Category Archives: Holiness


What does it take to fool you? If someone tells you a ridiculous story, you are unlikely to be deceived, right? But suppose someone tells you something that sort of makes sense, or that you are inclined to believe because you don’t know any better. Isn’t it possible that you might be fooled then?

If you are like me, you probably get all kinds of emails warning about things that seem plausible. Electronic postcards from Hallmark all contain viruses. Mobile phones can cause Shell gas stations to blow up. Deadly spiders from somewhere are lurking in the restrooms of Olive Garden restaurants. Mysterious men at gas stations hand business cards out that contain skin-penetrating memory-wiping drugs. Mobile phone numbers are all going to be listed in some gigantic phone book. Bill Gates will give you some of his money if you send enough emails to your friends. The government will take all religious broadcasts off TV and/or the internet.

Oops, did I say they sounded plausible?

Well, they didn’t sound plausible to me (they have all been confirmed as hoaxes), but they did sound plausible to the people sending them to me.

There is another hoax that sounds plausible to a lot of people. It is that  wisdom about spiritual things is found somewhere other than in Christ. Another version is that there is a secret to holiness that is something other than Christ. Yet another variant is that the knowledge of how to be pleasing God is found in someone or something other than Christ.

Paul, the of his day, said (of Christ)

 in (Him) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (Colossians 2:3-4)

Back in the first century, some folks were going around making up stories that sounded as good as the cell phones making gas stations blowing up thing. They said that there were really good ways to be holy and to get on God’s good side by following rules and learning about the laws of Moses and getting circumcised and doing all sorts of things like that. And, apparently, if they threw in enough details like the names of famous people and places (Moses, Bill Gates, Olive Garden, or Jerusalem, for example) their stories made sense to a lot of people. Unfortunately, while the stories sounded plausible, they were hoaxes. Actually, another name for a “hoax” or a “plausible argument” is a “lie,” but Paul, like me, was too polite to just come right out and say that so bluntly,

But, Paul was concerned that people were being fooled (“deluded”) so he wanted to make it clear. There is no knowledge or wisdom of spiritual things apart from Christ. There is no way to holiness other than through Christ and faith in Him. There is so secret way to please God, except through knowing Christ, just like there is no way to get money by sending emails. As dramatic and appealing as the myths may be, they are just that.

So, delete the emails about the toxic spiders and the mysterious business cards. Ignore anything that anyone tells you about being holy or pleasing God if that message does not center squarely on Christ and what He has done for you and is now doing in you.

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What is the path to maturity? How do we grow up?

Little children grow up and mature, if they are fed and cared for by their parents or guardians. The process just seems to occur naturally, as long as the necessary conditions, such as food, rest, and loving care, are provided.

What about maturity in Christ? How does the individual who has trusted in Jesus Christ for his or her salvation grow up?

The Apostle Paul devoted his life to the work of helping Christians grow up to maturity. Here is his summary of that work, in Colossians 1:28:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (ESV)

Paul says that his goal is to “present everyone mature in Christ.”  We know, from what Christ said Himself, that maturity in Christ means becoming like Christ. Jesus says in Luke 6:40 that “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” A maturing Christian will look more and more like Christ, and the consummation of that process is that a fully mature Christian will be like Christ.

That process was the work of Paul, and it is the work now of all the fellow servants of God who desire what Christ and Paul desired to bring about in Christ’s disciples.

But how is it accomplished?

Paul says that first and foremost, maturity happens by the proclamation of Christ. The truth about Christ, the facts about who He is and what He has done, is the food that Christians need to grow from little children into mature disciples. Paul saw that as crucial, not minor. The gospel is the nourishment of the saints. Without it, there will be no growth. Without daily feeding upon it, we will never grow up. We may come to regard it as routine and unexciting, but without that daily bread, our growth will be stunted. When Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” (see John 6:48) He went on to say that feeding upon Him, continually, was necessary for life in Him. (see John 6:56).

