He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. (Colossians 1:15-18 - NASB95)
It was my privilege to attend the first annual "Theology For The Church" conference at Grace Baptist Church today. My friend, Pastor David Hegg, hosted the conference that focused on the critical need for sound doctrine in every aspect of the church and our personal lives. The final session by Dr. Stephen J. Wellum was on "Christ Alone." Since this is the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation there is a lot of talk about the "Five Solas" of the Reformation. Sola means "alone," and the Reformers focused on these five: Scripture Alone; Faith Alone; Grace Alone; Christ Alone; and Glory to God Alone. Dr. Wellum pointed out that Christ Alone is the key to all the other Solas. Scripture is about Christ (His Person, Work, and coming Kingdom). Faith is in Christ. Grace comes through Christ and His finished work for us. And since Jesus Christ is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, glory will go to Him for all eternity.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in the world don't believe that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. One author summarized how secularization has impacted the way people think about Christ over three time periods, pivoting around the Enlightenment: 1) Before the Enlightenment = impossible not to believe the Christian worldview; 2) Starting with the Enlightenment = possible not to believe in basic truths of Christianity; 3) 300 years after the Enlightenment with the rise of postmodern pluralism = impossible to believe in the objective truths and ultimate concerns of the Christian worldview.
We live in a time where people desperately need to hear the truth about Christ as our only hope for eternal salvation. Here are a few points Dr. Wellum made:
- Christ alone saves and we are justified (declared righteous) solely by His merits and not a combination of what Christ has done and our grace-empowered cooperation (Rom. 3:21-31; 5:1-11; 8:1-4).
- Our Lord, precisely because He is God the Son incarnate, in obedience to His Father's will, has paid for our sin, finally, definitively, and completely; there is absolutely nothing we can add to His work (Gal. 3:10-14; Heb. 2:17-18; 5:1-10; 7:23-28; 9:15-28).
- We, in covenant union with Him, become the beneficiaries of His work by faith alone because our Lord lived and died for us as our mediator and great Prophet-Priest-King.
- In Christ's obedient life/death for us, God's righteous demand has been met. Christ's righteousness is now imputed to believers because of Christ's covenant representative/substitution for us; and the Spirit, who raises us spiritually from the dead, unites us to Christ so that His work is now applied to us (Eph. 2:4-10).
- By faith alone, we receive Christ alone. Given who Jesus is, His work for us is sufficient. His obedient, sinless life as our Mediator and His substitutionary death are enough for our justification, and any "gospel" that fails to confess Christ alone is no gospel at all.
Think about this. When it comes to sin, God Himself is the standard. Law is not external to God, it flows out of the very nature of God. This is why God cannot grade on a curve. God will not deny Himself. God must be just and hold us accountable because He is the Law. He must meet His own demand. The sin problem must be addressed and God was the only One who could solve it. The first Adam brought sin and death into the world which spread to all mankind and brought a curse on the whole universe. The Last Adam (Christ) is the only one who can solve this problem (Rom. 5:12-21). Our Savior had to be man to identify with us as our representative / substitute. By His obedience, He ushered in the New Covenant. Christ was not merely another man, but the Lord of Glory, the divine Son, the true image of God who by His obedience (life and death) removes the curse, pays for our sin, and literally ushers in a new creation.
How do you respond to that? Value Him above everything else in the world. Give Him praise for so great a salvation. Draw near to Him and by the Spirit's power, become more like Him. Help others in the church to know and love Him more. And go out and tell as many people as you can about Who He is and What He has done for them. Billions of people are on the broad road that leads to destruction. Let's go out with boldness and joy and tell people about the true Jesus, because Jesus ALONE can save them from the impending wrath of God.
Take a moment and sing a few verses from the well-known song, "Oh How I Love Jesus," by Frederick Whitfield. It expresses a heart that understands the truth: Christ Alone.
There is a Name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth;
it sounds like music in my ear, the sweetest Name on earth.
Oh, how I love Jesus, Oh, how I love Jesus, Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me!
It tells me of a Savior's love,
Who died to set me free;
It tells me of His precious blood,
the sinner's perfect plea.
Jesus, the Name I love so well, the Name I love to hear:
No saint on earth its worth can tell, no heart conceive how dear.
