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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Fullness of Deity


 

When we speak of what it means to be a Christian, one of the most common terms we use is the term ‘saved’. We say things like: to a believer, ‘when were you saved?’, or to an unbeliever, ‘you need to be saved’, or we hear a professing believer say, ‘I have been saved’.


What we mean by that term is, the moment in our lives when we put our faith in Jesus. Or to state it from the point of view of God’s acting, the moment when God intervened in our lives to apply the death of Jesus to our lives.


All of which is very good. And the reason we can say it’s very good is because the bible uses this term in this way too. Jesus used it when he told his parable of the sower, ‘Those along the path are the ones who hear, and the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved’ (Luke 8:12).

In the book of Acts, which Paul has been preaching through, we’ve heard it numerous times. For example, ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name [than Jesus] under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved’.

And the Apostles use this term too, Paul says, ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Rom 10:9).

The Apostle Peter agrees, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ (1 Pet 4:18).


This is just commonly how we use the term ‘saved’. But we need to alsolearn to use it in the other senses that the new testament uses it.

The new testament writers use the term ‘saved’ for the event in which we came to faith in Christ – true.

And they use it for the process of being made holy which is characterised as a battle.

And they use it for the final event when we enter into eternity and the battle is over.


Jesus, for example, talked about ‘standing firm until the very end in the faith you already came to believe in and so being saved’. Here’s what he said, ‘You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Matt 10:22).

That sounds different to what he said in Luke 8 about believing and so being saved. This sounds like endurance; this sounds like process. Luke 8 sounded like an event; like an act – the moment when Jesus was received.


Paul does the same thing in 1 Corinthians 1:18, ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being[ongoing] saved it is the power of God’. That doesn’t sound like Romans 10:9 which spoke in terms of ‘believe and be saved’. Here Paul seems to be talking in terms of process – ‘being saved’.

This means that:

1. The term ‘saved’ can be both broad and narrow in meaning.

2. The term ‘saved’ is not enough on its own to express which specific part of salvation we are referring. Context is needed.

3. The term ‘saved’ can be so synonymous with the moment we came to believe, that we fail to see that the bible emphasises more than just the moment we came to faith in Christ when it speaks of salvation.


So, we should not think that a person can profess faith in Jesus and then proceed to wander away from him, that they will be finally saved. Here’s how Hebrews puts it, ‘It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened…who have shared in the Holy Spirit…and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance…to their loss they are subjecting him to public disgrace’ (Heb 6:4-8).


The reason for starting the message like this is that the Colossian Christians had started out by believing the message about Jesus. They had had an eventful moment when they had placed their faith and hope and love in Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour.


But the occasion for the letter that the Apostle Paul is now writing to them – that we have in our bibles – is to warn them of the danger of subscribing to a different gospel which would be a drifting away from Christ.


He calls it in verse 8, ‘a hollow and deceptive philosophy that depends on human tradition and elemental spiritual forces (the worship of angels) and not on Christ’.

This philosophy is hollow because it is ultimately empty and leads to death. And it is deceptive because it has the appearance of being better than the gospel they had believed in the first place.


But Paul is certain, this philosophy of ‘Jesus plus’ – Jesus plus religious experience; Jesus plus religious observance; Jesus plus religious ritual – is actually a turning away from Jesus. It is a faithless, unbelieving declaration that Jesus alone is not enough.


Paul’s contention is that if they turn away from the message of the cross which is, salvation alone, in Christ alone, by faith alone, then they are liable to disqualify (v.18) themselves from their inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.


Verses 1-8 are Paul telling the Colossians that that’s the case in no uncertain terms, and how hard he is contending for them to make sure that doesn’t happen.


Verses 9-15 are Paul giving the reason for why their confidence should remain in Jesus in alone. They are Paul showing the greatness of Jesus over religious ritual and over religious experience.


So, I want to show you what he reminds the Colossians of. The categories of ritual and experience are broad and they have their own powerful expressions in our day; in our lives and we need Paul’s arguments as weapons in our arsenal in our fight against the competing philosophies of the world that we live in – competing philosophies that are vying for our attention and which are both hollow and deceptive – just as much as the world the Colossians lived in.


We need to be alert and aware that they exist and are coming for us. And we need to be familiar with the truths that serve to combat these kinds of philosophies.


So, here’s how Paul redirects our gaze back on Jesus. In verse 9 he brings our attention back to the fact that Jesus is the fullness of deityin bodily form. It might be tempting to think here that he’s emphasising Jesus’ incarnation - the fact that Jesus is Go-made-man.

But that’s not the case. The emphasis here falls on Jesus’ intrinsic God-ness not his manhood. He is from everlasting to everlasting God. He is the pre-existent one. He is the alpha and the omega; the beginning and the end. He is all and in all. From him and through him and to him are all things. Before he ever had a body, he was the image of the invisible God; possessing all the essence and nature of the invisible God.


