“ALIVE IN CHRIST”

COLOSSIANS 2:6-23

 

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            I heard a story about a man who wanted to live until he reached one-hundred years old, so he set his mind to developing healthy habits.  He read every book he could find that laid out the path to a long and health life.  He never smoked, drank, or overindulged at the table.  He ate fresh fruit and vegetables and stayed away from anything with preservatives in it.  He exercised every day and got eight hours of sleep each night. He moved out of the city and into the country where the air quality was better.  He visited his doctor regularly.

            He died at the age of fifty-three and was survived by eighteen specialists, four health institutions, six gymnasiums, and numerous manufacturers of health foods and drugs.

            We are not the only one’s in the history of humankind to be bombarded by people selling secrets to a long-life.  In Paul's day there were groups who made their mark by selling people on the idea that if you did certain things you could earn God's favor and live prosperous lives.   These groups said things like, “Abstain from sex,” and “Abstain from certain foods.”  They said, “Live an ascetic life.”  They made such statements because they believed that the world, the physical, was evil, and needed to be avoided as much as possible.  So they said things like, “Abstain from worldly pleasures and instead indulge the spiritual.   Worship angels and spirits of the universe.  After all, all things spiritual are good and all things physical are bad.” 

            In our text today, Paul addresses this situation head on.  He tells his readers, “Do not be taken captive through philosophy and empty deceit.”  He says, “What you have been hearing about new moons and elemental spirits and matters of food and drink appear to be wise, but they are not.  They won’t get you anywhere.  They won’t add a day to your life.  They won’t get God to love you anymore.”   He says, “They are all based on human tradition, not the wisdom of God,” and he goes on to encourage them to compare what they are hearing from these traveling teachers to what he and Epaphras have taught them about being in Christ.

            As we look a little closer at the Paul’s words today, I want to divide today’s message into two parts: the reminder and the request.  Let’s begin with the reminder.   Verse 9.  

 

            For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.  In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision of Christ by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

 

            How many of you remember your baptism?  Raynelle Roberts never forgot hers.  She was baptized in Georgia by a Baptist preacher named Anonymous McBride.  Anonymous got his name in a strange way.  His mother was trying to honor a poet whose work she liked.  When Anonymous grew up and became a Baptist preacher, he had a specialty.  It had to do with baptism.

            Anonymous was very skillful at making Methodists and Presbyterians uneasy about their baptism.  He persuaded lots of them that unless they went altogether underneath the water, they were lost souls.  Every Sunday afternoon down at the Chattahoochee River, he re-baptized ten or fifteen folks.

            Everything was going well until he met a Methodist woman named Raynelle Roberts.  He persuaded her that baptism by sprinkling was deficient.  He scheduled her for underwater baptism the following Sunday afternoon.  What Anonymous did not know, however, was Raynelle's desire for re-baptism was exceeded only by her fear of water.  She happened to have a son who had been in the Navy.  He had brought home one of those Navy life jackets.  Raynelle took the floatation material out of that life jacket and sewed it on the inside lining of her dress.  Because she was a large woman, a few extra bulges were not noticeable.  Then on a memorable Sunday afternoon that folks still talk about in Georgia, Raynelle was led into the water by Anonymous.  After speaking the words of baptism, he tried to immerse Raynelle, but he couldn't get her under.  Anonymous was determined, however, and a great struggle ensued.  It looked like a couple of hippos out there, bobbing up and down.  Now, the current in the Chattahoochee is rather swift.  In the midst of the baptismal struggle, Raynelle got loose from Anonymous.  Off she went down the river.  She was last seen going round the bend as the choir sang, "In the Sweet By and By."  Anonymous never tried to re-baptize a Methodist or Presbyterian again.

            Paul reminds the Colossians, in case they had forgotten, what had happened in their baptism, how they died with Christ and rose with him through faith in the power of God. 

            Any of you here, like me, who were baptized as an infant?  Let me say something about that before we go on.  Infant baptism is like a check one might write.  The baptismal check is a truly wonderful thing, and it promises for the child forgiveness of sin, a place in heaven, membership in the church family, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  In order for that check to be good for the child, it needs to be signed by one who has authority to sign it, and our Lord Jesus acquired that authority when he died on a cross and arose on Easter morning.

            When that child becomes a teenager or an adult that baptismal check needs to be cashed, however, in order for it to be worth anything, and a person cashes the check whenever he or she makes a declaration of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. 

