It is not that Complicated
I was reading and reflecting on Colossians 1 and 2 this morning. The part that I was contemplating was Colossians 1:24-2:7:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (2:1) For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
In this passage, Paul lays out his vision for what Christian maturity looks like. The thing that stuck out to me and gave me pause was that Paul understands spiritual growth in the Christian life to be a struggle. It isn't easy. It isn't part of our natural make up. The point Paul makes is that growth in the Christian life only comes when we see Christ's strength work through our weakness (1:29).
However, while Paul says that growth to maturity isn't easy, he is clear that Christian growth is not complicated. In fact, he lays out four components to Christian growth in 2:2. One, having our hearts encouraged. Two, being knit together in love. Three, reaching full assurance. Four, having the knowledge of God's mystery. Paul is clear these are four components not four steps. We like steps. Four easy steps to a better marriage, four easy steps to making more friends, four easy steps to losing weight. However, Paul is concentrating on spiritual growth that has four components (encouragement, love, assurance, knowledge) and they are all centered on the Word of God.
As I was considering this, I was reminded of Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. I just read devices seven and eight. Brooks is making the same point that Paul is making here in Colossians 1 and 2. Fighting sin and temptation is not easy. It is a struggle. It is hard work. However, it is also not that complicated.
The seventh device in Satan's arsenal for tempting us according Brooks is to have us get as close to the line of sin as possible without stepping over it. The eighth device is showing how the wicked prosper while the righteous perish. Brooks is not naïve. He knows that it is easy to think we are stronger than we are and thus put ourselves in a position to stumble all the more readily. He knows the temptation of Psalm 73, seeing the wicked prosper and despairing of our own faithfulness to God. He knows that the fight against temptation is not easy. However, he also says the remedy is not complicated.
How do we avoid sin? Brooks' answer is not complicated: don't even go near sin. If you know that being with certain friends is going to tempt you to gossip, walk away from those relationships. If you know that going a certain way to work will tempt you to lust, go a different way. If you know that going into a particular restaurant will tempt you to drink or eat too much, avoid it. Don't even put yourself in the situation. When you look at the wicked prosper, speak the truth of the Gospel to yourself. The truth that Paul reminds us of in Colossians 1 and 2, the truth that the Psalmist reminds us of in Psalm 73, we get Christ. The enjoyment of the wicked in this world may be discouraging to us as we struggle to be faithful to the call of God on our lives. We may be discouraged as we are afflicted. Yet, we know this: we get Christ.
Both Paul in Colossians and Brooks remind me, in the midst of the struggles of life, growth to maturity in the Christian life is not easy. Nevertheless it is not complicated. Growth in the Christian life has four components: encouragement, love, assurance, and knowledge. Those are not four steps, but they are components that center our lives on the Christ as he is revealed in Scripture. Herman Bavinck put it well:
The Word of God is always a hammer which breaks the hard heart of the sinner; a sword of the Spirit that strikes a deadly blow to the proud and self-righteous; a testimony of God that shakes the conscience awake; the seed of regeneration; the power unto sanctification.
It is not easy, but it is not complicated.
I am currently reading through Thomas Brooks Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. If you would like to read along, next week we will cover chapter 2, devices 9-10.