By Spencer D Gear
News! News! All the news! The latest news! The oldest news! Good news! Bad news! You get the most in-depth news coverage by tuning into this news.
It is not Channel 7 national news. I’m not speaking about ABC radio news. You won’t get it on 60 minutes, A Current Affair, Today Tonight, or the 7.30 Report. This is not The Courier-Mail, The Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age or Time magazine. This is the most in-depth news you need to live your life. I’m speaking about the news in Col. 1:21-23. These three verses read in the New International Version:
21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But 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— 23if 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.
A. Let’s place this passage in context in Colossians 1
Paul has just written one of the most magnificent proclamations of the superiority of Jesus Christ. Just before he launches into today’s subject, Paul gives us the HEADLINE news in vv. 19-20.
There are three HEADLINES in the one article that tell us who Jesus is:
- Main headline:
God’s fullness dwells in him (v. 19).
Jesus is fully God. It’s a similar expression to Col. 2:9, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”
- Second headline:
Even though this is a wicked, hostile world, Christ will eventually reconcile all things to himself in heaven and on earth (v. 20).
- Third headline:
How come? There will be permanent peace through Christ’s shed blood on the cross (v. 20).
This is the backdrop (context of the passage): The God-man, Jesus Christ, provides reconciliation and peace through his blood shed through death.
Now we come to Colossians 1:21-23.
B. What’s the message of this passage in a nutshell? (Proposition)
Paul wants to get through to the Colossians and to us: The gospelproclaimed is in-depth news. This is the most in-depth news you will ever discover about human beings. To be in-depth news,
II. Firstly, the gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news story (v. 21).
In vv. 21-23, we have a brief outline of some essential content of the Gospel. Please notice this in-depth news begins with bad news (v 21).
A. The bad news is this:
All people are in a fixed state of being alienated from God. They are born as rebel sinners, whose allegiance is transferred to the devil himself. This alienation from God is not just for those in deepest darkest Africa. It describes all people in deepest, darkest, open and transparent Hervey Bay – they may be dressed in businessmen’s suits, teachers, school children , truck drivers, mothers and fathers, children.
All of the Colossians and all of us were “alienated from God” before we came to Christ in repentance, confession and faith. But the situation gets even worse. You were:
Where is this hatred located according to Col. 1:21? You were “enemies in your minds.” For all people, in their thinking they are enemies of God before they come to Christ.
Notice what happens with all ungodly people. When they hate God in their minds, it results in “evil behavior” (v. 21).
We know that God reveals himself to all people through creation: (the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands, Ps. 19:1-4). God reveals himself to all people through conscience: (Rom. 2:14-15).
What do we do with this knowledge? Romans 1:18-19 explains, “The godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (NIV).
Do you see the vicious cycle for all unbelievers?
God reveals himself in creation and conscience (leads to) ð we are enemies of God in our minds
we hold down (suppress) the truth of God
we do evil deeds
God continues to reveal himself
we think hostile things
we suppress the truth
we commit all kinds of wickedness.
And the merry go round goes on and on UNTIL God intervenes in our lives with the GOOD NEWS.
It bothers me when this BAD news is toned down or only part of the story is told. Why don’t you examine your favourite method of presenting the Gospel and see how much emphasis it places on the BAD news. It surprised me when I examined some of these methods.
The in-depth, bad news, according to Col. 1:21, is this: All unbelievers are:
ø Alienated from God;
ø Enemies in their minds, and
ø Commit evil behaviour.
“Louis Blanc, French socialist . . . historian [journalist and politician of the 19th century],, said shortly before his execution, ‘When I was an infant, I rebelled against my nurse. When I was a child, I rebelled against my teachers. When I was a young man, I rebelled against my mother and father. When I reached a mature age, I rebelled against the state. When I die, if there is a heaven and a God, I’ll rebel against them.”
That’s about as blatant a statement as you could get. But that’s the state of all people as far as God is concerned.
How can we apply this today?
What does God require of you to reflect this biblical principle in your life?
When you share the gospel, you must include the BAD news;
I counsel rebel youth, abusive parents, and marriages that are falling apart at the seams. The BAD news tells me what is going on.