Paul is saying, that to have believed in Jesus is not to have believed in one who is less than all the fulness of God. It is to have believed in God himself who now lives in bodily form.


Remember, part of the persuasive philosophy that was vying for their attention was encouraging them to worship angels. Presumably part of the ‘fine sounding argument’ that was coming their way was saying, ‘Jesus is not fully God - his body is enough to tell you that. More human than God, that’s Jesus’. Paul jumps to point up who Jesus really was. He is the ‘fulness of Deity’ living in a body.


Now what follows in verses 10 through to 15 is a vibrant tapestry of gospel beauty, and I want to pick it apart thread by thread so you can see the colour of each strand and then allow it to come back together in your minds so that you see the whole piece as one picture.


The first strand I want us to see is in verse 13 – it is our condition. According to Paul we were dead in our sins. Another way to say it is, we were dead in the uncircumcision of our flesh. Another way to say it is found in verse 11, ‘our whole self, was ruled by the flesh’.

Two other ways of saying it are found in verse 14, ‘we were ‘legally indebted’; and ‘stood condemned’.


This is how we all, without exception, find ourselves in relation to God. We are people who are spiritually dead to God and alive to sin. We loveto sin but, by nature, we reject God.

We are those who have hard hearts – we do not desire God; we do not find anything in him of beauty or glory or worth. We live with hard hearts towards the supreme treasure of the universe.

We are those who are ruled by our appetites for everything that is notGod. Our desires go into overdrive for all his good gifts, but we are as dead as stones when it comes to the giver.

Because of these broken preferences we are those who are legallyindebted to God. What we owed to him – glory and honour and majesty – we have not given him. That makes us debtors.

And since we cannot pay the debt we are also those who are condemned. We have a guilty verdict against our names.


This is our spiritual condition. All of us find ourselves as Paul is describing here.


This strand of the tapestry, were it not for the other strands, finds itself dipped in our own blood. Without the other strands, we are paying this debt back with our own blood, for all eternity.


But, praise God, there are other strands. This would be an ugly tapestry were it not for these other strands that God weaves into the piece by his grace.


The second strand is surgical and we have to track carefully with what Paul is saying here. We just highlighted that Paul said the Colossians previously existed in the uncircumcision of their flesh (v.13) – meaning they were guilty sinners; in love with sinning.


That term ‘uncircumcision’ is borrowed from where? It’s borrowed from the old testament.

The old covenant people of God – the Jews – were given a sign by God to mark them out as belonging to the people of God.


That sign was a sign in their flesh. It was the surgical cutting away of the foreskin in an act called circumcision. If you did not have this mark on your body, you could not be regarded as belonging to the people of God. That mark in the flesh was essential for any Jew under the old covenant. Without the mark, they were not regarded as partakers of the covenant promises.


Paul is picking up this sign and using it here – and in other places – to talk about salvation. He says, verse 11, ‘you were circumcised with a circumcision not performed by hands’. So, Paul is not talking about the old covenant sign itself, he’s talking about the essence of what that sign represented.

He goes on, ‘your whole self, ruled by the flesh [uncircumcised – v.13] was put off [or cut off] when you were circumcised by Christ’. Jesus had well and truly ascended into heaven by the time these Colossians came to believe, so Jesus didn’t take a knife to any of their foreskins that’s for sure. No, Paul is talking about a different kind of circumcision – a circumcision of the heart.


So, what’s the spiritual surgery that’s going on here? It’s the surgery that cuts off an attitude of mind and an inclination of heart that is governed/ruled/mastered by natural instincts – he calls it ‘the flesh’ - so that a new heart can be received. This new heart has an attitude of mind and inclination that is governed/ruled/mastered by the Spirit of God. That’s what this spiritual surgery is all about.


The Holy Spirit becomes the mark or guarantee then of belonging to the new people of God – not a physical people now, but a spiritual people. And he is the mark or guarantee of the new covenant promises also.


Who does the spiritual surgery? Answer: Jesus does it. This circumcision is done by Christ. When we came to believe in him, we were spiritually circumcised by him.


Now, look at verse 12. Saying you were circumcised in Christ is the same as saying you were baptised into death with Christ. Verse 12 says, ‘having been buried with him in baptism’.

It’s the same, in the sense that, death is being dealt with. In surgical terms, dead flesh has to be cut away because it ultimately kills the whole body. In spiritual circumcision, the old dead spiritual person has to be cut off. And in baptismal terms, the spiritually dead have to die or else, the spiritually alive cannot live.


So, when we believe in Jesus, we are saying that our spiritually dead selves are joining Jesus in his death on the cross and going down into the grave with him. This means the old nature that set us apart from God, we have gladly and whole-heartedly renounced, and relinquished, and died to.


Strand number 3 is the new spiritual life. Just as Jesus died and was raised to life, we also, having joined him in his death, have been raised with him to new life.


