Category: Colossians (page 1 of 8)

Baptism: Identity in Christ

Ephesians 2 tells us who we used to be and, now that we’ve been baptized into Christ, who we are.

This is what you were: dead; this is what you are now: alive with Christ!

This is what you were: following the ways of the world; this is what you are now: raised up with Christ and seated with Christ at the right hand of God!

This is what you were: objects of divine wrath; this is what you are now: saved!

1 Corinthians 9 affirms that we are cleansed and made pure from our many sins, we are set apart and dedicated to the holy God as belonging to him, and we are declared righteous in God’s eyes “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus is Lord.” Romans 10 tells us that’s the Christian confession. “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12 says that’s how we worship. Philippians 2 says on that last day every tongue in heaven and on earth will declare “Jesus is Lord!”

But we first say “Jesus is Lord” at our baptisms. And to say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. To say Jesus is Lord is to accept a brand new identity as his servant and to affirm that the shape and direction of my life now lays wholly within his power. I belong to him. I no longer live. The Lord Jesus lives in me and through me. Baptism is that moment of transfer. By faith, the waters of baptism move you from sin and separation from God to forgiveness and communion with God. By his love and grace, baptism transfers you from an outsider to the Kingdom of God to an insider with all the privileges and benefits. It’s a brand new way of life.

“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:13-14

A few verses later, Paul says all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In baptism, there is an exclusive devotion to Christ Jesus as Lord. Our loyalties are not to the fading kingdoms of this world but to the eternal Kingdom of our Lord. Our priorities are not in the interests of this world’s structures and institutions but to the missions and goals of our God.

Our very identity is rooted in what God has done for us in Christ. And we’re given that new identity in baptism. But our increasingly fractured and polarized culture is exposing our primary identities. It seems that we identify with our nation and national politics, race and socio-economic groups first and then our Christian beliefs and practices are filtered through those identities instead of the other way around. We struggle to identify first with our Lord and his ways and then filter our national and political and race and group beliefs and practices through that.

Whatever the issue — immigration, race relations, tax reform, gun control, war, abortion, social security, gay rights, Obamacare, the environment, the construction on the bridge at I-40 and Bell — my first instinct is to view it and talk about it through the lens of my political affiliation or my race or gender. How should a Republican feel about that? How would a Democrat talk about that? How might a patriotic American deal with this? How does a white guy, how would a black woman, how does a conservative say this? How does a liberal view this?

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as Texas Tech of OU, and not first as baptized disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses or our race or zip code or voter registration card and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the crucified and risen Christ.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross… Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?” ~Colossians 2

Now, I think all Christians in America have dealt with this for 242 years — we’re no different. Our divided and polarized society is just exposing it in more obvious and disappointing ways. I do know our Christian impulses are good and holy. It’s deep inside us, it’s in our DNA to serve others, to sacrifice for the sake of others, to view the needs of others as more important than our own, to do things the Jesus way and not the world’s way. The impulse is there. So is the desire. But the follow-through is becoming more difficult because our culture is telling us to do the opposite.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” ~Colossians 3:1-2

Remember your baptism, the Bible says. Remember where you were. Remember who was there. Remember how you felt when you came up out of the water. Remember the spiritual experience and claim all the spiritual resources you received that day.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Colossians 3:3-4

Baptism is a touchstone moment for followers of Christ Jesus. It’s an event that embodies the faith and participates in the Gospel. But it’s also a definitive moment in time that we can reflect on for strength. Dying and rising with Christ. Putting off and putting on. Living this life under his exclusive lordship. Putting off and putting on. Every day. Dying and rising. Romans 13 says clothe yourselves with Christ and stop making room for sin.

We have a new identity. We have a different worldview. We see things differently. We see people differently. We know God’s work is not complete in me or the world, but we know it’s begun. If anyone is in Christ: new creation! The old has gone, the new has come! Baptism doesn’t just symbolize new life, it actually gives us a new identity. It doesn’t just symbolize our washing, it actually empowers a new way of living by the Holy Spirit. It not only symbolizes a break with the fallen world of sin and death, it delivers us into a brand new creation and a new world view.

If you’ve been baptized, God wants you to see yourself as one with Christ and united with all his people. God wants you to consider yourself as under the lordship of Jesus with new priorities, new goals, new methods and practices, new Holy Spirit power to live for his Kingdom.

If you’ve never been baptized, let me ask you: Why not?



