Today we look at the end of this Christological section in the first chapter of Colossians. The part is still what I would call the opening statement to Paul’s letter. Previously, we have seen Paul gives thanks to God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the church in Colossae (Col 1:3-14). Last week, we looked at the Christological Poem, found in verses 15 to 20. In these verses, we see Christ is over all creation and the new creation as the redeemer. Colossians 1:21-23, still looks to Christ but as the personal redeemer over his people. We see he or himself referenced eleven times (he, him, himself.). But when we turn to verses 21 and 23, we see a shift to you (x4). There was a period of text with no reference to the church since verse 14.
Three things we were
Paul speaks in verse 21 that you who were (past tense). Paul speaks of the church of what they were, making a comparison later of what they are now. This is important to consider. Paul is writing to the church in Colossae and the list at the end of chapter four shows that the church was a predominantly gentile audience. These three things show what these people were, past tense. They were alienated, they had a hostile mind, and doing evil deeds.
Firstly, they were alienated. Merriam Webster defines alienated as “to cause to be estranged: to make unfriendly, hostile.” The word isolation is also a synonym. Isolation speaks clearly in the year 2020. Paul uses this word in Ephesians 2:12, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Being an outsider is never a good feeling, not understanding a joke, feeling left out, or not being able to enter a place. Paul in Ephesians lists four things they are alienated from 1) Christ, 2) Israel, 3) Covenants of Promise, and 4) God. We take this for granted that the church is open to people of all nationalities, including us! However, one of the great struggles in the New Testament was the level of Gentile’s submission to the ceremonial and civil laws of the nation of Israel, see Acts 15. However, before Christ, they were alienated from the covenants of promise. This is the basis for the mystery hidden for ages and generations.
Hostile in Mind
Secondly, they were hostile in mind. Not only were they outside the ‘circle,’ but they were on the wrong side. Thirty-two times this word is used in the Bible, and it is always translated enemy or foe. Hostile is not neutral but opposed to, at war with the enemy. Jesus states the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Emphasis added). We are not neutral; there is no fence-sitting when it comes to loving God. You cannot be indifferent about Christ. There is no Swiss neutrality principle of religion.
We need to remember this when we talk to others, for two reasons. First, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:17-18, “that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Paul later will explain how we are to handle this callous mind (see Eph 4:19ff). The second thing to remember is that the believers in Colossae ‘were’ these people, that God can work in sinners’ hearts and callous minds to renew them breathing new birth and regeneration into them. Don’t be surprised when people have a hostile mind to Christ, but don’t let that stop you from sharing the truth and hope of the Gospel, because it is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit that transforms the stone-cold heart into a warm, tender heart for Christ.
Lastly, there are no morally neutral deeds. “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Ecc 7:29). The Westminster Confession of Faith (16.7) explains the impossible task of even the best works of those hostile in mind, “Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God.” But Paul is not even speaking of their best deeds as unbelievers. Paul clearly states that they are evil or wicked deeds. The great news about this passage is that it does not stop in verse 21 but shows the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ to change the sinner’s heart, mind, and deeds.
One action Christ has accomplished
Verse 22 is a simple statement of the powerful message of the Gospel. “Christ has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death…” That Christ, the second person of the Trinity, took on flesh and dwelt among us. That Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection, accomplished for us what we could not accomplish. That we were disobedient to God and his Law, but Christ was faithful and obedient. Where we were alienated from God and his people, Christ has reconciled us to himself. We were hostile, enemies, to God, but Christ has made peace by the cross (Col 1:20). Christ killed the hostility from us towards God, in one body through the cross (Eph 2:16). Paul summarizes this so beautifully in Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” That while we were still sinners and enemies, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). He did this without our help or aid. His reconciliation breaks down the wall of hostility. We should think and consider reconciliation between brothers and sisters in the church and even outside the church. However, we need to preach first and foremost that the most crucial reconciliation is not between two people, although important. The most critical reconciliation is between you and God. These verses, 21-23, are personal. There is an essential question about if verse 21 says were or are, for you personally. Verse 22 is the key; I am not alienated because Christ has reconciled. I am not hostile because Christ has reconciled. I do not do evil deeds because Christ is renewing my mind into his image.
