Who is Christ for you?

June 30th, 2013

Colossians 1:15-28

In theology, beliefs about Jesus Christ are called “Christology.” There are many Christologies. Several exist within the New Testament itself. After the New Testament was written, Christians debated the nature of Jesus Christ. Councils were held, and creeds were written. This discussion will probably never end.

This text is one of the classical statements about Jesus Christ in the Bible. The Colossians had differences of opinion about Jesus. Some of the views were troubling to followers of the apostle Paul. It was probably one of these disciples of Paul who wrote this letter.

Apparently, some of the Colossians were being influenced by Gnosticism, a popular philosophy. Gnostics believed that matter was altogether evil, while spirit was good. Since the world consists of matter, it’s bad. Now, where does this put God? God is Spirit and therefore good, so God couldn’t have created the material world. It was created by a distant emanation of God, not the real God.

And what does this say about Jesus? The man Jesus couldn’t be the Son of God since he had a material body. Remember, material equals evil. Gnostics tried to get out of this difficulty by saying that Jesus only appeared to be human. This viewpoint led to two other conclusions: (1) Jesus wasn’t unique. He was one of many intermediaries between God and humanity, and (2) Jesus wasn’t the center or source of salvation.

Salvation for the Gnostics was a long process of gaining knowledge, learning secrets and passwords, and climbing a spiritual ladder. Jesus wasn’t at its center. The Gnostics couldn’t accept the idea that God was born as a Galilean carpenter who was executed on a town garbage heap and that his death was central to human salvation. That couldn’t be.

Their Greek philosophy clashed with the Hebrew theology of the Old Testament. First, it contradicted the biblical view of creation. The Bible said that God directly created the material world and called it good. Gnostics couldn’t accept this. Second, Gnosticism led to a faulty view of Jesus.

The author of Colossians proclaims who Jesus is. Jesus is supreme in both the created order and the church. He’s the very embodiment of God’s saving work. Our text incorporates an early Christian hymn that flashes forth several images of Jesus:

  • the one in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sins 
  • the image of the invisible God 
  • the firstborn of all creation 
  • the one in whom all things in heaven and on earth were created 
  • the one in whom all things hold together 
  • the head of the church 
  • the firstborn from the dead 
  • the one who has first place in everything 
  • the one in whom the fullness of God dwells 
  • the one who reconciles all things to God and makes peace 

That’s a mouthful! These stunning claims go against all who would minimize Jesus and his work. The author is saying that Jesus is God in flesh. Jesus is God’s creative, saving work in action. Jesus is how we know God. These bold claims went far beyond the teaching that many of the Colossians were hearing.

In the 1930s and 40s Dietrich Bonhoeffer raised for Christians a central issue of Christology. He asked, “Who really is Christ for us today?” Not who was Christ for the first century or the third century? Or who was Christ for the Colossians? But, rather, who is Christ for us?

Christ is bound to be something to every one of us. To some he’s just another object of speculation. But what would it mean if we made the words of Colossians central to our lives?

Take this idea that Jesus is God in human flesh. What does this actually mean to us? What ought it to mean? If I were the proverbial Martian and walked around earth and heard a billion people saying that Jesus was God in human form, I know what I’d do. I’d want to learn about him. I’d study the records of his life and teachings and join a group of people who were studying about him and trying to follow him.

I can come to only one conclusion: The reason Jesus’ words have endured as they have is that they’re true. They’re not like any other words.

Another question: What do the words of Colossians mean for us in the church? They mean that the church isn’t just a body of people who’ve organized themselves to perpetuate the teachings of Jesus. The church isn’t a memorial society, a dead poet’s society. It’s a living organism of which Jesus is the living head.

When we experience Jesus Christ as the living head of the church, everything changes. We realize that the church is of God; it’s not a social club—not a creation of humans. The church is meant to run on God’s agenda, not ours.

Think about this: What would it mean if we Christians took all of our orders from Jesus Christ, if we put ourselves completely at his disposal? Our church programs and budgets would change.

It’s not hard for us to see where Jesus’ heart was, to see whom he loved. If Jesus showed up in our city today, we have good ideas as to where he would go. He would go first to those for whom he was most deeply concerned in his earthly life: the poor, the broken, the outcast—and he would surely visit us poor sinners, who need forgiveness and peace. Therefore, we ought to organize our churches to reflect these things. We ought to cling tightly to our Lord. All of our time and resources should be directed to his agenda, not ours.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said that he gave himself completely to Christ. There had been others who were more talented or able, but from the day he had a vision of what God could do, he decided that God would have all there was of William Booth.

Today’s questions are, How much does God have of us? Who is Jesus Christ for you and me? Does he live in us? If he doesn’t, then this whole letter to the Colossians is a dead letter; the entire New Testament is a dead letter; all of Christian theology is a dead letter.

Is Jesus Christ the true Lord of our lives? He’s either that—or he’s something else.



From The Abingdon Worship Annual edited by Mary J. Scifres and B.J. Beu, Copyright © Abingdon Press. The Abingdon Worship Annual 2017 is now available.

comments powered by Disqus