Colossians 1:21-23 (HCSB) Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him — if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. ⌊This gospel⌋ has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.
This epistle is addressed to the saints in Christ at Colossae, faithful brothers (chap 1:2). Paul says to them, ONCE, you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of evil actions. It is a truth that the children of God were chosen unto salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 1:1-4; Revelation 17:8). At the same time, we are raised up to new life in Christ IN TIME, at God's timing. The point being, until a person is brought to life spiritually, he is dead in Adam, an enemy of God, full of evil and unwilling and unable to want God or what is good. ONCE, we were alienated and hostile - hostile toward God (Romans 5:10) and others. Alienated is a word pretty much lost in our culture. We aren't supposed to call people aliens, they're undocumented. To be alienated means to be at odds with, unreconciled, lacking peace.
You will hear politicians proclaim that man is naturally good and in need only of the right education, etc. Some will teach that God's elect are not under condemnation, but born as "covenant children" and members of the New Covenant by fleshly heritage. Paul will have none of either of these arguments. He said much the same to the church at Ephesus: Ephesians 2:1-2 (HCSB) And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. These saints were in the same boat as the ones in Colossae! They HAD walked in disobedience, being dead in sins and trespasses. Paul went on, Ephesians 2:3 (HCSB) We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. Paul changes from YOU to WE, to show that he - an apostle - was no better off than they were. Children of God are BY NATURE children of wrath, like the others - the people of the world that do not love God and will not be reconciled to God. If this was not so, what would be our need of Christ to reconcile us to the Father?
Before we came to faith in Christ, each of us was alienated, hostile, disobedient, fleshly, and children of wrath. This is why no man can tell who the elect are until God effects salvation. Once made new in Christ, the believer has different appetites, is no longer alienated, etc. While we cannot hold to a litmus test, we must hold to the truth that a good tree will bear good fruit.
And this is the next point Paul brings to our attention. Colossians 1:21-22 (HCSB) Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him. Being born again by the Spirit of God happens in time - today is the day of salvation! BUT NOW, He has reconciled us - this is something God has done. Those who think man makes the initial or determinative move in being reconciled to God overlook many passages that show Who does this all important work. Christ reconciles spiritually dead sinners to holy God by His physical body which was broken for us, put to death on our account, so He could present us to the Father as holy, faultless, and blameless.
Compare those attributes to those attached to us before He reconciled us to God. Between our text and Ephesians 1 there are about 11 descriptions of how evil and deserving of God's wrath we were before He bestowed the riches of His grace on us. BUT NOW, having been reconciled, there are three words that describe us: holy, faultless, blameless. We should hang on that first word, for God is holy and without holiness no one will see Him.
A.W. Pink is helpful in our understanding God's holiness:
He only is independently, infinitely, immutably holy. In Scripture He is frequently styled “The Holy One”: He is so because the sum of all moral excellency is found in Him. He is absolute Purity, unsullied even by the shadow of sin.
This perfection, as none other, is solemnly celebrated before the Throne of Heaven, the seraphim crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” (Isa 6:3). God Himself singles out this perfection, “Once have I sworn by My holiness” (Psa 89:35). God swears by His “holiness” because that is a fuller expression of Himself than any thing else.
“The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD” (Prov 15:26). It follows, therefore, that He must necessarily punish sin. Sin can no more exist without demanding His punishment than without requiring His hatred of it. God has often forgiven sinners, but He never forgives sin; and the sinner is only forgiven on the ground of Another having borne his punishment: for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb 9:22). Therefore we are told “The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth wrath for His enemies” (Nah 1:2).
God's holiness is a characteristic of His person, not merely something He does. There are some who teach that we become holy, as required, by doing the good works He prepared for us. One popular teacher in Baptist circles says our good works are what saves us at what he calls our "final salvation." On the other extreme are Baptists who say NO good works are necessary for one to have assurance of his salvation. But in our text, Paul was led to declare that our Savior presents us before the Father as holy. This makes clear that the holiness without which we will not see God is His holiness! While our good deeds are judged, they are not part of the determination of whether we are saved. Rev 20:11-15 is one depiction of Judgment Day; this passage makes it crystal clear: our works have NOTHING to do with our destiny. The determining factor is whether or not your name is written in the Lamb's book of life, something that was done before the foundation of the world (Rev 17:8). Since our redemption and resulting good works take place in time, and our destiny was determined before the foundation of the world, nothing we could do could influence God's choosing His sheep.
