Christ the Message

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Colossians 1:3-8, 23, 28

Is it offensive to tell people about Jesus Christ and encourage them to believe in him? Some people think so. They call it “proselytizing.” But for Christians it’s “evangelism,” sharing the good news.

Early in his letter to the Christian believers in Colossae, Paul makes a remarkable statement about the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ is the world’s one Lord and Savior. These believers, all of them, were brand new Christians, for the church in Colossae wasn’t more than three or four years old at the time Paul addressed his letter to it. Even though he had never met them, Paul begins by telling the Colossians how thankful he is for them. (Actually, that’s not a bad strategy for winning someone’s good will; who doesn’t like to be well thought of?) But Paul was not being phony or insincere, or merely flattering the Christians in Colossae. He was genuinely grateful to God for the report he had of the Colossians’ life and faith.

There is nothing in the world more exciting for a Christian missionary than to see people coming to genuine faith in Christ. There is nothing for which any pastor or preacher is more grateful than the news that the gospel is actually working, that people are responding to it with real, life-changing belief. So Paul’s thanksgiving is quite natural.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

(Colossians 1:3-6, niv)

BEARING FRUIT AND GROWING

Here is the remarkable statement about the gospel I referred to a moment ago. Paul says that not only has the gospel been bearing fruit among the Colossians – that is, that the Christian message has been heard there and understood and believed, so that the number of Christian converts has multiplied and the church in Colossae has greatly increased – but, he adds, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing in the very same way “all over the world” (Col. 1:6). That’s quite a claim! Perhaps we can pardon Paul for a bit of enthusiastic exaggeration; a little later in Colossians 1 he says that the gospel “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (v. 23). Of course that wasn’t literally true.

The world Paul knew was pretty much limited to the Mediterranean coast, or at least the boundaries of the Roman empire. He would have known little about the more distant regions of Europe or Africa. He might only just have heard a faint rumor of places like India or China, and he would have known nothing at all of the Americas. But still, such was the progress Christianity had made in just three short decades from the time of Christ’s death and resurrection that Paul can be pardoned for his exaggeration, for the gospel had advanced and the church had grown at a tremendous rate.

But do you realize that what Paul said figuratively to the Colossians is true today in a much more literal sense? The gospel really is bearing fruit in our day all over the world. The gospel has been proclaimed, if not quite to every creature under heaven, still to the majority of them, and radio is one of the marvelous ways of doing that. As a result, the Christian church is growing today in a remarkable way. Evangelical Christianity is by far the fastest-growing major faith in the world right now. And it’s not just a western or North American phenomenon. Today there are followers of Jesus Christ on every continent and in every country on earth, and their numbers continue to multiply as the gospel bears fruit in the form of changed lives. Fifty years ago evangelical Christians numbered only three percent of the world’s population. Today that figure stands at eleven percent and growing. There are more Spanish-speaking evangelicals in the world today, we’re told, than English-speaking ones. And if that fact doesn’t surprise you, then how about this one? It is entirely possible that at this moment there are more genuine believers in Jesus Christ living in China than in the United States of America!

SPIRITUAL IMPERIALISM?

But the growth of the gospel creates a problem for some. Many new Christians are coming to Christ from other religious backgrounds and traditions. It’s one thing, people think, for a nominal Christian to become serious about following Jesus Christ. It’s quite another issue when that sort of conversion happens to a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Jew. That fact troubles many people. In fact, it is downright offensive to them.

For one thing, it seems arrogant. Do Christians really think that we alone have all the truth and all other religions are in error? Are we claiming that we are better, that our way takes precedence over all others? And it seems so harsh, so intolerant, to insist that people should have to leave their own religious tradition in order to become followers of Christ. Isn’t this an expression of outdated prejudice or a form of spiritual imperialism?

It has often been pointed out that the only thing modern people no longer tolerate is intolerance, and the only absolute truth secular thinking accepts is the truth that there are no absolute truths. So all religious beliefs are acceptable – except the Christian belief in the uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Christians seem to be tolerated in polite society these days only if they keep quiet and don’t make any claims to possess absolute truth. Above all, Christians must never issue any invitations or make any statements to followers of other religions implying that their beliefs are inadequate. Thus, Christians today are pressured to deny the message and the authority of the Bible. But to do that would require us to deny our whole faith. There’s no getting around it: Biblical Christianity does offend many people. It always has.

