5. Knowing The Message Of Reconciliation (Colossians 1:20-23)Related Media
“And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 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 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved 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” (Col. 1:20–23).
What is the message of reconciliation? How can a person be reconciled to God and have eternal life?
In the church of Colosse there were teachings attacking the truth of the gospel. They said Christ was not God and that further revelation was needed for salvation.
Paul writes this letter to the Colossians to defend the supremacy of Christ. He said in the previous passage that the fullness of God dwells in Christ (v. 19). Essentially, he said Christ is God. He also said it is through Christ that all things shall be reconciled (v. 20).
Reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel. The word reconciliation means to renew a friendship or to restore to a right relationship. Paul told this church that if anybody was going to be saved—reconciled to God—it must be through Christ. He is the only one who can renew our relationship with God.
In fact, Christ taught the same thing. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me” (John 14:6). There is no salvation apart from Christ.
In considering Paul’s defense of Christ and the gospel in the current passage, it must be noticed that he calls himself a “servant” of this gospel. In Colossians 1:23 he says, “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.”
Because Paul was saved and transformed by this gospel, he became its servant. This is the natural response for someone who has truly been changed and reconciled to God. He wants to serve this gospel by sharing it and enduring whatever cost that may come in the process of its dissemination. This is the only appropriate response for someone who is truly convinced of the gospel’s innate worth. Here is a story from the 1900s that illustrates Paul’s response to the gospel and how it should be ours as well.
While on a three–story scaffold at a construction site one day, a building engineer tripped and fell toward the ground in what appeared to be a fatal plummet. Right below the scaffold, a laborer looked up just as the man fell, realized he was standing exactly where the engineer would land, braced himself, and absorbed the full impact of the other man’s fall. The impact slightly injured the engineer but severely hurt the laborer. The brutal collision fractured almost every bone in his body, and after he recovered from those injuries, he was severely disabled.
Years later, a reporter asked the former construction laborer how the engineer had treated him since the accident. The handicapped man told the reporter: ‘He gave me half of all he owns, including a share of his business. He is constantly concerned about my needs and never lets me want for anything. Almost every day he gives me some token of thanks or remembrance.’1
That engineer who was saved became a servant of the man who saved him. In the same way, Paul, who was saved by the gospel of reconciliation, became a lifelong servant of it. Wherever he went, he preached it. He traveled to nations throughout the ancient world to tell them about what changed his life. This should be true of us as well. Second Corinthians 5:18–20 says this:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Yes, if Christ saved you, you are also called to be a servant of the gospel. You have a specific ministry. It is called the “ministry of reconciliation.” God is reconciling the world to himself and he chose to make his “appeal” through you.
Not only was this Paul’s ministry, but it is equally ours. Now if we are going to be ministers of this gospel, we must first thoroughly understand it. We must understand the message of reconciliation so we can better share it.
In this lesson, we will be studying the “message of reconciliation” so we can more effectively apply its truths to our lives and teach its richness to others. As we teach and spread this message, we do our part in declaring the supremacy of Christ as Paul did.
Big Question: What are the elements of the message of reconciliation as seen in Colossians 1:20–23?
The Message Of Reconciliation Means That All Of Creation Has A Serious Problem
“And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20).
Interpretation Question: Why do “all things” need to be reconciled unto God (Col. 1:20)? What do “all things” include?
Why does creation need to be reconciled unto God? A crucial part of the message of reconciliation is that man is separated from God. Something happened in the Garden of Eden when Adam sinned. Scripture teaches that man experienced spiritual death—a separation from God.
Man Hides From God
Right after Adam sinned, we see his new relationship with God. God came looking for him in the garden and instead of revealing himself, Adam hid (Gen. 3:8). This is a picture of man’s relationship to God since the inception of sin. Man, now, is in a state of hiding from God. Sin has so infected man that it caused him to separate from God. Listen to what Isaiah 53:6 says about man: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”
All mankind has gone away from God as a result of sin. In fact, Paul declares that no one truly seeks him anymore. Romans 3:11 says, “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” In the same way that Adam hid from God, man today hides from God as well. Man does seek, but he seeks a god made in the image of man or any other imagination he prefers. Man cannot stand the God of the Bible. Consider what Paul says in Romans 1:21–23:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Although man has an inward witness of God in his heart and the clear witness of creation (cf. Rom. 1:19–20), man still chooses to not acknowledge him. Instead, he creates his own god.