Paul goes on to say that maturity comes from driving the truth of Christ deep into the mind. The word translated in the ESV (following the King James Version) as “warning” means literally to “put in mind.” In other words, Paul is reiterating that he sees putting the truth of Christ into the minds of everyone as the means of bringing about maturity. A one-time declaration of Christ is not sufficient for Paul. Rather, his goal is to get the truth of Christ deeply into the hidden recesses of everyone’s consciousness. Every thought must be brought into conformity with who Christ is, what He has done, and what He is doing. Christ must not just be at the surface of our thinking, but He must permeate our thoughts.

Paul then reiterates that maturity comes from teaching. Here, Paul is not simply repeating himself. He is stating that the true task of teaching is not merely laying facts out before a person, but requires that the things being taught are actually learned. Until that has occurred, the job of teaching is not finished. True teaching never assumes that learning has taken place until the learner has made the things being taught truly his own. The things that are taught must be fully understood, and this takes the patience of a tutor who is willing to stay at the task until it is complete. Paul says that he teaches everyone, indicating that everyone always has more to learn about Christ to grow into His likeness.

Paul then says that what He proclaims to others, puts in their minds, and teaches, is “all wisdom.” That is, he intends everyone to completely grasp the whole truth of Christ. A child who is only fed one kind of food will not develop and grow properly. So, too, we children of God will not grow into the fullness of Christ unless we hear, embrace, and fully understand all the fullness of Christ’s work in us and for us.

As we look at Colossians 1:28, we must remember that Paul is not claiming that he, or any other instructor, is working on his own power, or is able to bring Christians to maturity by his own wisdom. In the very next verse, Paul acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is working in and through Paul. However, just as the Holy Spirit brings salvation through the proclamation of the gospel, He also brings maturity, Christ-likeness and holiness into the lives of we who trust in Christ through those who He uses to teach us.

The desire to hear, grasp, and understand the truths of Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Hearing, grasping, and understanding all there is to know of Christ are the means by which God’s Spirit brings us to maturity in Christ, through the efforts of those who love Christ and deliver His word to us.

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The Gift of Glory

Can you keep a secret?

My wife and I are just so bad at keeping secrets from each other that we have given up. By that, I don’t mean to imply that keeping secrets is a good idea in marriage. Important things need to be discussed and aired in love. But, sometimes little surprises are more wonderful if they are unveiled in the right setting and at the correct time. Surprise Christmas presents, for example, are usually much better if the recipient does not get them until, well, Christmas. Unfortunately, the excitement usually gets the better of us. That’s why my wife usually gets her Christmas presents from me about a day after they are purchased. That’s why I have received many of my best Christmas presents from her shortly after Thanksgiving. While our delight in giving to each other is probably a good thing, we usually don’t have much to unwrap when the big day comes.

Fortunately, God has the patience and ability to make His grand and gracious gifts all the more glorious. The greatest and most marvelous gift of all He kept as a “mystery” for centuries, so that the glory of it and the wonder of it could be fully appreciated. Colossians 1:26-27 speaks of

 …the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

God’s plan was hidden for “ages and generations.” God is, and has been, in control of His revelation of Himself and His work. Even while He sent prophets to declare His works and His ultimate plan for salvation, He chose not to divulge every detail. As the Apostle Peter wrote,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (see 1 Peter 1:10-12)

God revealed to His prophets that He was preparing something truly marvelous. This incredible truth was not even experienced by the prophets He chose and spoke through. They would speak of it, but it would be for those who were yet to come. It was a gift so remarkable that even the angels longed to understand it, but could not.

God’s plan was revealed to His saints. God held off fully revealing His glorious and astounding gift until the intended recipients were able to receive it. After sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for their sins and purchase them as His own people, He revealed the gift to His saints, the people God chose, made holy, and set apart for Himself by the finished work of Christ. It seems that the greatness and glory of the gift could only be comprehended by those who received it. Indeed the glorious gift had to be possessed in order to understand its value.

