Jesus taught many people would think they are right in their relationship with God, when in fact they are not. In Matthew 7, Jesus said,
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…’”
Jesus’ words should cause each one of us to break free from any flippant and careless attitude regarding God’s grace toward us. We must not presume because we prayed a prayer as a child, or because we hold to a certain doctrinal statement, or because we worship in a Gospel-teaching church we have been accepted by God and we are in a right-relationship with Him and we have had our sins forgiven. No, we must not be careless. Instead, we must heed the Apostle Peter’s words in 2 Peter 1,
10 …be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.
We must be all the more careful to follow the Apostle Paul’s counsel in 2 Corinthians 13,
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.
No one, without careful consideration of their soul, ought to assume Heaven is their inheritance. My observation is: an incomplete teaching of the Gospel has given a great many people a false assurance, a carelessness in regard to their eternal future, and an unfounded assumption of God’s mercy extending to their lives.
Recently, I talked with one individual outside of our church about their decision to rebel against God’s commands by committing themselves openly to a sexually immoral relationship. This person affirmed they had received Jesus Christ, they believed in Him, and they were a Christian. I asked this person, “What do you believe God thinks of your decision to disobey to Him?” They replied emphatically, “Oh, I am sure He is not happy with me, but He will forgive me.” Friends, this is brazen presumption with no support whatsoever from God’s Word. My heart goes out to this one; that they have become self-deceived.
Perhaps some of you may protest, “Are you saying you know for sure this person is not a Christian? How could you know such a thing?” I do not know for certain this person is not a genuine believer, because Scripture does teach believers can be enslaved in sin in certain parts of their life, but I know this person cannot be sure they have been forgiven by God. I know that upon the basis of God’s Word. “Examine yourselves,” the Apostle Paul would say, “to see whether you are in the faith.”
How can a person examine themselves to see if they are in the faith? How is it they can follow Peter’s counsel as well, to be all the more eager to make their calling and their election sure?
We begin this study in Paul’s letter to the church in Colosse. In Paul’s introduction, we learn the Gospel of Jesus always bears fruit in the life of each one who is saved by it. There is a certain fruit, and we cannot say as to the degree or the amount, but we can say the Gospel always bears its fruit. An apple tree produces apples. A tomato plant produces tomatoes. The Gospel produces a certain fruit which is borne by God and His Spirit.
What is this fruit the Gospel produces? In this study we will look at three marks, three pieces of fruit, of authentic Christianity. The first mark we will look at is the mark of a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah. The second mark is an active love for all the saints. The third mark we will observe is the confident hope for our ultimate future. Faith, love, and hope – these are three beautiful sisters of God’s grace which come and visit the life of those who have given themselves to Jesus. If these three are not present in your life, I urge you to call out upon God immediately and ask for His mercy for He delights to give His life as a gift to anyone who calls upon Him in faith. Do not remain apathetic or presumptuous about your spiritual condition, but rather run to Him with an intensity and with a desire God would raise up in your heart.
We will, first, look at the mark of a genuine faith in Jesus the Messiah. I believe this mark is mentioned first, of the trio, because the Christian experience really begins through faith in Jesus Christ. It is by grace through faith and apart from faith we cannot have any real, authentic Christian experience. We begin with Verses 1 and 2, the introduction,
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse…
Paul is identifying himself as the writer and author of the letter and Timothy is with him. He is desiring to reassure this church of the authenticity of their faith and he writes to them as true and holy brothers, as faithful brothers, and as those whom he believes are in the faith and in the family of God.
This group of believers is in Christ at Colosse. Colosse was a fairly small town and not of any significance in Asia Minor. It was about one hundred miles east of the city of Ephesus, which was a significant city. We may remember, from the study of the Book of Acts, around Acts 19, the Apostle Paul spent three years ministering in the city of Ephesus. It does not tell us he left Ephesus, however, during that time, but Acts 19 does tell us during Paul’s stay in Ephesus all who lived in Asia Minor heard the word of the Lord. From this epicenter of ministry the Word of God went out, that is to say, people became believers in Ephesus and they traveled to their home towns; Ephesus was the “big city”. They would hear the Gospel and become saved and they would travel to their home cities, such as Hierapolis, Colosse, and Laodicea. From there the Gospel would emanate so that all who lived in Asia heard the Word of the Lord.
