Brian Gault preaches a chapel message entitled “Finding Fullness” on Colossians 2:6-10 at RTS Jackson.
Please be seated. I have your attention now, right? Go ahead and turn with me in your Bibles, if you will, to Colossians 2, and we’ll be looking at verses 6–10 this morning. Colossians 2:6–10.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his podcast Revisionist History, talks about this sudden acceleration crisis for Toyota. In 2009, there were a number of cases of Toyota vehicles, usually when the driver was new, suddenly and uncontrollably accelerating, and this resulted in numerous accidents and deaths. Toyota had to recall about 10 million vehicles. There was a one billion dollar fine and there were numerous lawsuits. But Malcolm Gladwell, upon investigating, discovers that if you get into your car this afternoon (don’t try this in the parking lot) and you have your accelerator pressed all the way to the floor and you simultaneously press the brake, the car will stop, even if you take a souped up Mustang.
So Car and Driver took a 540 horsepower Mustang—now that’s like two to three times your average car or seven to eight times the horsepower of my Prius—and you simultaneously press the gas all the way to the floor and then press the brake, the car stops. Brakes win every time.
What was happening? Well, it seems that what was happening was the driver, sometimes they were new to the vehicle and and maybe there was a thicker floor mat, and they got jostled in the car somehow. They went to stop the car, and so they depressed a pedal, but it was the wrong pedal, and they were pressing the gas instead of the brake. Because they were pressing the gas instead of the brake, guess what? The car didn’t stop. This is what caused Toyota’s sudden acceleration crisis. The driver was pressing the wrong pedal.
This morning, we’re going to find in the book of Colossians that the Colossians are pressing the wrong pedal, that they’re embracing a false set of beliefs, and when they do, the results could be disastrous. Paul is going to tell the Colossians and us this morning, you have your foot on the wrong pedal. You have to take your foot off of the gas and put it on into the brake if you want the car to stop.
Here’s what I’m going to tell you this morning: don’t be taken prisoner by false doctrine, but walk in the fullness of your union with Christ. Don’t be taken prisoner by false doctrine, but walk in the fullness of your union with Christ. We’ll see in verse 8 the danger of deceit. And in verses 6 and 7 the way to walk. And in verses 9 and 10 the fulfillment of fullness. Look with me at Colossians 2, starting at verse 6:
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
So far, God’s holy, inerrant, and inspired Word. May he write its eternal truth upon all of our hearts. Would you pray with me? Heavenly Father, we come into your presence this morning, considering the idols of our heart and the danger of false belief and where we might find fullness. Father, as we do that, I pray that you would convince us of our sin and misery, that you would enlighten our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and that you would renew our wills by the power of your gospel through the work of your Holy Spirit and through the mediation of your Son. I ask that you would forgive the one who teaches his sins, for they are many. May we see Jesus and him only, amen.
The Danger of Deceit
First of all this morning, let’s consider the danger of deceit in verse 8. What is this false doctrine that the Colossians had begun to embrace? You can kind of make it out a little bit as we look at verse 8: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Now it seems that this false doctrine is a strange mix of Jewish tradition and Greek philosophy. In Mark 7:8, Jesus condemns the tradition of the Pharisees and he says this: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And that phrase in Mark 7:8, “the tradition of men,” is the same phrase that we have here in Colossians 2:8, “according to human tradition.”
Then if we cheat and look down the passage a bit to Colossians 2:16, Paul brings up questions of food and drink referring to the clean and unclean laws, and then he refers to the festival or New Moon or Sabbath, and those are regulations around the Jewish calendar. Paul seems to be referencing the Jewish tradition.
But to one-part Jewish tradition, the false teachers add another part of Greek philosophy. In verse 8, we see that with philosophy and empty deceit and according to the elemental spirits of the world, and then down in Colossians 2:18, we see ascetecism and worship of angels, visions, a sensuous mind. All of these things seem to be referring to some kind of Greek mysticism. But whatever the false belief in Colossi, the point is this: the Colossians were worshiping something other than Christ. They were worshiping something other than Christ.
But notice the slyness of the false teachers here. You see, the false teachers didn’t deny that you needed Christ. They taught that Christ was necessary. Oh yes, you need to believe in Jesus. But if you want to reach maturity, if you want to reach fullness, if you really want to become that archetypal Christian, if you want to progress, then you need to obey these laws. You need to worship these angels. You see, they were saying Christ is necessary, but he isn’t sufficient. You need Jesus, but then you need more.
