In this Epistle, it is striking how many times that the Apostle Paul reminded the Christians at Colossae that Jesus their Redeemer was and is the God of the universe, incarnate in the flesh as a man like us.
Col. 1:15: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation."
Col. 1:19: "In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell."
Col. 2:9: "In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily."
Three times in the first two chapters, Paul reminds them of the incarnation of God, that the Jehovah of the Old Testament had lived among us as a man in Jesus Christ. Why the urgency? The answer is evident in the context of the three verses. In Col. 1:23, Paul warns these believers, "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard." And in Col. 2:8, he says, "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit,
according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."
So, soon after the first two verses, and immediately before the third, Paul warns the Colossian Christians about being diverted from the Gospel of salvation in Christ.
I don't know the historical context in which this epistle was written, but its implications for Christians today are clear. These verses tell us that it is no random chance that the false teachers attack us at exactly this point, the full deity of Jesus Christ. We face a three-pronged attack of Arians who teach that Christ is a subordinate, created being, e. g., the Jehovah's Witnesses; tritheists who try to tell us that Christ is just one more godling in our sky, e. g., the Mormons; and the Sabellians (also called Modalists), who tell us that Christ isn't God in His own right, but merely one facet of a shifting godhead, e. g., the United Pentecostal Church.
I am amazed at God's preparation of His scriptures, two-thousand years in advance, to give us the guarding principles that we need today to deal with false teachers. I am just saddened that these sects continue to grow, indicating that professing Christians are failing to heed Paul's message.
"The Lord gave full vent to His wrath; He poured out His hot anger, and He kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations...
This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in the midst of her
the blood of the righteous."
- Lamentations 4:11,13
The picture above is of clergy of the Episcopal Church USA participating in a march for legal abortion. Notice the slogan printed on their t-shirts: "Pro-Faith, pro-family, pro-choice." That's right. These professed men and women of the cloth, clergy of the supposed Church of Christ, are marching for the right to rip apart unborn children.
As I wrote here, abortion is the modern version of child-sacrifice in the Old Testament, part of the rituals for the pagan deity Molech. It was one of the syncretistic practices in Israel, at the lowest point of her apostasy from Jehovah, her redeemer from slave labor in Egypt.
This is what supposed Christian clergy are advocating in our own time. With clergy like this, it is no wonder that the Episcopal Church has lost over half of its parishioners since the 1960's. But what does it say of the half that remain in the church? What does it say of them that their names and money are being used for a form of human sacrifice?
What it says is that they have no concept of Who Christ is or what Christianity is. Both the clergy and the parishioners are described in Jude 1:4: "[they are] ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." I cannot accept the profession of either that they are Christians.
I know that the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) is perfectly content to allow unborn children to be massacred, but true Presbyterians are revolted that it is happening around us. This podcast from Three Guys Theologizing is a discussion among three ministers in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America about the videos that have been coming out about organ-harvesting for profit in the abortion mills of Planned Parenthood. It is about twenty-five minutes long.
Other comments on clergy and abortion can be found by clicking here, here, or here.
The essence of Arminianism, inherited from its popish and Pelagian roots, is that man cooperates with God in his salvation and sanctification. This is referred to "synergism," from the Greek words meaning "to work together." The contrasting view is Calvinism, which holds that our salvation and sanctification are works of God alone, works done in us, but not by us, a view called "monergism," from the Greek words meaning "work of one, or alone."
Every Sunday school student has been taught the story of Gideon and the Midianites (Judges, chapters 6-8). It's a fine story of God's rescue of His people from the tyranny of pagan invaders. However, it is rarely taught as a theological lesson.
Consider Judges 7:2: "The Lord said to Gideon, 'The people
with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hand,
lest Israel boast over Me, saying, "My own hand has saved me."'" Do you recall the reference? Gideon had assembled the men of Israel to give battle to the Midianites. Thirty-two thousand men had assembled (Jud. 7:3), but this was unacceptable to God, because the
Israelites could point to the number of their warriors as the source of their victory instead of God, something that He would not allow (see Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11).
