(Colossians 1:13-20, Colossians 1:27-29; Colossians 2:4, Colossians 2:8; Colossians 3:1-3, Colossians 3:12-13)
India assaults all of the senses at once. It is overwhelming. And nowhere does India overwhelm you more than in Rishikesh. It is really a beautiful setting. A lush mountainous area where the Ganges River makes its appearance from the Himalayan Mountains, Rishikesh could be a family resort. But it is not. I would describe it more like a scene from hell.
The fog that rises off of the river mixes with animal dung, hundreds of outdoor fires, and strange incense being burned to colorful idols made by human hands and that are on every corner. Gurus line the river in palaces, where the British Raj would have once holidayed. The spiritual advisors are also along the river banks in huts, where, for a price, they will tell you how to give up your mind through idolatry and drugs-and through supporting them-and become free. This is what the Beatles did, what many other celebrities did, and they brought back their experience of Rishikesh to the West. Thus the drug-infested 1960s were born. I told my wife that I felt like I was seeing the sights and sounds of Woodstock, Haight Ashbury, the Monterey Pop Festival and several Friday night parties I attended as an unbeliever in the early 1970s. All of that was an imitation of the real thing, but this Rishikesh was the real thing.
As we strolled past the countless cows roaming like protected divas through the village-dodging ox carts, beggars and idol trinket salesmen-we were led by Dr. David Fiol, who has ministered there since 1964. As he explained the idols and drew our attention to this mountain “holy place” as it is called, I have never felt more demonic oppression in all of my life. The whole pantheon of Indian gods was being worshiped actively, and a sort of ancient Ashara pole was set up for fertility worship. It was like being dropped into ancient Canaan.
As our missionary there told us: “The whole system of castes, which keeps human beings down-idol worship, drugs, cows believed to be of greater worth than human beings, poverty, polygamy and the worst filth you can imagine-is built on a myth.”
I left that place thinking one thing: Ideas have consequences. Ideas affect all of life. Our nation was built on an idea that there is a God who made us; that human life, made in the image of God, has dignity. But the further our nation gets from the absolute truth of God, the more we will look like Rishikesh.
Rishikesh, India, stands as a sad example of what happens when human beings reject the truth of the One true God and begin to worship idols. It is a worldview that is false.
As a Christian, a husband and father, as a man who loves this country and who believes that all cultures are not equal and that truth sets us free and lies put us in bondage, I am under the very constraints of the Holy Spirit to bring this message and to plead with every one of you to listen to God’s Word and pray and live out His truth. For what we will hear today from God’s Word will keep your life and our nation from becoming a Rishikesh. It is also the truth that is needed to transform Rishikesh.
When the Apostle Paul wrote his prison epistle to Colossae, which was planted not by Paul but by a minister named Epaphras (Colossians 1:7-8; Colossians 4:12-13), he was writing to a church that seemed to be struggling with syncretism. Syncretism in faith is trying to have it both ways: the God of the Bible and the gods of heathenism. And Paul emphasizes Christ and Christ alone.
In doing so, Paul urges them to adopt a particular worldview. Worldview is the way we look at the world and answer the big questions of life: Who am I? Why am I here? Is there meaning in life? Paul’s worldview is that Jesus is Lord of all, and nothing that is can be separated from our life in Christ. We can find in Colossians 3 propositions that will strengthen our worldview-the foundation of ideas about God and ourselves that builds new lives and transforms whole cultures.
Let me use three words to help us see what Colossians teaches us about worldview.
I. Reality: A biblical worldview is established on truth (Colossians 1:13-20).
We were making our way through Delhi and dodging Brahma cattle in a taxi. I asked one of our missionaries there, why the cows were allowed to just wander. I knew they were idols; but I figured, even so, it was dangerous. He said that a cow was of greater value than a human being. I was stunned. And then he said these words: “It is all based on a myth. ‘There once was a cow. And then there came people and so forth.’ Everything you see here is based on a worldview.”
Rather than returning with just contempt for that worldview, I was given a broken heart for the worldview in the West that is beginning to produce our own problems.
I am happy to say that a Christian worldview is not based on myth but truth-a truth that existed in the mind of God but was revealed in history in a way we understand best: personally.
In Colossians 1 Paul launches into one of the most glorious affirmations of the lordship of Jesus Christ in all of the Scriptures.
• In Colossians 1:13: Jesus has the power to deliver us; and Paul thus shows we need deliverance from an innate bondage that is the condition of all human beings.
• In Colossians 1:13-14: Jesus transfers us to a new position where we have for giveness of sins before Almighty God.
• In Colossians 1:15-18: Jesus is Creator of all. Moreover all things exist for Him. Jesus is, thus, center of all that is.