Man’s Sin Suppresses The Truth Of God
Here in Colossians, Paul further explains man’s depravity and natural tendency to separate from God. He says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Col. 1:21).
Sin in man makes him hide from God and alienate himself from him. Man is alienated “because” of his “evil behavior.” Just as sin caused Adam to hide from God, sin causes man today to hide and deny God. Romans 1:18 describes this: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
When man is living in sin, he wants to push away the reality of a holy God. Man’s evil behavior compels him to. Jesus taught something similar about his first coming: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19–20).
Because man practices evil, he hates the light. He wants to suppress the idea of a holy God, lest his deeds be exposed. Mankind wants to suppress the truth of God. Consider how Paul describes man’s thinking in relationship to God and his law. Romans 8:7 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”
Man’s natural mind is at enmity with God. It suppresses him; it doesn’t want to believe in him. It doesn’t want to follow the laws of God. In fact, it cannot follow them. Man is a slave to the cravings of his sinful nature. He is controlled by sin. Jesus said, “He who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). Nature determines action. A lion will always eat meat instead of a carrot because it’s his nature. Similarly, a sinful nature only yields sinful behavior.
This is the natural state of man. He is at enmity with God. He will not seek him. His mind cannot understand him. The teachings of Scripture are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14). He runs away from him. He is dead in his sins—separated from a holy God (Eph. 2:1). He suppresses the truth of God because he would rather live his own life apart from God’s lordship. Man, by nature, despises authority or anything that restricts or constrains him. He wants his own unbridled freedom. In his eyes this is right, and anything or anyone that interferes is not welcomed (Ps. 2:1–3).
God Is At Enmity With Man
But, this situation gets even worse. It is not just that man is at enmity with God and needs to be reconciled to him, but that God is at enmity with man. Yes, this is a far worse picture than man simply running away from God. It is not a big thing for an ant to be angry at a lion. What is drastically worse is that God is at enmity with man. Look at what Paul says about man in his natural state apart from God: “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).
Scripture proclaims that men by nature are “objects of wrath.” We as sinners abide under the wrath of an angry God. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
God is so holy that he cannot stand sin. He is so just that he must judge it. And therefore, because of his sin, man is under the judgment of God. This is the condition of all men. They are separated from God and at enmity with him. The writer of Hebrews says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Because God is holy, man cannot have a relationship with him. The requirement of being in God’s presence is a holy life.
Well, one person might ask, “What if man works really hard and practices righteousness and good deeds? Can he then have a relationship with God and have eternal life?”
This is what the religions of the world advocate. But they don’t fully understand:
- the gravity of man’s sin and
- that God is just.
Imagine for a second this happening in a human court. Imagine a man on trial—a convicted murderer of thousands of people, as well as a rapist and thief—asking the judge if he could get off “scot-free” by promising to do good works for the rest of his life. If this judge exonerated him, would he be a just judge?
There would be an uproar in society if this happened. Righteous deeds are what we are supposed to do. It doesn’t pay back for the sins we already committed. The judges in our judicial systems may not always be just, but we can be sure the God of Scripture is just and that there is no amount of good works that can amend for the sin of man. There is no amount of religious devotion, prayer, or giving that can atone for one’s past sins.
Scripture says that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The just punishment for one sin, one bad thought, earns death (cf. Matt. 5:27–28). Man is in a terrible predicament under the wrath of a just God.
In fact, Scripture says that man apart from God’s grace can do no good works at all. Listen to what Isaiah 64:6 says: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Even our righteousness is as filthy rags before God. Sin has so tainted man that he can do no good work that is pleasing to God.
