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Lesson 2: Authentic Christianity (Colossians 1:3-8)

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November 8, 2015

A bishop who had just had a cup of tea with a parishioner commented, “I’m glad to see in what a comfortable way you are living.” The churchgoer replied, “Oh, bishop, if you want to know how we really live, you need to come when you’re not here.” (Reader’s Digest [3/84], p. 16)

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians live that way, keeping up a good front to impress others with their spirituality. But if you knew how they really live, you’d find that they are faking it. They don’t live as authentic Christians. We all value authenticity, especially when it comes to our faith. But how can we know if our faith is genuine? What are the marks of authentic Christianity?

Many of the Colossian Christians had been unsettled by some false teachers who had arisen in their midst. They were telling these relatively new believers that they needed to observe designated holy days, avoid certain foods, and keep certain rules in order to be spiritual. They implied that the gospel which Epaphras had taught the Colossians was not complete or accurate. They needed to add the insights and rules of the false teachers to be genuine believers.

Paul wrote to the church to assure them that the gospel they previously received through Epaphras was the genuine item. It proved its authenticity by the fruit that it had produced in them and was producing in others everywhere it went. In so doing, Paul emphasized, as he often did, three virtues that are essentials of authentic Christianity: faith in Jesus Christ, love for other believers, and the hope of heaven. Also, in Paul’s opening comments, he reflects the authentic Christian virtues of thankfulness and prayer. Putting it together, we learn that …

Authentic Christians are marked by thankfulness and prayer, faith in Christ, love for the saints, and the hope of heaven.

It’s obvious that the Colossians were very different after they heard and believed the gospel which Epaphras preached. If people have not changed, we can assume that either the true gospel was not preached or that it was not believed. Belief in the true gospel results in the changes that Paul himself embodied and that he mentions here.

1. Authentic Christians are marked by thankfulness and prayer.

Colossians 1:3: “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, …” Paul had not yet met these new believers, but when he heard Epaphras’ report, he welled up with thankfulness to God for how these mostly Gentile former pagans had responded. As a result, he and Timothy (“we”) began to remember them often in their prayers.

The fact that Paul thanked God for the Colossians’ salvation shows that he believed that God is the author and giver of salvation. If as some teach, salvation is the result of sinners exercising their free will, then Paul would have congratulated the Colossians for making such a wise choice, much like a waiter will tell you when you give him your order, “Excellent choice!” I always feel like telling the waiter, “I’m glad that you recognize my culinary genius!” Paul knew that when people responded in faith to the gospel, it was because God had opened their hearts to respond (Acts 16:14). Thus it is appropriate to thank God when He works the miracle of the new birth into dead sinners’ hearts.

In line with this, if God is not sovereign in saving sinners, then you’re wasting your time to pray that lost people would be saved. If God is not able to change the hearts of stubborn, self-willed sinners by giving them new life, then when you pray for their salvation, God’s answer would be, “I’d like to see them saved, too, but it’s not up to Me; it’s up to their free will. But I’m with you—I sure hope that they decide for Me!”

But if God is mighty to save, then we can and should pray for the salvation of the lost and give thanks when it happens. Prayer for the salvation of the lost is implied when the Lord directs us to pray (Matt. 6:10), “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” For God’s kingdom to come on earth, people must be converted and come under the lordship of the king.

Thankfulness and prayer are major themes in this short letter. In Colossians 1:12, Paul says that we are to be joyously “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” In Colossians 2:7, he says that we are to be “overflowing with gratitude.” In Colossians 3:15-17 he exhorts the church to “be thankful,” to sing “with thankfulness in your hearts to God,” and to do everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

Concerning prayer, in addition to Paul mentioning his constant prayers for the Colossians (1:3), in 1:9-12 he specifies the content of his prayers. In Colossians 4:2, he combines prayer and thanksgiving when he commands, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” And in Colossians 4:12, he reports that Epaphras was “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”

If, like me, you’re prone to grumble about minor irritations and frustrations that pop up just about every day, I hope that you can see that grumbling and thankful prayer are opposites! In fact, thankful prayer is the antidote for grumbling. The next time you find yourself grumbling about something, stop, confess it to the Lord, and instead, by faith thank Him for bringing this irritation into your life so that you can learn to trust Him and rely more fully on Him through prayer. Thankfulness and prayer are marks of authentic Christianity.

The reason Paul thanks God is because he sees in the Colossian church the common triad of Christian virtues: their faith in Christ Jesus, their love for all the saints, and the hope laid up in heaven for them, as contained in the gospel which Epaphras had preached to them. Faith, hope, and love are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5, 6; Ephesians 1:15, 18; 4:2-5; and, Hebrews 6:10-12; 10:22-24. One writer says that they are a sort of “apostolic shorthand” for genuine Christianity (R. C. Lucas, Fullness and Freedom [IVP], cited by Kent Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ [Crossway], p. 17). Let’s look at each of these three virtues:

2. Authentic Christians are marked by faith in Jesus Christ, which includes understanding the gospel.

A. Authentic Christians are marked by understanding the gospel.

Some claim to believe in Jesus, but if you asked them to explain the gospel, they would not be able to do it. But to have genuine faith in Christ, you must understand the gospel.