Do you know the idol matrix of your own heart?We think, “Oh, those foolish Colossians.” But don’t we do the same thing a thousand different ways every day? It’s what I call “Jesus plus” theology. You see, as a Christian, whenever you’re looking to something other than Jesus to find fulfillment, whenever you’re looking to something other than Jesus for meaning and value and identity and worth, and whenever life is pressing you in and you need comfort and relief and you go to something other than Jesus, we’re doing exactly what the Colossians were doing. It’s Jesus plus.
Do you know the idol matrix of your own heart? Do you know where you turn to find meaning, where you turn to find fulfillment? Iit can change from one minute to the next. One minute you might be looking to performance and the next minute you might be looking to reputation. Do you know the idols of your heart? You might be looking to people’s approval on Tuesday and being right on Thursday. You might be looking to vocational success in the winter and looking good in a swimsuit in the summer. You might be thinking about having the perfect family around Thanksgiving but really craving your children’s obedience on Sunday morning. Do you know what you’re looking to, to be okay? What’s your functional savior? What are you really trusting in? What, when taken away, makes you deeply sad and causes you to act in sinful ways?
I’m an order junkie. I love order. I need order. Now my wife and I have six girls, and six girls and order sometimes are polar opposites. We’ve built this cubby system in our house, so when you walk in the girls all have a designated place for each of their things. Usually they follow that. But occasionally it happens—it’s like on a full moon—and the youngest girls arrive home, and they decide, “We’re going to rebel against order today.” So there’s a backpack on the floor and a coat over here and a notebook open over there and their lunchbox gets put over here. And then the middle girls come home and they go, “Oh, hey, there’s a vacation on order. Order has been called off.” So they start laying their stuff all over the place, and the big girls come home and they just add to the mess.
By the time I walk through the front door, I can walk all the way from the front door to the kitchen, and my feet never touch the floor. I watch what happens in my heart, and somedays my heart just begins to get wrapped around the axle. Order is good, but when it causes you to sin, to lash out, that’s Jesus plus. You need Jesus plus order to be okay.
Now the Colossians are being misled. They’re being misled to find fullness in something other than Jesus. Sometimes being misled might be harmless and funny, like a joke or a prank. A couple of Friday nights ago, I was out judging a high school speech and debate tournament. And when I got home, I had a surprise waiting for me. My six girls had conspired together with my wife and they’d taken two purple potatoes—they’re about this long and about this thick around—and they’d skewered them together. Then they covered them in Nutella and they spritzed them with oil. They placed them next to the toilet, and then they hid in the closet to record my reaction. They deceived me; they misled me. Thank goodness it wasn’t the real thing. They deceived me and it was funny.
But Paul doesn’t think this is funny. He doesn’t find the false teachers amusing. He doesn’t take this false teaching lightly. You see, “Jesus plus” is a serious offense. It’s dangerous. Did you catch that at the beginning of verse 8? Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you” what? “No one takes you captive.” This is the language of war.
In World War II there were 25,600 American soldiers who were captured in the Pacific theater, and they were held in Japanese prisoner of war camps. Being a prisoner of war meant forced labor and horrible living conditions and almost no food and water and certainly no medical help. The Japanese would torture and even kill American prisoners of war. In fact, there were 10,650 of those 25,600 American soldiers who were killed in Japanese prisoner of war camps. Paul is saying these false doctrines can make you prisoners of war. “See to it that no one takes you captive.” He’s saying fight, flee, resist, run. Do whatever it takes so you’re not taken captive, that you don’t become a prisoner of war. That’s the danger of deceit.
The Way to Walk
But next, I want to consider the way to walk in verses 6 and 7. “OK, Paul, so what should we do? How do we see to it that no one takes us captive by philosophy or empty deceit?” And the answer is at the end of verse 6: “walk in him,” that is walk in Christ.
Now “walk” is the first command that’s given in the epistle. Paul isn’t describing the gait that you use to get from the couch to the refrigerator back to the couch. And he’s not talking about a dance move like the moon walk or walk like an Egyptian. What Paul is doing here is he’s giving you a sense of how to walk in all of life. You see in the Hebrew mindset, life is a journey that is to be walked. So Paul is saying, “Live all of life in Christ. Walk in him.”
But what’s interesting is when Paul gives that command in Colossians 2:6, Paul is telling the Colossians to do something that he has already prayed for them to do. Look at Colossians 1, starting at verses 9 and 10: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to what walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Paul has already prayed for the Colossians to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. Now Paul is going to tell us how to walk in Christ in verses 6 and 7, and then why we should walk in Christ in verses 9 and 10.
