6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:6-10
No sin is more common among those who have a passion for righteousness and purity than to imagine that these things are to be achieved by human striving rather than divine grace. The Pharisees fell into the trap, the Galatians fell into the trap, the Judaizers fell into the trap, Peter fell into the trap, and, according to our text today, the Colossians were in danger of falling into the trap. After all, nothing makes more sense than to say that if we want to pursue the righteousness of God, then we must earn it; we must strive for it; we must achieve it.
Today in our sermon we consider the weapons of our warfare – the tools that God has given us to fight against the enemy. It is imperative as we learn to utilize these weapons that we do so in the way that our Lord intends – that we not turn the muzzle the wrong way and end up shooting ourselves or our allies rather than our enemy. It is to alert us to this danger that we look at Paul’s exhortation in Colossians today.
Paul exhorts us to walk in Christ, to conduct our lives, according to the same principle that united us with Christ in the first place. And what was that principle? Faith. Faith united us with Christ, was the appointed means by which God credited to our account the righteousness of Christ, was the gift that enabled us to emerge from the shadow of darkness into the light of life.
Let us be absolutely clear that we understand what this means. Faith brings nothing of its own to the transaction; we did not receive Christ because we were wiser than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because we were more intelligent than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because of anything in us. For by nature we are all children of wrath, deserving of destruction, committed to waste and profligacy. What then does faith do? Looking to self and despairing of any self-deliverance, faith looks to Christ and rests upon Him for deliverance – save me O Lord, for I am helpless and needy; have mercy on me, for I am a sinner worthy of death.
And so Paul urges us to pursue our growth in grace with this same basic framework. Look, Paul exhorts us, not to your own worth, not to your own deserving, not to your own wisdom, but look instead to the grace of God, the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who frees us from our self-absorption and enables us to pursue righteousness to the glory of God. God will not honor those who strive to achieve righteousness on their own strength. For the very message of the Gospel is that we cannot achieve such righteousness; and that to try to do so is to proclaim the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus worthless and to trample underfoot the blood of the covenant by which we were sanctified.
And so, reminded that God’s grace is the source of our strength and wisdom; that that which distinguishes us from our neighbor is not our commitment, not our determination, not anything of ours, but rather the completely free grace of God, let us kneel and confess that we often fall into the sin of imagining that having been justified by faith we are sanctified by our own works, that we are called to fight the battle in our own way.