Without a clear picture of God, we cannot have a right view of sin or self. Left to ourselves or distracted from Biblical truth we will see self in a far better light than is warranted; we will see our sin as a light thing; and we will see God as One who winks at our sin. One author observed, "There is a god we want and there is a God Who is. They are not the same God." When we come to grips with Who God is, we will see OUR sin as more grievous than our neighbors, we will long for His holiness. Take comfort that if you are IN Christ, He WILL present you to His Father as holy, faultless, and blameless.
Those last two words supplement holiness with sinlessness and giving no opportunity for God's name to be profaned. Having sin - which includes causing His name to be profaned - renders a verdict no man can withstand. In Christ, being in union with Him, is the essential aspect of our salvation that guarantees, insures, our right standing with God. None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good. Trust Him wholly - let no other trust intrude. Good words from an old hymn!
We come now to what causes some to think salvation is conditional upon our performance. What we see as verse 23 is a continuation of verse 22. Paul writes that we HAVE been reconciled, we WILL be presented; IF we continue, grounded and steadfast in the faith and not shifted away from the hope of the gospel.
What do we make of this? Considering how the Scriptures reveal the saving work of God being a certainty (Romans 8:28-30; John 6; Ephesians 2), we must not think in this place Paul speaks of conditions that put our eternal souls at risk. But care must be taken so our preconceived ideas do not lead us astray. The word we see as "if" is from a Greek word that means, if. Paul is not telling us our destiny is in question; he's telling how we can KNOW we are reconciled, to be presented holy, faultless and blameless.
One who has had an experience, claims Christ but does not remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, should not think he is reconciled to God. The Bible is full of these "conditional statements" which are there to prompt us to examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. Hebrews 3:6 (HCSB) But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household. And we are that household if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope. This warning is repeated in verse 14. Romans 8:16-17 (ESV) The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 1 John 2:24 (HCSB) What you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. If what you have heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. 2 Peter 1:10 (HCSB) Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. These warnings are not there to make us think we can lose our standing and be damned; they are there so none of us will take for granted what we profess with our lips.
Today in our country, far too many fellowships are full of people who wrote down the date they made their decision for Christ, as they say. But we are never told to look back on our decision for assurance; always and only are we told to look unto Christ and the work He is doing in us today. Our salvation is a "done deal" in that Christ has paid our sin debt. But it is very much a current status - IF we hold onto the confidence of our hope. Since we know it is the Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom to His children, that His Spirit works in us to will and to do what please Him; since we know that Christ Jesus will lose none of the sheep He was sent to redeem, we CAN have confidence in our hope that is in Christ! Rather than worry about the IF statements, let us look unto Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, seeing His Spirit work in us that which is pleasing to Him. Others will see and hear of these things and rejoice that God is faithful to His promises, even on our account. So we do not lose heart, we do not grow weary, we do not get shifted away from the sure hope we have Christ, as announced in the gospel.
The last part of verse 23 ties back to the opening of this letter. Recall from verse 6: the gospel has come to you and is bearing fruit and growing all over the world. Here Paul says this gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven. What does he mean by this? If the gospel had been proclaimed to the entire world and was bearing fruit all over the world back then, why are we still here? Why did Jesus tell us to preach the gospel to all creatures (Mark 16:15) if Paul was going to get that done?
It's mostly like that Paul meant was that, by this time, the gospel had been preached to all the world, as Paul knew it. As we see throughout the Bible men say things that reveal their limited human understanding, it shouldn't be unthinkable that Paul might be saying this, based on what he knew of the world. As far as he knew the world, the gospel had been preached to all of it. Paul quotes Psalm 19:4. Romans 10:17-18 (HCSB) So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. But I ask, “Did they not hear?” Yes, they did: Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the inhabited world. The proclamation in Psalms refers to general revelation, as the sun and stars testify to the glory of God. At the writing of Romans, Paul uses that message to describe the world-wide testimony of the apostolic gospel of Jesus Christ. So it makes sense in our text that Paul was speaking about the growth and success and spread of the gospel over the whole known world. Hard for Paul to know the unknown world!
The last words we have from Paul in this section is his oft-mentioned connection with this life-giving gospel: he was a servant thereof. He did not serve his own ambition, but worked and labored to make the name of Christ known everywhere to everyone. This ought to be our ambition as well! It will be if we've been changed by the gospel.