Simplicity Series #18

Complete in Christ?

“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Col 2:9–10

A Faulty Conclusion

Many believers have come to a dangerous and faulty conclusion from a poor understanding of these verses. I have heard some say, “We are complete in Christ; our works have nothing to do with our standing in Christ.”

Actually, there is a grain of truth here mingled with their muddled thinking. When we speak of our standing in Christ, we speak of His finished work on the cross applied to all who believe. We all share the same standing, being imputed with His righteousness and, therefore, we are wholly justified and reconciled to God. This is what we speak of as positional truth. To be “in Christ” is to share in all He is and has done.

However, when we consider our state, we are dealing with our present, temporal, spiritual condition, which falls far below our position in Christ. To assume that our perfect standing makes our present state irrelevant is a dangerous conclusion, leading to quenching the Spirit (1Th 5:19) and a lack of spiritual zeal for learning, growth, and service. Paul deals with all three of these in the book of Colossians.

Complete or Completed?

“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Col 1:28–29 (NASB)

It is evident that Paul did not see standing in Christ as a cause for coasting in the Christian life. The truths of this text must correlate and agree with our key text above, as we will see momentarily.

The word used here by Paul, translated “complete” in the NASB (New American Standard Bible), is from teleios, and would better be translated “mature,” as it is in the ESV (English Standard Version). One of the benefits of using various, accurate translations is to see that the same or similar idea may be conveyed through various words in the original language. It also shows us how often translators are inconsistent in their translation of the same word, in one context, in various ways.

Here, Paul portrays the struggle of the Christian life, though positionally “perfect” in standing, to become “complete” in our experience. Some time ago, I remember hearing a pastor make the comment, “Because we are complete in Christ, no command of the Bible applies to us, because we are under grace, not the law.” When I asked him about the command for him to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, his response was, “All of the commands in the Bible are given to those who choose to live by law, as legalists, and therefore they think they are doing God’s will, but they are deceived!” How strange, from this distorted point of view, that Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Joh 14:15).

The Apostle Paul battled daily for the souls of those he taught, and he expected them to enter into and engage in that spiritual struggle for the progressive reality of conformity to Christ. His words even suggest that he will personally “present” his students to Jesus Christ at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The Reality of Completeness

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Col 4:12

Paul, like any faithful minister, was joined in his labors by many other faithful men and women. That which Paul sought to instill through teaching, Epaphras (probably the Epaphroditus of Phi 2:25) supported through his devotion to prayer. In fact, the words “laboring fervently” come from agonizomai, “to agonize,” often used of the soldier in battle.

Note that the focus of his prayers is two-fold: the word “perfect” (again from teleios) meaning “mature” and “complete,” is from pleroo, signifying that which is “fulfilled, filled full.” As maturity is the result of progressive growth, so the fulfillment of God’s will in our lives is the fruit of that maturity. To achieve the objective of Christ living in and through us daily requires that we engage in spiritual combat moment-by-moment.

Filled Full in Order to Fulfill

Coming back now to our original verse (Col 2:9–10), we find that the word “complete” comes from the same root used in Col 4:12. It is the same verb—pleroo. Paul’s point is that the Colossians have every spiritual resource in Christ which God can give (see Eph 1:3). To then seek for spiritual resources in any other philosophy/religion (see Col 2:8, Col 2:18–23) can only detract from that fullness. It is the very error Israel made in the days of Jeremiah, for “they have forsaken Me [Jehovah], the fountain of living waters, and hewn for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer 2:13).

In Jesus Christ, “the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” from the same verb pleroo, we can find all the provisions of God’s grace for a life of conformity to Christ and the fulfillment of His plan and purpose for our lives. These supplies for the spiritual journey are revealed to us through His Word. Furthermore, that He is “the head of all principality and power” (Col 2:10b) means that all other spiritual entities—whether angelic or demonic—are subject to Him.

What we are “in Christ,” in our standing before God, we can become in our experience—our state—only by the life-long struggle to grow in grace and truth (2Pe 3:18). Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (Joh 7:38). But we must choose to “draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa 12:3). Although the supply is super-abundant, far too often our appropriation is what is deficient. But as often as we plunge our spiritual bucket into that well, we’ll find that it will always come up full!


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