Is there a way to actually be “complete”?
The New Testament often uses a phrase that sounds a bit odd to us: “in Christ.” It doesn’t just talk about believing in Christ, trusting Christ, or following Christ, but actually being in him. If you’ve surrendered your life to Christ, your life is enveloped inside the reality of Christ—his death for your forgiveness, his resurrection for your eternal joy, his perfect relationship to the Father, and his heart-changing Spirit flowing through your veins.
In fact, if you are in Christ, you are already complete.
In Colossians 2:9-10, the Apostle Paul writes, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10, ESV). In the NKJV, Paul’s words are translated, “you are complete in him.”
I don’t know about you, but that phrase puzzles me. Complete how? When I roll out of bed thinking about my demanding schedule, hungry stomach, barking dog, and to-do list, I don’t feel very “complete.”
But think about Paul’s words. The fullness of deity dwells in Christ—that means God-sized joy, total satisfaction, heavenly wisdom, supernatural strength, deep peace, and so much infinitely more. And according to Paul, I’ve been filled in Christ too. So everything my soul could ever possibly long for—the riches of God himself—are mine, through Christ.
I can’t help but think I would life far differently if I actually remembered that I’m complete in Christ, with the fullness of God filling me. My body would still ache, my mind would still wander, and my will would still fail, but it wouldn’t define me. Christ would define me. I have the fullness of God available to me 24/7, so where else would I turn for satisfaction?
News Meant to Be Lived
I remember one night, about three years ago, preparing to lead our college Bible study. I was racking my brain for ideas of what to teach, until I picked up Darrin Patrick’s Church Planter. As I read about our identity in Christ, his words jumped off the page at me. I had to share. And our whole small group was better for it.
What I’m about to share, though, isn’t mine or even fully Patrick’s material. It’s also largely based on Dick Kaufman’s findings presented to Acts 29, as well as the writings of Dick Keyes. But more than that, it’s biblical.
See, if the Bible is true and the soul-satisfying fullness of God is always available to me in Christ, making me complete in him, that’s good news I need to start applying to my life now.
The problem is that, before I can be complete in Christ, I have to stop trying to be complete elsewhere.
Complete this sentence: “I tend to stress, worry, pray, or think the most about ________.”
For many of us, the answer is “work.” For others, it’s “family.” Those both seem like good answers. Other people might answer, “my dad who’s ill,” or, “my bank account,” or “that vacation I desperately need next week.”
There isn’t anything wrong with those most of things on the surface. But they pale in comparison to the fullness of God. They are miserable, insufficient replacements for the fullness of God, in fact. Although they may safely occupy our thoughts for much of the day, they can’t satisfy our souls. And they were never designed to. God alone is to occupy that place, and he is jealous to be first in your heart.
Whatever dominates your mind and heart, apart from God, is essentially an idol—a false god. Every day, we replace the role of God in our lives (the object of our affection, the master of our lives, the captivator of our imagination, the source of our approval, the hope of our tired bodies) and put something puny in his place. And whenever we do that, it’s a horrible sin in God’s eyes. See how God rebuked the Israelites in Jeremiah 2:12-13:
“Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.“
Every time we turn to godless things for satisfaction, God is grieved. We’re forsaking the fullness of God for cheap imitations.
What does everyday idolatry look like? A father neglects his family because he idolizes his career and the money it provides. A son neglects his relationship with God because he’s busy idolizing women. A young woman judges other women because she idolizes her own body image, and has been enslaved with insecurity as a result.
Why do we do this?
Lies at the Root
Now, select which option best describes the root cause of your current problem: “I need ________ to be complete.”
No matter what we let become the “god” of our lives, from relationships and finances to entertainment and sex, Patrick argues (on the basis of the Gospels and the personality psychology of Alfred Adler) that virtually every idol comes from a misdirected desire for power, control, comfort, or approval.
In other words, we’ve believed the lie that says those natural longings of the human hearts are meant to be satisfied somewhere outside of surrendering and worshipping the limitless God of the universe.
We commit sins because we “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Thus all idolatry issues are belief issues. Lies entice us to worship something other than God.
So put down the lie. This is where the good news comes in.
Tasting the Fullness of God in Christ
The all-sufficient God of the universe—with whom we, as sinners, are generally unsatisfied—won’t be denied his honor. He refuses to let us all go on believing the lie that he isn’t enough. So he sent his Son, the fullness of deity in bodily form, to the world. Jesus came to be known, loved, and enjoyed by us idolaters.
God took all of our sin and put it on Jesus, pouring out his wrath as if Jesus himself had committed all our sins. In our place, God’s Son was mocked, spat upon, blasphemed, beaten, cut, bruised, whipped, pierced, hung, and stabbed.
Then when Jesus rose from the dead, the exchange went full circle, and God can now credit Christ’s fullness and righteousness to us, saving us and forever completing us in his sight (Colossians 1:21-23, Hebrews 10:14).
If we turn from the our superficial obsessions and the sinful lies beneath them, and if we dare to believe that God is enough, then Christ has done everything needed to bring us back to our all-sufficient Creator. Now, instead of going to worldly things to fill the God-sized void in us, we can look to Christ and taste the fullness of God himself.
Good News at the Root
Remember the lie that undergirds your idol? The thing you think you “need” to feel complete? Now, find its counterpart in the work of Christ. Finish this thought: “Jesus ________ for me.”
If necessary, stop reading. Pray. Ask God to bring to your mind a truth about God that will replace the lie you’ve believed.
Back in my college days, relationships were my idol. I spent most of my time and mental energy thinking about whom I should date, wondering why I wasn’t making any headway, and panicking at the thought of perpetual singleness. I was believing the lie that I needed the comfort and approval of a girlfriend to be complete.
Then, through looking to Christ, I found good news to replace my lie. I dared to believe that God was enough, and that knowing him alone was able to meet my needs (Philipppians 1:21). The cross was my bride price, paid so Christ could have me. He desires me. Why would I need anything else to complete me?
Through that, I realized that singleness wasn’t the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Christ was enough. And that truth established the healthy foundation on which my marriage is now built. Because not only does the good news complete me; it compels me.
Living in Light of News
Based on the truth you’ve just picked up, replace your surface idolatry with something else: “In Christ I am ________, so now I can ________.”
Just as lies at the root of my life lead to everyday idolatry, Gospel truths at the root lead to daily response and obedience to God.
That’s huge, because our actions matter. Jesus said that you can judge whether or not someone believes in him by their actions (Matthew 7:16). Without leaning of Christ for our satisfaction, we can do literally nothing (John 15:4). But with him, we are freed to actually live differently. To live like people who are complete in Christ.
In college, knowing that my completeness in Christ had nothing to do with my relationships status, I approached dating way differently. I stopped pursuing. I actually let God take over and place someone in my life, because I wanted to trust him either way. And because I had been freed through Christ, when my wife and I first started dating, we both held our relationship with an open hand, not a clenched fist, willing to let God have his way. We agreed: we would be content with God regardless of how our courtship went.
It was a surreal feeling of peace and dependence on God. It was Paul’s own secret to contentment (Philippians 4:12-13). Our delight in God ranked higher than our delight in each other. Rather than bending over backwards to serve the god of relationships, we instead worshiped the true God by surrendering our relationship to him.
What would change in your life if you dared to believe the Gospel? If you trusted that you could actually be complete in Christ, needing nothing but God?
Note: This article has been edited from the form in which it originally appeared on this site.
Image credit: Matthias Ripp (CC 2.0)