God revealed the greatness of the gift to those who received it. This gift is one of riches, of exceptional abundance.

God revealed that the gift would be received by the Gentiles. That is, it is a gift that would be given to people of all nations. It would not just go to those who were Jews by birth, but to people of all tribes, tongues and countries.

God revealed that the secret gift would be glorious. That is, its worth would be greater than human imagination could comprehend, unless that comprehension was expanded by the gift itself.

What is that marvelous gift?

The gift of God is “Christ in you. ” Imagine that–Christ, the Anointed One of God, dwells within human beings. The Spirit sent by the Father through the Son, the Holy Spirit of God, inhabits the flesh of all those who believe in Christ. This truth is astounding, and would be unbelievable unless the Holy Spirit so changed people’s hearts and minds that they could grasp it.

This inhabitation of God’s Spirit in human beings is “THE hope of glory.” That is, without the Holy Spirit dwelling in men and women, they would have no hope. He is our only hope to live purposeful lives. He is our only hope for growing in holiness. He is our only hope to ever see the things of God, the things that truly have worth and value.

God, at the proper time, revealed the astounding truth that He would take sinful people like us out of our sin. More than that, He has revealed to us the unfathomable truth that He would choose to implant His Holy Spirit in us and give us the promise, the hope, the assurance, the certain expectation that as He lives in us, so we will and can live for Him.

We must not forget this truth. We must not diminish its importance. By the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, we are given the ability to grasp how great and marvelous that gift is. By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are given the hope of being transformed by the working of God’s Spirit, into the image of Christ. By the Holy Spirit, we can delight in knowing that “He who began a good work in us will continue it.” (see Phil. 1:6).

Let us not lose our zeal to praise both the Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Giver of the Gift, for God is worthy of our praise. Let us not forget to live by the power that He is gracious in giving us to live lives of glory.


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The Right Tool

Have you ever used a wrench as a hammer?  You might get away with it. If a hammer isn’t available and you want to put a nail in the wall to hang up a picture it might seem to work (that is, until you make a dent in the wall because the nail isn’t quite lined up right). The truth is, however, that a wrench is not designed to hammer nails, and using it in that way is usually not a good idea. Using a hammer as a wrench is really a poor idea, by the way. Your pipes get all dented and bendy.

Using the right tool for the task is usually necessary to produce the desired results.

God has tools that He uses to do things in us. For example, He has a tool that He uses to make us holy. Imagine. He takes that tool and, by applying it to us, He changes us so that we become set-apart and suitable for His purposes. God also has a tool that He uses to make us blameless. When He applies that tool to us, every disobedient thing we have ever done, or will ever do, is erased from any record and no longer matters. God even has a tool that silences every accusation that might be made against us. Using that tool, He can make us so pure that, for the rest of eternity, no crime, act, or thought will ever be brought up as evidence against us.

It turns out that God uses only a single tool when He desires to make people holy, blameless, and accusation-free. This tool is so perfect for doing what God wants to do that it never fails in His hands.

That tool is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:22-23 tells us about that tool, and how God uses it.

…he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. – Colossians 1:22-23, ESV

What does this tell us about the tool of the gospel?

First, we learn what it is. The gospel is that “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death.” Christ has now, already, brought us to God in reconciliation. He has repaired the broken relationship between us and God. He did this in a physical body, a body of flesh much like our own. By His death, He brought those who were dead to God back to life. The news that He has done that is the gospel tool that God wields as He chooses to perform His work.

