This article is written by Shiao Chong of CRC Chaplain at York University in Toronto, Canada.

Sermon for New Life CRC, Guelph July 29, 2007

Text: Colossians 1:15-23

I am going to start by making a very bold statement: I believe that over half of all Christians only know, proclaim and live out half the gospel, rather than the whole gospel. Let me repeat that: I believe that over half of all Christians only know, proclaim and live out half the gospel, rather than the whole gospel. What do I mean by half the gospel? Well, first, let me explain to you what I believe the whole gospel is. Then, I will explain what I mean by half the gospel. And then, I am going to explore the implications of a whole gospel to our lives.

The Whole Gospel: Let’s take a look at our Colossians passage. I believe that Colossians 1 is a summary of the whole gospel. Let me re-arrange the gospel summary of Colossians into four parts so that it is easier to follow.

Part one: All things were created by God in Jesus Christ and for Jesus, who is Lord of all. Verse 16 and following – “For by Jesus all things were created … all things were created by him and for him. … Jesus is before all things and in him all things hold together … so that in everything Jesus might have supremacy.” That’s part one.

Part two: All things were alienated or separated – fallen away – from God because of sin. Verse 21 – “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Because of sin, we turned ourselves into enemies of God, instead of children of God.

And then, part three: All things are reconciled to God through Jesus’ death on the cross. Verses 19-20 – “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus and through Jesus to reconcile to himself all things, … by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Because we are enemies with God, God has to initiate the peace process by giving us a peace offering, which is none other than Jesus Christ, his own Son, the peace offering to bring us back in relationship to him.

Finally, part four: All things under the Lordship of Christ will be purified from sin and presented back to God. Verse 22 – “But now God has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”. This purification and presentation will be completely fulfilled in the New Heaven and the New Earth, as it says in the book of Revelation, where all things, including things of the earth, visible and invisible, will be purified from sin and reconciled back to God.

That’s the gospel in a nutshell, my friends. All things were created by God in Jesus Christ and for Jesus, who is Lord of all things; all things were alienated from God, or separated from God and Jesus, in sin; all things are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross; and all things under the Lordship of Christ will be purified from sin and presented to God. So, this is the whole gospel.

The Half Gospel: Now, isn’t this what all Christians believe? Doesn’t everybody preach this? Not all Christians, sadly but truly, preach the whole gospel. Most Churches, I say, only preach half the gospel. What do I mean by half the gospel? Well, there are two popular types of half gospels out there right now. First, there’s the personal gospel. The personal gospel is the gospel of most evangelical Churches – this is the gospel that is focused on the individual, focused on having a personal relationship with Jesus, focused on saving individual souls from Hell, focused on Christians having to do evangelism. Salvation, here, is all about personal salvation.

Secondly, there’s the social gospel. The social gospel is what most mainline churches are preaching – the gospel is about making the world into a better place, about social justice, about helping the poor, doing good deeds, fighting injustice. The focus is not on the individual but on society. Good deeds are more important than evangelism. Both the personal gospel and the social gospel are only half gospels.

Instead the whole gospel of Colossians 1 is a total gospel. It’s a gospel of total salvation, not just a personal salvation, nor simply a salvation of social restoration. This total gospel includes the personal and social gospels but it is also a creational gospel, a structural gospel and an ideological gospel. It’s about “all things”.

Look at Colossians 1 again. Look at verses 15-20. The phrase, “all things” occurs 5 times in 5 verses. So often, Christians forget the “all things” part and only preach “all people”. They only preach all people were created by God, all people have fallen into sin, and all people need to be saved in Jesus. They only preach half the gospel.
But the apostle Paul is very, very clear in our passage that the gospel is about “all things”. Paul keeps repeating that phrase – all things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created by him and for him. And through Jesus God reconciled to himself all things – he didn’t say, God will reconcile all people – he said specifically and repeatedly all things.

“All things” includes all people but it also includes all animals, all plants, all the environment, all government structures, all ideas and philosophies in human history, all areas of society, all the artistic creations that glorify God, all the science and technological advances that serves the Lord, all economic institutions that promotes the kingdom of God, all things that comes from Jesus, inspired by Jesus, all things that were tainted by sin, all these things can also be redeemed by Jesus, reconciled to God and all these things will be purified, just as each one of us will be. It is a total salvation. That’s the whole gospel.

Clarifications: Now, I need to clarify something here. Total salvation is not universal salvation. Universal salvation is the teaching that everyone, every single individual, will be saved. Nobody will go to hell, so to speak. Now, I think that is stretching it too far. It is clear from the Bible that not everyone will be saved because some people refused to be reconciled. There are people who refused to accept God’s peace offering and choose to remain as enemies of God.

Total salvation is not universal salvation. Total salvation is comprehensive not exhaustive. An Old Testament analogy might be helpful here. Remember Noah’s Ark and the story of the Flood? Who was saved from the judgment of the flood? Only Noah and his family? No, you have the animals as well. You have representatives from all the animals, not every single animal. You have one representative human family, but not all human individuals. So, not every single creature was saved but every kind of creature was represented in the ark. It was not a universal salvation; it was a total salvation. It was not a personal human salvation; it was a total salvation that included animals. You see the difference now?