Baptism: Unity With Christ

When you pass your drivers license test at 16-years-old, you become a person who drives. You belong now to the community of people who operate motor vehicles and you share the privileges and responsibilities of that group. You have a freedom you’ve never had before and you also have to pick your little brother up from practice. And go to the store for laundry detergent and milk. It’s really the only reason we have kids — we hope one day they’ll go to the store for us.

Your seventh grade Texas History class qualifies you as a true Texan. When you come out of that required course you know the difference between the Alamo and San Jacinto, you can talk knowledgably about cattle drives and cotton farming, and you’re better able to look down on and feel sorry for the millions of people who live in the other 49 states. Rightly so.

Graduating from high school makes you a lifelong alumnus of that institution  and confers on you a unity with all that school’s alumni for all time. Once a Sandie, always a Sandie, they say.

There are certain rituals that shape your identity in the Stanglin family. We have first day of school rituals that include an obnoxious song, awkward group photos, and invasive questions at dinner. We have Christmas rituals in our family that include certain holiday movies and certain holiday foods on certain nights. We have summer vacation rituals in which we stack everything we’ve packed by a certain door the night before, we stockpile our favorite snacks, we play rock, paper, scissors for the preferred seats in the van, we get up early and say a prayer in the living room, and something on the car breaks down as we’re pulling out of the driveway.

These are rites of passage. These rituals form us and give us our identity.

Baptism is a ritual and a rite of passage that places one into a brand new community and give one a brand new identity. Christian baptism radically changes where you are and who you are.

And we need this gift from God. We need this ritual. As our Western society becomes more and more a world of disconnected and lonely individuals, we need this ritual. We need this gift of baptism as an anchor driven deep into the solid foundation of a saving faith in God.

For the rest of this week, I’d like to post some simple baptism theology here. We’re wrapping up a twelve-weeks Bible class and sermon series here at Central on the sacraments of the Church. And I’d like to share some quick thoughts on baptism in this space.

If the Gospel is that the Son of God lived a perfect life, he was crucified, and then because of his perfect life God vindicated him by raising him from the dead and exalting him to his right hand, and because he did this for us we, too, can be saved and raised and exalted exactly like Jesus if we are connected to him, how do we get connected to him? If that’s the Good News, how do I participate in that? How do I get in on it?

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Baptism is unity with Christ. Baptism is a participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus WITH Jesus. It connects us to Jesus, it makes us one with Christ. We die with Jesus, we are resurrected with Jesus in baptism.

Now, that’s a strong statement, it’s a very positive statement about what God does for sinners in baptism. Jesus was recognized as the Savior and declared the Lord because of his death, burial, and resurrection. And the Bible says we get in on all that — all three of those things — with Jesus in baptism.

“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” ~Colossians 2:9-12

Again, baptism connects us to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it unifies us with the saving work of the Son of God. The very same power that God used to raise Jesus from the grave belongs to us in baptism. So does his righteousness and holiness and peace. His sinlessness belongs to the baptized. His perfect status belongs to the baptized. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is applied to all of us at baptism.

Theology doesn’t have to be complicated. More tomorrow.



Faith is Our “Yes” to God

“No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” ~2 Corinthians 1:20

amenblackWhen we say “Amen” (this is true, I believe this, may it be so, etc.,) when we believe the promises of God, God is praised because, as the passage continues, he is the One who makes you stand firm in Christ. God has established you securely in his Son. You’re not going anywhere and neither is God. God is given glory because he has anointed you, he has called you out and set you apart to work in you and through you for his salvation purposes. And God is the One who has taken you as his own. He has put his stamp on you, he’s placed his Spirit in your heart to prove that what he has said, he will do. And he’s going to fulfill his promises.

The Bible is not fundamentally about us. Scripture is about God. The Bible is not about me and my present and my future — it’s about what God has done and what he’s doing right now and what he’s going to do tomorrow. When I say “Amen” or “I believe,” I say I trust God and I’m banking my whole life on his holy Word.

“My purpose is that you may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that you may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that you may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” ~Colossians 2:2-3

As you reflect on the promises of God and his faithfulness, as you fix your eyes on Jesus and see and experience how God is fulfilling those promises through Christ for you, the more you read it and talk about it and pray it and share it — an “Amen” will start to develop in your heart. An “Amen” will form and grow in your soul. “I believe.” “So be it.”

Think about God’s “Yes,” his “Amen” to us. Spend time with that. And his Spirit will stir up in your heart a responding “Yes,” your own resounding “Amen” to our Lord’s eternal glory and praise.



