Date: 9 July 2023
Speaker: Dn Samuel Chan
Sermon Text: Colossians 1:9-23
Good morning everyone here, and to those watching at home. Last week, our speaker Joseph Tee was here giving a sermon encouraging families, both biological and spiritual, to bring our children and youth up in Jesus’ love. Today is kind of Part 2 Youth Sunday sermon that is directed more to the youths and those young at heart. At least that’s what Ps Luwin told me.
At the start of the year, my nephew Evan, moved in. In the months since, he has developed a liking for spherical objects such as balls and balloons. Lately he has been kicking balls around, hitting them with a tennis racket, and playing with balloons by keeping them up in the air. While he has improved a lot with his ball control skills over the past six months, he sadly still has a long way to go before I can enjoy having a kick-about with him. Maybe he isn’t working hard enough at his drills or building strength in his kicks. Or maybe because he’s 20 months old.
Clearly we don’t expect a 20-month toddler to play a game of football. We know that he must learn how to crawl, walk, run, kick a ball, and understand the rules of the game, before that can happen. It is just not possible for a baby who can only crawl to also be able to kick the ball. It doesn’t make sense. Similarly, you can have someone with all the ball skills in the world but if he doesn’t understand how a football game goes, all the instructions to score a goal or pass to a teammate won’t make sense to him.
That is why whenever we learn a new subject or skill, we start with the basics. Without the basics, everything else won’t make sense. When we first learn Mathematics, we learn about addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. And start out with simple things like 1+1=2. It is only after we grasp these that we can then start talking about mathematical problems like which is cheaper, a student meal at $12.90 or a normal-priced $16 meal but with a 25% discount.
The same applies to Christian living (that is how to live as Christians). If we don’t understand the basic foundation of the Christian faith, all the things that can be said about Christian living won’t make sense. Perhaps one of the most famous ‘instructions’ for Christian living is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. But Joseph Tee, our speaker last week, reminded us that we can only love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind when we know and experience how God first loved us. We don’t love God in order to be able to experience God’s love. Our love for God is a response to God’s love for us. Christian living follows after becoming a Christian, and is a response to the Christian faith.
We see this in our passage today too. The apostle Paul knew that belief comes before behaviour, that our actions flow from our attitudes. In verses 9-11, Paul shares his prayer for the Christians in Colosse to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (simply put to live lives that please God). But notice that Paul begins this sentence with “And so”. This indicates his prayer and exhortation for them is an outcome of the verses that came before that. In other words, Paul’s encouragement towards Christian living follows from their faith in Christ Jesus (v4). They believed the gospel (vv5-6). That happened first. They became Christians. And so, Paul prayed for and encouraged them to live in response to their Christian faith, behaving in accordance to what they have become.
As though to make the point even clearer that their conduct is a result of their faith, right after encouraging them to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, Paul reminds them in verses 12 and 13 about what God has done for them. So that is the basic starting point - Christian living is a response to what God has done for us. This brings us to our first point in our outline today - what God has done for us.
What God has done (vv12-13)
From verses 12-13, Paul tells us that God the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light; He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Let us unpack what God has done a bit more, starting with the three verbs here: qualified, delivered, and transferred.
Verse 12 tells us that God has qualified Christians to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. This suggests that we do not qualify to begin with, that we don’t deserve to share in that inheritance. But now we have been qualified. And to be clear, the text does not say we qualify for the inheritance of the saints, rather it says that God the Father has qualified us for it. To begin with, we do not qualify. But God has qualified us.
Paul goes on to say that God has delivered us from the domain of darkness. Domain can also be read as kingdom. So in other words, our starting point is in the kingdom of darkness, which refers to Satan’s kingdom. That is why we do not qualify to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. We are all sinners. Romans 3:23 puts it clearly - “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. As sinners, we are natural citizens of the kingdom of darkness. And according to Ephesians 2:3, as sinners, we are “by nature children of wrath”. But now we have been delivered and set free. It isn’t because we escaped. It is because God has rescued us from Satan’s kingdom. By our sinful selves, we are still citizens of Satan’s kingdom and children of wrath. But God delivered and rescued us.
And God didn’t just rescue us from Satan’s kingdom and stopped there. He also transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, Jesus. There is a change in our citizenship from Satan’s to Jesus’ kingdom. It isn’t because we applied for this new citizenship. It was God who had transferred our citizenship and now we are included among the citizens of Jesus’ kingdom.
