Colossians 1. 21-23: Mystery of Reconciliation
October 9, 2011 Series: Colossians
Topic: New Testament Passage: Colossians 1:22–1:22
The Mystery of Reconciliation – Colossians 1:21-23
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
For the last few weeks we have been hearing Sam preach on the first twenty verses of Colossians and have learned much about the church at Colossae to whom the Apostle Paul wrote this letter so many years ago. We’ve learned about the false teachers who had come there to preach a different gospel than what they had originally been taught. Last Sunday’s sermon dealt with the preeminence of Christ, and how he is the one through whom all things were created. It’s a passage of scripture which clearly teaches us about the deity and supremacy of Jesus Christ.
I absolutely love these verses which we are going to be taking a closer look at today because they clearly communicate the gospel and as a pastor I’m all about the gospel. Why? Well, as Paul wrote to the Romans, it is the power of God unto salvation unto everyone that believes. That is why, Paul says, he is not ashamed of the gospel. It’s through the gospel that sinners are saved and given new life in Christ. And it’s the gospel that teaches us and gives us the power to live our lives in a pleasing and acceptable way to God. It’s the gospel that picks us up when we fall down and sin. It’s the gospel that gives us the assurance that our sins are completely forgiven and that we are accepted, not because of any good that can found in us, but because of the goodness of Jesus. And it’s the gospel that gives us the strength to persevere.
Today’s passage is Paul’s reminder to the Colossian believers of who they once were and who they have now become. It’s a good time for us to join with the Colossians to reflect upon these two realities; who we once were, and who we are now. Who we were before we knew Jesus Christ, before we had salvation, and who we are after having been born again. For some of you this is simply a call to consider who you are now because you have never placed your faith in Jesus. My prayer is that in the very near future you too will be able to rejoice over a new reality in your life as well.
Paul says that once we were alienated, that is alienated from God. This usage of the word alienation in the original text actually refers to what would normally be a permanent separation. A separation caused by our own behavior and rebellion. Keep in mind that God did nothing to cause the alienation. It all started with Uncle Adam in the Garden of Eden. And it’s been the state of every person born who has not been called by God to have faith in his son. It’s because we are born with a sin nature and as such we do not desire to have a relationship with a holy and perfect God. And we are okay with that. It’s according to our natural inclination to distance ourselves as much as possible from God.
Our hostile minds
He tells the Colossians and us that once we were hostile in mind toward God and that we did evil deeds. This is true for all of us and continues to be true for those who have not experienced the grace of repentance and faith. Our minds are by nature hostile towards the God that is revealed to us in the bible. Paul tells the Romans:
7”For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8: 7-8).
Also, the writer to the Hebrews tells us:“ without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).
I think we all know hostility to God when we see it or hear it. For example, I just read this week of a pastor in Iran who is facing execution because he refused to recant his faith in Jesus Christ. The government in the country of Iran is hostile toward Jesus Christ. During the six month period between June 2010 and January 2011 a total of 202 Christians were arrested because of their faith in Christ. As of January, 33 remained imprisoned. There is real overt hostility present in this world which causes our Christian brothers and sisters around the world to suffer in immeasurable ways. The persecution is real. Our friend, Pastor Sudakhar from India has suffered several beatings by people who are hostile to the God he worships. We are blessed to live in a country where we still can proclaim our faith without fear of violence. However, that does not mean that hostility toward God does not exist.
I think that what Paul is getting at here is that hostility which comes to our mind when the God of the universe doesn’t match the god of our own creation or the idols that we serve. For example, when confronted with the sovereignty of God as taught by the bible, many of us react very negatively toward it because we want to believe that we have so much more control over our lives than we do. But mainly our minds are hostile toward God because we do not want to submit to the law of God. We want to keep our distance from God because our deeds are evil and we want to keep them in the dark. The closer we get to God, the more his light shines on our sin, the more uncomfortable we get.
Listen to a quote I read online from a woman newspaper columnist who said that a good God who rules the world and answers prayers would be “one mean, petty, obsessive compulsive boor”, who she pictures saying something like:
I’m giving leukemia to six babies in Iowa today, taking out 10,000 folks in Bangladesh in a typhoon and raising the rate of prostate cancer in Australia 11 percent. Meanwhile, because they asked me so nicely, I’m dissolving a tumor in the brain of a woman in London, rerouting an 8.3 earthquake away from the Azores and letting the contestant from Sweden win Miss Universe.
