Truly Understanding God’s Grace
Topics covered: The message of hope, love, faith and grace.
Glossary: hope; love; faith; grace; gospel; epistle.
How would you explain the message of the gospel?
After Jesus died and rose again from the dead, and just before he returned to heaven, he told his disciples to go into all the world to tell everybody that he is the LORD of all and that the forgiveness of sins is offered in his name. A man named Saul hated this new religion known as ‘The Way’ and later known as Christianity. But while he was actively resisting Christians, he had an encounter with the risen Jesus. You can read about his story in Acts Chapter 9. He was converted and rather than hating all Christians and trying to destroy this new movement, he was born again and became the most influential disciple-maker the world has known. As he moved among Greek speaking towns, he became known as Paul.
The book of Colossians was written by him, along with his younger colleague Timothy, to one of the churches located in modern day Turkey. Paul had not personally established this church in Colossae nor visited it prior to writing this letter (Colossians 2:1) but his preaching for two years in a lecture hall in Ephesus impacted the whole province which Colossae was part of (Acts 19:10). A man named Epaphras is mentioned in Colossians 1:7, 4:12 and Philemon 23. He may have heard the gospel from Paul in Ephesus, taken the message back to his hometown of Colossae (Colossians 1:7) and continued in mission with Paul but never forgetting his church in prayer (4:12).
Read Colossians 1:3-8
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—5 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 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
What do you see?
- 3-4 God has clearly worked in you
- (Hearing of the faith and love of the Colossians)
- Who do we thank for Christians? God the Father.
- 5-6 Because the gospel has beared fruit in you
- (Which flowed from them hearing and truly understanding the true message of the gospel)
- What does the gospel do? It produces love outflowing from hope.
- 7-8 This gospel is faithfully spread by people through the Spirit
- (Which is spread by faithful servants by the power of the Spirit)
- How do we understand God to be at work in this world? By faithful ministers and the Holy Spirit.
(3-4) God has clearly worked in you
“We always thank God…when we pray for you…” Paul along with Timothy are writing this and that is the we. Notice their letter comes in the context of a relationship in prayer for the church. They are not putting themselves as head over the church and telling them what to do but are thankful to God for what he is doing in that church.
“…God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Billions of people across the globe and across history believe in a god of some sort. We speak of him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not any god that you can imagine but the true God who has revealed himself to us ultimately through his son. This son is Lord meaning ‘the One in Charge’, the Commander, the Boss of all. He is Jesus, a common name in first century Israel but he is the Christ which means God’s chosen king. But it is God the Father to whom Paul and Timothy pray.
“…because we have heard of your faith…and love…” Paul has heard reports of the church and two things cause him to thank and praise God – their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all of God’s people. These two observable attributes flow out of the gospel that they heard.
“…faith in Christ Jesus…” Such a small phrase that means so much! It describes a person putting their trust for the future in the hands of a man that they have never met in the flesh! It also describes something that is reportable since Paul had heard of their faith. The Bible uses the word faith, as it should, as a word of confidence and knowledge that produces action. Like trusting that a car will keep you safe as you travel at 110km down a freeway – your faith in the car is evident since you are traveling in it. Likewise, faith in Christ Jesus is seen because it alters the way of life for a Christian. Paul conveys why faith makes a difference in Verses 5 and 6.
“…the love you have for all God’s people…” The second observable attribute of the church in Colossae is their love but specifically their love for all of God’s people! Here is another element of the bible that is important. The whole earth is God’s creation and every human ever living has been made in the image of God. But, the world contains two types of people – those who are for God through Jesus Christ and those who do not know God through Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 2:9 those who have heard the gospel are described as those called out of darkness and into God’s wonderful light and they are described as God’s people. A special possession. The theme of the People of God is one that is carried right through the bible and can be investigated in our God’s Big Picture Plus+ course. When Paul refers to all of God’s people, he is referring to everyone that has declared Jesus as Lord and who believe that he has risen from the dead and that we now have our future hope in him (Romans 10:9-13). Just like faith can be observed, love is observable too in that it is more than a feeling, it produces action of care for others.