This is monergism, God's singular work of redemption. Someone may be objecting that this passage isn't about salvation. Really? Is it not? God is here saving His people from oppression by human tyrants, as He did in the exodus from Egypt. That is a representation of spiritual salvation, in which God's people are freed from the oppression of sin and Satan. In logic, that is called arguing from the lesser to the greater. If God refused to let men claim credit for their freedom from mere political oppression, would He not refuse even more to allow us to claim credit for our salvation from sin? That would be a far greater glory, and forbidden by the Isaiah passages above.
Paul makes the spiritual application in Ephesians 2:1-4: "[We] were dead in the trespasses and sins,... and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Not "weak" or "sick," or even "dying." Dead; a doctrine known as "total depravity." And just as a dead body cannot aid a doctor in resuscitating it, neither can we even desire to aid God in our salvation (Rom. 3:10-11). Thus, if we are to be saved from our spiritual bondage, it must be all by God's hand, by His gift, by His enabling (Eph. 2:8-10, Phil. 2:13, John 1:13, John 6:44, etc.). Consider especially Jeremiah 10:23: "I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps."
My hope is that there are people reading this who don't know salvation in Jesus Christ. These passages should be telling you that everything that you have been claiming as your ticket to heaven is an illusion. It is only the faith Jesus gives you as the instrument for receiving salvation from Him that can be of any hope to you. You can't do it yourself. Either He has done it all, or there can be no salvation for you. Please receive Him now. or, if you need further information, please email me at the address in my profile on the right.
Let's begin with verse 6: "They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." This is the theme that Paul develops in the rest of the chapter. As Paul continues in verse 7, "nor are they all children because they are descendants of Abraham, but 'in Isaac shall your descendants be called.'" He explains that statement in verse 8: "So, those who are the children of the flesh are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants." Paul goes on to demonstrate this from the comparison of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac. But I would also add what Genesis says about Ishmael. In Genesis 17:18-19, Abraham prays to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before You!" Yet, God replies, "No." Not "maybe," not "let's hope so." Rather, His answer is a straightforward and unconditional refusal. That is a demonstration of reprobation, which is the flip side of election. Just as God chose some for salvation, He also chose others for condemnation. More of that to come.
Paul reminds us of Isaac's twin sons, Jacob and Esau (v. 10). Then he begins their story (verses 11-13): "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in
order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of
works but because of Him who calls— she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" Before the twins were even born or had committed any personal sins, God had decreed in His sovereignty that Jacob would be preferred over Esau, the second-born over the firstborn, contrary to the custom, because He had already declared, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (quoted from Malachi 1:2-3). God explicitly states that His purpose was to demonstrate His sovereign election, to exclude any merit in either child (or, by extension, in any of us).
Among Americans, the nearly-universal reaction to that is, "But that's not fair!" The same response is made by a hypothetical audience in verse 14. In response, Paul quotes (v. 15, from Ex.33:19): "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion!" Note that He makes no effort to explain that it is fair. Rather, He claims that we are in rebellion even to ask the question! Verse 20, "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" As Creator, He rules over His creations! Verse 21, "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one
vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" Here He addresses the two doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation together. They are actions consistent with His place as sovereign creator and sustainer of all things. He doesn't answer our concerns about fairness because those concerns are illegitimate expressions of rebellion!
He endures these "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (v. 22) "in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory." He uses the one, the objects of His wrath, to provide a contrast to the objects of His mercy, that He may reveal Himself, both in His justice and His mercy. The doctrines of grace are all about Him, not us.
As a Gentile, I am especially blessed by God's sovereign grace, for those He has prepared for glory include "even us whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (v. 24). As He prophesied in Hosea 2:23-24, "Those who were not My people I will call 'My people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God.'" My ancestors are those described by Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22, who had no hope and were without God in our world, but now are fellow citizens with the saints. If it hadn't been for the sovereign grace of God, there is no human way that the Gospel would have entered my life, that I could be born again by the Holy Spirit.
And that is true of everyone who is reading this post. Whether you are nodding your head in agreement or purple-faced with rage, you could never have known Jesus Christ as savior without the truths of the doctrines of grace. Yes, even Arminians are saved by sovereign grace!
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43