THE WORD OF TRUTH

In a society where people come from different places and follow different religious traditions, it’s tempting to think that everyone’s religion is equally valid, that there are many truths, many gods (or perhaps many ways to the one God). As a Hindu scripture says, “Whatever path men choose is mine.” That implies that the search for spiritual truth is totally up to me and that whatever answers I find or beliefs I hold are equally acceptable.

What can Christians possibly say in such a situation? Well, we can begin by noting that the culture in which Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians (a letter, by the way, filled with exclusive claims about Christ) was at least as pluralistic and diverse as any in our world today. Into this kind of world came Paul and the other apostles with a new message. They called it the gospel, and it was all about Jesus Christ. The gospel isn’t a human philosophy. It isn’t a set of principles for how to succeed in life. It isn’t a religious program of self salvation. The gospel is the announcement of who Christ is and what he has done. Christ is the gospel’s content. He is the message. “Him we proclaim,” cried Paul to the Colossians (1:28).

In giving thanks for the impact this message has had in Colossae, Paul makes two points which can help us understand the role of the gospel in our pluralistic, multi-religious world. The first thing he says about the gospel is that it’s true. In Colossians 1:5 he describes the gospel as “the word of truth.” What he means is that the central things which the gospel announces, especially the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, are factual. They actually happened. The gospel is not a legend or a myth. It’s not a fable or a parable. It is history. And as such, it either must be true for everyone or it can’t be true for anyone.

If I tell you, for example, that Neal Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, you may either agree with me or disagree; you may challenge my facts or confirm them. What you can’t do is to say, “Well, that’s true for you but it isn’t true for me.” If Jesus Christ did not die on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin, and rise again from the dead to reveal himself as the Son of God, then Paul is a liar and Christianity is bogus – and, incidentally, I’m afraid I’m very much mistaken as well. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then the gospel is true, for me, for you and for everyone. It isn’t arrogant to say that. Christians don’t claim that no one else has any truth at all. There is much truth about God and the world and human nature that is known from many different sources. What we do claim is that the gospel events and their meaning are true, and because this is so, the gospel is the only way of salvation for anyone.

The other thing Paul says about it is that the gospel is the message of God’s grace. Paul says that when the Colossians heard the gospel, they “understood God’s grace in all its truth” (1:6). The gospel is the means by which the saving grace of God comes to us. It challenges every religion on earth, including the religion of many Christians!

Most human religion is based on merit and good works. It’s all about what we do through our sacrifices, prayers, rituals, fasting, alms-giving and other religious observances to satisfy God and make ourselves acceptable to him. But the gospel is all about what God has done for us through Christ, how he has taken our sins upon himself and made perfect satisfaction for them, how he considers us to be good, not because we are good inside but simply because we have been made one with Christ through faith. The gospel of God’s grace calls everyone everywhere (including nominal Christians) to turn from their own way and follow Christ.

THE RESULTS OF THE GOSPEL

As Paul expresses his gratitude to God for the Colossians’ response to the gospel, he also gives thanks for the results the gospel has had in their lives. He mentions the familiar trio of faith, hope and love: “For we have 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” (vv. 4-5). The gospel has produced hope in these believers for their own future, and as a result, that hope has given rise to faith toward Christ and love toward others.

The fruit which the gospel bore in Colossae was more than just increased numbers of church members. Peoples’ lives were genuinely changed, so that instead of doubt or unbelief or superstition or fear they now had a living and growing faith in Jesus Christ, the new center of their lives. They developed new relationships, a new sense of commitment, a willingness to care for and serve the needs of others because of the love Christ had planted in their hearts. And above all, where before they only had darkness and uncertainty when they looked into the future, they now could look forward to the security and comfort of heaven because of Christ living in them, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

These are the results of the gospel. There are thousands of new believers coming to Christ every day, embracing the message of Jesus, who are experiencing these very things. You could be one of them! Why don’t you join us? Why don’t you accept Christ, God’s loving message for all people?