Paul probably never visited the city of Colosse. It is not recorded, but there is a man we know who was instrumental in the founding of this church and his name is Epaphras. He is found in Verse 7, “You learned it (the grace of God, the truth of God, the Gospel) from Epaphras.” It was Epaphras who came to know Jesus Christ while visiting Ephesus one day and hearing the message Paul preached to him of the Gospel and he received it readily. It was Epaphras who went to his home town and began to proclaim the Gospel and the church was founded there through the ministry of this man. Probably Epaphras was a convert of Paul, which is somewhat guesswork as we are not told directly many of the details, but Paul is going to write a letter to this church in Colosse. At the time he is writing it he it is during his imprisonment in Rome.
You will remember, from our study in Acts, Paul, during the last few chapters, has to be taken as a prisoner to Rome where he is going to be tried and he is under house arrest. As he is imprisoned in Rome, he writes several letters. There are three he writes at the same: the Letter of Colossians, the Letter of Ephesians, and the Letter of Philemon. Each of these, it is believed, were written around the same time.
The theme of this letter to Colosse, and the church there, is the theme of the supremacy of Jesus Christ and of His sufficiency. There were some false teachers who had come in and had told the church of “a mystery of knowledge” they could have which would take them into deep spirituality. We will talk about that more in future studies.
This man of Epaphras evidently visited the Apostle Paul in Rome while Paul was still in prison and he gave Paul a report about some of the things which were happening. Some of those things were very encouraging, but some of those things were very discouraging. Paul begins this letter by focusing upon the encouraging aspects of the life of the church in Colosse. Paul goes on to say,
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…
Paul always understood God is the One to whom credit is due for anything good in relationship to this church in Colosse. He thanked God specifically for their faith in Jesus Christ, for their love for all of the saints, and for their hope which was laid up for them, for Paul understood something which is often times difficult for us: they did not generate their own faith, their own love, and their own hope inside of themselves, but God is the One to whom credit is due. God is the One who wrought this in the hearts of this people.
It is interesting how God-focused Paul is, even at the very beginning of his letter. If I were in prison and I had undergone some beatings and difficult times, and I were writing a letter to a church I had not visited, perhaps I would be tempted to begin with a bit of my biography. Perhaps I would be tempted to say, “Greetings, grace and peace to you,” and then go on in the letter, “Let me tell you about some of my life’s story. Let me tell you about me. Let me tell you about my troubles. You will not believe what has happened to me!” That is not what Paul says, is it? What does he do, “While in prison I want to thank God. While I am here in prison, wondering whether my life will be taken from me at trial, whatever the trial might be, I want to thank God,” because he had his view on something greater and higher than his physical circumstances which he knew to be so temporary.
Why does Paul thank God? The first reason he thanks God is for their faith in Jesus Christ, as we see in Verse 4,
4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus…
Nothing could be more precious to Paul than knowing people had placed their faith, and were continuing in the faith, in Christ Jesus. He first points to their faith in Christ Jesus as a reason to celebrate.
Notice several characteristics about this faith. He is very succinct in his description, but nonetheless his description is very helpful. The first characteristic we notice about this faith is that it is enduring. That is one of the things which make it so valuable. This is not a faith the Colossians had begun years ago and lost. No, their faith was not fireworks of emotion with a grand finality and then a quiet, blackened sky. No, their faith was of such nature it persevered and it endured.
Paul is not speaking to them of some past event in their religious history and in their spiritual background. He is not saying to them, “I thank God because you, at once, believed in Jesus Christ.” They revealed the authentic nature of their faith by persevering in it, for you see, authentic faith never fizzles out.
The writer of the Hebrews, underneath the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would write to the Jews scattered about, who were Christians, and say, in Hebrews 10,
36 You need to persevere… 38 ,,,my righteous one will live by faith… …we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
I have a caution to give to you: beware of placing confidence in some spiritual event from your past to prove your salvation experience. Spiritual events of our past are precious and they are not to be forgotten, but also they are not to be solely relied upon in providing us with confidence to know we have life with God forever and ever. Instead, it is much more important you currently are trusting in Jesus as your Savior and as your Lord. The question is not so much, “Did you believe in Jesus?” but the question is, as you examine yourself, “Do you believe in Jesus?”
It is not enough to say, “Once I believed,” but the question is, “Do you and are you currently abiding in that faith in Jesus Christ?” Someone may say, “When I was little I prayed to receive Jesus Christ.” That is great and that is good, but I would urge you, do not rely upon that past event.
The second aspect which made this faith so valuable is because its object is Christ Jesus. Paul is very specific about the object of his faith when he says, “We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus.” Faith is only valuable if it is placed in a trustworthy object. A person may have faith the potato salad is still “good” to eat after being left in the sun for six hours during a July 4th picnic, but that faith does not keep that person from getting sick when he or she eats that spoiled potato salad.