One might say, “How is that? There are plenty of good things that people do.” Sure, there is no doubt about that. But God’s standard is so high that even our greatest good deeds are filthy in his sight. This is true in part because God requires not only good deeds, but a right heart. More important than one’s deeds is the heart that they are committed with. Scripture teaches that the greatest commandment is this: “To love God with your whole heart, mind and soul.”
This is often called the doctrine of total depravity. There has never been a moment in my life when I have “loved God with my whole heart, mind, and soul.” Even my good deeds are tainted by motives to be approved by others and sometimes to be better than others. I fall far short of God’s plan for my life. Again, Paul says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
Now we have talked about man, but what about the rest of creation? Why do “all things” need reconciliation with God? Scripture teaches that even creation no longer honors God in the way it should. Moreover, I believe Scripture teaches that even heaven is in need of redemption.
When man sinned on the earth, Scripture says that God cursed the ground (Gen. 3:17). It from that point on bore weeds and thorns instead of the fruit it was supposed to. No doubt, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the like are part of the curse. Romans 8:20–22 says this:
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Like man, creation is also in frustration and bondage to sin. It is groaning, waiting for the time it will be set free from sin and changed into what God originally planned. Some have said maybe we see creation’s frustration every year. It blooms in the spring, only to die in the winter.
But again it should be noted that heaven also is affected by sin. Consider what the book of Job says: “If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes” (Job 15:15).
Eliphaz, one of Job’s accusatory friends, spoke this statement, and therefore, it must be tested by the rest of Scripture. However, there seems to be support for this. One of the things many people do not understand about heaven is that there is a current heaven where God dwells, and that one day he will create a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). Theologians call the current state of heaven the “intermediate heaven.”
Why is there a need for a new one? Consider what Scripture says about the “intermediate heaven:”
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man–made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence (Heb. 9:22–24).
The writer of Hebrews is talking about how the tabernacle on earth was a copy of the tabernacle in heaven. The articles of the earthly tabernacle needed to be cleansed with the blood of a lamb, but the writer says the articles in the heavenly tabernacle needed to be cleansed with a better sacrifice. What was that better sacrifice? It was the blood of Jesus.
Well, hold up. Why does the tabernacle in heaven need to be cleansed in the first place? It seems that after the fall of the angels in heaven, heaven is no longer as God originally intended. We see Satan having access to heaven, speaking with God several times in the book of Job. In 1 Kings 22, we see demons having access to heaven. One demon says he would go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets of the king of Israel to lead him into destruction (v. 22). We even see a future battle in heaven with angels and demons in Revelation 12. It is the new heaven and new earth in which nothing bad or corrupt will be able to enter (Rev. 22:14–15), not the current intermediate heaven.
For this reason, Jesus also had to cleanse the tabernacle in heaven. I personally believe that when Scripture talks about there being no crying, weeping, or mourning in heaven, that again it specifically is only referring to the new heaven in Revelation 21:4. In Revelation 6:10, we see martyrs in the intermediate heaven who died during the tribulation period mourning and asking God when he will bring vengeance on the people of the earth. It says, “They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”‘
There seems to be mourning in the present heaven as people cry out for God to bring his justice on the earth. There is no clear biblical reason to think there is no mourning in the intermediate heaven. Scripture says that even the Holy Spirit mourns and groans inside of us with words that cannot be expressed (Rom. 8:26). If God mourns, certainly the saints in heaven who are closer to and more like God mourn as well. Heaven and earth are not the way God originally intended. That’s something we all should mourn and pray about.
Do we not see how bad creation’s predicament is? Man is at enmity with God and incapable of obeying him or seeking his face. Creation is in frustration and bondage because of sin. Even heaven has been affected by sin.
This is the bad news. Everything is far from where it should be. This is the bad news everybody must be aware of. In order for a person to be saved, they must first realize why they need to be saved. They must understand the gravity of their problem. They are sinners in the hands of an angry God. They are apart from their Creator. This is a necessary element of the gospel—the message of reconciliation.
It is necessary for every person who will be saved to first feel the sting and conviction of their sin. This is the offensive part of the gospel that Christians must not be afraid to share.
