Why Who and What is How - Colossians 3:1-4

August 28, 2022 Preacher: Rev. Stacey Severance Series: Gospel Logic

Scripture: Colossians 3:1–4

Some years back, wonderful pastor and scholar Dr. Sinclair Ferguson taught from John 13-17, and from that teaching came the book, Lessons from the Upper Room: The Heart of the Savior. The “upper room” was the room where Jesus first administered the Lord’s Supper, spoke to his disciples about many things, and prayed for them on the night before His death. 

When Dr. Ferguson gets to John 14 in the book, he very clearly points out why who Jesus is and what He does must be the center and the goal of our preaching and teaching, and must shape how Christians think and live. Jesus tells the disciples, [1] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. [2] In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” 

Dr. Ferguson then asks a rhetorical question. He writes, “If troubled people could relieve themselves of their troubles, they would. Isn’t telling them not to be troubled simply a counsel of despair? Did not Jesus know better than that?”  Of course, Jesus knows best. But think about it: with all that lay ahead in life for those disciples, how could Jesus tell them not to allow their hearts to be stricken with fear or dread? 

Dr. Ferguson says, “There is a logic implied in Jesus’ words to the disciples…Follow the power of our Lord’s logic (Jesus will leave, prepare a place, and then return for them). See the logic? Who Jesus is and what He does is the foundation for how His work is savingly applied to our lives.” And this next statement really stuck with me: “The power of faith lies not in ourselves, or even in faith itself, but in Christ and the logic of the gospel. And even weak faith has this strong Christ as its object.” 

Now, what is logic? Logic is a line of reasoning based on sound principles. The disciples could deal with life when Jesus leaves and while He is gone because of who He is and what He does. This is the logic of the gospel. The person and work of Jesus - in other words, the “who” and the “what” - forms and fuels “how” Christians must think and live to know the peace of Christ within. “Who” and “what” is “how.” 

Today we are going to further explore “gospel logic,” and over the next three Sundays, how it comes to bear in our relationships, work, and world. This will help you understand why we worship and preach and teach the way we do here. And by applying gospel logic, you can know the help Christ gives until He returns. By applying gospel logic, you can find your way with joy and hope even through difficulty.

A common misunderstanding is that the gospel is in view only on Day 1 of salvation. The gospel is for those who need to be saved, right? Well, yes, but not only for those people. The gospel is central each day in the lives of God’s people. “Who” and “what” is “how.” 

But here’s a question: why is “who” and “what” how? 

Why is Christ and His saving work how we cope and persevere and even flourish? To answer that, we’re going to look together at the first verses of Colossians 3. Why is “who” and “what” how? Two reasons that you see printed on page 6 in the WG: because 1. Christ and His work is the power of God to grant the resurrected life to those whom He saves (vv.3-4) and 2. Christ and His work is the power of the believer to pursue the resurrected life of Him who saved us. (vv.1-2)

I’ve switched the order to explain these verses because 1 and 2 are based on 3 and 4. The first word in verse 3 (which we translate “For”) is a Greek word used to connect a reason for obeying a command to the command itself, like saying “Do what I just said because of the reality of what I am about to say.”

What is this reality that the apostle Paul is about to state? Look at verse 3: “you have died.” Is he speaking to people who are deceased? In a way, yes; but in what way? 

Back in Colossians 2, Paul says that believers have been buried with Jesus and “also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Someone who is born again is a new creation. The old, condemned self has perished. There is a new self in its place, a new life. This new life has new citizenship, new belonging.

Where does this new life or self now belong? In the presence of the holy and only true God.

How is it possible for sinners to receive this kind of place with God? You see the answer in that next phrase: “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” It is “hidden’ in that it is protected and secure in heaven; but also, it is “hidden” in that the reality of it is not yet undoubtedly visible to the non-believing world. 

When I was a young boy, I loved to play hide and seek with my cousins at night on my grandfather’s farm. He had barns and sheds which were great places to hide. 

One time I found what I believed at the time to be one of the best hiding places ever. In a shed with tractors parked under it, up in the rafters were these ceiling joists going across. And there were some boards laid across the joists. I was able to climb up and lay across them.

My cousins would come into the shed with their flashlights, looking around, but never looked up. I was right there above, doing my best to conceal my laughter.

It’s often the case that what is very real and true is well hidden from our sight. For instance, it’s common for a person who once lived an immoral life to be radically saved by God, to see their need for Jesus and to trust in Him.The person then wants to live the new life in Christ. 

