“Living in the Fullness of Christ”
(Ps. 138; Col. 2:6-19)
What does living in the fullness of Christ mean and what difference does it make?
This sermon title arose from reading Colossians 2:5 and 6. Which states, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” The word “therefore” indicate a prior point, mainly; (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:15-20).
In other words Christ matters! He is a big deal for Christians and central to their faith and beside him is nothing else. Knowing God fully is to know Jesus because in him “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). In Christ, we are formed and transformed to live fully in him. Those who are in Christ ought to live a different kind of life Paul says. They ought to overflow with thankfulness. Let me refer to the Old Testament text to illustrate this point further.”
1. Overflowing thankfulness -Psalm 138
Psalm 138 is a whole hearted thanksgiving to God for deliverance. In this psalm, the individual or the community resolves to give thanks to God wholeheartedly and to sing God’s praises before all including before gods. I wonder what that could possibly mean if not bearing witness to others about God! The reason given for this overflowing thankfulness is because of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and because God exalted his name and his word above everything not because of the petitioners’ piety or lack thereof, but because of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness.
Praise is a spontaneous response, a gut reaction expressing deep gratitude. Psalm 138 exhibits a life lived fully in God which overflows with praise to God for who God is. When my prayers are unanswered in the way I would like them to be, I ought to still praise God for the long history of loving kindness and kept promises in the lives of God’s covenant people and in my own life and the testimony of my family members and my Christian community of God’s faithfulness. This is a commonly repeated theme in the Psalms.
What difference does that kind of life make? We see the Psalmist and Israel carrying out their vocation to be witnesses before the gods and nations to the sovereignty of God revealed in God’s salvation. This is important because in God, a new world order has come, in which the lowly are raised up and the arrogant are brought low. Walter Brueggemann states; YHWH, who is above all, comes down to those who are lowly and troubled and raises them up to new life – in contrast to the arrogant in verse 6 [‘but he keeps his distance from the proud,’] who will not publicly claim their pain and seek divine help…The seeds of social transformation and historical inversion are present when this agenda is articulated….Heaven and earth are now on notice because of quite concrete experiences. A new regime is underway that no longer permits lowly people to be trampled. Because YHWH makes the move, everything else will have to change…” (“The Message of the Psalms” Chapter 4, page 132).
In this election year, what ought to be the church’s message as people campaign for political office? For those who do vote, do our convictions and life in Christ matter when we go to the voting booth? Do the cause of the lowly and the powerless matter? Do structural injustices matter in our society? Mennonites are well known for our social justice convictions, we ought to pause and reflect on how we live these convictions or not. This is journey of discipleship not a fully figured out thing that needs just the right switch and it is fully functional once for all.
The psalm gives us a reality check on that point. The praising spirit does not ignore reality; this is why the psalmist say, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.” But that is not the end. Strangely and surprisingly, it ends with a heartfelt plea; “do not abandon the works of your hands.” How can someone so sure of God’s love and faithfulness in verses 1-8 a suddenly entertain the possibility of God abandonment by God? We are all a mixture of certainty and questions, faith and doubt, assurance and fear. The Gospel itself is always characterized by the tension between the “already but not yet.” In a culture of narcissism, and egocentrism hearts and minds that are thankful to God matter a whole lot! .
2. Christ the true map and treasure
“So, then, just as you received King Jesus as Lord, you must continue your journey in him. You must put down healthy roots in him, being built up by brick in him, and established strongly in the faith, just as you were taught, with overflowing thankfulness.”
In the face of cultural or religious challenges to their Christian faith, Paul encouraged the Colossians who live a Lives shaped by the cross and resurrection that turns from truth understood as power to truth practiced as love. As they grow in love and as Christ lives out his life among them, the knowledge and mysteries will be revealed to them. God genuinely desires human and spiritual maturity for God’s people. This is why God has done what the law, and ‘Wisdom’, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, to achieve reconciliation, he dealt with sin on the cross, so that the life which the law had sought to give, the true life of God’s people, might be brought to expression in those who, through faith and baptism, belong to Jesus Christ. There is no hope elsewhere for forgiveness of sin, for maturity in the present, or for future hope
Implications for today:
1. Christians are fully and wholly complete in Jesus – no need to be completed by other systems or seeming truth claims.
2. Christ’s embodied God and so should Christians (v.9)- Jesus was and is not simply a fully human being; He was and is the bodily form taken by God himself, God in all his fullness. This means that all deities and divinities do not reign over us.
“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.”-(2:9-10).
Christ is the head of them all. This is a lost concept to us today. We live in a society that sells spirituality in the marketplace and many a teaching is emerging at an alarming rate! What would Paul say to our church today? For this church, it was circumcision which Paul refuted by pointing out to their baptism as a way to put off old ways and put on new life in Christ. No need for physical circumcision after the one of the heart done at baptism.
All the authorities and rulers that might try to take over your life are included in the ones ashamed by the triumph of God in the cross of Jesus. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. In Christ, we are complete and fully accepted by God (but we are not God in the fullest sense of the word). Therefore, live in the fulness of your new birth in him! Amen!
Preached at Ridgeview Mennonite Church July 24, 2016
By Nelson Okanya