Where is Jesus? Part Three

BandAidRedPlease keep my darling wife Carrie-Anne in your thoughts and prayers for the next few days. She’s having surgery this afternoon to repair a fairly significant hole in a sinus passage. The surgery is only supposed to take about an hour and a half, but everybody’s telling us the eight days after are going to be horrible. As you’re probably aware, Carrie-Anne has the best looking nose in our family, and we don’t want anything to happen to it.



“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” ~Colossians 3:1

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” ~Ephesians 2:6

It’s a well known and well rehearsed spiritual reality that by our baptisms we all participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are united with Christ, we are one with him and share in his death and resurrection. But the Scriptures are clear that we also share in his ascension. We reign over the world with Christ both now and, ultimately, when he returns, in the future forever. We’re co-regents, co-rulers with Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear about what this means and what it doesn’t mean. Reigning with Christ does not mean that Christians are supposed to take over the world and start passing laws and trying to push the way we live on others by power or threat or force. Reigning with Christ does not mean telling everybody what to do. Christians have tried that. Christians are still trying that. And it’s always led to disaster.

Reigning and ruling with Christ means the Church — empowered by the presence of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit — enters the world vulnerable and suffering, praising and praying, sacrificing and serving. The Church lives in the world as misunderstood and misjudged by humanity, saved and vindicated and raised by God. Like Jesus. Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

Man, that’s a good sentence right there. I’m going to write it again. Maybe you should tweet it right now: Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

RightHandWeReignWe like the idea of Jesus being with us everywhere, even inside us. Jesus is present with us because of his Holy Spirit. He dwells in and with his Church. But the One who is present with us and living inside us by his Spirit is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who rules with all power and authority from a position over us, directing us, rebuking us, encouraging us, teaching us. So, yes, in a very real sense we do reign with Christ today in the heavenly realms, but only in the ways he directs — with Jesus, in the name and manner of Jesus.

We are a kingdom of priests, or kings and priests, it depends on how it’s translated. Either way, it means we participate in the reign of God like Jesus. We have important roles to play, we have Christ-ordained jobs to perform with our Lord as he brings his Kingdom rule to earth just as it is in heaven. But we don’t fight what’s wrong in the world with the power of the sword, we use the power of love. We don’t threaten or condemn anyone; like our Lord, we suffer and we serve everyone. We’re priests, so we intercede, we pray, we bring the world to God, we lift up people to God. We cannot bring in the Kingdom of God, but we can witness to it. We can’t create the Kingdom of God, but we can set up signs and tell stories. We can’t build the Kingdom of God, but we can live it with humility and faith — turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, forgiving others, giving up our freedoms and rights, loving our enemies, and praying for the people who want to do us harm.

Jesus is bringing his eternal rule to this world in ways this world does not understand. 1 Timothy 6 says it’ll happen in God’s own time. He is with us, yes. We reign with him, oh yeah. But he is our Lord. And for us to use methods that are contrary to Jesus’ methods is to reject him as Lord and to try to establish a rival kingdom.



Where is Jesus?


“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” ~Colossians 2:9-10

He is Lord over all the nations. He is Lord over all the schools. He is Lord over all the churches. He is Lord over every economic system and every form of government. He is Lord over all. There is nothing that is above him, there is nothing that is not under his authority. Name anything. Name everything! It’s all subject to our ascended King. All rule, all authority, all power, all dominion. The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever! Amen! Hallelujah!

And then I turn on the news. Violence. Death. War. Abused women and children. Racism. Hundreds of thousands of refugees being driven from their homes and nobody wants to take them in. Corrupt governments and politicians. Hunger. Disease.

Where is Jesus?

Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Drought. Wildfire. Tornados. Cancer. Divorce. Crime. Riots. Terrorists.

Where is Jesus?

It doesn’t feel like he’s running anything. It doesn’t look like he’s in charge. The grand spectacle of the ascension — Jesus lifted up to heaven right before the disciples’ eyes to become the sovereign ruler of the universe — seems to mean very little in our real lives today. It doesn’t look like Jesus is in control. If he is, he’s making a huge mess of it.

So, where is Jesus? What does it really mean that he is raised up to heaven and seated at the right hand of God?