(5-6) Because the gospel has beared fruit in you
“…that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven…” The greatest impact of the gospel on a person is their shifted vision of the future. Without the promise of a bright future, the Christian faith would be empty. But we have the promise of the resurrection and a place reserved for us in heaven. John 14:1-6 shares of Jesus’ promise that this is what he has come to give us: eternal life through Christ. See also John 3:16. The worries of this life a put into perspective when we think of eternity. When we know that the future is secure, it affects the way we understand life here and now. Even suffering is placed in the context of temporary trials that test our faith rather than a curse from God. The Christian faith is about hope! Not wishful thinking! But the knowledge that a better future is prepared for us.
“…the true message of the gospel that has come to you.” The faith and love is not something that makes the people of Colossae stand out as amazing – like they are wonderful people by nature. Their faith and love have sprung out from hearing the gospel. The gospel means good news. And Paul uses the phrase, ‘true message of the gospel.’ Many things can be attached to the message of the gospel to make it untrue! Things such as the need to keep the Old Testament law, or the need for baptism in a specific manner, or the need to earn God’s love. Then there is the melding of the true gospel with a specific denomination or preacher or theologian. The true church of Christ is not about which institution you follow or whether you are Calvinist or some other labeled variety of Christian. The true message of the gospel is about Christ crucified for the sins of the world and gifted without charge to all who put their trust (faith) in Christ Jesus. Full stop. The effectiveness of this true gospel when received by a person will not go unnoticed by others because their faith and love will be visible. Lastly, this message has ‘come to you.’ Each generation of Christian are merely receiving the same message that the prophets predicted, that Jesus fulfilled and that the Holy Spirit, through the word of God is taught. It comes to us by word of mouth as people teach the bible in truth.
“In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world…” Paul continues to make the point that Christian faith is not specific to a location or race but is the same message intended for the whole earth to hear because it is the message of the one true and living God, the Father of Christ Jesus. This message gets transmitted from person to person as the true message is retold, believed and received as truth in the mind and heart of the hearer.
“…just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it…” There is no secret to the spread of Christianity. You hear the good news and understand it and you tell others about it and on it goes. Even when the church in Colossae heard it, they spread it around town themselves. The gospel is not something that we keep to ourselves. It is also not something that we just wait for church Ministers to tell. When you get such good news as the gospel, you pass it on! If you heard that the cure for all sicknesses was available and all you had to do was go to a fountain in the centre of town look at it – you’d investigate it and then let everybody know!
“…and truly understood God’s grace.” This is a key phrase to this whole section of Verses 3-8. See, many will hear the gospel taught to them by family or friends or even at church by their own minister BUT will fail to truly understand God’s grace. All of humanity are dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1). We are unable to truly please God because all of us have fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23). We have lived in darkness and God is only full of light – with no darkness in him. This makes him unapproachable by us. But God is full of compassion and mercy and has sent his one and only Son into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The end result of our sin is death – that’s the bad news. But the gospel – the good news – is that through Jesus Christ we can be forgiven! See Romans 6:23; John 3:16; Ephesians 2:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18. This has been described as the great exchange – our sins for Christ’s righteousness. Imagine us clothed in filthy rags and Jesus standing clothed in dazzling white. Imagine that this represents our condition before God the Father. Now imagine that Christ swaps his bright white and perfect clothing for ours. He takes on our unworthiness and, free of charge, gives us his spotless record. At the cross, he took on the full wrath of God’s judgment for sins that he never committed. He absorbed the punishment for us. He died so that we might live. Grace, truly understood, is that we have done nothing to earn God’s love and we cannot repay Christ for what he has done for us. Grace is God’s love – underserved, unmerited and unable to be repaid – ever. Salvation is about being saved – and you cannot save yourself! God doesn’t save us because he gets something more from us. He saves us and gives us the hope of eternity and we get everything great from him – the privilege of calling Him Father – access to pray to Him at any time – the promise of eternal life without punishment – all at the cost of Christ crucified.
