Reconciliation: The Grace of God (Colossians 1:15-23) – Mark Ottaway
Reconciliation – The Grace of God
Turn in your Bibles to Colossians 1. In the few verses leading up to our passage, there is a word that Paul uses twice. Verse 2, “grace to you.” A word that means unmerited favour. In other words, something that we do not deserve. And end of (vs 6) “since the day you heard and understood the grace of God.” What Paul is going to address this morning is something that God has done which is completely of grace, and something that God wishes that we would understand. And the picture that Paul is going to draw for us this morning is a picture of the human condition of mankind, of what we looked like without the work of God. And then he will tell us what God did about it, which was an act of grace.
And I wish to give you some background to help set this up for you because if we miss the first part, we will miss this grace that was given. The truth that the Bible teaches is that we all come from Adam and Eve. And because Adam sinned, in a very real sense, we have all sinned in Adam. In other words, we all come from bad stock. And true, we all sin individually, we all sin different sins, and we all sin to a various extents; however, the truth is, is that we are all born sinners because of our connection with Adam, as that same sin nature is passed down from generation to generation. And there is no remedy for this. Now we might deal with it in different ways. Some might try harder, but we know that though we might do better, we cannot eradicate sin from our lives, as it continues to rear its ugly head. Some might make excuses, in other words, try to justify themselves and look better than the next guy. Or some might just be okay with sin and live to enjoy it. Yet the fact remains that we cannot change our condition. For once a sinner, always a sinner. But Paul actually addresses this:
“And although you were formerly alienated and enemies in mind and in evil deeds.”
Col 1:21 (LSB)
Now we might balk at that a little, and say that this verse overstates our condition. But let’s just leave it at that for now; alienated, enemies in mind and in evil deeds. What Paul does is to begin with a picture of Christ. And then he will move to this picture of man.
“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, And in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Col 1:15-19 (LSB).
Look at the kind of language in which Paul speaks about Christ. Verse 15, “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Verse 16, “creation is credited with Christ, saying that in Him all things were created.” Verse 17, “Christ is before all things, and it is Christ who holds all things together.” Verse 18, “Christ is the Head of the body, the church, and is first place in everything.” Verse 19, “the fullness of God is in Him.” In other words, He is not half God and half man, but in a mysterious way, beyond our understanding, He is fully God and fully man. That phrase (vs 15) that he is the firstborn of all creation, has been wrongly taken by the Jehovah’s Witness to mean that Jesus was a created being. The term firstborn here means first in pre-eminence, (vs 18) who is the beginning, or first place. Much like when the people of Israel in Jeremiah 31:9, are described as God’s firstborn. Not that they were the first people to live, but that they were first place in God’s view among nations. But what I want to focus on this morning, knowing who He is, knowing that He is God in the flesh, knowing that He is fully God, is to now see what He has done.
“And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross—through Him—whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and enemies in mind and in evil deeds, but now He reconciled you in the body of His flesh through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”
Col 1:20-22 (LSB)
Let’s pray. Lord, we come before You this morning. Sometimes feeling that we know so little, as we face day after day, often the mundane things of life. And then we open the Word of God, and we find in it, deep truths, written by men, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As You reveal to us in this passage Your great work, through the Son, and what He did to bring a greater glory to Himself. And yet we are given a further reason for such greatness, “in order to present us before Him … holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” So, guide our thoughts this morning as we lay aside the mundane, the temporal, and focus on majesty and things of eternity. For we ask this in the name of Your Son, amen.
There is a reoccurring word in verses 20-22, and that is the word reconcile. Verse 20, “to reconcile all things to Himself.” Verse 22, “He now reconciled you in the body of His flesh.” Reconciliation is part of God’s divine plan to bring things back prior to the sin of Adam and Eve. Because of sin, everything has become estranged from God. In other words, there was a wall that was placed between not only God and man, but a wall that was placed between God and even His very creation. To understand the picture we need to realize what God could have done, as this was His creation, which rebelled against Him. And therefore He (God) had every right to discard it, to lay it aside, to leave it alone, or to even destroy it. But it was in the divine plan of God to reconcile all things to Himself, as it was never God’s intent to lay aside His creation, as even before the rebellion of you and I, even before the sin of Adam and Eve, and even before the creation of all things, God had decreed the plan to reconcile all things to Himself.