Second, we learn what it does. That truth, and the work of Christ, was designed “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” By the gospel and the work of Christ, we are brought before God. If that was all the gospel did, the prospect would be frightening; being ushered into the presence of God in all His holiness and perfection would be deadly for disobedient and sinful people. However, the gospel brings us to God not as sinners, but as those who have been made holy, blameless, and pure beyond any accusation. Our transportation to His presence is accompanied by our transformation to those who are worthy of entering into His presence. It is as if we were whisked into a limousine to be reunited with God, and during the journey we were bathed, dressed in new clothes, and cleaned up in every way that would make us presentable to Him.

Third, we learn how it works. The gospel will transport us to God and transform us in holiness “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.” The gospel does what God wishes it to do to us if we continue to believe it and put our hope in it alone. It continues to work in us as we continue to put all of our faith in it. As the gospel is constant and true, our faith is to be stable and steadfast. If we feel the desire to add embellishments to it, or depart from its simple power, then that should be a sign to us that we are no longer trusting in it, and thus are no longer being changed by it. If we place the weight of our trust on anything else, such as our own effort, the praiseworthy acts we might do, the knowledge we might accumulate, the goodness of other people we know, or anything else, we shift our faith away from the gospel, which is and must remain our only hope.

Fourth, we learn how God uses it. He uses the gospel as it is “proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” As the good news of reconciliation in Christ is proclaimed, far and wide without any exceptions or excuses, God is using it. As the word of the Lord is heard, God uses it to produce the results that God desires, as it is His tool in His hand. God uses faithful men to declare the message “of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Just as God wielded the tool of the gospel through the service of the Apostle Paul, so even now He applies the tool of the gospel everywhere. He does so through the words of all those who spread the gospel in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their workplaces, and anywhere else in all creation where any of His saved creatures may be faithful to declare it.

God uses no other tool but the gospel of the work of Christ to present men and women to Himself as reconciled to Him. No plea, exhortation, or guilt-trip will truly bring people to God.

God uses no other tool but the gospel of the work of Christ to make men and women holy, blameless, and above reproach before Him. No rules, laws or bullying will make people truly holy.

The tool God uses is simple: it is the news that Christ has now reconciled sinners to God in his body of flesh by his death. We need no other doctrine, no other message. We need not be ashamed of the simplicity of it, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (see Romans 1:16-17).

We who know the truth are allowed by God to carry it to all places in creation. We are entrusted with God’s tool, the gospel. Let us pray to God that we may be faithful to proclaim it without shame.

Any other tool that we might seek to use is not the tool of God. It is not the right tool.





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The End of Conflict

Usually, when we think about conflict we can only imagine one end to the struggle: there will be a winner and there will be a loser. Every war, every battle, every argument, every fight is not really over until one side is victorious and the other is defeated. If a clash results in a draw, then it is not truly over, and we tend to expect that the fight will be carried on, perhaps in some other form.

That is what makes the conflict between man and God so amazing.

The human race became a hoard of enemies to God when Adam ignored God’s decree and deliberately challenged His authority. Ever since, we have either ignored God by denying His existence or fought against Him by making our own rules. Our thinking and attitudes have been set against God throughout human history. We have not wanted Him and we certainly have not wanted His leadership. We have been at conflict with Him.

God’s way of resolving that conflict was beyond the imagination of Humanity.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him… -Colossians 1:21-22, (ESV)

We were all God’s enemies.
We “once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” Our alienation, separation, and estrangement from Him were complete.

Like Adam, we pretended we did not know Him. We ignored Him or we denied His existence.

We devised clever fables about how we, and all we see around us, came into being by chance and time. We told ourselves and taught each other that God was unnecessary to explain our existence. In effect, we treated God as an idea rather than a Person, and an irrelevant one at that.

Some of us might have seen the glaring stupidity of those fables and so we did not continue to deny the existence of “a god.” But, even then, the true God was so disdainful to us that we rejected Him and instead invented our own versions of Him.

