Public speaking experts say that an audience will decide in the first 17 seconds if they are going to listen to the speaker or not. Thus it is critical that the speaker choose his first words very carefully. What I’m about to say will seem to violate that rule. We’re going to have a little lesson on church history today. Now don’t leave me! I understand that to many people there seems to be little value in studying church history. However, as philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” If we understand what has happened in the past, we are more likely to avoid the same mistakes in the present.
What has this got to do with the names of Jesus? Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the names and titles of Jesus. This morning we continue by looking at Jesus as the Son of God and focus on the fact that Jesus is truly God. This was in fact one of the first issues the early church had to deal with. Moreover, as one studies church history, you find that the errors of the past regarding Jesus tend to return again regularly throughout history. So it’s important to understand these basic errors so we can be on guard against them today as well. But there are other positive benefits for us as well. Let’s read Colossians 2:1-15.
Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” This philosophy taught some very hollow and deceptive things about God. These false teachers believed that God was fullness itself, that is, holy and almighty; yet he is so different that he can have nothing in common with this world. God gives his fullness to the world through what they called “basic principles.” This refers to angels who connected God and the world. These are the angels Paul mentions in Colossians 2:18 that some of the Colossian people were worshiping. These angels controlled access to God and revealed God to the world. These Colossian false teachers taught that Jesus Christ was only one of perhaps thousands of these angels.
And so in order to get close to God, you had to go through these spirits or angels. And in order to please these angels-spirits, you had to live a strict moral life. In fact, the kind of life that was required was not all that unlike the strict Jewish observance of the Law and its regulations. The promise of these teachers was this: If you obey all their rules and regulations, these spirit-angels will bring you the fullness of God. It’s no wonder that Paul says that these teachings are hollow and empty. In fact, these philosophies led to nothing except being captive to sin.
Now what does that have to do with Jesus the Christ? These teachers taught that Jesus is only one of many spirit-angels or sons of God. There is nothing really unique about Jesus Christ at all. Moreover, salvation is not attained through Him, but by living a good life. This teaching becomes nothing more than another form of salvation by works. It all depends on what you do and not what God does. Thus, Jesus Christ becomes very insignificant, unimportant and irrelevant.
It was a problem, however, that persisted and continues to persist today. About 300 years after Christ, a man by the name of Arius taught something very similar. God is holy and separate from the world. He also taught that God is so different that even Christ cannot be like him. Christ was merely another creature of God. The early church in 325 A.D. soundly refuted this teaching in a place called Nicea. At that place they formulated a response which was the early form of what we know today as the Nicene Creed, which we have in the back of our hymnal. This creed underscores the fact that Jesus is fully God and not a created being.
We see similar errors regarding Jesus in other religions in the world today. In Islam, Jesus is just another prophet created by God. The thought that Jesus is equal to God is blasphemous to Islam. A great man and prophet, yes; but just one of many ways to get to God. How does one get to God? You live a strict moral and upright life. We also see it the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who say that Jesus is divine, but not equal to God. However, the Bible makes it clear that we must dismiss these views completely.
However, there are also subtle ways Christians also diminish the divinity of Jesus. We love to have self-help instead of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul Bradshaw writes, “Why isn’t all the “preaching” having a greater effect on the culture? If I may be so bold to propose an answer, it is because too much of the “preaching” is good advice and not good news. Good advice without good news changes no one. Good advice without good news is either stifling legalism or oppressive moralism or powerless self-help. When in the mid-1970s Ian Pitt-Watson moved from Scotland to the United States to teach preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, he spent the first half-year or so visiting as many congregations as possible to get a feel for the preaching of Southern California. He said he could summarize all the preaching he heard in one phrase: ‘It is good to be good, and nice to be nice.’ He said he rarely heard news about what God has done, is doing and will do in Jesus.” It is always tempting to develop ways in which we rely on what we do rather than depending fully on the saving work of God’s Son, Jesus. What do we say instead of “it is good to be good, and nice to be nice?”
Remember that the term fullness was a key term for the false teachers in Colossae. It describes who God is fully and completely. He is fullness itself. It is what they promise to man if he can follow their scheme of pure living and worshiping angel spirits. In verse 9, Paul says that if you want to find fullness, if you want to find God and be near to God, focus on him, that is, on the mediator of Jesus alone. Forget those basic principles or spirit-angels that go between God and man because in Christ all the fullness of deity is found. All the things that make God to be God are found fully in Jesus. The fullness of God lives in Jesus. How? Paul says that the fullness of God lives in Jesus “in bodily form.” We see God himself, the very fullness of God, in Jesus when he took on flesh and blood and came to earth. We see God as creator and the great I AM in Jesus while on earth. So it’s not only that Jesus shares his divine fullness with God; he also brought it to earth in a form that we could see and understand.
III. Our Fullness in Christ is seen in verse 10.
Verse 10 begins with one of the most beautiful “ands” that are found in the Bible. The fullness of God dwells in Jesus Christ – that is wonderful, but there is more........ AND “you have been given fullness in Christ.” But what does that fullness mean for us? Our lives are made full or complete by having the ugly stain of sin removed. Our sins are fully forgiven through Christ’s death and resurrection. We are rescued from a life of slavery to a life of freedom in serving Christ. Fullness means that we now have all we want and need. Paul’s point for his readers and for us is simple: why go through angels and spirits to have fullness when Jesus gives it to us freely? Why work to earn salvation when Jesus offers it to us as a free gift? We have fullness; we have all we need in Christ.
And as such we have tremendous treasures. We can go to almighty God in prayer at any time because he is our Father and he cares for us. We have an eternal inheritance that when we die we will spend eternal life with God in heaven. All this adds up to great treasures and riches for the present as well. My challenge to us, as fellow sons and daughters of God, is to remember who we are! Remember who you are as you go about your work this week. You are a child of the King and you have untold riches! You are complete in Christ, having all you need. Many people today are searching for such fullness and for this sense of fulfillment. The look for it in drugs, in bottles of alcohol or in piles of material goods. They look for it in long hours at work and the money they can accumulate. If you are in Christ, a child of God, you already have it all! You have attained it all and it is right there for you.
The irony and tragedy around us today is that God, the fountain of living water, is right here and people don’t draw from Him. Realize that because of Christ, you have fullness of God. Now live in that fullness as you deal with the trials and struggles of this life.