The Wonder of Reconciliation
Passage: Colossians 1:21-23
Read vv. 15–23
It’s been 3 weeks since we were in Colossians, so we need to review where we are. We left off in vv. 15–20 where we saw that Jesus is the “Lord of Creation.” He is eternal God, and he created everything including the material universe and the angelic realm. He also sustains it all, and all of it exists “for Him,” for his glory and honor.
But then sin entered and marred creation. Nothing is as Jesus made it to be. Creation is broken; therefore, God determined to fix creation by sending all his fullness to earth in a man—Jesus. And Jesus began to address the sin problem by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. In so doing, Jesus struck a fatal blow to sin’s power.
And v. 20 says that one day Jesus will reconcile all creation to himself. He will establish a new heavens and a new earth and subdue every enemy. He will drive away all pain and suffering and make all things new. And so the focus of vv. 15–20 is to set Christ above creation as the “Lord of Creation” and the “Lord of the New Creation.”
And our text for today, vv. 21–23, follows by narrowing the focus from the cosmic significance of Christ to the personal significance of Christ. Verse 21 begins with “and you” in the emphatic position. It’s not just that Christ will reconcile all of this; he has taken a person interest in me and reconciled me. What follows is a remarkably humbling account of God’s gracious work to fix his people, the center of his creation.
The center of vv. 21–23 is the statement of in vv. 21–22 that “He has reconciled (you) in the body…”
Reconciliation is a remarkable gift, but the only way we can appreciate it is to see it with the backdrop of our sinful condition. Therefore, Paul begins v. 21 by describing…
My Condition without Christ (v. 21)
Paul is writing to Christians who have believed the gospel; therefore, this verse reflects on what we were without Christ. And we cannot be reminded too often that we are nothing apart from the grace of God. And if you have never been saved, this verse describes what you are right now.
Notice the three descriptions Paul gives of my condition without Christ. First…
I was separated from God.
I have heard a number of people over the years claim that “God has always been a part of my life.” What they mean is that they have always believed in God, they’ve tried to live an ethical life, and when they really get in a bind, they ask God for help. It’s a nice sentiment, but God tells us very clearly that no one is born into the world with God as a part of his life. We are born “alienated,” or estranged or separated from God.
Therefore, if you have always assumed that God must certainly be part of your life because you have some kind of fuzzy faith in him, I hope you will see today that you are wrong. Without the gospel, you are alienated from God.
And it’s not because God is mean or vindictive; it is because the second description states that without Christ…
I was hostile to God.
Paul reminds the Colossians that before they were saved they were “enemies in your mind” to God. In other words, they were hostile toward God.
We may have a hard time with this. How can you say that my neighbor who generally tries to live a moral life is hostile toward God? She is so kind and maybe even religious. But if God says it is true, it’s true no matter what we may think.
But the ultimate reason we don’t see our neighbor with God’s perspective is because we struggle ourselves to appreciate God’s authority. For example, have you ever watched a child who has broken a rule pretend that nothing is wrong even while dad is scolding him? He may pretend that he doesn’t even see dad standing over him. Or he may try to lighten the mood by cracking a joke or treating his dad as a peer. Regardless that child is resisting dad’s obvious authority by pretending it doesn’t exist or he hasn’t seriously violated it.
And folks, this is the hostile stance of every unbeliever. It is evident in creation that God is the sovereign Lord, and it is evident in man’s conscience that he has broken God’s law. And yet the unbeliever pretends that God is not who he claims to be or that he hasn’t really offended God by his rebellion. His mind is hostile to the true nature and authority of God.
And if you have never accepted the gospel, this is you. Every day you refuse to repent of your sin, you are shaking your fist before God in stubborn hostility. And the first step to salvation is to acknowledge his lordship and how you have rebelled against him.
This brings us to the third description…
I lived in rebellion against God.
God is not saying that unbelievers only do bad things because they do many selfless, kind deeds. But even the best of us fall infinitely short of a perfectly righteous God, and we break God’s law continuously. For example, God’s supreme command as infinite God to humble sinners is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). Therefore, every selfish deed is an act of rebellion. And we could go on and on. In comparison to the perfect righteousness of God, we all are terrible rebels.
And so v. 21 paints a dark picture of the natural human condition. We are hostile to God, we live in rebellion against God, and because of that, we are alienated from God. This is what you are apart from grace.
I want to emphasize that you will never truly appreciate the grace of God unless you come to grips with your natural state. God’s solution begins with understanding my rebellion.
And this so different from how the modern world approaches the nature of man. Modern psychology tells us over and over how wonderful we are, and how important we are. It teaches that the foundation of human security is finding my self-worth. It all sounds really good, until we walk out of the room, fall on our faces, and realize how broken we are. If my joy is found in my self-worth, I’m in a lot of trouble because I’ve got a lot of problems.