Some of us made up multiple, puny “gods.” Others made up a “God” who merely created everything, but had no authority or interest in overseeing “His” creation. Some of us made up a “God” who was an impersonal “Force.” Others of us made up a “God” who made no demands of us but who only wanted to please us, much like a cosmic butler. Still others made up a “God” who really wanted us to love him, and who thought so much of us that He would do anything to earn our love, much like a heavenly boyfriend. We showed our hatred for the true God by creating our own counterfeits.

Whether we ignored the true God altogether or preferred our own imaginary god to Him, our hostility to Him affected our lives.

Our actions became evil. We chose to do what we wanted rather than what He wanted. Rather than honoring our parents, as God commanded, we treated our them like inconvenient and embarrassing benefactors in our youth, and like inconvenient burdens upon our time and money later in life. Rather than highly esteeming marriage, as God commanded, we ridiculed it by engaging in all kinds of activities to satisfy our own desires before marriage, during marriage, and without marriage. Rather than prizing the truth, as God commanded, we littered our speech with lies and half-truths whenever it served our own ends. Rather than loving our neighbor, as God commanded, we looked upon the people around us with contempt, using them and exploiting them as we saw fit. Rather than being content with the things we had been given, as God commanded, we coveted more and turned our lives into a race to collect, amass and accumulate all the things that we wanted but did not have.

God ended our conflict with Him with reconciliation.
God chose not to destroy us as His enemies, but chose to bring us to Himself. We, the enemies, “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death.”

Our conflict with God was ended by a death. As God’s enemies, we would have expected that God would demand the death  and utter defeat of all of us who were in conflict with Him. Since He is God, He could have easily used His power to destroy and punish us. But instead, God did something amazing. He turned all that power to destroy against His own mortal body on the cross. He could have concluded the conflict with us in the only way that we could imagine, with our own deaths at His hand. Instead, He chose to end the conflict with us by causing His own death at the hands of His enemies. He made peace and brought His conflict with us to a final end in reconciliation rather than destruction.

God has changed us from hostile to holy
Not only did God choose to spare us as His enemies, but He also acted to change us so we would no longer be His enemies. He did this “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

God made us holy. By His grace and the work of Christ, we are no longer set against God, as our alienated and hostile minds had made us. Instead, He has made us into people set apart for God, for that is what being holy means.
God made us blameless. By His grace, through the death of Christ, we are no longer seen by God as guilty, although that is what our evil actions had made us. Instead, He has made us into people who are guiltless and without blame before Him, since all our guilt was taken by Christ and died with Him.
God made us above reproach. By His grace, through the resurrection of Christ, there is no longer any charge that can be made against us. Instead, He has given us Christ as our advocate, pleading that every accusation that might be made against us, even from future sin, has already been pardoned.

Our conflict with God can not be ended by our victory over Him. Each of us must either be defeated enemies or reconciled to Him. He has done all that is required for reconciliation. Because of what Christ did on a little hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, you may be reconciled to God. Every person who changes his attitude towards God (repents) and believes that Christ has taken all the punishment for sin and disobedience upon Himself  is now reconciled to God. If you have done that, you are now holy, blameless, and above reproach before God.

If we are reconciled to God through Christ, we must regard ourselves as God regards us. We are no longer in conflict with Him. We are holy, blameless, and above reproach in His eyes. His enemy, the sin that still seeks to hold us, is now our enemy. Let us regard ourselves as He does, and glorify Him in the way we live.

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“We’re sorry, you don’t qualify.”

If you’ve ever heard or read those words before, you know how disappointing they are. Hopes may be dashed by those words. Dreams may be left in tatters. The words sting, even though they are merely conveying a fact that you don’t meet the requirements for the job, the loan, or the place on the team.

Those words are bad enough when they refer to some worldly activity. But imagine what it would be like to hear them, or words like them, when life is over and your eternal destination is being assigned. Imagine being told “You are not qualified to escape God’s wrath. You don’t qualify for eternal life. You don’t meet the requirement.”