It is the object of our faith which makes our faith valuable and this is something we particularly need to remind ourselves of because our culture and the world often contradicts this. Faith, in the people in Colosse and in the church, was not the generic type which is applauded by this world. The world applauds faith, “We believe in having people of faith. Everybody needs faith. We honor faith,” but this faith is valuable not as a general belief in God, but specifically it is attached to the person of Jesus Christ.
Generic faith cannot save anyone. “You believe in God? You do well,” the Scripture says. Faith which saves must be placed in Jesus Christ, the One who came from Heaven, God becoming a man, living a perfect, sinless life as God in the flesh, died on the cross, suffering underneath the just penalty of our sin, satisfying the justice and holiness of God and His work, being buried and then raising the third day, victorious over sin and victorious over death itself, ascending into Heaven, seated at the right hand of God, awaiting one day to return in glory and might to establish His rightful rule and His Kingdom forever. This is the object of biblical faith and there is no other object which can bring about any acceptance from God and any forgiveness and any hope of eternal life.
The Bible is clear: only those who believe in Jesus are saved. Someone may ask, “Why is that? Is it because God is bigoted?” The answer is, “No, not at all, God forbid.” The reason why it is only faith in Jesus we are saved is because only Jesus can take away our sin. There is no one else. There is no system which can provide an offering to remove our sin from us and to satisfy the righteousness of God Himself. How many are qualified to bear sin on our behalf? There is only One and that is the reason why belief in Jesus is so valuable and so necessary because there is only One Savior and only One who is qualified and only One who is able.
Some popular teachers say, “If you belief you are saved.” The question we must ask, in response to that is, “Believe in what?” Often times, the response to that question is, “That is not so important. Just believe!” It is important – the content of what we believe. We are not saved by faith in faith. We are saved by faith in Jesus.
Also notice, in discerning this faith in Jesus, and faith in this person, we are not saved by faith in a set of doctrines. It is not mental ascent to a certain doctrinal statement or a certain system of belief. Biblical, authentic faith is not simply signing off on something someone else has written and said, “This is what you should believe,” and you look at it and say, “It sounds good to me.” That is not biblical faith.
George Whitfield, the great evangelist of our nation’s history, when witnessing, asked a man, “What do you believe?” The man replied, “I believe what my church believes!” Whitfield said, “What does your church believe?” The man replied, “My church believes what I believe.” Whitfield asked, “What do you both believe?” The man said, “We both believe the very same thing.” Often times that is where people leave it, “I go to church and I trust what they are saying is true and that is what I believe. I do not really know what they believe for sure and to be specific, but that is what I believe.” “What do they believe?” “They believe what I think is true.”
Biblical faith must become more focused than that. It must focus upon the person of Jesus. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Saving faith involves the mind, the emotions, and the will. With the mind we understand the Truth of the Gospel. With the heart we feel the conviction and the need to be saved. But, it is only when we exercise the will and commit ourselves to Christ the process is complete.”
Faith is not an emotional concern. Faith is not a mental ascent. Faith is a commitment to Jesus Christ.
When missionary John G. Patton was translating the Bible in the Outer Hebrides, he searched the exact word to translate the word “believe”. What does it mean to believe? Finally, he discovered it and he translated the word this way – lean your whole weight upon Jesus. That is what it means to believe; to take the whole weight of our lives and lean solely upon Jesus Christ, knowing if Jesus Christ is not strong enough to lift us up to Heaven itself and to make us right with God, we have no “Plan B” because our whole weight is trusting upon Jesus and what He is done for us.
How does one obtain such a faith? We find that at the end of Verse 5 and following,
5 …you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 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.
Beware of an unthinking Christianity. There is no genuine Christianity which is unthinking. You have to hear the Truth of the Gospel before you can have biblical faith and you must understand the Truth of the Gospel before you can have biblical faith.
Paul would write, in Romans 10,
17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
It is not just faith in Jesus and in the name of Jesus. Today, I believe the witness of the church is becoming so shadowy and so shallow and non-descript there are many who believe in Jesus but have no idea whatsoever who He is, what He has done, and what He is calling them to. Yet, they say, “I believe in Jesus!”
