The Preeminence of Christ:
Divine and Human Responsibility
The Biblical Basis for a Christ-Centered Life
1. Ground we have covered in vs. 18:
a. Head of the Body – authority over the Body
b. The Resurrection and our Resurrected Head
c. A Heavenly Head and an Earthly Body
d. His Preeminence in the Body Corporately
2. Today we will look at Christ’s preeminence over individual members of His Body.
A Christ-Centered Life Is the Work of the Holy Spirit
1. It is not natural for CHRIST to have preeminence in a life. It is supernatural.
a. It is natural for SELF to have the preeminence.
b. Let’s face it, the three most important people in your life and mine are “me, myself, and I.”
c. It is natural to give self first place. It is not right, but it is natural. It is the way man in his natural state self operates.
d. And this isn’t learned behavior either. It is innate. Our fallen nature is programmed to think and operate this way. Little children behave this way: all by themselves!
e. This is universal. It is human nature. It is the same in every age and in every culture.
f. In the life of every son of Adam, SELF rules. Self has all the preeminence.
g. Matt. 6:1-2: This is true even in the lives of those who seem so sacrificial and have given their lives for others.
• Behind the good works of every unsaved man is SELF-reigning… self taking preeminence.
• In the life of every unsaved religious or moral man, there is inner craving for recognition, approval of men, applause, making a name for oneself, or even personal satisfaction.
• Every ounce of this is motivated by the old nature… the self life… which is always contrary to God… an inner desire for self exaltation.
• Jesus exposed this in the life of Pharisees. They were such men.
• Whether it is a Mother Theresa, a Mahatma Gandhi, good works are often done with impure motives… mixed motives at best.
• I Cor. 13:3 – Paul said that it is possible to give away all your goods to the poor and have your body burned as a martyr, and still do it without any real love…which is self sacrificing. No love for God… it can all be done out to EXALT self… so that people will think highly of you… admire you… praise you… perhaps write a book about you… make on the six o’clock news!
• It is human nature… it is NATURAL to give SELF the place of preeminence.
• It doesn’t help to pretend that this is not so. It is so.
2. The genuine manifestation of the preeminence of Christ in a life requires the supernatural work of God to overcome that ingrained tendency of the flesh within us. It requires the work of the Holy Spirit.
a. Even if a person truly DESIRES to make Christ preeminent in his life, and tries as hard as he can, he is doomed to failure.
• For whatever WE do, is in the end, a manifestation of OUR efforts and of the natural powers of the flesh…a manifestation of self and not a manifestation of Christ.
• The harder we work at it, the better imitation we can produce, but it’s still an imitation… a counterfeit Christian life.
• A religious man who is dedicated and works hard at it… even a saved man who is untaught and works hard at it, might be able to manufacture a life that could be passed off as a life where Christ is preeminent…it might look like the real thing… and he might be able to fool men.
• But God knows the difference between that which is genuine and a counterfeit Christian life… a counterfeit attempt at exalting Christ.
• NO matter how hard we try to produce “A Christ-like life wherein Christ has the preeminence” ourselves, the end product is always a work of the flesh… man’s best effort perhaps, but a counterfeit.
• Man at his best state is altogether vanity.
• There is nothing the flesh can produce that is ever pleasing to God.
• The old self life can be cultured; made religious; reformed; dressed up; become sophisticated… but its selfish nature can NEVER be changed by our efforts. That which is flesh is flesh. A leopard cannot change his spots.
b. The flesh can NEVER produce a Christ-centered life. It is the very nature of the flesh to be SELF-centered.
• The flesh is not opposed to producing a counterfeit Christ-centered life…
• But the flesh is always opposed to exalting Christ… though not at all opposed to religious efforts which ultimately exalt self.
• Rom. 7:18, 22-23 – And even in a regenerated mind, where a believer genuinely DESIRES to lead a Christ-centered life, on his own, how to perform it always escapes him… and he is doomed to failure.
• There is no good thing in the flesh, and the flesh is simply unable to produce REAL Christ-likeness… a life where Christ truly has preeminence.
• It isn’t a matter of will or desire. It is a matter of ability. They that are in the flesh CANNOT please God.
3. Christ is preeminent in our lives ONLY when we are filled with the Spirit… controlled by the Spirit of God.
a. The Holy Spirit came to fill us… but the purpose of Spirit filling is not to accentuate the Spirit, but Christ.
b. John 16:13-14 – the Spirit came to exalt Christ in every way.
c. Rom. 8:2 refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of LIFE in Christ Jesus. The role of the Holy Spirit is to make the indwelling life of Christ PREEMINENT in our lives… so that HIS life is manifested, not our old self life.
d. When the Spirit is in control of our lives, Christ will be on our heart.