The term reconciliation means “a change.” In our human terms, it might be where two people who have been estranged from each other come together. Where one has sinned against the other, or where they have in some way or another offended each other. Or as Paul describes in 1 Cor 7:11 where a wife is willing to reconcile with her husband. Where in a marriage relationship, one spouse sins against the other, and the other spouse is willing to forgive, and the result is reconciliation. Well for reconciliation to occur, or for reconciliation to be needed, there needs to be an offense from an individual, or where one person has sinned against another person. And our understanding of such matters in our experience comes from a human level, where the offense or sin against another is always between two sinners. For when we say that a husband sins against his wife, we say that she is the innocent party. This is true. But not in the complete sense of her being perfect. For though her husband has sinned against her, and she was innocent in that matter; she too, like everyone else is still a sinner. Yet when we speak about the reconciliation between God and man, there are two rather unique things that are happening.
- The Reconciler is God
It is important here to see in this passage that it is God who takes the initiative. He is the One who becomes the Reconciler. Not only was it that man sinned against God, and not only would we describe God as the innocent party, if we were thinking in human terms; but to consider in this case, the perfection of God, the vast holiness of God. This is not a sinner reconciling with a sinner. This is perfection reconciling with a sinner. And this is perfection taking the lead in that reconciliation. I suppose we could say that the Reconciler is God the Father, and the Agent is the Son. Verse 20, through Him (Christ) to reconcile to Himself all things.
There is another thing to understand in this divine versus human reconciliation. In our human relations, when two people are at odds with one another and reconciliation occurs. And though their relationship is restored, there is no guarantee that one of the two sinners will again find themselves in opposition against the other sometime later. But in this reconciliation, when the Father reconciles with the sinner, there is a permanency about it. In Colossians 1:20, 22, the word translated reconciliation is the Greek word poskatallasso which means thoroughly, completely totally reconciled. Total reconciliation reminds us of two things. One, that once a person is reconciled by God, there is no changing that position, this is a permanent reconciliation. Peter teaches in 1 Peter 1, that our salvation is being kept by the power of God. Paul teaches in Romans 8, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Jesus Himself said that His sheep, the true redeemed, hear His voice, and they shall never perish, and nothing can snatch them out of His hand. Paul later told Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:12, Christ is able to guard those who have been entrusted to Him. And the Apostle John wrote to his readers, so that they would know they have eternal life. Total reconciliation, permanent reconciliation.
Secondly, when I forgive you for an offense, or you forgive me for an offense, we are coming as sinner to sinner. And though our relationship is restored, I cannot erase your sin, and you cannot erase my sin. And a person could sin against you, and may later ask you for forgiveness, and your relationship is reconciled. But that person may have many other broken relationships which are still very much in array.
But there is something extremely different about the reconciliation which comes from God, as this term reminds us of the completeness of it, the totality of it. The sinner is totally restored. We may forgive each other, and we may restore a relationship with one another, as even unbelievers enjoy relationships with each other. But these do nothing to mend eternal issues, as a person could be the nicest guy in the world from a human perspective, yet he still requires to be reconciled to the Heavenly Father. In fact, this reconciliation goes even beyond the human race, as Paul says here in verse 20, all things, whether on earth or in heaven. The devastation of sin has gone well beyond mankind. As Paul describes in Romans 8:20, that all creation was subject to futility. Satan is called the prince of this world, and nature is described as groaning and suffering.