Why should a person be offended at a God who wants to save? Actually, it’s the reason God wants to save them that is offensive. Their sin separated them from God, and that is why they must repent and turn to God for salvation. Every person on earth must feel the weight of their sin and realize that Christ wants to take that burden and draw them to himself (Matt. 11:28–30).
Are you willing to declare to mankind the gravity of their situation? Are you willing to teach that God is angry at sin all day long and that we need a savior? (Ps. 7:11).
Application Question: Do you feel that the reality of man being a sinner, under the wrath of God and in need of repentance, is the hardest part of sharing the gospel and a major reason why people do not share? Why or why not?
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19–20).
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean when he says “all things” will be reconciled unto God? Does this teach universalism, the salvation of all mankind? Why or why not?
In order to understand reconciliation we must also understand what it does not mean. It does not mean universal salvation. This verse has been used by many prominent teachers to teach that eventually every person will be saved. That is not what Colossians 1:19 teaches, nor does it fit into what the whole of Scripture says.
Scripture clearly teaches that not all people will be saved, not even all people who profess Christ. Listen to what Jesus said:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt. 7:21–23).
Many who profess Christ as Lord will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead of living for God, they lived a life of evil. They will be separated from Christ for eternity.
If not all who profess Christ will enter into the kingdom, how much more those who deny Christ totally? Listen to what Matthew 25 teaches:
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matt. 25:41–46).
Scripture clearly declares that at Christ’s coming he will separate the sheep from the goats. The goats will go into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels while the sheep will go into eternal life. Scripture does not teach that all will go to heaven. When Paul says “all things” will be reconciled, it must be limited to those who follow Christ and the restoration of the heaven and earth as the rest of Scripture teaches.
It should also be noted that clearly the devil and his angels will not be reconciled. They will be eternally condemned. We see this taught in Revelation 20:10: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
When Scripture speaks of reconciliation, it does not include the unbeliever, nor Satan and his angels. Universal salvation is not a Scriptural doctrine, though it certainly appeals to man’s nature. God is a just God. He is not only a God of love but of justice. “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day” (Ps. 7:11).
Christians must be clear on this, for many popular teachers teach this today. This is a false gospel that we must be aware of.
Rule With An “Iron Scepter”
Some might still ask, “Is there a sense in which God will reconcile all things to himself?” It must be noted that though this cannot refer to salvation, there is a sense in which unredeemed man and fallen angels will be reconciled to God, but only in judgment. All creation will bow down to him as Lord. Listen to what Philippians 2:9–11 says:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 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.
One day everyone will bow down to Christ, but some will bow down only because they must. Psalm 2:9 says the Son will rule with an “iron scepter” (cf. Rev. 12:5), and he will “dash them like pottery.” One day all will submit at the second coming of Christ because they must. The Lamb will return as a Lion. He will judge the earth, and in that sense unredeemed men and fallen angels will finally be forced to submit to Christ as Lord. In this sense, God will reconcile all things to himself, but this reconciliation will not change their eternal destiny.
Application Question: Have you met Christians who believe that all will eventually be saved? Why do you think this perversion of the gospel is growing in popularity? (For further information, research the “Wider Mercy Doctrine.”)
The Message Of Reconciliation Is That Christ Is The Reconciler
“By making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 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” (Col. 1:20–22).
We considered the problem: man and all of creation have been affected by sin. Man is separated from God because of sin. He cannot obey God and will not seek God. Here is the next question. How then can man be reconciled to God?
Interpretation Question: What does Paul teach as the source of reconciliation?
Paul says: “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” (Col. 1:22).
He declares that through Christ’s death, redeemed man has now become without blemish and free from accusation. How can this be? How can a sinful man be holy in God’s sight?
This teaches a truth seen throughout Scripture called substitution. Under the Mosaic Law, God set up a sacrificial system to instruct man about this. Man understood that “without the shedding of blood there was no remission for sins” (Heb. 9:22) and that the “wages of sin was death” (Rom. 6:23), and therefore there had to be a just punishment. However, God symbolically punished the sins of man on a sacrificed lamb so that the people could enter his presence and worship him.