            Of course, as beautiful and proper as infant baptism is, there is a problem with it.  Because it happens so early in our lives, we as adults can't remember it.  Therefore, we tend to lose touch with our baptism.  I talk with some folks who are somewhat embarrassed to admit that they don't know whether they have been baptized or not.

            How different was baptism in the first century.  When Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians around 62 or 63 A.D., baptism was electric with power.  At that time the mode was  total immersion, and most new Christians were adults coming straight out of paganism.  As the baptismal waters closed over their head, the person knew that his or her old sinful self was dying with Christ.  And then as he came up out of the water, a new self was resurrected with Christ.  Thereafter, that person’s baptismal day was more important than his or her birthday or wedding day. 

            And for those of you like me who were baptized as infants, and don’t remember it, and don’t think it was electric with power, just think how wonderful it was that way back yonder when we were utterly helpless, some folks loved us so much that they brought us to the front of a church, to an altar or before a communion table, and claimed us for Jesus Christ!

            Speaking of remembering our baptism, the great reformer Martin Luther claimed that the most comforting thing one can say to oneself is, "I am baptized."  He asked his followers to do what he did first thing each morning: he would put his hand on his head and declare, "I am baptized."  When most of us first awaken, we often put our hands to our heads, but we usually say something like, "Oh no, is it that time already?"  Martin Luther realized that a wonderfully positive way to begin each day is to think, if not say: "Hey, I'm a new creature in Christ through baptism and I celebrate my new identity."

            So first of all, Paul reminds the Colossians of who they are:  baptized in Christ, risen with Christ, full of the power of Christ, sins forgiven, record of wrongdoing expunged.  He says, “Don’t let anyone take that from you.  Don’t let anyone say to you, that isn’t enough.” 

            So, that’s the reminder.  Now for the request.  Verse 6,

 

            As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

 

            Live your lives in him.  Live your lives in him.  Just as you were taught, live your lives in him.

            Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, used to tell about the transforming power of love.

            It seems that there was this woman who was married to a tyrant of a husband. She could never please him no matter how hard she tried.  He didn't like the way she kept house.  He didn't like the way she did laundry.  He didn't like the way she ironed his clothes.  He didn't like the way she dressed.  He didn't like the way she conducted herself in public.  He constantly criticized her for everything.

            Early in their marriage, he handed her a list of 25 rules for her to follow.  She hated it and she hated him.  You can imagine how frustrating it was to her to have to constantly check her list to see if she was pleasing him - and to stay out of trouble.  But, she usually failed miserably - and each time, she got a tongue lashing from him - he made her feel miserable and small.

            Then one day, much to her great joy, the abusive husband died.  Soon, she fell in love with and married a wonderful, loving man.  They loved each other very deeply.  She practically broke her neck to please him.  She wanted to do everything for him.  She even brought him breakfast in bed.

            One day as she was busy cleaning up, she ran across that old list and the feelings of anger and inferiority returned.  As she looked at the list, something happened within her and she began to laugh!  She realized that she was now doing all of these for her new husband and many more.  And she did these tasks now with great joy because she loved this man.

            Love makes all the difference in the way we live and serve.  This is what Paul is trying to tell the Colossians.  It’s not about rules and regulations.  It’s about the love of Christ.  Live your life in Christ.  Stay rooted in him.  Serve him because you love him and because he loves you.

            I want to close with a story I heard about a man named Jeff.  He was an Atlantic fisherman living on the coast of Rhode Island.  He was a tough guy.  He had to be to in order to survive the severe weather and the cruelty of the sea.  The job demanded long hours and cramped quarters.  He often would be away from home for weeks at a time. He never married and wasn't much for relationships.  One Sunday though, something prompted him to attend the local church.

            All heads turned when he walked in the door.  He was quite a sight with his rugged skin and long hair.  He had on a plaid shirt, a pair of jeans, and workman's boots.  He looked like he just stepped off the Discover channel television program, Deadliest Catch.  He looked totally out of his element.

            During the service he fumbled with the hymn book and tried to read along with the scripture.  When the preacher began to speak, he kept his head down and did not look at him once.  If you looked at the fisherman you might have thought he wasn't paying attention.  No one would have guessed that when the invitation was given, that this big man would come forward with tears in his eyes and give his life to Christ.

            The next week the fisherman came back again.  This time he was clean shaven and dressed in his Sunday best.  When the preacher commented about his appearance the man simply said, "Jesus changed me on the inside and I want people to know it. So I changed the outside."

            Has Christ changed us on the inside?  If so, it’s not about following rules and regulations.  No, it’s about letting his love flow through us so that the world can see it on the outside.  Amen.