Our Past, Present and Future, Colossians 1:21-23

We’re going to pick up our study of Colossians this morning if you’d like to be turning there.

My family and I had a good trip to Colorado last week. I enjoyed an edifying get together over a few days with several other preachers. We studied II Corinthians together. We got to see a lot of family and old friends. And a new fun experience for me was one morning we went with Ally’s side of the family to a Denver Bronco football practice. We got to sit on a grass hill right next to the field and watch the whole practice. It was fun to watch their speed, their strength, their athleticism. I was impressed watching #10 Emmanuel Sanders one of the receivers playing catch with somebody. He was 15-20 yards away from this other player. And they’re not lobbing the ball to each other. They’re zinging line drives at each other. And Sanders is catching every pass with one hand like the ball is magnetically attracted to his hand. It was amazing. It was evident that these guys had been playing football almost every day of their lives since they were little kids. And out on the field with the players were a bunch of coaches, and I was wondering what could these coaches possibly say to these guys to improve their game? They seem to know what they’re doing, and they do it exceptionally well. What does a coach say to make them any better? I don’t know.

But I’ve heard about something that the legendary coach Vince Lombardi would say to his players. Vince Lombardi some say was the greatest NFL football coach of all time. The Championship Super Bowl trophy is named the “Vince Lombardi Trophy”. He won five NFL Championships in a span of seven years. He never coached a team with a losing record. Many famous sayings originated with him such as, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” and “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Well, from what I hear, every year, on the first day of spring training, he would gather the team together, look them over for several seconds and then hold up a football and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” The story goes that after holding up a football like they had never seen one and informing them that it’s a football, he would then take the team out and show them the field. He’d point out the out-of-bounds lines and the end zones. Then, he would remind the players that the football is to go across the end zone line. He would go over the basics of the game, explaining rules and organization of players. His point was that we’re going to start with the basics and make sure we’re masterfully executing the fundamentals. Lombardi believed that excellence could be best achieved by perfecting the fundamentals of the sport. Flashy crowd-pleasing moves, risk-taking plays might fill a stadium for a while and even win some games occasionally, but in the final analysis, the consistent winners were the teams that mastered the fundamentals, where players were not making mistakes in the basics.

Our text in Colossians ch1 is kind of like Paul giving a spring training talk on the fundamentals. It’s like Paul saying: “Gentlemen, this is a football.” What Paul says here is very basic, very simply. It’s stuff these Colossians Christians had already heard before and stuff that we’ve heard before. But these Colossians are hearing false teaching that has them questioning these fundamentals. And to be successful and productive Christians these are fundaments we must be sure of and never lose sight of.

Let’s read our text here to begin. Colossians 1:21-23…

You can divide what Paul says here under 3 headings. Our former condition apart from Christ (v21). Our condition now with Christ (v22a). And then our future condition (v22b-23). In other words the past, present and future of a Christian.

I. Our former condition apart from Christ (v21)

It’s briefly described in v21. You know that we live in a culture that says you’re okay and I’m okay and everybody who’s not a serial killer or rapist or something like that is okay. But it’s a fundamental truth that we have to grasp that apart from Christ people absolutely are not okay, and we were not okay when that was us. It is crucial we understand the condition we were in that the Lord has saved us from so that we are, for one, extremely grateful and wanting to please and honor Him, and so that we never leave the Lord, which would put us back in our former condition, and so that we have the desire to share Christ with the people around us. You can’t be very zealous for evangelism is you’re thinking that people are okay without the Lord.

Our former condition, the condition of every accountable person apart from Christ, is described here first as “alienated,” which is a word that means separated, estranged, divided from, cut off from. It’s like Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” A separation from God so that He does not listen to you or save you. That is alienation from God. That’s where we were. Without hope, destined to perish. And that’s where the world is.