• In Colossians 1:19-20: Jesus is the very expression of Almighty God in flesh and came to reconcile all things to Himself. His word is, thus, ongoing and continues to this day in your life and mine and in our world. All insti tutions, all nations, all human endeavors, as well as the entire cosmos must bow to the supreme lordship of Jesus. No exceptions.
• And the centerpiece of how He is doing this is through His sacrifice on the cross.
What does this tell us about a biblical worldview? It tells us that this is truth:
The Truth of the Pre-eminence of Christ in Creation
All worldviews begin by answering the question, “How did it all begin?” And the answer from God is that the world was created by and for Jesus, who existed before the world, and that the world is sustained by Him. To embrace any other story for how we are here will lead to heartache, violence and utter chaos on the human spirit and human life on earth.
I just read a fascinating memoir by the personal secretary to Adolph Hitler. It came as no surprise to me to hear that Hitler cared for dogs more than human beings. His secretary revealed that he was a thorough-going Darwinist who simply believed that we all came from the same beginning and only the strong survive.
Don’t let the world fool you, my beloved. Ideas about creation have consequences. A biblical worldview is grounded on the truth of creation and that the Lord Jesus is how we all came to be. That gives hope to life.
The Truth of the Sinfulness of Man and the Fall
Paul teaches that we had to be delivered from sin. If humankind is zooming off through the years, most of us on earth see the problem that we face. There is pain, hunger, selfishness, lies and cheating. If life is a ride through the cosmos, everyone agrees, “Houston, we have a problem.”
And what is that problem? Marx says it is a problem caused by landowners and capitalists. Darwin says it is a problem caused by an evolving but meaningless environment that pits man against man and only the strongest survives. Hinduism says it’s all bad karma.
But the Bible speaks to the heart of it. As Adam fell, we all fell says Paul in Romans. Thus, we are in sin. And our sin is not from victimization, or a lack of education, or no opportunity, or some social or political problem. Our sin is endemic to the human condition, and we commit sin because we are sinners. This is a key component to a biblical worldview that can be offensive.
During the Reformation, the great humanist Erasmus wrote a book called The Freedom of the Will, which showed that mankind carries a native ability to choose good. Martin Luther wrote a book to answer this because he saw it as thoroughly anti-biblical. His book? The Bondage of the Will. Luther simply was proving, from Scripture and experience, what Paul teaches in Colossians and elsewhere. We are sinners because of the Fall, and unless there is what Luther calls “an alien righteousness” to come in and liberate us from the bondage of sin, our wills-the things we want to do-remain in bondage. Man is a sinner and cannot save himself. Anything other than this is a false worldview.
The Truth of the Cross of Christ in Redemption
What is the answer to the human problem of sin? After returning from India, I am glad to say that redemption, though it is thought to come through reincarnation and migration up the caste system, does not come through dying again and again. Nor does it come through a Marxist revolution or a materialistic, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”
Redemption-release from sin-comes from a loving, personal God who made us and who came to earth and lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death. His name is Jesus, and there is no other name under heaven or in the earth whereby a person may be saved.
If you have a worldview that is built on anything other than the truth of Jesus Christ in His Word, then you are building a life based on a myth. There is a God who has created you. There is a sin that has possessed you and separated you from this God. And there is nothing you can do to remedy your own wretched situation. Whether you are naked and living on the street in India or dressed in Brooks Brothers and living in a suburban home, you need a biblical worldview that says, “I am a sinner, and I need the Lord. And that Lord is Jesus Christ.”
Here is the second word that helps us to learn about a biblical worldview in Colossians:
II. Resistance: A biblical worldview is assaulted by lies (Colossians 2:4Colossians 2:8).
There is, as in every advancement of the gospel, a resistance to it. Paul, in Colossians 2:4 speaks of the Colossians being deluded by “plausible arguments,” meaning seemingly logical answers to questions about the human condition but answers that are contrary to God’s grace in Jesus Christ. In 2:8 Paul writes: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8, ESV).
Here is the heart of my burden today. I look at our country and see that we are, in large part, living off of the spiritual capital of previous generations. Many have thrown off the Christ-centered, God-revealed ideas that have brought life and happiness. And many today-even in the church-are being tempted to give in to lies that assault God’s truth and destroy the foundations of a godly life and a godly nation.
What assaults true faith and destroys a biblical worldview? Paul mentions philosophy, deceit according to human tradition and the elemental spirits of the world. All of these were being offered to the Colossians along with their Christianity.
The greatest assault then and today is syncretism. Syncretism is the mixing of true faith with idolatry and false ideas.
In India, I taught or preached about 20 times in two weeks. And in several classes with pastors and church planters, I saw how the gospel was spreading through India. But in more than one case, I heard of syncretism. In one case, I heard of a pastor appointed who had three wives. When I challenged this as being unbiblical, the answer was, “Well no one has a problem with it!” Then I was told, “His church is growing!” The next day, I went from Genesis all the way through the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament teaching on marriage. But the real issue was syncretism-in this case, a clash of a culture based on Islam and Hinduism and the gospel as revealed in the Bible. I was never so happy as when one of their own stood and said, “We must choose God’s way.”
