“You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, 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” (Colossians 1:21-23).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
In the opening verses of our text, Paul contrasts our former state (“once”) with that which Christ’s work has “now” conferred upon us. Once alienated, we have now been reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ.
“Alienated” describes a broken relationship, such as of spouses in a disaffected marriage or of parents and children estranged from one another. Alienation from God is the continual state of those without Christ. We are conceived and born hostile toward God. The addition of the word “hostile” (Colossians 1:21) makes it plain that the fault lay with us. Our hostility toward God was a result of our sinfulness. Our sinfulness and hostility can be seen in the evil deeds we did. Our sinfulness alienated us from God and His benefits.
By nature, since Adam’s fall, sinners are alienated from God and are the objects of His wrath. But God’s thoughts toward fallen humanity are thoughts of peace, not of evil. Through Christ, the Son of His love, God has taken the initiative and brought about peace between sinners and Himself. In Christ and through the divine fullness He possesses, God was pleased to bring about a reconciliation between Himself and the world of sinful human beings.
Reconciliation is the remedying of alienation, like a wayward spouse in a broken marriage being reconciled with the wronged partner (1 Corinthians 7:11), a broken family reunited with an estranged member. Christ Himself effected our reconciliation in His body of flesh by His death, thus restoring us to the favorable relationship man had with God when He first created mankind.
The Son of God, in whom all the fullness of deity dwells bodily, came into this world of sin not to vaunt His glory but to humble Himself and to shed His blood on Calvary’s cross. Jesus came to take the curse of man’s sin on Himself and to pay for its guilt, so that the broken fellowship between sinners and God might be repaired and changed from a relationship of warfare and enmity to one of blessedness and peace. Those once alienated are now reconciled.
The Gospel’s opponents in Colossae spoke much about making peace between God and man by building ladders to God with their own rituals and schemes and works and deeds. Paul brushes all this away as irrelevant and unnecessary. Jesus has already done all that is necessary to remove the barriers that sin created between God and man by His cross and the shedding of His blood. Through them our guilt is pardoned, and His righteousness is credited to us.
The reconciliation that Jesus brought about is perfect and complete, including the whole created world. When men fell into sin, the whole created world was affected by the consequences of sin. What had been a beautiful and perfect world became a very imperfect world. Christ’s redemptive work, however, reestablished peace between the sinful world and the holy God.
Human beings receive the blessings of that peace spiritually by faith already here in this world. In eternity we will experience these blessings perfectly and permanently. In the resurrection world, even the created world that was corrupted by man’s sin will be restored to perfection again. We do not understand all the details of what the resurrection world will be like, but we do know that everything about it, including our own relationship to our Lord, will testify to the complete and perfect redemption and reconciliation accomplished by Christ.
Individual sinners receive that forgiveness as our very own by faith. We have been recipients of the spiritual blessings brought about by God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself. As sinners born of an extensive line of sinners, we had been alienated from God. We were strangers, shut out from God’s mercy and love. We were enemies of God in our affections and dispositions, and our wicked actions revealed our inner hatred of God and our unwillingness to serve Him.
But now, by a miracle of God’s mercy, we have entered a new and wonderful relationship with God. We sinners have been reconciled with God. Because Jesus came into this world, took on a human nature, and became man’s substitute, our debt of sin also had been repaid. Because in His physical body Jesus bore the curse of sins and satisfied the justice of God, Christ presents us to Himself in Holy Baptism as “holy,” “blameless,” and “above reproach.”
Through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit entered our hearts to fill us with the faith by which we believe in Jesus and receive His redemptive blessings as our very own. With Christ’s righteousness and His redemptive payment for our sins credited to us, we can now stand without blemish and be free from accusation before God. Jesus is supreme in the realm of salvation, and Jesus and His salvation are all-sufficient for our personal reconciliation with God.
It is only through the Gospel that Christ and His redemptive blessings come to our lives so that we share in the blessings of reconciliation. And it is only through the Gospel that we who have been brought into that vital faith-relationship with Jesus are maintained and strengthened in our faith.
The false teachers in Colossae urged the Colossians to accept a human message that claimed to be Gospel but was not Gospel at all. They falsely taught that salvation comes through knowledge. Paul emphasizes that salvation comes from God, specifically through the Incarnation, through Jesus’ physical life, death, and resurrection. It is received by grace through faith. Therefore, we could forfeit our salvation if we stop trusting in Christ. Faith in Christ must continue just as it begins—by hearing the Gospel.
