The following message was delivered May 4, 2014 at New Hope Baptist Church in Ballard County, KY:
Our Position as Believers: Reconciled
Our position as believers is truly remarkable. There are many terms that describe our position as believers in relation to God and in relation to man as well. The Bible says that we are justified (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 3:24; Titus 3:7), forgiven (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; 1 John 1:9), adopted (Gal. 4:5-7; Eph. 1:5), and redeemed (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7). While there are many other descriptions, one of the greatest of those terms to describe who we are in Christ is reconciliation. That’s what Paul’s theme is in our text. The way Paul uses the term in Colossians pictures a thorough, full, and complete reconciliation. Let’s read it together.
The Text: Colossians 1:20-23, ESV
“20 And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 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.”
God’s Plan of Reconciliation
Let’s look first at v. 20: “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” You may have noticed that our starting place in today’s text is a bit awkward. The reason for starting in v. 20 is because of the language-change. You see that Paul has changed his language from v. 19 in speaking about Christ’s preeminence to v. 20 talking about reconciliation and the first thing he tells his readers about is God’s plan of reconciliation.
Paul writes that “through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself [God] all things.” That’s a very heavy statement. All things? Paul says here quite clearly that through Jesus Christ, God’s plan is to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven. But why would “all things” need to be reconciled to God? If God’s plan is to reconcile all things to Himself, then there must be some type of separation involved, creating the need for reconciliation. For separation is the opposite of reconciliation. What created that need? Well, you remember the creation story in Genesis, don’t you? Do you remember what God said concerning His creation? “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). About light, day, the moon, sun, stars, plants and animals, you read that God said that it was good. But when God looked and saw everything altogether that He had made, including man, He saw that it was very good.
But what happens two chapters later? The Fall. This is where sin enters the world. When evil and sin entered the world, God’s good creation was marred. It was defiled. Sin destroyed perfect harmony between creatures, and sin affected the entire creation. Paul describes this vividly in Romans 8: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (v. 20), creation, Paul says, is in “bondage to corruption” (v. 21), and, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (v. 22). We live on a cursed earth in a cursed universe all because of sin.
Now what is to be said of the beauty that we still see in creation? What about the rocks, trees, fish and lakes? This beauty is owing to God’s common grace. That is, God has still continued to allow creation to display forth beauty and greatness even though it is subjected to futility and corruption. There’s a reason animals kill each other. There’s a reason plants and animals die. There’s a reason that creation is not in exact harmony: sin.
But as you know, the Bible gives us the wonderful promises that God will again restore creation. He will recreate and “God will make friends with creation again” (1). Tremendous, dramatic, glorious changes will take place in that time. Paul says again in Romans 8 that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). God and the creation will be reconciled—the curse of Genesis 3 will be removed. Finally, “after all is said and done,” there will be a new heaven and a new earth:
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:2).
God will make everything new and will reconcile all things to Himself. That’s the aim Paul is taking here when he says, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (1:20a).
A Word About Universalism
Now some have seen this as a path into the heresy known as universalism. This teaching holds that it doesn’t matter what happens in this life, one day everyone who has ever lived will be saved—God has no real wrath against sinners and one day everyone will be reunited with Him forever and there is no such thing as hell or the lake of fire. That’s a lie straight from the pits of hell and you’d be surprised, utterly surprised, at the number of professing Christians who hold to this view of God and eternity. But those who hold to this view say that this text indicates that even fallen angels and unbelieving sinners will be reconciled to God. Paul cannot mean here that there will be ultimate salvation of everyone. Not everyone is going to be saved—we know that. That’s one thing Jesus taught: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). And Christ will one day say to unbelievers, “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), and then in v. 46 of that chapter, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
There are no second chances for those who go out into eternity without Christ. It’s against the Scriptures and everything that the Christian faith stands for if you identify with something like universalism. So where do unbelievers and fallen angels fall into this category of reconciliation? They will be reconciled to God in the sense of getting their final judgment. Only in the sense of submitting to Him for final sentencing:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
This all happens through Jesus Christ—this is the extent of the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ; this is God’s plan of reconciliation—“to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:20).
The Opposite of Reconciliation
It is God’s grand, glorious plan to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus, but now Paul focuses on his readers in a special way. Before Paul talks about God’s central purpose in reconciliation—reconciling men and women to God, he reminds them of their state of being before reconciliation. He describes the opposite of reconciliation: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (v. 21).
