Philip East’s, 25.06.2008
Key text: Colossians (2:8-10) “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”
Where this started for me reflects a radical change in my own thinking: following a week of prayer in 1994 some of us gathered to start praying for revival in Perth, very clearly directed to pray about who Jesus was for us:
“34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. 35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.” (Athanasian Creed)
- today’s deepest need = intimacy with God (everything else flows from this)
- most of the focus of the contemporary church is on itself e.g. money, ministry, numbers, buildings, programmes
- prayerlessness, immorality, marriage breakdown, confusion about who we are, greed, worldliness is all because we have forgotten Jesus e.g. for many years I have been teaching my students to use “the Jesus test”. When you are listening to a sermon pay attention to how long before the name of Jesus is mentioned, and whether he is used as an illustration of the principle being advocated or its substance.
- “Christological concentration” that all matters of Christian faith and conduct have as their content the life of Christ. ’All things were created by Him and for Him’ (Col. 1:16).
Salvation consists in the coming together of humanity and deity in Christ, only in this way can both who God is and who we are be known.
What Does “the Fullness of Christ” Mean?
1. For Jesus as a Human Being
- texts to do with fullness concern Jesus as a man, not of the Son of God in eternity
- the background for this is found in texts like Phil 2: 6-7 “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” 2 Cor 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
- uniqueness of Incarnation, everything makes God to be God was in Jesus as well everything that makes man to be man. Controversy exists about the second part of this statement.
What do we mean by humanity? Paul says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15 cf. Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 4:4; Heb 1:1 – 3). This is a statement about Jesus as a human; it echoes the language of Genesis 1:26 – 28, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” ”. This means that the totality of everything that God ever designed humanity to be as his image is perfectly complete in Christ.
From Genesis 1:26-28 people have defined the image of God in terms of intimacy with God, the human mind, male and female, dominion over the earth and various other things. This is the wrong way to read the Bible, Paul says “Adam, who was a type/pattern of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14). Everything that Adam was meant to be is found in its fullness in Jesus.
Christ as the image of God gathers up into himself all the aspects of the image of God into fullness. As the Son of God He restores us to perfect filial (sonship) union with God the Father. We can have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). He shows us, as brother, how to love our fellow humanity “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34). He is the true husband of the eternal bride and so in him is found the meaning of marriage, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:25-32; Rev 19:6-8.) His acts and life reveal what it is to have dominion over the earth in the Kingdom of God, he is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). To be fruitful and multiply finds its fulfillment in the salvation and exaltation of Christ, “It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honour, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:6-9). His perfected priesthood opens it up for us to be kings and priests on the earth (Rom 5:17; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6 etc.)
2. For Humanity
Paul prays for the Ephesians “ to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:19). ‘When men have Christ they not only have everything one needs, they have everything one can possibly have’ (Haupt).
Another confusion is that salvation is some thing that God gives us. Biblically, every aspect of salvation finds its content in Christ. Election and predestination : we were chosen in Christ in eternity, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29).Conversion : our repentance and faith in God are a participation in the faith and obedience of Jesus for us (Matt 3:15; Gal 2:20;Heb 12:2). Justification : we share the status of the perfectly righteous Son of God which he reached through the cross and receive in the resurrection; “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit,” (1 Tim 3:16; Rom 4:25; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 5:7 – 9). Adoption : being sons of God means to share Jesus relationship with the Father, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God” (Gal 3:26). Sanctification : Jesus is the content of our holiness “you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” (1 Cor 1:30; John 17:17-19). Glorification : this refers to the perfecting of our humanity when Jesus raises us from the dead; at this point we will be completely like him sharing in all his glory, “2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2; 1 Cor 15:20-23; Phil 3:21).
Everything we were ever called to be is found in him, this applies at the individual level for we are sons in the Son. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal 4:4-7)
In the current discipleship crisis in the church, we need to understand discipleship in terms of how Jesus was discipled by the Father. The background to the Great Commission “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matt 28:18 – 20), is the meaning of the baptism and obedience of Jesus.
Jesus’ baptism is the place where he is filled with the Spirit on the way to the cross, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21 – 22). He can call us to obey him in his sending us with sovereign authority (cf. ““As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”” John 20:21) because he first of all was completely obedient to his Father, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,” (Phil 2:8; Rom 5:19; Heb 5:8)
The identity crisis in the Church can never be solved until we see ourselves in relation to Christ, who is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23)
We will never see a mature church, “that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:27) until we see who Jesus is and realise our destiny is to be exactly as glorious as he is “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph 4:13). If Christ is the fullness of the image of God, then what it means for us to be so created can only be revealed at the End. Only when Christ appears, “face to face”, shall we realise in full measure what it means to be in his image (1 Cor 13:12; Col 3:4; 1 John 3:1-2).