We cannot understand Iraq, Iran, persecution of 200 million Christians worldwide, Afghanistan, Bali, Sept. 11, without understanding the BAD news.
You won’t understand adultery, the push for homosexuality, use of illicit drugs, Governments that legislate immorality through prostitution, abortion and euthanasia, without understanding the BAD news.
Brothers and sisters in Christ! There’s a very important phrase that is found at the beginning of the BAD NEWS in Col. 1:21: “Once you were.” It reminds me of I Cor. 6:11, “And that is what some of you were.”
To be in-depth news , the gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news story – once you were. But also . . .
III. The gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news story (v. 22).
“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.”
v. 21 begins, “Once you were . . .”
Notice how v. 22 begins, “But now. . .”
A radical change comes when Christ enters your life. The ONCE bad situation becomes the NOW good situation.
A. The good news is that “now he has reconciled you” (v. 22).
- What incredible good news that is! You who were once enemies in our mind that led to your evil behaviour. You are now reconciled to God if you have come to God in repentance and faith.
- This word for “reconciled” appears only 3 times in the NT. Col. 1:20, 22 (here) and Eph. 2:16. It is not Paul’s usual word for “reconcile” [katallassÇ] that is used in verses such as 2 Cor. 5:17-20 and Rom. 5:10. But it is a closely related word.
Many of you will be familiar with 2 Cor. 5:17-20:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
Here in Col. 1:22, Paul attaches a preposition, apo, to the regular word for reconciliation in 2 Cor. 5 & Rom. 5, katallasso. Clearly he wants to communicate “the idea of complete reconciliation.” Reconciliation means: to change from being an enemy to being a friend. It suggests that rebellious enemies of God submit to God and are now in harmony with God himself.
In Col. 1: 20 we are told what this “complete reconciliation”
involves: “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.”
Through Christ’s death
“all things” will be reconciled to God. That includes the entire universe. The universe being out of harmony reminds us of Rom. 8:19-23.
The good news is that you were once hostile enemies towards God, have moved from enemy status to friendship with God — reconciled by “Christ’s physical body through death” (v. 22). “Physical body” (NIV) is literally, “body of flesh.”
It seems strange to us that Paul would use this redundant expression “physical body through death.” Physical death always includes the death of the physical body. Why would Paul mention it like this? Probably because he was addressing false teaching being promoted by the Colossian Gnostic heretics. They were teaching that reconciliation could only happen through spiritual (angelic) beings. Paul was stirred by the danger to the Colossians of false teaching of the Gnostics.
According to Col. 1:22, it was “Christ’s physical body through death” that reconciled believers to God.
How can Christ’s physical death lead to reconciliation of enemies with the holy God?
In other religions, it is the human being who does all he or she can to appease, turn aside the wrath of the gods. This is not the way it is with the law of God in Christianity. To turn away the wrath of almighty God and be reconciled with God, it takes the initiative of God himself. That’s why 2 Cor. 5:19 declares, ” God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
The good news is that now he has reconciled you as believers. Also
B. According to v. 22, The good news is that Christ’s death, “presents you
holy in God’s sight,
without blemish, and
free from accusation.”
How can this be? How can you and I be holy, without blemish and free from accusation before God when we KNOW that we sin after we become Christians. We are not goody two-shoes and sinlessly perfect. Well, I’m not! Please consult my wife and children.
Yet, God says that when we are reconciled with God we are holy, without blemish and free from accusation. How does that happen? I’m glad you asked.
It would be pretty natural to think that this holiness without blemish and free from accusation would only happen when we get to heaven when we will no longer be infected with sin.
Not so, says Paul. This is what Christ has done for the Colossians and all believers in reconciling them with God. “He brought them into his presence, no longer as [unholy], stained by sin, and bearing the burden of guilt; but ‘holy’ and ‘without blemish and free from accusation.'”
This is the message of imputation, which seems to be foreign language to us today, but a core Bible teaching. Because of Christ’s death, the believer is legally declared before God to be:
holy = in consecration and dedication;
“without blemish” translates “a technical sacrificial term (anomous), [that] was used of animals that were without flaw and therefore worthy of being offered to God.” Believer, before God you are declared as being without a sinful flaw – legally before God.
