BELIEVING WHAT WE DON’T ALWAYS FEEL (Colossians 1:1-8 – Pete Bauer)
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 19, 2014. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Col 1A.
Around this time every year I used to pull out my gardening books and draw up a landscaping plan for my garden. I draw up elaborate plans with gazebos and fountains and small playgrounds for the kids, and then I would walk outside to my garden and try to lay things out – the plans never worked. This was because I never bothered to measure how much space I had in my garden until one winter, when I discovered that I only had a space 33 feet long by 25 feet wide. That’s a lot of space but my plans and expectations had always exceeded it. My plans were not an accurate measurement of reality.
In the same way, our feelings are not always an accurate measurement of spiritual reality. I have heard people say, “I don’t feel saved”, or “I don’t feel that God loves me”. We are very in touch with the things we feel, and if we decide that we cannot act or believe what we do not feel, we become enslaved and unable to live intentionally.
Paul was writing to a group of people who had come out of paganism and who were still surrounded by paganism, by mystery religions that promised a special knowledge/experience of GOd, by Judaism which claimed that their faith in Christ was incomplete and needed to be completed by receiving circumcision. In these opening verses, Paul points to signs of spiritual life that Christ is producing in them, despite all other voices and messages that call them to question whether their faith is real or enough. This morning, as we begin to look at this letter, we want to see Paul’s encouragement to believe what we cannot always feel.
Look at What the Gospel is Producing In You.
Thank God for the Real Thing Happening in You: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people”
Paul had never met the Colossians, all his understanding is from Epaphras who had preached the gospel to them, and then told Paul about them. Nevertheless, what Epaphras described to Paul was a group of believers who had believed the gospel and who had begun to show love for one another.
Improbable Faith: Whether or not we always feel like believers is much less important than whether or not we have the conviction of faith. Believing the gospel is no small thing. If you have believed the gospel it means that you have believed that the tortured death of Jesus Christ on the cross has overcome your sin and has gained you the forgiveness and favor of God. Maybe you are used to hearing such things – and maybe you have grown up hearing them – but we need to recognize how strange, how improbable it is that a man who lived 2,000 years ago has any connection with us – how strange it is to believe, though we have never met him, that he was the One and Only Son of God – that his death had any meaning for us or ability to connect us to God.
These are improbable things to believe and there are times when we question and doubt, because faith does not mean unwavering certainty. However, if you have the conviction, despite how you feel, that these things are true, then you are either out of your mind, or you have been supernaturally affected by God.
Self-Giving Love: In the same way, despite how we feel, where we exhibit self-giving love because of Jesus Christ, we are displaying the real effect of God’s grace in our lives. By self-giving love I mean love that does not depend on feeling but which does not act out of selfish motives, but regards others as more important and looks out for their interests (see Phil.2:1-4).
Love is a matter of doing what is to the good or blessing of another person because of what you believe about Christ, (e.g. loving an enemy and forgiving them because Christ forgave you, or showing hospitality to someone because Christ calls you to be compassionate, or helping the less fortunate because Christ cares for them).
In fact, particularly with regard to love, what we feel can be deceiving. A person can say, “I feel great love for God” and only mean – (God makes me feel good). This is sentimentality, and often does not produce servant love, but is more likely to produce a selfish view of God.
Recognize the Dynamic Mechanism of Hope At Work in You.
The Definition of Christian Hope: “the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.”
There are a lot of movies, books and tv shows out recently about resurrection. There is actually a show called “Resurrection” that will preview soon. There are shows about zombies. However, with this world’s usual ignorance, what is being called “resurrection” is nothing more than re-animation. Christian Resurrection is something much different.
Christian Resurrection – our hope – has to do with coming into the presence of God, seeing his face, and being transformed – it has to do with glory – it has to do with ecstatic joy and being made complete – with being alive the way we were created to be alive, in God’s presence who made us for himself. Resurrection is not mere re-animation (what a horrible thought). Our hope is not just to not be dead or just to escape the grave. Our hope is glory. As Paul tells us, we will be changed – as different from this body as an oak tree is different from an acorn.
This hope is at the core of what it means to be Christian.
Christian Hope is At Work In You: Paul says two things about Christian hope and they are both important for us to understand what is happening to us spiritually.
- First, Hope is Stored Up (or Hidden): Paul says that this hope is “stored up” or “reserved in heaven”. That seems like a strange thing to say. What he means is that this hope of resurrection is, on the one hand, promised to us, and already begun – but on the other hand, it is waiting for us beyond this life. We have the guarantee of the resurrection – the Holy Spirit living within us. We have a taste of the world to come – but we also live in an incomplete state. Something, we know, is wrong. We are not what we want to be. This dissatisfaction is evidence that something real is going on within us. Romans 8 describes it by saying that we groan with creation – longing to be set free. In this sense, our feelings that we are not enough what we need to be, actually point to a holy discontentment – a longing and desire that Jesus describes as “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” (Matt.5). Our big problem is that we can’t love God as we would and we sin.
- Second, Hope is is a Spring of Life within us. (a dynamic mechanism): Paul also says that the love and the faith of the believers at Colossae springs from the hope they have. In other words, because they have this hope of resurrection and glory – because they believe that they are going to stand before God with their sins forgiven and receive favor instead of condemnation – and glory instead of shame – this hope is changing them.
This hope of forgiveness, favor, glorious resurrection is what changes us to our core. Gradually, like a seed, we understand and begin to invest ourselves more in this hope – and we begin to act on this hope. The hope of the glory that Jesus is producing in us – the beauty of the life he is producing in us becomes the thing we are hoping for.
Recognize That You Are Part of A Movement.
You are Not Alone: This core hope that is changing you is changing people all over the world. In other words, Paul was saying to them people who had grown up in Greek thought, Eastern and Gnostic mysticism, idol worship, Jewish legalism, etc. were understanding and believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus – in this same hope. Paul describes it like a fruit tree – “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.”
What does that mean? That means that every Christian – and they are all over the world – is facing the same struggle that you are facing. They are all longing for what they do not yet have. They are all gradually being changed by the spring of hope inside of them. Their hope is producing the same kind of faith and love it is producing in you. And every honest believer does not always feel what they believe. However, Paul is calling the Colossians to see the signs of life that faith in Christ is producing in them and in others.
Be Willing to Receive Encouragement: We want to hear and receive Paul’s encouragement. So, this morning, if you are struggling to feel that Christ has produced life in you – ask for grace and respond in worship as a spiritual discipline.