And deservedly so, because Paul says next we were hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds. Or literally “enemies in mind, in evil deeds.” Now, do you believe that? We say that in church that we were enemies of God and the world is enemies of God. But I think if you asked the common person on the street if they are an enemy of God they would say, “No.” They might say, “Well, I don’t believe in God, but I’m not an enemy of him.” Or “I believe in a higher power, I just don’t think He’s quite like what the Bible says He is.” Or “I’m not really in to church and I don’t want God controlling my life, but I’m not an enemy of God.” But as Romans 1 and 2 say, so much about God and His nature and His will is evident just in creation and in our own consciences. And as our creator and sustainer God is so deserving of our acknowledging Him and thanking Him and us being interested in His will and seeking His will and giving Him priority in our lives. When people do, as Romans 1:18 says, and suppress the truth, when people push aside what’s evident about God, don’t care about Him, when they go about on His earth breathing His air and eating the food He’s provided and using His creation for their own enjoyment and don’t even thank Him or concern themselves with how God would like them to handle His stuff and behave on His earth, and by their example influence others to do the same, the Bible calls that hostility and enmity.

So that’s where we were. That’s where the world is. Alienated and enemies of God in mind and deed.

The second fundamental Paul reaffirms here…

II. Our condition now with Christ (v22a)

He sums it up with the words in v22, “Yet He has now reconciled you.” To be reconciled means to be brought from a condition of alienation and hostility to a condition of friendship and harmony. It’s the total opposite of v21. And so if we have a right relationship with Christ it means that we have allowed Christ to change our minds, to change the way we think so we’re no longer hostile in mind. And we have allowed Christ to change our behavior so we no longer hostile in our deeds. And it means Christ has changed our position with God from alienated from God to God friends. He’s made us people that God watches over and just blesses and takes care of and plans good things for.

Now, how could Christ do this? Suppose a man was on trial in a court of law for numerous crimes… multiple accounts of theft, murder, bearing false witness, abusing his family and his neighbors. It came time for the verdict. The jury said, “We find the defendant guilty on all accounts.” There was not a doubt in anyone’s mind that this man was guilty of every single charge. What would you think if the judge said, “Let’s just drop all the charges. Let’s just forget about all that. I think this man is sorry for what he did. I think he wants to be a good law-abiding citizen from now on. Let’s not make him pay for any of the damage, any of the suffering, any of the heartache that he’s caused.”? You’d say that’s downright immoral of that judge to just let that criminal go free without any punishment. Have you ever seen one of those Law and Order episodes where they catch the criminal and he’s brought to court and you know he’s guilty, but because of some technicality, like some vital piece of evidence in the case has to be thrown out because it was obtained illegally, so the criminal is released. It’s upsetting to us because it’s just not right. And then what if that judge goes over and gives the criminal a big hug and invites him over for lunch, and just begins a friendship with this criminal, and when he breaks the law again, this judge just pardons him again? It’d be all the more unjust and immoral. Well, we’re guilty of numerous crimes against God, and though we don’t transgress the law near as much as we used to, because Christ has changed our minds and lives, we still do from time to time. How could Christ, the judge of all, just drop all the charges, erase our sin from our account before God, endear us to God, establish a friendship between God and us, and still be righteous and just? The way Paul words it here, “yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death.” The Judge can do that because the judge paid for all the damage, all the suffering, all the heartache that we’ve caused. The judge settled the accounts. The judge took our punishment upon Himself. And His suffering and death is that powerful to atone for the sins of mankind, because, as v16 told us, Jesus is not just a man. He is the creator. And so His death has the power to satisfy justice for our sins.

So we were alienated and enemies of God. But now Christ has reconciled us to God, changed our minds and our lives and removed our sin by His death and made us friends of God.

Then the third fundamental that Paul reaffirms here has to do with…

III. Our future condition (v22b-23)

The rest of v22 speaks of the future condition, the goal, that Christ wants for us. He says that Christ wants to present us before God holy and blameless and beyond reproach. That language of being presented before God, when you see it in Paul’s writings you’ll notice he uses it to refer to what will happen on the last day, the judgment day (Rom 14:10; II Cor 4:14; 11:2; Eph 5:27). On that day when all who sleep in the dust of the earth awake (Dan 12:2; Jn 5:28-29) and we all stand before our Maker, Christ wants on that day to set us apart from the rest of humanity and say, “Father, these ones are Yours. These ones are holy, blameless and beyond reproach.” In the book of Revelation this standing before God as holy, blameless and beyond reproach is pictured as being dressed in white robes. In Revelation 7 John is given a symbolic vision of the day when a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and people and tongues, is standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and it says they are white because they’ve been washed in the blood of the lamb. And it says, Revelation 7:15, “For this reason [because they stand before God in white robes, washed in the blood of the lamb] they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” That’s the goal Christ has for us.