But the only answer secularism has to my problems is to just keep telling myself more lies about how wonderful I am. And works-based religions can’t do much better. Their only answer is to try harder to become a better person and then to lie to myself about how righteous I am.
Only the gospel deals honestly with how broken and miserable I am. The Bible tells it like it is right here in v. 21. You won’t find Sigmund Freud or Joseph Smith or Pope Francis talking this way.
And so if you are a Christian, be reminded again that before you were saved, you were hostile toward God, you lived in rebellion against him, and you were separated from his grace. The curse that marred all of creation marred you and left you in need of reconciliation you could never provide. You are who you are today only by the grace of God. And if you have never been saved, I pray that you will accept God’s diagnosis of your heart, because only then can you receive the prescription he has provided.
This brings us to the second major theme of our text, which is…
My Condition in Christ
After reminding the Colossians of what they were without Christ, Paul goes on to describe what God did to solve the problem. Specifically…
God reconciled me to himself (v. 21b–22a).
Reconciliation already came up in v. 20, which says that one day Christ will reconcile all of creation to himself. But v. 21 states that today he is reconciling the elect to himself.
Of course, the idea of reconciliation assumes that there is some kind of hostility. For example, when a married couple separates, typically there is a sin or pattern of sin that has created hostility between them. For them to be reconciled, that sin has to be addressed. And we just saw in v. 21 that our sin has created a separation between God and us.
And the Bible is clear that it goes both ways. Verse 21 says that we are hostile to God, but our hostility toward God is not the primary problem. God is not some insecure lover who is sitting in heaven ringing his hands hoping we will come back to him. No, far more important than my hostility toward God is the fact that my sin has made God hostile toward me. He is not hostile in the sense of having uncontrolled rage; rather as a holy God his hostility is his only just response to our sin.
So how do you reconcile two people who are hostile toward each other? Verse 21 is clear that man will never take the initiative in seeking reconciliation, and even if he did, he could never be good enough to reconcile himself to God.
But God is full of grace, and he has provided a reconciliation that I could never provide for myself. Notice that God is the only actor in vv. 21–22. God’s righteousness was offended, and God acted to resolve it.
He did so through the life and death of Christ. Jesus became a man with a “body of flesh.” And when Jesus died on the cross, he bore in his body the just punishment for sin. In so doing he removed the hostility between God and man. And 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that not only did he take my sin; he also gifts to me his perfect righteousness.
As a result, I can be reconciled to God. Before Christ, dark clouds of hostility dominated my standing before God, but now I have peace with God (Rom 5:1) and no fear of condemnation (Rom 8:1).
If you are a Christian how you ought to rejoice in the marvelous grace you have received. You didn’t reach out to God; rather, when you were shaking your fist in his face, he pushed your fist aside and embraced you. He drew you to himself, and he reconciled you through the blood of Christ.
And you have a security in Christ that is real and that will never be taken away. It is not grounded in lies about how important you are or how good you are; it is grounded in the finished work of Christ. Praise God for his incredible grace!
But I want to emphasize that this reconciliation does not belong to everyone. Verse 21 assumes this when it says to Christians that there was a point in time they did not enjoy this reconciliation. Other passages are clear that reconciliation becomes ours when we simply accept it by faith.
And maybe that’s what you need to do today. You need to acknowledge your rebellion against God and the fact that you cannot fix it yourself. You need to repent of you sin, look to the cross, and cast yourself on Christ. If you have never done that, won’t you do it today? Don’t go another day in rebellion against God. Receive his gift of reconciliation and leave knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you have a home in heaven.
And so the standing of a Christian is secure through Christ, but v. 23 adds a very important qualification to what Paul has just said. Even though I am reconciled to God…
I must continue in the faith (v. 23).
Verses 22–23 raise one of the more difficult but practically important tensions in the NT. This is the tension between the doctrine of eternal security and the necessity of perseverance.
Verse 22 speaks with confidence of the fact that those whom God has reconciled will make it to glory. This is in keeping with the consistent teaching of the NT that all who are truly saved will make it to heaven. Jesus promised, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). Jesus is very clear about the future of all who are saved. They will not perish.
But v. 23 also clearly makes our security in some sense contingent on “continuing in the faith.” Now it’s worth nothing that the particular construction Paul uses here almost always indicates confidence that the condition will be met. Therefore, you could translate v. 23 as saying, “assuming you continue in the faith.”
Paul didn’t think the Colossians were on a road toward leaving the faith, but in light of the warnings about heresy in chapter 2, he clearly didn’t want them to feel overconfident. They needed to watch themselves and make sure they did not stray from the truth of the gospel. Instead, they must be very careful to remain “grounded and steadfast” in the faith.