1) The gospel is good news.

“Gospel” means “good news.” I mention this so that we’re not just throwing around Christian jargon without considering its meaning. The Christian message is not primarily an ethical or moral code, but rather good news to those who deserve God’s judgment. As the angel announced to the shepherds on the night that Jesus was born (Luke 2:10), “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

To understand that good news, we first must understand the bad news: we all have sinned and deserve God’s righteous judgment. We stand before God guilty and condemned and we cannot save ourselves. That’s why we need a Savior. And Jesus, the eternal God who took on human flesh through the virgin birth, is the Savior whom God sent to bear our punishment on the cross. The good news is that God offers salvation as a free gift to every sinner who does not work for it, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). There is no better news in the world than that!

2) The gospel has content.

It is God’s “word of truth” (Col. 1:5). Through Epaphras the Colossians had previously heard it, learned it, and understood it “in truth.” This last phrase probably means that the Colossians truly or authentically understood the message that Epaphras had proclaimed to them (Douglas Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 89).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Love So Amazing: Expositions of Colossians 1 [Baker], p. 54) makes the point that the gospel does not first come to us through our heart, our emotions, or our will, but rather to our minds or understanding. This runs contrary to so much modern evangelism. A person goes to an evangelistic meeting where after some stirring music and heartwarming testimonies the evangelist gives an emotional appeal of how Christ can help the person with her difficult marriage or his alcohol addiction. Then he calls on those who want to invite Jesus into their lives to make a decision by raising their hands or coming forward. But he has not made clear the content of the gospel. Rather, it’s an appeal to the emotions or to the will that bypasses the mind. Often such appeals result in false converts who were moved emotionally at the moment, but they did not understand the content of the gospel.

Before the gospel can be believed or accepted it must be learned and understood. We must understand something of who God is: He is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Col. 1:3). In verse 8, Paul also mentions the Holy Spirit, which shows that he had a trinitarian understanding of God’s nature (see 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 1:3, 5, 13). When He was on this earth, Jesus Christ relied on, submitted to, and revealed to us His heavenly Father. As Jesus, He is fully man. As the Lord, He is fully God, one with the Father (John 10:30). As the Christ, He is God’s Anointed One, the Savior whom God promised as the descendant of David (Psalms 2, 110). He came to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath so that He could justly forgive all our sins.

Paul also describes the gospel as “the grace of God” (Col. 1:6). Grace is central and essential to the gospel. It means that we are sinners who rightly deserve God’s judgment. But it also means that because Jesus paid the penalty we deserve, God can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). Thus Paul could write (Eph. 2:8-9), “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

So when you share the gospel, make sure that you make the content of the gospel clear. The Holy Spirit must open the mind of the lost person so that he can truly understand the grace of God (1 Cor. 2:14). And the Spirit must grant faith to that lost person so that he can stop trusting in his good works and believe the good news of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. The gospel is good news that contains specific truth content.

3) The gospel is powerful to save sinners.

The Colossians were mostly Gentile pagans, vainly living for the lusts of the flesh, when the gospel came to them. But when God opened their minds to understand, their hearts to respond and their wills to believe, they were dramatically changed. But this powerful change wasn’t unique in Colossae. Paul tells them (Col. 1:6) that “in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing.” He did not mean (here or in Col. 1:23) that the gospel had gone out to every people group in the world at that time. Rather, he is emphasizing that the gospel was not restricted to the Jews. Rather, it was spreading all over the Roman Empire with the same powerful results. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

“Bearing fruit and increasing” may point to the internal and external aspects of the gospel’s power. Internally, the gospel bears the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of believers. It gradually but inevitably changes their thinking and behavior. Externally, the gospel increases as transformed believers tell others the good news. Paul emphasizes this powerful effect of the gospel to underscore its authenticity. The true gospel that Epaphras had proclaimed in Colossae had changed their lives and also the lives of others as it spread around the Roman Empire. Authentic Christians understand and believe Christ’s gospel.

B. Authentic Christians are marked by faith in Christ Jesus Himself.

Paul had heard of the Colossians’ “faith in Christ Jesus.” The Greek construction here may emphasize faith “in the sphere of” Christ, meaning that He is “the sphere in which ‘faith’ lives and acts” (Peter O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary: Colossians-Philemon [Zondervan], p. 11). In other words, our faith must be in all that Christ is and all that He did for us on the cross. But saving faith is always in the person of Jesus Christ, not just in doctrines about Him (see, Douglas Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 84).

