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Sun, Nov 06, 2011

35 - Walking in Christ [b]

Colossians 2:6-7 by Robert Dean
The culture of Asia Minor was known for its different philosophies and a tolerance that different religions were accepted within the culture as having equal value. In modern day 21st century society, we experience the same thing. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of exclusivity. So how then are Christians to "think", living in such a pagan culture? And is there a secret to the Christian life? In this lesson, we begin to learn more about the 30 imperatives that Paul writes about that are to define the Christian life. The centerpiece of the Epistle of Colossians is in vs. 6-15. The core of that centerpiece is in vs. 6 and 7 - "walk in Him". We learn that this is both positional and experiential.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:47 mins 3 secs

Walking in Christ. Colossians 2:6-7

 

Paul has heard that there were problems that these believers were facing as they were attempting to live their Christian lives in the midst of an extremely pagan culture. There's not a whole lot of difference between the culture of Asia Minor in 58-60 AD and our culture. It was an eclectic culture, a culture that had a number of different philosophies that influenced the way people thought and it was a culture that had a number of different religions that were accepted as all being of equal value. Whether a person believed one thing or another didn't really matter as long as it meant something to them and as long as it seemed to give their life some level of meaning and definition. But then, as now, when the gospel of Jesus was proclaimed in that culture it was a gospel of exclusivity—that there is only one way to God, one way to salvation. And that message has always rubbed mankind the wrong way because at the core of the sin nature is an orientation to rebellion, an orientation to self as the ultimate and final authority in life. Man wants to set the parameters, the goals, the rules, and if he thinks he has done well enough to please God then God ought to at least be gentlemanly enough to accept it. So whether one follows this religion or that religion people believed that that ought to be sufficient. But when a Christian come along and says no, it really does matter, we are all sinners, nothing we do is acceptable to God, the only thing that has value is the death of Jesus Christ and He alone is the path to salvation, then people get irritated.

In our culture over the last couple of hundred years that has seen the dominance of Christianity those who opposed Christianity did not say a whole lot because they were in the minority, even an extreme minority. But as our culture has moved into this post-Christian era since at least 1963 the majority of people in this country reject biblical Christianity. Today we live in a culture where Christianity is coming under assault more and more.

So when we get to this epistle to the Colossians there are a lot of things that we can learn with reference to the Christian life, thinking as a Christian in the midst of a pagan culture that is opposed to what we are saying, what we are teaching. As similar as Ephesians and Colossians are they are different. If they were just synonymous there would be no reason to include both in the New Testament. They are different because the epistle that Paul writes to the Ephesians is tailored to the problems that the Ephesians believers are facing, which is not quite the same problem that the believers in Colosse are facing. So the differences is what is instructive. Part of this difference is that the significance and the sufficiency of Jesus Christ is being specifically challenged in the Colosse environment. The believers who are living there are suffering from assaults from philosophical and religious systems that say, that's all great what you believe about Jesus but you need to add some things to that; if you are really going to have meaning and happiness in this life then you need to have some external religious trappings—observe some holy days, abstain from certain things as a sign that you have a closer relationship with God; you need to assimilate certain ideas that we have learned from philosophy that appeal to the intellectual capacity of man so that he thinks he has something special because it is so erudite, so sophisticated.

These were the ideas that were influencing that church, and frankly the assaults on Christianity have been pretty much the same for the last 2000 years. There are always groups that come along that think that they have a new twist on the Scripture. Now there are some refinements and some areas of Scripture and of doctrine that have gained a greater focus over the last 2000 years and been defined more precisely, but frankly there is very little after 2000 years of study of the Word that is said that someone else has not already said. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun, and no one is going to come along today and say they have "the secret to the Christian life." It all boils down basically to whether we really trust in Jesus Christ as the second person of the Trinity, the eternal God in bodily form, and that He and He alone is sufficient for our salvation, and His thinking—the Word of God, called the mind of Christ in 1 Corinthians 2:16—is sufficient for us in every area of life. That is the issue. The challenge in Colosse was, it is great what we have but we need some other things to kind of refine it and flush it out a little bit. In other words, you don't have everything, you just have something good. This is a direct challenge to the sufficiency of Christ and to all that He has done.

