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The Way God Makes Christ Known (Col. 1:28-29)

Through the Preaching of His Word

Preaching Christ

By far the most important thing happening in the world at this moment is the Father’s work of gathering all men and nations under the headship of his Son (Eph. 1:9-10), so that every knee bows to him and every tongue confesses that he is Lord. But how does he do this? He would surely commit such a great work to experts in human psychology, philosophy, and organization. Perhaps he would leave it to government officials so that they could create departments of religion and force compliance by regulations. He did not. He left this great work to his humble church and despised people, and particularly to preaching. The preaching of the gospel is his power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:16). By preaching Christ the Father reveals his Son to us and teaches us that we are reconciled to him and indwelled by him. This great and wonderful mystery is “Christ in us.” It is not an external kingdom the Father is creating, a kingdom in which everyone looks good on the outside and conforms to external authority and rituals but lacks any power unto godliness in union with Christ. His kingdom is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). He offers this when Christ is preached to us – not human kingdoms and movements. Christ is not preached when men speak of their own experiences and visions and goals. We preach Christ. He is reconciling sinners to himself. He gives his Spirit to his redeemed and thereby dwells with them. Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth.

Preaching Christ Warns and Admonishes

Preaching Christ is not giving a talk or conducting a therapy session to make everyone feel better about themselves and their problems. The word here used for “preach” is to “announce” or to declare. Preaching Christ is God’s authoritative announcement of salvation in his Son. The Lord uses weak means to send this invitation, so that he alone is exalted, not man. His invitation contains a warning. Admonishment or correction is the idea behind warning – to give admonishment aimed at restoring. Preaching is thus confrontational. When John, our Lord, and his apostles preached, they did not come announcing a new way to fix your problems or to feel better about yourself. They proclaimed God’s mercy to sinners and urged sinners to turn from their sins to God – and this was to God’s chosen people! Thus, if you feel that the preacher is preaching at you, this is a good thing. Not that the preacher should call out people in public but that in announcing reconciliation from God, each of us needs to be confronted – repent or perish! Continue repenting so that we can live in communion with our Savior. The gospel is not “repent once and make a decision,” then you are home free and no one can say anything else to you. Paul speaks to the Colossians as part of Christ’s church that he is preaching Christ to them and to everyone, inside or outside the church.

Why do we need a warning? Wrath is coming. Satan loves it when the sinner’s destiny is mocked or denied altogether. Especially when the church loses any sense of God’s holiness and justice, it is but a short step until hell is denied altogether, and a practical universalism mutes the intensity of the gospel. Wrath is coming, Paul warned the Thessalonians. We preach Christ to warn men to flee to him to be saved from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). When the world mocks this, when even those inside the church smirk to themselves and would rather hear about how bad the world is, Christ is preaching, stepping on toes, warning us all of the true reality and that we must soon stand before his judgment seat. He will not ask us about the sins of the world’s villains but about our sins.

Preaching Christ Teaches in Wisdom

Preaching Christ must be done wisely. We are dealing with a great mystery of “Christ in us.” His saving grace does not clean up the outside but leave in the inside idols standing. He cleanses the inside, the hidden man of the heart, humbling us before the Lord and giving us an inner delight in obedience. “Christ in you” might be falsely applied to mean that believers have no struggles, but his gracious presence empowers warfare against sin and cross-bearing with patience. How many preachers give sinners completely the wrong idea in their preaching! Knowing Jesus Christ and having him with you does not mean the end of all our troubles but that we face them in his strength. Christ in us means that the old man is now confronted with the grace of the Holy Spirit, but our sin nature will fight back and sometimes make us feel wretched (Rom. 7:25; Gal. 5:16-18). Thus, wisdom is needed when we speak to others about Christ and when Christ is preached by his servants. We must not confuse our earthly expectations with his heavenly kingdom. Because we are relating to a living Savior, we must “be swift to hear and slow to speak,” respecting him and doing nothing to grieve him or his precious Spirit. We need for him to be our teacher, for he is the wisdom of God. We need for him to teach us that he is with us as much on the sickbed as in a season of strength, and that our mission in life is to honor him in every situation, so that he is preeminent.

