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Lesson 20: Christ is All and in All (Colossians 3:11)

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April 10, 2016

In 1990, I was wrestling with a difficult matter that related to the current and future direction of my ministry. An associate pastor wanted to help believers with deep emotional problems by starting some programs based on The Twelve Steps for Christians [RPI Publishing], Henry Cloud’s When Your World Makes No Sense [Oliver Nelson], and some other materials on co-dependency that integrated psychology with the Christian faith. At first, I was open to this, since I myself had used and promoted books by James Dobson, Norm Wright, and other Christian psychologists. So I asked if I could look over the materials that he wanted to use.

The more I read, the more alarmed I became with the way that these books misused Scripture, if they even used it at all. It came to a head when I read Henry Cloud’s contention (pp. 16-17) that the “standard Christian answers,” including faith, obedience, and God’s Word, were, in his words, “worthless medicine”! He proceeds to present a “baptized” version of developmental psychology as the solution to difficult emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, panic, addictions, guilt, and other psychological maladies. I’m ashamed to admit that I was so influenced by “Christian psychology” at the time that my initial response to the book was favorable overall, although his comment about “worthless medicine” really troubled me!

Then early in 1991, I read J. C. Ryle’s classic, Holiness [James Clarke & Co.], with its profound final chapter, “Christ is All.” (I’m heavily indebted to that chapter for this message.) I followed that book with John MacArthur’s, Our Sufficiency in Christ [Word], which confronts the problems of psychology, pragmatism, and mysticism, which have infiltrated the church. He shows how Christ is all-sufficient for us as believers in dealing with life’s problems.

That same year, I read for the first time John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion [Westminster], which begins with the profound sentence (1.1.1), “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” He elaborates (1:1.2), “Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” He goes on to confront the pride that is “innate in us all.” After finishing that life-changing book, I wrote an article, “How John Calvin Led Me to Repent of Christian Psychology.”

The cumulative impact of those books was to convict me that by endorsing so-called “Christian psychology,” I had been directing people with problems to worldly “wisdom,” rather than to “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Although I caught a lot of flak then and since then because of my opposition to integrating psychology with the Christian faith, over the past 25 years I have grown more certain that my repenting was the right decision.

I also have realized how far short I myself am from knowing and enjoying the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ for my every need. That realization was reinforced last year, when I read twice Tony Reinke’s wonderful, Newton on the Christian Life [Crossway], which points out (p. 51) that one of Newton’s favorite biblical phrases was that of our text: “Christ is all and in all.”

The great British preacher, C. H. Spurgeon, preached at least four sermons on this text. In one of them (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 17:460), he cites the advice of an aged tutor to a young student not to take too magnificent a text. Spurgeon says that he was sounding that warning in his own ears as he attempted to preach on these profound words. He adds that if he were to try to give all the meaning of this boundless text, it would take all time and eternity, and even then he would fall short. So my attempt here will be woefully inadequate. I encourage you to read some of the sources I have mentioned to dig deeper than I can take you! Paul is saying:

Since Christ is all and in all, we must be Christ-centered in our personal lives and in our church life.

Paul’s words are really a summary of the entire Bible, but I’m going to limit myself mainly to Colossians (and parallels in Ephesians) as we think through its implications.

1. Since Christ is all and in all, we must be Christ-centered in our personal lives.

A. Christ is all in God’s eternal purpose.

Everything that God is doing in His eternal purpose centers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Before He created the world, Jesus shared the glory of the Father (John 17:5). Paul sums up Christ as the center of God’s eternal purpose in Ephesians 1:3-12:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

Note six ways from Colossians in which Christ is all in God’s eternal purpose:

1) Christ is the image of the invisible God, the fullness of deity in bodily form.

Paul states (Col. 1:19), “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.” He adds (Col. 2:9), “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” This means that our only way to know the God who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16), is to know Him through Jesus Christ. As Jesus told Philip when Philip asked Him to show them the Father (John 14:9), “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” To know God, you must come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).

2) Christ created all that exists.

Paul states (Col. 1:15-16),

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses blasphemously interpret “firstborn” to mean that Jesus was the first being whom God created, verse 16 refutes that. If “all things have been created through Him and for Him,” then clearly He Himself is not created. John 1:3 makes the same point: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” As the creator, Christ is sovereign over all that exists. He is the only rightful Lord of your life and of all that you have.