This Name shall shed its fragrance still, along this thorny road,
Shall sweetly smooth the rugged hill that leads me up to God.
And there with all the blood-bought throng, from sin and sorrow free,
I'll sing the new eternal song
f Jesus' love for me.
The Grand Canyon of Colossians
by Pastor Thomas Herringshaw
I remember my first trip to the Grand Canyon. I was in 9th grade and my dad and I stopped in Flagstaff, AZ on our way back from a cross country road trip. I had previously thought that the Grand Canyon was just a big hole in the ground in the middle of the desert so I was surprised to see an expansive forest leading up to the edge of the southern rim of the canyon. I was amazed by the colors of the scene before me: the redness of the rock, the green trees of the forest, and the white snow that covered the ground and most of the trees (it had snowed the night before). While I was amazed by the beauty of all the colors, I was still more amazed by the enormity of the canyon itself, which spans eighteen miles across in some places and is a mile deep. As I stood there at the edge of the Grand Canyon, I realized that no pictures could truly portray its grandness in the same way as seeing it in person! I also realized that I felt smaller, just being in the presence of such a natural wonder. As I left the Grand Canyon, the world seemed a lot bigger than it previously did and I felt a lot smaller!
While it is natural for us to behold the wonders of creation and feel a little bit smaller, we should also feel smaller when we read about the greatness of our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. There are certain passages of scripture that should cause us to feel smaller because they paint such an enormous and lofty picture of God. Colossians 1:15-20 is one of these passages, and in these six verses (which some have called "The Christ Hymn") the Apostle Paul portrays Christ as the preeminent one, the one who is far above all else and who is worthy of our worship and adoration.
Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For
by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created
through him and
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Emphasis mine)
In verses 15-16, we see that
Jesus is preeminent over all creation. Paul begins by stating two facts that assert t
he reality that Jesus is preeminent over creation: (1) Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Jesus is the one who makes the invisible God visible); and (2) Jesus is the firstborn of all creation (meaning that Jesus has the highest rank or position, not that He himself is a created being). Then in verse 16, Paul explains the reasons
why Jesus is preeminent, namely because all things (in heaven, on earth, visible and invisible) were created by (literally "in") Jesus, through Jesus and for (literally "to") Jesus.
Verses 17-18a form their own little section, a sort of interlude between the two main stanzas of "The Christ Hymn," but that doesn't mean these three lines don't pack in some serious theology! In these three lines we see that Jesus is
(1) the preexistent one, (2) the one who holds existence together and (3) that He is the head of the church (the one who holds the church together and is in authority over it).
Verses 18b-20 then form the second stanza of this amazing praise to Jesus. Yet in these verses we see that
Jesus is preeminent over the new creation. Similar to the first stanza, Paul begins by stating two facts that assert
the reality that Jesus is preeminent over the new creation: (1) He is the beginning; and (2) He is the firstborn (highest in rank/position) of the dead. Jesus is the beginning of the new humanity that He is forming of all those who believe in Him (the church). This new humanity will inhabit the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21-22), and Jesus is the one who is preeminent over all the "new creation" in the same way He is preeminent over this creation. The second part of verse 18 reveals that
the resurrection of Jesus established His preeminence over the new creation. He is the firstborn of the dead in order that He might become preeminent over all things. But what claims can Jesus make to this status of preeminence over the new humanity? Verses 19 and 20 provide
the reasons why Jesus is preeminent over the new creation: (1) The fullness of God is in Him, and (2) all things are reconciled through Him and to Him.
When we come to this passage, it is really easy for us to pass by all of these simple statements as we read on "cruise control." But when we pull the car over, get out to behold the wonder of who Jesus is (the image of God, with all the fullness of God within Him, the creator of all things, and sustainer of all things) and what Jesus has done (He has reconciled us to Himself by His sacrificial death on the cross), we cannot help but feel smaller because we are beholding the beauty, wonder and greatness of our savior Jesus Christ.
May we approach the "Grand Canyon" of Colossians 1:15-20 with humility, fear and reverence, allowing it to show us how large our Savior looms above us! May we walk away feeling that we are a little bit smaller and that Christ is so much larger!