This is why in the Millennial Kingdom, Satan will be bound, the lion will lay down with the lamb. People will not say to others to know the Lord, for they will already know Him. Someday the Lord will create new heavens and a new earth. Romans 8:21 says, that creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption. You know when you and I go to Lake Huron and see the beautiful beach and lake and dunes. Or as you travel to see majestic mountains, or the simplicity of rolling hills in the Maritimes. Or to look out on the great oceans and see the mighty waves, or the golden wheat blowing in the summer breeze, we must remember, that we ain’t seen nothing yet! For you and I have never seen a world that has not been marred by sin including mankind and all of creation. We have never experienced creation apart from its corruption. Well not only is the Reconciler God, but:
- The Cost of Reconciliation was Great
Verse 20, says that Christ made peace through the blood of His cross. This was not a reconciliation where God said “forgiven,” or where God said “overlooked,” or where He said, “pretend your sin never happened.” For this kind of shallow look at sin, a shallow view of the forgiveness of God, grossly overlooks two things. One, it overlooks the perfection of God. God is righteous, God is holy, and therefore He cannot declare something to be something it is not. Again, the vast difference between us and God, is that when we forgive someone, we are forgiving from a sinful perspective, but not God. For if God chose to turn His face and overlook sin, He would not be God. As His very nature demands that He deal with sin. It cannot be overlooked, this is why it cost Him. A doctrine of Scripture that is heard less today in churches is the attribute of God’s wrath. Paul Enns describes the wrath of God as this:
“The deep-seated anger of God against sin. This anger arises from His holiness and righteousness. Because of His holiness God cannot overlook sin.”
Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology 107
Not only does a shallow view of God’s forgiveness overlook the perfection of God. But it also, two, overlooks the gravity of our sin. Which Paul addresses:
“And although you were formerly alienated and enemies in mind and in evil deeds.”
Col 1:21 (LSB)
It does not seem that Paul is trying to cater to a seeker-friendly kind of crowd here. Or is trying to make friends. It is also interesting that though we are born sinners in Adam, Paul reminds his readers that they themselves have been true to their nature. And therefore, you have done evil deeds yourselves, as he would say to us today. Paul gives to us a sobering reminder of our standing, alienated and enemies. We are not going to hear this message in society today. A newscaster today when giving the news, who bemoans some tragedy and the evil of someone, will never make the connection of this sin with all of mankind. No newscaster is going to say, here is the problem folks, we are all sinners and this is why we all need forgiveness, or we will suffer forever apart from God.
In fact, Paul’s words indicate that there is no thought in our minds of wanting a restored relationship with God. Paul’s choice of these Greek words apallotrioō and echthros, are translated as alienated and enemies. The word alienated here in the Legacy Standard Bible gives the indication that as the New Living Bible says we are “far away from God,” and implies that we cannot do anything about this. For it means to be “estranged or shut out” from one’s fellowship and intimacy. In other words, reconciliation is not going to happen, for you have been shut out! Emphasizing the impossibility that these could be joined, as this word stresses the repulsion of our sinfulness from God’s view. The picture is that we are trapped apart from God’s presence, which will be fully revealed in eternity for those outside of Christ, shut out from God.
The second word enemies or hostile (ESV) helps to give an even better understanding, as it means in the Greek “odious, repulsive, in opposition.” This word emphasizes more the condition from our side. As from God’s perspective, we are estranged from Him, shut out from Him, and therefore, cut out of His intimacy and fellowship. And then from our perspective, we are in complete opposition against God, as we stand as His foe. And we see this today, don’t we? As our world is fighting desperately against God. Our news, our government, our schools, and our society more and more will do anything but have to acknowledge God. If someone asks what is wrong with the world today? We do not have to look too far, for Paul has already answered it. The world is at war with God. And the scary part is that the world is unknowingly in a battle with its Creator, and there is nothing that can change the condition between the two sides.
Well this moves us when we reconsider the deep meaning of the word “reconciliation.” Which is what? “To change.” Something changed, which could not be changed. Certainly there was nothing inside of us, to change our rebellion against God. And there was nothing in the righteousness of God that could change His wrath towards us. Except (vs 20), the blood of His cross. Listen to Paul’s words to the Roman Christians:
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
Rom 5:10 (LSB)
Reconciliation with God was the movement of God. Reconciliation with God was the initiative of God. Reconciliation with God was because God first acted. While as the Bible describes us as dead. Therefore, God had to act, or you and I are still shut out. Even if in our sinfulness we had cried out to God, our condition, our alienation would not have changed. For our sin has made us odious and repulsive to God. Therefore, it was God who had to act first. And He did, through the blood of His Son.
