Living as Those Reconciled
Study #9 Colossians 1:21-23
by Bob Burridge ©2021
There was once a religious leader who hated the teachings of Jesus Christ. He wished he could eliminate the Christian church. He led harsh persecutions that put Christians in jail and even had some brutally killed.
What if we had his books laying around our houses where they could influence our children? Well we do. He was the Apostle Paul. He wrote more of the New Testament books than any other author, including this book of Colossians we’ve been studying in this series of lessons.
So what changed him? What could take a man like that, and transform him so dramatically? We have his own explanation here in his own words. Learning what changed him is important for us to understand and to keep in mind.
In our natural condition at birth
we are alienated from God,
as was Paul and the Colossians.
Notice how Paul describes those to whom this letter was written.
Colossians 1:21, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,”
Paul reminds us what we all are by birth. He lists these three things:
1. We were all at one time alienated from God: This is our original condition as we came to live in God’s universe.
God appointed Adam to represent the entire human race in Eden. When he sinned we all became alienated from our heavenly hope, the reality that surrounds us. The guilt of Adam’s sin is passed on to all his descendants by natural birth. God reveals in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–”
As we saw in our last study, moral corruption is a barrier between us and God. This is why in Romans 5:10 Paul writes that as descendants of Adam we are enemies of God. In Ephesians 2:12 he explains that we, “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.”
As aliens, we enjoy God’s wonders, partake of his provisions, and benefit from his patience, but in our lost condition we don’t give him the thanks, worship, and honor he deserves. Separated from God we’re illegals living in God’s world, but out of harmony with what he created us to be. We by nature put ourselves first and try to make sense out of a world we don’t really understand.
2. We were also hostile in our minds toward the things of God: Our whole nature is fallen and depraved, even our inner thoughts and perceptions. The mind itself is effected. Everything seems confusing and the truth seems foolish to us. 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Instead of seeing things as they were made to be, declaring the infinite glory of their Creator, we tend to see them only for how they benefit us. Even the beauty of things is appreciated only for its pleasant effect on us, not for the declaration of God’s wonder, power, and sovereign authority.
When we put our own benefits at the center of things, we reject God’s rightful place there. Those who refuse to honor their king and his laws, are not only aliens, but hostile enemies.
In Ephesians Paul explained, 2:3, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” 4:18, “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.”
The Bible doesn’t excuse this as an innocent ignorance. It’s a rebellious antagonism against God and his truth. The only god liked by the fallen heart is one who ignores our sin, and gives us what we want. That kind of god is a myth, an illusion, and will not satisfy the true needs of the human soul. The God of Scripture holds us accountable to him, and the hostile fallen mind doesn’t like that.
3. As hostile aliens, we busy ourselves with evil deeds: It’s not just our attitudes, it’s our actions that offend God. There are the forbidden things that we do. The kingdom of darkness tempts us to accept its standards as right without question. It urges us to do all we crave to do, even if it hurts others, or defies God. But there are also the good things we simply fail to do, things which should show love for God. We neglect God’s word, worship, and his people. That way of living is an alarming symptom of a heart not reconciled with God through Christ.
This is how our lives are lived in our original nature inherited from Adam. So then who are we that we who were hostile aliens should become children of the King?
Now Paul takes us to the other side of the problem – its solution.
God has, by his grace alone, changed
our condition dramatically and radically.
Colossians 1:22, (And you, once alienated …) “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,”
Back in our study of verse 20 we defined what it means to be reconciled. As fallen creatures, we are separated from fellowship with God by the impenetrable barrier of our moral guilt. Only Jesus Christ, God united with us in a human nature, could represent us as a Second Adam. Only he could pay the penalty we all deserve. That’s exactly what our Savior did. By taking his people’s place on the cross and removing their guilt, the barrier is taken down. He restored fellowship with God to all he died to save.
This is one of the clearest and most direct teachings of the New Testament: Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” 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.”
God’s purpose was to present us before him as holy, blameless, and above reproach. Those are amazingly high standards! Clearly no one could measure up to that. But there are three ways Jesus Christ came to present us as holy, blameless and above reproach.
1. The first has to do with our legal standing before God. On the one hand our sins were laid upon the Savior when he suffered and died. Our sins were imputed to him, and he died in our place. He got what we deserve. Since he settled our moral debt, our sins are considered paid for. When God looks on our record, he sees that justice was satisfied, not just set aside.
On the other hand the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to us. God declares that the righteousness of this Second Adam is credited to his people. This is the declarative, legal side, of making us right before God. Legally, before the judgment bench of God, we are judged in Christ to be holy, blameless and above reproach.
