At the end of the book of Mark, the disciples watched as Jesus ascended to Heaven. Awesome! But after three years of following his footsteps, what do they do now?
Well, before he left, Jesus gave them the Great Commission:
“Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).
Remember – disciple means follower. So the first disciples were called to make more disciples – like us.
And they did! The book of Acts tells their amazing stories as they reached their world with the gospel. Now I wish I could say that everything has been great since then. But it hasn’t. The Christian church has done tremendous good in the world, but we’ve also done some real harm. And it started way back then – corruption, greed, hypocrisy – they got in early. But there was also good: compassion, hope, and grace. So if we’re gonna do this, let’s get it right. Let’s live it.
But how do we live it? I could say, “Stop doing bad things and start doing good.” But that’s working from the outside in – it’s a recipe for hypocrisy. Jesus changes us from the inside out. How does that work? Let’s go to the Bible to find out.
After the book of Acts, the Bible has a series of personal letters written by the apostles – with instructions on how to follow Jesus now. Bad teaching got into the church early, so the letters were written to help believers know the truth from lies – and to live it out.
So that’s where we’re going next: to Colossians. It was written by the apostle Paul to Christians in Colossae. They were brand new believers, so it’s perfect for us. Today in chapter one, we’ll find three essentials to getting it right: grace, the Holy Spirit, and knowing Jesus.
The letter begins with a friendly greeting from Paul, and I love how personal these letters are. And almost every letter begins with grace. It was a common greeting, but it’s also a foundational truth. Grace is a gift – we don’t earn it, don’t deserve it, God just loves us because he loves us – grace. And living out our faith begins with understanding grace.
Here in Colossians, Paul begins by thanking God for the amazing work that He is doing in the lives of these new Christians: their faith, their love, and their hope. And Paul says that it all started the day they heard the gospel,
“…and truly understood God’s grace” (Colossians 1:6).
This is step one. Understand that God saved us because He loves us. Not because we earned it – we can’t earn it. Not because we deserve it – we don’t. Jesus paid the full price, and we can’t add to it. In another letter to the Ephesians, Paul puts it this way:
“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8).
There is incredible peace and real freedom in this simple truth: we are saved by grace. “Not by works” means that we don’t earn salvation. Trying to earn salvation leads to boasting, arrogance, and judgmentalism – just like the hypocrites. Understanding grace brings humility. We still do good works, but we do them with the same grace that God gave us. Paul calls it “bearing fruit” – the natural outgrowth of the change within.
Speaking of within, what exactly is happening inside? How does that change happen and where does the understanding come from? In verse 8, Paul says that the new love happening among the believers is “love in the Spirit.” And in verse 9, he prays that God would…
“…fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”
This is our next key: the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God – the third part of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Spirit works within us, gives us love and compassion, helps us with conviction and strength to resist evil, and guides us with knowledge and wisdom for life. The Spirit is how we live it.
The result, in verse 10, is “a life worthy of the Lord.” That’s the key. Not earning his love, but living worthy of the amazing love He already showed us. Grace takes the focus off of our work and puts it on His worthiness, and on “growing in the knowledge of God” (1:10).
After all, that’s what following Jesus is about: knowing Him. Remember – love God and love others. And that brings us to our third essential: grace, the Holy Spirit, and knowing Jesus. And the chapter ends with a powerful reminder of who Jesus is. I’ll close with it, but I encourage you to read Colossians 1, and spend time here especially. Get to know the Son of God. In verse 15:
“The Son (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
For Reflection & Discussion
- Today’s guide said that trying to change from the outside in is a recipe for hypocrisy. Why do you think that is?
- It’s been said that working for salvation leads to either guilt or arrogance, while God’s grace leads to peace and humility. Do you think that’s true?
- Colossians 1:10 calls us to live “a life worthy of the Lord.” What do you think that life looks like?