Paul focuses on his readers here. “And you who once were. . .” Paul is talking about something that these readers were, not something that they are now. And he describes the Colossians’ pre-Christian state in a three-fold way:
1. Position: “you . . . once were alienated” (1:21b).
The Bible actually talks about aliens more than you think. When you think of aliens, however, you probably picture the little green guys trying to abduct humans for research. Or possibly more relevant, illegal aliens, are those who come over to our country illegally. But why do we call the fictional green characters aliens, and why do we call illegal immigrants aliens? Because they are strangers. Aliens would be strangers because they’re not from our planet. Immigrants because they are not from our country. And when it comes to Paul’s readers, this is their position apart from God: strangers. To be alienated is to be cut off from God, a stranger to God, a non-participant in the things of God.
Speaking of those who do not know Christ, “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” (Eph. 4:18). Sin is what separates us from God. Sin is what alienates us from God and creates that need for reconciliation back to our Creator. God is holy and we are not—and that is a problem for us. The Scriptures attest about Him, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV), “The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:16), “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Psalm 5:4, ESV). God is holy and our depraved position apart from Him is alienation/separation. And if nothing’s done about it, it will lead to eternal separation one of these days in the lake of fire where, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). The reason that it is an eternal hell is because sin is an offense against an eternal God. Our position depraved and apart from the saving grace of God is one of damnation: we were once alienated.
2. Intellect/Thinking: “you . . . once were . . . hostile in mind” (1:21c).
Not only alienated, but the Colossians had also been hostile in mind. This literally means that they had a hateful attitude towards God. According to Paul here in this verse, even our intellect is infected by sin. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). The Scripture teaches that the unbeliever’s mind is even corrupt and affected by sin. It doesn’t mean he cannot think, it doesn’t mean that he cannot be philosophical, it doesn’t mean that he has no logic—but it does mean that his mind is corrupted by sin and will not willingly submit to God or the things of God. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Our mode of thinking was entirely against God.
There’s an interesting passage in the New Testament about this truth. It’s in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Paul says here that their minds are blinded. Wait a minute. I thought being blind meant that you couldn’t see? That’s the point here. Satan so darkens the minds of unbelievers that they cannot see the light of the gospel—they are blinded; even by their own minds. So don’t be under the impression that you can win people over with philosophy, or even theological discussion. You cannot save a single soul. Only God can regenerate a sinner who is that depraved. Only God can transform a man.
3. Actions/Deeds: “you . . . once were . . . doing evil deeds” (1:21d).
Not only were they alienated from God, and their minds hostile to Him, but they were doing evil deeds. If they are already so depraved that they are separated from God and hostile in their thinking, then it would follow that their actions would result in “doing evil deeds.” Jesus confirms this fact: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). Everything man does in His rebellion against God is sin: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
Indeed, we are in an extremely depraved condition apart from Christ. Your predicament, if you are an unbeliever, is very heavy. We are not as sinful as we could be—God by His common grace restrains some evil in the world. But the Scripture teaches that everything about us, our minds, hearts, and wills are all inclined and bent towards evil and that every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. The New Testament is replete with passages about who we are before Christ:
“Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents” (Rom. 1:30, KJV)
“Dead in trespasses and sins,” “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3).
“We were enemies” (Rom. 5:10).
“as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12).
That’s the magnificent thing about salvation. God doesn’t just leave us in our depraved condition. He’d be just and right in doing so. God is not obligated to give grace to anyone—that’s why it’s called grace. It’s undeserved. God reserves the right to give grace to whoever He pleases—He doesn’t have to give grace to any sinner. But thank God He gives grace! God did a great thing on our behalf.
Why is this important to know? Why does the Bible place so much emphasis on our condition before Christ? Well, you will not appreciate your present salvation without remembering your past condition—you will not fully be grateful for your present relationship with God without remembering your past separation from God. If someone has a cold and they take some Mucinex to take care of it, do they normally rejoice, and hop up and down because they no longer have a cold? Not normally, unless they are just a happy person (and probably had too much Mucinex!). But if someone has had a terrible, life-threatening cancer and they receive treatment and beat the cancer. . . Oh there is rejoicing alright. They are very, very thankful. It works the same way in the Christian life. If you do not realize the depth of your sinful condition before Christ, then you will not even begin to realize how great a miracle your salvation actually was!
Too many believers treat their position before Christ like a fake threat. Like they were not in any real danger. It’s like the lady in the circus who spins on the wheel while the knife thrower pretends to throw knives around her. If you ask her at the end, “Don’t you feel glad that’s over? Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?” And she says, “It’s just a trick. The knives pop out of the wheel. What’s to get excited about? It’s just a fake threat” (2).
They say, “Nobody is perfect.” While that’s true, that’s not even scratching the surface of what you were before Christ. Read what the Scripture says about who you were before Christ, because when you recognize who you really were before God transformed you, then you will so much more appreciate your salvation now. Paul even says in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that at one time you were without Christ . . . having no hope, and without God in the world.”