Not long ago I was talking to a man who is seminary trained at a good and decent seminary. He had come to some “new ideas” about God and the Gospel. He had come to believe the Bible itself was no longer “that important” in his Christian life. He was explaining he went to hear another speaking and this speaker had said, “What really matters is not a study of the Scripture, but what really matters is that we just love Jesus. That is all that matters.” That sounds great, doesn’t it? I asked his this question, “What Jesus are we to love,” because this man was not explaining what Jesus we are to love, and this man I was talking to seemed to belittle all the aspects of who Jesus is as He is found in the Scriptures. He said, “What do you mean?” I replied, “You know, there are all kinds of Jesus’ don’t you? There is the Jesus the Mormons believe in. There is the Jesus the Jehovah Witnesses believe in. There is a Jesus the Hindus believe in. There is a Jesus the Muslims believe in. What Jesus is it?” He said, “I suppose it is the Jesus you experience.”
My friends, genuine, authentic faith means I am committing myself, leaning my whole weight upon the Jesus who is revealed and whom I have heard about in the Scriptures, and whom I have come to understand, as God revealed Him to me, through the Word He has given us. I ask you this question, “Do you own this kind of faith?” It is a most important question and it is the first mark of genuine, authentic Christianity.
The second mark is an active love for all the saints, as we see in Verse 4,
4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…
Oh, how I wish the word “all” would have been changed to “some” because then I would have that mark, but it is not what it says. Love is mentioned again in Verse 8,
8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
This indicates this love is not the natural, affection kind of love, a love borne of the human heart, but it is a love which is a fruit produced by God’s Holy Spirit. This Spirit generates this love, not a love of emotion, not a love of natural affection, but rather a deep commitment to seek every other believer’s benefit in this life and to seek it actively and personally through a relationship. This love recognizes the union which makes us connected to Jesus Christ is a union which also connects us eternally to everyone else who is connected to Jesus Christ. Rather than running away from those connections we run toward them. This does not mean, of course, we have the same emotional connection with every believer equally, but it does mean we have a super-natural love we cannot get away from. When another believe wrongs us and we get angry about that and our flesh begins to bind up our hearts so we say, “I will not love. I will not forgive. I do not want to have anything to do with that person,” the mark of authentic Christianity is the Holy Spirit continues to prod and prod and say, “You cannot have that attitude. You must love this person.” We say, “I do not want to love this person. They have wronged me and they have hurt me. They are unlovable, God,” and yet the Holy Spirit says, “You must love them and my Spirit will provide you with the love you need in your heart if only you would submit to Me. Repent of your sin and confess your sin and submit to Me.”
One poem Warren Wiersbe loves to quote is this:
“To live above with the Saints we love, Ah, that is the purest glory.
To live below with the Saints we know, Ah, that is another story!”
We have to admit we have difficulty with this, but nonetheless, authentic Christianity, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you know you cannot get away from the prodding of God’s Spirit to love all the saints. That is one of the motivations for missions. It is why this church in Peoria has an interest in Equador or South Africa or other parts of the world, because we cannot just love the people we can see, feel, and touch. We must love all of the saints and part of the love is we need to get the Gospel out into the uttermost parts of the world as best as we can as God ordains it.
In 1 John 3, we read, and this is the mark and this is the fruit,
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
John will write many other verses similar to this. Our flesh fights against this love, but the Holy Spirit continues to produce it in us and it is our responsibility to cultivate it. We can quench the Spirit; it is possible, and many believers do, but it is our responsibility to apply water and fertilizer upon this plant the Holy Spirit brings about and sprouts in our hearts – this love for all the saints.
There are many applications we might consider, but let me give you just one: when we gather together as a group of believers it is important we have a love for all the saints and we are not just interested in our group of friends. We must look out beyond this. That is one of the reasons why we have this “shake hands” time. I know some of you love it and some do not like it so much. As a church we have to get outside of our little group of friends.
Remember the story of Art Georges, our church planting pastor in Bartonville. When he came to Bethany Baptist Church he was not a believer in Jesus Christ. He came to Bethany the first time and a family said, “I don’t think I know you. Why don’t you come to our house and your family can have lunch with our family?” Art Georges said that I is one of the things which opened up his heart to the Gospel, because he attended another church that never preached the Gospel to him and he said, “Never once, in all my childhood and adult years, had anyone ever asked me to come to dinner with them.”
Do you see how dramatic an affect the church which has a love for all the saints, a love for an unbeliever in this particular case, can have upon the body of Christ, encouraging this faith and this hope? These three sisters, these triplets, are all connected together.
