Is Christ Enough?
Oxygen. Number 8 on the periodic table of the elements. Oxygen makes up 21% of our atmosphere and is essential for life. But add just a single carbon atom to it and this life-giving gas becomes Carbon Monoxide: a toxic substance that, even in incredibly minute amounts measuring in the hundreds of parts-per-million range, is deadly.
On Sunday, we briefly considered the overall message of the book of Colossians. This epistle contains some of the loftiest praise for Christ found in the New Testament. He is called the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn[i] of all creation” (1:15). He is the pre-existent creator of all things and actively holds the universe together (1:17). Beyond this, “He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead[ii], so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (1:18). The Apostle Paul demonstrates the superiority of Christ in order to support his argument that Christ’s atoning work is sufficient for both our salvation and our spiritual growth. Nothing needs to be added to it.
Through this letter to the Colossians, we come to understand that the tendency toward “Jesus and…” thinking is both terribly destructive and incredibly common. In chapter 1, verses 21-23, Paul reminds the believers that they used to be alienated from God but Christ, and Christ alone, has paid for their reconciliation to God with his life. He, and he alone, can present them blameless before God, but only if they will not depart from the simplicity of this Christ-alone gospel. The number and types of things that we might try to add to the gospel to ensure our right standing with God are endless. For me, prior to genuine salvation, it was Jesus and my best efforts. For many around the world who are trapped in Catholicism it is Jesus and the Church. Others trust Christ and their baptism experience. The danger, of course, in any “Jesus and…” gospel is that it isn’t authorized by God and cannot save.
While most reading this would not ascribe to a formal “Jesus and…” statement of the gospel, we sometimes practically live as though we do. In chapter 2 of Colossians, Paul addresses the sufficiency of Christ for our sanctification, that is, our growth in holiness and daily walk with the Lord. For some in Colossae who came out of a background in Greek philosophy (2:8), it was possibly something akin to “Jesus and the enneagram” (Jesus and a psychological understanding of myself) that became necessary for spiritual growth!
Others, whose roots were in paganism -where demons had to be pacified through offerings and prayers- may have been tempted to believe they should try to persuade angels to come to their aid and bring victory and favor (Col. 2:8, 18). Alternatively, a Christian may believe he must offer God a “sacrifice” of time or money to ward off discipline or misfortune. In either case, it’s Jesus and superstition, and it’s incredibly common.
Finally, some seemed to be influenced by Jewish friends who tried to convince them they needed Jesus AND the LAW in order to faithfully follow Christ (2:16-17). This third category is particularly important because many of the things that they were tempted to add were found in scripture, were previously commanded by God, and probably seemed to provide some genuine help in building a barrier to sin.
And yet, Paul argues, Christians who add anything to Christ will be weakened by their additions.
o They will be weakened in their confidence. (2:18 potentially “disqualified”/robbed of the prize)
o They will be stunted in their spiritual growth (2:19, they may grow in external conformity, but will be severed from the head (Christ) who enables true spiritual growth)
o They will be ineffective in the fight against sin (2:23, these things are of no value in subduing the flesh)
As we seek to apply this truth to ourselves, I want to take a moment to focus on this final consequence and speak to those who are discouraged about the lack of spiritual victory in their lives. Are you grieved over a particularly stubborn and besetting sin in your life? Do you feel like you’ve “tried everything” and it’s not working? Have you attempted to fight sin by punishing yourself? By denying yourself? By erecting practical barriers to physically prevent you from straying? How effective have those measures been in taking away your desire to sin?
Don’t get me wrong. The Scripture isn’t saying “avoid developing spiritual disciplines/habits” (1 Cor. 9:27). It isn’t invalidating the command to “make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). And it isn’t suggesting that humility in asking for accountability is unnecessary (James 5:16, Gal. 6:1). What it is saying is that those things, by themselves, cannot restrain your sin nature. And you know this. Because you’ve hopped the fence! Regardless of the barriers you’ve put in place to help you avoid sin, when your flesh desires to do wrong, you know how to get around them either internally, or externally.
So what IS of value in subduing the flesh? Simply put: It’s Christ. Your desires for sin will change to the degree that you begin to desire to magnify Christ to whom you have been united, with whom you have died and risen again. As Colossians 3:1-4, which we studied on Sunday, prescribes: recognize that your life is joined to his and pursue Christ’s agenda, setting your mind on Him. Then and only then will you be in a position to “consider the members of your earthly body as dead to sin” (3:5). Only then will you be empowered to “lay aside the old self with its evil practices and put on the new self who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the One who created him” (3:9-10). As you live out your union with Christ, everything will change. The rest of chapters 3 and 4 describe these changes. Read them. Be impressed with HIS “heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” as he molds your own (3:12). Let HIS peace rule in your hearts (v.15). Allow HIS words to dwell richly in you and flow through you (v.16). Kids: obey your parents like you’re obeying HIM (v.20). On the job and at school, work for HIM (v.23).
Chapter 4 of Colossians concludes with a heartwarming list of names. Most are Greeks who didn’t “grow up in church.” Onesimus was a slave. John-Mark was a quitter and Epaphras was a local boy whose childhood blunders would probably have been known by everyone. All were united with Christ and growing in grace. They are examples of how Christ is sufficient to save and sanctify anyone, no matter their past. He’s sufficient for you too. Pursue Christ, only Christ, always Christ.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will, While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Search me and try me, Master, today! Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now, As in Thy presence humbly I bow.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Wounded and weary, help me, I pray! Power, all power, surely is Thine! Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Hold o’er my being absolute sway! Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see Christ only, always, living in me.
(Adelaide A. Polllard)
[i] “Firstborn” is not a reference to his being created first (or at all). It is a title denoting his pre-eminence over the created order. In many cultures past and present the first born son inherits not only the lions share of the parents estate, but is established as the new head of the household, exercising influence even over the other siblings. Christ, who created all things (see v.16), has been given the position as being this ruling head-of-the-household over all that he has created.
[ii] Just as Christ is pre-eminent over all creation, so his superiority extends over all others who will, like him, rise from the dead to be glorified.