How often do you ponder what your life was like before Christ? How often are you brought to tears of joy before the presence of Almighty God for saving you from such a depraved position? How often do you allow these things to grip you?
The Means of Reconciliation
Paul never tells us who we were before Christ, without also telling us who we are now in Christ (or what God has done for us to transform us). He never tells us to remember what we are now without remembering what we once were. So Paul has talked about the Colossians’ depraved sinful state and the complete opposite of reconciliation. Now he talks about the means of reconciliation: “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (v. 22a).
If we have a need for reconciliation to God then how is that accomplished? Paul says, “He has now [this is present tense] reconciled in His body of flesh by His death.” This is talking about Jesus. Jesus Christ is the one who has brought us to God. All the members of the Trinity work actively in your salvation. The Father initiates your salvation, He plans it. The Son accomplishes your salvation on the cross. The Spirit applies your salvation through regeneration. Now, Christ did a lot of things while He was here on this earth, but the main reason He came was to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are reconciled to God through His death. Your reconciliation to God is owing completely to the death of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t because you were good enough, it wasn’t because you did or said the right things, it was because Jesus died for you! “You contribute nothing to your salvation, except the sin that made it necessary”—Jonathan Edwards.
Are you reconciled today? Are you reconciled to God through Christ?
The Aim of Reconciliation
Paul has talked about God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation and now he talks about the aim of reconciliation: “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (v. 22b).
In contrast with their three-fold depravity, Paul describes the three-fold aim of Christ’s reconciliation work on behalf of the Colossian believers:
1. “in order to present you holy” (1:22b)
2. “in order to present you . . . blameless” (1:22c)
3. “in order to present you . . . above reproach” (1:22d).
The Evidence of Reconciliation
Paul has described God’s plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation, the aim of that reconciliation, and now he concludes this section by speaking on the evidence of that reconciliation. “If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23a).
Paul says here that “continuing in the faith” is evidence that you have been reconciled: “Christ reconciled you in order to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before Him . . . if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast.”
Paul is not saying here that “continuing in the faith” is necessary to your salvation because you are lacking something that Christ didn’t do. It’s necessary in order to prove your salvation, but not necessary because Christ isn’t enough. Christ is mighty to save, He saves to the uttermost, He is able to reconcile fully, completely, and thoroughly—salvation was not just made “possible” for you at the cross—but it was made actual for you at the cross. Christ actually accomplished, bought, and secured your salvation.
So, “continuing in the faith” is the necessary response and the “out-working” of a life that’s been reconciled to God. And the Scripture teaches that if your life does not show evidence of being reconciled to God, then you are not reconciled to God and you are still “alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds,” and you are not saved.
One of the most sobering truths of the Bible is that not all who profess to be Christians are in fact saved. Christ warned us about it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). And John writes in his epistle, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
No, you can never “lose” your salvation, but there will be a great falling away of those who were never truly saved. Look at Hebrews 6:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of god and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6).
Paul says here in Colossians that if we continue in the faith, we continue to be faithful to Him, continue to serve Him and love Him, if we remain steadfast and stable that it shows forth evidence of our present reconciliation with God.
Are you continuing in the faith? Does your life show evidence that you have been reconciled to God? Can you think of some ways in which God has shown His grace in your life? If not, then heed the words of 2 Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”
The Ministry of Reconciliation
In addition to Paul talking about the evidence of reconciliation, he speaks briefly in this section about the ministry of reconciliation. He writes, “[this gospel] which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (v. 23b).
Paul was made a minister of the gospel. We are all ministers of reconciliation. We are to tell others about Jesus Christ like Paul did. There’s a great passage of Scripture about that:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:17-20).
We owe people the gospel’s message this side of hell. The proper response to such a great gospel is joyfully sharing it with others. So who are you ministering to? Who has God placed in your life that you need to minister to? “You may be the only Bible people are reading.”—Billy Graham
We’ve seen today: God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation (1:20). Our state before Christ, the opposite of reconciliation (1:21). Christ’s present, real reconciliation work on the cross (1:22). The aim of Christ’s reconciling work (1:22). The evidence of Christ’s reconciling work (1:23). And how we are all made ministers of that gospel (1:23). Where is God stirring in your heart today? In the commands we found in the Scriptures, which are you not obeying? The gospel gives you the power to carry out those commands in obedience, so what are you waiting for? I pray we will be obedient to God and heed the truths gleaned from Colossians concerning this great position we have as believers: reconciled.
1. John MacArthur, Colossians/Philemon (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1992), 58.
2. Adapted from John Piper, Remember That You Were Hopeless (Desiring God, 1981).