In Christ Alone
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) as part of the Community Lenten Service on Sunday, February 24, 2013.
6 So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. 7 Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. 8 See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ. 9 All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body. 10 And you have been filled by him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 You were also circumcised by him. This wasn’t performed by human hands—the whole body was removed through this circumcision by Christ. 12 You were buried with him through baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong and because your body wasn’t circumcised, God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong. 14 He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:6-14, Common English Bible
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
The way we live our life matters. The things we do, the things we buy, the things we say, the work we do, the music we listen to, the television shows we watch, and the websites we visit… They all say something about who we are.
What does the way you live your life say about you? Think about that for a moment…
And, perhaps the most important question for us to consider is: how does the way you live your life point to the love of God found in Jesus Christ? In what ways is your life bearing witness to your growth in faith and love toward God and neighbor?
It was at the last supper that Jesus issued a new commandment. It was the commandment that would be the distinguishing mark of all Christ followers. The disciples didn’t have a great track record of putting Jesus’ words into practice. Jesus knew that tensions had risen to such a level that he would most likely be arrested soon. He needed his disciples to understand and begin to carry on his mission. So, like a loving parent, he issued a new commandment that would summarize his entire mission…and then repeated it THREE times.
33 Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’
34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
It’s intriguing to me that Jesus does not say. Everyone will know you are my followers based upon the day you worship or the music you sing. He doesn’t say that the world will know you are my followers by the opinion you hold about abortion, human sexuality, the environment, or war. Jesus says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (John 13:35, Common English Bible).
And, yet, we—generally speaking—as Christians, are not known for that which Jesus commanded. In 2007, the Barna Group released a study of Christianity’s perception among 16-29 year olds.
The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a “good impression” of Christianity…
While Christianity has typically generated an uneven reputation, the research shows that many of the most common critiques are becoming more concentrated. The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).
Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.
Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity…
When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was “Christianity is changed from what it used to be” and “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.”
As Christians—regardless of our denomination—we’ve lost our way. As followers of Christ, we’re not known for our love for one another. Instead, we’re known for being judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, too involved in politics, and anti-homosexual.
I wonder, what would it look like if we were known for our love? What would it look like if we got over our opinions about hot-topic social issues and started living and loving like Christ commanded?
6-7 My counsel for you [this afternoon] is simple and straightforward… You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.
Follow Jesus’ command: “Love each other.” Love each other with the same reckless abandon that God loves you. Let the way you live your life point toward the love of God found in Jesus Christ. It seems so basic, doesn’t it? Live your life in such a way that those around you can see Jesus. Well, then, let’s start doing it… Let’s live our lives “in Christ alone”…
 “A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity (September 24, 2007),” The Barna Group <http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/94-a-new-generation-expresses-its-skepticism-and-frustration-with-christianity> Accessed February 23, 2013.
 Colossians 2:6-7, The Message.