For those of us who have trusted in Christ, imagining is the closest we will ever come to that experience. That is because of what our heavenly Father has done, as Colossians 1:12 tells us:

…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (ESV)

The Father has qualified you. Notice that the verse does not say that you have done anything. He has done everything required, by sending His Son to meet the requirements for you. This was His act, not yours. You are passive in it. You have done none of it. He has done it all.

Notice also that the verse says that all of this has already happened. You are already qualified, and need not do anything in the future. There are no tests or exams. There is no paperwork that you need to file. There is no condition you still have to fulfill. It is done.

But for what has He qualified you?

To share in the inheritance. What is the inheritance?

The inheritance includes eternal life, but it is even more. Jesus described that inheritance as the kingdom of the Father:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. – Luke 12:32 (ESV)
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. -Matthew 25:34 (ESV)

Jesus described it as a hundred times greater than all the things you might possess on earth put together:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. -Matthew 19:29 (ESV)

Peter described the inheritance as…

…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, – I Peter 1:4 (ESV)

 What is more, you are qualified by the Father as one of the saints in light.

The saints are those who are “set apart” and made holy. The Father has already designated you as holy, pure, righteous, and sinless. That is the quality that the sovereign all-powerful Creator and sustainer of the world has ascribed to you. To describe you as a saint, He also uses the expression “in light,” which means both in purity and in truth. There is no doubt of your holy standing as a saint, for it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18). Just as He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, He has declared you a saint and holy in truth, and so you are made holy in truth.

In response to all of this, the first part of Colossians 1:12 reminds us to give thanks to the Father. Although we might look upon all that the Father has qualified us for– eternal life, the inheritance of the kingdom, standing as a holy saint, true purity– and desire to somehow deserve them, we cannot. A gift cannot be deserved, and God’s grace cannot be repaid. The only seemly thing we can do is to give thanks to the Father who has done all of this.

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Do By Learning

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.”

This is the principle behind much, if not all, of what we learn to do. We make attempts at what we wish to do, and learn from the mistakes we make. We try to put ourselves in learning situations in which the results of our mistakes will be minimized, such as when a new driver learns to drive by actually driving in an empty parking lot. But, what we wish to do we practice, for “practice makes perfect.” If it at first, we don’t succeed, we try, try, again. That is how we learn to do.

This principle actually operates upon and relies upon human imperfection, which makes some sense, because “everyone makes mistakes.” But notice, our faults and failings are given permission, even power, to bring about learning, as successive errors lead to gradual increases in knowledge and ability.

The “learn by doing” principle does produce results. It’s how some long-time bachelors who live alone become pretty good cooks. It’s how some folks who were not planning to become parents actually get pretty good at it. It’s how all of the plumbing fixtures in my house have been installed by the owner– three or four times each.

For those who want to do things that are pleasing to God, a completely opposite principle must operate. There has to be something else. If we try to learn how to please God by “trial and error” or “learning from our mistakes,” errors and mistakes are just going to to result in a tragic multiplication of failure. Mistakes and failures in efforts to please God are simply called “sin.” The result of the “learn by doing” approach to holiness is not a gradual increase in our knowledge or ability to please Him, but an inexorable increase in sin and a greater accumulation of His wrath.

God replaced the human principle of “learn by doing” when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world.

First, by perfectly doing everything  that was required for a God-pleasing life, Jesus initiated the new principle by making no mistakes from which He had to learn.

Then, by dying on the cross for the faults, failings, and sins of us imperfect humans who err and fail to please God, Jesus took the wrath for human imperfection and failing upon Himself, giving sin and human imperfection no more power.

Finally, He fully implemented the new principle by which sinful and mistake-prone believers in Him might come to do what is pleasing to God as He did.

What is that new principle? It is that by knowing Him, we might learn to please God not by a series of errors and corrections, but by God Himself filling us with the wisdom and understanding required to please Him.