“What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus,
What can make me whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus,
Oh, precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow,
No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
For my pardon, this I see, nothing but the blood of Jesus,
Nothing can for sin atone, nothing but the blood of Jesus,
Naught of good that I have done, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
Even our goodness is so repulsive to God. When we try to substitute our goodness, or claim any kind of acknowledgment for our coming to Christ, what an insult we do to the work of God and His Son. For He has done everything, we must never try to rob Him of that glory. “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” Reconciliation, complete and full. Without the stain of humanness. Leaves you and me (vs 22), holy, blameless, and beyond reproach. Amen?
But there is one more sobering reminder in this passage about this reconciliation, and that is found in verse 23, “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” The Bible speaks about a person believing, such verses as John 3:16, “whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Others may add a work to that, as some would hold that a person needs to believe and be baptised. And though we greatly stress that here in our teaching, that a person needs to come to Christ and to show that conversion by believers’ baptism, for it is a command of Christ, we do not hold that baptism is necessary for salvation. Others would add the word “repentance” to the equation. That a person not only must believe but also repent of their sins, meaning to turn from sin. We might even express the importance of confession, saying that if a person confesses his belief before men. Therefore, to some, the importance of walking an isle or raising a hand.
But the key to salvation is actually found in this passage, as Paul says that the true believer in Christ is simply this: that he “continues in the faith.” This is not what saves a person, that would be heresy, as it is the Lord who saves a person, it is the Lord who reaches down in reconciliation. But the person who truly receives Christ by faith, who does acknowledge their sinfulness, who does repent of their sin, and is what the Bible describes as being born again. The true indication of that change, the evidence of that real conversion is that the believer will continue in the faith. And there must be a conversion. For no one has always been a Christian. For how could they when we are described in such terms as given in our passage? Yet in a mysterious way, when God reaches down to reconcile us, we respond in repentance, faith, and obedience to follow.
You and I are sinners, for we came from Adam. And the Bible teaches that we were alienated from God. Both shut out by God and we were hostile toward Him. The sinful side did not act, but the perfect side acted. For God acted as He became the initiator, the Reconciler. And this thing that God did was an act of grace. The grace that God desires we understand (vs 6), “since the day you heard and understood the grace of God.” The grace of God, His reconciliation to mankind. When God the Father on Good Friday gave His only begotten Son to die so that you and I might be reconciled to Him. Sinners, no longer condemned. And then on Easter morning, the Son was resurrected, so that all those connected with Him might have everlasting life. Reconciliation, that’s quite the change! Eternal damnation to eternal life. At war, now at peace. From being dead to being made alive. Let’s pray. Lord, we thank You for acting. Before we sought You, before we were even born, before even Adam, even creation; You determined to save, to reconcile us. We praise You in the name of Christ, amen.
Turn to Romans 5, a similar passage:
6 For while we were still weak [while we were hopeless without power to save], at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
8 But God [the Reconciler] demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners [again, we are not the good, but the repulsive, the enemies of God], Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood [the blood shed by Christ on the cross], we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him [something that everyone else outside of Christ must face].
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life [because the One who died came back to life!].
11 And not only this, but we also boast [we proclaim, we make look good a] … God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
This is amazing love! That you and me, the guilty ones might go free! Folks, here is the message of Easter, that God reconciled the sinner, those who were against Him, by killing His own Son. As Christ on that first Good Friday in a miraculous way was able to take the punishment that every sinner who would ever believe would have experienced in eternal hell. For those three hours on the cross literally paid for your sin and mine. And then on Easter morning that Son was resurrected, so that someday we will see the Reconciler. And this is the grace that God wants us to understand. The songwriter penned these words:
“Were it not for grace I can tell you where I’d be
Wondering down some pointless road to nowhere
With my salvation up to me … I know how that would go
The battles I would face … Forever running but losing the race
Were it not for grace.”
Sing with me:
“Grace, grace, God’s grace
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within
Grace, grace, God’s grace
Grace that is greater than all my sin”
Lord, for what we know not, teach us. For what we have not spiritually, give us. And for what we are not, make us. And all God’s people who You have reconciled to Yourself said, amen.