March 20, 2022 | In Christ Alone | Identity in Christ| Colossians 1:1-8
How important is it to know who you are?
Maybe growing up your dad or mom said something like, “we don’t do that in this family”, or “that’s just what we Smith’s do”, right?
“Smith’s work hard”, “Smith’s are honest”, “Smith’s help their neighbor”.
The other day my two youngest, Lincoln and Lydia got in a tussle, and after everything had calmed down, I pulled him aside and said son, Cutler men don’t hit ladies. Where did I learn that? My dad pulling me aside and saying, this is who you are, and this is what you do. Or pulling Lilly aside at work, and saying “Lilly, Cutler’s work hard and we treat people well.”
Knowing who we are, having a firm grasp on our identity, helps us understand what things are consistent with who we are and what things aren’t. What things fit within our identity. I believe that is why Paul starts there in his letter.
Three truths concerning your identity in Christ.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
Paul gives us three truths concerning our identity in Christ in his opening greetings.
After establishing who he is (Paul), what is calling is (an apostle of Christ Jesus), what his credentials are (by the will of God), and who is with (Timothy), he turns to the recipients of his letter.
To the saints…
You are a Saint in Christ
Depending on your religious background or lack of one, your reaction to that may be different because of what or who you think a saint is. For instance, in the Catholic church and Eastern Orthodox church, anyone that is in Heaven, whether recognized on Earth or not, is considered a saint. However, they have a special class or title for people who have been canonized or added to an official list of recognized saints, involving various steps after their death.
In most of the world religions, and even in the secular world, there is some general agreement among the world systems as to what constitutes a saint, the following list was put together by one author, saying ‘that saints across various cultures and religions have the following characteristics,
exemplary model, extraordinary teacher, wonder worker or source of benevolent power, intercessor, a life often refusing material attachments or comforts, possession of a special and revelatory relation to the holy.
Most of us would agree that the word saint conjures some form of this person.
However, here is what you need to understand this morning; that is not the picture that Scripture paints for us. Look at the way Paul used this word in his letters.
Philippians 1:1-2 (ESV) 1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:1-2 (ESV) 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:7 (ESV) 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:2-3 (ESV) 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:1-2 (ESV) 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is Paul saying? Let’s start with who he is writing to.
Who is he writing to? The people that make up the church in Philippi, the people that make up the church in Ephesus, in Rome, in Corinth, and here in Colossae. All those who are believers that gather in these various and diverse places.
Maybe, having been to church yourself, you find it difficult to think of the people there as saints! These churches must have been full of fantastic believers whose lives were almost perfect, right? Wrong.
In these letters, Paul addresses churches that are okay with sexual immorality among their members, churches that are getting drunk at the love feasts and not sharing with the poor among them, churches that are flirting with false teachers and teachings. How in the world does Paul so confidently say ‘to the saints at ______________,’ if they are just regular believers that are struggling with various sin issues?
Let’s dig into the word a little more. The Greek word Paul uses is hagios and is more often translated as holy. of the 233 times this word is in the New Testament, 161 times it is translated as holy. However, scripture applies it to individuals some 61 times and it is translated as saints.
This word describes something that has been set apart for God’s use, something consecrated.
Here is what I think we need to understand about our identity in Christ. Once we have been redeemed, once we have placed our faith in Christ and have been saved, we are saints. We have been set aside for God’s purposes and for his glory. If you belong to Christ, if you are in Christ, you are a saint.
Why does it matter?
Two reasons, one, what we believe about ourselves, greatly affects how we live, and two, the separation of Christians into regular Christians and saints unnecessarily divides and excuses Christians from living up to their calling.
Have you ever heard, I’m no saint? What do we mean, I try but I’m not perfect, as if there was anyone besides Jesus who is or has ever been. It is an excuse that we use, perhaps unintentionally, to lower the accountability of our actions.
Paul will have none of that, from the very beginning of his letters, he wants the believers to understand who they are in Christ.
If you are a believer, you are a saint, and that core identity affects everything. If you have been set apart for God’s purpose and glory, then how you spend your time matters, if you have been set apart for God’s purpose and glory, then how you parent matters, how you do business matters, how you spend your money matters, how you use your resources matter.
Being a saint is not about being perfect, it’s about being purposeful.
But not only are you a saint, if you are in Christ…
You are a Child of God in Christ
Notice what Paul says next, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Paul uses two familial words in this short verse.
Faithful Brethren (adelphos- brothers and sisters) and our Father.
Paul’s secondary descriptor of our identity in Christ is that we are family, brothers and sisters of one another, and children of God.
Aren’t all men and women children of God? Aren’t we all brothers and sisters?
In some sense, yes, but the scriptures make a clear distinction between believers and non-believers when it comes to the way we relate to God in Christ and relate to others in Christ. Paul is not merely using pretty language by saying our Father, he is reinforcing the spiritual truth of one of the core parts of our identity in Christ.
John 1:11-13 (ESV) 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Galatians 3:25-27 (ESV) 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
1 John 3:1-2 (ESV) 1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
Romans 8:14-17 (ESV) 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
According to these scriptures, who is a child of God?
Those who believed on the name of Jesus, who have been born again.
Those who, through faith, have been baptized into Jesus.
Those who have received the gift of being called God’s children.
Those who received the Spirit of adoption into his family.
When we believe on his name and are saved, spiritually born again in Christ, we become sons and daughters of God, with all of the benefits and privileges that come with it.
Furthermore, because of that, we who are in Christ, are now brothers and sisters. We are now related in the single most significant and important way. This is why Paul says our father, this is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, our father in heaven.
There is a familial bond that comes with being a child of God, that we far too often either overlook or ignore.
I had a pastor friend tell me this one time when we were talking about the church.
He said “do you realize that you and I have more in common with an 80-year-old African American believer living in NY than a 40-year-old guy who lives next to us that looks like us, talks like us, likes the same things as us, but doesn’t know the Lord.”
When you were saved, you weren’t just brought into Christ, you were brought into the family of God.
If you are in Christ, you are a child of God and because of that, you have been adopted into the larger family of faith.
So far, we have seen that our identity in Christ is that we are a saint, that we are a child of God, and finally, we see that Paul tells us that we are…
You are Secured in Chris
Let’s revisit vs 3-5, setting aside verse 4 for a moment which is a parenthetical comment and read it again. 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Chirst, when we pray for you...5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,
What does Paul thank God for when he prays for these believers? Because, as believers, there is a hope laid up for them in heaven. Paul treats this subject in other letters, but I like the way Peter describes this hope in his letter.
1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
We believe that the scriptures teach perseverance of the saints, or security of the believer. The Baptist Faith and Message says it this way.
“All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”
In his letter, Peter calls it an inheritance that is imperishable-not liable to corruption or decay, undefiled-pure, unfading-won’t fade away or go out (like a flame) and kept-guarded in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded.
Your future hope won’t decay away, can’t be corrupted, and won’t fade away, it’s guarded in heaven for you, and by the way, Peter says, you are guarded as well, by God’s power.
Who are you in Christ? A Secured Saint who is a Child of God, from the moment you were saved.
How did that happen? How do you become ‘in Christ’? Paul sums it up in the final verses of our text this morning.
5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
When they responded to the truth of the gospel and the grace of God, of which they are now bearing fruit as evidence of their conversion.
Don’t miss that one part. All of the identity we have talked about this morning, being a saint, being a child of God, and being secured is predicated on being in Christ, and the way you become in Christ is to believe on his name and place your trust in his work, which is what the gospel message is all about.