Paul uses three terms—“stable,” ‘steadfast,” “not shifting”—to describe the firmness in the faith and hope which is needed. Faithfulness is an integral part of faith. There is no saving faith in Jesus Christ that is not faithful to Him, and the only means of faithfulness to Christ is faith in Him.
Firmness and a proper sense of purpose and direction are necessary. “Continue in the faith,” Paul unashamedly urges. Don’t let anyone move you from the Gospel hope you have in Christ. Don’t let any false teaching from without or sinful prompting from within cause you to turn away from the one message that joins you to Christ. The Word of the Gospel is the source of this hope and faith. It provides the power by which you may remain stable, steadfast in the faith, and do not shift from it, that you may continue to be reconciled with God.
Use all the spiritual energy the Holy Spirit has given you in Christ to flee from the false and cling to the true. Unfailingly renew your spiritual strength by returning repeatedly to the strength-giving and strength-maintaining Gospel. Through the Gospel maintain your hold on your all-sufficient Savior.
Human beings do not have to seek new and mystical ways of finding Christ and His salvation. Human wisdom and philosophy are not necessary to discover Him. All that sinners need to find Christ is the clear and simple message of the Gospel. In the Gospel, we possess Christ in all His fullness.
This Gospel is no recent innovation, for it is ancient. It was present already in the aftermath of the Fall. This Gospel is purposeful, for it has to do with God’s own plan for this reconciliation, a plan that also includes the proclamation of the working out of His plan by Christ. This Gospel is universal in its scope, for it applies to all nations; in fact, it has significance for every creature in the universe. This Gospel tells of a salvation already inaugurated, for the with the ministry of Christ and the proclamation of His Gospel, God’s plan of salvation is already (“now,” Colossians 1:22) fulfilled. This Gospel is eternal, for the reconciliation and salvation it brings are without end. This Gospel is sufficient, for it proclaims and bestows all wisdom.
The truths Paul discusses in this section are primarily doctrinal and dogmatic. They express objective truths concerning Christ and the Gospel. But they are also practical, perhaps more so than we might realize at first. Think of what the great truths Paul has so forcefully emphasized here mean for our lives. Jesus is supreme in the world of creation. He created all things, and He governs all things and holds them together with His almighty power. This assures us that, contrary to what we may sometimes think, the world is not ruled by chaos. It is continually under the command of our all-sufficient Lord and Savior. There is a plan, a divine purpose in all that happens in our world and in our lives, a purpose determined and brought to pass by the Savior, who loves us.
Sin, evil humanity, and the devil are not in control of this world. Jesus is. He sets limits on their wicked activities. Nothing in this world—no political threat, no military conflict, no economic depression, or accident—nothing in our lives, including the worst imaginable tragedies, can separate us from our Savior or from the hands of love in which He continually holds us. Day after day He is moving this world forward to the end of the age. Then He, by His almighty power, will deliver us completely and forever from the effects and consequences of sin, bring an end to this present evil world, and make all things wonderfully new in the eternal glory that He has promised to share with us, His children by faith.
There is blessed assurance also in the fact that Jesus is supreme in the world of salvation. The Gospel sets before us the great truth that in Christ and His redemptive work, our salvation is complete. We do not have to add one single thing. At one time in history the eternal Son of God gave His life to provide a reconciliation between sinners and God. The blessings of that reconciliation are personally ours by faith, which is also His free gift to us through the Gospel. The Gospel reveals to us the all-sufficient Christ and connects us with Him.
Today there are many who, like the false teachers at Colossae, belittle the Gospel and regard it as something irrelevant for our modern age. Their logic is alluring, and their words are enticing, especially to our sinful natures, as they urge us to give up the Gospel. But if we genuinely appreciate the unique greatness of our Savior, and if we understand that it is only through the Gospel that we are joined to the Savior and His blessings, any idea of giving up that Gospel or exchanging it for something “better” will quickly be rejected. Continue! Stand firm! Hold fast to the all-sufficient Christ and the Gospel that proclaims Him.
For Christ’s sake and by His Gospel, you who were once alienated are now reconciled to God. You have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all your sins,
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.