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Church: Love Poised between Faith and Hope
As Paul provides spiritual counsel for the troubled and confused Colossian Christians, he doesn’t envision them alone. Instead, he envisions them together “as God’s chosen people” (Col. 3:12) and “as members of one body” (Col. 3:15) — the church. Paul includes these words of one-another minis- try in the context of growth in grace (Col. 3:1 – 11) because sanctification is a Christ-centered community journey. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
In Paul’s letter of spiritual counsel, he does not move directly from Redemption to Consummation. Instead, he teaches that we find ourselves as the church living between two comings — the first and the second coming of Christ. We are poised between looking back with faith in our Redeemer and looking forward with hope as we await his return as Conquering Groom. What is our role in this dramatic waiting epoch?7 God calls us to speak and live truth in love.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:12 – 14, emphasis added)
And how is the church to love one another? “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). Where does the church find wisdom for life in a broken world? In God’s Word, where the grand gospel narrative is told. We are to build wisdom’s house together as the redemptive narrative dwells deeply within each of us and overflows lovingly between us.
What has the church to say and do that no other human institution can say and do? We are the Jesus-centered community that speaks gospel truth in love to one another in such a way that it opens a door for sharing the gospel message (Col. 4:3). In God’s grand narrative drama, the church is, as Kevin Vanhoozer pictures it, the theater of the gospel. We are to perform the gospel in our one-another relationships with the world as our audience so that they will ask us for a reason for the faith, hope, and love they witness (Col. 4:4 – 7; 1 Peter 3:15). As the church we are to embody communion with God and one another in a manner that entices and invites others to join in.
Consummation: The Way Is Won; The Bride is Wed
The Bible’s narrative presents life as a war and a wedding, that we can capture the Bible’s drama as “slay the dragon, marry the damsel.” To people beaten down by sin and beaten up by suffering, Paul says, “Let me tell you the rest of the story — the end of the story. We were under Satan’s domain of utter darkness. Helpless and hopeless, Christ has rescued us. Just as earthly rulers transplant a conquered people from one country to another, so Christ has transplanted us from our earthly citizenship to our heavenly citizenship. But he transplants us not from liberty into slavery, but from slavery into liberty. He transplants us not out of darkness into semi-darkness, but out of dismal blindness into marvelous light. He’s disarmed his enemies and ours, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 1:13; 2:14 – 15).
Paul not only pulls back the curtain to show us the end of the war, he also shows us the beginning of the wedding. “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, with- out blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22). This is almost identical to Paul’s wording in Ephesians 5:25–27 where his focus is on Christ’s love for the church, providing the example for a husband’s love for his wife. This is wedding language!
Paul is letting us eavesdrop on eternity. Just like John does. “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear” (Rev. 19:6 – 8). The victory is announced. God reigns! The wedding march starts. All the scars and blemishes of sin are cleansed. The bride wears white!
Paul and John share the same message: “The war is won! The bride is wed!” Both messages communicate the same point: the gospel is about God radically changing people. The war Christ wins for us provides victory over sin and Satan where once we were their slaves. The wedding Christ prepares us for produces purity where there once was sin and shame. And it is all for God’s glory.
This victory narrative forms the foundation of our counsel and changes the agenda of our counseling. Typically we ask God and seek help from each other to change our feelings and our circumstances. God is in the change business, but a very different type of change — heart change, Christlikeness — presenting everyone “perfect,” or mature, in Christ (Col. 1:28).
Listen to the song of eternity — it’s about celebrating Christ’s victory and the Bride’s purity for God’s glory! We look at our lives and want instructions or explanations. What we need is imagination and vision to see life today in light of eternity.
Gospel-centered counseling highlights both Good Friday and Easter — the cross and the resurrection. The gospel message is not like the White Witch’s evil rule over Narnia, where it is always winter and never Christmas. The gospel narrative is Christ’s holy and loving shepherding of the universe where it is always spring and always Easter!
Confidence as a counselor begins with how we view the Bible. The central message of the Bible is God’s announcement of our past, present, and future victory in Christ. Because God so loved us, he sent his Son to slay the dragon and marry the damsel — the Bride of Christ — us!
The Good News as the End of the Story
Though the outcome of the war is sure, skirmishes continue. When our current dreams are dashed, when we surrender yet again to another temptation, we must remind ourselves that we’ve read the end of the story.
The grand narrative of the Bible shows that life makes sense. History is moving toward a God-ordained purpose. More than that, the stories of our lives have purpose. God is directing all of history toward the final defeat of evil, toward happily ever after, toward his people ruling with him and in relationship with him.
Christ’s triumph in the drama of redemption guides our interactions in our one-another ministry. We engage one another in gospel conversations, encouraging each other to ponder: “Why give up when we lose one battle, since we know we have won the war?” “Why choose mere survival, when we are more than conquerors?” “Why choose the cheap thrills of the pleasure of sin for a season when in the end we rule the universe forever dressed in pure white robes?”
— Bob Kellemen, Th.M., Ph.D., Bob is the Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, the Vice President for Institutional Development and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Department at Crossroads Bible College, and the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries. For seventeen years he served as the founding Chairman of and Professor in the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. Bob has pastored three churches and equipped biblical counselors in each church. Bob and his wife, Shirley, have been married for thirty-four years; they have two adult children, Josh and Marie, one daughter-in-law, Andi, and two granddaughters, Naomi and Penelope. Dr. Kellemen is the author of thirteen books including Gospel-Centered Counseling, Gospel-Conversations, and Equipping Counselors for Your Church.
From Gospel-Centered Counseling by Dr. Bob Kellemen. Used by permission of author.