You are also “free from accusation” by God for your sinful, rebellious, hostile attitudes and actions towards God.
Paul could not be referring to your and my personal behaviour NOW because our actions are not always holy and without blemish. There has never been nor will there ever be a Christian who is sinlessly perfect and without blemish in actual conduct. Paul is speaking about our legal standing before God because we are in Christ. We are “holy, without blemish, and free from accusation” legally with God.
It’s another way of saying what he told the Corinthians: “2 Cor. 5:21 (ESV), “For our sake he made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Christian friend, by Christ’s physical death you, who were once hostile enemies in your mind, have been reconciled with God and declared to be holy, blameless and free from accusation.
In Yorkshire in England there is a picture at Catterick Camp, “which shows a signaler lying dead in no-man’s land. He had been sent out to repair a cable that had been broken by [gun] fire. And there he lies, cold in death, but with his task accomplished, for in his stiffened hands he holds the broken ends together. Beneath the picture is the one word, ‘Through.’
Let’s apply this to us today:
What does God now require of you, the reconciled? You who have been declared holy, spotless and without a guilty accusation. How can we be silent? The good news is that you must be people who proclaim the good news of reconciliation through Christ.
Where? Make opportunities. Take opportunities. This is incredible good news that the guilty can have no charge against them before God. Don’t you need to share that news with your boss, your neighbour, your enemy? What will you do this week to share such incredible good news of reconciliation?
To be in-depth news,
Firstly, the Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news – we are hostile enemies towards God;
Secondly, the Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news of reconciliation and declared righteous.
Then comes a statement that is somewhat unexpected in this context. Thirdly…
IV. The gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news story (v. 23).
A. The continuing news is that you must continue in your faith for it to be good news and for your salvation.
This seems like a most unusual emphasis when Paul is giving instructions about the Gospel being proclaimed. We can understand the need for the BAD news, although we tend to want to downplay that aspect. We know we need the GOOD news of reconciliation with God and righteousness by legal standing. But why this emphasis on “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”
Paul faced the problem in his day. We face it today in the church worldwide. One “major denomination in the United States . . . disclosed it obtained an incredible 294,784 decisions for Christ in 1990. Yet, in 1991, it could only find 14,337 in a Christian fellowship. There were 280,447 decisions that couldn’t be accounted for. The leadership had no clue as to why this happened, but could only conclude, ‘Something is wrong!’
“The trend continued. In August 1996 a leading U.S. denomination revealed that during 1995 it secured 384,057 decisions, but retained only 22,983 in fellowship. It couldn’t account for 361,074 supposed conversions.”
Charles E. Hackett, the Division of Home Missions National Director for a large denomination in the USA said: “A soul at the altar does not generate much excitement in some circles because we realise approximately 95 out of every 100 will not become integrated into the church. In fact, most of them will not return for a second visit.”
This phenomenon is not unique to the US. A pastor in Boulder, Colorado sent a team to Russia in 1991 and there were 2,500 decisions. The next year they found only 30 persevering in their faith. In Leeds, England, a visiting US speaker said that there were 400 decisions for a local church. However, six weeks later only two were going on, and they eventually fell away.
“A pastor who travelled to India every year since 1980 [said] he saw 80,000 decision cards stacked in a hut in the city of Rajamundry, the ‘results’ of past evangelistic crusades. But he maintained that one would be fortunate to find even 80 Christians in the entire city. That is one tenth of one percent.”
Paul to the Colossians wrote that this is the gospel that you heard, “If you continue in your faith”. One of the great Bible teachers of the last century, F. F. Bruce, wrote about this verse: “If the Bible teaches the final perseverance of the saints, it also teaches that the saints are those who finally persevere – in Christ. Continuance is the test of reality.”
Perhaps these Colossians were beginning to wane in their faith and there was danger of their slipping back, so there was the need for this exhortation.
The gospel of continuing faith, according to v. 23, means that you are:
- “Established” – suggesting that your faith is secure when it on the rock of continuing salvation.
- You are “firm” (literally, “settled”), shows that you have a “steady and firm resolve” to continue in the faith.
