Complete in Christ
Passage: Colossians 2:8-10
Read vv. 8–15
Early this past week as I began to study this paragraph I got excited to preach, because there is so much here. Verse 10 makes the bold declaration that “you are complete in Him.” And I love the statement in v. 14 regarding our sin that Jesus “has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” As a result, I was ready to say, “This is the most impactful paragraph in Colossians.”
But then I began to think about everything we have studied so far, and I thought, “Yeah, but what about 1:15–20? That was pretty great too. And the prayer in 1:9–14 was also pretty rich. And I really loved 2:2–3 as well. And 2:6 is the key verse to the letter.”
As a result, picking a favorite section of Colossians feels like the being a little kid at Baskin Robbins. There’s 31 flavors of ice cream and all of them look good, so how do you pick just one? Similarly Colossians just gives rich truth after rich truth, and I’m so thankful for how God is using it in my life. I hope that just because every week we are in another great text that we won’t lose appreciation for how wonderful this little book is.
But that being said, Colossians 2:8–15 is a powerful and encouraging section of Scripture because of what it says about Christ and all that he has done for us. The basic thought flow of the paragraph is pretty easy to follow. Verse 8 gives the second command in Colossians. God commands us to “beware” that no one deceives you with false doctrine that is not “according to Christ.”
And in vv. 9–15 Paul explains why anything other than Christ or anything in addition to Christ is ultimately less than Christ. This is because according to v. 10 you are already “complete in Him.” Verse 11 adds that you have received a spiritual circumcision far greater than any physical circumcision, and v. 13 says we have been made alive with Christ because we are forgiven through his death and resurrection.
Today we are only going to cover vv. 8–10 where Paul gives the warning, and the first reason we should heed the warning. We are complete in Christ. Let’s begin in v. 8 with the warning.
The Warning (v. 8)
This verse is intended to be a startling warning about the great danger of being deceived by Satan’s lies. The intensity begins with the startling command to “beware.”
And the intensity continues when Paul says, “Beware lest anyone cheat you.” The KJV has “spoil you,” and most modern versions have something similar. This is because Paul uses a verb that was commonly used in the context of plundering a city after defeating it in warfare. The conquering army would eat the best food and carry away all the precious metals and good livestock. And very often they would also take many of the people into captivity to serve as slaves.
It’s a dark, scary picture for the defeated city, and Paul’s purpose is to wake us up to the very real threat of facing similar devastation at the hands of false teachers or any worldly influence that would lead us away from our ultimate sufficiency and joy in Christ.
And God is warning us in this verse we also need to beware. We need spiritual alertness, because there are so many things out there tugging on our hearts and minds, trying to pull us away from Christ.
When we looked v. 4, we talked about the fact that Satan has all sorts of different ways he tries to put a wedge into our hearts. He goes after our pride and our selfishness, and he is very good at putting a very attractive looking apple right in front of our eyes that we feel like we just have to have.
But we don’t see that there is a hook buried inside that apple that is attached to a rope. And so we lock in on that apple and we start chasing it, and we don’t see that we are being lured into a trap of destruction and death.
Therefore, we must be alert to his devices, and we must also be alert to the deceitfulness of our own hearts. We cannot be reminded too often that our hearts are “deceitful…and desperately wicked.”
The thoughts, intentions, and desires of our hearts are a complex web that we cannot fully sort out. Therefore, we must be watchful, and we must stay anchored to our only sure point of reference, which is Christ and all that we have in him.
And then Paul follows by warning us about a particular type of deception that was threatening the Colossians. Notice first…
The Source of Deception…
Which is “philosophy and empty deceit.” It’s important to emphasize that Paul is not condemning all types of philosophy. When we think of philosophy, we tend to think of the fairly narrow discipline of the study of knowledge. We think of people like Socrates, Plato, Descartes, and Nietzsche. But the Greek called just about any investigation into religion, logic, or any other field a philosophy.
Therefore, Paul is not condemning philosophy as we know it, but a particular kind of philosophy. The grammar indicates we could really translate this phrase as “Beware of…empty and deceitful philosophy.” The idea behind empty is something that may look attractive and appealing on the surface but is ultimately hollow. Think of a balloon that looks really big and impressive but actually has very little substance.
This is why Paul goes on to describe it as ultimately being deceitful. Again, people have developed so many false doctrines and philosophies that that look really good and attractive, but they are ultimately lies of the devil that cannot deliver all they promise.
This is why it is essential that we practice good judgment. A Christian should never be guilty of just blindly following someone because he is so compelling or because what he has to say sounds so good or makes you feel good. I hope that you will never give me blind loyalty. As Christians we must test everything based on Scripture.
That’s not to say that we need to be cynical about everyone and everything, but we do need to have a healthy skepticism especially of our own deceitful hearts but also of the possibility that other teachers and ideas may be empty and deceitful even when they appear very attractive.
And then notice that Paul concludes v. 8 with three prepositional phrases that all begin with “according to.” Together they tell us why any philosophy other than the gospel is ultimately empty and deceitful.