(7-8) This gospel is faithfully spread by people through the Spirit
“You learned it from Epaphras…” See again, the gospel magically come to us but is brought to us and taught to us from someone. The church in Colossae has Epaphras to thank for bringing the good news to them. He is described as a faithful minister of Christ working on behalf of Paul. Where Paul could not come himself, Epaphras was trustworthy with the message so that what he brought to them was the same message. Since it is only the TRUE gospel that gives hope then we want to be receivers of that same TRUE gospel and not an altered one. The word minister is the same as servant or slave. It is not that Epaphras was necessarily paid or appointed with a special role but that his service was to Christ is spreading the gospel correctly.
“…who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” We have read of God the Father who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and we have heard of the good news traveling around the world by faithful servants of the gospel. This message was of grace and it produced love. Now we are informed that this love is demonstrated in the Spirit. The gospel is not only transferred around the world by the words of faithful servants like Epaphras, it is also illuminated and made real in a person by the Holy Spirit. Verse 9 tells us that the Spirit gives wisdom and understanding. This is why many people hear the faithful retelling of the gospel but do not ‘truly understand God’s grace.’ Instead they remain in the error of believing God only loves those who are lovely and who earn his respect. Humans all have the capacity to love but only the Spirit of God can produce love that is Christ-centred rather than self-centred.
What did we learn?
Christianity is a worldwide phenomenon initiated by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is all about the message of the gospel. This good news centres on God’s free gift of salvation, which is spread by people telling people the authentic unaltered message of grace. The Spirit of God brings that message alive in people when they receive it and believe it. The outworking of the gospel is Christian love flowing from people’s real trust in Jesus Christ. When God’s true message of grace reaches someone’s ears, the Spirit transforms that person’s life because of the hope that produces faith and love. God’s authentic transforming message is packaged in human relationship but empowered from Himself.
Picture this in diagram form beginning with the will of God and ending with hearts transformed by the gospel of grace…
God the Father → Jesus Christ crucified for sins IS the gospel of grace → Paul preaches this gospel → Epaphras hears it and delivers it back home → people in Colossae hear the true message and truly understand it → faith and love through the Spirit
Consider one or more of the following ways that this passage can form a firm foundation for your faith.
- What is the true message of the gospel and do you truly understand it? Try and explain it or write it down. Do you have any questions arise in your mind as you try to explain the gospel? What can you do to answer those questions? Lookup the following passages to hear the gospel from other parts of the New Testament:
- Ephesians 2:19
- Romans 3:23
- 1 Timothy 1:15
- Romans 6:23
- John 3:16
- 1 Peter 3:18
- John 4:9-10
- Faith, hope and love: three great words with great misunderstanding.
- Faith, as used in the bible, is about such knowledge of God and his promises that it alters your life because of your trust in him. Read Romans 3:21-28.
- Hope, as used in the bible, is about picturing the future that God has promised to those who love him. It is not wishful thinking, but it is imagining something that has been guaranteed to us. Read Romans 8:18-25.
- Love is both an emotion and a decision. Love, as an emotion only, is fleeting. Love, as a decision only, is without affection. But love is to choose who or what you are committed to. Jesus said, for example, that you cannot love both God and money. You can choose to love money as both something that provides security and something you will do anything to keep. But to love something that is fleeting itself is foolish. Rather, love God who has given us the gospel of grace. Read Romans 5:8.
- Faith and hope are words for this life but love is eternal. Read 1 Corinthians 13:13.
- Christianity is a spiritual faith grounded in real relationships. The gospel could not have reached Colossae without Paul or Epaphras. The gospel could not have reached Colossae without the Spirit of God. We do not belong to church for human relationships only. We belong because of the Spirit of God who has brought us into the knowledge of God’s grace and love. We only know this truth, however, because of humans who have also been touched by God’s grace in truth.