Hebrews 3:6 (ESV) states: “but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”
We see a similar emphasis on the need to hold fast to hope in passages such as Heb. 6:11; 10:23; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 John 3:3.
Never let us forget that continuing in the faith – genuine perseverance – is not something that is done in our own strength. Jesus made that very clear in John 15:5, “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” (ESV).
Let’s apply this to us today:
Since Col. 1:23 is an essential to the Gospel, when you share Christ with people, urge them to continue in the faith. The real test of faith in Christ is continuing to trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Never say, “Give Jesus a go!”
“Just believe,” is not the Gospel. “Raise your hand and ask Jesus into your heart” is not the Gospel. Getting back to the core Gospel is long overdue. According to Col. 1:21-23, this means:
The Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news;
The Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news;
The Gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news, and
V. Fourthly, The gospel proclaimed must be newsworthy here in Queensland AND around the world (v. 23).
The theme of these three verses in Colossians is stated clearly in the NIV translation of v. 23, “This is the gospel that you heard.” Please note what Paul goes on to say. This Gospel is to be proclaimed around the world.
A. This most newsworthy story that was proclaimed at Colossae was by Paul, a servant of this gospel (v. 23).
B. This most newsworthy story must be proclaimed around the world (v. 23).
In fact Paul says that this gospel “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (v. 23). How on earth was it possible that Paul, in the days before airline travel, radio, TV, newspapers and the Internet, could proclaim the gospel “in all creation under heaven” (ESV)?
Perhaps this was Paul’s way of saying that the Gospel had been “heard in all the great centres of the [Roman] Empire.” Maybe Paul was using hyperbole (exaggeration). We do know from Rom. 15:19-23 that Paul preached from Jerusalem to Rome and that it was his ambition “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that [he] would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20).
This is a basic outline of the gospel that Paul preached. Is this the total gospel content? No! There is no mention of confession, repentance, receiving Christ “by grace through faith” when the Gospel is preached (see Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:9-10).
In our day of biblical ignorance, there is a need for the biblical plot-line as in Colossians to be proclaimed with Gospel presentations. Sadly, most secular people and many in the church don’t understand the major themes of the Bible – the plot-line of the biblical story.
I support the evangelist who preached an outreach series at the University of Durham in the UK. He understood the problem we face with temporary conversion. He preached 8 messages through the first 8 chapters of the Book of Romans (he was not a D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who took 13 years to preach through Romans, one sermon a week). The plot-line of the Durham University presentation
“Introduced [students] to God, Creation, the nature of sin and law, the place of the atonement in God’s redemptive purposes, the nature of grace and faith, justification, and the gift of the Spirit, and ultimately the hope of a new heaven and a new earth.”
I recommend this Aussie evangelistic tool, “2 Ways to Live,” that presents Christ in six steps:
1. God – the loving ruler and creator,
2. Humanity in rebellion,
3. God won’t let people keep rebelling forever,
4. Jesus – the Man who dies for rebels,
5. Jesus – the risen ruler,
Let’s make an application to us:
Will you take or make the opportunity this week to share the Gospel? With your friend, neighbour, perhaps a stranger you meet somewhere. Please do NOT take up the boss’s time by sharing the Gospel in working hours with a work mate. That is cheating the boss.
What will you do about God’s call, through Paul, to present the BAD news of people being enemies of God, hostile in the mind? Make sure you include the GOOD news of reconciliation to God through Christ. Never forget that this Gospel is for those who CONTINUE in the faith.
I call upon you to forever give up the cheap Gospel. Don’t proclaim Gospel L-I-T-E.
Malcolm Muggeridge died in 1990. He was the famous British author, media personality and journalist, who became a Christian late in life. He “once told of working as a journalist in India as a young man. One evening he walked down to the river for a swim. As he entered the water, he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come for her evening bath. Muggeridge immediately felt the allurement of the moment, and he was besieged by temptation. He had lived with this kind of temptation all his adult life, but until this moment he had fought it off out of respect for his wife Kitty. But tonight, he was weak and vulnerable. He hesitated just a moment, then swam furiously across the river toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience. But when he was just a few [metres] away from her, he emerged from the water and what he saw took his breath away. She wasn’t a beautiful young maiden, but old and hideous, with wrinkled skin, and worst of all, she was a leper. He said later, ‘The creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask.’ Muggeridge muttered, ‘What a dirty lecherous woman!’ But as he swam away from her, a sudden shock gripped him, ‘It wasn’t just the woman who was dirty and lecherous,’ he said. ‘It was my own heart.'”