Not everyone is this overtly hostile but the hostility still exists.
The mystery of reconciliation
And that is exactly where we would all still be sitting if it weren’t for the love of God and his desire to be reconciled to us. This sermon is really about the mystery of reconciliation. Paul says that we have been reconciled in his body of flesh, by his death. By this, he is speaking of Christ’s life and his sacrificial death on the cross. In our society, reconciliation is often used to refer to two parties who are enemies of each other or who are at odds with one another. Often times we use the word reconciliation when talking about estranged married couples who are trying to get back together. As a pastor who gets to counsel couples who are having difficulties in marriage, it is my greatest joy to see those who have really been struggling be reconciled to one another. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen. When reconciliation doesn’t happen, divorce is inevitable.
Paul gives some insight into this mystery and the manner in which God reconciles a sinful people to himself in 2Cor. 5: 16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Now I cannot say it any more clearly than how Paul says it. God has entrusted us to carry forth in this time and place the message of reconciliation. So don’t think that because you’re not a pastor or that because you haven’t been to seminary or Bible College that you can’t be useful to God in advancing his kingdom. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, the old you is gone and the new you has come. And God has given you a ministry to help in reconciling the world to him through Jesus Christ. Surely not all of us have given the platform that Billy Graham had in proclaiming the gospel to the world, but each of us has our own unique place in life where we can have an impact.
There are several points to consider in encouraging you to becoming a more effective ambassador for Christ.
- 1. First, remember that you yourself are powerless to change anyone or to make anyone into a new creation.
- 2. Your responsibility is to simply communicate the gospel through your words and the way that you live your life. This encompasses your family and home life, work life, church life, marriage, and so on.
- 3. Remember that the power to change hearts comes from God and that he uses his words to do it.
- 4. Be sensitive to the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit. Remember to rely on His power and not your own.
In order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (v. 22).
So now Paul tells us that the goal or purpose of our reconciliation with God is so that we might be presented to God in a particular way. When we get saved we are counted as righteous before God even though we are practically still sinners. Faith in Christ brings justification, justification leads to sanctification. So while we will never be perfect in this life, Christ does change us at our new birth and the Holy Spirit begins to teach us how to live. Our desire to sin is no longer as strong as it once was and suddenly we have a desire to begin doing what’s right. Paul writes to the Romans “22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (6:22). In other words when we believe, we receive the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) and this fruit actually leads to sanctification, which is the process of ever-increasing in Christ-likeness.
This doesn’t mean that it’s all done for us. To be sure, our justification is completely and fully done for us by God; we play no part in it. But our sanctification is a mutual effort. We labor to crucify the deeds and desires of the flesh which war against the Spirit. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).
But it is good and important for us to have a proper motivation for our sanctification. Any good that we do is not so that God will accept us or love us more. No, he already accepts us, because of Jesus. Every good thing we do and every evil that we avoid should be out of response to what Christ did for us and to glorify him.
Living the Gospel
It has been over 13 years since God so graciously called me and my family out of legalism and self-righteousness. I am still learning what it means to live the gospel. My father died of ALS about 5 years ago, leaving my mother a widow. A couple of years ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Lately she has gotten more and more forgetful, requiring more day to day care. She lives in the same home I was raised in about 160 miles south of here. Several of my siblings live within walking distance from her and are able to help her with a lot of things, such as making sure she takes her daily medicine, doctor trips, etc. As her need for care increases, the involvement of us her children in supporting her and to what degree do we make personal sacrifices are questions that have become front and center.
While all of us agree that there may or will come a day when our mother will require more care than any of us are capable of giving her and she will have to reside at a care facility, we all .desire for her to live as long as possible at home and then with our individual families. This week, as I have pondered the extent to which I am called as her son to serve her in her final years, I was prompted by several verses from the bible. First, Rom. 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Second, Matt. 16:24, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Third, 1 John 3: 16-18, By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. Finally, in 1 Tim. 5:8, But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
As I meditated on these verses it became more and more clear that this was very clear example of what living the gospel looks like. It begins at home when we as parents take care of our children as the Lord intends. But it continues with our parents when they get old and we get to repay them with the same care that we received as little children. But it doesn’t end with family. Living the gospel compels us to respond to all of life with the mind of Christ. But we are all at different places in our walk so we can’t be judgmental of others, for as Paul continues in Rom. 12:3, For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. So whatever you find yourselves doing as you live out the gospel in your own life, don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. For as soon as you think that your sacrifice is making you more acceptable to God and better than those around you, your sweet smelling sacrifice has turned into a stench before the Lord, and you have become just like the Pharisee who prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector (Luke 18:11).
