The Gospel at Work

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:3-8)

It is good to see each of you here this morning. I am thankful that we can come here and worship together as a part of the body of Christ. I am amazed that any of us can call God our Father and can look forward to an eternal inheritance with Christ. Life can be hard, difficulties come our way, and yet we have this assurance that God will continue in us what He has begun, and will deliver us to our eternal home in paradise with Him. God is gracious to have brought us to a place of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We discussed this Friday morning in our elder meeting, we contemplated and discussed with great awe and reverence this truth that God has called us into His family. The One Holy God calling sinners to Himself, and this includes you if you have, by faith, embraced Christ. He has said, “Yes, you can be in my family! I will be your God and you will be my people.” Again, by faith through Christ Jesus who gave Himself for us.

And so for that reason we gather together today, we come here to worship. One primary way we can worship together is through God’s Word. So my prayer is that this morning we will worship as we look at Colossians together, primarily from chapter 1 verse 6, and that our worship will continue as we take of the Lord’s Table together as well.

After Paul introduces himself and states to whom he is writing, he prays to God with thanksgiving. He is thankful for those who have believed who are living in Colossae. He is thankful for their faith, for their love, and for the sure hope that they have for eternal life because they have embraced the gospel.

This is how we ought to be with each other. We ought to remember and be thankful for those around us who have come to God through Christ. Yes, people around us have problems, yes, there is struggle with sin, we are not yet perfect, but even with all our problems and all our sin, we ought to remember that God has sent His Son for us, He died for us, He took our punishment and we belong to Him. Our sin, even today, ought to remind us of His magnificent grace. That is, our salvation is undeserved, we don’t deserve it but He freely gives it.

Last week we focused in on the word “gospel” from verse 5. This gospel is the true gospel that tells us of God’s plan to bring sinners to Himself, to save them, His provision to save them eternally.

In our small group meeting this week we talked about this and the fact that so many often hear an incomplete gospel. We talked about a growing need, even here in our culture and society, to be thorough in the gospel message. We talked about what are the key points that make up the gospel message.

The message of the gospel should include understanding sin. This may seem basic, but in our culture there is such an effort to suppress the idea that sin even exists. To break God’s law is to sin. So we go to stories like Genesis 3 to see that we’ve sinned. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23, James 2:10), and we need to understand God’s holiness, that He is perfect. So we understand our need, understand that God is holy and we are not, but He calls us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). We need someone to stand in the gap, we need a substitute to get to God, One who is perfect. This is what Christ did, He took the punishment that we deserve. 

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

How does it work? How do we get there? How do we become a part of the gospel story? We repent and believe. Repent is to be willing to turn from our sins, and agree with or turn to God. Believe is to rely on or place full trust in.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

It doesn’t stop there! When we do this, when we repent and believe, God makes us a new creation.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

Newness of life that comes through Christ – new goals, a new walk, new thinking, new behavior.

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)

And as Michael talked about this morning, the inheritance that is ours in Christ.

1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

This was the message that went out to the Colossian people, and this is the message that has been given to you if you are a Christian. 

But then in verse 6 Paul goes on to give us great encouragement and hope. He says, ”as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,”

There are two things happening that Paul is sharing with the church of the Colossians that should be extremely exciting and encouraging to them and even for us today. The first is an understanding of the active nature of the gospel message. The activity that springs out of the gospel message of which Paul speaks here is of bearing fruit and increasing – “as indeed in the whole world it [the gospel message] is bearing fruit and increasing.” Or bearing fruit and growing. The gospel being delivered, being proclaimed to them and to the world is resulting in at least these two things. Paul is congratulating them on these two things, but at the same time he is noting that this is happening all over the world! This is exciting for Paul and it should be encouraging to the church at Colossae!

Paul is simply pointing out that the true gospel of Christ is dynamic, it is living, it is at work in people’s lives. The gospel is not just words on a page or words out of someone’s mouth. And its work is not just in the non-Christian’s life, bringing them to saving faith, but it continues to work in the Christian’s life and in their spiritual growth. 

Isaiah reminds us of the active nature of God’s Word, of the gospel of Christ, when he says…

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

I love that passage because it reminds us of the truth that when we speak God’s Word, proclaim His truth, it will accomplish whatever purpose God has for it. It is so much less about our act of proclamation and much more about what God chooses to do with it. We speak hoping for a certain result or response, but God takes it and accomplishes through it, every time, what He desires.

This also shows us that we can and should be a part of something really big, so much bigger than ourselves. We are ambassadors of God, speaking His Word on His behalf, but He is making it effective, doing through it what we cannot do. We can be assured as we share gospel truths that the Spirit of God is there to direct those words to use them for His glory. Our words are feeble and often very weak and even ill placed, but God’s Word accomplishes His plan. For the Colossians, fruit was apparent and growth taking place.

