15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
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.Colossians 1:15-23
I have thoroughly enjoyed working our way through the Colossian hymn. It has been good for my heart to focus so intently on who the Bible says Jesus is. There are so many things vying for lordship and supremacy in my life that it is good to be reminded – and to be reminded often – that Jesus is God, that He is supreme over everything He has created, that He is the head of His Church, that everything that is or has ever been comes from and is held together by Him, and that in love He reconciles sinners to Himself “by the blood of His cross” (v. 20).
I have tried to bring us back to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16) as to introduce each devotion as we have walked through this section of Colossians. But today’s passage is different. Colossians 1:15-20 is clearly the hymn; 1:21-23 is more of a transition out of the hymn back into the letter. The more I thought about how to frame this passage, the more my mind has been drawn toward the idea of an invitation to respond to the Word and the Spirit.
The idea of an invitation from God to man is seen throughout the Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments. As far back as Genesis 6:18, we see God establishing a covenant with Noah and inviting him and his family into the ark in the face of sure judgment all around. God invites his covenant people Israel through his prophets; look at Isaiah 55:1: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” And my favorite comes from Jesus Himself in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
In all of those instances, you see a God who needs nothing offering aid to people who are in need. Noah and his family – and thereby the entire human race – would have died without God’s ark.
And, when I read Jesus’ words from Matthew 11, I feel them deep within my soul. I know He was talking to a specific group of people when He spoke those words, but I am heavy laden in need of rest. I need to shirk that yoke and learn from Jesus. It is good news of the highest order to be invited by my King whose heart is “gentle and lowly” enough to condescend from Glory to give rest to a wretched sinner such as me if I come to Him.
The church heritage that I belong to – as does the church where I am blessed to serve, Christ Community – offers invitations at the end of sermons to respond to the Word as it has been preached. We believe that the Holy Spirit prompts both the preacher and the one responding to do so. I love the way my pastor introduces this time. He does not seek to play on emotions or to draw in masses. He reminds people that “this is [their] time”, theirs and Gods, to respond to what is preached. There are aspects that are specific to the day’s particular passage, but he always – always – makes sure to offer an invitation for people to come to Jesus.
As with the rest of this section, a hymn comes to mind. Look at this words, and ponder their meaning before we dive into today’s text:
“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power.
“Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify; true belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh.
“Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.”
Invitation 1: Be Reconciled to God
And 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…. (vv. 21-22)
Here we find the word “reconcile” that we focused on in the last Bible study in this series. It means “to restore harmony or friendship between two entities formerly divided”. I mentioned that this word is often used to describe a relationship that was once in turmoil but now set aright. In the case of man and God, today’s passage gives a clearer picture as to just how much it meant for Jesus to make “peace by the blood of His cross” (v. 20).
Because of our sin, our default position is not friendship with God. I hear a lot of people say things like “we are all God’s children” and that everyone is basically good. I believe that people mean well when they say those things, but neither of those statements fit what the Bible says (Romans 3:10, 23; Galatians 4:4-5), and they actually make it seem like Jesus really did not need to die on the cross because humanity basically had this whole thing in check without Him.
Today’s passage clarifies that, because of our sin, we – that is everyone not in Christ – were “alienated” and “hostile in mind, doing evil deeds”. Both of these descriptions fit with Paul’s writing to the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 2:1-3, he describes just how hostile we were and what our evil deeds produced in our lives:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Then, in Ephesians 2:12, we get a picture of our being alienated from Him by our sin: “…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Just so we do not miss the weight of the seriousness of sin the Holy Spirit through Paul described it as producing death, following after Satan, being a child of wrath, being separated from Christ, and having no hope because we were without God. We had relationship troubles – as in, our relationship to Him was as His enemy (Romans 5:9-10). And the turmoil in our relationship was our fault. It wasn’t Him, it was us.
It still blows my mind that God could love a sinner such as me. I find it hard to believe that He would reconcile with me. I didn’t (and still don’t) deserve it. Yet, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is the testimony of every believer that our life is “live[d] by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20). He loved me and paid the debt my sin produced – death (Romans 6:23) – so that I could live. He made His enemy His friend.
Look at the good news that followed both sections we just looked at in Ephesians! Right after he revealed that our trespasses and sins made us dead, he said (Ephesians 2:4-5): “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved….” There is perhaps no better news one could hear than death having been reversed. And He is the only One who has or can reverse it.
