The Fullness: Colossians 1:21-23

Our Reconciliation – 1:21-23

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

In opening up his explanation on the hymn, Paul writes about the unredeemed state in which we find ourselves before putting our faith in Christ. Like all of us, the Colossian Christians were once at odds with God, alienated from him, and even enemies with him. Our minds are the battleground for our souls, and it is here that we wage war against the wisdom and understanding of God. Evil behavior stems from a mind at enmity with God. “People are not inwardly hostile vs. God because of their outward acts of sins; they commit sins because they are inwardly hostile.”[i] Sinful actions and behaviors are the evidence of an internal hostility toward God and a rejection of the “wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” This rejection in the mind results in ignorance of God’s will, and thus we find ourselves not only spiritually adrift, but applauding and encouraging evil. Such is our condition apart from Christ.

But in Christ, we are reconciled, made holy by Christ’s physical body in his death. Just as the hymn proclaims that Jesus has made peace between us and God through his blood, Paul here reaffirms that sentiment in proclaiming our reconciliation with God in Jesus. The scope of the hymn is universal, proclaiming peace for all things. Here, Paul boils down that universality to the specificity of the Colossian Christians. You have been reconciled.

In Christ, your sin has run out of accusational power.
The purpose of this reconciliation is that God will make us holy, free from “blemish and accusation.” The sins of those who trust in Christ can no longer stain them. “Those who are members of Jesus’ ‘body’ thus find their sin already condemned in him, and themselves reconciled to God. Jesus has risen from the dead, as the first of a large family whose sins, having done their worst in producing his death, are left behind in his life beyond death.”[ii] The sins of Christians can neither stain nor accuse them, because they have already stained and accused Christ, doing their worst in causing his death, but thereby exhausting their power and being conquered and condemned in his resurrection. In Christ, your sin has run out of accusational power.

The great statement in the hymn of universal reconciliation, which is a theological truth based on the work and person of Christ, does not imply universal salvation. The reach of Christ’s reconciliation is universal; its effect is contingent upon your faith. Thus, in verse 23, we have a significant conditional statement. God has reconciled you to himself, and this reconciliation holds so long as you “continue in your faith, [not moving] from the hope held out in the gospel.”

The reach of Christ’s reconciliation is universal; its effect is contingent upon your faith.
This brings us to the important question of eternal security: Is it possible to lose your salvation? Paul, of course, was not seeking to give an answer to this question here, but what he does say can give us insight to our own modern, theological controversies. With the conditional statement of verse 23, Paul is clearly leaving the door open to the possibility that not all who enjoy Christ’s reconciling work will be presented holy in God’s sight at the final judgment. The reason for this is not, as we might imagine, that some Christians have sinned too much and thereby forfeited their salvation. No, as we learned from verse 21, evil behavior is a product of evil thinking and the rejection, in our minds, of God’s wisdom, which is the Gospel. All are reconciled; not all are saved. The difference between the two is that those who are saved have continued in their faith, not forsaking the hope found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a different [false] hope or a different [false] gospel.

Reconciliation is not salvation. Rather, reconciliation creates the possibility for salvation. Because God has reconciled all things to himself through Christ’s blood, salvation is a possibility for everyone. In the context of this passage, salvation must be understood as an eschatological reality – the moment at which we are presented holy in God’s sight. If salvation is eschatological, then it is not something that can be lost, but it is something that can be missed. Who will miss it? All who remain enemies of God in their minds by rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Does this include those who at one point embraced the Gospel? I believe it does, or Paul’s warning to the Colossian Christians makes no sense. Why warn them of a danger they couldn’t possibly experience? There is no substitute for the hope held out in the Gospel, and there is no other hope that will lead us to the glorious presentation before God in holiness.

Because God has reconciled all things to himself through Christ’s blood, salvation is a possibility for everyone.
The Takeaway

As A.W. Tozer has said, the most important thing about you is what you believe to be true about God. Because your actions spring from what you believe and understand, it is vital that you think and believe truly about God. But it is not enough to simply affirm everything you are told; you must learn to think for yourself. This is, in large part, what it means to be mature. We can’t simply “put truth” into our heads; we have to be able to discern the truth from lies, wisdom from foolishness, and understanding from ignorance. In order to think well, we must be willing to ask difficult, probing questions. Is that true? What does that mean? Where is this coming from? The powers of evil thrive on deception and ignorance, but Jesus Christ is the truth, and the Spirit of God leads us into all truth. As we enter into more and more truth, wisdom, and understanding, we will become more fully reconciled to God in our minds, and our behavior will naturally follow.

[i] Geisler. The Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 674).
[ii] Wright. Colossians and Philemon (p. 86).

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