Studies in Colossians – 1:21-23

This is a series of brief looks at Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. My purpose is not to write a full exposition but to show how much can be gained by looking carefully at what the text says. Too often we skip quickly from glancing at the text to parroting what we’ve heard before and believed already. That is no way to learn anything new from the Bible. Learning comes first and foremost from looking, looking attentively, looking for a long time.

Paul’s exaltation of Jesus Christ has led us to the glories of the fullness of God but has ended with a reminder that we are by nature separated from the glory. Just think of the enormous gulf covered in that last sentence: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” A reader with any sensitivity finds the movement from “the fullness of God” to “the blood of his cross” to be deeply jarring.

Given Paul’s apparent purpose in writing, however, we can see his train of thought. When we behold the extreme beauty of our Lord, part of our response surely must be a fresh awareness that – in the words Paul uses in Romans 3 – we fall short of the glory of God. And the more we are awed by God’s glory, the more keenly we feel just how far short we fall.

So Paul has impressed on his Colossian readers the immeasurable greatness of Jesus Christ at least in part to nudge them out of any complacent thoughts that they are good enough to satisfy God. Trusting that they have gotten the message, he is quick to speak of reconciliation, which is the overcoming of the distance between one person and another.

We were once completely alienated from God but are not reconciled by the death of Jesus Christ, the literal physical death of the one in whom all the fullness of God dwelt. Through Christ’s death we have been made “presentable” again, forgiven, cleaned up. Because of that death, we are now “holy and blameless and above reproach” in his presence.

Paul does not here explain just how the death of Christ accomplishes our reconciliation. He simply assures us that there is a direct cause and effect . . . on one condition. And that is chilling.

The reconciliation is real “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard. . .” On the basis of what we have seen so far, it is clear that this is the key to the whole epistle. Remember that the question was raised ‘way back in 1:2, Are there saints who are not faithful? Now we see beyond doubt that this is exactly what Paul is concerned with as he writes to the Colossian Christians.

Coming to faith is beginning on a path, not just stepping through a door into heaven. We are to be persistent. We are to be as stable as the very foundations of a building, firm as a boulder. Persistent in what? Hope. Remember that in verse 5 he has spoken of hope as that which is laid up for us, awaiting us in heaven. We noted that this is an odd way to use the word hope, indicating the content but not the feeling of hope. Our hope, in other words, is not fulfilled on this side of the grave. The completion of our journey toward the fulfillment of our deepest hope takes us to and through death itself.

Christians have been debating for a long time the question of “eternal security.” Is the cliche “Once saved, always saved” true or is our salvation conditional on our persistence in faith? A passage such as this does not help us with that question because salvation itself is not what Paul is addressing. But he does come close enough to get our attention!

The issue is reconciliation, which is one dimension of salvation. It is the relational dimension. When the church has focused solely on the question of salvation in the last two centuries, it has seemed concerned only with what happens to us after death. Paul knows that there is something much more important in the kingdom of heaven than merely our own fate. Our Creator wants to know and to be known. He wants us to be close, to be in harmony, to be in communion with him. That matters more than our own salvation. It is not mere existence, even eternal existence, that is primary. It is love, oneness, unity.

And love requires of us that we be faithful, year after year, day by day. Just from our experiences of human love, we know that to be true. Real faith in God looks like faithfulness. Real love for God is shaped by faithfulness.

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About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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