DUNCAN/Christ: Our only hope in life and death
Please turn in your Bible to Colossians 1:21-23. Previously in this letter, Paul told us that Christ is the one who has reconciled us to God. Christ is the agent of reconciliation which the Father has appointed. Therefore, Paul wants to drive home one grand point which is that Christ is the sole and sufficient Savior of His people. And in this passage, Paul applies that truth in four different ways. First, Paul says that all people apart from Christ are out of fellowship with God. Secondly, he tells us that all people in Christ are fully reconciled to God. Thirdly, he says that God purposes to perfect all His people. Fourthly, and finally, he tells us that Christians must strive toward the hope of the gospel and rely on Christ.
I. All People Apart From Christ Are Out of Fellowship With God.
In verse 21, Paul tells the Colossians that they “once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” In other words, he is describing the state of people who are not believing and trusting in Christ. What does it mean to be out of fellowship with God? To be alienated and estranged? It means to not be in a living relationship of blessing with the only Being in the universe who is able to bring blessing. If we are alienated from God, we are apart from hope of being blessed. The Apostle Paul says that unbelievers are estranged and hostile in mind, and he goes on to say that in light of that truth that they do wicked works. Apart from Christ, you cannot do things for the right motives, for the right reasons, for the right goal, and with a right interest in serving your neighbor, and serving God. As human beings, we are intrinsically self-centered. We are naturally disobedient to the law of God, and the Apostle Paul says, this is the state of a person apart from Christ. There are only two relationships in which human beings stand to God. Either we are alienated from God or we are reconciled to Him. There is no blessing outside of Christ. There is only blessing inside of Christ. Thus, Paul is saying to the Colossian Christians, “Remember what you were. You have seen your lives change. That is evidence that Christ is the sole and sufficient Savior.” That is the first great truth that Paul teaches.
II. All People In Christ Are Fully Reconciled To God.
In verse 22, Paul says, “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death.” If you are in Christ, you have been, past tense, reconciled to God in His death. In other words, Paul is saying that the cost of God reconciling you was born by Christ. He bore the cost of our being brought out of alienation and into the family of God. Furthermore, Paul is pointing out that this blood reconciliation, at the cost of the price of the death of the Son of God’s love, provided full reconciliation. What makes you right before God? Christ, Him crucified, and your having the benefits of Christ by faith is what stands you before God reconciled. As the hymn writer said, “In heaven, we will be more happy, but not more secure.” Do you see what he is saying? When you are reconciled to God as you have embraced Christ by faith in your present experience, because God has reached out to you in love and grace and drawn you to Himself, God has finished His hostility with you and He has finished your alienation from Him. You may be one day more holy than you are now. You may one day be more happy than you are now, but you will never be more reconciled to God than you are now. In glory we will be without tears, but we are no more secure in glory than we are now, because of the perfection of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.
III. God Purposes To Perfect All His People.
Thirdly, Paul says it’s not just that Christ has reconciled us and saved us from the punishment that we deserve, it’s that God is working His plan in us to make us perfect. Specifically, Paul says that God has reconciled you as a believer “in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” What does Paul mean when he says that God is going to present you before Himself “holy”? He means being cleansed from sin. He means being separated from the world to God for His service. What does he mean when he says that God will present you before Himself “blameless”? He means you are without any blemish whatsoever. No imperfection remains. What does he mean when he says God will present you before Himself “beyond reproach”? He means that there is absolutely nothing that anybody could find in your character which was less than perfection. Paul says that is what happens when you are reconciled with God through Christ because that is what God is working towards. One day God will present you to Himself, holy, blameless, and irreproachable.
IV. Christians Must Strive Toward The Hope Of The Gospel And Rely On Christ.
Fourthly, Paul says in verse 23 that Christians must “continue in the faith, firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” Paul is telling the Colossian Christians and us that we are to have our eyes fixed upon no other hope than Christ. How does Paul mean that we continue in the faith in this passage? First, Paul says that we are to be established which is to be well founded in the truth. Next, he says that we are to be steadfast which means that we are to remain loyal to the truth. And finally, Paul says that we should not be moved. In other words, he is saying, “Don’t let someone come in with a message which tickles your ear and leads you away from that hope.” Thus, Paul provides these three reasons why Christians shouldn’t be dissuaded from the hope of the gospel.
We also face this temptation today. There are people who still peddle the teaching that we must add something else to Christ. In response, the Apostle Paul is saying, “If you have Christ, you have all the blessings that go with Christ. So do not look for Christ plus something else. Don’t change the focus of your original hope.” Paul is reminding us to only look to Christ for our assurance. Your good works provide a beautiful evidence of your being in Christ, but ultimately Christ is the ground of your assurance. He is solely sufficient. Rest on Him for your assurance of salvation. May God, by His Holy Spirit, enable us to believe in Christ alone as He is offered in the gospel.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at email@example.com.