El Shaddai: The Colossians Study (No. 1)
Words by Lexy Sauvé // Images by Candice Hackett
Our hearts need to hear enduring truths about Jesus and his gospel in order to face the cacophony of philosophies and voices that are present in today’s culture. In Jesus we have every reason to be confident and deeply rooted in him alone. The Colossians of Paul’s day were in need of these same encouragements that we are, which is why he authored this letter. The message of Christianity is the same today: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The book of Colossians is about the supremacy of Christ and how that makes him sufficient to save us, sanctify us, display God’s own image, and to provide all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). It’s my prayer that as we read through and study this book God would strengthen our resolve to boast in nothing except for Jesus Christ.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you 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.” (Colossians 1:1–14)
In this section of verses, Paul writes to encourage and remind believers of two things: Jesus is sufficient to save us from the penalty of sin and qualifies us for the inheritance of eternal life (1:12), and he is sufficient to sanctify us (1:6, 10).
He begins to explain this by saying that it’s “the gospel” that is “bearing fruit” among the followers of Christ. Bearing fruit includes the changes that happen as one grows more and more into the image of Christ. This is simply another term for sanctification. It means we daily grow more comfortable carrying around the death of Jesus as parts of our old selves sink deeper into the grave of Christ, so that the life of Christ can be made manifest in our bodies (2 Cor. 4:10). In John 15:4–5 Jesus explains how this happens:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the bine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Our best efforts, apart from Christ, always result in fruitlessness. This truth was highlighted for me in an epiphanic moment a few years ago as we walked through a grey season of our marriage. I often felt like I was perpetually pedaling uphill, huffing and puffing along because my heart was out of shape and not prepared for the marathon of marriage and family life. I discovered there was simply no amount of rehearsing that could have readied me to walk alongside another sinner as their cheerful helpmate. I was living off what I thought was the nutrient-dense fruit of the Spirit, riding one high to the next, only to discover it was usually caffeine and hormone-induced wishful thinking that faithfully ended in abrupt crashes, characterized by what Paul calls “works of the flesh”: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, and divisions (Eph. 5:19–21).
It was during a prayer meeting at our church that God taught me by heart the meaning of this passage in John. He showed me it’s through Christ alone that we bear his fruit, not our own, so that none of us can boast (Eph. 2:9). When God looks at us he sees Christ’s fruit because we have none to offer. This is the good news of the gospel, and it was the good news I needed as a faltering wife. We can have confidence in our sanctification process knowing that however bare our limbs may be of fruit during different seasons, God looks down on us and sees full, lively, green trees abundant with the fruit of Jesus.
Why was it important for Paul to remind these believers that it was the gospel that bore fruit among them? The Colossian church was in danger of straying from the simplicity of the gospel because they heard many different philosophies that were promising to induce fruitfulness: “’Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch.’” Both the Gnostics and Jewish mystics were encouraging a reformation of the flesh. We are quick to impose many of these statements upon ourselves as well. Do this. Don’t do that. Watch this. Don’t eat that, say that, go there. We put our hope in self-made religion, by circumcising our flesh, our physical behaviors, and ascribe our righteousness to regulations, human precepts, teachings, and physical, bodily obedience, instead of to faith alone in Christ alone.
However much these rules seem to have an “appearance of wisdom,” they will never be able to bring about the inner reformation and reorganization of heart desires that God requires of us. As Paul says later in the book, “they are of no value.” As long as we continue to measure up according to the flesh, we will never measure up. If we only think of ourselves in terms of the outside, “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free,” we will never be able to behold Christ as he is. Christ is all.
So, instead of regarding one another according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16), what should we do? We should pray as Paul did. Prayer shows our dependence on God alone to bring about gospel fruit in our lives. Therefore, we pray, asking God to fill us with the knowledge of his will (what he does and doesn’t want us to do) in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (how he wants us to go about doing that), which will inevitably lead to us walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as we bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God. We ask that we would be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might, to endure all things with patience and joy, as we give thanks to the Father who has made all of this possible by qualifying us to share in Jesus’ heavenly inheritance through deliverance from the domain of darkness and transference to the Kingdom of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. We bear gospel fruit by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone!
How has the knowledge of Christ’s sufficient gospel changed the way you rest in him?
What philosophies and reformations of the flesh have you silenced as you’ve grown in your confidence in Christ’s work on your behalf?