With Urgency Motivated by the Great Presentation

We Shall All Stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ

If only we pursued heaven with the same urgency we feel about our earthly affairs! It is maddening to think of all those in hell at this moment who were experts, humanly speaking, in looking after themselves and getting what they wanted, but who were soul paupers (Luke 12:21). What motivated our Lord Jesus to warn and teach men in all wisdom? His love for sinners and the conviction of heaven and hell. What motivated the apostles? The great presentation! Scripture teaches that “we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). This accounting will not be a comparison with others but an accounting of ourselves. As believers, it will be an accounting of graces and talents received. We are not condemned for our sins, for our Lord was condemned for us on the cross. But an accounting it will be, and this motivated the apostle to personal faithfulness to Jesus Christ. He was also motivated to faithfulness when he considered that all men will stand before Jesus Christ. Those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will face the Lamb’s wrath without any possibility of pardon or peace. The great presentation urges us to judge ourselves. Am I holding fast to Jesus Christ? Have I received and rest upon him alone for salvation, or am I a deceiver? Has faith born some fruit in me? We are urged to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). It is with God we have to do, not men. We can deceive men, but nothing is hidden from the Lord. Everything is open to him. Better to come now before him and judge oneself, to condemn ourselves before his throne and plead the cleansing blood and obedience of Jesus Christ alone.  Otherwise, your great presentation will be the great doorway to everlasting wrath and misery.

Never Knew You or Well Done?

There is a finality of the great presentation that Satan wishes to obscure. He likes it best when preachers obscure it with false doctrines like purgatory and second chances and other ways to God. He does not care what form these delusions take, only that sinners do not feel the urgency of standing before Christ. For at our standing before him, his “I never knew you” or “Well done, good and faithful servant” will determine our destiny forever. Hell’s misery will not be something you can endure – no hope of mercy, no perverse relief in group therapy, quiet sulking, and God-blaming – only the wrath of God upon you. It will be unbearable, but sinners will bear it forever. Think on this. What sin are you loving and refusing to nail to the cross by faith? Where are you resisting the grace of the Spirit and a crucified, risen Savior? Would you perish forever for that sin? You say, “It is only one little sin, and no one even knows about it.” God knows. If for every idle word men face judgment, be assured that for our so-called little sins we face judgment. Our sole hope of a joyful reception is that we are found in Jesus Christ, hoping in him, resting upon his finished work on the cross, and trusting his intercession.

Completeness in Christ Alone

Another way Satan obscures the finality and urgency of our presentation before Christ is by turning our focus upon the evil others are doing in the world. Or, he likes it equally well when we admit our sins and their consequences in our lives but blame them upon others.  What he does not want us believing now is that we are complete in Christ alone. This is what perfect means – that we are righteous before God in Christ alone. Rejoice!! There is a persevering element in faith – that it does not draw back to judgment and destruction but perseveres to the believing of the soul (Heb. 10:38-39). Paul labored to “present every man complete in Christ” because salvation is not a one-and-done experience but a path we walk by faith in Jesus Christ. Having begun well, we must not be cut off by false doctrines and worldly lusts. We must set our eye upon the prize of God’s high calling in Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:14). We must keep looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1). Pastors and teachers especially must keep laboring for the souls even of those who seem to be gathered to Christ. Our goal is not a moment of earthly time when someone seems to have it altogether but the great presentation when we stand before Christ. Then and only then, when all the sheep are gathered and by faith in Jesus Christ receive his approbation will our course be complete – when all are complete and perfected in Jesus Christ.

