God - The Essential, Critical, Vertical Relationship

Bible Book: Colossians  1 : 9-13
Subject: Relationships; Love For God

Last year in The Guidepost devotional book a rather interesting story was told about Gary and Mary Carney. One Sunday morning they arrived at church in the same car, but they were miles apart. They had engaged in one of those arguments before church and did not get their problem resolved.

Someone said, "Never argue with your wife. You might win - and then you'll really be in trouble."

Somebody else said, "The best way to win an argument with your wife is to hit her over the head with a new mink coat." Anyway, Gary and Mary Carney got to church. Humorously God's sovereignty was reflected in a secretary's typographical error. As Mary sat stewing in church, she glanced down at her bulletin. She and Gary were scheduled to sing a duet during the worship service. Next to their names was typed the word "duel." She smiled and looked at her husband. The decision was theirs to make - a duet or a duel. Through the quietness of that Sunday service, she reached for his hand, and the "duet" began.

In all of our relationships, marriage or otherwise, we make daily choices to participate in either a duet or a duel. Those decisions will dictate whether we build bridges or bombs. Now, of all the relationships we have, which is most important? Is it not our relationship with God? For if it is good, everything else is better. But if it is bad, nothing else is ever quite right. The reason for that is both profound and simple. It is that we were made that way. We were designed that way. It is taught in the first page of the Bible. God created us in His image. That means that we are like God in terms of intelligence and emotion; in terms of souls that live forever.

But it is not just that, it's more than that. It is that when God made us, He designed us to have a good relationship with Him. It's the way we were meant to be. It's not just that we were created to be like God, but that we were created for God. In Colossians 1:16 the Bible says that "all things were created by him and for him" - a custom fit. It's like the eyeglasses that we wear. Mine are especially made for me. My prescription is uniquely designed to compensate for my stigmatism; to deal with my farsightedness; to recognize that my left eye does not see anywhere near as well as my right eye. And without them, everything is out of focus and I can get a headache if I leave them off too long. But when I put them on, I can see well and everything comes into focus and I feel much better and it changes everything else about all of my life. On the other hand, if you pick up my glasses and wear them, everything will go out of focus and you will probably get a headache wearing my glasses.

You see, God created every one of us to fit Him, to match, a custom fit, so that without God life doesn't come into focus. Life is a kind of long-term migraine. It's not good, it's terribly bad. Without which are pretty much useless. Without Him we cannot make much sense out of all that happens around us. But when we have a right relationship with God, even the worst of things can turn into good things - when we have that supernatural, custom fit. It just spins out through all the rest of life. Because if we have a right relationship with God, then that affects all the other relationships of life. And if we have a wrong relationship with Him, then marriage and friendship and job and all the other connections we make in life are always kind of misconnections - never what they should be.

The problem is that we really don't have a right relationship with God. It's not just that occasionally we are at a distance, or that sometimes we have bad feelings that crop up between God and us. No. In fact, it is outright alienation. God explains that himself in our text - that we're alienated from Him and we are His enemies. Now, please understand. I'm not saying that this kind of alienation with God can happen. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that it has happened. It has happened to all of us that our whole human race went down together, that we are alienated from God, that we were designed to have this terrific relationship and it's a bad relationship from birth. And until it's fixed, we are doomed to disaster. And we'll never benefit from what is meant to be the best relationship on earth.

Now, as we look at our text, the first thing that I want us to think about is this matter of,

I. Alienation

Look in verse 21 (read). Alienation - that's a strong word, but I think most of us understand it. We understand it because we see alienation in life's relationships.

We see a couple very much in love who stand facing each other, making serious and solemn vows, declaring their love and promising their commitment to each other for a lifetime. And then because of this sin or that misbehavior, they become enemies, the worst of enemies - lovers turned into enemies. Sometimes we see alienation between people who have been the best of friends.

Something goes terribly wrong in their relationship, and the best of friends have come to hate each other. It's alienation.

Sometimes we see it between a mother and a daughter. Once there was a closeness that dated back before birth - a closeness where they would joke about people saying they looked more like sisters than mother and daughter. They liked the same things and disliked other things. And yet one day that turned into alienation and there was a mother and daughter who could not share the way they were meant to be. It's a sad thing that when people are meant for each other that they become alienated - that this barrier is erected between them.

