Text: Colossians 1:21-29
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle which was read earlier.
“You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 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….” That’s what Paul says to the Colossians. As we saw in last week’s reading, the Colossians remained faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ, despite the outside influences facing the Church at Colossae. But with that being said, the Colossians still had their fair share of problems. One such problem was their sinful nature getting the best of them, as it does all of us.
Once were alienated. Hostile in mind. Doing evil deeds. That’s sin at work, doing what sin does best. Sin got its wrap around the Colossians like a deadly noose. They didn’t always act like churchly Christians should. They didn’t always exemplify the name of Christ which they wore. And even though their sinful nature got the best of them, God forgave them on account of Jesus Christ.
What wonderful news, that wonderful Gospel that is for the Colossians, that despite their sin, they could be forgiven! But, there is a caveat that Paul places: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard….” That’s right, in order to receive the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ, you must remain steadfast in the faith, faith that is founded, grounded, and securely found in Jesus.
That doesn’t sound like a bad tradeoff, does it? God forgives as long as you remain steadfast in the Christian faith. We can do that, right? We can remain steadfast in our faith in Jesus, right? That’s something that you and I can do, right? Wrong, absolutely wrong! You and I cannot remain in the faith any more than the Colossians could remain in the faith, at least, not on our own doing. You and I cannot believe in Jesus or come to faith in Him by ourselves. The Holy Spirit is what makes that possible. The Holy Spirit creates that saving faith in us in order to believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit sustains that faith in us in order for us to continue to believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the one at work here, not us.
But let’s examine our lives, to see if we are all that different than the Colossians. We too were once alienated. We too were once hostile in mind. We too once did evil deeds. Actually, those all could still be said of us today. We alienate ourselves from God by absenting ourselves from His gifts. The writer to the Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We continue to be hostile in mind with our sinful thoughts and actions. And most certainly do we continue with evil, sinful deeds. But with all that being said, God has done something for you, the chief of sinner that you are. God has forgiven you. God has washed you in the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. God has clothed you with the Son’s righteousness. God has placed His name on you in your Baptism.
God does this. God does this for you. It is not you who does this. It is not you who does this for God, as if we could do anything for God that counts for our salvation. The work of salvation is solely God’s work for us and to us, but certainly not by us. If that were the case, then it would not be salvation we would be earning but damnation, because our works cannot save us.
If you remember what the Colossians faced from outside of the church, you will remember that I said we face those same things today. What are we to do? What are we to do in the grand scheme of things? If we can’t do anything for our salvation, does that mean there’s nothing for me to do, nothing for you to do? No, there is something that you can do. Live like you’re baptized! What do I mean by that? Live like one who is forgiven all of their sins for Christ’s sake. Live as if God’s name, that name placed upon you, means something, because it does. Live as if you have died with Christ and been risen with Christ. Live as if the Gospel is the greatest thing you could ever hear, because it is. Live as if Christ’s body and blood are the best food you have ever had, because they are.
That’s what it means to be reconciled with God. That’s what it means to be holy and blameless before God. Notice that Paul says the Colossians were reconciled, not that they will be reconciled. It means that reconciliation is complete in Christ’s work. Reconciliation is not something Christ started and we have to finish. Reconciliation is God’s work, not ours. Before, our relationship to God had been characterized by hatred and hostility; but now, that relationship is characterized by reconciliation and atonement with God, a return to what the relationship between God and his people was intended to be and what that relationship was in Eden. It was worked out in the all-sufficient suffering and death of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Son’s reconciling work was to endure all to present the Colossians and all people holy, cleansed from all sin and separated to God; without blemish, as a perfect sacrifice; and free from accusation by anyone, and especially by the arch-enemy Satan.
In other words, in God’s presence, there is absolutely nothing left against us. The slate has been wiped clean. Christ, who is the power holding everything together through His death and resurrection, brings it all back to God, and clears away the guilt and self-dissatisfaction in the atoning process.
These are words which you think we might enjoy hearing. These are words which you think would bring comfort all of us who are sinful creatures. But these aren’t words which we want to hear. It strikes a blow to our ego. It somehow makes us less of a person to acknowledge that we are a sinner. Paul wasn’t out to make friends or to stroke a person’s ego. He definitely is not doing that here. His goal was to bring the church at Colossae to Christ and turn them from the “better way,” a false philosophy which denied the all-sufficiency of Christ and His work.
The purpose of Paul, of myself all ministers of the Gospel, is to preach to you the Gospel, “to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” You are His saints, the church. You are the beloved children of God which were dead in sin. You are the ones for which God sent His one and only Son, to redeem and make sinless.
The words of Paul, though they may be tough to hear, are important words. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is a reminder to all who hear it of wisdom: where we were without God’s wisdom, “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” While we were still in that state of being, Christ died for you “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach.” His words are a reminder of what God’s wisdom is doing for us now, “[making] the word of God fully known” to us through Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for us. Because of the Word of God, it reminds us what God’s wisdom holds out for the future: “the hope of glory” in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.