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. (Col. 1:21–22)
Christians are often reminded in Scripture of their sin so they might more readily appreciate the grace they have received. For example, in Colossians 1:21 Paul informs the Christians in Colossae who they were apart from Christ before he encourages them in 1:22 by reminding them of who they now are in Christ.
The purpose of informing the Colossians of who they were was so that they might appreciate more who they now are by God’s grace. Who we were by nature was damnable, while who we are by grace would be unbelievable, if it weren’t proclaimed by the trustworthy, eternal Word of God.
The Initiative of God in Salvation
One thinks of the destitute state we were in apart from Christ: alienated, hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Col. 1:21). What is the solution? How do we ever get out of this eternal mess? Mankind was cast out of the garden. We are barred from His presence, stand as His enemies, and can’t even approach Him. The pronouns of Colossians 1:22 give the answer: “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” (emphasis added). He, His, Him—the answer is God. Herein resides the majesty of the gospel: the grieved One, the offended party, takes the initiative to reconcile. But He does not simply take the initiative; He accomplishes the whole of our salvation. God leaves nothing undone. Hostility needed to be removed, satisfaction needed to be made, and righteousness needed to be upheld so that there might be reconciliation. And it has been done in the only possible way—by Him.
God does not sit back and wait for people to approach Him. Though we are the guilty party and the cause of the hostility is on our side, the ability to reconcile ourselves to God isn’t. Therefore, the holy God doesn’t look for us to take the first tentative, apologetic step because it will never come. It isn’t in us. It isn’t possible and proves to be eternally elusive. Your neighbor never will do it. I will never do it. And you never will do it. Thus, the grieved Creator does the unfathomable, the offended God, the Lord of all, the Holy One moves toward us. He decrees, He acts, and He accomplishes all that is necessary for reconciliation between the holy God and sinful people.
Love, Justice, and Costly Grace
He does not reconcile us by simply moving from loving us to forgiving us. Some argue that for God to truly be love, He must move from love to forgiveness. But this ignores the reality that God must also remain just. He cannot and will not act contrary to His own nature. God will not, cannot forsake His own righteousness—even to save sinners.
No, He must uphold justice even as He exercises grace and forgiveness. Herein lies the amazing reality that rattles the cosmos with astonishment: God in the person of His Son reconciles us in the body of His flesh by death (Col. 1:22). Reconciliation is purchased by the Son’s death. Here the Christian stands on firm ground because our salvation is rooted and grounded in the historical fact that the Son of God bled and died for us. Therefore, reconciliation is assured, as assured as the Son of God is righteous.
We easily speak about our salvation being free in Christ. And that is true. Let us yell that truth from the rafters. But it is only free on our side of the equation. Our salvation cost God greatly. For Him to uphold His standard of righteousness and to forgive our sin required the perfect Son of God to become sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21) and to receive our due penalty. We receive much from Him who it cost much from. In fact, we receive all from Him whom it cost all. Our reconciliation is not cheap. The peace we enjoy with God was not bought with trifles. It couldn’t be, because of what we were and who God eternally is. Oh, that we might have a greater understanding of who we were apart from Christ so that we might more readily appreciate who we now are in Christ.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on April 13, 2018.