It is a sad thing that something so good can turn into something so tragically wrong. But there is no breach of relationship that is quite so sad as for any of us to be created in the image of God so that all of our pieces, all of our edges, all of everything that makes us who we are was a custom fit to Him - and then there is alienation between us and this creator God to whom we were meant to be so closely connected. And it is a great tragedy when it is not just some theoretical thing, when it's not just some overview of what the Bible says about human kind, but when it is I, when it's you.

A. Mental Alienation

Now, our text speaks first of all of a mental alienation. In writing to the church at Colosse, Paul says, "You were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind...." Of course, I think that's where alienation starts. The devil wants to corrupt your mind. He wants to distort your thinking about God.

That's exactly what he did when he first appeared to Eve in the Garden of Eden. He said, "You can eat of the fruit of that tree and the knowledge of good and evil. You won't die. The only reason God does not want you to eat of the fruit of that tree is because if you do you will be as wise and all-knowing as God." In other words, the serpent that appeared to Eve was playing mind games with her, and telling her that God could not be trusted. And that is precisely what the devil will do to you. You will go through some difficulty, you will go through some hardship, and the devil will tempt you to question the goodness of God. And if you're not careful, you will become alienated from God in your mind, in your thought processes.

One of the most tragic stories in American history is the story of Aaron Burr. Many agree that he was the most brilliant man ever to graduate from Princeton University. He was a colonel in the Continental Army and vice president of the United States. His grandfather was Jonathan Edwards who was one of the agents of the Great Awakening in America. But the life of Aaron Burr became a life of disintegration and tragedy, and at last he died a lonely, empty, bitter old man. But the disintegration actually started when he was a student at Princeton University. One night when the college was shaken by a revival, he shut himself in his room, saying that before the night was over he would decide the matter of his relationship to God. That night Satan turned his mind away from God, and a mental alienation was established. Late that night the students living near him heard his shutters thrown open and a loud exclamation, "Good-bye, God, good-bye."

I have seen what this mental alienation will do. And I have also seen what it has done in the former Soviet Union. Those people, prior to the fall of the iron curtain, were subjected to 75 years of atheistic Communism. When I was over there in 1992 I saw the emptiness and the despair and the defeat etched upon the faces of those people whose political and economic system had collapsed because God was no longer a part of the equation for them. You see, they came to believe that if you have fertilizer, you don't need faith. That if you have penicillin, you don't need prayer. That if you have psychotherapy, you don't need salvation. And that if you have social welfare, you don't need the church. And that if you have education, you don't need God. And there was a whole nation alienated in their minds. And, folks, I'm telling you that in some ways God is very systematically being removed from the equation here in America - all orchestrated very carefully by the devil himself. And do you know what this mental alienation from God will get you? It will get you the same thing that it got the people of the Soviet Union for years and years.

In the nineteenth century Charles Bradlaugh, a prominent atheist, challenged a Christian man to a debate on the validity of the claims of Christianity. The Christian, Hugh Price Hughes, was an active soul- winner working among the poor in the slums of London. Hughes told Bradlaugh he would agree to the debate on one condition. Hughes said, "I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women. I challenge you to do the same." Hughes then said that if Bradlaugh couldn't bring 100, then he could bring 50. If he couldn't bring 50, then he could bring 20. He finally whittled the number down to one. All Bradlaugh had to do was find one person whose life was improved by atheism, and Hughes - who would bring 100 people improved by Christ - would agree to debate him. Bradlaugh withdrew! If such a debate, challenge and counter challenge were offered today, the response would be comparable. People are not improved by atheism. No one is improved by mental alienation from God.

B. Moral Alienation

But not only is there mental alienation, there is moral alienation. In verse 21 of our text, Paul says, "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works...." Since the thought is the mother of the deed, it is only reasonable to conclude that if someone is mentally alienated from God, that person will also be morally alienated from God. In James 4:4 the Bible says, "friendship with the world is hostility against God." In Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth, he challenged those believers to live a life of righteousness so that they might have an intimate relationship with God. Then he asked the question, "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness?" And then notice what he says in II Corinthians 6:16-18 (read). You see, God is not going to enjoy intimacy with you; He's not going to enjoy fellowship with you if you're not walking in righteousness. It is unrighteousness that brings about this alienation.

