John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, had a saying: “The way in is the way on,” by which he meant the very actions and attitudes that empower the miracle of new birth in Jesus are the same actions and attitudes that empower spiritual growth. In much of the North American church, however, the saying could be changed the phrase, “the way in is all there is.”
I once attended a meeting of pastors who were planning a “city-wide revival.” The pastor of a respected and growing church opened the meeting with these words: “God is only going to ask each of us two questions when we get to heaven--’Do you know my Son?’ and ‘How many others did you bring with you?’” It was a memorable opening because it was short, dramatic, and wrong. The record of the first century church, preserved for us in the book of Acts and the letters written to newly-planted churches, reveals a profound concern for a spiritual transformation that flows from a decision to follow Jesus.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the people of the church in Colosse:
Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1: 9 - 14)
Paul prayed for the spiritual transformation of people who already knew Jesus. This prayer lays out at least three priorities each follower of Jesus. Perhaps we can discover the way on through Paul’s prayer.
We need to be filled. Paul asked God to pour “the knowledge of his will” into the believers in Colosse. The next step after coming to Jesus as Lord is to be filled with the knowledge of his will. It requires something more than mere human intellect--it requires spiritual wisdom and understanding. I believe Paul prayed these words because he understood our tendency to apply the old way of living life to our new life in Christ. The problem is, we were “born again” into a new kingdom. How many babies know how to find their way around their new environment? If we take the image of the new birth seriously we should realize there’s a whole new life ahead. The new life ahead requires something beyond our old resources. It requires seeing things--and understanding them--from God’s perspective.
We can live a life worthy of God. We’ve heard the message of forgiveness so often we’re tempted to think forgiveness is all there is. Some people spend their lives yo-yoing between sin-forgiveness-sin. They consider this life normative for God’s children. Paul knew better. He understood there is a proper response to God’s initial grace. That response is a changed life--a life worthy of the Lord. A life where it’s possible to please God, bear fruit, and grow in new life. These first two aspects of Paul’s inspired prayer are beyond the grasp of many believers. Too many of God’s people despair of ever knowing God’s will for their lives and consider “pleasing God in every way” an impossibility. Paul’s expectation was completely the opposite: forgiveness is a continuing reality for followers of Jesus, but the core of our life in Christ is a transformation that draws us ever closer to the likeness of our Lord.
The kingdom of God is at hand: Paul prays that we would each receive our inheritance--the kingdom of light. Jesus died to pay the price for our sin, and--like everyone who dies--he left an inheritance to his family: a new kind of life. This new life looks dramatically different from the old kind of life. Paul described this life as “righteousness, peace, and joy in he Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17). Here’s a bell-weather question for each follower of Jesus--does my life differ dramatically from my old kind of life? The in-breaking of God’s kingdom floods our lives with light, and light is necessary if we are going to move through this new kind of Kingdom-life. Yet how many believers stumble about in everyday life, unable to navigate the ordinary troubles of life? Paul envisioned a church filled with individuals able to receive the Kingdom-life God offers to everyone born from above. Paul had this confidence because he had heard the good news that “it’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
Paul prayed these words over a church filled with people he did not know. It’s what Paul prayed (and hoped) for each follower of Jesus. Can you hear him praying over you now?