2. The second way Jesus presents us as perfect and blameless is by transforming our hearts. A real change that takes place along with our being declared holy. When the work of Christ is applied to our hearts individually, we are regenerated, made spiritually alive.
Though we all still struggle with temptation, and we all still do wrong things, our sins now produce repentance, instead of just excuse making. Instead of trying to justify wrong things so we can still do them, we work to overcome our moral weaknesses trusting in the power of Christ in us. This begins to show itself in a life that wants to please God. The resulting growth in holiness is called sanctification, evidence that our profession of faith is sincere.
On the practical side … this won’t be completed until our resurrection.
3. So, the final way Jesus presents us as perfect and faultless has to do with our future state. When this earthly life if our our sanctification will be complete. We will sin no more. In the most complete sense, we will be presented before God as holy, blameless, and above reproach.
No part of this 3-fold chain can be eliminated. They are all part of that same work of God’s grace. In Christ we have a new standing before God. He gives us a new heart. What we were in our former life, no longer applies to us as redeemed people of God. A new life flows from that restored union with God which will one day be complete.
Of course we are not all brought into the family of God on exactly the same schedule. God has shown his grace in some from their earliest childhood. Others wander for a time. But all the redeemed are rescued from what they were and would be if left in their guilt and corruption through Adam. All the objects of God’s grace are made holy in Christ and enabled to be growing spiritually, though at different rates. The evidence is seen in the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the person’s life. Paul described these evidences of true regeneration in Galatians 5. They are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.
But there is a condition stated here
Colossians 1:23, “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.”
But how can there be an if? Isn’t this salvation a work of God’s grace? Isn’t it unearned and unconditional? Absolutely! There’s nothing in any believer that makes God bless him over others. The Christian isn’t smarter, he isn’t less depraved, he isn’t more decisive. Any change is produced by God’s work of grace, not by anything we believe or do.
If God truly works in a heart giving it new life, there will be evidence of transformation. Those redeemed by Christ, will persevere in faith and hope as God enables them. He stirs in them an inner confidence and expectation in his unfailing promises. Our perseverance doesn’t cause the change in us, it proves it. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
If there is no desire to be faithful, no confident hope, then there’s something wrong. If there is no sorrow when we do what offends God, the warning indicators should be going off. We need to look again at the foundation: Do we build our hope on what we do? what the church does? what our family is for us? Or, do we stand on the one solid rock, the finished work of Jesus Christ? The work of our Savior is the only way we’re reconciled with God and transformed.
Paul calls this the Gospel, which means good news. It’s something “good to know”. But it’s not good news just to know the facts about who Jesus is, or of what he did. It’s that we can know that he has applied it to us as individuals by grace! That’s the message Paul had been proclaiming, and which had transformed the Colossians.
These are things that should occupy our minds and motivate us in all we think, say, and do. It’s easy to get our eyes off the work of Christ in our lives, and just accept things the way they are. We were once aliens, enemies, but by grace we have been made into God’s holy children! It was accomplished by the humbling and painful death of our Savior. And even if we persevere in Christ — it’s only because God perseveres with us.
This is something that should be hard to put out of our minds. It should be always there. In thankful and humble obedience, we should be striving to honor our Creator in the whole of our lives. What ingratitude if after he gave us so much, we fail to show him the sincere love he ought to have.
We should be sure that we and those we love aren’t living as aliens trespassing in the kingdom of God. Do we live as intruders who take ungratefully from our host and provider? Do we grab whatever we can get, and spend our time, our money, and opportunities as if we owe nothing to the one who gave them to us, and who opened our blinded eyes? Are we aliens treading on God’s ground ignoring the path he laid out for us in his word? Do we ignore the loving letters he writes to us in the Scriptures? Are we so foolish that we use what he gives us in ways that offend him? Do we live as if, deep inside, we resent being held accountable to him to whom we owe everything?
Sadly, many still live that way, deluded by the fantasies of Satan and their fallen nature. They fail to realize that they are living as illegal aliens, intruders on the land that belongs to God.
Paul’s purpose here is to stir us
to lay aside those remains of our former life.
We need to replace them with a life that characterizes a child of the King. We need to comprehend the astounding blessing that we undeserving people, are counted as holy, blameless and beyond reproach by the work of Jesus Christ. We need to realize that his work in us actually makes us able to honor our King!
This work of grace turned Paul from being a persecutor and hater of Christians, into being an Apostle of Christ. It changed the Colossians from their pagan backgrounds, to being a family of God in Christ. It changes truly repentant lives the same way, and changed lives show the evidences.
When we’re among friends, with our family, on the job or school, at the store, or behind the wheel of our car do we appear to be ungrateful aliens in the land of God? or can people see in us the life and heart of a grateful and loving child of the King?
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.