As we come to Colossians 2:6 we enter into the main body, the main of the epistle. In this next section, which extends down to the closing paragraphs, there are thirty imperatives. An imperative mood is a mood of command, a mandate. It either states something positively that we should do in the Christian life, or it presents something negatively that we should not be doing in the Christian life. In Colossians 2:6 we find our first mandate.

Note verses 4-8 NASB "I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. 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. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ."

There is a warning here that flows through the rest of the epistle to straightening up our thinking so that we are protected and have a defensiveness through the way we think so that false ideas can't come in and distract us. This sets up our orientation and it is verses 6 and seven that really become the hinge verses for getting into the main body of this epistle. 

In the next couple of verses we have our fist two imperative mood verbs or commands. We are told to walk in Him in v. 6, and in v. 8 we are told to watch out for or see to it that no one deceives you through philosophy and empty deceit. What is interesting structurally is that there is not another imperative until verse 16. So this section from v. 6 down through 15 is the centerpiece of this epistle, and the centerpiece of the centerpiece is verses 6 and 7. This is the core message of this epistle: walk in Christ, v.6 and then v.7 defines how that walk takes place. 

Colossians 2:6 NASB "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, {so} walk in Him." There are two basic questions in this verse that relate to what is said. The first clause which is a comparative, "as you have received Christ"; and then, "so walk in Him." First of all, how did we receive Christ? If we are to walk now as we received Him, how did we receive Him? Secondly, how exactly do we walk in Him?

How do we walk in Christ? The command here is from the verb peripateo [peripatew], present active imperative. That is important because in Greek a present imperative is the way you are going to express a command that emphasizes something that goes on throughout a long period of time. Present imperatives are used to stress something that should be a standard operating procedure in the life of a believer, something that should always characterize a Christian's life. It is a second person plural because it is addressed to the entire congregation. "It is "You all walk," but because it is not going to be fulfilled corporately he is addressing a congregation but it is addressed to each individual within the corporate body of the congregation in Colosse. In Colossians Paul uses this verb four different times. What sets this one apart is that it is defined as "walk in Him." 

This is a really interesting phrase and something of an exegetical problem because normally for the apostle Paul, whenever he talks about "in Christ" or "in Him" he is talking about what we refer to as positional truth or what every Christian has in terms of their position in Christ. The instant we are saved we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection by what is called the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. Christ uses the Holy Spirit to identify us with who He is and to cleanse us positionally of all sin and to bring us into the body of Christ. Sp Paul uses this phrase "in Christ" as a technical term and almost every time he uses it he always means that.

But the other side of the problem here is that this is a verb "to walk" which is not a verb that is usually used in relation to our position in Christ but is a command that is usually related to our day-to-day experience of our spiritual life. And the verb peritpateo is used with a variety of prepositions—en pneumati [e)n pneumati], "walk by means of the Holy Spirit." There it is stressing how we are to walk. We are to walk by faith and not by sight, but there it is not the preposition en, it is dia plus the genitive which expresses a very similar idea to the preposition en—"walk by faith." It is an instrumental idea. We are also to walk "according to the truth," to "walk according to newness of life." All of these prepositions have different nuances, and en can express both means and state and is used in both contexts. So it is a little bit ambiguous as to what this means specifically. In our verse here this is an unusual type of construction for Paul and because he uses it, it probably should grab our attention, because he is stating this is a little bit of a different way to catch and capture out attention.

We are in Christ but we have to walk as though we were in Christ. This is the only place where we have this idea in Scripture. In Ephesians chapter five Paul says we are children of light. That is positional truth; who we are in Christ: children of light. But then he says "walk as children of light." There is a correlation, an overlap between positional truth and experiential truth. Because we are children of light, because we are in Christ, we are to walk consistent with that reality. So this explains what Paul is focusing on here in order that we understand it.

Colossians 1:10 relates to Paul's prayer. The end game is our Christian way of life, the way in which we live. The word peripateo is used literally in the sense of just walking, but it is used figuratively to refer to the way a person lives, the manner of life, how you live, the behavior patterns. So whenever we read this in the epistles especially it usually does not refer to the physical act of walking but to how we are to conduct ourselves, the manner of life we should have, the characteristics of our day-to-day life. So Paul says in 1:10 that the goal of learning the Word and assimilating Bible doctrine into our souls is so that we can walk in a manner that is worthy of God. It doesn't mean that we are trying to gain God's grace. It reflects the fact that now that we have received God's grace, as we come to understand it in gratitude all that God has done for us, that should motivate us to live in a manner that shows our gratefulness to God for what He has done, for all that He has given us. We are to walk in a manner that does not dishonor who we are but honors what God has done for us. And that verse goes on to say that we are to walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him by being fruitful in every good work. So the worthy walk isn't based on some sort of subjective standard that we are just going to live as a good person, but that worthy walk is defined by being fruitful in every good work. There is production that comes in the life of the believer.

