Reputation Revealed by Reconciliation (Colossians 1:21-23) ~ A Devotion for September 11, 2014

“And 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

Explanation of the Text: Here in this text, Paul logically moves from God’s sovereignty and the act of Jesus Christ to provide for reconciliation with God to man’s need for the reconciliation and what reconciliation actually accomplished. Verses 21-23 constitute a very long sentence, but after establishing Jesus as God, His position among men, and the very significance of the acts that He undertook on our behalf, we now come to a very clear-cut application of verses 15-20 and what our response should be.

Paul uses verse 21 to describe the condition of the Colossians, and all believers, when left to their own prior to the work of Christ and a person’s acceptance of that work.

“Their former condition was desperate….their minds were opposed to God, their actions were evil rather than good, and they willingly assumed an anti-God posture. They were God’s enemies. In such a condition, the possibility of reconciliation seemed remote. They would not naturally choose another course of action. That was their former condition. God took the initiative to change all of that. The simple reminder of who they used to be served to bring adoration and renewed commitment to the Lord who changed their lives.”[1]

Like any person, the Colossians were depraved; entrenched in sin that binds and enslaves them to go contrary to the will of God. It is because of this sin, one is alienated from God. Note that in this alienation, Paul writes that one is hostile in the mind and does evil deeds. This encompasses every aspect of a person’s life. They are in rebellion towards God both in the outward action and in the inward thoughts. Hence, one is totally depraved, not just partially.

Yet, as Paul continues on, despite this total depravity he offers up hope in that they are now redeemed, reconciled to God through the piercing of Jesus’ flesh at the work of the cross. It is not the hanging on the cross, or the thorns placed on His head, the piercing of the side, but rather, it is the complete work in its entirety that one can find hope in. In totality, Christ bore the wrath of God for the sins of people, ultimately died, and then rose again to prove His power over the sin in which a person is entrenched. Therefore, it only stands to reason that the ultimate goal of this reconciliation is found also in verse 22 that a person would be (1) holy, (2) blameless, (3) and above reproach. Furthermore, this is not just a standing in the world, but it is specified that it was done so that people would stand in this manner before God. Therefore, between verse 21 and verse 22, a transformation takes place in which a person no longer is enslaved by sin and thus alienated from God, but instead is set free from it all because of the gap in the middle that Christ fulfilled, as noted in verse 21b. That transformation from depravity to holiness, from doing evil deeds to being blameless, and from a hostile mind to being above reproach is a work that cannot be done under a person’s own strength it is for this reason that such a high price was paid by God through His own son, Jesus Christ. “The purpose of this reconciliation is personal holiness. God does not make peace so that we can continue to be rebels. He reconciled us to himself so that we may share His life and His holiness.”[2] Therefore, it should be expected that one should live a transformed life upon the acceptance of Jesus Christ. One should be holy. Interestingly, God is seldom described as holy in the New Testament, and Jesus Christ is only called holy once in the same way that God is described as holy which leads to a right conclusion that the concept of holiness is determined by the Holy Spirit.[3] Therefore, “holiness demands behavior that rightly responds to the Holy Spirit.[4] As ones called to be holy as Jesus is holy, we are called to respond to the Holy Spirit for this holiness. The next two phrases that one is to be blameless and above reproach have the same connotations. They both refer to the fact that one stands free from accusation maintaining a level of common respectability within the community.[5] It is a judicial term that pictures one standing before a judge and being deemed innocent for the crime in which they are accused. The concept of being above reproach is then important to interpreting and clarifying the concepts of holy and blameless;[6] “Paul clearly taught that each believer would stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account.”[7] However, because of the work of Christ on the cross, no longer are our filthy rags seen (Isaiah 64:4) along with our deceitful and sinful hearts, but instead the righteousness of Christ is seen. It is because of HIS righteousness that we can be declared innocent.

As a result of that declaration, Paul moves forth to exclaim evidence that should be detected in a believer’s life. Paul notes three characteristics of a person who has been transformed into a holy and blameless person. The first is a continuation in the faith. The idea is that one continues on clinging to Christ, rejecting the ways of the world. It is one who puts forth a walk that is consistent with the word of God (cf. Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 1:10). Second, a person will be stable and steadfast. They will be unwavering, firmly planted with deep roots in the word of God (Psalm 1) so that when confronted one knows how to respond rightly and will not be swayed by the world’s thinking. Finally, Paul writes that a person will not shift from the Gospel. The Gospel provides hope for people and should be the first of our roots to be planted in the ground. Firmly grasping the Gospel, one latches on to the work of God through Christ, remaining firm in it, sharing it with others, and thus becoming a follower of Christ and His ways.

Quite briefly, I think it is also important to note the character of the Gospel that Paul exclaims, especially if one is to not shift from it. Paul notes that it is hope, it has been heard by the Colossians, that is has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven (cf. Romans 1:18) and Paul is a minister for it. Quite remarkably, the Gospel is something that is being proclaimed and heard, and thus is transforming lives (just as it is evidenced by the life of Paul).

Examination & Application of the Text:

“Perseverance proves faith’s genuine character and is the fruit of reconciliation: ‘… if you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel.’ This fruit is brought to maturity through the use of the means of grace. Men cannot add anything to the power of the blood of Jesus Christ by human effort, but God expects believers to exercise faith and embrace the hope that is found in the gospel. Christians are expected to continue believing in Christ Jesus all the days of their earthly life and to die in the hope of eternal life.”[8]

Quite simply, these verses call for one to remain steadfast in their faith. Persevere in it and do not neglect it under any circumstance. James writes in 1:4 that when steadfastness has its full effect, one will be perfect and complete. Perfect and complete, synonyms to each other, points back to being holy. As has been stated, the requirements to be holy and blameless cannot be met without first accepting Jesus Christ and His work. Upon accepting Him, one receives the Holy Spirit who enables a person to live day to day with a way to avoid sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). One must rely on the Holy Spirit. The call one one’s life then, is to COMPLETELY follow Him, forsaking all things as He requires (Luke 14:25-33) and abiding in Him with the bearing of fruit (John 15:1-17).

[1] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991), 230.

[2] Warren Wiersbe, Colossians, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Volume 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1996), 120.

[3] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 10.

[4] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 10.

[5] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 10.

[6] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991), 232.

[7] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991), 232.

[8] Ian S. McNaughton, Opening Up Colossians & Philemon, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006), 31-32.

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