So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2.6-7)
Discipleship in a Nutshell
On occasion, as we read Paul’s letters and he’s rolling along, dispensing one illuminating truth after another, we begin to sense exasperation rising until he throws up his hands in dismay. Such a moment surfaces in Galatians 5. Legalistically prone Jewish Christians have rattled Gentile believers by insisting circumcision—i.e., conversion to Judaism—is necessary for redemption. That the Galatians would credence such nonsense alarms Paul, given how he and other Apostles constantly preach God’s grace is free for all without condition. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,” he says in verse 6, just before bewilderment overtakes him and he exclaims, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” (v7) If he were writing to modern believers mired in similar controversy—say, demands that believers disavow gender, ethnicity, or orientation to qualify for God’s acceptance—Paul might put this to them: “Why are you hung up by this?” The Galatians have let patently false doctrine impede their progress, steal their focus, and shake their confidence.
Jesus tasks the Apostles with one primary mission: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28.19) But they soon learn making disciples goes beyond convincing people to believe in Jesus; it calls for unswerving commitment to Him and His teaching. Therefore, it’s equally vital for the Apostles to encourage believers to continue in the faith. New life in Christ is the key that opens the door to living in Christ. “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness,” Paul urges in Colossians 2.6-7. Keep going. Keep growing. Get stronger. Stay thankful. That pretty much summarizes discipleship in a nutshell. And, pulling his advice to the Galatians into this mix: Don’t let anyone cut in on you and keep you from obeying the truth.
It’s Got to Be Real
Living in Christ means living by faith, and since the natural mind and senses are critically crippled by the need to know and feel, living by faith is the most elusive pursuit we can undertake. Faith gives us nothing visible or tangible to go on. Yet it’s got to be real. That’s why Paul includes “overflowing with thankfulness” in his set of instructions. Thanksgiving transforms belief into reality, faith into fact. It’s the aftermath of complete trust in God’s unfailing mercy and care for us. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,” David writes in Psalm 23.6. As we move forward, living day by day in Christ, we take time to glance back and recognize how good God has been to us, how He’s proven Himself repeatedly, consistently.
Thanking God gives voice to His grace and concern in every detail about us. We entrust Him with our lives and He validates our faith by completely involving Himself in them. No matter is too great or small for His attention. Sometimes He reveals His presence in expected ways, answering specific prayers and honoring certain promises. Just as often (if not more so), He demonstrates His love in startling fashions—surprising us with unanticipated blessings, shielding us from unforeseen detriment, or guiding us through treacherous stretches we’d prefer to escape. However He rewards our trust, though, pausing to express gratitude for what He’s done informs blind faith in current situations with insight gained by experience. Thanksgiving makes abstract faith concrete. It secures our roots and builds us up. It keeps us going.
Years ago, Fundamentalists got swept up by a teaching every bit as caustic as the circumcision doctrine that plagued the Early Church. Known as “word of faith” theology, it quickly entered Fundie slang as “name-it-claim-it.” Its advocates said all believers had to do to exercise faith was “speak the word” to remedy their problems. As usual with fringe doctrines, “word of faith” found a few scriptural hooks to bait weak, unseasoned believers, and they swallowed them whole. Overnight, churches teemed with sick people saying, “I’m healed,” financially strapped ones claiming, “I’m rich,” etc. This went on quite a while before it faded, sadly taking a lot of disillusioned, disappointed souls with it.
During this craze, I noticed believers who genuinely lived by faith didn’t “name-and-claim” anything. Nothing anyone said and nothing they faced hindered them from obeying the truth. In spite of everything around them, they kept their hearts overflowing with thanks. While others confused imagined outcomes with expressions of faith, their expressions of gratitude generated real faith that produced outcomes. They exemplified Philippians 4.6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." They obeyed 1 Thessalonians 5.18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” They taught me living by faith is living in thanks. Confidence to move on comes by looking back at how far we’ve come. As “Amazing Grace” brilliantly reminds us: “’Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me on.” Faith rises when thanksgiving overflows.
Faith for the future is borne on the tide overflowing thanks for past mercies and grace. We look back to move ahead.
(Next: Do It Yourself)