September 4 – Colossians 1:24-29
Main focus: The work of Jesus in and through us.
Last week we looked at Paul’s ode to Jesus, the preeminent King through whom and for whom all things were made. We could call that section the how of the gospel (God’s power) and the why of the gospel (God’s glory). This week we’ll get into more of the what of the gospel, what Jesus does in and through us.
In evangelical churches like ours, we tend to think that the primary thing Jesus does for us is make us righteous before God—this is justification. And Jesus certainly does that. But, in fact, there’s a higher, more important thing that Jesus does for us that includes justification, along with a number of other things: he unites us to himself. This is what Paul’s talking about in 1:27-28 when he says that the believers at Colossae are in Christ and Christ is in them. Theologians call this “union with Christ,” which is a massive concept that includes the whole gamut of salvation, from election (Eph 1:5) to regeneration (Eph 2:5) to justification (Rom 8:1) to sanctification (2 Cor 3:18) and all the way to resurrection and glorification (Rom 8:30).
Here’s how scholar Grant Macaskill describes Paul’s concept of union with Christ:
Paul’s personal hope is expressed in his statement “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). This does not mean that his particular distinctive identity has been erased from existence; he still greets the church to which he writes as “Paul” and still writes in a way that is shaped by his past. But something has changed, and it is not just what his life is directed toward, or how he seeks to live it, but it is his most basic sense of who he is, of the person that inhabits the space occupied by his body, of who gets credit for what his limbs or lips do, of who he is becoming. He is not becoming a better version of Paul; he is becoming Paul-in-Christ. He is metamorphosing into the likeness of Jesus. As difficult as it is for us to comprehend the meaning of such language, a proper understanding of Paul’s concept of the Christian moral life demands it.Grant Macaskill, Living in Union with Christ, ix
That’s a far more complete understanding of what it means to be “in Christ” than simply being justified. The true hope of the gospel, the work that Jesus does in us, is for us to become one with him. “He is our hope.”Macaskill, vii Don’t miss the significance of this (we’ll touch on it in discussion): most of us live our Christian lives trying to become a better version of me, but Jesus intends to create me-in-Christ.
Also in discussion we’ll briefly hit the “mystery” language that Paul talks about here. In his day, it was a gargantuan thing for him to say the Gentiles could receive forgiveness from the God of Israel through Jesus. Today, we tend to gloss over this monumental development in the storyline of the Bible. But, many of us at Vintage have 0% Jewish ancestry, and if that’s true for you, when you read 1:26-27 you’re reading your own adoption record. And that is good news.
Now, if that’s the work Jesus does in us, here’s the work Jesus does through us. You’ll notice that Paul talks about this work in the context of his own ministry, which he calls “the stewardship from God,” and for which he suffers often. (For more on his comment about “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” check out the Deep Dive here.) That word stewardship is an important one; we get our word “economy” from it. It has in mind the running of a household or private business, of simultaneously being a servant and an administrator. For Paul, ministry was a charge given him by God to attend to the proclamation of the gospel and the well-being of the church.
That’s relevant for us because, ultimately, we shouldn’t see Christian faithfulness as anything other than what Paul is describing here. Granted, it might not look like Paul’s specific ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles, sailing around the Mediterranean and starting churches in almost every city he visited. But, with the Great Commission in mind, we know that Jesus has charged each of us to go and make disciples (Matt 28:16-20). You and I have been given a stewardship of this good news in which we hope, and bringing the hope of the gospel to others is the work Jesus intends to do through us on this earth. We’ll finish our discussion on that point, asking ourselves in what ways Jesus intends to do this same sort of ministry in our individual lives.
• Could someone read Colossians 1:24-29 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• What does Paul say is the point of his ministry?
• Paul talks about the “mystery” of God opening a way of salvation to the Gentiles—how is that relevant to us today?
• Paul describes the Christian life as being “in Christ” and having “Christ in you.” What’s significant about that language to you?
• How does this passage help you understand Jesus’ desire for you?
• In what ways do you think Jesus wants to do this same sort of ministry specifically through you?