In Colossians 1:9-10, the Apostle Paul elaborates the new principle at work in those who know Jesus and are operating under the new principle:

And so, from the day we heard [of your faith], we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (ESV)

Paul says that he is praying to God, asking Him to fill his readers, as believers in Jesus Christ, with the knowledge of His will.
He knows that the knowledge of God’s will is not something that is “learned by doing,” but is instead imparted and implanted by the work of God. This knowledge is not partial or incremental. It does not come in gradual trial and error, as human wisdom and knowledge come. Rather, Paul says that they come from a filling by God.

Paul says that the wisdom and understanding needed is “spiritual,” which makes them different from other learning.
He knows that such spiritual wisdom and understanding come only when the God teaches (see John 6:45), and when the Holy Spirit fills those who trust Christ, guiding them into the truth (see John 16:13).

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will enable those who are filled to “walk in a manner worthy of of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.”
He knows that spiritual wisdom and understanding produce practical ability and actual “walking.” They cause “doing.” What is more, they do not produce mistakes or errors, but produce deeds and actions that are “fully pleasing to Him,” just as the deeds and actions of Jesus were.

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will cause us to produce “fruit in every good work.” 
He knows that every kind or sort of good action or behavior that might be done will be done as a result of this spiritual wisdom and understanding. Whether the “good work” is expressing genuine faith, exhibiting selfless love, resisting temptation to sin, helping the needy, encouraging the weak, or some other good work we might consider, that act is the fruit of this wisdom and knowledge. Only this wisdom and knowledge can produce such actions or “works.”

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will multiply and will increase.
He knows that the wisdom and knowledge of God grow, by the continual increased filling of the Holy Spirit of God. There is no need for stagnation. The wisdom and knowledge that start as a small seed will grow, expand, develop and mature.

Learning holiness is not like learning to drive. The ability to please God is not something we can learn by trial and error.  In holiness, practicing over and over what we are able to do on our own will not make us perfect. We cannot teach ourselves how to please God.

In holiness, we must desire and pray for the filling of God that alone will give us spiritual wisdom and knowledge. Then, and only then can we hope to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.”

We will not be completely filled in one second. Paul says that the knowledge of God will increase, which means it is not instantaneously complete. But, we must not lose sight of the truth that God and God alone is the source of the knowledge of God needed to please Him.

To be holy, we must learn from God. Only then, and only by that kind of learning, we can do those things pleasing to God. We cannot “learn by doing,” but must “do by (first) learning” …from God.



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Struggling with Holiness

No human being is capable of being truly holy, that is pleasing to God, on his or her own power.

If this does not seem obvious from our own experience, then we either have a low opinion of God’s holiness, or a very selective memory.

Our lives are littered with sins gross and petty. We regularly spout  falsehoods, from careless exaggerations to the little white lies that we excuse as kindnesses. We engage in all sorts of hatred, from our anger at the guy who cuts us off in traffic to our rage at elected officials and thoughtless bosses. We live mired in covetousness, feeling entitled to everything from respect and praise to the rewards and honors we see others get but think should have come to us.

Of course, we could examine our adulteries (lusts), idolatries (false priorities), and other sins, but this is already leaving us (OK, me) wishing for a worse memory rather than a better one.

Christ has died for all those sins, and we have God’s forgiveness for them in Him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3:23-24, ESV)

But, how do we grow to live less and less in that pattern of sin from which we were saved? Can the evil in us be made holy?

Christ had the answer, when He said,

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11:13)

Notice, Jesus started that declaration by stating that His listeners (His disciples) were evil! Jesus was not one to mince words. We are evil. We must start by recognizing that as our situation.

Jesus then states that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

Why is that a solution for evil?

Simply put: He is called the Holy Spirit because He is Holy. If we seek Him, and ask the Father to grant His presence and control in our lives more and more, we will be made holy.

We do not possess that holiness in ourselves, apart from Him. We cannot fully yield to His holiness in us apart from His continual work in us.