The Hole in Human Philosophy:
Clearly the last phrase is the most important of the three. Any philosophy of life that is “not according to Christ” is doomed to fail.
Proverbs 1:7 states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” God tells us in this verse that every pursuit of knowledge must begin with God. This is because we live in God’s universe. He made everything, all of it exists for his glory, and all of it is headed toward God’s final judgment.
Therefore, when man tries to pursue ultimate knowledge and doesn’t begin with the fear of the Lord, it’s as foolish as trying to get a car running that is missing the engine. You just aren’t going to get it right.
And yet the secular mind is deeply committed to pursuing knowledge under the assumptions of naturalism—that all things can be explained through natural causes. And then they try to build an ethical framework on this foundation. At times, they can sound so intelligent, and they certainly speak confidently.
But they have rejected the most foundational truths on which to pursue worldview, and without the fear of the Lord, there is no way they can arrive at ultimate truth. We have to see that and not be intimidated.
And the same goes, especially in the context of Colossians, for any religious philosophy. You don’t have to look far to see that all sorts of religious groups have built impressive superstructures. They’ve got money and beautiful buildings. And they can really put on a show that is entertaining or that makes some big promises or that really makes you feel good about yourself.
But all the pomp and promises and good feelings in the world are ultimately hollow and deceitful if they are not “according to Christ,” meaning that they are not deeply grounded and built on the gospel. This is because without the gospel, you can’t actually be made right with God, and you can’t actually experience God’s grace or become holy.
And I want to emphasize that we aren’t just talking about giving lip service to the gospel because there are lots of groups that use the word “gospel” that aren’t actually “rooted and grounded in Him (Christ)” (v. 7). Rather, the gospel and its life-transforming power must drive everything.
And so Christian, “Beware lest anyone take you captive through empty and deceitful philosophy.” Do not be tricked by a hollow balloon that looks really good but has no substance. Evaluate everything through the lens of the gospel.
Paul follows in vv. 9–15 with three reasons we must stay anchored to Christ. The first is found in vv. 9–10 where we see that…
The Christian is complete in Christ (vv. 9–10).
There are 3 major truth claims in these verses. The first and the last tell us about the glory of Christ, and the middle statement applies his glory to us.
Notice in v. 9…
Christ is fully God and fully man (v. 9).
There’s no doubt that one of the hardest doctrines of the Christian faith to comprehend is the miracle of the incarnation. We believe that when Jesus was born into this world he was at the same time fully God and fully man. It’s such a hard idea to grasp that it’s almost always one of the first doctrines to go when someone jettisons biblical Christianity. And yet in a mere 10 Greek words, v. 10 summarizes this incomprehensible doctrine and affirms that it is true.
It’s worth noting that the Greek word translated as “fullness” (pleroma) was almost certainly a catchword for the Colossian heresy. They were completely wrapped up in pursuing a “fullness” of spirituality that made them better than others because they were supposedly closer to God and had some kind of higher knowledge of him. It’s very possible that this heresy was a forerunner of what became known as Gnosticism about 100 years later.
An important aspect of this heresy was the idea that God is completely separate from man and the world, and the only way we can really know God is through a whole series of intermediary angelic or spirit powers. And so it seems that the false teachers were claiming to offer a way to climb through these spirit powers toward a higher knowledge of a fully transcendent or distant God.
But in v. 9, Paul drops a bomb on this whole way of thinking and the whole sales pitch of the false teachers. He says that there is no need to go through some mystical process of climbing up toward God because he already came down to us.
Paul says that the “fullness” of the “Godhead” or the divine nature is not hidden away for us to find through some mystical process. Instead, it came down to earth and “dwells” “bodily.” In other words, God became a man and full glory of the divine nature took up residence in a human body.
And divinity now “dwells,” among us Paul is saying that the body of Christ became a temple by which the glory of God is brought near and is displayed to us. It is noteworthy that Paul put “dwells” in the present tense some 30 years after Jesus ascended to heaven. To this day, Jesus is both fully God and fully man. He continues to reveal the glory of God to us and to give us access to the Father.
I just want to dwell for a moment on the wonderful truth that our God is near. This evening I’m going to teach on Islam, and at the very center of Islam is the idea that Allah is entirely separate from us. He is not our Father; he is simply our master, and his goal for this world is solely submission, not relationship. Islam means submission.
That’s not the God of the Bible. Now yes, God is transcendent. He is high above us, but he is also immanent or near. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and he will walk with us in the new heavens and the new earth. And there is no greater demonstration in this age of God’s nearness than the incarnation of Christ. The fullness of the divine nature dwells in a man.
He is near to us right now, and he is near to us every moment of the day as we draw near to him. And in light of v. 9, he’s not just near in a part of his being. He is near in all his fullness. Our God is full of grace and compassion.
Therefore, how we ought to praise God that Christ is fully God and fully man. As a result, 10 concludes by stating…
Christ is sovereign over all spiritual powers (v 10b).
This is one of those points of emphasis that we might find rather odd. “Of course Jesus is head or authoritative over the angels.” But we have to remember that the Colossians were being told that they needed to go through a series of angels to get to God.