Muggeridge was once a sceptic of Christianity and even denied the resurrection of Christ. In the later part of his life he became fully convinced of the resurrection of Christ and wrote the book: Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975).
All of us are dirty and lecherous – lustful.
- The Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news about Malcolm Muggeridge and all of us. We are/were wilful, hostile enemies of God.
- The Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news – reconciliation with God because of Christ’s death that declares us holy, without blemish and free from accusation;
- The Gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news – you have salvation if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the fundamental doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
- This gospel proclaimed is the in-depth, in-depth news for Hervey Bay and around the world.
Let us pray.
- Thank you, Lord, for declaring our true state before you. We are sinners, alienated from you and we suppress your truth.
- Thank you for the good news that we can be reconciled to you through Christ’s death if we repent and confess our sin to you.
- We praise you that by repentance and faith, we are declared holy in your sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
- That’s what we are legally before you, God, when we repent.
- In our progressive sanctification, help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Saviour.
- Thank you for giving us the daily strength to continue to persevere in our faith.
 Christian lawyer, Bernie Koerselman, says that “years ago I began to suspect that one of the evidences of fraud in the presentation of the gospel is the high percentage of people who quickly desert the church after having ‘made a commitment.'” He says, “Ray Comfort’s book, Bride of Heaven, Pride of Hell confirmed my suspicions. Ray quotes statistics.” The following statistical details are in Bernie Koerselman, “Fraud & Deceit in the presentation of the gospel.” Vanguard, February 2000, p. 5.
 F. F. Bruce, “Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians,” in E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F. F. Bruce, gen. ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1957, p. P. 213
 The fly-leaf of the dust jack to the hardback edition of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans:Exposition of Chapter1, The Gospel of God. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985, states: “Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Romans, the major work of his mid-week ministry in London, occupied him from 1955 until 1968. Throughout these years, no other event in the calendar of evangelicals was comparable to Friday night at Westminster Chapel.”
 When I preached this message, a knowledgeable Christian objected to my use of Malcolm Muggeridge (see what follows), claiming that he doubted Muggeridge’s conversion as he did not believe in the resurrection of Christ. I have since checked, “Malcolm Muggeridge’s Conversion Story”, available at: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/01/malcolm-muggeridges-conversion-story.html (Accessed 26 January 2007). Here it is recorded that in 1966, Muggeridge stated: ” I don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, I don’t believe that he was the son of God in a Christian sense.” This quote has the endnote, Hunter, Ian, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980, p. 225. However, John Ankerberg and John Weldon wrote in, ‘The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Part I—Can It Persuade Skeptics?”
Among great literary writers, few can match the brilliance of famous author Malcolm Muggeridge. He, too, was once a skeptic of Christianity. But near the end of his life he became fully convinced of the truth of the Resurrection of Christ, writing a book acclaimed by critics, Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975; HarperCollins 1984). He wrote, “The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history….” and “What is unique about Jesus is that, on the testimony and in the experience of innumerable people, of all sorts and conditions, of all races and nationalities from the simplest and most primitive to the most sophisticated and cultivated, he remains alive.” Muggeridge concludes, “That the Resurrection happened… seems to be indubitably true” and “Either Jesus never was or he still is….with the utmost certainty, I assert he still is”, available at: http://www.johnankerberg.com/Articles/ATRJ/truth/ATRJ1203-EVPDF/ATRJ1203-EV-1.pdf (Accessed 26 January 2007)
 According to dictionary.com, “lecherous” means lustful, erotically suggestive, inciting to lust. Available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/lecherous (Accessed 2 October 2010).
 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes: The Ultimate Contemporary Resource for Speakers. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, “Muggeridge in India,” p. 751.
Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.