So how do we walk in Christ? What’s the way to walk? Look at verse six: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” We’re supposed to walk in Christ in the same way, in the same manner that we received him, specifically that we received him as Lord. Now receiving Christ is sometimes taken to mean accepting Jesus. I don’t think that’s what Paul has in mind here. Commentators suggest that the verb receive is actually technical vocabulary that talks about passing on a teaching or a tradition from one generation to the next, which is why in verse 7, after Paul says “established in the faith,” he adds, “just as you were taught.”
Your life should proclaim that Jesus is Lord.So what is this tradition? What is this teaching that they were receiving? It’s this: “you received Christ Jesus the Lord.” When Paul is saying, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,” Paul is calling us to acknowledge Christ’s lordship in everything that we do to honor him as our sovereign king, to worship him, to submit to him. That’s the sum of the Christian life: your life should proclaim that Jesus is Lord. So when Paul says “walk in him,” he’s saying walk in such a way that proclaims that Jesus is Lord.
But there is more to the way that we should walk. “Walk in him,” verse 6, leads to verse 7: “rooted and built-up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” This command, this command to walk, this imperative is followed by four participles. They’re kind of hard to see because in English a participle usually ends in “ing” and designates continuous action. So let me help you see the participles here: “rooted in him” is actually “having been rooted in him.” It’s a horticultural metaphor. “Built up in him” is “being built up in him.” That’s an architectural metaphor. “Established in the faith is actually “and being established in the faith,” which is a legal metaphor.
But did you notice that all three of those participles were passive participles? Who’s doing the work here? Well, this is what we call the divine passive. God is the one who is it work. God is the one who rooted us in Christ. God is the one who built us up in Christ. God is the one who established us in the faith. God is working diligently, faithfully, quietly. He is the one who is at work.
You see, when Paul calls us to walk in Christ—take comfort in this Christian. When Paul calls us to walk in Christ, it’s not a command in isolation. It’s a command that’s surrounded by his prayer that we would walk in Christ in Colossians 1:9–10. And it’s a command that’s surrounded by God’s work in our lives in Colossians 2:7. Do you see all that God is doing for you, Christian?
And when we see that God is rooting us in Christ and building us up in Christ and establishing us in the faith, what’s our part? What leads to the fourth participle: abounding, abounding in thanksgiving? Or to quote Raines Elementary choir last week: an attitude of gratitude. This fourth participle is an active participle. This is something that we do. When you see all that God has done for you in Christ, that he’s rooted you in Christ, that he is now building you up in Christ, that he’s establishing your faith, when that becomes real to your heart, when you really see that, we’re going to abound. It might start slowly, but the more we focus on all that God has done, our natural response is going to be abounding in thanksgiving, slowly but surely.
That’s how we’re not to be taken captive by false doctrine. We have to press the other pedal. We have to take our foot off of the pedal of idols and we have to walk in Christ.
The Fulfillment of Fullness
But why should we walk in Christ? Well, that leads me to my third point: the fulfillment of fullness in verses 9 and 10. The false teachers are saying if you want to progress in the faith, if you want to become mature, if you want to become a full Christian, then you need to believe in Jesus and this tradition or Jesus and this philosophy, or Jesus and . . . . And Paul is going to say, Jesus is enough. You’re already complete. You already have everything that you need to progress in the faith and to become mature and to reach fullness. Because verse 10: “you have been filled in him.”
For the Christian (verse 6) as we received Christ Jesus the Lord, something simultaneously mysterious and profound happened. You were united to Christ. And this reality, our union with Christ, is the operating system of the Christian life. Now, many of you know a lot more about computers than I do. I just sit down and hopefully my computer works. And if it doesn’t work, I contact Pons and then all of a sudden, like that, he doesn’t even show up and now it works. But what causes a computer to work? It’s the operating system. Google says an operating system is the most important software that runs on a computer. It manages the computer’s memory and processes, as well as all of its software and hardware. It also allows you to communicate with the computer without knowing how to speak the computer’s language. Without an operating system, a computer is useless.
Union with Christ is the operating system of the Christian life.Union with Christ is the operating system of the Christian life. You may not understand it, but it’s always there. It’s always working. It’s always managing your memory and your processes, your hardware and your software.
So what is union with Christ? Well, there are two aspects to union with Christ: Christ is in you and you are in Christ. Paul’s already referred to the first aspect in Colossians 1:27, he’s called this a glorious mystery, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ is in us. And then in verse 9 and 10, we are filled in Christ. So Christ is in us and we are in Christ. Sinclair Ferguson in his very helpful book The Whole Christ says: Christ himself is the gospel. You can’t separate the benefits of Christ from the person of Christ.