I’m sure most of us are aware that Taylor Swift is coming to perform in Singapore next year. And the competition to secure tickets for her concerts at the National Stadium has been absolutely intense. Because that’s the only way to get into the National Stadium and watch her concert. Without a ticket, you cannot get past security to enter and enjoy the incredible performance inside. But how amazing would it be if on the day of the concert, your friend picks you up from home and brings you straight into a seat at the National Stadium with no issues at security because they have already bought a ticket for you!
That’s what God has done for us, but at a much greater scale! God has picked us up from our home in the domain of darkness and brought us straight into Jesus’ kingdom, with no issues at “security” because God has already qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
There are two key things to note from all of this. First, God did everything. We play no role in all this except to be citizens of Satan’s kingdom. God was the one who qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. God rescued us from the domain of darkness. God transferred us to Jesus’ kingdom.
The second thing to note is that God has already done all of these. Notice the use of past tense. Paul was encouraging his readers to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to bear fruit, to give thanks to the Father because God has already qualified, delivered, and transferred them. They have heard and believed the gospel, and are now citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, kingdom people. When we recognise our rescue and our new status as kingdom people at God’s hand, all that can be said about Christian living makes sense. We live kingdom lifestyles that are fully pleasing to God because God has made us kingdom people.
But there is more to this good news of what God has done for us. Verses 13-14 read: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We now turn to how God has qualified, delivered, and transferred us into Jesus’ kingdom, which is the second point in our outline today.
How God did it (vv14-22)
From verse 14, we know that the king of our new kingdom has a role to play in our deliverance and transfer. Paul points to his readers that in Jesus, we have redemption and forgiveness of sins. Let’s keep this at the back of our heads. We will come back to it later, or rather, Paul will bring us back to it later.
For now, Paul moves on to paint this amazing and comprehensive image of Jesus as preeminent, or supreme, over all things. This means Jesus is the highest authority over everything. He is a higher authority than your teacher, your school principal, your company directors, the ministers of Singapore, and even higher than all the world leaders. He is supreme over all things, in the broadest possible sense.
One of things we see is Jesus is supreme over all creation. Verses 16 to 17 tells us for by him all things were created, all things were created through him and for him, and He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Paul repeats the phrase “all things” at least four times, emphasising the idea of every single thing when Paul says all things were created through Jesus and sustained by Jesus. But as though the repetition isn’t enough, Paul also outlines that “all things” include things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. The phrase “thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities” used here refers to the spiritual forces in the world including Satan. Verse 18 also tells us that Jesus is the head of the body, the church (v18). In other words, Jesus is supreme over all things in the physical world as well as the spiritual realm. Paul leaves no doubt that Jesus is supreme over the entire universe, including over Satan’s domain of darkness. There is nothing that Jesus is not supreme over.
This portion echoes John 1: 1-3 (which should be familiar to the youths since we have been going through the gospel of John this year). These verses read: “In the beginning was the Word (i.e. Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Jesus was not created, He exists before creation. And all of creation was made through him. In other words, Jesus is the creator. Everything else is created, and created through him no less. That is why and how Jesus is supreme over all of creation.
Coming back to our passage in Colossians, another thing we see in Paul’s portrayal of Jesus is that Jesus was a man who was also fully God. Verse 15 tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. An image, by definition, is visible. On the other hand, God, who is spirit, is invisible. We cannot see God. John 1:18 tells us that “no one has ever seen God”, but Jesus ‘’who is at the Father's side, he has made him known”. That’s what it means for Jesus to be the image of the invisible God. Jesus reveals and makes God known in a way that we can see and understand. And he did that by becoming man, coming in the flesh and dwelling among us (John 1: 14). In other words, Jesus is God in the flesh, literally. Jesus was a human being like you and me, but He was also God, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (v19).
So what we have so far is this magnificent portrayal of Jesus, who is God in the flesh and the supreme authority over all things. You would expect Paul to bring it to a fitting climax about king Jesus in glory and majesty. But Paul concludes this section with…Jesus’ death on the cross?? To set some context, in those days, crucifixion on the cross was the ultimate shameful punishment. You’re whipped, nailed and hung to a cross, all the while as people “post” hateful comments except it’s said to your face. It’s excruciating physical torture combined with severe emotional damage. So much so that crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals.
So why did Paul, right after elevating Jesus Christ to the highest of heights, point us to Jesus suffering the most humiliating punishment and shedding his blood on the cross. Because that is how we get redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Because that is how God qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints, delivered us from Satan’s kingdom and transferred us into the kingdom of the Supreme Jesus.