Three things Christ has applied
Christ has accomplished reconciliation in order to present you. Previously Paul stated three things that we were (Past tense), now Paul states three things that Christ accomplished in his reconciliation to believers. Paul lists three things that start with the letter ‘Alpha’ (α). This gives Biblical validation for using alliteration in sermons and writings ;).
Firstly, Paul states that Christ, through his reconciliation, has made them holy. We looked at this briefly in the introduction that Paul calls the church ‘Saints’ or holy ones (Col 1:2, 12). That no longer are they in isolation from the people of God; they are a part of the people of God. Peter writes, “but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession” (1 Pet 2:9a). Holy means to consecrate, set apart, or in the negative sense that something holy is not for common use. God is described as “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Is 6:2). The Lord’s prayer begins with the petition of “Hallowed (Holy) be your name.” The people of God are set apart to be holy, being imitators of God’s Holiness, “You shall, therefore, be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:45). Our union with Christ imputes his righteousness and holiness to us (Heb 7:26).
Secondly, those reconciled through Christ are blameless. The Greek word for blameless is also translated as ‘without blemish’ (cf. Heb 9:14). Whenever I clean a window, no matter how thoroughly or how many times I do it, I can always see a spot or blemish, the same is true about our children’s clothes. However, Christ reconciles us to be blameless before the Father. Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). Paul is speaking of the example of Christ for husbands to love their wives. But Christ presents his bride in splendor, holy, and without blemish. And Christ even choose us to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the earth (Eph 1:4). If we were to go to court, there would be many things we could be tried and convicted of, for we do not perfectly uphold every aspect of the law, e.g., traffic violation for going over the speed limit (by accident). Man is not even blameless by the standard man has set. However, the standard of God’s law is perfect. When we step up to the stand, and Christ is judging, he will look at the piece of paper, and he will look at his perfect obedience to the law, not ours.
Lastly, Christ presents his people above reproach before him. This word is similar to blameless. In 1 Corinthians 1:8, it is translated guiltless. The word is used in the sense of being unaccusable, meaning that they are not subject to, deserving, or worthy of a charge of wrongdoing. Incredibly, we can give thanks and praise to Christ for his reconciliation. We know we are not holy, blameless, and above reproach. To Christ be the praise and honor and glory for he is the one who has reconciled us, that we were alienated, hostile, and doing evil, now because of Christ, we are holy, blameless, and above reproach.
Three things remain
Paul has commended the Church in Colossae for many things giving thanks to God the Father for their faith, foundation in the word, and their fruit. He writes this letter because they forgot these things. They like a child riding a bike, begin to turn off the path. Paul encourages them to continue in their faith, being stable, steadfast, and not shifting. Christ is supreme and sufficient, but often it is our drifting that is unhelpful. When swimming in the ocean, they always tell you to pick a noticeable landmark and to keep on looking to it so that you know where you are, or else you can drift. He reminds them to continue in the faith. Stable is a reference to a foundation. Often a storm or tornado will pass by and the foundation is all that is left, Paul reminds them to have faith in Christ as their foundation. He tells them to be steadfast, Paul uses this word when talking about the resurrection and encourages the church in Corinthians that even when we consider passing through the veil we can be firmly fixed to Christ now, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:28). And finally, he encourages them not to shift from the Gospel that they had heard. Galatians 1:8, “But even if an angel from heaven or we should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one, we preached to you, let him be accursed.” We see the repetition of two of the things Paul gives thanks to God the Father for (Col 1:3-8) again in this passage as a reminder and encouragement to keep focused. Keep your faith in Christ as central and keep the same foundation of the word, the Gospel of truth.
One Message to Proclaim
We will look at this more next week. However, Colossians is written because they sought to add to the Gospel. Christ was not enough for them and was or is not supreme or sufficient. However, the letter teaches that Christ is supreme and sufficient for our salvation. The church is continuously battling this. Many good ministries, programs, and other opportunities come knocking on our door. However, we need to remain focused on His Glory and His Gospel.