He also has good news for our alienation (Ephesians 2:13): “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This is a much more beautiful picture than we realize. That word “alienation” means “to estrange, alienate entirely”. That word “estrange” is not used in everyday language like it once was. It is the word that describes a husband or wife who has left their spouse. So, to be an estranged husband or wife is to be a spouse who has essentially decided that the relationship is over. But, rather than cutting us off, God chose reconciliation. He, “in His body of flesh by His death”, brought us near “in order to present [us] holy and blameless and above reproach before Him”. That is similar to the language that Paul uses to describe the love husbands should have for their wives – the same love that Christ has for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27):
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
God loved His estranged Bride enough to reconcile – to cleanse and restore her. That is a powerful image that illustrates the powerful love He has. And it is that love that He offers.
So, this is your time. If you examine your life and know that you are dead in your trespasses and sins – that you are far off from God and desire to be brought near, the invitation is clear. Repent of your sin and believe upon Him who loves like no other. Ask Him whose mercy and grace are offered in place of His wrath to save you. Romans 10:9 tells us “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The invitation is extended. Come, ye sinner, poor and needy. Come to Him.
Invitation 2: Continue in the Faith
…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. (v. 23)
Often, invitations are directed primarily toward people who are not yet saved. But that is not the case in Scripture. Any time that God’s Word exhorts – encourages, warns, commands – us to do something, that is an opportunity to respond. Will we do what the Word says, or will we try to remain willfully ignorant or simply disobedient? The way Paul closes this section does not seem to list those as options. He moves directly from talking about God presenting those who He has reconciled as “holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” to saying “if indeed you continue in the faith”.
Now, I want to clarify before I continue what I am and what I am not saying. I am not saying that not being perfect after being saved is how we know we have been saved. If that was the case, there has not ever been a saved person, except maybe the thief on the cross since he was in paradise moments after Jesus promised that as his destination (). 1 John 2:1-2 makes the position of the saved clear:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins….
But, looking at the way Paul worded this statement, there does seem to be an expectation – or at least a way to know if one is continuing in the faith.
This is usually where people begin touting “Thou shall not judge”. This ain’t that. I am inviting you – actually the Word is inviting you to examine your own life.
Are you continuing in the faith? Do you consider your faith “stable and steadfast”? Is your hope firmly fixed on Jesus as proclaimed in the gospel, or is it shifting because your worldly hopes fail and fall away?
If you are like me, your answers vary from time to time on these questions. My sin still causes issues in my life. My faith is more “stable and steadfast” when I am fully relying on God in the midst of a particularly difficult season of life. The hope I have in Christ transcends anything this world can offer.
To continue in the faith is probably illustrated best in Jesus’ words in John 15:4-6:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Continuing in the faith means that you have placed your faith, your hope, in Jesus – what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do according to His Word. We are to be as dependent on Him for life as the branches of a grape vine are to the vine itself. Those branches are either connected, or they are not. Once a branch falls to the ground, it looks alive for a brief moment, but it doesn’t take long before the reality of its death is apparent.
Is the new life that comes from Christ evident in your life? Not perfection. Not imitation, either. Does your life bear the fruit of His life in you? Is it evident that you are His?
These are difficult questions. They are tough and sometimes frightening. I have been saved for twenty years, and I still find myself doubting. But those doubts are always with me, not Him. You see, I sometimes try to alienate myself because of some sin I have committed. The difference is that I am never “without hope and without God in the world” anymore; I never will be again because He has reconciled me.
What about you?
This is your time. Whether you have been saved twenty years or two years or eighty, examine your life. Paul ended v. 23 with a testimony to say that he “became a minister” due to the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done, the faith in Him that came from it, and the bedrock foundation of hope that can only be experienced in Him. Come, ye sinner, poor and needy. By the riches of His merit, there is joy and life in Him!
Getting to sit under the teaching of God’s Word is a valuable thing and not to be taken lightly. It is easy to fall into thinking that an invitation to respond to the Word is for those who are not yet saved or those who have not responded before. But they are for whomever the Spirit prods. I love the refrain, the chorus, of the hymn I have been referencing throughout today’s Bible study:
“I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in His arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, oh, there are ten thousand charms.”
Know this, beloved Sojourner, the beauty of invitations to come to Christ lie not in the offer. They lie in what we find when we truly come to Him. He is the reward. He is our hope. He is our help. He will surely save.
So, I urge you: come to Him.
This is your time.
 “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” — Jean Jacques Rousseau | Joseph Hart © Words & Music: Public Domain