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Filled in Him: The full-gospel of fullness in God

The desire for fullness in God is as basic to spirituality as our daily quest for a full stomach. Pentecostalism is a movement that comes at the end of a long line of charismatic movements stretching back to the early centuries of the church that have all in their own way been united in their quest for ‘more’ in Christian experience than the basics of salvation through Christ:

“Throughout the history of Christianity, there have always been individuals seeking for “something more” in their spiritual pilgrimage, occasionally prompting them to explore the meaning of Spirit baptism and spiritual gifts.” (Horton, 1995, p. 9)


Pentecostals want to move beyond the ‘beginnings’ of the gospel, the saving work of Christ. They see in the New Testament a ‘fuller’ gospel, that following conversion to Jesus Christ and cleansing from sin, involves a second stage of fullness in God through the Holy Spirit. It is this subsequent work of the Spirit, according to Pentecostalism, that “fills” Christians in God.

“The task given to the twentieth-century Church is to preach all the gospel. What is needed is not a different gospel but the fullness of the gospel as it is recorded in the New Testament. We emphasize this because the Holy Spirit has been neglected over the centuries. We have the task of understanding anew the person and work of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the Bible and experience in the life of the Church today. The full-gospel message programs the centrality of the work of the Holy Spirit... (Horton, 1995, p. 379)

How to be filled in God

How can Christians be ‘filled’ in God and be sure that we have all of him who would give all of himself to us? There are many places we could go in the New Testament trying to look for a complete answer to this question. But what may be less commonly known is that there is actually one book in the Bible that addresses this very question specifically, and in detail.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians has as its central theme ‘fullness in God’. So what does Colossians say about being filled in God? What does it teach us about the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and Paul’s answer to this question?

What comes as a huge surprise when we look through this letter is that the book actually focuses not on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, but on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In fact, what is staggering is that there is not a single mention of the Spirit whatsoever throughout its teaching. It proclaims a message about Christian fullness, about being ‘filled in him’, but with a gaze fixed on the second person of the trinity alone. How can this be?

It’s a very interesting find, and it begs the question: what is Paul’s understanding of fullness in God? And how does this relate to the person and work of Christ?

If we want to be ‘filled in him’ (Col 2:10) we could do a lot worse than having a very close look at this letter from Paul, the very book in the Bible devoted to our search for the full truth about fullness in God. What will we find and how should this reshape the way we approach this question in the first place?

The person and work of Jesus Christ

Paul writes his letter to the Colossians chiefly outlining the implications of the person and work of Christ for Christians, both doctrinally and practically [1]. He lays down foundational truths about Christ in 1:13-23 that shape the rest of his letter. God speaks to us by his Spirit through the letter the very same truths (for his person and work does not change): who Christ is and what he has done – especially for the Church and for the Christian – and how these truths must shape our theology and action.

Paul begins his teaching in Colossians [2] with an emphasis on the supremacy of Christ (1:18), both in creation (1:15-17) and redemption (1:18-20). Firstly, Christ’s person has supremacy over creation and the Church. Christ is supreme over all Creation because he is not part of it: He is the agent in creation; the one for whom creation was made (1:16); indeed, he is the very image of the invisible God (1:15). He is supreme over all things in the universe, for he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (1:17).

Christ is supreme over the Church because he is beginning of it, since he is the firstborn from among the dead (1:18). Indeed, he is the supreme head of the Church (1:18). He is thus also the very agent in the new-creation, which not only involves the Church, but also the entire created order (1:20).

Secondly, the work of Christ in reconciling to God all of creation and the Church is supreme. Christ’s work in Creation is supreme because it is only through Christ’s work on the cross that ‘all things in heaven and on earth’ have been reconciled to God (1:20). His work perfectly achieves God’s will [3]: Through Christ’s blood peace has been re-established between God and all things, in the sense that the proper order of relationships between God and creation is now restored, since all things are being brought under the headship of Christ as a result of his resurrection [4].

Christ’s work in the Church is also supreme, because it alone brings about perfect forgiveness with God (1:14, 28): The Colossian Christians were enemies alienated from God, but now they are reconciled and before him as holy in his sight. This has been accomplished because of the death of Christ’s physical body (1:21-22).

This central passage of Colossians (1:13-23) must be understood within its wider context in the letter if we are to appreciate how it teaches us.

Paul firstly applies it to combats various heresies that threaten the Colossians (1:24 – 3:4).

Since the mystery of God’s will is now revealed in Christ, in whom alone is found all knowledge of God (2:2-3), then the Colossians, along with us, should not be taken captive by false teaching that glorifies human knowledge (2:4, 8) as the means to reaching God. All the fullness of God dwells in Christ, and because Christians are in Christ, we have complete fullness in God through him alone (2:9).

The Colossian Christians should not let anyone judge them by Judaistic legalism [5]. The old law only foreshadowed Christ’s work (2:17) that has now brought the complete reality of forgiveness (2:13-15). So too, through our unity with his death and resurrection, sin has been completely dealt with for us (2:11-12). Therefore there is no need to add anything to Christ’s work for our salvation or fullness in God.

