Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians probably in about A.D. 61 while he was a prisoner in Rome. He seems to have written it both to encourage the Colossians and to refute an infiltration of heresy.
The key statement of the book is in Colossians 2:9-10.
In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
A good title for the book would be “The Completeness of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ is completely God. He is completely able to save us. And he is completely able to renew us.
Jesus Christ is complete. Nothing more must be added to what he has done, to who he is, or to what he will do for us in the future.
Trying to understand the various philosophies and cults existing during Paul’s time brings an interesting discovery: They weren’t any different from those we have today. We are battling the same things Paul did.
One issue Paul spoke against in Colossians is a boasting of higher knowledge, a know-it-all attitude that says a certain philosophy is needed in order to be saved. Paul characterized a person with this attitude as one who “goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions” (Colossians 2:18).
Another issue Paul addressed is the tendency of some to separate the physical and the spiritual to such a degree that two extremes result: asceticism, which is a warped view of holiness; and sensual indulgence based on the belief that if matter and spirit are separate it makes no difference what we get involved in physically, since our separate spiritual side will not be affected.
Paul’s approach in teaching about both of these issues was to focus on the deity of Christ.
Many of us have talked with people who say Jesus Christ is not God. But the Scriptures insist that Jesus Christ was not merely a good man, or one of many prophets, or an angel, but God. Paul said in Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (1:15).
Imagine yourself as Peter or James or John, walking with Christ somewhere north of the Sea of Galilee. You follow him up a mountain, and when you reach the top you are astonished as Jesus, your friend and teacher, is transfigured before you. His face shines so brightly you can’t look at him, and his clothes are whiter than the brightest white you’ve ever seen. At his side appear Moses and Elijah, talking with him. You drop to your knees, and facedown you hear a voice from heaven: “This is my Son; listen to him!”
Jesus Christ is God. Regardless of how much men deny it, he is God.
“By him all things were created,” Paul said, “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (1:16). Scientists have had and will continue to have many theories about the origin of the universe. We can get too wrapped up in wondering where everything really came from, and what it was like before. But the Bible tells us all we need to know. Jesus Christ, the Word of God created all things. In Genesis 1, God spoke, and it happened. “By faith,” the writer to the Hebrews said, “we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3). This is all we need to know, even for those on earth whom God has given the most intelligence. God said, and it was so. Paul said all things were created by Christ and for Christ. That includes you. And he made no mistake in the way you are made. “We are God’s workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10). Since you were him, are you now living for him?
In Colossians 1:17, Paul said Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Why does gravity work? What makes atoms stay together instead of flying apart? The concise answer is Jesus Christ. He holds the universe together.
It appears that one day, in God’s perfect timing, he will let go. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10).
Jesus Christ is also “the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18). Does he have supremacy in your life? Is he in first place?
Completely Able to Save
Jesus Christ is completely God, and he is also completely able to save us. We have been given “fullness in Christ” (Colossians 2:10). We have been marked
with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. (Colossians 2:11-13)
To be justified before God, to come into a relationship with him, and to live day by day with him, we need nothing more than faith in Christ—Jesus Christ plus nothing. It is not Jesus Christ plus never sinning again. It is not Jesus Christ plus water baptism. It is not Jesus Christ plus speaking in tongues. It is not Jesus Christ plus our own strength, ingenuity, or wisdom. It is Christ plus nothing.
We are saved by grace, through faith—”and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). God forbid that we should ever come to boast about our relationship with him as though it were something we did. Rather, we should fall on our knees as we realize that Jesus Christ—and he alone—saves: Christ, because he loved us and died for us; Christ, because he loves us and draws us to himself.
In Paul’s time and in our own time, this truth has been opposed by the cults. In one way or another, each one stresses that the way to God is through self-effort, from the subtle to the bizarre—ringing bells or selling books in airports or wearing garb from centuries past. Many of them use the same Christian terminology we’re familiar with, while in fact denying the basic doctrines of Christianity.
A few years ago in New England a man called Brother Julius was traveling around claiming to be Jesus Christ, and gathering followers. I heard him speak in a packed auditorium, and his audience seemed strongly attracted to him. I detected there not the power of Christ, but the oppressive power of Satan.
I remembered Jesus’ words in John 10:14-“I know my sheep and my sheep know me”—as I looked at the man on the stage, and I thought, I don’t know him. As he seemed to capture the people more and more by his subtle twisting of the Scriptures, I finally could take no more. From the back of the auditorium I shouted out to him that he was wrong.
The sheep know their master, and I did not know this man.
Our highest desire and ambition should be to know Jesus Christ intimately as Lord and Savior, and to know his truth so well that we will immediately recognize any counterfeit. This is where our energies should be focused—on knowing Jesus Christ (and not, by the way, on putting down cults).
Completely Able to Renew
Acknowledging that Christ is able to save gives us no license to ignore the responsibility to pursue godliness. By the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, we are responsible to follow Christ as our new master. “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:18).
We can’t do this by turning over a new leaf, or by making New Year’s resolutions. Instead, we draw upon the same power that raised Christ from the dead, and this allows us to obey him.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2)
Through the power of knowing Christ we can live the way God wants us to live. So we must invest our time and energy and resources in those things that draw us closer to him. Are you doing this, or are you investing your life in the things that subtly undermine your faith—things that will burn?
Christ “is your life,” Paul wrote (Colossians 3:4).
“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). His renewing life and power will allow you to live in a way that pleases God.
God in Christ has given us much. We are rich people. By his strength and his power let us be people who find joy in living day by day for him, and who proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords and King of kings.