If you recall, we are by nature sinful and children of wrath, and therefore natural citizens of the domain of darkness. As citizens of Satan’s kingdom, we are alienated from God and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (v21). And as sinners, we deserve death.
But, and this is the incredible part, Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection changes all of that! Let us look at Col 2: 12-15:
"(Earlier, Paul was mentioning how Christians are now circumcised…) having been buried with him [Jesus] in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." (Col 2: 12-15)
When Jesus was nailed to the cross, God nailed our sinful record to the cross. When Jesus died, we were buried with him. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God too raised and made us alive with Jesus. Our sinful record has been canceled, and so too the punishment of death. Through Jesus, we can instead be presented holy and blameless and above reproach (i.e., perfect) before God (v22). With our sinful record canceled, God triumphs over Satan because Satan can no longer keep us in his domain of darkness. Through the blood of Jesus, God delivered us from Satan’s kingdom and transferred us into Jesus’ kingdom, qualifying us to share in the inheritance of the saints, which is a place in the eternal kingdom of Jesus. As Romans 6: 23 puts it, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6: 23)
And this is essentially the gospel! This is the good news that came to the church in Colosse and also the whole world. We are by nature sinners residing in Satan’s kingdom deserving death. But God qualified, delivered, and transferred us into Jesus’ eternal kingdom, free from sin and death.
How did God do it? God’s beloved Son, Jesus, who is the supreme king, humbled himself to become a man, willingly sacrificed his life at the cross, taking the punishment of death that we deserve, and was raised from the dead by God to rule eternally. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can be set free from Satan’s kingdom and the death that awaits, and be transferred into Jesus’ kingdom, qualified now to share in that realm of light under the supreme King Jesus.
And this brings us to our third and final point of our outline - what we should do in response.
What we should do (vv9-12, 23)
Christian living is a response to the Christian faith. And the basic foundation of the Christian faith is how God sent His beloved Son, the supreme king Jesus, to die on the cross so as to rescue us from Satan, sin, and death, and transfer us into Jesus’ kingdom where eternal life awaits. So how should we respond to this? May I suggest three ways for our consideration:
Believe in the gospel.
Be steadfast in the gospel.
Be joyful, giving thanks to God.
Believe in the gospel
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So all of us are in the domain of darkness. Our sinful record remains intact. All the lies that we have told to get out of trouble remain on the record. All those times we talked back to our parents in anger. Every moment we put ours or our children’s interests like good grades or career development over God’s, all of those are on our sinful record. And what awaits us all is the punishment of sin, which is death. That is our starting reality. And without Jesus, that is our only reality.
But the good news is God has freely provided a way out of the domain of darkness and its trapping of sin through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Unlike Taylor Swift’s concert, we don’t need to set up multiple devices, or camp overnight at the post office to get a ticket that qualifies us for entry. God has already qualified us in Jesus. Through Jesus, God triumphs over Satan and rescues us from Satan’s kingdom, bringing us in as citizens of Jesus’ eternal kingdom, free from sin and death.
The only response required of us then is to simply believe that Jesus was God in the flesh who died on the cross and rose again. And when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then we are raised with Him through faith (Col 2: 12). That’s it. Believe in the gospel and you are saved. Or put differently, you are a Christian because you believe in the gospel. Not because you attend church, or read the bible and pray. We do all of that as our response to believing the gospel and receiving Jesus as our Saviour and king.
If you do not believe or are unsure about Jesus, his death and resurrection, may I encourage you to consider the good news of salvation through Jesus seriously. The stakes are high. You either remain a citizen in the domain of darkness, alienated from God and awaiting eternal death, or through Jesus you are qualified and transferred to Jesus’ kingdom as kingdom people under the eternal reign of king Jesus.
As youths, it is only normal to have some questions or doubts regarding the gospel and the Christian faith. But may those questions not turn us away from salvation in Jesus Christ. If you have questions or doubts, or you want to find out more about what we’ve heard about Jesus, I encourage you to speak with any of the youth leaders or church leaders (if you don’t know who they are, you can look for me). For the adults here today, don’t worry it is also normal for us to grapple with questions and doubts. Likewise, I encourage you to speak with a Christian today (the church leaders are a good start, if not I will be at the back after service and can help point you to one). The stakes of eternal life and death are too grave to take it lightly.
Be steadfast in the gospel
Notice that verse 23 functions as a condition to verse 22. We are presented “holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard”. Paul isn’t saying how we live after becoming a Christian determines whether we are still Christian or not. No, once we place our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are saved. Full stop. What we do after that doesn’t reverse God’s decision to cancel our sinful record.