Since we have also been made pure from sensual indulgence by our unity with Christ’s death (2:20, 23), we should not submit to human teachings like asceticism [6] in order to be removed from the evil of the flesh. In Christ, the created order is restored to goodness (Col 1:20) [7].

Since Christ is the head of the body that grows as God causes (2:19), we should also not worship angels (2:18) (or saints) as if they are closer to God than Christ. Christ is the image of the invisible God and therefore worthy of the only praise that God deserves.

Instead, we should follow Paul’s application of the truth about Christ to our living, obeying the commands he sets out concerning Christian conduct (3:5-4:6). In view of the fact that our lives are now with Christ in God (3:3-5), and Christ is in us (Col 3:9-11) [8], we should live accordingly: putting to death whatever belongs to our earthly natures (3:5), and living as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved (3:12).

Pentecostalism and fullness in God

Today, Pentecostalism is an example of a modern movement that begun with a quest to know the full truth about fullness in God. From its origin it still today proclaims the promise of a fuller-gospel involving an experience of God that is not obtained in Christ alone. Pentecostals believe that the extra work of the Spirit after salvation, which is available to all Christians but not common to all, provides a unique fullness in God for those who have been fortunate enough to understand, believe and be blessed with this second stage in spirituality prior to Christ’s coming.  

But what does Colossians teach us about the person and work of Christ? The amazing thing about the Apostle Paul’s letter here is that although his central theme is fullness in God, he does not mention the Holy Spirit at all throughout the letter. But it is not as though the role and work of the Spirit is not important to Paul. Far from it: throughout the New Testament, Paul teaches more about the work of the Spirit than any other author. Clearly for him and throughout the Bible the Spirit of God plays a vital role in everything God does, including his work in creation since the beginning and his vital role in bringing about the New Creation [9].

But what Paul’s letter to the Colossians should show Pentecostals is that the work of the Spirit is not central and it is not supreme, and it is not even an element that is needed in order to complete the 'full' gospel. Actually, work of the Holy Spirit is not a part of the gospel itself (which is the work of Christ for us). But the work of the Spirit is the fruit of the gospel (which is the work of Christ in us). 


It is because of the gospel -- that Jesus of Nazareth died for our sins (as Christ) and rose for our justification (as Lord) -- that he ascended to now from God's throne in heaven send his Spirit into our hearts in order to now rule over sin from within us (the fruit of the gospel, and the result/response to it).  


But when coming to teach about Christian fullness in God, Paul is perfectly happy to neglect to even mention the Holy Spirit. And he goes as far as declaring that it is in Christ alone that all the fullness of God dwells (1:19), and that all Christians – without exception – have been given “fullness in him”: that is, we have fullness – fullness in God – through our union with Christ in whom all the fullness of God dwells. In other words, Christians are “in Christ” = in “fullness of God”.

The book of Colossians teaches us that Christ Jesus our Lord is supreme over all else, and his finished work on the cross has supremely achieved for us perfect reconciliation to God. We are in need of nothing else to bring us fullness in God. We should look to no one else, nor any other work for filling in him. We have it all in Christ, and in response we should live a holy life in view of the fact that Christ Jesus himself lives in us, and we “have been filled in him” (Col 2:10).

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19)...

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

 and you have been filled in him...” (Col 2:9-10)


End notes

[1] These doctrinal and practical sections of the letter come between personal comments at the beginning (1:1–12) and end of His letter (4:7-18).
[2] To be sure, Paul begins his letter to the Colossians by thanking God for their faith and love (1: 3-4), and telling them of the substance and reasons for his prayers for them (1:9-12). He prays in order that they might be giving thanks to the Father who has “brought them into the kingdom of the Son” (1:13 – emphasis mine). However, immediately at this point he begins a section of the letter where he explains the person and work of the Son – Jesus Christ (1:13-23).
[3] Ephesians 1:9-10
[4] This appears to be what is meant when this verse (1:20) is compared to Ephesians 1:10, where it is seen that in Christ “all things in heaven and on earth [will be brought] together under on head, even Christ”: signifying that through the work of the cross all things will be brought under the just rulership of God. This work is complete, though the process is only beginning now through the preaching of the gospel, whereby people come under the headship of Christ. This process will be consummated at the second coming of Christ to judge, when everything else will finally be brought under his headship for judgment.
 [5] The Judaistic legalism at the time of Paul’s letter involved circumcision (2:11, 3:11), ordinances (2:14), foods, holidays (2:16) and the like.
 [6] Asceticism in the time of Paul’s letter involved regulations about the abstinence from various elements of God’s created order which were viewed as being essentially evil (2:16, 20-23).
[7] Confer with 1 Timothy 4:1-5.
[8] Also see Col 1:27.
[9] See Creation and Spirit: The work of the Holy Spirit in our world and God’s - http://talkingpentecostalism.blogspot.com/2010/10/creation-and-spirit-work-of-holy-spirit.html

References

Horton, Stanley M (General Editor), Systematic Theology, Logion Press: Springfield, Missouri, 1995

Bibliography

Bruce, F, F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles to the Colossians to Philemon and to the Ephesians, W M. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1984

Jensen, I, L. Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament, Moody Press, Chicago: 1981

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