This is because the gospel is God’s authoritative message. There is a subtle, polemical thrust to the end of v. 23. False teachers were encouraging the Colossians to embrace their beliefs, which were apparently unique to Colossae. And Paul pushes back that the gospel is not just good news for one community or even one nation. It is God’s universal message of redemption. It is the one and only way to God, and we must continue in this message if we want to enjoy the benefits it offers.
And so Christian, I want to urge you to heed the appeal of Paul. Make sure that you stay “grounded and steadfast” in the truth of the gospel. Don’t just assume it will happen, because the history of the church is littered with people who started well, but the cares of this world or the lies of Satan choked out the seed of the gospel, and their faith withered and died.
And there are many others who try to keep a foot in both worlds. They want to plant some roots in Christ, but they also want to keep a firm hold on their selfish interests. And their Christian walk is deformed and stunted because some of their roots are feeding on gospel while others are soaking up poison by feeding on sin.
It is so sad because they don’t seem to get what they really have. They are sitting on a goldmine of joy and peace. Christ is beautiful and wonderful, but they’d rather toy with the petty things of this world than seek complete satisfaction in him. Don’t make that mistake. Seek Christ in all of his beauty and sink your roots deeply into him. Christ is worth everything you have and he is fully sufficient for every need.
But the question that remains is what does it mean if someone fails to continue in the faith? The NT says very clearly that if someone fails to continue they were never truly saved. This is because when God saves someone, he changes him or her. And Christ promises that he will protect our faith. He will hold us fast. Therefore, the warning of v. 23 certainly should sober us. We need to watch ourselves and guard against the wrong kind of security. But at the same time, the NT would say that as a general rule we should walk confidently knowing God will be faithful, and he will finish the work that he has begun (Phil 1:6). Praise God that we can live with that kind of assurance.
And so we’ve seen in v. 21 our condition without Christ. Without him we are just wicked sinners under God’s wrath. And then we saw our condition today because of Christ. We are reconciled to God, and he is strengthening us to persevere in the faith.
Notice finally in v. 22…
My Condition in Eternity (v. 22)
This statement tells us God’s ultimate purpose for reconciling us to himself. Yes, v. 23 reminds us that the road we must take in this life is often a difficult struggle, but the prize is worth it.
I will be made perfect.
Some interpreters understand this statement as picturing the presentation of the Christian as an offering to God in the present. This is because Romans 12:1 uses the same verb when it commands us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” This understanding would fit well, except that the third description in v. 22 “above reproach” doesn’t fit the picture of sacrifice. It’s a judicial term.
It’s better to understand this statement in light of Ephesians 5:25–27. These verses use many of the same terms, and they clearly look forward to the final day when Christ receives his bride. And they picture the church as standing before Christ in absolute purity and holiness.
And folks, the fact that this is going to happen to us is truly remarkable when I consider just how sinful I am and how sinful we are. God has given us a great church family, but today Life Point is far from being “holy and blameless and above reproach.” We’ve got problems.
But those of us who are saved have been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ, and from a judicial point of view, we stand in the perfect righteousness of Christ. And as v. 23 indicates, God is right now in the process of changing us practically. We are righteous judicially, and we are becoming righteous practically. And someday, Christ will finish his work. We will be “holy and blameless and above reproach.”
What a wonderful day that will be. I will no longer struggle against sin, and I will be perfect in every sense. And going back to vv. 15–20, I will enjoy perfect life Christ in his perfect, new creation. And so is life in this world and in our sinful flesh easy? It absolutely is not. It is hard to live in this broken world, and it is hard to be godly with our broken hearts. But the Christian knows that something better is coming. Our reconciliation guarantees that I will be made perfect.
And I think it’s important to close by emphasizing I will be made perfect in eternity ultimately so that…
I will glorify God.
Certainly I’m going to benefit by this transformation, and God will do it because he loves me. But the ultimate goal is not my good; it is God’s glory. We see that in the term “present,” which pictures our humility before God. And we especially see the God-centered nature of reconciliation in the larger context.
Verses 15–20 are very clear everything Jesus has made in creation, everything he continues to do to sustain and redeem creation, and everything he will do in the future to remake his creation is ultimately are ultimately in the words of v. 18 so “that in all things He may have the preeminence.”
What a wonderful privilege it will be someday to bow before our Savior and to worship him for his mighty displays of glory in all that he has made and especially to worship him for his gracious display of glory in his love and kindness to us. As Revelation 4:11 states, we will bow before him and cry out “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created. And Revelation 5:9–10 state that we will sing “a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy…for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
And let’s go from here today committed to giving him glory right now. We belong to him, and we exist for him. And so we must go out into our world committed to declaring the praises of our God by how we live. As much as is possible, let’s be holy and blameless and above reproach today. And let’s also declare the praises of our God to everyone around us. Our God reigns, and there is life and hope in him.