The third mark of authentic Christianity is a confident hope for your ultimate future, as we see in Verse 5,
5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven…
Biblical hope is not whimsical, wishful thinking, “I hope the Cubs can salvage this season!” No, biblical hope is rooted in the actions and in the character of God Himself; hope for that which has already been laid up for us in Heaven. It points us to the certainty of a future time based upon God’s already completed action. This hope is an eager anticipation of a guaranteed future event.
Notice this hope is not in that in which God “will one day lay up”, but it is a hope which is past tense, “already laid up”.
My son Alexander and I like to golf together and I gave him, when he began, my old driver. For those of you who golf, you realize the drivers of today have these huge heads on them and you cannot miss with them. I bought a new driver and gave him my old one. I do not know what that says about my love and sacrifice for my son, but that is what happened. He didn’t complain, but I knew he would like to have a new driver and a member of the church made it possible for me to buy one at a good price and I wanted to give it to Alexander.
As a family, we have committed to memorizing Colossians 3, and I would encourage you to do that also, because it will change your life. I am not above bribing my children in this, so I told him, “I have this driver and when you complete memorizing Colossians 3 you can have it.” I put it in my trunk and shut my trunk.
Alexander knows, not when he memorizes Colossians 3 I will go out and buy a driver. That is not the hope he has. It is not that I will based upon a promise, but Alexander’s hope is based upon what has already happened; I have purchased the driver, I have it in my possession, and it is laid up for him. This is what the Apostle Paul is saying is true for the church; this hope we have in Heaven has already been purchased, it is already laid up for us, and it is waiting for us to get there. That is what our hope is.
It is not something God is going to do in the future, but it is something God has already done and laid up for us. It is there. What is this hope? We find it is in Heaven. That is to tell us it is something which is not enjoyed now, but it is something which we will enjoy in our ultimate future.
For this world, “now” is all the future this world has and that is why there is so much focus upon the “here and now”; “I have to get it now because I do not know about tomorrow.”
The believer says, “I can wait on it now because I do know about tomorrow,” and yet I caution you, in our Christian realm and in the evangelical church there is such a movement toward pushing away a focus upon the future and the eternal, and pushing forward your “best life now!” That is what sells and people do not want a hope laid up in Heaven, they want a hope which is laid up in this earth, but your best life is not now and if your best life is now you are most to be pitied because this world is still a fallen world, and, yes, we do enjoy some of the fruit of the salvation right now, so we can rejoice in the midst of suffering, but if we are to look at this world rightly, we would understand there is a whole bunch of sin in this world which is weighing everybody down and it is weighing our own heart down. I long for the day when sin is gone from my life and there is no temptation and I do not have to wake up and struggle with the flesh everyday and I do not have to struggle with any of the enemies of God, but every effect of the fall is gone and there is no more crime, pain, sickness, sorrow, and broken relationships. There is no getting mad and no one ever talking to each other anymore. That is our hope, and beyond that, and best of all, God is there in all of His glory. This is our hope.
Beloved, we are genuine, authentic Christians and we do not just think about the “here and now” but we do look beyond this day and we long for the day when this eternity God has laid out for us will be realized fully and will be ours. Hope for future joy brings joy now.
I plan, as my sons get to be fifteen and sixteen years old, to take them on a special trip, a dad-and-son trip. This summer Alexander and I will take this special trip and we will go to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Park. The plane tickets are purchased and the place we will stay has been reserved. We will go white-water rafting, fly fishing, and repelling. Doesn’t that sound fun? There are times, when I think about this trip, I cannot get to sleep at night because I love thinking about what the days are going to be like. There is joy now in something which one day will be.
Friends, if we could only have a glimpse of Heaven. Heaven is not boring. It is not sitting on a cloud playing a harp. Jesus tells us this earth which is present will pass away and there will be a new earth. Why wouldn’t there be fly fishing and repelling and white-water rafting in Heaven and on this new earth? Why would we expect it to be wholly different from the joys we have? It will be different but in the sense of grandeur, more glorious, and more beautiful. Knowing the future gives us joy in the present even in the midst of the pain this life often brings us.
I close by asking the question: as you examine your life, and as you examine yourselves, are these three marks evident? Do you possess the gift of eternal life and are assured of that upon the basis of having a living and present faith in Jesus Christ?
I do, I have a love for all the saints and I know it is not perfect, but I know there is something moving in me to love believers more than I would naturally. People whom I would never connect with, I have a love for them and it is borne of God’s Spirit inside of me. There is a hope and a confidence in a day beyond God is going to provide something glorious and I cannot wait for that day. There is an anticipation of that day.
The Gospel once received always bears fruit in the life of the one who believes. I urge you, believe upon Jesus Christ and you will have eternal life.