Sunday, September 18, 2011

Grains of Sand, Part 1 of 2

I would like to share a pair of analogies that impress an invaluable point regarding a believer’s state or condition after coming to faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. The first was given to me by a pastor/teacher at the Duluth Bible Church years ago. The second is an improvisation of an illustration I took from a wedding ceremony Pastor Ken Anders performed this last August. I hope we find them mutually encouraging. First however, we will take a short stroll through Colossians.

To set the stage for these illustrations I would first like to quote Scripture:

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory,” Colossians 3:1-4.

To give a brief overview of what the apostle is relating it is summed up like so: Paul made careful mention that the believer in Christ is now in fact “in Him,” Colossians 2:11. We who have believed in Jesus Christ were formerly dead in trespasses and sins, but have been regenerated, given spiritual and eternal life through faith in Christ, verse 13. Christ did away with the condemnation of the Law by fulfilling it on our behalf so that a Christian is not under obligation to fulfill the law in any effort to please God or merit righteousness. The Law and its requirements were only shadows of what was to come: Christ was the fulfillment of the Law; He possesses the substance of righteousness, verse 17. The Greek word for “substance” in the NKJV or “body” (KJV) in this verse is “soma” and quite literally means “a body.” The Law then with its requirements that were exterior and good for fleshly cleansing was merely the shadow of a spiritual reality. In fact it was the shadow of Christ falling across Israel as He came nearer and nearer to the fullness of the time of His coming.

We know that when a source of light approaches us the shadows shrink until that light reaches us; at which point it dispels all shadow. This is what the apostle meant when he wrote that such restrictions were but shadows; for Christ was symbolized in them and the Law was meant to direct Israel’s attention to the Coming One. The Law was initiated to be a spiritual mirror by which men could see their sinful nature and need of pardon. It was not a means of salvation, but rather a stern signal that God did not find man in his present condition righteous. But as a shadow predicts someone’s arrival, so too did the Law foretell of One who would soon follow to answer the Law’s charges in the minds and hearts of men. That One was Christ, and when He died on the cross He died for all of our trespasses; past, present and future, verse 13. Through faith in Him and His vicarious sacrifice a Christian is set at liberty; we are not under obligation to vainly attempt to obey the law in order to manufacture our own righteousness, verses 16; 20-22.

Paul directs a Christian’s attention to Christ, verse 19. If we are in Christ we will mature in the faith and bear spiritual fruit as surely as an apple tree’s limbs bear fruit so long as they are still grafted onto the tree. Sanctification then comes not from external effort, obedience, diligence, zeal, church attendance, etc. It comes from an internal reliance on Christ. Salvation begins with grace; for by faith are we saved in what Christ has done for us. The natural increase of simply being a part of the body is assured according to Paul, so long as we walk by faith, so long as we walk by the Spirit. If we choose to walk carnally and make our obedience a ritual or ceremony necessary for salvation’s sake we are no longer holding fast to the Head, which is Christ. Again, Paul argued that Jesus did away with legal obligation to the Law, or a stringent, legal observance of works.

As it is written in Galatians 5:6, Law/works avail nothing to those who are “in Christ.” Only faith (in Jesus who is the object of our faith) working through love avails (or has power). Again, legalistic necessity avails nothing; if you advance the concept that we must do something out of obligation Paul says this avails you nothing. Faith working (that is an active faith being demonstrated in our lives) through love avails everything. Such believers do not obey out of need; we obey from love and out of desire. The transformation must be an internal one; our spiritual life and rigor hinges on holding fast to the Head; not in vigorously obeying laws and lists of do’s or don’ts. Such people are, in Paul’s judgment, availing nothing. He puts it slightly differently later when he writes, “For in Christ Jesus (note that word ‘in’ again) neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything (external ritual/works have no power); but a new creation,” Galatians 6:15.

Back in Colossians we have the apostle posing a question: if you have in fact died with Christ from the principles of this world, why do you behave as though it were otherwise? Note his wording in 2:20; you (not God) subject yourselves to regulations. A legalistic mindset ends in asceticism. Rules become as important as placing one’s faith in the Savior, and begin to arise in one’s thinking, then one’s doctrine, and finally in one’s lifestyle. It becomes more than a personal conviction that Christian liberty allows; it becomes a dividing rod that legalists use to judge the salvation or spiritual condition of everyone around them. You raise a wall of separation that Jesus died to tear down, Galatians 2:18-19.

External regulations are generally erected to condition an appearance of righteousness, and even an unbeliever can adhere to such conditions and seem to be making the grade. The basis of our obedience should instead stem from love and gratitude toward the One who saved us from the penalty and power of our sins. God manifests His love in us, His born-again children, and such love ought to overflow like a container brimming with water so that it satisfies the thirst of those around us. This was Jesus’ requisite for the world knowing that we are His, John 13:34-35. The apostle John tells us that if we as Christians love one another God abides in us, 1st John 4:12. His love is perfected in us when we love one another; not when we obey all of His commandments. When we love one another we will, without needing to invent a checklist, obey His commandments quite naturally, Romans 13:10.


  1. Amen, Ian.

    Sadly, for the man in the flesh, a new set of rules to make him appear good require only a slight change in behavior, whereas faith requires a total remodel. Many people are not willing to go to that point, although it is what God requires.

  2. Thank you, Ian, for this thorough exposition of God's Word. The law was never intended for salvation, as no one (except Christ) has ever been or ever will be able to keep it. Therefore, the law is only a mirror showing those who consider it honestly that they are sinners in need of a Savior. Salvation is only through God's grace by faith in Christ's completed work on the cross. We are justified only by faith in His perfect sacrifice to pay all our sin debt, past, present and future, and in His resurrection that all who trust Him have eternal life. May God bless you and your ministry.


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