Lesson 6

Paul's Letter to the Colossians

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

1:14 in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins; 1:15 who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 1:16 For by him were all things created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and to him.

Today's Lesson 

Paul had introduced himself to the Colossians and began his great hymn to Christ. In the last two lessons we started that hymn. Lesson 4 ended with Paul writing that the Colossians should give thanks to God always because God has taken them out of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of the Son whom He loved. In Lesson 5 we covered the next phrase, that we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins. In Today's Lesson, we continue with this hymn to Christ.


"Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…" In both of the Corinthian letters (I Cor. 11:7 and II Cor. 4:4) Paul uses this same concept. What is unique about this phrase is the paring of Christ as the image of God and the concept of God as the invisible God. Christ is the image that makes the invisible God visible. What does it mean that Christ is the image of God?


Adam is the only other example we have of someone who is said to have been in the image of God. When the first man was created, it was written that he was made in the image of God. From this simple beginning two heresies can develop from misunderstanding. The simplest begins with the idea that if man is made in the image of God, then it follows that God looks like us. God must have, as this heresy concludes, a physical body with hands and feet and all of the physical attributes of humankind. There are even passages of scripture that speak of God as though He does indeed have physical features that are just like ours.


But as we read scripture further there are other passages that draw us into another direction entirely. God is described as spirit. No man can see God. Moreover, we are told that God is in all places at all times. God exists independent of our physical reality. Physical matter does not confine him, nor can He be completely contained by it. The passages that speak of God's hands and His feet are descriptions that attempt to explain some part of God's nature to us just as passages that speak of God as an eagle that will shelter His beloved under His wing. God does not truly have wings, nor can He truly be said to have feet and hands as we do.


Christian orthodoxy teaches that God is without form. God is spirit. At the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God took physical form. As the prologue to the Gospel of John puts it, the Word that was God became flesh. Christ, who had always existed as the image of God, became an image that we could see. The phrase "the firstborn of all creation" does not mean to imply that Christ was a created being. "Firstborn" is a title of rank. He is pre-eminent over all creation. In fact, the next phrase will tell us that Christ participated in the creation of all living things.


But, before we leave verse 15, let us speak of the second heresy that flows from the concept of the image of God. This heresy goes in the alternate direction of the first. If God is spirit then Christ must have existed solely as spirit as well. This heresy would say that there was a physical man, Jesus, and the spirit of Christ descended on him (either at his birth or at his baptism) and departed from him at his death. Indeed, there are scriptures that if they are distorted and improperly interpreted tend to support this second heresy.


Both of these heresies undermine the mystery and the power of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The first pulls God down to our level and makes Him a physical being. The second would deny the deity of Jesus of Nazareth and eventually leads to a distortion of the physical nature of man.


God is spirit. Christ, who exists in the form of God and who is equal with God, became flesh and lived and died a physical being. His life was real. His death was real. He was, and still is, the image of the invisible God. God took on flesh so that He could redeem us by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.


How does learning about the life of Jesus Christ allow you to the see the invisible God? Have you ever seen the Father by looking at the image of the Son?


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