A lot of people get into discussions about what it means to be fruitful. Anyone who knows anything about agriculture should know that being fruitful is not something that happens right away. There are passages where Paul talks about the fruit of his ministry being people who become saved, but the vast majority of passages that talk about the fruit of the Christian life focus on character transformation, an inward transformation that then leads to external changes. The focus on fruitfulness is not on quantifiable, observable results. That upsets those in the lordship crowd who want to say that you determine whether you are truly saved by the fruit in your life. Well God didn't call us to be fruit inspectors. We can't look at someone else's life and because there are certain overt sins that take place there we can conclude anything about their soteriological status. We walk worthy by being fruitful in every good work and also by increasing in the knowledge of God.

Colossians 3:7 shows that walking is often stated in terms of a contrast. We are not to walk, as Paul says in Romans 8, according to the world or according to the flesh but we are to walk (Romans 6) according to newness of life and (Romans 8) according to the Spirit. So there is a contrast. We don't walk like the world walks, we don't walk like unbelievers, we don't have a life that is similar to that of unbelievers; we have a life that is different and is visibly and observably different. Colossians 3:6, 7 NASB "For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them." But now we live differently as believers.

The last use of peripateo is in Colossians 4:5 NASB "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity." Outsiders are unbelievers, and the manner of life that we have when we are around unbelievers we are to let the wisdom of God's life characterize our life. And there should be a sense of why we are involved with others who are unbelievers and how we are using that time in terms of being a witness for Him. So there are four times in Colossians that this concept of walking is mentioned. But it is mentioned many other times in Scripture.

2 Corinthians 5:7 NASB "for we walk by faith, not by sight—" In other words, the Christian life is based on faith. Everything from salvation to the time we die is based on faith. But that doesn't mean that we just fold our hands and sit in a corner and say, "I am just going to have faith." Faith is a means by which we understand the commands and prohibitions of Scripture and we do what Scripture says to do. Faith is not opposed to doing things. When we have a command in Scripture to pray without ceasing we do that by means of faith. When we have commands in Scripture that we are not to lie or we are not to associate with certain rebellious believers, then we trust God and we do or we don't do what that command says to do.

Ephesians 5:2 NASB "and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." Walk by means of love. Love is used here as a way that enables us to relate to other people.

Ephesians 5:8 NASB "for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light."

1 John 2:6 NASB "the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." So if we claim to be in fellowship then we should live our life as a reflection of Christ's life. Our character should reflect His character. We can't manufacture that it can only come as a fruit of the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:10 NASB "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

Ephesians 4:1 NASB "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." We are to walk in a manner consistent with what God has done for us and honor Him.

Ephesians 4:17 NASB "So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind."

What all this means is that when we live our lives as believers it is on the basis of faith. We are trusting in something; that is what faith is. We are trusting in the Word of God. Faith focuses on a sense of certainty and assuredness, something that is true. There are degrees of faith, Scripture says. We can have faith like a mustard seed, a seed which is extremely small. So it doesn't take a lot of faith, just a little faith, just to trust God.

Though we live our lives by faith that is further defined by the positive commands and negative prohibitions of the Scriptures. Positively that lifestyle that we have as believers should be characterized by truth, by love as the Bible defines it, by forgiveness, by righteousness, by biblical wisdom, by being worthy of God's grace. Negatively these passages all teach that we are to walk not in lust or strife, drunkenness, envy, self-centeredness, craftiness [deceptive, manipulative self-service], foolishness, being disorderly, laziness. 3 John 4 NASB "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in [by means of] the truth." John 17:17 NASB "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth."

How do we walk in truth? By learning God's Word, but it is not an end in itself. The end is to transform the way we think so that it transforms the way we live, so that God the Holy Spirit produces within us from the Word of God the character of Christ and God is glorified.