A group of college boys wanted to keep the football team mascot, a goat, so they made intricate plans to smuggle the animal into their dormitory room. "But what about the smell?" someone asked. "The goat will just have to get used to it," the others replied. Well, college boys may be able to get used to the smell of a goat, but a holy God will not do it. Our sin becomes a stench in the nostrils of God. And it's against His very nature to have fellowship with someone whose life is morally defiled. So there is mental alienation, and there is moral alienation.

And there is only one solution for alienation, and that is,

II. Reconciliation

A. The Agent of Reconciliation

Now, as we think about reconciliation, the first thing that I want us to consider is the agent of reconciliation. In order to bridge the chasm, which had separated mankind from God by centuries of sin, God provided a Reconciler, an agent of reconciliation. Jesus is His name. And in verse 19 of our text, it says, "For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell." The word for fullness there is the Greek word "pleroma." That is one of the most important words in the entire Bible. It means "the sum total of all the divine power and attributes." In other words, Jesus was 100 percent God - not 99.44 percent, but 100 percent. That little baby that was lying on the bosom of Mary 2000 years ago seemed so helpless, but He could have spoken this universe out of existence. He is man, of very man. But He is God, of very God. That is who He is. And because Jesus Christ is God, He is able to do what no man could ever do - reconcile lost sinners to a holy God. When the first man and woman sinned, they declared war on God. But God did not declare war on them. Instead, God sought Adam and Eve and He provided a covering for their sins. The natural mind of the unsaved sinner is at war with God. The sinner may be sincere, religious, and even moral, but he is still at war with God. How can a holy God ever be reconciled with sinful man? Can God lower His standards?

Can God close His eyes to sin? Can God compromise with man? If He did, this universe would fall to pieces. God must be consistent with him and maintain His own holy law. If there is to be reconciliation between man and God, the initiative and action must come from God. It is in Christ that God was reconciled to man. So here we see the agent of reconciliation.

B. The Activity of Reconciliation

But secondly, we must consider the activity of reconciliation. Notice what it says in verse 20 (read).

The activity of reconciliation involves the cross. Jesus paid the penalty on the cross for your sin and my sin. And by doing so, Jesus has made peace between God and the sinner. You know, capital punishment is a very hot issue today. Both sides of the argument cry out with ever- increasing fervor.

Regardless of which view you hold, there is one common ground. When one is strapped to a gurney, an electric chair, or the porous gas chamber seat, everyone recognizes that a heinous crime has been committed. Capital punishment is never administered to marginal offenders of the law. The cross of Jesus Christ should stir the same emotions that are triggered by capital punishment. We should be reminded of the severity of our sin. Jesus didn't die because we were marginal offenders of God's law. He died because we have committed the most serious offense of all - rebellion that has alienated us from God. It's a crime worthy of death. And thankfully, Jesus took our place on the hill of execution.

It reminds me of a story that came from the years of the Great Depression. A Missourian named John Griffith controlled the railroad drawbridge across the Mississippi. In the summer of 1937 he took his 8- year-old son to work with him. At noon he put the bridge up to allow ships their passage. He then began to enjoy the presence of his son, Greg, and lost track of time. At 1:07 he was startled by the Memphis Express whistle in the distance. He dashed to the controls and prepared to let down the bridge. Just before releasing the master level, he panicked at the sight of his son. Greg had slipped from the observation deck and now had his left leg caught in the cogs of the two main gears. Griffith quickly thought of a plan to rescue his boy, but there was too little time. The express was carrying 400 passengers, and the salvation of his son would cost the lives of many. In total anguish, John Griffith threw the lever and simultaneously killed his son while saving the train riders. Greater heartache followed when Griffith looked at the passing train. Do you know what he saw? He saw businessmen casually reading the newspaper, ladies sipping their coffee in the dining car, and children eating ice cream. Nobody even looked his way to acknowledge his sorrow. Through tear-stained eyes, he looked at the train and cried out, "I sacrificed my son for you people. Don't you care?" God sacrificed His Son so that those of us who are alienated from Him might be reconciled.

And I think sometimes God may look at us and see our carelessness and our indifference and our casual attitude toward spiritual things. And He may be saying to us, "I sacrificed my Son for you people. Don't you care? Is it nothing to you?"