3. For Us
How Do we Receive this Fullness?
a. We are in it already
The completion of life in Christ is a pure gift, the words “and you have been filled in him” (Col 2:10) are in the perfect tense and the passive voice, the fullness we have in Jesus is a continuing state as a result of a past action done once for all by God. Once you have received the gift of this fullness you are in it forever. We never have to “go after God, urging him to give us what we do not have” (Bingham)
b. It is a matter of grace
“And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”, we now share with Jesus in the life of God as our Father ((John 1:16; cf. John 20:17; 2 Pet 1:4).
c. It is through the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit can only ever do in us what he first did in Jesus. The Holy Spirit was poured out by Jesus on the day of Pentecost “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:33) this meant that the church was baptized in the Spirit “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:13) in the same way Jesus was anointed at his own baptism “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38).
At Pentecost the entire range of the ministries of the church were not only given by Jesus “when he ascended on high he gave gifts to men…” (Eph 4:7 – 11), but were a share in his giftedness as “the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1), “the chief Shepherd” (1 Pet 5:4), “the one who serves” (Mark 10:45); “one teacher, the Christ” (Matt 23:10) etc.
d. It is by faith
The first step in talking about faith is to remember that Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2), our faith is a share in his faithfulness to his Father. Living by the faith of the Son of God (2 Cor 5:7; Gal 2:20) we simply enter into a deeper participation/experience of what we are already given in Christ.
The story is not our story with a role for Christ. The story is Christ’s story with roles for us. This deals a death blow to our religious egos, so that everything in life is transformed. In Christ, we receive the humanity of God and the God of humanity; this brings an end to striving and the beginning of rest.
In understanding the New Testament teaching on the fullness of Christ, Christians receive a cosmic vision. This is what motivated Paul e.g. “he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:23), “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” (Eph 4:10). Paul’s vision was not more believers and more churches as such, but that everything in the universe be filled with the presence of Christ – mission, worship, evangelism, justice, prayer, church planting are all means to this end. Cf. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14); “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev 21:23).
Discipleship is sharing the life of Christ. Prayer is praying as Jesus prayed. Reading the Bible is seeing what Jesus sees in it about himself “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39). Evangelism and mission are seen not in terms of getting people into the church but helping them receive the life of Christ, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Col 2:6). The Great Commission is summoning all people groups to find their completion in Christ, “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:10).
Worship ceases to be about my devotion to Jesus but becomes truly centred on sharing Jesus’ relationship with God in the power of the Spirit. e.g. “we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent” (Hebrews 8:1 – 2). The revelation of the fullness of Christ creates “pure worshippers” (cf. Rev 5:6 – 14), people who realise that we can never achieve anything that has not already been achieved by the sonship of Jesus – our faith, our obedience, our sacrifice, our love are not spiritual attainments but a Spirit-inspired expression of his indwelling life. “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:5; cf. 2 Cor 5:14).
‘Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me, Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising, Christ in heart of all who know me, Christ on tongue of all who meet me, Christ in eye of all who see me, Christ in ear of all who hear me.’(St. Patrick’s Breastplate)
What Blocks us from Further experiencing the Fullness?
There is only ever one reason why our total attention is not on Jesus,
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8- 9). Jesus himself was made complete through suffering for his Father, and we can only ever experience deep communion with him as we share in the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil 3:10; Col 1:24).
Jesus said, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26). There are in fact only ever 2 theologies in the history of the church, theologies of earthly glory and theologies of the cross of glory. The former emphasises power, prestige, wealth, success, triumph, skill, size etc. The latter emphasises humility, mystery, dependency, strength out of weakness, trial and temptation etc., that is, all the ways in which Jesus himself reached the fullness of the Father’s purposes. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14)
All theologies of temporal glory are idolatries and substitutes for the rejected sufficiency/fullness of the Word, who is Jesus (Gen 3 on). Only where the fullness of God in Christ is denied, can there be room in a believer’s heart for the idols of wealth, pleasure, technology, materialism and so on. An idol is something we are most passionate about e.g. pastor to pastor conversation – pastor 2 wanted to speak to 1 about church growth, not about growing in love with Jesus. Idols reveal themselves by obsessiveness. The better a thing (food, drink, sex, family) the more potent the idol – hence the greatest idol and obstacle to the manifestation of the fullness of Christ is our commitment to “the church”. People often seek a false fullness in the church.
Each generation projects onto Christ its own culturally based hopes of human salvation. Our righteousness/experience/pleasure/prosperity/success becomes the centre of our Christianity, rather than Christ. The true way forward was excellently summed up by John Calvin centuries ago:
“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ [Acts 4:12]. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him” [1 Cor. 1:30]. If we seek any other gift of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity in his conception; if gentleness; it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects [Heb. 2:17] that he might learn to feel our pain [cf. Heb. 5:12]. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross [Gal. 3:13]; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.” (Calvin Institutes 2.16.19 )