And actually a lot of people today do very similar kinds of things. Rather than approaching the Father through Christ they pray to Mary or one of the saints, or a dead relative believing that they will find a mercy that is greater than God’s mercy. But the Bible is clear that there is one mediator between the Father and us, and it is Christ. And that’s a good thing because he is high above every spiritual power, and he is full of mercy and compassion.
And so v. 9 and v. 10b tell us some incredible truths about Jesus. He possesses all the fullness of the divine nature. He’s not merely a man, and he’s not even a partial God. He is fully God, and he rules over every spiritual power. But he is also one of us. In Him the divine nature took bodily, human form. And Jesus lived on this earth, and he endured every hardship of being a man. He perfectly fulfilled God’s law, and then he took on himself the punishment for sin by dying on the cross and rising again.
In light of all this, v. 10 makes one of the most profound statements in Colossians. “You are complete in Him.” Therefore…
Christ has made us full (v. 10a).
It’s very important for our appreciation of vv. 9–10 that we not miss the word play between these verses. Verse 9 says that God made all his fullness dwell in Christ. And Paul uses the same word in v. 10 when he says “you are complete in Him.” And so in some sense just as God made all his fullness dwell in Christ, Christ has made all his fullness dwell in us.
We typically call this union with Christ and it is a very important aspect of the gospel we believe. Over and over when Paul describes what happens when someone gets saved, he says that the most basic work of God that happens is that we are joined to Christ and we receive his righteousness and his resurrection power.
This is a truly incredible gift. What more could we possibly want or receive than Christ himself? As a result, Paul can say we are “complete in Him.” There is nothing more that we need for salvation, for godliness, or for eternity.
I’d like to tease this out by highlighting six ways that we are complete through our union with Christ. We could add other things to this list, but these are primary.
I stand in the righteousness of Christ.
Many religions teach that if my good works outweigh my bad works, I can go to heaven. But the Bible never holds out this kind of hope, because the actual standard is much higher. To earn salvation I would have to achieve the perfect righteousness of God, and there is no way that I could ever be righteous like God. No matter how many good works I do, I will always “fall short of the glory of God; therefore, I have no hope of earning salvation.
But I don’t have to, because when I am united with Christ, I am credited with Christ’s perfect righteousness so that when God looks at me judicially, he no longer sees my sin, he only sees the perfect righteousness of his Son. I have complete righteousness.
As a result, a second way I am complete is that…
I am accepted by God.
This is truly incredible because God is just and righteousness. There is nothing in me that deserves his favor. But when God looks at me and he sees the righteousness of his Son, he accepts me. The NT calls this justification. I am declared righteous. And because of this, God is now my Father. And unfortunately, we dads sometimes let our kids down, but the love our heavenly Father is absolutely certain and secure. If you are in Christ, you are accepted by God and you always will be.
As a result…
I am eternally secure.
The Bible is clear that God did not set his love on me because of something in me but because of Christ. And since I am in Christ, I know that I will always be secure in his love and someday he will invite me into heaven. I don’t have to wonder or fear. My eternity is settled because I am complete in Christ.
But my union with Christ has also significant affected who I am as a person and how I live my life. Because I am united with Christ…
I am a new creature.
Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Christ has changed my heart so that I am not what I once was. And his resurrection power is at work in me to change how I think, what I love, and how I live.
As a result, the fifth implication of my union is that…
I can be become holy.
I want to be clear that I am not complete in the sense that I am completely holy. Rather, the fact that I am complete in Christ means, in the words of 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” In other words, I have everything I need to pursue genuine holiness.
I can do so much more than simply plaster some good works over the surface of an ugly heart; rather, by the power of Christ I can become truly holy from the inside out. And I don’t do it to earn the favor of God out of fear; I do it because I already have the favor of God, I love my Lord, and I want to be like the one I love, just like a little boy wants to be like his dad whom he loves.
And sixth, because I am complete in Christ…
I experience joy and peace.
Because I am in Christ, God is now my Father, and Christ has opened my eyes to the beauty of who God is. I no longer see him merely as a judge or a master; I see him as my Father who only gives good gifts. This doesn’t mean that life isn’t frequently painful or hard because it is, and I frequently fail my Lord. But through it all I know that my Father is good and that he only gives good gifts. And Christ by the Spirit gives me faith to believe the promises of God even in the hardest of times. Therefore, I can have joy, peace, and contentment even while the storm rages.
And so what a blessing and what a joy it is to be complete in Christ. Do you have this certainty and rest? Maybe you are grasping at air trying to earn God’s favor by trying to be holy in your own strength. Or maybe you are grasping for security by gaining acceptance from people or by achieving some level of success. If you have never placed your faith in Christ for salvation, won’t you see today that he is the fullness of God, and he offers his fullness to you if you will simply receive him as Christ Jesus the Lord. Come to him today in repentance and faith.
And if you are a believer, then rejoice that you are complete, and to circle back to v. 8, beware that you never lose sight of all that you have and let yourself be fooled by empty and deceitful philosophies that are void of Christ. You are complete in Christ, so stay anchored in Him.