Faith has no merit in itself, but rather is only as valid as its object. You can have all the faith in the world in a defective airplane, but that won’t make the plane fly or get you to your destination. Many in the cults claim to have faith in Jesus, but their “Jesus” is a false Jesus who was conceived by the cult founder. He is not the Jesus revealed in the apostolic testimony of the New Testament. Our faith must be in the Jesus revealed in Scripture. But the point here is that we are not only to believe correct teaching about Jesus Christ, but also to believe in Christ Himself. He alone is our Savior.

Thus authentic Christians are marked by thankfulness and prayer and by faith in Christ and His gospel.

3. Authentic Christians are marked by love for all the saints.

Often Paul couples faith and love as genuine indicators of conversion (e. g., Eph. 1:15; 1 Thess. 1:3; 3:6; 2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Tim. 1:14; 2 Tim. 1:13; Philemon 5). As he says (Gal. 5:6), “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” While faith is essential for beginning a relationship with Jesus Christ, it is worthless if it does not result in love for others, especially for “all the saints” (Col. 1:4; 1 Cor. 13:1-3, 13). Love is the distinguishing mark of Christians. As Jesus said (John 13:34-35), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Authentic Christian love is “in the Spirit” (Col. 1:8), which means that the Holy Spirit produces this love as His fruit in believers. The flesh is basically self-serving, resulting in the deeds of the flesh, which include (Gal. 5:20-21), “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” But Paul describes the love which the Spirit produces in us (1 Cor. 13:4-7),

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I encourage you to put those verses on a 3x5 card and read them over and over until they influence your relationships with your family and in this church. If relationships were perfect or ideal, we wouldn’t need the repeated commands to love one another. These commands imply that we’ve got to work continually on our relationships. Love would not need to be patient if the other person were not irritating you. It would not need to be kind or not jealous or not provoked if the other person always acted in a loving way toward you. We all must battle the flesh daily by denying self and seeking the other person’s highest good. Sacrificial love for others, just as Jesus loved us, is an essential mark of authentic Christianity (Eph. 5:1-2). Finally,

4. Authentic Christians are marked by the hope of heaven.

Colossians 1:5: “…because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel ….” Grammatically, the phrase, “because of the hope,” could go all the way back to verse 3, meaning, “We give thanks to God … because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Or, it may refer back to faith and love, meaning that their faith and love spring from their hope of heaven (the NIV translates it with this sense). Or, it could refer to love only as springing from their hope.

Probably the best way to understand it is that their faith and love were because of their common hope of heaven. Before Epaphras preached the gospel to them, they had no hope and were “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But the gospel brought the hope (or promise) of heaven and on account of this hope, they believed in Christ and grew in love for one another. “Hope” here does not refer to the act of hoping, but rather to the objective content of hope, namely, God’s promise of heaven for all who believe in Jesus. Since we’re going to be spending eternity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’d better learn to love one other now!

I realize, of course, that in heaven all the saints will be perfectly sanctified, so it will be easier to love them than it is now. While we’re all in the process of sanctification, the saints (including myself!) all have some rough edges. Thus some realistic wise guy wrote, “To dwell above with the saints we love, O that will be glory! But to dwell below with the saints we know, well that’s a different story!” But, difficult as it may be, our hope of heaven should motivate us to grow in love for all of God’s redeemed people.

But the point here is, the foundation for faith and love is our hope for heaven. That hope is certain, laid up for us, because it’s based on the promises of God, who cannot lie; but it’s not yet realized. I’m convinced, however, that as American Christians, who live pretty well in this world, we live too much for this world and not enough for the world to come. The apostle Paul wrote (1 Cor. 15:19), “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Can you say that? One Puritan writer put it, “Were earthly comforts permanent, who would look for heavenly?” I’m sure that our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world have their hope in heaven, not in the things of this world. To the extent that we sense how fleeting and how uncertain life is, we will put our hope in the salvation that is laid up for us in heaven.


Someone has said, “Sincerity is the key to success. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made!” We’re all prone to fake it, aren’t we! It’s not spiritually healthy to be overly introspective, but sometimes it is good to do an inside checkup. Paul exhorts (2 Cor. 13:5), “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” So, ask yourself, “Is my Christianity authentic or am I faking it?” Here are the tests:

Am I marked by thankfulness and prayer? Is my faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel? Am I working at genuine love for all of God’s people, especially those I rub shoulders with every day? Am I motivated in all I do by the hope laid up for me in heaven?

Perfection in these things is not required or possible in this life. But to be authentic Christians, we should be working at and making progress in thankfulness and prayer; faith in Christ and the gospel; love for one another; and the hope laid up for us in heaven.

Application Questions

  1. What are some practical strategies for a grumbling Christian to grow into a thankful one?
  2. Discuss: The difference between a Jehovah’s Witness and a true Christian is not faith, but the content or object of that faith.
  3. Is there a difference between loving and liking fellow Christians? Must we like all Christians?
  4. How can Christians in comfortable circumstances develop a stronger hope of heaven?
  5. Where do you need to grow the most: thankfulness, prayer, faith in Christ, love for others, or hope? What’s your plan?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Life

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