• HE will be the preeminent One in our affections and our thinking.
• He will be the Object of our attention.
e. As we yield to the Holy Spirit and are filled with the Holy Spirit, then Christ’s life is magnified in and through our mortal bodies… to the glory of God.
• At any given moment, either Christ or SELF has preeminence in our lives.
• He has all the preeminence and we have none—or vice versa.
f. The Spirit’s ministry is to gradually conform us more to the image of Christ (II Cor. 3:18).
• Hence, there is a sense in which the place and preeminence of Christ in our lives ought to be GROWING and increasing.
• The longer we are filled with the Spirit… the more of Christ will be manifested in our lives… and the less of self.
• He increasingly has the preeminence in our lives until we can say, “For to me to live is Christ.”
• When that is the case, the preeminence of Christ is not just a slogan but a reality.
• And yet in another sense, we will NEVER arrive at that point completely… there is always MORE to go…
• There will always be more ugly expressions of self and our old man that need to be put back on the cross…and kept there by faith.
• We should always be pressing toward the mark of our high calling… which is Christ-likeness… till we reach glory.
• While we will NEVER obtain perfection in this life, as we grow in Christ, those periods where self is reigning should be less and less frequent… with Christ reigning for longer periods uninterrupted…
g. When we are filled with “self,” the ugliness of the flesh is manifested.
h. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that our old nature is held in check… reckoned to be dead… so that instead of SELF sitting on the throne and having the preeminence, it is CHRIST sitting on the throne and having preeminence.
i. In the life of the Spirit filled believer, it is CHRIST who is to have the preeminence, not self… not even the Holy Spirit, but Christ.
j. The power of the Holy Spirit enables us to keep our eyes on Christ… and in turn, as we keep our eyes on Christ, we can count on the power of the Holy Spirit to keep on filling us…
k. Sir Robert Anderson: “In proportion therefore as mind and heart are fixed on Christ, we may count on the Spirit’s presence and power, but if we make the Holy Spirit Himself the object of our aspirations and worship, some false spirit may counterfeit the true and take us for a prey.”
4. A life where Christ is truly PREEMINENT… a life where Christ is exalted and not self… requires the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit… the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
a. As we keep our eyes on Christ by faith… as we behold His glory, we are changed into that same image… even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
b. The more we are changed into His image… the more of Christ is manifested through us… the more preeminence Christ really HAS in our lives.
c. Gal. 4:19 – the ministry of the Spirit is to FORM CHRIST in us… His character, holiness, love, mercy, justice, righteousness, grace and truth.
d. The goal is that Christ is seen in us… no longer I but Christ. He is to have all the preeminence.
e. This is all the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the believer.
A Christ-Centered Life Involves the Human Will
1. The example of salvation/regeneration.
a. Regeneration is completely the work of the Holy Spirit.
b. We are born of the Spirit. (John 3:6)
c. It is a supernatural work we will never fully comprehend. It is like the work of the wind… we see its effects and know of its reality… but we don’t know how…
d. The new birth is not of blood, of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man… but of God. It is a supernatural work. (John 1:13)
e. Yet man’s responsibility is to believe and receive (John 1:12).
f. If man will BELIEVE (trust God), then the Spirit of God will regenerate that person… and in that order!
g. God does the work, but we are to BELIEVE… we are to entrust our eternal destiny into God’s hands…
h. If we come in faith, the Spirit of God will regenerate us. If we believe, God will save us. He saves ANYONE who will come and turns none away.
i. Jesus put it this way: “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:29)
j. All those who come to Christ in simple, childlike faith will be saved… and experience peace with God… and rest for their soul.
k. So COME and be saved is the gospel message. It is that simple.
l. When we come, the Spirit regenerates us and Christ is now our Savior… not our Judge to condemn us, but our Savior.
2. When a person DOES come to Christ and is saved, he is simultaneously regenerated by the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ, and filled with the Spirit.
a. All of these supernatural works of the Spirit are once and for all works and are permanent… except the filling ministry.
b. As every true child of God sadly experiences, as time goes on, we often drift away… and lean on the flesh… and return to a life of flesh and self-centeredness.
c. Sometimes that occurs because of ignorance of God’s Word; sometimes it occurs gradually and is not even noticed… sometimes it is because we are tripped up by this or that sin…
d. But it happens…
e. And the result is that we have a child of God—a genuinely born again person—who is not filled with the Spirit… and hence Christ is not preeminent in his life.
f. A true believer: but carnal, worldly, self-centered.
3. Theologians from all different perspectives have some up with all kinds of methods of dealing with this problem:
a. Some revert to legalism—as did the false teachers in Colossae.
b. Some revert to psychology—as do many believers today.
c. Some revert to an unhealthy emphasis on the Holy Spirit—as do folks in the charismatic movement today.
d. Some rely on human ingenuity and goodness—as do the liberal theologians.
e. Religion seeks to reform this old man… and prune him down… but never gets at the root of the problem.