In fact, many scholars see “substitution” implied in the very first death. After Adam sinned, God immediately killed an animal and clothed Adam and Eve. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and therefore someone had to die for Adam’s sin. From the beginning, God showed mercy to man by allowing a substitute.
However, the sacrificial animal never took away the sins of the world; it only symbolized a future reality. When John the Baptist saw Jesus on the earth, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b).
The lamb in the Old Testament was only a picture of substitution. The lamb without blemish was a picture of being without sin. The people symbolically received the sinless life of the lamb, and the lamb bore the sins of the people and died for them. This symbolized the perfect lamb that would die for the sins of the entire world: Jesus Christ.
What happened with Jesus, however, was not a symbol; it was the reality. There, literally, was a substitution when he died on the cross for the sins of the people. He took the sins of every person in the world and bore the wrath of God for them.
Those who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior will have his work on the cross applied to their account. He bore our sin and the just wrath of God and we took on his perfect righteousness. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
He took our sin and we received his righteousness. This is what Paul means when he says we are to be presented holy, blameless, and free of accusation in his sight. Listen again to what he says: “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” (Col. 1:22).
The only way for man, and therefore creation, to be reconciled was by the substitutionary death of the perfect lamb. We are now acceptable to God because he sees us as his perfect Son. His righteousness is now applied to our account.
Application Question: What are some applications from the fact that we have become Christ’s righteousness and are now holy, without blemish, and free from accusation?
1. Because We Are Now Christ’s Righteousness, We Must Practice Righteousness In Our Daily Living.
Those who are truly born again will naturally desire to live a righteous life. In this substitution, a person truly becomes a new creation in Christ. Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
We are now God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10). He changed us so that we can glorify him through the new life and the new righteousness he has given us. True salvation will always result in good works.
“Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13b–14).
Are we living out our new reality in Christ? We are his righteousness and we must seek to live this out daily.
2. Be Cause We Are Now Christ’s Righteousness, We Must Not Accept The Condemnation Of Satan, Ourselves, Or Others.
One of Satan’s tactics is to accuse the believer when he falls or makes mistakes. He will condemn the believer for his failures and seek to use this condemnation to draw us away from God. There is a difference between conviction and condemnation. A true believer should feel conviction when he sins. This happens because of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
True conviction draws us to God and away from sin. However, condemnation will draw us away from God and into sin. Condemnation will bring depression and anger and will often cause believers to go into seclusion or into worse sin. Do not accept any condemnation from the devil.
Christ knew and paid in full for each sin we would commit when he died on the cross. This does not give us license to continue in sin. But it should give us confidence to accept his forgiveness and turn from it. Listen to what Paul says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
He also said this at the end of the chapter:
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Rom. 8:33–34).
Who can rightly bring a charge against a believer? It is God who justifies. The word “justifies” is often explained as “just as though I never sinned.” Who is he that condemns? No one can rightly condemn us—not Satan or ourselves.
Christians must start to live on the basis of who we are “in Christ” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom 6:11; Eph. 1:3). Because we are “in Christ” and we are his righteousness, we must live in accordance with this reality. When we fail we must seek forgiveness and continue to walk according to what Christ has done in our lives and who we are in him.
Listen to Paul’s words on this one more time:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:11–14).
Jesus makes us holy through his death (2 Cor. 5:21) so that we can continually approach God (Heb. 4:16). Therefore, we must reject condemnation that comes through our flesh, the devil, or others. This is an important truth we must actualize to continue to walk in Christ’s victory, especially when we stumble.
Application Question: In what ways does Satan commonly come against you with condemnation? How do you discern these lies and battle against them?
The Message Of Reconciliation Is That Reconciliation Comes Through Faith
“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—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Col. 1:22–23).
Interpretation Question: What is the condition Paul gives for man to be reconciled? How does a person take this step?
How does a person receive reconciliation with God? How do they have their friendship renewed? Paul teaches in this text that a person is saved through faith in Christ. Look again at what he says:
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—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (Col. 1:22–23).
