Faith, Hope, Love, and Deed: Characterizing the Life of a Believer
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy, the brother, to the saints in Colosse and to the faithful brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father.
“While praying for you, we always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, after having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints because of the hope that is reserved for you in heaven, which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel that has come to you, just as it also is bearing fruit and growing in all things in the world just as it also is in you, from that day you heard it and knew the grace of God in truth; just as you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow slave, who is a faithful servant of Christ on your behalf, who also declares to us your love in the Spirit.
“For this reason we also, from that day we heard it, we do not cease praying and asking on your behalf, in order that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord in all respects, with every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God, in every power being empowered according to the power of his glory for all endurance and patience.
“With joy giving thanks to the Father who qualifies you for the share of the inheritance of the saints in the light; who delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins;” (my translation)
In this introduction to Colossians, Paul and Timothy greet the Christians who are in Colosse. Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, which is both a title and a function. As a title, Paul marks himself off as one of the chosen ones of Christ who have been charged with the leadership of the church. As a function, Paul identifies himself as one who has been sent out as a messenger of Christ. Timothy is simply called “the brother.” Both Paul and Timothy are writing to the saints in Colosse and the faithful brothers in Christ. Letters were often circulated, so they are not writing only to Colosse, but also to those outside of Colosse, the faithful ones in Christ, who will also hear the letter read aloud to them.
Paul and Timothy begin the body of the letter with an introduction. They give two reasons for which they give thanks to God when they pray on their behalf. They are thankful for hearing of their faith in Christ, their love for all the saints, which they have because of their hope. This hope has been bearing fruit and growing in the world and also in them. Their love was reported to Paul and Timothy by Epaphras. As a result of being reported to them, they would not cease praying for them and asking on their behalf that they would be filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding that comes from God. They would not cease praying that they would walk worthily of the Lord, that they would please him by bearing fruit with every good deed and by growing in the knowledge of God, by being empowered with every power according to the power of his glory towards all endurance and patience. Faith, love, and hope are a good start, and since the Christians receiving this letter were already exhibiting these things, Paul and Timothy were thankful. But the Christian life does not stop there. For the Christian, there is more to life than simply believing, loving, hoping, and knowing. Action must be taken. Christians are to do good, to bear fruit, to grow in the knowledge of God, and to walk or live in a manner that is worthy of and pleasing to God. However, such action is not by one’s own strength, but rather, it is empowered by God’s own strength. This strength enables the Christian for a long haul. The Christian life is not a sprint, it is a life long marathon, and God’s power equips the Christian to be able to endure.
Again, Paul and Timothy express thanksgiving to the Father with joy because he has qualified the Christian recipients for a share in the inheritance for the saints. They are thankful for their salvation. They have been delivered from the authority of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son, which is a kingdom of light. It is in the Son that we have redemption. Redemption is a ransoming by which we are made free from captivity. This ransoming is the forgiveness of sins, the release from the captivity that sin holds. Salvation is a transaction in which God has ransomed us from the captivity of sin within the realm of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son. For this, Paul and Timothy give thanks with glee.
And so, Col 1:1-14 start the letter by stating the good quality of having faith, hope, and love, but exhorts towards action, while at the same time defining salvation in terms of a ransoming. The idea that Paul holds faith over works does not make sense here, because he clearly holds them as important co-effects in the life of a believer. The believer not only has faith but also acts.
Even today, it is inconceivable for a Christian to believe but not act. One who has been saved, one who has received salvation, is not one who merely believes, because, by definition, such a one has been transferred into the kingdom of the Son, which is characterized by light, not darkness. Whether a new believer or a life long believer, all believers are known by their deeds. A true believer puts faith into action. Our actions must comport with our beliefs.
And what are good deeds bearing fruit? Colossians will go on to tell us, but for now, we can say that it is representing the light. Negatively, good deeds bearing fruit is not sexual impurity, impurity, lust, evil desires, and insatiable greed (Col 3:5). Nor is it anger, rage, wrath, malice, slander, or abusive language (Col 3:8). Nor is it lying (Col 3:9). Positively, it is compassion, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience (Col 3:12). It is forgiveness and temperance (Col 3:13). It is love (Col 3:14). It is peace and thankfulness (Col 3:15). It is teaching each other in wisdom, and it is singing to God (Col 3:16). In other words, positively speaking, anything that is done is to be done as though it is performed with Christ’s approval and with thanksgiving to God (Col 3:17). Colossians 4 adds more to this list of deeds bearing good fruit, but for now, we get the idea.
And what is it to grow in the knowledge of God? Colossians goes on to tell us. For now, it is right belief. It is knowledge in the mystery concerning Christ (Col 2:2). It is an acceptance of the established teaching (Col 2:7). It is not empty philosophy nor human tradition (Col 2:8). It is a knowledge of spiritual circumcision, baptism (Col 2:11-12). It is a knowledge of God’s judgment (Col 2:13-15). It is not being misled towards asceticism or traditions (Col 2:16).
We must ask ourselves, are we walking worthily of the Lord? Are we living to please God? Is the extent to which we are Christians limited to matters of faith, or are we matching deeds with what we believe? Are we placing belief in Christ or in other things like philosophy, astrology, or tradition? Are we growing in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding? Are we trying to live out our lives by our own power or by God’s? Brothers and sisters, we must endure not by our own power, but by God’s. We must believe and act, for then and only then will we be demonstrating that we belong in the kingdom of the Son, because the life of the believer is characterized by faith, hope, love, and deed.