“He was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” ~Mark 16:19

Luke says Jesus was taken up into the sky, into the clouds. What does that really mean? Well, when a student moves “up” from tenth grade to eleventh grade, that doesn’t mean the eleventh grade classroom is on the floor above the tenth grade classroom; it might just be down the hall. If a salesman makes the move “up” to manager, he might get a new office on the top floor, but that’s not what that means. When George Jefferson was “movin’ on up,” it was to the East side, not the North. George and Weezy did move into a deluxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi — but that’s not what it means to move “up,” to physically be a few feet farther away from the ground.

When the Bible talks about heaven and earth, it’s not talking about two different locations in the same time and space dimension like Amarillo and Israel or even Houston and Mars. And it’s not talking about a non-physical world versus a physical world. It’s more like two different types of time and space and matter altogether. It’s a parallel world: very, very real and existing in another dimension.

You know, we’ve got a lot of movie makers and writers who are very good at taking us into these parallel worlds and places. But we don’t think that way when we think about Jesus. C. S. Lewis did a great job with the Narnia stories of illustrating how two totally different worlds can relate and interlock. And that’s still the best way, I think, for us to understand it.

Some of the oldest and best church buildings try to illustrate this with the architecture. We’ve kinda got something like that working in our worship center here at Central. We’ve got a soaring ceiling, reaching and stretching far above us. Down on the floor we get a sense of belonging in the room, but we’re not actually physically occupying any of the great space of light and beauty high above us. Our songs and our prayers go up there and occupy this great space above us, but we ourselves cannot physically go there yet.

What that’s supposed to help us understand is that because our Lord is in heaven and seated at the right hand of God, God’s space and ours are not very far away from each other. They’re very different, yes, but they’re close. There’s a relationship, a connection. God’s very real time and space and matter intersects and interlocks with our very real time and space and matter all the time.

The right hand of God is the Bible name for the control center for the universe. Whoever sits there is in charge. It’s like my chair in the living room is the control center for the TV. Sitting down at God’s right hand means Jesus really is totally in charge of everything.

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything.” ~Ephesians 1:19-22

I don’t know exactly how it works — nobody does, it’s a mystery. But Jesus right now is totally in charge. He’s the one making all the decisions, turning all the dials: “I will allow this to happen. I will not allow that to happen. I will cause this. I will put a stop to that. I will speak into that. I will be silent about that. I will help Tom Landry, but Jerry Jones is on his own.”

It’s all Jesus. He decides what happens and when. From heaven. “All authority has been given to me,” he says, “in heaven and on earth.”



Resurrection Initiates Transformation

EmptyTombArtWhen you read the New Testament, when you hear the apostles’ sermons and read the apostles’ writings, the cornerstone of what they wrote and taught was not our own resurrections, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What’s in the Bible about resurrection certainly includes the hope of heaven, but it doesn’t start there. The center of gravity in the New Testament is in the actual event of the resurrection of Christ as the dawning of a new age. It’s not a conclusion. It’s not “Jesus is alive so he really is the Son of God, so we win, end of story.” It’s a new beginning. It’s not a pretty bow tied on to the end of a story back then; the empty tomb is a doorway into a brand new adventure right now today.

When the first Christians proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s resurrection, it wasn’t, “Hey, guess what happened last Sunday! Our good friend Jesus of Nazareth who got a raw deal at his trial came back to life after his horrible crucifixion. He’s alive! Isn’t God nice?”

No! The resurrection means a new age has begun. And we participate in it right now. There’s no waiting!

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” ~Ephesians 2:4-6

We are already raised right now today! We are already new creation right now today! The resurrection of Jesus means everything for our future with God beyond the grave. But it doesn’t mean any less for our present with God right now today.

For starters, the resurrection initiates our transformation. Our Lord’s resurrection and our participation in that resurrection with him changes us. We’re changed right now today by the resurrection.

“You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live… but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead.” ~Ephesians 2:1-5

We are made alive in the resurrection of Jesus. We are no longer slaves to sin. You don’t have to sin anymore! The resurrection fuels your transformation. The resurrection starts your becoming like Christ.

Think about Jesus’ disciples. The resurrection empowered them, it changed them from frightened, scared, confused, selfish, power-grabbers into bold, courageous, imposing, sacrificial, servant-minded, self-denying witnesses who turned the whole world upside down! To be raised with Christ today is to be changed into the image of Christ today. It’s to live in the name and manner of Jesus for his salvation purposes.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things… Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry… You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self… As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” ~Colossians 3:1-14

The resurrection compels us toward thinking and acting and speaking and looking more and more like Jesus, less and less like the world. Becoming like Christ, living the resurrected life in Christ, is right now today.



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