Did you ever wish as a kid you could grow up to be a “secret agent?” Some people seem to be caught up in the superhero phenomenon, but I always thought it would be cooler to be a “behind the scenes” kind of agent. You know the type: 007, The Man from Uncle or Maxwell Smart…well probably not so much Maxwell Smart – but you know the type. While I was living in the Near East, I kid you not, some of my family actually thought I may have had a job in such a field. I am not making that up! I thought my sheer lack of athleticism, combined with my middle-aged pudgy center would have given them a clue. You never saw anyone in a “James Bond” movie that looked like me, and there was a good reason for that!
I don’t know much about being an agent. I have read that businesses sometimes hire what they refer to as “change agents.” A change agent is a man or woman who helps their organization or business to improve business processes and teamwork. Apparently, they are leaders focused on change management. I have read about them, but it isn’t clear to me how they differ from other managers in an ever-changing world.
What I DO KNOW about agents is this: because of our salvation, we are led by the ultimate “Master Agent of change.” Our encounter with Jesus not only changed our destiny, it changed the path on which we walk right now. As we grow to maturity, we slowly learn in our Christian life how to cede control away from our cravings and inner instincts into the control of the One Who made us. The Spirit guides our steps as we invite Jesus to lead us daily.
Something else I know… change isn’t always popular. Alvin Toffler wrote: “Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.” Isn’t that right? Doesn’t change sometimes seem like an unwanted invader? It causes us to break out of the comfortable. I think it is fair to say that change is difficult for most people. Woodrow Wilson once quipped: “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Much change is unwelcome. At the same time, consider the alternative. Harold Wilson reminds us of the opposing truth: “The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”
With that in mind, let’s simply concede there is a great deal in life we cannot change.
• We cannot change our past.
• We cannot change the uncertainty and unfairness inherent in a fallen world.
• We cannot change many things that come our way.
The good news is we can change our attitude about what we encounter. We can ask the Lord to lead us through the day. We can focus our minds in ways that will help us to move forward in the face of troubles.
Let me offer you more good news from the opening of a writing of the Apostle Paul known as the “Letter to the Colossians.” Maturing in your faith will be a journey of change led by the Master Agent of change. Colossians 1 makes the lesson clear…
Key Principle: Mature believers learn to thank God for salvation (what Jesus did), wonder at the Savior (Who Jesus is) and experience His sanctifying power (how Jesus changes us).
If you are growing in Christ, these three ideas are a part of your life in greater and greater ways. To follow these ideas, let’s look at how Paul opened the letter…
Paul wrote to people who were already walking with Jesus.
This is a letter to believers, not to everyone in the world. He wrote:
Colossians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
The term “saint” was widely used in the New Testament for those who walked daily with God. They weren’t perfect, but they were growing and walking in the faith of the Lord Jesus. Paul added in verse two they were also “faithful brethren.” Keep reading, and you will see that Paul began with positive words…
He began by sharing his personal celebration concerning them before God.
Colossians 1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
Clearly, Paul’s celebration focused on three primary ideas of celebration:
• They evidenced faith and a loving spirit (Colossians 1:3-5) – and that was evidence that God was working among them. You may have noticed that many people in the world are stirred up about life. They are worried about the future, angry at the political climate and uncertain about the economic environment. Believers start life in the same worries, but grow to trust that God is at work in people on every level. That won’t mean everything will be good in the short term, but it does mean it will all end well.
• Changes in them came when they received the Gospel and began bearing fruits of faith (Colossians 1:6). The Christian life is a growth. It is measurable, but at times slow. You can see it primarily through attitude and choice changes in the life of one who seeks to follow Jesus.
• Paul made a notable mention of Epaphras who bore testimony of their actions to Paul and (at the same time) taught the people faithfully how to follow Jesus (Colossians 1:7). The teaching of Jesus and the modeling of life change is part of the discipleship process and Epaphras was busy helping with that progression.
Paul shared the heart of his prayer for them: the fruit he hoped to see.
