Monday, February 23, 2015

Christ in Colossians Part 2

The following is the conclusion of a two-part series on Christ in the letter to the Colossians.

While the Christmas season may be long over, the aftermath of after-Christmas sales linger on, as does the great old bumper sticker that proclaims, "Jesus is the reason for the Season!" While I certainly agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment this slogan expresses, I can't help but wonder which Jesus is meant? Society presents many different versions of Jesuses for people to celebrate. For example, there is the "great moral teacher" Jesus, the Jewish version of Socrates or Buddha. There is also the "enlightened" New Age Jesus who came to raise our consciousness; the blond, blue-eyed Aryan Jesus who stands for white supremacy; the politically correct Jesus, etc. There are so many ideas of Jesus in circulation that it can get awfully confusing to a great many of us.

The doctrine of Christ is a critically important area of study. Often it is a deviation from theological orthodoxy, with some deviations being more subtle than others, of this very doctrine that separates the various cults from the Church. It is essential for us to know what the Bible reveals concerning the One we worship. This alone must be our standard reference work concerning our Lord and our relationship to Him. That relationship will be discussed following a brief summary of the ground covered last month.

Recall, first of all, that the theme of Paul's letter to the believers at Colossae is the complete sufficiency of Jesus in contrast to the insufficiency of human wisdom. There were certain people in Paul's day teaching that Christ was merely a glorified man, an enlightened master of divine wisdom; the bearer of a higher consciousness to which we need attain by means of secret knowledge. The old adage that there is nothing new under the sun particularly is relevant in regard to heresies. The letter to the Colossians is a terrific reminder of this. Indeed, much of the claptrap that passes for religious "insight" today is merely 1900 year old recycled heretical rubbish.

In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul establishes the preeminence of Christ is three areas. First of all, Christ is the visible representation of the invisible God and therefore is sovereign over the creation. Second, since Christ is the creator and architect of the whole universe and in fact sustains it, He is the rightful Lord of the universe. Third, Christ is the head (authority) of the church, having restored harmony between men and God through death on the cross. The restoration of God and mankind is called "reconciliation".

The amazing aspect regarding this accomplished reconciliation is that it is not only accomplished on a vertical plane, between God and men but also possessed a horizontal axis as well, reconciling Jews to Gentiles. This revelation, the fact that through Christ's death both Jews and Gentiles are spiritually equal before God and together form one new body, the church, was good news, it was also quite unexpected (Col. 1:26-27, Eph. 2,3:5). The reason we have this newfound capability to be unified into on new body is because Christ Himself can dwell in believers by His Spirit. Now He is the hope of glory - "Christ in us" (Col. 1:27). This supernatural indwelling provides great and powerful fuel to energize our individual and corporate ministries (1;29).

Paul matter-of-factly presents Christ to his readers as the very essence of Deity in bodily form (2:9). This specifically means that Christ has all the attributes of God. Contrary to what certain Colossian philosophers were teaching (and contrary to the contemporary echo of these ancient teachings today), these attributes are in no sense watered-down, diluted or distilled. Every attribute of deity possessed by Jesus is full- strength. Nor were these full-strength attributes imparted by God to a lesser divine being, who needed an improvement package to be raised up to a higher level of deity. Each and every one of Christ’s divine attributes are His by His very nature and have always belonged to Him. Christ is truly, “the Real Thing!” So, we must accept no substitutes.

In the same way Christ has all the attributes of God, so in Christ all believers have everything that we need, are supposed to have and God intended for us to have (2:10). The same word is used in both 2:9 and 2:10 to describe both Christ's fullness of Deity and our fullness in Christ. Consequently, there is no extra secret knowledge that believers must possess to be saved, no "second blessing" is to be sought for either our salvation, justification or sanctification. "Fullness in Christ" does not mean, as our New Age friends teach, that we are "little gods", minor divine beings awaiting the fulfillment of our potential. While we possess Christ, we do not possess the attributes of deity as does Christ. Therefore, don't prance out on the beach as Shirley MacLaine famously did thirty-five years ago, proclaiming joyfully, "I am God!" This is not only doctrinally incorrect; it is blasphemy. (Not to mention, somewhat embarrassing.)

What is the significance of having the gift of fullness in Christ? It means that we were spiritually circumcised when we were saved by Him. We were given a new nature. We got to cast off the old nature like so much dirty clothing abandoned to the hamper (2:11). No need to take the old nature to the laundry, though – we have a brand new and improved nature with which to be clothed. This occurred through our spiritual baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, the moment of our union with Him (2:12).

When we were antagonistic to God in our pre-conversion lives; we neither had nor wanted a part of Him. We were like someone who owed a great deal of money, but lacking the ability to repay, assiduously avoided crossing paths with creditors at all costs. We were all defaulters on the loan of our lives, due to the accumulation of sin. In fact, when we were completely dead in our sins, spiritually bankrupt, owing a debt to God we could not possibly repay, Christ removed our debt completely. He wiped it out, marked our liabilities as cancelled. Our debt was crucified alongside Christ when He carried it with Him to the cross (2:13-14).

The first four verses of the third chapter of Colossians have particular bearing to our lives as believers. After establishing some theological basics about Christ in the first half of the letter, Paul proceeds in the remaining half to practical application for his readers. Again, Paul records that we have been identified and entered into union with Christ in His death burial and resurrection. Since that is the case we can concentrate on heavenly things. It is in the heavens, after all, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (3:1-2). We have died to our former selves and to spiritual bankruptcy, so now we must strive to remain "debt-free." We must enjoy in our daily practical experience what Christ has made us in theological experience. From the moment we became believers our lives have been united with Christ's. To be united (hidden) with the Lord of creation and His church is both awesome privilege and responsibility (3:3).

We conclude our study with mention of the promise to which all believers look forward. Paul’s argument continues with the great news that Jesus Christ will be coming back to claim His own. When he returns for those of us with whom He has been united, we will share in His glory (3:4). There is plenty of divine glory to go around, rest assured! We will all have a piece of the action! As we proceed through another year together, let us be assured that the Lord Christ's glorious return is indeed nearer than when we first believed. Are you ready?