Reconciled in His Body
Colossians 1:21–23 – Colossians: Made Alive in Christ
4th Sunday after Pentecost – June 17, 2018 (am)
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 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, 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.
If you finish your chores before dinner, we’ll go out for ice cream afterward. On occasions when they had more than the average amount of housework to do, I would say this to my children as part reward and part compensation for a job well-done. But the if really meant something. And there were times when the ice cream trip didn’t happen.
On other occasions when we were out playing in a park on a beautiful, clear, sunny day, I would say: If you can find a cloud in the sky we’ll go get ice cream. And they would immediately rally to the task of finding a cloud, but to no avail because I had already inspected the sky! Now, we’d often go out for ice cream on those days too, but the kids pretty much knew there was no way to earn it by finding a cloud. If we had ice cream on those days it was only because Papa loves them, and loves ice cream, and loves watching them love ice cream! Keep that image in mind.
After spotlighting who Jesus is as (fully) God and fully man—as (Creator) and Sustainer of the whole universe, the head of the church, and the firstborn of the new creation—Paul turns his attention to his readers with: And you (21). But the Colossians aren’t his central focus. His eye is still on Jesus (22) and what He’s actually accomplished for them. Then comes a conditional (23), a huge if that flavors this whole paragraph. But what sort of if is this? Is it the kind that draws the readers’ attention to their own efforts, or to the Father’s? Three questions will help us hear this text.
Who Are We Without Christ? 21
This one’s not hard at all. Paul gets right to the heart of the issue and doesn’t linger: 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. You were estranged from God and living like it! With the same and you, Paul opened this same subject with the Ephesians (2:1-2), a letter he wrote only a short while after he wrote this one: 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—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, they were under God’s judgment, like the rest of mankind.
This is who (the Colossians were) without Christ. This is who (all of us) are without Christ: we’re dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2;1), alienated from God, hostile toward Him in our (minds), and doing evil deeds (1)—not always as evil as they could be, perhaps, but never truly pleasing to God because they flow from a self-centered, self-exalting heart. By nature we reject the very idea of God, not always His existence, but surely His authority. We don’t want Him to rule over us! We love thinking of Him as (loving) and (merciful), answering prayer according to our will. But at the first thought that His mercy toward us implies that we have some moral obligation to live by His standard, or worse, to answer to Him as our moral Authority, we draw back with indignation! As soon as we hear that His love toward us can cleanse and deliver us from sin, but it will also reorient our allegiance toward His will rather than ours, we bolt! That’s just what we do by nature.
Who Are We In Christ? 22
21 (But we), who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, Paul wrote, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, meaning that God, the eternal Son, the (Creator) and Sustainer of the universe (15-17), became a man and subjected Himself to a violent, sacrificial death, in my place and yours, as our Substitute, our sin-Bearer, in order to present (us) holy and blameless and above reproach before him. Despite our rebellion and willful wrongdoing against Him, He provided a sacrifice for our sin, not just to reconcile us to God, but to sanctify us before him, to make us holy and blameless just like him, above reproach, even when measured by His own perfection!
This is the salvation Paul is celebrating as having come into the Colossian community through the witness of Epaphras (7), the salvation that has taken root among the church there (2). This is the same gospel that has come to us, saved us, and is sanctifying us today. This is the gospel that actually enables hostile enemies of God to 9 … be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him (think about that! …): bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified (us) to share in the inheritance of the saints in light! The gospel enables rebellious sinners to live like this! This is an amazing salvation that can so change our nature and our standing before God!
How Do We Handle this “If?” 23
But then comes a word that echoes off the page and reverberates through the nearly twenty centuries since it was written: 22 he has… reconciled you 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…. This sounds like a pretty big if! It sounds like there is some sense in which our salvation is dependent on our ability to live a stable and steady life in the faith, unwavering—kind of like we’ll get ice cream if we get our chores done before dinner. But if not, no ice cream!
This doesn’t immediately sound like the sort of if that has us earnestly searching for clouds in the sky on a cloudless day, all the while being pretty confident we won’t find any but that we will be enjoying ice cream soon based solely on the love and mercy of our father. This is to say, this if doesn’t initially strike us as the sort that presses us away from personal effort and toward an alignment with the Father’s heart—toward fuller enjoyment our fellowship with Him despite our inability to meet the condition(s) of His if. At first hearing it doesn’t sound like this calls us to a growing sense of confidence in the Father’s grace and favor freely offered to us as (reconciling) love and (sanctifying) mercy, but maybe even calls us away from that.
Now, make no mistake, when we have received the (reconciling), sanctifying love of God by faith in Christ such that we stand before him as holy and blameless above reproach (22), we will surely continue in the faith, and increasingly become stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that (we) heard—perhaps not perfectly, but ever more consistently—because that is part of the power with which we’ve been strengthened according to his glorious might to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (9-11). All this will happen in us precisely because 22 he has now reconciled us in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present (us) holy and blameless and above reproach before him—meaning what, that this if is actually meaningless? No, meaning only that we meet the conditions of the if not by working up the strength to do our part and earn the good standing before God that v.22 describes, but that we meet the conditions of the if by casting ourselves upon the (reconciling) love and (sanctifying) mercy of God that v.22 describes, upon the salvation that v.22 spotlights and celebrates. We continue in the faith by trusting fully in the Savior who (reconciles us to God) in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present (us) holy and blameless and above reproach before him. The if presses us into him!
Does that make sense? The if is a real condition: if you don’t continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, you’ve not been reconciled to God in Christ. But the way you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, is not by striving to do so as best you’re able. You do it by trusting in the Savior Who (reconciles) you to God, then makes you holy like He is holy, at the cost of His own life. We are no more able to continue in the faith by our own effort than we are to find a cloud in the sky on a cloudless day. But when we joyfully receive the challenge from our loving, saving, sanctifying Father to press on in the strength He supplies (11), not shifting from the hope of the gospel we heard, (23) receiving the strength that He supplies (11) and seeking to use it to live the well-pleasing life that He enables (10). And that is when we enter in to the full joy of every grace He bestows—the joy of our salvation, and of our walk with Him. This joy is ice cream from the Father not because we finished our chores before dinner, but just because He loves us and delights to share His love with us—He delights to enable us to delight in Him; He delights to strengthen the hope of the gospel (23) in us.