But look at the first word of Colossians 1:23, the little 2 letter word. “If.” What does “if” mean? It means if. It means Christ accomplishing this goal, this future condition before God as holy, blameless and beyond reproach, in “white robes,” is conditional. It may happen. It may not happen. It depends on whether this thing in v23 happens. What’s the condition? It’s “if you continue in the faith.”

“The faith” is a phrase you see many times in the NT. It refers simply to the body of truth that God has given us to believe in and live according to. It’s basically equivalent with the gospel. Acts 6:7 for instance, speaking of the spread of the gospel and growth of the church, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” In that verse I think you can see “the faith” is parallel with the word of God that kept on spreading, the gospel that Peter and the other apostles were preaching in the book of Acts. It’s a body of teaching, a set of truths, to be believed and obeyed. It is the message that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. That Jesus is the King and the Savior promised in the prophets. That Jesus was perfect and exactly what God wants in a human being. His awful death was to atone for our sins, make forgiveness and reconciliation available to us. And He was raised and exalted to the right hand of God as Lord of all, the Judge of the living and the dead. And He’s coming back in glory with all the angels of God to separate the friends of God from the enemies of God, the righteous from the wicked. He will have the wicked cast into eternal fire and outer darkness. He will bring the righteous to Himself and to God in a new heavens and a new earth and there they will live forever with God. And the apostles preached that Christ demands that we believe that. And Christ demands that we repent, that we turn from our wicked ways to now try to be like Him and to be baptized in His name. That’s the gist of the message the apostles were preaching in the book of Acts. That’s “the faith.”

When one becomes obedient to the faith, when one commits themselves to Christ and are baptized in His name, Christ reconciles that person to God. And if they die at the moment Christ will present them holy and blameless and beyond reproach before God. But if we continue to live on this earth we must continue in the faith, we must keep on believing and living according to the gospel or our white robes will be soiled, our forgiveness revoked.

Remember the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 about a servant who owed the king 10,000 talents, which is like trillions of dollars in today’s money, an impossible debt to repay. And the king calls this servant to account and sees that he doesn’t have the means to pay his debt and is about to sell him along with his wife and children to repay barely a tiny fraction of his debt, but the slave falls on the ground before him and begs for mercy and patience. And the king feels compassion on him and incredibly decides to just forgive this slave of all 10,000 talents of his debt. But then that forgiven slave goes out and finds a fellow slave who owes him 100 denarii, which is maybe like a $1000 today but nothing compared to what this slave was just forgiven of. And the forgiven slave seizes his fellow slave by the throat and begins to choke him and say, “Pay back what you owe me.” And his fellow slave falls to the ground and pleads for patience, but he’s unwilling to show patience or mercy toward his fellow slave, and he drags him off to prison. Other slaves are standing around and they witness this and they’re appalled and they go tell the king. So the king summons that slave that he had forgiven. And let me read to you the rest of the parable. Matthew 18:32, Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. The king reversed his decision to forgive the slave. He took back the slave’s forgiveness. And then v 35 Jesus says, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from the heart.” Forgiving your brother is part of continuing in the faith. It is part of letting Jesus rule your life. It is part of trying to be like Jesus. And if we won’t do that Christ will take back our forgiveness. We will stand before God holy, blameless, beyond reproach IF we continue in the faith.

Galatians 5:4 is written to some Christians who are being deceived into thinking that just having Christ is not enough, that they also need to become Jewish and follow the Mosaic Law. Christ is not enough, they’re starting to think. Galatians 5:4, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” That can happen. Paul wanted Christians to know that. Jesus wanted His disciples to know that. You must continue in the faith, you must keep on believing the gospel which includes that Christ is totally sufficient and keep on living according to it, which includes forgiving your brother.