Therefore, since we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, even though we still carry our own bodies of flesh, we will one day be presented to our father as holy, blameless, and above reproach. You see, our God is so holy, pure and glorious that anyone who is stained with sin cannot stand before him. Don’t you see? That is why Christ had to die – in order to reconcile us to God the father. It was through his sacrificial death on the cross that all of our sins were paid for. Not a one of our sins are too large to have been covered on that day when God died for you and for me.
Talk about a mystery! How this works I cannot explain, but I believe it because the bible so clearly teaches it and because I have experienced it in my own life. I have sinned many, many times in my life and yet I know that they are paid for so therefore I no longer carry the guilt for those sins. When I do experience guilt because of failing my Lord again, I can go to the cross, confess my sin to Him and my guilt is removed. And I am free because I know I am forgiven and that my sin has been paid for.
Finally, Paul tells the Colossians , 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
An indispensable characteristic of genuine faith is perseverance. There’s an old saying that I grew up with; “yesterday’s faith won’t save you today.” The way it was taught was wrong in the sense that you could have genuine saving faith today, but lose it tomorrow. The truth of the matter is that you can have a said faith and lose it tomorrow. So the truthful saying would be; “yesterday’s said faith won’t save you today or yesterday, or tomorrow”, or “yesterday’s real faith will persevere through today and tomorrow”.
In other words, I believe the scriptures clearly teach us that our salvation is secure. Not because we are strong enough to hold onto it on our own, but because the one who gave it to us to begin with is strong. Let me read you a few verses to show you what I mean.
11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1: 11-14).
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written,
"For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
The point of all of this is just as both David and Jonah in the OT declared, salvation belongs to the Lord. Everything about our salvation is from God. He is the one brings us to faith, and He is the one who will enable us to finish the fight of faith.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
So you must be thinking, why would Paul even question their perseverance if it was all a done deal? I think that there are several reasons for this. First, the false teachers were teaching the Colossians a gospel different than that which had first heard. This false gospel was doing what any false teaching does, namely, drawing people away from true faith in Christ to something counterfeit, something which cannot save. He was in essence warning them against relapse into their former state with all its soul-destroying vices and against the remedy given them by those who refused to accept Christ as the complete and all sufficient Savior.
Secondly, Paul is giving us an answer to those of us who put all our hope in a time in our past where we answered an alter call at summer camp or at a Billy Graham crusade, or when we said the sinners prayer and figured that takes care of that; those of us who perhaps started a life of faith with great vigor and promise. But who lasted for a month, a year, 5 or even 10 years when for whatever reason you just quit and went back to your old life. What we learn from this is that real saving faith, given to us by God, is faith that lasts. Because it’s not just faith that God gives us when he saves us. He gives us a new heart and begins to recreate us from the inside out. So that for anyone who knew you before and after can testify that you are not the same person as before. Some things about you are bound to change. But even then, you don’t give up when life gets hard. True faith perseveres. True faith endures. True faith does not give up. True faith continues to see Jesus Christ as the all sufficient, perfect, preeminent, creator and savior of the world. It does not bring in substitute Christ’s. It cannot abide false teachers and the seductive heresies they propose.
Think about it. Are there false teachers out there today? If you don’t think so, just watch TBN for an hour at just about any time of day or night, and you are going to get your fill of lies about what the bible teaches. Primarily you’ll hear prosperity gospel and the word faith movement, which falsely teaches that God’s desire is that all his people prosper and be rich in this life. And that attaining that is incumbent on your sowing seeds of faith by giving them your money. I’m not saying that one with true faith cannot be deceived. But we must be on guard by knowing the truth so well that when we are presented with false teaching, we know it instantly.
In conclusion, my friends consider your position in Christ today. Even though once you were alienated, hostile in mind doing evil deeds, God has now reconciled you through his son to present you to God as holy, blameless, and beyond approach. What an amazing reality! Don’t hide such incredible news from the world by covering your faith under a basket. Allow the brilliance of the light of Christ shine in the darkness of the world around you.