Specifically, according to verse 12, by our faith that God raised Jesus from the dead, we have become recipients of new spiritual life. Paul says it like this in verse 13, ‘When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ’.


So, when a person says, ‘I have been saved’, in this sense, what they really mean is, they have died (with Christ) to their old selves with all of its wayward desires, and that, they have been raised (with Christ) as a new creation with new desires and inclinations which they love and joyously embrace.


Strand number 4 is forgiveness. It’s a short remark at the end of verse 13 which says, ‘he forgave us all our sins’. But how he did it is so amazing, as he reveals it to us in verse 14, that we have to linger here.


Whilst it’s true, God can decide to forgive us our sins – to ‘forget them’ as the psalmist puts it – his justice and his holiness won’t allow them simply to be swept under the carpet and forgotten. The debt has to be dealt with – it has to be paid.


In the sense that we don’t pay it, it gets ‘cancelled’, but in the sense that his justice demands that payment is made for the debt owed, something has to be done.


This is where Paul gets very explicit about the cross. The legal charges against us; detailing all our indiscretions against The Just and Righteous and Holy God of the universe who made us, according to verse 14 ‘condemn us’.


If that record of charges is not dealt with, the verdict of the court is eternal payment of the outstanding debt by means established by the Judge. Those means are called hell and they are by nature, hopeless, joyless, relentless, terrifying and agonising.


Now Paul explains how the charges against us were dealt with. Verse 14, right at the end, says, ‘he [Christ] has taken it [the charges] away, nailing [them] to the cross’. So, the image he has in mind is Jesus taking the charges against us in his own hands and allowing the nails to pass through the charges and his own hands into the cross – thereby owning our charges as if they were his very own. Though he was utterly sinless and had never done any wrong whatsoever.


And thereby, receiving in his own body, the just punishment of his Father in heaven for the sins that we should have suffered for, in hell, forever, ourselves.


This, Paul calls, ‘cancelling’ the charges against us. Do I believe in cancel culture? This kind - you’d better believe it. The other kind is a sign of the times. This kind is full of grace, the other kind has no idea what grace even means.


Strand number 4 gives ways to strand number 5. The cancel culture of the cross does something profound on a cosmic scale according to verse 15. Paul says, Number 1, it disarmed the powers and authorities. Number 2, it made a spectacle of the powers and authorities (that a shaming spectacle).

And number 3, it triumphed over them.


And because all these things were accomplished by the cross, according to verse 10, Christ is the head over every power and authority!


Let’s see what he did to them and then let’s wrap it up with the implications for us.

We know that the devil and his fallen angels are in view here because they are both powerful and authoritative, and they are in opposition to God - which is why they need triumphing over.


We also know that whilst Satan has no weapons against God who is perfect, or his Son who is perfect – and by perfect, I mean blameless- yet they do have a weapon against God’s people who are not perfect and are not blameless.


That’s why in Job chapters 1 and 2 we find Satan in the courtroom of heaven as it were, calling into question the character of God’s servant Job. It’s why we find Satan in Revelation 12 described as ‘the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night’.


In other words, the weapon Satan used against God’s people was the truthful declaration of their sins against God. What verse 15 is saying is that Jesus has disarmed Satan by taking that declaration out of the courtroom and satisfying the justice of the judge. Meaning, Satan now has no weapon to use against us.


And what that looked like in the heavenly realms is quite amazing really. Jesus referred to it in Luke 10:18 when he saw it prophetically ahead of time. He said, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning’.

Revelation picks up on it in chapter 12 when, in the vision, John sees a war breaking out in heaven and Satan losing his place there. In the vision he sees Satan hurled down to the earth with all his angels.


It’s interesting that, back in Job’s day, we’re told that ‘the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them’. That can’t happen now – Satan has no audience with God any more. Jesus has de-weaponised him by taking the charges away and satisfying the just judge. He has been thrown out of courtroom with zeroadmissible evidence.


So, all that remains to be said is that any ideas about religious ritual to replace Christ, can go hang because the real deal has been accomplished by Christ not with human hands.

And any religious experience to replace Christ can go hang because even the evil angelical powers have been disarmed by him. He is head over them all.


Taking your gaze off Christ is not only a backwards step, it’s potentially a disqualifying step because nothing else has accomplished for us the rich gospel tapestry Paul has just shown us, except Jesus himself.


If you fix your hopes on other philosophies then you do not have the gospel, and then you are exactly where you were before you believed in the first place.


Last word. I would say the most dangerous philosophy we are likely to be enticed by, is one where Christ is no longer ‘your life’ (chapter 3, verse 4), he is merely a part of your life.

We can live very comfortable lives with Christ as an appendage. But let Christ rule every decision. Let him rule every attitude. Let him be your motive for every action; every choice; every word; every minute spent and that’s an altogether different proposition.


But that is what it is to have been brought to, ‘fullness of deity’ and ruler of all or not at all!

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