Because the faith is modeled and gradually takes hold, Paul wanted the Colossians to see what he was hoping they would become. He wrote:
Colossians 1:9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
Look at Paul’s hope for them:
First, Paul prayed for internal knowledge. He wanted them to become dominated by God’s will for them as a group (Colossians 1:9). He desired the Colossians to willingly submit to God’s Spirit as it directed them internally to a discernment of God’s directive will.
Second, Paul prayed the internal knowledge would show in external choices. They would take the will of God within and choose to live it without – taking care to please God in how they walked (Colossians 1:10).
Third, Paul asked God to stabilize them to the point they would be immoveable in the faith (Colossians 1:11). He longed to hear they showed the ability to remain under the pressure and yet fully trust God.
Fourth, he prayed fervently they would exhibit a thankful spirit in all circumstances for what God was doing in them (Colossians 1:12).
That’s a list we can all desire, isn’t it? Wouldn’t YOU like to say you truly understood where God was leading your life? Wouldn’t you like to see a pattern of choices in your daily walk that clearly showed your allegiance to God as He both helped you make the goals and then empowered you to attain them? Wouldn’t you love to be known as a steady and stable influence in the faith among your brothers and sisters in Jesus? Wouldn’t you LOVE to hear that people thought you were one of the most thankful people they knew? Paul’s desire for the Colossians looks like a laundry list of what most of us wish were true of us.
Paul had many of these character marks himself. Have you ever wondered, “How did he get them?” Fortunately, the text revealed the secrets…
The heart of thankfulness came from Paul’s clear understanding of three things: What Jesus did for all of us, Who Jesus truly is before all of us, and what Jesus was doing in His own life.
The same pattern will work for you. Follow Paul’s record for a moment…
First, there is the true record of what Jesus did. He became our Savior:
Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Four acts are highlighted:
• He rescued us. We MUST remember the Gospel is not about adding a moral set of guidelines to our life – it is the rope that holds us from plummeting to an abyss. The casual understanding of lost-ness is the biggest problem we have in getting people serious about evangelism.
• He transferred us. We MUST consider that we no longer belong to the kingdom to which most around us swear full allegiance. They will fight and die on hills for values that are no longer ours. Jesus snatched us from the kingdom we once supported, and calls on us to walk in a way that shows our prime allegiance to Him.
• He purchased us. We MUST consider our sense of “freedom” to be our unfettered opportunity to serve Jesus with all within us. We were not bought to become free men. We were bought to change the house of our servitude. That offends American sensitivities, but is abundantly clear in the teaching of the New Testament. You were bought to be a servant of Jesus Christ, not yourself – your cravings, your desires, nor your wants.
• He bought for us forgiveness. The term is áphesis (from aphíēmi the word to “release, send away or forgive”) – this was the word for releasing someone from service to repay a debt. We MUST recognize the release. Jesus paid our debt, so we serve Him, but not the old life and the old obligations to the flesh. You CAN walk away.
What Jesus DID is remarkable, but pales in comparison to WHO Jesus is.
Second, there is a true record of Who Jesus is.
Our Redeemer began His work under the auspices of His Father.
He is the authorized inheritor with the Father’s full authority.
Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Don’t get confused. The term “first born” in the text isn’t intended to say the Eternal Son of God was “born first.” The expression isn’t about Jesus being “created,” though in the Godhead He IS the only one Who experienced the process of physical birth!
The word had everything to do with RIGHTS and PRIVILEGES in the time of the Apostles. The FIRST BORN was the one who represented the Father in negotiations and contracts. He was the inheritor of all of his father’s estate. He held a position of greater authority than any other family member, any employee, any representative. Jesus is the EXACT REPRESENTATION of the Father (Hebrews 1:4). He is the image stamp. He looks, in every respect, like the Father. He said it this way: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” The term firstborn is a term about the right to fully represent the interests of His Father… and Jesus CAN.
He is the Agent of the Father’s will in Creation of all things.
Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
When Genesis 1:1 said, “God created the heavens and the earth,” the specific agent of that creation was our Savior. That would be like saying, “I built this machine” when you were saying your team did it. Jesus did the work at the behest of the Father. He is the agent of Creation, but He is more…
He is the mechanism of beginning and maintaining the cosmos.
Colossians 1:17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Jesus literally, chemically, biologically and physically holds the cosmos together.
He is the initiator of the “body of the called out” of the world who became the first fruits of new life.
Colossians 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead…
He was the first fruits of the Resurrection that guarantees our future (1 Corinthians 15). He is the Originator and the Supreme Head of those set free from sin.
He is the One Who will be recognized as Supreme in the end of all things.
Colossians 1:18b “…so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”
At the end of all things, every ruler will bow. Every leader will acknowledge His supremacy…
He was chosen by His Father to bring such reconciliation to us.
Colossians 1:19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
God placed Him in the role of Savior…
He is the One Who brought in some of the worst rebels and joined them to God in salvation.
Colossians 1:21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
Three truths jump from these verses, and each offers a challenge:
• The message of the church is not about the church but about the Savior. We are not a display case of our own goodness, but rather a dazzling display of God’s grace bestowed on the least deserving.
• The message of the church is not about how we can accept you as you continue participation in evil deeds, but how encountering Jesus causes you to kill off the domination of fleshly desires that do not show you have been redeemed.
• The message of the church is not about how a momentary commitment (an aisle walk) can save you when you refuse to have the Spirit do a work in retracing your choices of life.
Beyond the work of Jesus, Paul celebrated the PERSON of Jesus. Then he made the whole thing more personal…
Third, Paul rejoiced in what Jesus was doing in and through HIM:
It wasn’t comfort Paul experienced, but it was a sense of purpose. He wrote:
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
He didn’t enjoy trouble, but he saw his life, his pain and his work as all purposeful to God. A million years from now, any cost your faith places on your life right now will still be worth it. Ask a mom of a toddler if the pain of childbirth was worth what she has. She will tell you! The pain had a purpose, and that is why it was bearable. So is your trouble in this life.
It wasn’t leadership and perks he experienced, but it was a call to servanthood and stewardship that thrilled him.
Colossians 1:25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Paul was given a message: Gentiles can come to faith without an earthy High Priest or a trip to Jerusalem’s Temple. It didn’t matter how many experts in the Law disagreed with him – he was given a message by God to deliver. It didn’t matter if he was popular because of what he shared – because he was a steward of what God told him.
So are you. It is also worth remembering…
It wasn’t a program of change Paul brought to people, but it was a Person Who would change them.
We preach Christ. We preach HIS change within men and women. Paul wrote:
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
Don’t misread this. You don’t get perfect so that you can meet Christ – you meet Christ and get completed IN Him to meet the Father.
He brings with Him a new hunger to walk differently. He shows you why the disciplines of this life are worth it in His service!
In the end, Paul made it clear…
Mature believers learn to thank God for salvation (what Jesus did), wonder at the Savior (Who Jesus is) and experience His sanctifying power (how Jesus changes us).
The pattern is set. Come to Jesus and thank Him He has made your new life possible. Gaze at Him in wonder that He would do this for you. Grab hold of his empowering as He leads you to grow in Him.
She was in her mid- twenties and had passed through her college experience when I first met her on a trip to Israel. Her aunt brought her because in college she learned the Bible was a tale of myths and there simply was no evidence for its words. Her aunt asked me on the second night of the trip to have a talk with her. We sat in the middle of a plaza by the sea at Netanya and she expressed a litany of complaints about the Bible. I listened and promised her that I would do my best to address each of the things she pointed out. Then I asked her a question: “Who do you think Jesus was?” I wanted to know if she ever stopped to consider what He claimed and what He did. I wanted her to answer how it was that in her own family several members close to her had been dramatically changed by Him. That opened the door to her heart, and Jesus was standing there waiting to go in. I wish I could share how much God has done in her life and her family from that day – but someday you’ll meet her in Heaven. She will be there with a smile and real confidence in her Savior.