But imagine a new believer expressing to his old friends that he has Christ now and he has changed. Imagine that the friends respond by saying, “You? You’re going to change? Come on! We know you, and what you’ve done. You’re just like us.” 

Now over time, the friends will hopefully observe that the person truly is changed. They will see the fruit of true repentance in the life of the person who is born again. But what the old friends cannot see, nor will they ever fully comprehend before Jesus returns, is the resurrected life granted to the new Christian by God’s power.

Even we who are saved struggle to recognize this glorious vitality that is ours in Christ. This is why Paul said he prayed for the churches, that God would help them to know “what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might [20] that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” 

The reality of that resurrected life is now hidden from sight, but notice verse [4], “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” When Jesus returns, we will be proved right. On the Last Day, some will face judgment, some will enjoy redemption, but every tongue will acknowledge that Jesus is the Life.

Jesus Himself, in His person and saving work, is our life. This is why Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Listen again to Dr. Ferguson’s words which I read earlier: “The power of faith lies not in ourselves, or even in faith itself, but in Christ and the logic of the gospel.” 

Brothers and sisters, listen to me: Christ and His work is the power of God to grant the resurrected life to those whom He saves. The power of that life dwells within God’s people even now. 

It’s often said that Christ is our example, our model, our pattern for life. That is true, but incomplete. William Hendriksen puts it well. He writes, “The life of Christ - hence, Christ himself - is the Source and Pattern of our life.” Jesus is first of all the Source of our resurrected life.

We must not separate in our minds the life given from the Life Giver. Certainly, our nature and the nature of Jesus are not intermingled. And we do not become “gods.” This is why Paul said, “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” 

We so quickly take the burden on ourselves. We rely on ourselves. We look to ourselves. But that is humanist logic. It is a secular approach. The Scriptures teach us to look to Christ and to apply gospel logic. But to what does it apply? Let’s look at these next verses.

We looked at the reason in verses 3 and 4; let’s look now at the command. Verse 1, “If then you have been raised with Christ.” This follows the case Paul made earlier in Colossians: that believers effectively died with Jesus and rose with Him to the resurrected life He gives; no longer dead in sins but alive in God and able to live for God.

This regenerated vitality bestowed in Jesus comes to bear on all we do and all we are.

Look at what Paul says we must do: “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” What are “the things that are above?” These are all the riches that belong to us in Christ: God-given jewels not worthy of this world. 

Among them are the power to love and to forgive, the power to hope and to rejoice; the strength to persevere and have peace within. “The things” include God’s patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. They include the heart of a servant, the heart of prayer. They include all those things that are everlasting and have infinite worth.

As the gospel was further explained in the early church, the believers came to understand that the OT ceremonies and temple were only earthly shadows of the heavenly realities. Those things always pointed to Christ. 

The rituals and regulations were never an end in themselves. They pointed to the eternal realities, and Christ is the power to lay hold of those realities. Therefore, we are to “seek the things.” This defines how we are to live as Christians. 

And look at verse [2] Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. In other words, direct your thoughts to the realities, not the shadows of the realities. This defines how we are to think as Christians. We are to think and live in accordance with the glorious vitality in which we now stand by God’s grace!

It would be a misunderstanding to read this as saying that life here and now does not matter. We see in John 14 that history between the ascension of Jesus and the return of Jesus is ordained by God, and we have many commands during this time, among them being the command to not let your hearts be troubled, but instead to apply gospel logic.

Jesus can be trusted, and He works all things together for our good. And so we make earthly lives here and now, but our hearts love and treasure what is above. We live in this world, but we live for our God. The riches of our heavenly inheritance must govern our thoughts and lives, not the riches of this passing world. How can we think and live this way? We can feel powerless to do it. But Christ and His work is the power of the believer to pursue the resurrected life of Him who saved us.

The person and work of Jesus must form us and fuel us. Gospel logic will often make no sense to the unbelieving world. And when we are living by sight and not by faith, it will really make no sense to us. 

But we gather each Lord’s Day to renew our faith and repent of our unbelief. We gather to seek the things above, where our life is hidden with Christ in God. We’re going to look closer at how to apply Christ and His work in our relationships, then in our work, and finally as we face our world. And with a Christ-centered approach to these things, we will say, with the author of Psalm 126, “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.”

Let’s go to the Lord’s table today, remembering why who and what is how. 

Let’s bow in prayer.