By Pastors Laboring in the Strength of Christ

No Strivings and Movements of Man Can Make Christ Known

All of this the Lord will accomplish as his faithful preachers proclaim Christ in us, Christ the great Reconciler, Christ the Finisher of our faith. He places so much upon such weak instruments – including all believers, parents, spouses, teachers, elders – to show the excellence and sufficiency of his grace and power. Also he stirs us to work. The word Paul chose for labor means to work to the point of exhaustion, not sparing oneself, seeking the easier path. Given the finality of the great presentation and the joys of being with Jesus Christ forever in his eternal kingdom, we should all feel this sweet gospel urging us to faithfulness in our stations and opportunities. We must, however, labor with God’s means, especially his word, for this is his power unto salvation. No amount of human creativity or energy can accomplish anything unless it is working by faith and working in obedience to our Master. He uses means – his means. The Father will make his Son known to the world by the means he has ordained. This is primarily preaching. No wonder Satan works to have preaching and preachers mocked. This influences the church. Many want group therapy or theological lectures, but not God’s announcement to sinners of reconciliation through faith and repentance. Such an announcement assumes men are fallen sinners, not misunderstood victims. We must guard the preaching of God’s word, pray for those who are called to minister to us by preaching, and respect the preaching of God’s word as his power unto salvation. We must also understand that the Lord is testing us by using such weak means to secure us for himself forever. This should not surprise us. The door of his kingdom is very low, and we can only enter it when our hearts are humbled, when we confess our sinfulness, abhor ourselves in dust and ashes, and trust in his sovereign mercy alone.

Only Jesus Christ Can Work to Make Himself Known

We do not work, however, in our own strength. It is by Christ’s strength that we work. This applies to each of us in our particular callings and spheres of responsibility. “Christ in us” means that “Christ lives in us” (Gal. 2:20). He does not say, “Work for me, and perhaps I will bless you.” Or, “Give me your best, and I will make up the rest.” We never had any strength. We had no strength to save ourselves from sin, and we have no strength to walk in holiness and please him. We have no strength to work to see other men brought to him. Christ Jesus being our only strength kills our guilt! It also destroys apathy and gives pride a fatal blow. “Yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

Think, Christian, whether you are being stymied in some good work because you are doing it in your own strength, or for your own praise, or to try to make up for past bad things you have done. The Lord Jesus never asks us to work for him like this. The weariness is for him – it is actually him working in us far more than we can ever work in ourselves, doing far more to see the world brought to him than we can ever do by our wisdom and power. And since the main context is the way “God makes known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery” (v. 27), the knowledge of Christ will fill this world. The power of God guarantees the victory of his Son and of the growth of Christ in us. What is impossible with us is easy with God. Nothing is too hard for him. He does the impossible for us so that we give him sincere thanks, live thanking and trusting him, and learn the hard lessons of distrusting ourselves and relying upon the arm of the flesh to do what only the arm of God can accomplish.

His Grace Labors Mightily in His Servants

The Lord is not stingy with his grace, and the more we trust his strength, the more generous we shall find him. This was the lesson he taught Paul through the “thorn in his flesh.” Christ’s grace was sufficient. Paul did not need to feel strong and able to be used of the Lord. Everyone did not have to like him. In fact, the whole world might oppose him, but “if I yet pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Therefore, “Christ in us” means we are never left to our own resources. When we urge the world to be reconciled to God, it is not our persuasive power but the power of Jesus Christ and his word in us. His energy works in us mightily. All that we have ever seen done in our own lives for God’s glory, Christ has done it. Any good we have done for others is Christ working mightily in us. Whenever we expected much good to come from our labors but nothing happened, it is likely due in some measure to self-reliance. This comes to expression on the front end of our labors in worry and prayerlessness, and on the backend in prayerlessness and self-congratulations. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, condescends to dwell with us. It is by his strength that we believe, pursue holiness, honor him in the world, and urge men to be reconciled to God. Let us trust his strength. He is sufficient.

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