This post is by Bob Kellemen (Ph.D, Kent State University). Kellemen serves as the Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. To see the entire series click here. You can preview a full month of The Gospel Project here. Or click on these links if you would like to purchase the Atonement Thread for adults or students.
Christ’s Victory Is Our Victory
God’s grand gospel narrative is a resurrection narrative. Death dies. Hope lives. Christ rises and we rise with Him. The epi-center of the book of God—the Gospels—is nothing less than a victory narrative. Gospels were a common literary form in the ancient Near East. Whenever a great king won a major victory, he commissioned the writing of a gospel—a vivid retelling of the good news of the vanquished enemy and the victorious king. This glorious good news was told again and again, often from multiple points of views, to exalt the king and encourage his people.
To the Colossians, struggling to know how to live well and wisely (Colossians 2:3-14), Paul opens the curtain to the main movement in the drama of redemption—victory, resurrection. Then Paul points the spotlight on the main character in the drama of redemption—Christ. He rejoices with the Colossians that they have “faith in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:4). He points their attention to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, reminding them what they had embraced “…the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth” (Colossians 1:5-6).
In Jay Adams’ classic work, A Theology of Christian Counseling, he accurately notes that “all counselors have one goal in common: change.” But what type of change and how does it happen? This is the counseling question that we must answer before we even begin to address people’s real life questions about hope and help: “What is the ultimate focus of wise and loving counseling in a broken world—what does help look like? How can gospel-centered counselors minister to saints who are facing suffering and fighting besetting sins—what does hope look like?”
Redemption: Experiencing Abundant Life Today and Eternal Life Forever
When the Colossians asked Paul about the best route to change, it’s no contest. It is Christ’s gospel of grace that is bearing fruit all over the world and in the heart of each believer in Colosse.
Paul says, “You want to know about change? About victory? Listen to the gospel announcement of Christ’s victory! And I’m not talking only about past victory over sin, as amazing as that is. I’m also talking about ongoing victory in our daily battles as we face suffering and struggle against sin.” That’s why Paul reminds them—as believers—that this gospel is continuing to bear fruit and grow “just as it has been doing since the day you heard and understood it” (Colossians 1:6, emphasis added).
Of course, Paul is not in any way minimizing, nor am I, the eternal significance of the gospel. In Christ “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin” (Colossians 1:14). In Christ we have been reconciled to God (Colossians 1:22).
Christ’s Story Invades My Story
For a long time I only applied half the picture of my salvation. Here’s how I pictured it. God is a holy and righteous Judge. I’m on trial before Him because of my sins. God is about to pronounce me guilty when Christ steps up and says, “Charge me instead. Put Bob’s sins on Me, and put My righteousness on Bob.” God the Judge accepts His holy Son’s payment on my behalf and declares me “Not guilty. Pardoned. Forgiven.”
That’s pretty amazing. But my picture used to stop there. God is the Judge; He forgives me; then He sends me away on my own and says, “Next case.”
But that’s not the full picture of our salvation. That’s not the picture painted by Paul in Colossians 1. In the biblical picture, Christ takes me from the courtroom by the hand and leads me into the Father’s house, walking me into God’s presence. When we enter the living room, the Father, my Father, is not in His judge’s robes. He’s in His family attire. When He sees me, it is just like Luke 15 and the prodigal son. My Father runs to me, throws His arms around me, and kisses me. He puts the family ring on my finger and ushers me back home!
Through Christ, God is not only the Judge who forgives you. He is your Father who welcomes you. He has always loved you. That’s why He sent His Son to die for you. And now with the barrier of sin demolished, nothing stands between you and your loving Heavenly Father. You can meet God person-to-Person, son or daughter to loving Father. It’s not simply, “Come on in, the water’s fine!” It’s, “Come on home, everything is fine between us!”
Life’s overarching question is, “How do I find peace with God?” Paul answers: “In Christ!”
How Christ Changes Lives
Of course, peace through Christ doesn’t stop a fallen world from falling on us—we still face suffering. And embracing Christ doesn’t end our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil—we still wrestle against sin. So we often ask another ultimate life question: “How do people change?” Paul answers that question with a more foundational question, “How does Christ change people?
Our new life in Christ empowers us so that we “may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father…” (Colossians 1:10-12). That’s the type of real life gospel change we can promise people who have already been changed in Christ.