Now, some of you may say, “But isn’t the new heaven and new earth the apostle John saw in Revelation 21 a NEW heaven and earth, not an old heaven and earth restored to God? And didn’t Peter write in 2 Peter 3 that ‘the Day of Judgment will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat’?”
There are two clues to understand what Peter and John means about the new heaven and new earth.

First clue: there are two words in the original Greek language for “new”. One is “neos” and the other is “kainos”. Neos means new in the sense of that which has not yet been, that which has just made its appearance. Babies are new. New inventions are new (e.g. when the car was newly invented). Kainos means that which is better than the old, or new in nature. It implies more of new and improved (e.g. new car models). Peter used kainos when he talked about the new heaven and the new earth. The same in Revelation 21 – the new heaven and earth is kainos new, not neos new. It’s not that God will create a brand new earth, but God will improve and restore this present earth, so that it will become new and better than the old. New and improved, not new and original. (1)

The second clue is that Peter referred to the Flood. Just as the old world was deluged and destroyed by water, so the present heaven and earth are reserved for destruction by fire. Now, was the world really destroyed by the flood? No, it was the same earth but put through the clean and rinse cycle, washed all the dirt off, and it’s new and improved. It’s restored to its original goodness. So, the fire that Peter says will destroy and melt the earth is probably a refining fire, fire that burns off all the impurities, so that only pure gold or pure silver is left behind. So, the whole world will be restored. Not just humans, not just our souls, but also the animal kingdom, all human structures, the whole environment.

Applications: Now comes a very important question. So what? So what if it’s a total gospel and not a personal or social gospel? Well, there are at least three consequences for our Christian lives from this whole gospel. (You could probably think of more.)

First consequence: A gospel of total salvation means we have a total relationship with Jesus. You know, evangelicals like to ask, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” You know how I answer that question today? “I don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. I have a totalrelationship with Jesus.” Personal relationship means it’s an individualistic, one-on-one relationship, and it’s a private matter. It’s personal. It’s private.

My relationship with Jesus is anything but private. My relationship with Jesus is not restricted to only my religious life, so to speak. All areas of my life, the totality of my life, my whole life – body, soul, mind, feelings – all my life is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We serve God not only in church, not only when we pray or lead a Bible study or evangelize. We serve God with all our lives, whether at work or play or school. That is why on campus, my student club deals with topics on science and Christianity, feminism and Christianity, engage with world religions, look at leadership issues, do charity work by fundraising money for CRWRC, and still immerse ourselves into Scripture. We engage all different areas of life. So, do you have a total relationship with Jesus?

Secondly, a gospel of total salvation means we have a total mission from God. All areas of life and all things in the world need to be reconciled to God. Social justice is part of God’s mission. Racial reconciliation is part of God’s mission. Saving the environment is part of God’s mission. But so is saving humans, so is saving minds and ideas. Redeeming science and technology is part of God’s mission. Because salvation is total, God’s mission is also total. And our part in God’s mission becomes wider as well. If you are a Christian, then you are missionary. There’s no excuse. Even if you are not gifted with the ability to preach the gospel to non-Christians, you are gifted in something. And your gifts are meant to be used for God’s mission and God’s glory. Mission is not only crossing the ocean to another country. Mission is everywhere that God has placed you or sent you. We are a missional people.  We are missional parents. We are missional students. We are missional employers and employees. So, have you joined God’s total mission?

Thirdly, and finally, a total relationship with Jesus should feed and shape a total commitment to join God’s total mission. Total commitment. Our commitment to God’s mission should be nothing less than someone’s commitment to a spouse in marriage. For better or for worse, in sickness or in health, in rich or in poor, we must be committed with our whole beings, a total commitment, to God and his mission, even when it may cost us some sacrifices.

For example, are you committed enough to God that you will forgo a high paying job because the company is unethical and goes against God’s purpose for the world? Or are we falling into our culture’s default mode and then justifying it by claiming that we are serving God where we are? That’s a real temptation for us Reformed folks. We need to be intentional about where and how we join God’s mission. Are you really being missional with your career choice or merely following the world? (2)

Are we committed enough to God that we are willing to sacrifice, willing to face difficult consequences, for the sake of God’s total mission? So, do you have a total relationship with Jesus that feeds a total commitment to join God’s total mission? I pray that you do. Let us pray.

1) Kainos & Neos, 2 Peter 3 reference from David Lawrence, Heaven … It’s Not the End of the World! (Scripture Union 1995) pp. 42-43

2) If there is time, add: “We would also need to carry out our mission communally, not just individually. We are each joining and contributing to God’s total mission, but we are also part of a team, part of a community, the church, that embodies God’s mission. We need each other to truly make a difference.”

Copyright © Shiao C. Chong 2007
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