Colossians 1:21-23. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Those “before and after” photos they use for diet plans or exercise videos are always pretty convincing aren’t they? That person who lost hundreds of pounds in only days, or the 95lb. weakling that is now jacked and confident with his 8-pack abs. Or what about the before-and-after in superhero movies? Steve Rogers was so wimpy and sickly that the U.S. Army wouldn’t even take him in the middle of World War 2. But then he is injected with super serum and he becomes Captain America. A super human force for good in the world.
The before-and-after in Colossians 1 is even more shocking. Before: alienated, hostile, evil. Would you use these words to describe yourself pre-Christ? Completely alienated from God? Hostile toward God? Doing evil deeds against God? Or were you mostly good and just needed a little boost?
And that’s exactly Paul’s point. Those who are doing good deeds, being moral, trying hard, and chasing virtue, are just as alienated, hostile, and evil as those who are chasing their vices. Trust me, the Gentiles of Colossae believed they were living right. They thought they were finding their way toward cosmic peace. Doesn’t everyone? But our morality without God’s grace is just as hostile toward God as our immorality.
And what about our “after:” Reconciled. Holy. Blameless. Above reproach. As hard as it is to see ourselves as so utterly lost and evil in verse 21, it may be even harder to embrace just how holy and blameless we are now in Christ in verse 22. We are reconciled in Christ to God. And not by anything we have figured out, accomplished, or acquired. Our reconciliation is in Christ’s body of flesh by his death. Something first happened outside of us (in his body), and for us, so that something could happen inside of us (faith).
The great lie of our Enemy is two-fold: 1) We were never really that bad before Jesus, and 2) we need more than the work of the cross to reconcile us to God after Jesus. Both of these lies will slowly destroy your faith. We must see how complete our conversion is in Christ if we are to make any progress in the Christian life. This is the paradox of grace and faith – we will never be filled with Christ (1:9), if we don’t embrace that we are completely filled in Christ (2:10).
And this is why Paul gives us the stern warning in verse 23 – if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.
No doubt “ifs” in the Bible are scary stuff. What if I don’t continue in the faith? What if I’m not stable and steadfast? What if I shift from the hope of the gospel?
There is a real warning here, one that we don’t want to minimize. And we all know that person who made a profession of faith but then over time shifted from Christ and his gospel. Maybe they were drawn in one of the two directions we just mentioned above – I was never really that bad and don’t need Jesus, or I need more than what the cross of Christ is offering. Both are a failure to continue in the faith aren’t they?
And here’s what I know as a pastor – I don’t care so much about what aisle you walked down 20 years ago, or the profession you made with your mommy, or even what you believed yesterday. I care what you believe today. Right now. Are you trusting the gospel now? What about now? What about now? What about now?
Is your faith right now in the grace found in the body of Christ’s flesh by his death on the cross?
Or have you shifted?
Is your hope in Christ’s work FOR you? Or has it shifted to a hope in Christ’s work IN you? Trust me these are not the same thing. Any work of Christ IN us, must flow from a faith in Christ’s work FOR us. To begin with what Christ is doing IN us will shipwreck our faith every single time. But to build our hope on what Christ has done by his death will leave us with the real assurance of our salvation that God builds into every true believer’s heart.
Colossians 2:5. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
“To live is Christ” is to live in this firmness of faith. Faith in Christ’s work for us that will produce his work in us until the day of its completion.
Can you see your “before and after” in Christ (don’t measure it by behavior, measure it by the object of your faith)?
You in Christ
How does focusing on Christ’s work for you allow you to not shift from the hope of the gospel?
Christ in you
Are you continuing in the faith? Why or why not?
Playlist: Before and After