What Paul is telling us here is to make sure that we place our faith for our salvation solely on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anything else is to shift from that gospel. Anything else is a counterfeit gospel.
Paul was writing to the Christians in Colosse to be steadfast in the gospel that salvation is solely through Christ Jesus because there were people pushing philosophies and practices that may appear Christian-like but are actually not according to Christ. We see that in chapter 2, verses 8 and 16-19. The gist of these so-called philosophies and practices go along this line: if you truly believe in Jesus, you would not eat unclean food, or you would follow this ritual of cleansing yourself. Or phrased differently: can you really say you are Christian if you are not circumcised? These sneakily introduce a requirement for salvation that is not Jesus. But the gospel says we do not need to do anything more to earn it. Jesus Christ is enough. And Paul is saying the same thing to us today.
Like most of our youths in Hermon today, I grew up in a church setting, attended Sunday school, and know the ten commandments. Over time, I became familiar with what the Bible says about what to do and not to do. But sometimes I do what the Bible says not to, such as lying to get out of trouble, or speaking harshly to my parents. I would feel guilty and along with that guilt came the question: am I really saved? On the flip side, during the times I was doing my daily devotions regularly and being attentive in Sunday School, I had no such questions about my salvation.
If you can identify with my experience, be careful. That way of thinking was me basing my salvation on my behaviour. I felt assured I was saved when I behaved like how a good Christian should. And when I didn’t, I began to doubt my salvation. I had begun to view Christian living as a set of instructions to obey and follow in order to earn salvation, and not as a response to salvation solely through Jesus Christ.
Another way we can deviate from the gospel is when we talk about Christian living without going back to the basics of Christian faith, that is the gospel. We may have good intentions when we encourage other Christians to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, but remarks like “Oh, you haven’t been reading the Bible for weeks now? That’s not good…I think you better quickly start” or “If you’re a Christian, don’t you think you should be serving in church?” may cause the other person to feel like he or she is not a good enough Christian because their Christian living is off the mark.
We may also be doing this at home when raising our children and youth. Does this line sound familiar - “boy ah you better not lie to me, the Bible says thou shall not lie hor”? When we tell them what to do or not do because the Bible says so, we run the danger of presenting the Christian faith as a set of do’s and don’ts to be followed. Follow them, and you are a good Christian and will get eternal life. But that’s salvation by works. And as sinners, there is no way, not a single chance, that we can save ourselves by our works.
That is why we have to keep going back to the gospel that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is enough. We don’t have to do anything to earn salvation, and we can’t do anything to ‘un-deserve’ salvation, because we never deserved it in the first place. But we have been made kingdom people through Jesus. And so the motivation, and our encouragement to each other to live kingdom lives is not to qualify for citizenship but because we are already made citizens! Let us therefore live with a steadfast commitment to the gospel, for the good news that brought us into the kingdom is the good news that keeps us in the kingdom.
Be joyful, giving thanks to God
The third and last response for our consideration is to be joyful, giving thanks to God the Father, the author of our salvation. God did everything. He sent His beloved Son Jesus. He qualified us. He delivered us from Satan’s kingdom. He transferred us into the kingdom of Jesus. He did all of this…while we were still sinners. While we were still hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. In other words, God went to save us while we were still God’s enemies.
Have you ever been part of a group project where your mistake pulled the team down? For the adults here today, replace “group project” with “cross-departmental project”. How would you feel if the group leader willingly took the blame for it? And how would you feel if you had previously been difficult with the group leader? I have had good bosses who took accountability for my mistakes. I am immensely thankful and am currently gladly working for them.
As sinners, we don’t deserve God sending his Son to die on the cross for our sake. But God, out of his love for us, did it. And the appropriate response is one of thanksgiving and rejoicing to God for His grace and mercy, with a response not just through our words but through our actions and behaviour. As Christians saved in Christ alone, our response to live kingdom lifestyles should be marked by an attitude of thanksgiving to God. If we don’t see our lifestyles filled with thanksgiving, it could be an indication that we have moved on to a counterfeit gospel of works. So let us hold fast to the gospel that we are saved in Christ alone.
To sum up: We are in the domain of darkness, where death awaits. We deserve this. There is the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, Jesus, where there is no sin and death; eternal life awaits. We don’t deserve this.
But God has qualified, delivered, and transferred us into Jesus’ kingdom through the supreme king’s sacrificial death on the cross, which brings about redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. And that is why we can and should live kingdom lifestyles, giving thanks to God for making us kingdom people through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and King.