Archive

Archive for the ‘Colossians’ Category

Colossians: Christ’s Preeminence in Creation, the New Creation of the Church, and All Things

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m now going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Colossians series, and enjoying it even more than I expected to.  This is a great study on this epistle, complete with many quote-worthy comments and observations, so applicable to our day as it addresses the nature and being of Christ in answer to the heresies already developing in the 1st century.

From Colossians 1:15-20, Paul’s great Christology, the following observations:

The Lord of the First Creation

This section may have been part of an early hymn, perhaps written by Paul or someone else, or even composed by multiple people in the early church.  If it is a hymn, the hymn of the beloved Son begins in verse 15 with a statement concerning the essential basis of his Lordship, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every”, or of the whole, “creation.” 

The description here is of the Lord Jesus as the unique perfect likeness and manifestation of God, the great and final theophany.  The Greek word for “image” suggests that He possesses the Divine Attributes.  Concerning the word eikon and its usage:

There is a related word to it formed of the same root entirely, absolutely, I should say, which was used of a photograph, and further, there is a word very closely related to it, one is eikon, and the other is eikonian, a diminutive of it, a little eikon which was used when individuals signed a contract in legal terms guaranteeing certain things to others.  For example, in an IOU, it was customary for when the contract was drawn up for an eikonian to be drawn up as well.  And what that meant was certain sentences which would describe the individuals who entered into the contract were set in the contract in order that there might be evidence of precisely who entered into the contract, so that there would be no misunderstanding.  That was called an eikon, that is, a description of the individuals involved.

This text presents Christ’s essential basis of His Lordship. Then, the last part of verse 15 presents the Economic Basis of His Lordship:  He is the firstborn of the whole creation.  As Dr. Johnson well notes, this does not mean He is a creature – the Arian heresy.

He’s not a creature.  He’s the creator of the creatures.”  And Athanasius convinced the early church, properly so, that the Lord Jesus may be called firstborn of the whole creation, but not in the sense that there was a time when he entered into existence, so far as his person was concerned.  In fact, the Lord Jesus is the eternal Son, and He is the creator of the creatures.  In Him the whole created universe came into its existence.  So the term firstborn then takes on the meaning that it had in other passages in the Bible: of sovereignty over.

So we have three prepositional phrases.  “All things were created in him.”  “All things were created by him.”  “All things were created for him.”

Lord of the New Creation

Paul moves from the cosmological (the physical creation), to the soteriological, our personal salvation.  Christ is the head of the body, and thus He controls the church, He owns the church, and has authority over the church.

Of course, that has great practical significance so far as our personal life is concerned too.  We are related to the Head who is in heaven.  And if we are to live a life that is acceptable to the Lord God, we must be submissive to the Head, the Lord Jesus in a personal sense.  And as a body of believers who are under shepherds, elders, it’s most important for them and for us to be under Him and to look to Him for control and guidance and authority in the things that we do.

Preeminent In All Things

Verse 18, “that in Him should all fullness dwell.”

I don’t think that the apostle, when he says, “All fullness,” here is referring simply to our Lord’s deity.  That doesn’t make sense in the context, that is, that He should have the preeminence because He’s firstborn from the dead because He’s God.  It should relate to His saving work by which He became firstborn from the dead.  So I suggest to you …. what I mean by “all fullness” … all saving fullness, all saving power, in grace, because He’s the covenantal head of the people of God.  So he says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all, ‘saving’ fullness dwell.”

This point is especially important to the Colossians, in answering the heresy of gnostic Judaism, which included the idea of a God so holy that He doesn’t directly create.  Gnosticism has a series of eons, angelic type beings, that come forth from God the father, each a little less holy, and Christ is one of these beings, not a divine being but a created, secondary being, a mediator that is secondary and not god himself.  Paul emphasizes this point, that it “pleased the Father” to have all saving power reside in Christ – Jesus Christ the covenantal head and having all saving power.  So there is not a hierarchy of mediators between God and men as the heretics were saying.  But by the fact that He is raised from the dead, there is evidence that He is the one and only saving mediator between God and men. 

Jerry Bridges Conference (April 2013): Sanctification and ‘True Heavenly Mindedness’

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Author Jerry Bridges was the guest speaker at a church in the Memphis, TN area, for a conference this last weekend (April 12-14, 2013).  I haven’t read that much from Bridges, usually preferring the style and depth of Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, and of course my favorite preacher SLJ, but have appreciated his conference messages at this church over the last several years. All his conference messages at this church – 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 – are available at: www . gracemessenger.com/index.php?id=777.  The conference theme this time was “True Heavenly Mindedness,” from Colossians 3, with emphasis on practical Christian living / sanctification.

From a then-free offer on Amazon Kindle, I’ve read some of Jerry Bridges’ recent book, The Transforming Power of the Gospel: an easy reading style similar to his other books and his talks, in which he mentions his early experience with two extreme forms of sanctification: moral rules to follow, followed by the Deeper Life Keswick movement (“Let Go, Let God”). In 1960 he came to understand true sanctification, that which is active, not passive.  We cannot ‘just let Jesus live His life through me.’ No, we are responsible. At the same time, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to both do His own work and enable us through His power to do the work we must do. Later chapters include  definitions of sin and repentance, and what spiritual transformation is.

A proper understanding of sanctification includes study of Colossians 3, and the conference messages deal with that chapter as well as Ephesians 4.  Another resource on this very topic, Jesse Johnson’s recent Cripplegate post critiquing another variation of the “Let Go, Let God” idea,  likewise notes the importance of Colossians 3, the part that another writer (Tullian Tchividjian) had completely skipped over:  I was asking myself, “ok, so what is he going to do with Col 3:17-4:6? I mean there is more to Colossians than the first half. What’s going to happen when he gets to the places where Paul tells us to be sanctified by actually fighting sin?” And wouldn’t you know it: other than explaining why those passages are powerless to sanctify you, he doesn’t deal with them. You really do need to look at his Scripture index to believe me: he deals with almost every single verse in Colossians, except the ones that have imperatives in them.  Jerry Bridges approaches the imperative passages in Colossians head-on, in several messages about “true heavenly mindedness” and practical Christian living.

I have only one point of difference from Jerry Bridges: his emphasis on sanctification and Christian living tends to neglect the proper balance between practical Christian living, and instruction in doctrinal/worldview issues.  Then again, this is the difference between a theologian or scholar, and a layperson Christian author who excels in what he does: well-written books for the mainstream Christian audience, especially about holiness and sanctification.