Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
Have you ever stopped to think what makes you qualified to do something in life, whether it be a job or something far greater, like being a parent? Using myself for instance, in order to become a pastor in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, I had to meet certain demands. I had to have a college degree. I had to attend one of our two seminaries and receive a Masters of Divinity. I had to be examined by members of the faculty in order to be certified to receive a call. Once all of that was complete, I was qualified to become a pastor.
Take for instance a new parent. You bring home the child but there is no instruction manual. There are no nurses to change diapers or monitor vital signs of the child. As you lay the child in the crib for the first time, the truth sinks in that this child ultimately depends on you and your care. How often do new parents feel inadequate and not qualified for the task at hand?
St. Paul knew the feeling of inadequacy well. He struggled with his own adequacy as an apostle of Jesus Christ, and he constantly reminded his readers, and himself, that his calling was from God. The Church at Colossae also struggled with feelings of inadequacy. Paul referred to them as “saints and faithful brothers in Christ,” but they were starting to doubt the sufficiency of Christ to make them holy and faithful, beginning to feel inadequate in their beliefs.
False teachers were convincing the Colossians that Christ alone was insufficient to guarantee their salvation, and they began to rely on the works of the Law for assurance. Their faith was shifting from Jesus alone for salvation to Jesus and the works of the Law for salvation. They sought to supplement the ministry of Christ with works of the Law.
As the Church has seen throughout her history, we are filled with this fallacy that works will save. It was what the Church taught during the time of Jesus; it is what the Roman Catholic Church taught at the time of the Reformation; it is what is still taught in Christianity today by many Christian denominations and pastors even now.
When we feel deficient, we try to make up that deficiency. We turn to our works or something inward about us. Paul directs us not to ourselves and our own works but to God, who alone is sufficient for all our needs.
We, along with the Colossians, have something going for us: our faith. But what is it about our faith? Where did it come from? What is it in? The faith comes not from us but from the working of the Holy Spirit upon us. The faith is not in ourselves, our works, others, or anything else we can think to fill in the blank. True faith is faith in Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else. Fortunately for the Colossians, they had not given up on their faith in Jesus Christ while flirting with the false theology of salvation by works.
Because of all the confusing ideas that were being preached in Colossae, Paul prayed for them, asking that their faith would be increased, that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will. Paul prayed for them so that they would be able to discern between God’s Word and the false teachers. He prayed for them so that as they heard the Word of God, their faith in Christ would increase and be strengthened so that they would be able to withstand the attacks upon their faith from these false teachers.
Paul’s prayer for the Colossian congregation is that they would return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and leave behind the false teachings that have entered the congregation. One has to commend Paul. He is not on the scene, only receiving reports of what has been going on. Now he encourages them to hold faithful to the faith they have in Jesus Christ, for that is the only thing that will save them.
What Paul writes to the Colossians can just as easily be written to the Church today, perhaps even our own congregation. We have before us the means of salvation, Jesus Christ, and we also have those things of the world which work counter to the Church’s teaching of salvation and promote other ways of salvation. On any given day, Christians are given the option of Jesus Christ for salvation or other means of salvation, and they get to choose what they want for salvation. That right there is our problem. There is no other means of salvation than Jesus Christ, but we are told contrary to that.
So what do the Colossians do? What is the Church today to do? What happens when you feel as if you are too far gone for God to love you? What happens when you leave God behind and adopt the ways of the world? What happens when you just feel all the way around inadequate to be a believer in Christ? You do what the prophet Joel says: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” You see, even when we are far from God or have turned away from Him, He graciously invites us to return to Him. That is what He did for the Colossians and that is what He does for you and me as well. God has called us by the Gospel and placed His name upon us in our Baptism, forever marking us as His beloved children. While at times that may not mean much to us, it greatly means something to God. He sees the love that Christ has for Him that He would lay down His life, only to take it up again in the resurrection, in order to win for us forgiveness and salvation. That isn’t something to take lightly and God does not take us lightly.
At the times in our lives where we think that we need to do something to earn our salvation or feel as if Jesus isn’t sufficient for salvation’s work, we turn to the closing words of Paul’s introduction to his letter: “He [Jesus] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” God’s formula is not Christ and the works of the Law for salvation, but it is Christ alone.
Our adequacy before God and man is not the result of our works but God’s alone. He alone brought us out of darkness into light. He alone cleansed us of all our sins. You and I are not qualified for salvation on our own. God does not call the qualified. Rather, it is Jesus who does the qualifying for us. He alone makes you called to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Rejoice in knowing that you have been qualified to share in the gifts that God has given you through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.