Some years ago, Eugene Peterson wrote a book with this title: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. I never read it, but the title intrigues me. Learning to obey takes a lifetime . And the path winds through some rugged terrain. That’s where the “if” confronts us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Paul climaxed his previous paragraph revealing God’s purpose for the Son. As the head of the body, the church, and as the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, in the new creation God will exalt Christ to the highest rank. According to Paul, he will have the supremacy.
Why? Not only because of the foregoing (1:15-18), but also because of the following:
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (1:19,20).
God was pleased to have all his deity dwell in the Son. And God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself through the Son. He made peace through the Son’s blood, shed on the cross. Thus at the heart of the gospel stands, not a tidy doctrine, but a bloody Savior nailed to a bloody cross. The Son is supreme in the church because he sacrificed himself to reconcile all things to the Father.
All things? Here we first confront the big “if”. Christ will present you holy If you continue in the faith (1:21-23). If “all things” refers to people, reconciliation is limited to believing people. But “all things” doesn’t sound like people. How about the vast creation?
In Romans 8 Paul tells us that God subjected creation to frustration. It’s now in bondage to decay, groaning as in the pains of childbirth. But “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”—our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”. It seems to me creation is part of the “all things” that will be reconciled to God. And that will mean a new creation arising from the old.
That Christ should receive the supremacy shows us the cost of the cross. The Son’s physical suffering was horrific. Crucifixion is an unspeakably cruel way to die. But far worse was the spiritual suffering. The Son endured the Father’s wrath against all our sin. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” was more than the Son feeling forsaken; the Son suffered hell—the absence of God. This was the cost of reconciling rebels back to God—and the cost of reconciling all things back to himself. It’s a cost beyond human comprehension.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (1:21-23).
The Colossians–and we–were alienated from God. The Greek is apokatallawsso—a stranger to God, separated from him. We were “enemies in [our] minds.” Greek ekthros—hostile toward God, opposed to him in the realm of understanding. This enmity was expressed through “evil behavior”.
Has Paul gone too far? Many who don’t believe in the Son’s work on the cross don’t act like enemies toward God. Many, in fact, do what the Scripture calls “good works”–sacrifice to help the poor, for instance. But, you see, everyone who tries to “make peace” with God apart from Christ’s costly grace on the cross opposes God’s way to reconciliation. Even the good-doer’s deeds are evil if he disbelieves Christ’s reconciling work through his blood shed on the cross—or thinks he doesn’t need it.
The Colossians, writes Paul, were once alienated from God and enemies to him, “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”.
“But now” emphasizes the sharp transformation in the Colossians. God has reconciled them “by Christ’s physical body through death . . . “ Why the emphasis on “Christ’s physical body”? William Barclay (20th century author and Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow) comments . . .
“The Gnostics (whose influence with the Colossians Paul is confronting) completely denied the real manhood of Jesus. In their own writings they, for instance, set it down that when Jesus walked, he left no footprints on the ground. That is why Paul uses such startling phraseology in Colossians. He speaks of Jesus reconciling man to God in his body of flesh (Colossians 1:22); he says that the fullness of the godhead dwelt in him bodily. In opposition to the Gnostics, Paul insists on the flesh and blood manhood of Jesus.”
With reconciling death of the God-Man Jesus, God has a purpose: that at Christ’s coming we might be presented “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation . . .”
“Holy” translates the Greek hagios. Its basic idea is set apartness. The holy person is set apart from the world to God. He will present us “without blemish”. Blemish is that big pimple on my chin. In this case, “without blemish” means having no (moral) defect. Not even pimple size. And he will present us “free from accusation”. No one will accuse us of wrongdoing. In fact, no one will be able to accuse us, because Christ’s reconciling death makes us free from accusation.
Christ will present us holy and blameless and free from accusation “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” . The Greek, epimeno, means “to persevere or persist”. If we epimeno, we will be presented holy. Here the terrain gets rough. Physical suffering. Hostile persecution. Unanswered prayers. Opposing worldviews. If we persevere in faith, holding on to hope, we’ll be presented holy.
And if we don’t? That raises debate. Some believe a believer can fall away from faith, not continue (Arminian belief). Others believe God insures that believers will persevere to the end, continue (Calvinistic belief).
There’s a place for that debate. But not here. Paul’s “if” is meant to move us on. To aim at continuing in our faith and gospel hope.
I used to jog. No marathons, just 5 or 6 miles on neighborhood streets. My goal wasn’t speed or record time. No way I could sprint 5 or 6 miles. My goal was to continue on course and get back to my house without stopping, without turning aside. If I could continue stride by stride, block by block, even if my legs ached or breath was short, I’d “win the prize”.
I can’t walk anymore; but I’m still running toward the prize!