The Cross - Sufficient or Lacking


If the cross is sufficient for the salvation of the elect, then how can we fill up that which is lacking? Colossians 1:24


Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christs afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

Christ's death upon the cross was sufficient for his elect. He finished the work for his sheep, his church (John 17:4). "By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Heb. 10:14). "It is finished" (John 19:30). Moreover, elsewhere Paul stresses the total sufficiency of the Cross (Rom. 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:17-21). So, Paul is not contradicting what he says elsewhere. He is not saying that the cross is deficient! The sufficiency of the atonement is not in question.

The church however is called to suffer for Christ! But, this is not an atoning work; rather it is to be an expected attribute of the advancing of the Kingdom of God. Paul says:

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and Gods fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.

Christians suffering is a theme in all of Scripture (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Pet. 2:20; 4:13; Rev. 2:10, etc.). Paul suffered for the church (Eph. 3:13; 2 Tim. 2:10). In a sense, the sufferings of the church is Christ suffering (Acts 9:4).

Paul was able to glory in nothing but the cross (Gal. 6:14). However, the enemies of Christ were not satisfied! They hated Christ and therefore they hate those that bear his name. Jesus himself warns us of their hatred (Matt. 10:25; John 15:18-21; Acts 9:4-5). Christ is no longer physically upon the earth, but his church (his body)is, and it (he) suffers. This is one sense that I believe that our sufferings fill up that which is lacking in Christ.

There is another sense though that this text may be understood. It complements the first. Again, with the view that the cross was sufficient for the elect, we see that Christ died and rose again. Christ suffered (Isa. 53). However, this still needs to be proclaimed to the world (Matt. 28:18-20). Christ no longer can physically present the gospel, but his church can and should. So, in a sense this is what is lacking. We, the church, are called to present the afflictions of Christ to the world. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8; cf. Isa. 62:11).

For more on this see Begging for Bread.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).