Scripture everywhere would teach that salvation, and thus reconciliation, is by grace. It is by unmerited favor that anyone is saved. We cannot earn it; we cannot work for it. It is a work of grace, but this grace gives us the faith to put our trust in Christ. Ephesians 2:8–9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
A person receives this grace from God through an act of faith, an act of trust. We get a good picture of this in how Paul responds to the jailer who asks, “How can one be saved?” Let’s look at their interaction: “He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household’” (Acts 16:30–31).
Belief in Christ or faith is the means to be saved.
Interpretation Question: What are the characteristics of this faith in Christ that brings reconciliation to those who trust in him?
1. True Faith Believes The Content Of The Gospel.
Paul declares that in order for a person to be saved he must have belief or faith. However, faith is only as good as the object. We don’t believe in faith; we believe in the object or the content of our faith.
What is the content of the gospel?
- The content is an admission that one cannot save one’s self. One cannot work for it, nor can he earn it. Everyone is totally lost because of sin. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.”
Because of our sins we are totally separated from a holy God. We will ultimately be separated from him eternally in a burning fire that will not be quenched. The writer of Hebrews says, “Without holiness no one will see God” (Heb. 12:14).
It is this reality that drives a person to come to Christ and be saved. He realizes that he needs a savior.
- The content is the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the sins of the world. Paul says,
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:2–4).
This is the content of the gospel. Before recognizing the gospel, we must again understand the bad news. We are separated and under the wrath of a just God because of our sins. But the good news is that God’s Son came to earth and died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day so that one day those who believe in him will rise again. This is the content of the gospel.
But it must be noted that intellectual belief is not enough.
2. True Faith Is Committed To The Lord Of The Gospel.
The word “faith” used here in Colossians 1:23 is more than just intellectual belief. In Greek this word can be translated as “trust,” “commit,” or even “obedience.” The word in classical Greek is used of those in a contractual relationship.2 There is a commitment of the will and not just the mind.
This is important to say because there are some in Christianity who would say intellectual belief is enough, but James says even the demons believe and shudder (James 2:19). Simple belief that Jesus is God and Savior isn’t enough. It has to do with a commitment of the will in following and obeying him. Romans 10:9–10 says,
That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
To believe means to accept Jesus Christ as Lord of our life. It also includes an element of repentance as a person ceases to live his former life and accepts Christ as Lord of his life. A transference of leadership takes place. This is important because many make false confessions. Christ warned about this in the Sermon on the Mount. Listen to what he said:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt. 7:21–23).
Many in the church have only belief, only profession. They have right doctrine. They know that Christ is Lord, and they even serve him in the church but are not truly saved. Christ says true faith leads to doing the “will” of the Father in heaven (v. 21).
We have too many Christians in the church who claim to follow Christ but their profession doesn’t change their language. It doesn’t change how they treat someone who offends them. They have just as much unforgiveness and bitterness as the world. Christ responds to these people and says, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”
Let’s say a man goes through an elaborate wedding ceremony and marries a wonderful woman. However, after the ceremony this man never sees the lady again. He wears a ring and tells people he is married, but he has no relationship with this wonderful woman. He even has relationships with other women. Is that a marriage?
Similarly, lots of people come to church and put on a display before people, but they have no real relationship with Christ. Christ will one day respond to them, “I never knew you.”
The message of reconciliation is that we are reconciled to God by faith in the Son. This faith has a doctrinal element: believing in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the sins of the world. But it also has an element of commitment and obedience to him. When you really believe something it should affect how you live. This is the problem with much of Christianity.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen “professions of faith” abused in churches and among believers? Do you think there is an overwhelming lack of true saving faith in the church?
3. True Faith Perseveres In Following Christ As Lord.
It also should be noted that this faith in Christ that brings reconciliation with God has more to it than a committed belief. Paul gives a conditional clause. Look again at what he says:
If you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved 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 (Col. 1:23).
Perseverance of true saving faith is taught throughout Scripture. True faith will last and spurious faith—false faith—will not. We see a good example of false faith in the Parable of the Sower. Look at the stony ground:
The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away (Matt. 13:20–21).
Jesus taught that many would hear the word of the gospel and even receive it with joy. However, they didn’t have any true root. A plant without roots will die when the wind or the storm comes. It has nothing to sustain it. This root represents true faith.