3) Christ is eternal and in Him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” “Before” refers to priority in time. As Jesus told the Jews who were attacking Him (John 8:58), “Before Abraham was, I am.” He did not say, “I was before Abraham,” but rather, “I am.” He was referring to Exodus 3:14, where God tells Moses, “I am who I am.” The Jews understood what Jesus meant, because they picked up stones to stone Him. “In Him all things hold together” means that Christ is the power that holds every atom together. If He were to “let go,” the entire universe would disintegrate! This shows that we are totally dependent on Him for our very existence and our every need.

4) Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.

Colossians 1:18: He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead ….” In the context, “the beginning” means that Christ originated the church. As Colossians 3:10 states, He created the new man, which refers to Christ the head and His body the church. By “firstborn from the dead,” Paul means that Jesus’ resurrection was the first of its kind. Although there are other resurrections in the Bible that precede Jesus’ resurrection, the others were temporary. Those people died a second time and now await their final resurrection. Jesus alone has been raised with an indestructible resurrection body that is a type of the bodies that believers will receive at His second coming. So He Himself is our hope that we will receive new bodies that will not be subject to disease, aging, or death.

5) Christ will come to have first place in everything.

Colossians 1:18: “He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” In Ephesians 1:10, Paul says that God will sum up “all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” Because He was willing to humble Himself and go to the cross, Paul says (Phil. 1:9-11), “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This means that we must seek daily to put Christ in first place and exalt Him in every aspect of our lives.

6) Through Christ the entire creation will be reconciled to God.

Colossians 1:20: “And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” By “all things,” Paul is probably referring to the new heavens and new earth, which will be restored to the glory that the first creation had before sin entered this world (Rom. 8:18-23). So in Christ, we can look forward to that glorious future! Christ is all in God’s eternal purpose and we are in Him!

B. Christ is all in God’s plan of salvation.

As we saw (Eph. 1:3-4), God blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ and chose us in Him “before the foundation of the world.” In Colossians, Paul shows us that…

1) In Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of all our sins.

Colossians 1:14: “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 2:13: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” Christ is the answer to the problem of guilt! If Christ is all in the sense of forgiving us all our transgressions, then you can’t add anything of your own to what He supplies.

The Jews thought that they were superior to the Gentiles when it came to spiritual matters, but Paul says that there is “no Greek or Jew … but Christ is all, and in all.” The Jews also thought that they could be right with God by keeping the law, especially the ritual of circumcision. But Paul says that there is “no circumcised and uncircumcised … but Christ is all, and in all.” The Greeks thought that they were a superior race over the barbarians and Scythians, and the Jews thought that they were superior over the Gentiles. But Paul says that there is “no barbarian or Scythian … but Christ is all, and in all.” Those who were born free in the Roman world thought that clearly they were higher than slaves, who were viewed as property, not as humans. But Paul says that there is “no slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs put it (puritansermons.com/pdf/burrou1.pdf): “As far as God sees Christ in anyone He accepts them. If Christ is not there, no matter what they have, He does not regard them.” To be right with God, you can’t come through religion or rituals or race or moral improvement. You can only come through Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Make sure that you are in Him through faith in His shed blood!

2) In Christ we are complete.

Paul states (Col. 2:10), “In Him you have been made complete.” But in Colossians 1:28, he says that his aim is to “present every man complete in Christ.” This is the tension that we often see in Paul between what God has made us positionally and what we must strive to become practically as we walk with Him. We have all spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3), but it takes all of life and all of eternity to discover what those blessings are (Eph. 2:7). But the point is, if we have Christ and are complete in Him, why do we need the world’s wisdom to deal with our problems?

3) In Christ, we have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2:3: “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” “Hidden treasures” implies that we need to dig and seek out these riches. They aren’t all lying on the surface. “Knowledge” refers to the knowledge of God and of ourselves, as revealed in Scripture, as Calvin states in his opening sentence of The Institutes. “Wisdom” refers to the skill of applying God’s revealed truth to our daily lives. The Bible is all about wise living, especially as it pertains to our relationships. All the commandments are summed up by “love God” and “love your neighbor.” We learn how to do both from the Lord Jesus Christ.

