Do You Fear God?
Dr. Jim Denison
The most famous sermon in American history was preached on July 8, 1741 in Enfield Connecticut, by Jonathan Edwards. It contains these famous words:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.
You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up.
There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
Nothing could be more counter-cultural today. No words could better express an outdated Puritanism our culture is glad to leave to the history books. “Everybody knows” that God is whatever you believe him to be, that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere and tolerant, that a loving God would not send anyone to hell or judge anyone’s personal morality. But what if Jonathan Edwards was right?
Do you fear God?
Our text makes seven distinct and unique claims for our Lord.
First: he is God. Paul calls him the “image” of the invisible God (v. 15a). “Image” means the exact representation, the very stamp of God, one who shares in the nature of that which it pictures. He is the image of the invisible God, enabling us to see the God we cannot see. He is not just a prophet of God like Mohammad, or a religious leader and example like Abraham and Buddha. He is God.
Second, he is infinite in existence, the “firstborn over all creation” (v. 15b)..
The phrase doesn’t mean that he was born in time, but that he came before all creation, as the firstborn comes before the other children. John says of him, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
Other religious founders were part of time. Jesus created it.
He is divine and infinite. Then he touched our finite world, personally and directly.
Third, he created all that exists: “by him all things were created” (v 16). His miracles showed the power of the Creator over his creation; his resurrection proved it 20 centuries ago, and his ability to answer our prayers today proves it now. He is Creator over all the universe.
Fourth, he sustains all that exists: “in him all things hold together” (v. 17). He created the world, and holds it together now. As I understand it, atomic physicists cannot explain fully why the negatively-charged electron and positively-charged proton can exist in the same molecule, but they can. Jesus knows why.
Fifth, he rules all that exists: “so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (v.18b). He rules the church, which is his body (v. 18a), even as he rules all things. He is the only person in all of human history to claim that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
Now his creating, sustaining, ruling power over the universe becomes personal. Sixth: he reconciles all that exists to his Father: “through him to reconcile all things to himself” (v. 20a).
“Reconcile” means to restore us back to the state from which we fell. Jesus did this by the blood of his cross (v. 20b), where the innocent sacrifice paid the price we owed and purchased our salvation.
We were alienated from God because of our evil behavior (v. 21). But now by faith in Christ we are “holy,” set apart for him; we are “without blemish,” acceptable to God; and we are “free from accusation” by the court, for we are declared innocent. This is the gospel, the good news entrusted to Paul and preached all over the world.
Conclusion: he is the unique and supreme Lord of all, “so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (v. 18). No other person who has ever lived can compare with him. That’s what Christians believe about Christ, and it’s what we’ve believed since the beginning of our faith.
Do we fear God?
But it’s not what the enemies of Christ in Colossae believed, then or now. They were known as “Gnostics,” from the Greek word for “knowledge.” They believed that right knowledge is sufficient for salvation, that the “spiritual” is irrelevant to the “secular.” Many therefore argued that you can live any way you wish; personal ethics are subjective and immaterial, as “religion” is irrelevant to life.