Are you sure you are a Christian? Are your sure the Jesus you worship is the real Jesus? Where does your assurance come from? The Apostle John writes in his first epistle, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Evidently from Scripture God wants us to know if we are indeed numbered among his people, dare I say elect(?).
Assurance provides us with confidence that we are going to heaven one day, but that is only one (but very important) dimension. The “practical” benefit of assurance in the here-and-now is that it helps us in our sanctification, that life-long growing in holiness in Christ. There are a number of means to growth in Christ, e.g. Scripture reading, praying, corporate worship and fellowship. What Paul lays out for us in Colossians 2 is a crucial part of the ordinary means of grace.
In Colossians 2:1-3, Paul expounds upon the idea of unity as members of the body of Christ (Col 1:18). He writes:
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.(Colossians 2:1-3 ESV)
Experiencing and participating in this unity is an essential way to have “full assurance” (v.2). Paul’s concern for unity for the Colossians and all the church is by no means trivial. It is a central concern for him. He says, “I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you…” (v.1). But why? What is all the fuss? Why the need for unity and peace? Is it to save face in a world that is waiting for us to look like hypocrites? I agree that that is a concern. Our witness to the world ought to reflect an inward reality that has taken place in God’s plan of redemption, but, although probably assumed, that is not the emphasis Paul is making here in this passage. Paul’s concern for the believers in Colossae is that their “hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love” (v.2). Again, why? To what end? The answer flows in the rest of the verse.
But before I go any further, let’s break down what Paul has said so far. First, his desire is that their hearts were encouraged. Since the fall, we have been filled with fears. We just use more sophisticated fig-leaves to hide them. We need courage.The world is against us; we are often against us; and too often we think God is against us. Our hearts waiver with anxiety. We need them stabilized with encouragement.
The second concern Paul has is their unity. It is very important to remember that when we read Paul’s letter to the churches, he is writing to a body of people, the church, one body, but many members. It is tempting in our age of individualism to read the Bible for our personal edification to the exclusion of the rest of the church. With that word of caution, let us keep moving. Paul desired that their hearts would be encouraged, “being knit together in love.” Our hearts cannot be encouraged if they are not knit together in love. We should not expect to be encouraged if we are not willing to be knit together with the church. This is not easy; this in itself takes courage. This goes for all of us, but especially for the individual who thinks he does not need the church, but I would venture to guess this applies to particular communions who have cut themselves off from the catholic (universal) church.
Back to the question, to what end does Paul want us to be encouraged, knit together in love? Answer: That we may “reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” That is big goal to reach for. We need to understand the mystery God as revealed if we are to know anything about what he has done for us in Christ. “Knowledge is Power” they say, but the knowledge Paul speaks of the not an encyclopedic database of brute facts and theories. This knowledge reveals the unpredictable Person and work of Christ. This is the mystery revealed: Christ, the Son of God, came in the flesh, not only to live and die for the sins of His people, the Jews, but more than that, the Gentiles will be incorporated into His people as well as one body, and He will dwell in them by His Spirit (1:15-23). Wow!
But this knowledge is not just to be read about. In God’s economy of redemption, we are supposed to read about it in his Word, but to fully understand that which is written by the Spirit, we must also be doers of the Word in order to “reach the riches of full assurance.” This is not a matter of personal experience taking precedence over the written Word; this is the written Word instructing us how to have an understanding of the Word. A quick analogy of what I mean: I don’t play piano, but I know how. I have read and seen in a piano instruction book that there is something called a staff, two actually, each assigned with a treble and a bass clef. Each has five lines with something called a key signature positioned on the left of the staff. The key signature is made up of symbols representing flat and sharp notes. Those notes are the little black dots (some are hollow) on, under, above, and between the lines of the staff. Each note corresponds with a white or black key on the piano. At the appointed time, I push one of the keys on the piano that matches the little black dots on the page. There! I know how to play piano. Is anyone convinced yet? My point is that there is something we cannot fully know unless be actually do it. Has anyone ever seen the Brady Bunch episode where Mrs. Brady and Alice attempt to teach baseball to one of the children by reading the rule book? Even they had the wits about them to try to put those rules into practice before they taught them.
God’s Word gives us plenty of written assurance that we are in Christ, but we are called to “make our calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) in our practice. It is by surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts we experience the realities of what he has written in his Word. If we refuse to be knit together in love with the rest of the body, for whom Christ died, then we should not expect any assurance we are in the body. Union with Christ the Head necessarily involves union with His body.
We need to know that we are in Christ, lest we waiver and stunt our growth in Him. To have that assurance, we need to have assurance of what we know about Christ is indeed what we should know about Christ. When Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written, false teachers were abounding. Today is no different. As Christians, we need to know the real Christ from the counterfeits. That’s what Paul was dealing with in this letter as is revealed in the following verses.
If you are in Christ, remember that you “were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…” (1:21-23). The Christ that made that happen is the biblical Christ. Be assured of it.
*All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).