That all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ means that He is all in God’s revealed Word of truth. All of the Old Testament speaks of Christ and points to Him (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46). All of the New Testament shows how He fulfilled all that the Old Testament prophesied of Him. As you read God’s Word over and over, ask the Spirit of Truth to reveal Christ and His treasures of wisdom to your soul.

4) In Christ, we have the hope of eternal glory.

Colossians 1:27: “to whom [the saints] God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 3:4: “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” If that is our eternal hope and destiny, then we must seek to make Christ our only hope in every trial and difficulty of this life. We can have His comfort in our trials, knowing that they are nothing compared to the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17) that awaits us with Him throughout the ages.

Thus, since Christ is all in God’s eternal purpose and all in God’s plan of salvation …

C. Christ must be all in our personal lives.

Practically, this begins when you trust Him as your Savior and Lord. If you haven’t done that, you can’t go any farther. But then, it’s a lifelong walk of “seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). It’s the daily discipline of setting “your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). It requires “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). It means daily casting off the dirty clothes of the old life and putting on the clean clothes of new life in Christ (Col. 3:9-10). It’s a lifelong process that happens as you look daily to Christ as your all. As Paul states (2 Cor. 3:18): “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (See, also, Heb. 12:1-2.)

Far more could be said, but I want to consider briefly:

2. Since Christ is all and in all, we must be Christ-centered in our church life.

When Paul says that there is no Greek or Jew, barbarian, Scythian, slave or freeman, he does not mean that God obliterates our personalities or ethnicity or culture when He saves us. But he does mean that these things must no longer be a source of pride for us. Before salvation, we all took pride in things like race or background or education or in various cultural advantages. But now, none of that should matter. As Paul told the arrogant Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:7), “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” God has freely given us everything, including salvation. The external things that divide worldly people should be set aside. Christ must be our unifying center.

As Paul has shown us (Col. 1:18), Christ is the head of His body the church. We are only members of His body because God chose us in Christ (Col. 3:12), “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). If He had not done that by His grace, we’d all still be alienated from Him and His people, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

Thus being a member of His body, the church, is a tremendous privilege! We’re now members of His family. We all serve a common Lord, under His headship. We all hope for His coming. We’re all seeking to grow to know Him better. And thus, we all need to work at Christ-centered relationships. Paul spells out what this means (Col. 3:12-14):

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

He goes on to show how to make Christ our all in our church, our homes, and our work relationships (Col. 3:15-4:1). The fact that he exhorts us to patience, forgiveness, and bearing with one another shows that harmonious relationships are not automatic! We have to work at loving one another, making Christ central in our relationships because He dwells in all who truly know Him.

Conclusion

Some of you who are struggling with serious problems may listen to this message and think, “Steve has his head in the clouds! He doesn’t understand the deep problems that I’m wrestling with!” Like the Christian psychologist I mentioned, you may think that I’m doling out “worthless medicine.” But I hope not!

Paul said that our heads should be in the clouds: We should “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). We should set our minds “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Problems, difficulties, and trials should cause us to seek Christ as our all-sufficient Savior even more than we do. When we’re depressed, we should seek Him as our joy. When we’re anxious, we seek Him as our peace. When we’re empty and emotionally drained, we seek Him as our fullness. When we lack wisdom, we seek Him and His Word for the insight we need. Whatever you lack, go to Christ!

The Puritan Thomas Watson wrote (gracegems.org/Watson /christ_all_in_all) “If a man has sunshine, he does not complain that he lacks the light of a candle. Has he not enough, who has ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ?’” When you face problems, lean on Him, trust in Him, and know more of Him, than you ever have before. Make sure, above all else, that you have Christ and seek Christ, because when you have Him, you have all!

Application Questions

  1. What problems are you now facing? How could you appropriate Christ as your all in dealing with those problems?
  2. People argue: We use doctors for physical illness; why not use psychologists for emotional problems? Your response?
  3. Someone says, “I tried Bible study, prayer, and obedience, but it didn’t help me overcome the emotional pain from my childhood. If psychology helps, why not use it?” Your reply?
  4. Read and discuss with others my online articles: “How John Calvin Led Me to Repent of Christian Psychology” and “Christians and Psychology, Some Common Questions Answered.”

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Christology

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