You are united to Christ, and because you’re united in him, he’s your representative. Because you’re united to him, you’ve participated in his death, his burial, and his resurrection. You’ve been made alive together with Christ. You are righteous in Christ. God accepts us in Christ. We were elected in Christ and justified in Christ and adopted in Christ and sanctified in Christ, and one day we will be glorified in Christ. “In Christ” is everything in the Christian life because Christ is everything. Verse 10: “and you have been filled in him who is the head of all rule and authority.” So the false teachers are saying, “If you want to reach fullness, if you want to reach maturity, you need to do all these additional things.” And Paul is saying, “You already have everything that you need.”
Did you notice that verse 10 is in the past tense? “You have been filled.” When did that happen? It happened in verse 6, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord.” And it happened in verse 7, “when you were rooted in Christ.” At that point, you were filled. At that point, you were united to Christ. We are filled in him with his fullness. And look at that fullness in verse 9: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Those 10 words—and it’s 10 words in English and its 10 words in Greek—those 10 words summarize the mystery of the incarnation that the deity, in all of his fullness, dwells bodily.
Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, takes on flesh and took on a true body and a reasonable soul. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This wasn’t something less than deity. This wasn’t the abridged version or the CliffsNotes. This is the fullness of deity. Do you see the mystery? An infinite, eternal God takes on human flesh and becomes a helpless baby.
In C.S. Lewis’s final book in The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, at the end of the book, there is this stable that appears, and this stable is 12 feet long and 7 feet wide, and it’s a thatched stable. But this stable actually connects two worlds, and so when characters go into that stable, they open the door and they’re expecting to go into this dark, enclosed area in this thatched roof that’s 12 feet by 7 feet. And instead, it opens up to this whole other world. And Queen Lucy pondering this says, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” That’s what this passage is saying: “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Someone bigger than our whole world stepped into our world. Someone outside of time stepped into time. Someone infinite became a baby. It’s the mystery of the incarnation.
[00:29:28] Now there’s a linguistic connection between verse 9 and verse 10 that connects the mystery of the incarnation in verse 9 with the mystery of our union with Christ in verse 10. And you can see it in both the Greek and the English. “Fullness” in verse 9 (“for in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”) “fullness” is the noun form of the verb “filled” in verse 10 (“and you have been filled in him”). And when you take the mystery of the incarnation in verse 9 and pair it with the mystery of our union with Christ in verse 10, you get something akin to Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:19, that we would know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. So that what? So that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. That’s the fullness that we have in Christ.
The wonder of Christology is a brilliant defense against things that seek to capture our hearts and steal our worship. We’re looking for fulfillment. We’re looking for fullness. We’re on a quest for satisfaction. There is a void in our hearts that we’re desperately trying to fill, and it’s a God-shaped void because we’re created in his image. Nothing finite can ever satisfy us. That great theologian Mick Jagger puts it this way: “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Why? Because when you put limited, finite stuff into an eternal, infinite void, you can never get enough. It can be good stuff. It can be a father’s pride or a wife’s love or vocational success. And it can be bad stuff. It can be drugs and illicit sex, but it doesn’t matter because it’s finite, and when you put finite stuff into an infinite void, it never makes a dent. It’s kind of like peeing in the ocean.
Only Christ is eternal enough to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart.When you look for satisfaction by putting finite stuff into our infinite void, it leads to addiction. Money is never enough. You always need one dollar more. Drugs are never enough. You always need one hit more. Alcohol is never enough. You always need one drink more. Do you see the mess that we get ourselves into when we look to something other than Jesus to fill us up? We become desperate addicts, always needing more. We’re pressing the wrong pedal and we can’t stop the car.
Fullness isn’t to be found elsewhere. Not in Jewish tradition, not in Greek philosophy, not in finite stuff. You can look everywhere, but you will only find fullness, true fullness, real fullness in Christ, because only Christ is infinite enough, only Christ is beautiful enough, only Christ is eternal enough to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart. Only Christ is enough. And here’s the good news, Christian: through our union with Christ, we’re already full in him. We’re already full with all the fullness of God. We have been filled in him. And Paul says, now walk in the reality of that fullness.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, let me pray for us. Heavenly Father, teach our hearts to walk in Christ, to experience the mystery of our union with Christ in conjunction with the mystery of the incarnation. I ask this in the name of Jesus, amen.