I Pledge Allegiance To...
For thirteen years of your life, from ages 5-18, you probably began every day, Monday-Friday, the same way: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America..." This simple mantra becomes so ingrained into our routine at such an early age, by the time we are old enough to start to comprehend its significance, we likely don't even give it much thought. In most public schools, the pledge serves as a daily reminder of our national identity. In other words, from an early age, we are indoctrinated into what it means to be an "American." To say, "I pledge allegiance..." means that this is who I am, this is where my loyalty and devotion lies, and when push comes to shove, I will fight for this!
I was recently introduced to a resource by Matthew Bates (professor of theology at Quincy University). In his book, Bates investigates the biblical usage of the word "faith." What he discovers is that when the Bible talks about "faith" it is describing something much more holistic than what we commonly mean today. In other words, faith isn't simply believing, but it encompasses both the belief and the resultant action; so that the terms faith and faithfulness are in many ways interchangeable in the scriptures. Bates, somewhat provocatively, suggests that we replace our "faith in" language and instead speak in terms of "allegiance to." I think that he hits the nail right on the head.
In this week's lesson, Cody talked a lot about our identity as believers; and throughout our study over Colossians, I have been directing our attention to the doctrine of the believer's union with Christ. Here in chapter 3, we witness the collision of these two ideas. For Paul, our identity is found in our union to Christ (notice the "union" language in verses 1-4 and 10-11), and that new identity distinguishes us from the world around us in the way that we live. In other words, our faith is not merely a profession of belief, but it is rather a profession of allegiance. To be a Christian is not simply to believe a certain set of principles and ideals. Instead, it is to live in devotion and obedience to Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Now wait, does this mean that I am heralding a works-based faith that departs from the message of the gospel? Don't get me wrong, that is not what I am saying. There is only one gospel and its message is loud and clear; no work of man can atone for the sinfulness of mankind, only the finished work of Christ on the cross can do that. We must, in full accord, preach that gospel! However, in so doing, we mustn't lose sight of the bigger picture. The gospel isn't individualistic...it isn't simply the story of hope for you. The gospel is the story of Christ's redeeming work for all of time and for the entire world! When we step back and look beyond Christ's work in our own personal lives, we begin to see how much bigger and all-encompassing the true message of the gospel is.
I think this is the perspective from which the early church leader and epistle author James was writing from in his letter. The great reformer Martin Luther called James' letter the "epistle of straw." As someone who labored so diligently to fight against the message of salvation through works that characterized the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in his day, Luther viewed James' claim that "faith without works is dead" with a wary eye. With all due respect to Martin Luther, I think that he may have, in many ways, been blind to the deeply rooted message of grace that permeates the book of James. It is a deeply loving act to call your brothers and sisters to live in accordance to their faith...and their identity in Christ.
The point of James' letter is the same point that the Apostle Paul is making to the Colossians. It is not our actions that merit our salvation. Grace is by definition a free gift. We are saved through faith in the work of Christ; and it is by grace that we are miraculously and supernaturally united to our Lord and Savior in such way that his righteousness becomes our righteousness, his works become our works, his inheritance becomes our inheritance, and so on. In a very real sense, for all intents and purposes, we assume his identity. We put off our old self which has died, and put on a new self in Christ.
Faith alone, in a vacuum, is in many ways dead, in that it doesn't give new life. Again, I point to James' argument that even the demons believe in God (James 2:19). It is a living and active faith that produces action (perhaps a faith that is better understood as allegiance to Christ) that leads to eternal life. As Cody mentioned in his message, everyone finds their identity in something. It might be in your job, in your family, in your social or economic status; but all of these things eventually pass away.
When we find our identity in Christ, when we pledge our allegiance to him, we are leaning into what it truly means to be a Christian. We are saying, this is who I am...a follower of Jesus. This is where my devotion and loyalty lie...I serve King Jesus and his kingdom. When push comes to shove, I will fight for this...the glory and fame of Christ. I will live out my days in this world, but I will not be conformed to or controlled by it. That's not who I am anymore! The question you have to ask yourself is where do I find my identity? To what or whom do I pledge my allegiance?
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Part 7 - Christian Identity
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. Where do you find your identity?
2. How serious are you about putting sin to death?
3. How does Paul instruct believers to dress themselves?