Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Banner of Truth 2009 -- Union owth Christ: Gospel Foundations by Sinclair Ferguson (Session #3)

Union with Christ: Gospel Foundations Sinclair Ferguson (Session #3)
Colossians 3
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your 1 life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: 1 sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 1 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self 1 with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, 1 free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The topic of the union with Christ arose at least in part for a connection with Calvin especially in Book 3 of the institutes. He said, “All of what Christ has done for us is of no value to us so long as we remain outside of Christ.” Union with Christ is a tremendously important theme, but largely neglected. Could be because it is not only part of the substructure but also emerges in the proclamation of the gospel. But, more likely because it is something that has been sidelined in the minds of organizers of conferences and those who attend conferences. If you surveyed the themes of conferences you would rarely find union with Christ or Christ as the focus on Christian conferences and has been marginalized. So this is a very timely theme.
It is important because in almost every letter Paul writes when he writes of a church or theological problem, Paul remedies it by teaching believers what is means to be united to Christ. Every malfunction in the live of Christians is founded in a malfunction in their union with Christ. To be a Christian is to be in Christ, a phrase Paul uses again and again. To believe in Christ is to believe into Christ in Paul. This believing into is not found anywhere else in Classical literature. It is believing into union and communion in Christ. This is not some added extra, this is the definition of Christian life.
As under shepherds this union with Christ should be a major part of our toolbox. We should never consider a believer outside of that person being united to the Lord of Glory. This is the lens through which we view the Christian life.
It is this very thing Paul is dealing with here in Colossians. So we go into Paul's workshop to see the design of the gospel as he sees applying it to the life of the Church. The way in which we preach to God's people and pastor and counsel is integrally related to whether union with Christ is a central tool in our tool box. It is central to new testament ministry and the gospel. Jesus taught this, Paul taught it, John did it. They all do it, and we should learn from that fact as pastors for how we pastor and how we preach.
Colossians is helpful to see this in particular in light of its background. Whatever the false teaching was in it details, it did have to do with offering Christians fullness. This is clear from the language of fullness that Paul uses in this letter. It is repeatedly used. It is not like there is a false teaching on fullness and Paul says forget about fullness, he says there is a false teaching about fullness but here is your real fullness in Christ. He wanted the Colossians to see that true fullness that is theirs in Christ, in his fullness alone.
There is a late 20th and early 21st century aspect to this false teaching. There is a continuing offer of fullness held before Christians today that is fullness outside of Christ saying that if one really wants fullness they need to do these things beyond what they have in Christ. Paul in Colossians points out that all the fullness you need is given to you in Christ. The problem here is not that you lack fullness in Christ, but that the privileges of being united to Christ have not been fully realized by us. What you experience right now is not all there is. There is much more, much advance, but all that is to come is founded in the fullness received from union with Christ.
A ministry of the gospel must show all the glories of Jesus Christ. It leads them into the riches we have in Christ. You can't teach people the wonders of union with Christ without teaching them the glories of Christ. If we are to be known for anything on our dying day may it be, “He Preached Christ!”
This is not guaranteed simply by preaching through scripture. Often they look for where 'you' are in the text instead of where 'Christ' is in the text. We can easily preach personal experience not Christ. What response does your ministry invoke from people?
It is easy to preach about people's sins. It is a work of supernatural grace to preach Christ so people are not left broken down but lifted up to all the fullness of God's grace found in Jesus Christ. Union with Christ is a magnificent doctrine but all hinged on doctrine of Christ.

What is the basic structure of Paul's teaching on Union with Christ?

1)There is a grammar embedded in how Paul speaks the gospel. You cannot speak it without that grammar. If you are going to speak a language properly you need the grammar of that language sunk deep into you. That is just as true in speaking the gospel. We need to know its grammar. The grammar of the gospel is strange to us, and we are still learning that grammar. That shows up in our preaching. Sometimes we misuse the grammar to put the emphasis on the wrong syllable. It is possible to talk grace but still sound law. It is possible to have a community that talks grace but sounds law. Every imperative in the gospel is rooted in gospel indicatives. That is why being able to expound gospel indicative is so important to gospel preaching. We need that grammar to become carved in our being. Effects both the way and the tone we speak the gospel.
2)There is a chronology in the gospel. The present Christian life in rooted in the past. Move from being in Adam to being in Christ. We are in Christ, with the destination that is in the future. When he appears, you will appear with him in glory. Jesus will not come again until everyone united with him comes with him. Paul works this way often working back to the past to all that Christ has accomplished for us, and then moves forward to how we live in the present based on both past and the future that is coming. When the end is Christ won't come unless he can come with me, it puts a completely different perspective on our ministry and how we look at one another. The sheep can be a pain in the neck, but Christ bore them on his neck and refuses to leave them behind carrying them home.
3)Also geography. Notice the opening verses in chapter 3. You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. How many times have you said this to yourself this past year. Is it any surprise that those in the congregation don't know it. That the situations they face are so difficult for them because they don't know where their true life is found. What a consolation that is to live in such union and communion with Christ. We are citizens of heaven who are living on earth. Once we grasp that so many other things fit into place. It is a second birth which comes from heaven and makes us citizens of heaven so our real life and real citizenship is there not here. Not just that we are going to heaven, but we belong in heaven in Christ. This is how Paul thinks.
4)There is a rhythm that is found in this as well. Perfectly found in this passage of Colossians. You are united to Christ therefore you put off the old and put on the new. The important thing is to never try to do the one without the other. Never try to mortify sin out side of the vivification of the life of Christ in us. When one does not know this they are prey for false teaching.

We should not be content with a C- on this, on all that is theirs and ours in union with Christ. The understanding of this union with Christ is at the heart of the gospel ministry. How often do we consider and meditate upon Christ. Is our great ambition to know Christ. It is easy to have that switch to wanting to serve him rather than know him, where knowing him will lead to serving him. Danger to mortification of sins without looking to the glories of Jesus Christ. Not just that we have his blessing, we have him and with him all his blessings. Christ in you is not the gospel, Christ outside of you suffering and dying for you is, then through that Christ in you.
Union with Christ make things clear about who we are. It makes clear relations in the church, these are people in whom Christ is happy to dwell. It is something that changes how we look at all things. We need to go back to this again and again and again until is dawns on us some more.
How dominant in my ministry is Jesus? How pervasive is the privilege of union with him?


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