Christ in Colossians

by   |     |   [email protected]   |  
Female student studying her Bible at a table behind the girls' residence halls

COLOSSIANS 2:6–7
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

No New Testament letter more specifically or majestically focuses on Jesus Christ than does Colossians. Like the threads of an exquisite tapestry, the truths of Christ are woven together to form this letter’s message. Far from being outdated language or dead orthodoxy, Paul’s emphasis on Christ addresses a tendency that has plagued the church since the first century: the error of relegating the Lord to the periphery in favor of religious effort, cultural acclimation and contemporary philosophy. In this epistle, Paul asserts the exclusivity and sufficiency of our sovereign Christ. Do we want to persevere and grow in our faith? Understanding and applying the apostolic teaching about Jesus Christ is essential to doing so. We will trace two primary themes in Colossians: Christ’s supreme status and Christ’s sufficient ministry.

The Supreme Status of Christ

Many people today profess to be naturalists. In other words, they believe that what we see and taste and smell and hear and touch and study in a science lab is all there is. Supernatural realities like God and the human soul are denied by definition. However, even though the world has supposedly moved past the need to believe in the supernatural, there is an ongoing fascination with superhuman beings and extraterrestrial places. Kids aren’t the only ones who watch movies about galactic warfare and superheroes and powerful wizards. Even in our highly technical scientific society, there is something mysteriously compelling about what might surpass the natural world. We long for transcendence. We are very much like first-century Colossians.

Christ Is Lord of Creation

COLOSSIANS 1:16–17
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

The false teacher in the Colossian church was evidently promoting the importance of cosmic beings. Paul counters the supposed importance of angelic and demonic powers by asserting in Colossians 1 that Christ is Lord over the universe and head of the church. The apostle punctuates the universality of Christ’s supremacy with repeated references to every and all (eight times in Col. 1:15–20). God created “all things” by Christ, who is “before all things” and holds together “all things” and deserves preeminence in “all things” and is the means of reconciliation of “all things” to God. The Holy Spirit could hardly be more inclusive and dogmatic. The term image portrays Christ as the pre-existent revelation of God. His divine identity is not derived as Adam’s was. He is not simply made in God’s image; He is God’s image. And because of that, He rules over all!

Furthermore, we see Christ’s preeminence over creation as both the agent of its existence and the reason for its existence (1:16). Christ preceded all created things in time because He is the eternal God — “before all things” (1:17). In the book of Genesis, Moses announced that all of creation finds its origin in a supernatural creator God (Gen. 1:1). The Old Testament reveals the name of this Creator as Jehovah. Jehovah means “the self-existing One” or the great “I AM.” That is, God is a self-sufficient being and depends on no one for His existence. Since God is the only self-sufficient One, every created thing is totally dependent on Him. When Paul portrays Jesus Christ as the Creator, he is simultaneously declaring that Jesus is Jehovah of the Old Testament. In John 8:58, Jesus made a self-proclamation to the Jews: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” Christ is the One by whom all things are made, whether it is physical or spiritual, visible or invisible, human or angelic. Everything finds its source in Jesus Christ.

According to Paul, Christ doubly surpasses angelic powers, since God created the spiritual rulers through Christ, and Christ dethroned them by His atoning victory (Col. 2:15). But His superiority is not merely temporal, as if He had a head start but is now just one of many heavenly beings. He is the chosen Son, the “Firstborn,” indicating His loftier rank as appointed Heir and Ruler.[1] (The term firstborn does not mean that He was born first but that He holds a superior position above all creation.) In addition, He continually upholds creation with His powerful word (Heb. 1:3). God has never been a distant clock-winder, and Christ demonstrates God’s immanent involvement in creation by ensuring that “all things consist” (Col. 1:17), which means hold together. The very opponents of the Messiah owe their existence and breath to His creative, providential power. In relation to God, Christ is “image;” in relation to the world, He is “firstborn” (1:15).[2]

Christ Is Lord of the New Creation

COLOSSIANS 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Christ is Lord over not only creation generally but the church, the new creation, specifically. As head of the body, Christ acts as authority over its life. He is the “firstborn from the dead” (1:18), the one who deserves preeminence as “the Founder of a new humanity” (1:18).[3] This new humanity could not have come into existence without the reconciling work of Christ. His preeminence in everything related to salvation stems from His undeniable deity — “it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell” (1:19) — and from His impeccable humanity. Reconciliation required “the blood of his cross” (1:20), which He gave through “the body of his flesh” (1:22). According to Colossians 1, Christ is Lord over all primarily because He possesses power over life. He creates and sustains. He gave up His own life to ensure the eternal life of all those who “continue in the faith” (1:23). As Lord of heaven and earth and His people forever, Christ (not the angels) deserves our complete submission.

The Sufficient Ministry of Christ

Have you ever looked up into the sky on a clear night and been overwhelmed by the incomprehensible immensity of space? How could the Creator of all that and more relate to me? How could I ever travel far enough to meet Him? If that were not enough of a dilemma, what about all of my guilt and shame and questions about why things on earth are not right?