4. It is a very real problem… it occurs all too often. (Christ is Savior, but not preeminent… believers who are alive spiritually but are not living for the Lord…)
a. Theologians have invented a lot of different TERMS to describe ways to deal with this problem.
b. Some in Reformed circles even seem to imply that the problem doesn’t exist—they say that if you are justified you are sanctified… and if you are not sanctified, then you are not justified. (lack of recognition of positional truth)
c. It doesn’t help to pretend. The reality is that there ARE true believers in whose lives (at any given point) Christ is NOT preeminent.
d. It boils down to a simple choice: who is going to RULE in my life? Self or Christ? Who is the preeminent One in YOUR life?
5. Preeminence does not exist in degrees.
a. The term for preeminence in Col. 1:18 is only used once in the New Testament… and it means “to be first; to hold first place.”
b. There is no such thing as being “almost” preeminent or “partially” preeminent…
c. Christ is to be preeminent… He is Lord and doesn’t share that role with us!
d. One man noted a distinction between prominent or preeminent
• Would you say to your wife, “honey, you are prominent in all my affections?” She would then want to know, WHO ELSE is prominent in your affections?
• But if you said, “Honey, you are preeminent in my affections,” that would settle it. She is the ONLY one!
• Prominent conveys the idea of one important entity among other important entities.
e. Another man made distinction between three terms: place; prominence; and preeminence.
• Christ has a place in my heart. This is the believer who has a place for Christ in his life… and when convenient, and doesn’t interfere with other activities, Christ might even have first place. But if not, He always has some place… often tucked away and hidden… but present. Christ is one of many masters in this life. On occasion He is taken out, dusted off, and shown some respect!
• Christ is prominent in my life (among other prominent aspects of my life) This is the believer who is generally faithful… and Christ plays a prominent role in his life. Of course, there are other prominent slices of his life… while Christ is usually chosen over other things… He has general control over that life… but that is not always the case.
• Christ has preeminence – there is no other; he IS my life. This is the place of total surrender, where the believer walks in the Spirit consistently and Christ is thus given the preeminent position He deserves. Christ rules in that heart. There is no other.
» God is a jealous god. He tolerates no rivals.
» Isa. 45:21-23 – no others!
» This is the position Christ demands in the church and in the lives of every member of the Body of Christ. BOW before Him as Lord.
6. There is really only ONE rival to Christ having preeminence in our lives: SELF!
a. We sometimes think of His rivals as things in our lives: golf; skiing; money; entertainment; clothes; career; music; art; hunting; etc…
b. But those things are not really the problem. The game of golf isn’t the problem. The existence of money in the world isn’t the problem. Nor are the various forms of entertainment the problem.
c. Those are only SYMPTOMS of the problem. The real problem is SELF-rule… those “things” are merely manifestations of HOW we express self-rule in our lives.
d. The battle in the Christian life… that which hinders Christ from having the place of preeminence in our lives is not any of those things. It is not a battle between Christ and golf. It is a battle between Christ and me, myself, and I!
e. Legalism teaches: stop doing this or that…and then Christ will be preeminent. Not so. You are only dealing with the symptoms; you haven’t dealt with the ROOT of the problem.
f. The ROOT of the problem… the main hindrance to a Christ centered life is SELF.
g. If we want a Christ centered life, then we have to deal with the ROOT of the problem.
7. Theologians have come with all kinds of terms to describe how to deal with the self-life.
a. Second work of grace – used by various groups with several different—and confusing—meanings
b. A crisis experience: which implies that this occurs during a crisis in one’s life.
c. Making Christ Lord of our lives… even though such language never occurs in the Bible. He IS Lord. We don’t make Him so.
d. Keswick has come up with the terms, the crucified life.
e. Ron Hession refers to it as brokenness…
f. Hudson Taylor spoke of coming to an end of self.
g. Lewis Sperry Chafer called it dedication/consecration.
h. Andrew Murray called it Absolute Surrender.
i. Each of these expressions is legitimate and attempts to give a biblical concept a “name.”
8. Rather than inventing more terms and adding to the confusion, let’s just look at what the Bible actually SAYS and let the Scriptures speak for themselves.
a. The Scriptures DO address this issue… and we ought to KNOW what the Bible says.
b. A balanced, Christ-centered life – a life wherein Christ is truly exalted and glorified IS the work of the Holy Spirit. He conforms us to the image of Christ and exalts the Lord Jesus in our lives.
c. BUT—it also requires personal involvement on our part.
d. We don’t just let go and let God.
e. God expects us to USE our faculties: to think, trust, yield, and obey.