C. The Affect of Reconciliation

Now, as we think about reconciliation, we have thought about the agent of reconciliation, and that's Jesus Christ, and the activity of reconciliation, that is His death on the cross. But let us think about the affect of reconciliation. Look in verse 22 (read). You see that word "unblameable." That means"without blemish." That was the requirement of the sacrificial animal in the Old Testament. You and I cannot present perfection to God, and God cannot accept anything short of perfection. That is the reason we cannot be saved by our works or by our character. We simply cannot meet the demands of a righteous God. But He is able to present us unblameable. Why? Because He took our place.

The Bible says, "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (II Corinthians 5:21). That word "unreproveable" means "unaccuseable" or "unchargeable." God is the One who justifies us. If God declares us to be justified, who can bring any kind of charge against us? He is the One who has cleared us of all guilt.

James Kennedy, pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, has written a book entitled "What If Jesus Had Never Been Born." And in this book he has a chapter entitled "Amazing Grace." And in this chapter he tells about individuals who were alienated from God who have been reconciled to God. He tells about a Parisian playboy. He tells about a prostitute, an accomplice to murder, a slave trader, a ruthless politician, and he tells about a man by the name of Mel Trotter. Mel Trotter was so "no good" it was almost written on his forehead. He was the very scum of the scum. He abused his family. He neglected his children. He was fired from his jobs. He was a drunkard in the gutter and would do anything for a drink. In fact, one day he came home and found his little girl very seriously ill. He was so "concerned" that he took off her shoes and went out and sold them for a drink. When he returned he found that his little girl was dead. He was so overwhelmed by remorse that he said he was going to end his life. He made his way across one of the worst parts of Chicago to throw himself into Lake Michigan. But as he passed a street, he could hear someone preaching over a loudspeaker. He stepped into the building's doorway and heard a man talking about Jesus Christ who loves sinners. He said to himself, "Can it be that there is anyone who could love someone like me?" He stood transfixed by that message of love that he heard. The entire grasp of that addiction suddenly was loosed. Mel Trotter was set free. He later established a great mission for the down and outers in downtown Grand Rapids, and ultimately established 50 more missions around the nation. Tens of thousands of drunks and ne'er-do-wells had their lives transformed by Christ through Trotter. Take Christ out of the picture, and all you end up with is a drunken suicide. But you put Christ in the picture, and you have the bridge over the chasm between Mel Trotter and God. And this man who was alienated, mentally and morally, was reconciled because of what Jesus did for him. This is the effect of reconciliation. And the idea is that one who was corrupt and incorrigible suddenly became unblameable and unreproveable in the sight of God. Now, we have talked about alienation and reconciliation.

Let me say a word about,

III. Cultivation

In verse 23 it says that those who have been reconciled need to "continue in the faith grounded and settled." And the key word there is "continue." You see, once the reconciliation has taken place, every day we make our relationship with God stronger and better, and better and stronger. And we do that by loving Him with heart and soul and mind. You see, any good relationship requires some work and some responsibility. It especially requires love if that relationship is to be all that it is intended to be, and if that relationship is to be made strong. In fact, when Jesus was forced to condense all of His teaching into one little capsule, He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." You see, once we've been reconciled to God, then it is our responsibility to make that relationship strong from our side. Love is a wonderful strengthener of any relationship. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about what a wonderful wife Martha Jean is and how she has worked so hard through the years to provide a happy home for all of us. And we had just experienced Easter, and she had prepared a huge meal, and all the family was there. And we had a wonderful time. And I was just so grateful for what she had done, and so I wrote her a poem and I put it on the cabinet in the kitchen. It was really a nice poem. In fact, I liked it so well and I enjoyed it so much that I took a "post it" note, and with my limited artistic ability I drew a heart and put an arrow through it and put my initials and her initials on it, and wrote "don't forget I love you." And I put it in the middle of the bathroom mirror. And then I put another similar note on the steering wheel of her car. And then when I had done all that, I couldn't wait to call her and get her reaction, and just tell her that I loved her and ask her for a date. You see, I know that love makes a relationship strong.

It's something that has to be worked at. It has to be cultivated. It has to be nurtured. And it is the same with God. We become Christians by accepting this reconciliation, this offer that Jesus has made possible. But once the reconciliation has taken place, every day we make our relationship with God stronger by loving Him with heart and soul and mind. So it is a valid question.


How is your relationship with God? Is it very good? Or are you enemies, alienated? Or are you reconciled through Jesus? And you would say that you and God are the very best of friends. It's up to you. It's up to each of us. And it could not be more important. Be reconciled. Be friends. And love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. It is the most important relationship of all.