The gospel bears fruit and causes the fruit to then grow. One commentator says it like this regarding the gospel: “Just as a tree without fruit and growth would no longer be a tree, so a gospel that bore no fruit would cease to be a gospel.” That is an interesting quote and it makes me think of the fruit trees I planted a couple of years ago that did not handle our drought well. I look at them, and while other mature trees are green, leafed out, and even bearing fruit, these little trees have no leaves, no fruit, they are like a stick and bare branches rising out of the ground. We could call it a tree, but it’s dead, it really is no longer a tree, just a dead stick bearing no fruit. The gospel bears fruit and causes growth.

The “bearing fruit” speaks of reproduction. This is a statement or a picture of what we call justification. When one hears the message of the gospel of salvation, repents, believes, embraces Christ by faith, he is saved. A new Christian has been born. Romans 3:24 speaks of this: “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ JesusWhen Nicodemus came to Jesus by night to question him regarding His kingdom and what the entrance into it would be, Jesus replied like this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

This rebirth is real transformation, a work of God that justifies a man or woman and is the entrance into God’s family – we call this justification. If you are saved you have been justified through Christ. You are wrapped securely in His righteousness. Just as God said of His Son Jesus, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased,” He would also say that of you. Not because you are great, deserving, or sinless, but because Jesus is, and you are – positionally – hidden in Christ, clothed with His perfection. This is justification. This is the fruit bearing that Paul speaks of, the gospel bears this kind of fruit. Aren’t you glad for that?

This is happening all around us. Here in North Texas and all around this world. God’s Word is going out and it is accomplishing this very thing. People are embracing the gospel message in places like China, Uganda, New York City, Melissa, and all over the world, and God’s family is growing in this way. The family of God is expanding and growing in number just as it was two thousand years ago.

It is really hard to try and estimate how many Christians are in our world today. I’ve done some research and tried to come up with a number but, honestly, it is almost impossible, I think. Most of the research talks about people who identify with Christianity, but that includes many that would not even embrace the truth of the Bible. If I had to guess I would put it at about half a billion, but who knows, only God knows. But we do know that the message is going out and God is saving His people! And I think we need to be reminded of this and encouraged because things can look dim at times.

It is easy, I think, for us to get down and look at our surroundings and lament over the fact that so many do not believe, that our world, our society, seems to be turning from God instead of turning to Him. And that is true in many ways, but in the middle of that, let’s rejoice that God is still at work and He is still building His church!
Jesus said to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” God is still building His church and He will do so until Christ comes again. The pace of its growth, the geography of its growth, that is God’s choice, but it is growing.

The Colossian church needed to keep focused on the mission, gospel mission, and not be bogged down in, “Woe is me, where is God?” No, even in their troubles He was there and saving many.

Along with bearing fruit, Paul mentions that there was increase – “the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing.” I think the best way to understand this increase is to think of it like increasing or maturing of the fruit that has been produced. Think of an apple on a tree. It starts out very small, very green and tender, and as it is nourished from the root it grows into a mature, ripe apple ready for harvest. This maturing process is what Paul has in mind here and it too is part of the gospel at work in us. This is Christians in the growing process.

We may often get the idea that the gospel work is simply to bring us to Christ, to salvation, and then that is it. “Okay, we are saved, so all is good, and that is it.” I’ve met many people like that. Those who recall a past point in life where they heard the gospel truth and seemed to believe, and then they move on with life as it were before. Christianity is never described that way in the Bible. Justification, repentance, and belief is the beginning. What then comes is a lifelong journey of growing and maturing to be more like our Savior.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

This describes the process of change that is the growth of Christlikeness for the Christian. This is the journey part of the Christian life, a journey in this life. This is what Paul is conveying here. This increasing is increasing into maturity in Christ. 

So the gospel was doing its work, having the God ordained effect of bringing many into the kingdom as well as maturing those who already belonged. And how long has this been happening among them? “since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,”

This word “understood” means to know, and captures the idea of an intellectual knowledge as well as an experiential one. They have known and understood the grace of God in truth.

For us today, I think we can find great hope in this verse. God is at work in us and in this world. His Word is still being proclaimed by the faithful. When it is proclaimed, it does its intended work. That work will be that many will come to Christ, be justified through Christ. And it will also produce spiritual growth in those who have believed.

We are not talking about mere human effort or convincing rhetoric or flashy presentations given by charismatic leaders. What we are talking about is a God who, in His power, by His grace, accomplishes His perfect will as His children faithfully speak and communicate His Word. The results are His and the work is His. We just get to faithfully share it.

Gospel work does not end with our coming to Christ, gospel work in us continues as we live these lives for Him.

the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth (Colossians 1:5b-6)