Many in the church who have emotional displays when they accept Christ fall away and never return after they face peer pressure from friends or family, their faith starts to cost something, or God allows some trial to happen in their life. This type of faith has no root—it’s false.
Let’s see how John handles a similar scenario with people who initially professed faith but ultimately fell away. In the church of Ephesus a Gnostic cult attacked the church and many members fell away from Christ. John said, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19).
John said if they belonged to us, meaning if they were truly saved, they would have remained. He is not simply dealing with members leaving the church. This was a deeper issue. They were leaving the church to follow a false gospel that attacked the deity and humanity of Christ. He says that their falling away proved that they had no real root—no real faith. He says, “Their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
Jesus said something similar about believers in the end times. He said: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12–13).
In the end times, wickedness will increase. The world will be a loveless place, and in that context Christians will be persecuted because of it. No doubt, many Christians will fall away because of this persecution. They would prefer career, acceptance by friends and family, wealth, or comfort, and therefore they will not be willing to take up their cross to continue following Christ. Christ said, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Those who fall away in the end times will fall away because they had a false faith.
Christ taught the same doctrine as Paul and John. True faith perseveres. He doesn’t say they lost their salvation. Scripture clearly teaches that those who are Christ’s sheep he will not lose. In fact, it is one of the very things God sent the Son to do. Listen to what Christ said:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day (John 6:37–39).
Jesus came to do the Father’s will, and Christ cannot fail at this because he is God. If he failed at doing the Father’s will, he could not be our Savior because he would have “fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Our Savior is perfectly righteous, and because of this, he can give you his righteousness. He does not fail at keeping his elect. He puts his elect in the Father’s hand and in his own so he loses none (John 10:28). He holds the temperature gauge on every trial (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13; John 18:9) because he will not put you into a trial that the faith he has given you cannot ultimately handle. God will never lead you where his grace cannot keep you. He prays for his elect so he can save them to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25). He works all things for the good of them who love the Lord. God predestined you before you were born to be made into the image of his Son and nothing can separate the elect from his love: not life, not death, not angels or demons, sin or anything else, for we are convinced that nothing can separate the believer from the love of God (Rom. 8:28–39).
God gives the elect a measure of faith (Eph. 2:8–10), and the Son keeps that faith so that he may please the Father. A savior who failed to keep the elect could not be a savior at all because he could not perfectly do the will of God. He, therefore, could not be God. Thank you, Lord, that Christ is our Savior and God, and nothing is impossible for him!
The way that each person can be reconciled to God is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This faith believes in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It is committed to the Lordship of Christ, and finally, it always perseveres.
Application Question: Many orthodox Christians believe that true faith does not always persevere, meaning that a person can be saved and then lose their salvation. How did they come to this interpretation? What do you think the whole counsel of Scripture says about this?
What are the elements of the message of reconciliation? We must understand this because all who are true believers have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Like Paul we have become its servants (Col. 1:23). We are called to let God speak through us as he reconciles people to himself. But this is also important for us to know because many false gospels are attacking God’s church and trying to lead people astray. We must know this message, we must protect it, and we must share it.
- The message of reconciliation is that all creation has a serious problem. All people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and because of that creation is far from where God desires it to be.
- The message of reconciliation is not synonymous with universal salvation. Scripture clearly teaches that those who refuse to accept Christ will be judged eternally by him. It also teaches that no grace was afforded to Satan and his angels. They will spend eternity separated from him in a burning fire (Matt. 25:41).
- The message of reconciliation is that Christ is the reconciler. It was through his death that the wrath of a holy God was appeased. At the cross there was a substitution: we received the perfect righteousness of the Lamb and he received our sin and judgment. We can have peace with God because of this (Rom. 5:1).
- The message of reconciliation is that salvation comes through faith. This faith believes in the resurrected Lord. It is committed to his lordship and it perseveres. We must continue to follow this Christ. Those who do not persevere have never truly known the Lord (Matt. 7:23).
Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown
1 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Peter. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 87-88.
2 G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 6:175.
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