The wonderful answer is that God did not wait for us to find a way to meet Him. He knew we never would, even though He has revealed Himself in all of creation. In eternity past, God chose to come in person in “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) so that we could know Him. And to know God and His Son “is life eternal” (John 17:3). Much of what Paul says about Christ in Colossians 1 focuses on His exalted status as Lord. But there is more. In Colossians 2, we see that Christ not only rules but also ministers. The incarnate God, Christ Jesus, is the mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5). His ministry is all we need.

Christ Mediates the Knowledge of God

COLOSSIANS 2:2–4
That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

Out of concern that the Colossians not be persuaded by plausible but false arguments, Paul underscores Christ’s ministry as the source of divine knowledge. Knowledge gained through a personal relationship with Christ is sufficient (Col. 2:2–4). No additives are necessary, for Christ has brought to completion all the Old Testament shadows to which the false teaching appealed (2:17). To know Christ is to possess “wisdom and knowledge,” which is to possess “treasures” (2:3). Again, Paul speaks to the dangerous fascination with mysteries. God did not deceptively withhold the truth from mankind but waited for “the fulness of time” to unveil Christ and His efficacy for Gentiles (Gal. 4:4). Such a wise, sovereign plan trumps any amateur attempt to gain spiritual favor through “the commandments and doctrine of men” (Col. 2:22).

Christ Mediates the Presence of God

COLOSSIANS 2:9
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Christ’s sufficiency extends from His mediation of divine revelation to His incarnation of divine presence. Christ embodies “all the fullness” of deity (2:9). The incarnation was no dirty chore. God was well-pleased that the Son would dwell among men in the fullness of God (1:19). The wonder of the incarnation is that the Godhead fully knew the ramifications. The manger was not pleasant, but Christ came to die. John’s words — that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) — include tabernacle terminology. Just as the Shekhinah glory filled the tabernacle and temple, the full perfections of God the Father fill the Son, Jesus the Messiah. He lacks no part of God. Remember, Christ is God’s very image. Even more remarkably, He who embodies the fullness of God fills us (Col. 2:10). The only way for sinners to be filled by the fullness of God is to be united to Christ through faith — to be incorporated into the body of which He is the Head. Christ is sufficient, perfect and complete in His revelation of divine knowledge and in His embodiment of divine presence. We can have confidence that Christ is more than enough.

Christ Mediates the Salvation of God

COLOSSIANS 2:10–13
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

Christ is more than adequate in His ministry as Savior. After Paul emphatically states, “Ye are complete in Him” (2:10), he unfolds the glories of God’s saving work in the following five verses, which serve as the theological high point of this letter. God saves us through Christ through spiritual circumcision, for Christ’s death proved to be death for the flesh of those who trust Him (2:11). God also saves us by raising us to new life with Christ. His experience of God’s resurrection power serves as the basis for our own spiritual life (2:12–13). Furthermore, God saves us by canceling our sin debt through the vicarious death of Christ, who is the end of the law’s demands on us (2:14). Finally, God saves us by disarming and disrobing demonic powers and leading them in triumphal procession through the victory of Christ on the cross (2:15). In His greatest moment of weakness and vulnerability, Jesus Christ dealt the deathblow to man’s mortal enemies: the legal decrees that condemn us and the demonic powers that wage war against our souls. Christ’s action on behalf of believers is sufficient to fill us up. We need not and should not add to Christ. He is a perfect Savior.

Our Response to the Truth of Christ

COLOSSIANS 2:6–7
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

In light of the magnificent truth of Jesus Christ, it is no wonder that Paul exhorts his readers, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (2:6). Satan frequently tempts us to move past our Savior and look for direction and satisfaction in other things, even religious ones. The deceiver knows that our strength lies in our Savior (Eph. 6:10–18), not in what we add to Him.

The language Paul uses indicates we must continue living in Christ (Col. 2:6). What would that look like? Paul gives a four-fold answer in Colossians 2:7. First, we remain “rooted” in Christ. The Lord Himself said, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4). He is the only true source of nourishment and vitality. Second, we are being “built up in him.” In other words, we are God’s construction project, and Christ is not merely the architectural drawings. He is the structure and purpose of the building (see 1 Peter 2:5–8). Third, we are “stablished in the faith.” Our Christian life does not begin with the Gospel and then move on to other things. We “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Walking in Christ means becoming increasingly established in the apostolic faith centered on Jesus Christ. Finally, walking in Christ means “abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:7). When our hearts are gripped with the reality of Christ the supreme Lord and sufficient Savior, our tongues can do nothing less than thank Him.

The kind of true Christian living we will study in Colossians 3 is based on the fundamental truths of Jesus Christ in Colossians 1 and 2. He is the supreme Lord and the sufficient Savior. Our response is to submit to His preeminence over every area of our lives (Col. 1:18). This is a conscious decision and a personal commitment to give Christ first place. However, this is far more than an initial, one-time decision. It includes a heart and mind that is being daily transformed through a personal relationship with Christ. By God’s grace, we have received Him. By God’s grace, we must keep walking in Him.

 

Notes

[1]Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Mission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 175–6.

[2]P. T. O’Brien, “Colossians, Letter to the,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 44.

[3]O’Brien, 50.

 

This post is from Seeking Things Above: A Study in Colossians by Steve Pettit. Copyright 2016 by Bob Jones University.


This post is part of the study designed to correspond with the 2021 Spring Chapel Series. Watch the chapel message below:

Join us for chapel via live webcast at 11 a.m. every Monday.

Share:

Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.