Colossians is one of Paul’s most magnificent letters. In this address to the church in Colossae, he exalts the supreme “enough-ness” of Jesus’ work on the cross and rebukes any message demanding that Christ’s work on the cross be coupled with added works of religious observance.
Apparently in this small church of Colossae, the people were being assaulted with competitive world views in which they were tempted to question the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work. Perhaps Jesus was not enough? Maybe his work on the cross was merely a help in atoning for my sins–and in order to receive the fullness of acceptance from God, I must add to his work my own works. In Colossians 2:6-23, Paul reveals to us the conglomerate of competitive messages the Colossians were hearing:
The Colossians were told that in order to be accepted by God, they needed to be circumcised (v. 11), be baptized (v. 12), obey Old Testament festivals and Sabbaths (v. 16), abstain from worldly pleasures (v. 18), worship angelic beings (v. 18), and / or maintain certain dietary restrictions (v. 20-22). Apparently, while Jesus helps, they were told constantly that he was not enough.
Paul warns the believers in this church not to listen to any of these blatant heresies, for “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (v. 23). Paul even admits that these good works look good, saying, “these have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion”. Nevertheless, Paul says that they will not bring you closer to God. Neither will these works, when paired with Christ’s work, aid you in your pursuit of forgiveness–because they cannot rid you of your sin (v. 23).
External observances do not help, because your true issue is the indwelling of sin. Baptism cannot cleanse your heart, and neither can circumcision cut away the sin under which all of humanity suffers. Angelic beings may be messengers from God, but they are of no help for bringing you to the throne room of God. In other words, we cannot work into fellowship with God, and neither can created divine beings drag us to God. No no, we need something deeper, richer, and fuller.
The irony of the heresies the Colossians endured was that they did not aid Christ in his apparent “insufficient work”–rather, they themselves were the insufficient works. Paul says that they actually hinder us by separating us from “the Head (Christ), from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together…grows with a growth that is from God” (2:19). Paradoxically, believing that Christ’s work is not enough, and attempting to aid Christ’s redeeming work, separates us from the full nourishment we have in Christ.
The reason is because Christ is enough. When we try to find confidence in things we do, whether they be religious observances, denial of worldly “fun”, ministry busyness, and the like, we are trusting in a down-up approach that simply does not work. Man cannot work his way to God.
More than this, though, we are simply wrong to assume that Jesus is not enough. Paul explains why: “for in him (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9). What Paul means to communicate through this statement is that Jesus is enough is because of who he is. He is not an angel, nor is he simply a man–he is God.
Christ is sufficient to cover, atone and forgive because his work on the cross is God’s work on the cross. His victory over your sin and death is God’s victory over sin and death. For this reason, when a Christian doubts the enough-ness of Jesus’ work, he is really committing a Trinitarian heresy. That’s because when we doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s work, we are making a theological statement: Jesus’ victory is not God’s victory. Therefore, we stake a claim on Christ’s identity–namely, that he is not fully God.
Much of our legalistic tendency in the church today would be remedied through a robust belief in the person of Jesus Christ. Many times when we fall into doubt, we try to remedy this with believing the gospel more–and we must do this! Gospel-centrality is centrally important to the life of the believer. But, we must also remember the person that accomplished this gospel freedom–God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus is fully God. And what this means is that God’s verdict is Jesus’ verdict, and that Jesus’ verdict is God’s verdict.
I am often astounded by the Pharisees’ insight in Mark 2 where they witness Jesus forgiving a man of his sins. They are furious at Jesus’ very bold and weighty words: “son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). And why? Because, as they say, “who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).
Ah, yes. Good insight, Pharisees. It just so happens that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9).