Paul, in words of high Christology, has spoken of Christ's role as creator, head of the church and agent of reconciliation, v15-20. Now, in the passage before us, Paul reminds his readers of their own reconciliation - "you who were estranged from his family, God has reconciled to himself."
v21. In v20 Paul tells us that Christ's work of reconciliation achieves "peace" for "all thing". He now brings the notion of reconciliation, and its end, "peace", down to a personal level. The believers in Colossae were, like Paul, once estranged from God by sin. Their state was one of enmity, rather than peace. They had no peace with God, and therefore were not at peace with each other.
v22. Yet, this enmity no longer exists because of Christ's reconciling work. The believer achieves peace with God through Christ's physical death. Paul does not go on to explain how Christ's death can move the sinner from their state of condemnation to one of acceptance before God. An exposition of the atonement is obviously outside his brief at this point in time. Here Paul focuses on the results of Christ's death. Peace with God, reconciliation, through Christ's sacrificial death, involves being presented before God holy, without blemish, and thus free from accusation. Identification with Christ involves our becoming as Christ is, righteous before God. Therefore, we stand totally approved before God, holy and acceptable, and thus reconciled and at peace with Him. We have all the benefits of salvation now. This point obviously serves to counter the Colossian heretics who see fullness in the Christian life as something achieved through law-obedience.
v23a. As for perseverance in this hope, it is not dependent on a life of faithful obedience, rather, it is dependent upon a continued trust in Jesus. The gospel promises the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ. This gift is always ours while faith remains. Disobedience, failure, not even weak faith, is able to separate us from God's free gift of new life in Christ. While we believe, we live.
v23b. The gospel message of God's grace in Christ was proclaimed at Colossae, as well as throughout the known world. It is a message for all mankind; it is a message that transcends race. And Paul, the persecutor of the church, is now one of its main communicators.
Presented holy in God's sight, without blemish, free from accusation:
From my early days in youth fellowship I was aware of the ease with which people moved in and out of Christianity. For many young people, youth fellowship was little more than a place for socializing. Nothing wrong with socializing, and the local church did well to provide a safe place for teens to gather and interact, yet the lives of those young people did not necessarily intersect with Christ.
What concerned me was the large number of young people who took up the faith with gusto, only to walk away from it once they were through their teens. Christianity was the social environment for the moment and they simply adjusted to this environment while they found their adult legs. They certainly revisited the church when they wanted to get married or have their children baptized. They would often send their children to the church youth club, and at times, even attended Sunday services themselves. There is nothing wrong with this minimal, or what we often call "nominal" church association, but none of it touched the substance of faith.
Faced with the socializing, enculturating, influence of church, there is worth in separating outreach youth programmes from programmes that aim to nurture young believers. When it comes to outreach, simply remind the kids that there is a God and that Jesus is the way into his presence. "If you want to be with Jesus for eternity, just ask him. He'll never let you go." The evidence is that very few will take up the offer, and this only serves to show that much of the people-management activities undertaken to grow youth fellowship groups, serves only to bolster numbers rather than gather the lost. People-management is well able to grow a dynamic youth fellowship, but rarely does it build the kingdom of God.
In our passage for study Paul reminds us that the gathering of an alienated people progresses through the proclamation and hearing of the gospel. Similarly, the retention of a reconciled people is realized through a word-centered faith in Christ. None of the machinations of human organization impinge on this reality.
1. Why are we alienated from God?
2. How are we reconciled?
3. How do we "continue" in our standing, "established and firm"?