Now, how do you do that when the folks at work laugh and mock you for what you believe? How do you do that when you’re not experiencing that God loves you because you lose your spouse or your kids and you lose your health and you’re suffering? How do you continue in the faith when you look around at the prosperity and happiness of the ungodly and they seem better off than you?

Well, Paul says here’s how you continue in the faith. It takes being firmly established and steadfast. Or in the KJV, “grounded and settled.” “and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard”. I believe Paul is simply talking about having confidence, assurance and certainty about what you believe and knowing where you’re headed. You need to be firm and settled in your mind that the gospel you’ve heard is reality. And probably you’ve heard that the word “hope” in the Bible doesn’t mean what we often mean when we say we hope for something. We use the word “hope” to mean “I’d like something to happen but there’s a good chance it won’t.” We use it to mean basically “wish.” Like “I hope I win the lottery.” We mean “I’m wishing for it.” But Greek dictionaries on the word translated hope in the Bible are unanimous that it doesn’t mean just wishing for some possible thing. It has more the sense of expectation, you’re looking forward to it, you’re anticipating it. When you have anticipation of a new heavens and new earth and eternal life as you follow in the steps of Christ, when you are confident and assured that the steps of Jesus will lead you there, that keeps you in the steps of Jesus, that keeps you in “the faith.”

James 1:6, “the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the winda double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” The man who doubts, the man not grounded and settled in his mind about the gospel, not confidently anticipating the fulfillment of God’s promises, he’s like a surf of the sea, he is back and forth in following the Lord and following his desires. He’s one way at church and another way with the fellas at work. He’s one way around people who know him and another way when he’s out of town on a business trip. He’s sometimes obedient, but when the wind of worldly pressure and temptation and inconvenience blow against him he goes the other direction. Why? Because he’s lacking assurance, confidence in the promises of the Lord.

Hebrews 6:19 says that hope, when we’re confident that God’s going to fulfill His promises to us in Christ, is an anchor of the soul. You know what anchors do. They keep things from drifting. They keep things where you want them to be. When you know where Jesus is at the right hand of God and you know that the steps of Jesus lead to where He is, when you have confidence about that, it keeps you in the faith, on the narrow path, when this world makes that a difficult place to be.

So in the rest of v23 in Colossians 1 Paul tries to give the Colossian Christians some further assurance in the gospel they’ve heard. He tells them that the gospel they’ve heard is the same gospel that has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and it’s the same gospel that he, Paul, was made a minister of. The Colossians did not learn the gospel from an apostle of Christ. They hadn’t heard it from a recognized inspired spokesman for God. They heard it from just this ordinary Christian named Epaphras. And it appears to me from clues in the letter that they weren’t sure if what Epaphras told them was exactly right. They weren’t sure if Epaphras taught them exactly what Paul or the other apostles would have taught them. And I think that’s why Epaphras has come all the way from Colossae to Rome to visit Paul. It’s to ask Paul to write this letter and confirm for the Colossians that the gospel they heard from Epaphras is the same gospel that the apostles of Christ have spread all over the world.

Can we take confidence; can we be for sure that the gospel revealed in the NT is reality? I think God has given us many proofs, many evidences on which we can take confidence in the gospel. Let me just give you one. Paul and the 12 apostles knew if their preaching was true or false, didn’t they? They knew if Jesus had actually appeared to them alive from the dead like they preached or not. They knew whether they received their message directly from the Lord and from the Spirit of God like they claimed, or if it was something they just concocted together to deceive the world for some weird reason. They knew if they were preaching truth or a lie. Everyone of those apostles and James the Lord’s brother and others who claimed to have seen the risen Lord were persecuted extremely for their preaching. All of the apostles, except for John who died a natural death, were eventually killed for their preaching. The early Christian writings tell us how Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down and others were stoned or slain with a sword or shot through with arrows or something else. It doesn’t make any sense that they would willingly suffer and die to promote something that they knew was a lie. It only makes sense that they would do that if they really believed that what they were preaching was the truth. God has given us many proofs like that on which we can know for sure that the gospel the apostles preached is truly from God, and with that confidence we can continue in the faith no matter how difficult Satan makes it for us.

– James Williams

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