Teaching series from Colossians

Spiritual Transformation

Colossians 1:9-12

Teaching t23029


Last week we began a study of Colossians – a letter from Paul (one of the leaders of the early Christian movement) to the Christians in Colossae (a small town in south-western Turkey). Paul began by thanking God for their conversion – namely, that they had received the “gospel” (the message that Jesus is the Messiah and that through His death we can be forgiven by God). He also rejoiced that this “gospel” had begun to change their lives – imparting peace (with God) and hope (for eternal life). GOSPEL: It can change your life in this same way if you simply ask Jesus for forgiveness and receive Him into your heart.

Now, in 1:9-12, Paul tells them about his ongoing prayer for them since he heard of their conversion (read 1:9a). As we will see, his prayer is that God would change their lives in a deep and lasting way. Elsewhere (Rom.12:2; 2Cor.3:18), Paul calls this change being “transformed” (metamorphoo) – literally, “to be changed into another form,” or to be changed from the inside-out (SLIDE OF CATERPILLAR >> BUTTERFLY). When Jesus returns, all who believe Him will be fully transformed – complete with glorious new bodies (3:4). In the meantime, God is both willing and able to substantially transform us! Let’s look first at Paul’s description of this transformation (1:10-12). Then we will look at how we cooperate with God in this metamorphosis (1:9b).

What it looks like

Paul describes the central goal of God’s transformation in 1:10a (read). “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” doesn’t mean “earning God’s acceptance.” We already have God’s complete and permanent acceptance through Christ. It means living in a way that represents God well, so that we uphold and enhance His reputation to others. “To please Him in all respects” means the same thing, because the life that enhances God’s reputation is the life that pleases Him. We learn here two things about this transformation, both of which are deeply counter-cultural:

First, God wants to transform us into being God-centered, not self-centered. This transformation seeks to fundamentally displace us as the center of our worlds, and enables our lives to orbit around God and His will. This is radically different from most contemporary forms of spirituality, which view God as a force or energy to tap into and use to facilitate our self-chosen goals, to enhance our ability to get what we want.

Second, God wants His transformation to be comprehensive, not compartmentalized. His transformation seeks to realign our lives to His will “in all respects.” This is fundamentally different from most contemporary forms of spirituality, which seek change in some self-chosen areas (e.g., emotional healing), while declaring other areas off-limits (e.g., sexual or financial ethics). Later, Paul will show how God wants to transform us in area of our lives: intellectual, sexual, financial, relational, marital, parental, career, etc.

You may be thinking at this point: “This transformation would make me miserable!” But this is mistaken for the simple reason that God designed us for this way of life. It is living in contradiction to His design that damages us and brings us (and others) misery. Allowing God to transform us to live according to His design brings deep fulfillment (Rom.12:2b).

Do you want more specifics on what this transformed way of life looks like? Paul provides a snap-shot of it in 1:10b-12. He uses four participial phrases that describe four aspects of this transformed life:

“Bearing fruit in every good work...” – not religious deeds to earn God’s acceptance or impress other people, but a life of active loving goodness toward other people that attracts them to Christ (see 1:6 for this sense of “bearing fruit). Nothing (e.g., extreme sports; career advancement) is more fulfilling than to experience God working through you to influence others toward Him (read Jn.15:8,11)!

“Increasing in the knowledge of God...” – not an impersonal creed about God, but a life of growing personal intimacy with God and deepening understanding of His ways. As you give God’s love away to others, He grants you deeper experience of His love (see Jn. 14:21,23) and greater insight into His will. This is an “upward spiral” that continues your whole life (e.g., Evan Welch; Oswald Sanders)!

“Being strengthened with all poweraccording to His glorious might ...” You might expect this phrase to end with “...so that you may perform miracles, see visions, etc.” Paul experienced the power of God in both of these ways, and you might also. But these things are not the greatest manifestations of God’s power. God’s power enables you to become “steadfast” (able to hang in there through difficult circumstances that formerly crushed you), and to become “patient” (able to keep loving difficult people who you formerly rejected). As a result, you can be realistic about how tough this life is, and yet become increasingly stable and faithful in your relationships!

“Joyously giving thanks to the Father...” – not a life of deepening disappointment and cynicism, but a life of deepening joy and gratitude. Why? Because through Jesus, God has become your loving Father; He has bestowed on you the privileged status of being His beloved child. So you will one day inherit a place in His eternal kingdom (“the inheritance”), and in the meantime you can come to Him for whatever help you need. The more you give thanks to God for this, the more joyous you become!

This is the transformation that pleases God, the transformation that (if you have received Christ) God is constantly motivating and empowering you toward (Phil.2:13). God can transform your life like this, no matter how much you’ve messed things up, no matter how much others have damaged you, no matter how difficult your circumstances are.

The question is: How does God effect this transformation, and how do we cooperate with Him in it? That’s what Paul answers in 1:9...

How God transforms us

Re-read 1:9,10a and point out “so that” in 1:10a. It is being “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all (S)piritual wisdom and understanding” that unleashes God’s power to transform us. Many Christians think that “the knowledge of God’s will” refers to getting God’s guidance for important life-decisions (e.g., who to marry; where to go to school; what career to pursue). These decisions are important, and God can give us guidance on how to make them – but that’s not what Paul is talking about. Rather, “the knowledge of God’s will” is a synonym for the gospel – that Jesus is the Messiah, and that His death and resurrection has provided the solution to our deepest problems. Paul makes this clear in 2:2b,3, where he speaks of the “true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

So the key to being transformed by God is the same thing that is the key to becoming a Christian and experiencing God’s peace and hope. It is understanding the content of the gospel and responding to it in faith. The difference is that whereas as becoming a Christian requires only a basic understanding of the gospel (e.g., Jesus died for your sins and wants to live in your heart), being deeply transformed by God requires being “filled” (plero) with an understanding of the gospel.

So how do you become filled with this knowledge? Paul tells us three ways in this letter how we can do this:

First, become very familiar with the contents of the gospel. It is precisely this knowledge that Paul communicates in the rest of this letter. This is what Paul is referring to in 3:16a when he says: “Let the word of Christ richly (plusios) dwell within you...” Paul is saying: “Listen to/read this letter over and over until its contents are thoroughly at home in you.” Pay close attention to these teachings on Colossians. Read small passages (like this one!) very carefully, write them out, memorize them, say them back to yourself, pray them back to God, and ponder them until they take up residence in your heart. Somehow, this unleashes God’s power to transform you toward 1:10-12. If you do this, this series on Colossians will be life-transforming!

You are to use your mind to do the above, but you need to do something else as you do this: Ask God to illuminate the gospel’s application to your life. God’s Spirit can open the eyes of your heart so that you see how these truths apply practically to your life. For example, maybe as I taught 1:11, the Spirit caused a longing to be more steadfast in a current, specific adversity, or He convicted you to be more patient in a current, specific difficult relationship. This is why, even as Paul taught them these truths, he prayed (1:9) for “Spirit-imparted wisdom and understanding” so they could be filled (plero) with it. So when you ponder these passages through the week, pray for God to help you in this way (read Ps.119:18)! And pray for this same illumination for your Christian friends!

Third, do #1 and #2 with other Christians. This is implicit in 1:9 (praying for one another’s illumination). It is explicit in 3:16 (“... teaching and counseling one another”). It is also explicit in 2:2 (read), where Paul says that it is those who are “knit together in love” that attain to “the wealth that comes from the full (plero) understanding.” “Knit together” (sumbibazo) refers to a close and living connection – like how your physical body is knit together by its joints and ligaments (Eph.4:16; Col.2:19). This is why our Vision Statement says: “... deep and lasting spiritual transformation happens only in Christian community.” This is why home groups are at the very heart of who we are as a church. They provide you with opportunities to do this so you can be transformed. Are you taking advantage of this opportunity? If not, you are missing out!

NEXT WEEK we will start to dig into these treasures by looking at Paul’s description in 1:13-23 of the incomparable Christ.

Paul refers to this message as “the mystery of God’s will” in Eph.1:9, and calls it “the gospel of your salvation” in Eph.1:13.

The same goes for every New Testament book, since they are all inspired revelations of the gospel.