Two days ago, I preached my farewell sermon to the church that God—by His grace—gave me the privilege to serve for twenty-two years. During the final weeks before this sermon, I thought much about what I might say and finally landed right where I had begun in 1992. I wanted to preach Christ; I wanted to exhort the congregation to keep looking to Jesus as the Great Shepherd and Guardian of their Souls (1 Peter 2:25). I also wanted to encourage them to follow Him, day-in and day-out, as the Good Shepherd who faithfully feeds, leads, and protects the sheep of God (John 10:11).
Therefore, I settled on Colossians 2:1-7, a passage written by a mere man who lived with continual, and often overwhelming, concern for the souls in his flock. As a result, his heart compelled him to remind them to keep a Christ-centered focus and to keep walking with Jesus. The supremacy of Jesus Christ is the theme of the book of Colossians. Since Christ is supreme the apostle repeatedly exalts Him before his readers in order to call them to look to Jesus (for example, 1:13-18, 28-29; 2:9-17; 3:1-3, 15-16).
A key command in the book pulls the centrality of Christ and our need to follow Him together into one, in 2:6-7, and that was our main sermon text. In the five verses that precede these, however, the apostle describes his concern for the Colossian believers as a struggle. “Struggle” comes from the same word from which we get “agony,” referring to a strenuous and demanding athletic contest (like the Olympics). It is a picture of the intense effort that the apostle put forth in ministry toward those believers. In 4:12, Paul uses a form of this same word when he mentions Epaphras, who was “always laboring earnestly…in his prayers.” Prayer is a form of spiritual labor, an intense inner struggle against all the forces of evil in the kingdom of darkness. Paul described his struggle with the adjective “great” – a word that speaks of the magnitude of abundant inner stress. Paul says he experienced this struggle for the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and all other believers whom he had not met personally. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, modeled this same jealous concern for the sheep in John 10:11-15.
Why did Paul have this internal stress? God had given him a shepherd’s heart, which drove him to work on their behalf. His spiritual desire for the believers produced a great struggle within. He knew that he was a fallen sinner himself and knew that everything he wanted for them was against the powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The description of these desires leads up to the apostle’s key command: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.”
The Command to Keep Walking in Christ (v. 6)
As believers, we are called to walk the walk of faith: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord.” But how have we received Christ?
- By Grace – What kind of grace is this? What is God’s grace like? It is saving grace (Eph 2:8-10), sanctifying grace (Titus 2:11-14), serving grace (Gal 5:13), and sufficient grace (2 Cor 12:7-9).
- By Faith – Believers receive Christ by the faith that is produced by the Word of God, the gospel (Rom 10:17), which leads to our being justified before God and made to be at peace with Him (Rom 5:1).
- As Lord – Believers receive “Christ Jesus the Lord” (v. 6). This title is used only here by Paul and refers to the doctrine of Christ in all its fullness. When these people had believed in Christ through the hearing of the gospel they received a person, not simply a philosophy; a Lord, not only a Savior (Rom 10:9). Of this, Charles Spurgeon said, “It is interesting to notice that the Apostles preached the Lordship of Christ. The word Savior occurs only twice in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:31, 13:23). On the other hand it is amazing to notice the title “Lord” is mentioned 92 times; “Lord Jesus” 13 times; and “The Lord Jesus Christ” 6 times in the same book. The Gospel is: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The lordship of Christ is not a secondary doctrine.
Paul’s command to “walk” is best translated “keep walking.” It refers to continual, habitual action. It stresses the daily walk of spiritual development. Paul is saying:
- You received Him by grace—keep walking in grace.
- You received Him by faith—keep walking by faith.
- You received Him as Lord—keep walking in a progressively deeper submission to His lordship.
Our walk is “in Him.” As believers we live in union with Christ (John 15:4-5). It is only in Christ that we become new creatures. It is only in Christ that we become fruitful. It is only in Christ that we are accepted by God.
The Characteristics of Walking in Christ (v. 7)
The apostle describes the believer’s lifelong walk in Christ in four ways.
- It is a firmly-rooted walk (having been firmly rooted). The word used here describes the solid foundation of a building. This is a settled state brought about by conversion. Christ and His gospel of grace is our sure foundation.
- It is a steadily-progressive walk (now being built up in Him). This is the superstructure that sits on top of the basement: the 2×4’s and the drywall. It signifies that becoming like Christ is not an overnight event, but a process–a lifelong process. Sometimes we think that gaining victory over a particular sin in our lives should be as instant as pudding. But it is not. It is a long process that involves an increasing dependence upon God’s grace to constantly lay aside the old man and put on the new man. Sanctification is a slow, steady growth like that of an oak tree, not a short-lived poplar. We are being built up in Him. This is God’s work in us (1Cor 3:6-9).
- It is a doctrinally-established walk (established in your faith, just as you were instructed). “The faith” is probably a better translation than “your faith.” This is objective faith, i.e., the Christian walk is built upon doctrine, which provides stability for the Christian life (see Col 1:21-23). A person will not find much stability in their subjective faith, or in some spiritual experience. These are always lacking and always inferior to the clear assurance that comes from the Word of God. Peter referred to Scripture as a more sure word than even the most dramatic spiritual experience (2 Peter 1:19).
- It is an abundantly-thankful walk (overflowing with gratitude). The believer’s walk of faith should abound in thankfulness. The more we grow in understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith the more grateful we will be (Col 3:16). This sounds so elementary—and it is—but how often we forget this! God wants His children to be thankful. It is His will for each of us (1 Thess 5:18). In light of all that God has done for us in Christ how can we be anything else?
The apostle’s command to keep walking in Christ is similar to the closing desire of the apostle Jude, “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). Nothing will ever separate the believer from Christ or His great love for us. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus never fails.
[The audio for this sermon can be found here.]