision of the one true God breaks our attraction to lesser gods: (Deut. 5:22-31).

Highlights:

  • Read Deuteronomy 5:22-31.
  • This passage makes the connection between seeing God’s glory and the desire to get rid of idols.
  • The people upon receiving the commandments, immediately wanted to obey because they witnessed the awesome power of God and they feared the Lord as a result.
  • They witnessed His majesty, power, and holiness.
    • Majesty: They God a glimpse of His bigness through the thunder, earthquakes, and lightning that surrounded the mountain.  They saw a majestic and big God who commands the creation.
    • Power: They got a glimpse of God’s power by the way He delivered them from Egypt.  He delivered them from slavery, showed His power over the gods of Egypt, and in a moment He did for them what they could not do for generations.
    • Holiness: In coming into the presence of God the Israelites were confronted with His immense perfection and righteousness.  As a result they realized that they should be annihilated by God because of their sin yet in His grace He allowed them to come before Him.
    • This led them to desire to obey God in His power and perfections.
  • This is the same big God who in His grace sent His Son to earth to bear our punishment and save us.
  • We must hold these two truths together that God is big, glorious, perfect, and holy, and that He humbled Himself in Christ to death on the cross in order to save us.
  • This will allow us to stand in awe of God and will cause us to desire Him more than anything else.
  • In fact the reason that Christians struggle with sin is because we have a severely diminished view of God.
  • So in order to break the pattern of idolatry and sin in our lives we must behold the greatness of God and the grace of God given to us in Christ.  This leads us to love God and obey Him.

Questions: 

  • Why did the Israelites want to obey as soon as they received the commandments?
  • How does the glory of God and the grace of God lead us to a desire for obedience?
  • So why do we often struggle with obedience as Christians? (Because we have a diminished view of God).
  • How should our view of God be transformed by Christ’s work on the cross?
  • How can we show the world the glory and power of God and the love of God in our lives?

 

Conclusion:

  • As a short wrap-up the last paragraph of the conclusion is a good way to emphasis the missional aspect of this lesson and to get us to think more about how we can show God’s glory and His love to others. 
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