But, as we have the desire to ask the Father to grant the Holy Spirit greater sway and control in our lives, even those of us who, in Jesus’s words “are evil” will see that the heavenly Father will give Him to us.

WE are evil, but God graciously gives us the Holy Spirit to transform us into the holy creatures He sees when He looks upon those for whom Christ died.

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Gifts from the Father

In Colossians 1:3-4, Paul writes:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,  since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints…(ESV)

This simple phrase of greeting is rife with significance. We might miss it at first, but Paul expresses an understanding that God the Father has been at work and is at work in the lives of those who believe in Christ.

Notice, Paul gives thanks to God for two things in particular.

First, he is grateful to God for the faith that believers have in Christ Jesus. Faith in Christ is a gracious gift from God. If it were not so, why give thanks for it?

Jesus had already made that clear when He proclaimed to those who did not believe in Him:

“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” -John 5:37-38, ESV

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” -John 6:29, ESV

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” -John 6:37, ESV

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—” -John 6:44-45, ESV

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” -John 6:65, ESV

In explaining further, Jesus says something even more perplexing:

But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. -John 8:45,ESV

That is, even the truth is not believed because it is the truth, and no one has the power to believe the truth unless God grants the ability to perceive the truth.

Unless God the Father has acted, no belief in Christ is possible. Again, Jesus says that unbelievers continue in unbelief because the Father has not made them part of the “flock” of sheep that follow Christ:

…but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. -John 10:26-29, ESV

Second, Paul is grateful to the Father that the believers to whom he is writing have evidence of genuine faith. That evidence of faith is their love for all the saints. The fruit of faith (here, love) is also a gracious gift of God.

This love is what Jesus prayed the Father would grant to His disciples in John 17:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me….
…O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. -John 17:10-21, 25-26, ESV

It is for this fruit of faith that Paul prayed:

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you  -I Thessalonians 3:12, ESV

Indeed, love is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. It is evidence of God’s gracious work.
We are made holy, sanctified for God, by the sovereign and gracious work of God. We must cling to this truth, even as we seek to live lives pleasing to God, for it is God who works in each of us both to will and to do His pleasure. -Philippians 2:13, ESV

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Is Christ Really Most Important?

Speaking of Christ, Colossians 1:18 says

Col. 1:18 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. (ESV)

(For more details on this verse, see HisWordMySword)

The context of this is that Christ is the Creator of all things (Col. 1:16). Not only that, but all things were made FOR Him. Thus, Christ has the right to everything in all of creation. He is the owner of all the things that we see around us. He is the owner of us. He is the owner of our time. He is the rightful owner of my car. He is the rightful owner of our houses. He is the rightful owner of your computer.

We belong to Him, because He made us for Himself. We belong to Him and everything that we have also belongs to Him.

And, the purpose for which He made everything was, as the verse above says, so that in everything (without exception) He would be preeminent (the first in importance and priority).

This truth is not something we naturally know. The ability to understand this is given by Him, through His Holy Spirit.

But understanding this is only the beginning. Once we grasp this truth, we need to apply it, with the gracious help of His Spirit. How can we do that?

The answer is simple, but difficult.

We need to begin to ask, about everything we do, “Am I doing this because Christ is my first priority?” For example, when I am spending “my” time watching some YouTube video, I need to reflect on the question “Am I spending the time God has given me doing this because Christ is my priority?” When I spend $10 on lunch, I need to ask “am I spending the $10 God has given me in this way because Christ is my priority?” When I say something to my wife, I need to ask “am I about to say this because Christ is the greatest priority in my life?”

To be sure, we are still not perfect, and we will still catch ourselves doing all kinds of things that do not reflect the truth that Christ is our priority. But, by the grace of God and the power of His Holy Spirit, as we ask these sorts of  questions time and again, He will use them to redirect our actions, more and more, until our actions do demonstrate that in all things Christ is preeminent.




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