How is the world assaulting our worldview today? Maybe syncretism. Mixing in the old gospel truth of Christ with the new multicultural, multi-faith mixture that helps us to look fashionable with one crowd and faithful with another.
I fear, though, that the greatest assault is simply compartmentalizing our faith-leaving Christ at church. The truth of Jesus Christ, according to this passage, must be all in all. He is Lord of education, of work, of art, of music, of entertainment, of money, of business, of politics. He cannot be mixed. He cannot be hidden. He is Lord of all.
Well, then, how does this worldview work its way out? That is the third word: remedy.
III. Remedy: A biblical worldview is advanced in faithfulness (Colossians 1:27-29; Colossians 3:1-3, Colossians 3:12, Colossians 3:13).
Faithfulness to Christ Jesus in all of our lives is how we bring this worldview to bear. There are two ways this happens.
Faithfulness in Proclaiming Jesus Through Teaching
In Colossians 1:27-29, Paul says that God is proclaiming Christ as the hope of glory through the Colossians. A biblical worldview, which brings new life and transforms culture, comes from teaching Jesus Christ. This is the work of every church. Our task as God’s people is to teach the Word of God and get that Word to the ends of the earth. We must plant churches where people can be discipled in the faith and then plant other churches to disciple more people.
I am convicted by what I read in Paul. Listen to him: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-29, ESV).
Dr. Bobby Gupta of HBI in Chennai, one of our missionaries, as well as the Fiols in Dera Dun, both came to me with the same call. We have a revival going on, but in many ways it is a mile wide and an inch deep. We need strong Bible and doctrinal teaching. Our students need to be equipped in theology, in church history, in Bible languages, in knowing how to handle the Word of truth. Thus, as he asked me to do, I taught covenant theology as well as how to preach expositional Bible messages. I taught pastors who had no formal education, and I taught those preparing for a Ph.D.
For 20 times in two weeks I taught and taught and taught. And I kept thinking, I can’t wait to get home because God is showing me that the church in America, and my own dear flock, must continue to glory in the truths of the Word of God. We must not settle for a mile wide and an inch deep, should that be the case with us.
And so Paul toiled. And so I would seek to. I will never forget Dr. James Montgomery Boice telling me, “Mike, the pulpit deserves the best a man can give. The pulpit deserves the best preparation, the finest scholarship. Our people must be instructed in the doctrines of the Word of God if there is going to be a deeper penetration into our culture.”
That is what I find in this Book of Colossians. But I also find something more.
Faithfulness in Proclaiming Jesus Through Living
In chapter 3, Paul puts legs on his theology. All of the teaching about the pre-eminence of Christ in all things leads to this: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3, ESV).
Our worldview is best lived out through not only teaching but faithful living. Paul mentions putting off immorality and
putting on “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…” (Colossians 3:12-13). He speaks of forgiveness and love. Paul speaks of these things because these things bring peace in the midst of this old world.
I did a lot of teaching in India, but we all did a lot of learning. And the place we learned the most may have been the Children’s Home in Dera Dun. This Presbyterian orphanage is the home to children of lepers. I will never forget how, after more than a week of spiritual oppression and living in the non-stop chaos that marks so much of India, we felt the peace of Jesus Christ in that place. The little children were dressed, happy, fed and were learning of Christ and living Christ. We were calmed by the peace of Jesus in that community.
And this is how we live out a biblical worldview-in the peacefulness of relationships that have been formed through God’s grace at work in our own lives.
A biblical worldview is the foundation that creates new life and transforms human culture. And we have learned three truths from Colossians about this worldview: that a biblical worldview is established on truth, assaulted by lies and advanced in faithfulness.
My wife and I-indeed our whole team-can never forget Heidi. Heidi is a missionary with Mission to the World who was sent out to be with a church planting team in Northern India. Her job? She reaches out to the slums. When we speak of slums in India, there is nothing-nothing-that compares to it here (and I have seen some of the worst slums in New Orleans, Detroit and Los Angeles). The worst cannot compare with these.
This 28-year-old young, single woman from Virginia goes into these slums and shares Christ by caring for abused wives who are being prodded with sticks and beaten routinely. She cares for the open wounds of children who live in the same tent with goats and chickens. She teaches the Bible on garbage piles. She is bringing a new worldview of the love of Jesus, the One True God, to the poorest of the poor whose lives are established on the worship of hundreds of gods. People are being saved, and little by little-admittedly it is like a trickle-a new world is emerging.
In the midst of the garbage of our lives, produced by sin and the idols of our own lives, the gospel of the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ comes. This is Heidi’s worldview. This is Heidi’s hope. This is India’s hope-and America’s hope. It is a hope well founded, for it is the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.