A few posts back, we asked the question, “How do you grow a church?” The answer I advocated was through the gospel. In this post, I want to show that this is the biblical framework. Of course, whole books could be–and have been–written about this! For the the length of this post, we can only hope to get a glimpse of the larger New Testament pattern. Let’s look at a case study from Colossians.
After his usual greeting, Paul begins his letter to them with these words:
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8and has made known to us your love in the Spirit” (1:3-8).
Paul is writing to the Colossians to encourage them in their lives as God’s people, defending their faith against false teaching, and building them up in a true understanding of, and belief in, Jesus Christ. And as he begins, he reminds them of how they came to Christ and how they have seen gospel growth in and through their lives.
Paul begins by telling the Colossian Christians that he is thankful to God for them. Specifically, he is thankful that they have truly experienced salvation: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (1:3-5). What is he thankful for? First, he is thankful for their faith in Christ Jesus. And, then secondly he is thankful for the love they have for God’s people. These two things, of course, mark out God’s people don’t they? By placing faith in Christ, they are fundamentally declaring him to be Lord. They have made a commitment in terms of their worship and allegiance—he alone is the object of their faith and worship. Furthermore, this love for Christ leads to a love for Christ’s people. In fact, Jesus himself said that the way everyone would know they we are his disciples is by the love we have for one another (John 13:35).
Paul is thankful that from what he has heard of the Colossians they are truly God’s people—they have a sincere faith in Christ, and an evident love for his people. But did you notice what produces such a life? Paul says they have faith and love “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (1:5). It’s precisely because our future is secure that we have hope. And in having a certain hope of what is to come, we are strengthened to live with faith and love in the here and now.
This kind of hope came through their hearing the gospel. That’s what Paul says in verse 5: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel.” As we think about this, notice the audacious claim Paul makes—the message of the gospel is the truth. The gospel should never be preached alongside the words, “this works for me” or “this is true for me.” The gospel can never be put on a shelf next to various other religious options for one to partake one. It’s a slab of steak, next to the chicken, pork, and fish on the spiritual buffet line. Paul says this is the word of truth. The gospel is more than ideas or human inventions—it’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
And it’s this true message which was proclaimed to the Colossians. It’s this message of Christ’s death for sinners and his resurrection from the dead—all for their salvation—that caused them to have an assured hope for the future. They heard the message that Christ offered himself up on the cross to make purification for their sins. And because they believed that message, they were made right with the God. They believed what Paul says in verses 12-14. That God has “qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He had delivered them from the domain of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom they had redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” That’s the gospel, and they believed it. Their future was secure in Christ. And with their future secure, with the hope of final salvation from God’s wrath, they were able to live by faith showing love to God’s people.
This is what happens when the gospel is proclaimed—people believe and their lives are changed. Paul says this gospel, is the message “which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (1:5b-6).
Real, spiritual growth doesn’t come through programs or event, but through the sharing of the gospel. Furthermore, the gospel produces spiritual life in those who have never heard of Christ, and it also matures the life that is in God’s people. This is why Paul says it’s bearing fruit and growing in the world as well as in the Colossians themselves. And this is why we must continue to preach and teach and share and train people in the gospel if we are going to see churches and cities changed. This is why we should plant and grow churches by the gospel.
For more on this gospel growth approach, check out: