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Life in the Church

August 28, 2017
Benjamin Spalink

This Sunday's sermon focused on Paul's vision for church life as articulated in Colossians 3:1-11

Church life can go off the rails in one of two opposite directions - you have those churches that claim to be "family" but are seriously lacking when it comes to regular involvement in each other's lives. At the other end of the spectrum are churches that are seemingly over-involved, with gossip and judgmental-ism souring relationships.  The Gospel forms a community that avoids both these pitfalls and lays a path towards ongoing spiritual transformation through discipleship as well as mission.

Colossians 3 lays out a vision for church life.  The church is the community of those who have been "raised with Christ" (Colossians 3:1).  It's central theme and preoccupying thought is the glory of Jesus ("set your mind," "set your heart" 3:1-2), the Son of God who has been given supremacy over all things (Colossians 1:18).  Jesus is himself the head of this community, and in Jesus, it all holds together (1:18).  Jesus is the very life of the community (3:4), which is his body.

Within the church, ongoing spiritual transformation is the norm, as those within are invited to embrace their new identity in Christ (having been "raised with Christ") by continually putting to death the "old self" (3:9), the unconverted idolater that clings to each of us. Apparently, dying to the old is a continual process, as renewal is something that is currently happening ("being renewed" is present ongoing action). Therefore, we should not be surprised to see sin happening within the church, nor should we shy away from calling out what is inappropriate for God's newly formed people.  Although the church tends to focus too much on sexual sin at the expense of other less visible sins (like malice and greed for example), all such practices are evidence of idolatry (see. vs. 5), and should be countered through grace.  The Gospel is that God's people have been given new status, having been (past completed action) reconciled to God through Jesus' death. Therefore, the community exists in part to spur its members on to live up to this new status with all the effort it can muster (Romans 14:19). The community must embrace the paradox of Jesus who sets an extremely low bar for welcome into the Father's family ("any who believe"), but who simultaneously sets an extremely high bar of discipleship ("Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." See Matthew 5:48). The church must welcome the unworthy while also calling all to radical discipleship.

Paul closes this section with a radical claim that in Christ, distinctions of status and culture melt away, and even the most at-odds groups find themselves made "one" in Christ within the church.  The church can lay a path towards true multi-ethnic community because of the unifying impact of Christ being found in all.  The diversity of the church (which welcomes the homeless as well as the elite of New York City) is a testament to the reality of Jesus' presence in his body.

Join us for weeks 2 and 3 in which we'll cover some of the practices of church family life laid out in the remainder of Colossians 3.

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