A Story of Separation and Salvation

In the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul restates the Christian story with the following statement in Colossians 1.21-23:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  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– if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.  This the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.  (Taken from the New International Version, 2011)

It’s a story of separation and salvation.  The Colossians were once a people alienated from God (separation) who now were reconciled (salvation) to God through the death of Jesus Christ.

As good as this story is, it apparently was difficult for them to believe.  Someone(s) among the Colossians was doing their best to convince this church that God’s sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ on the cross was insufficient for their salvation.  There are not many details given regarding what has traditionally been labeled the “Colossian Heresy.”  What is known is that it involved believers submitting themselves to the observance of certain religious rules regarding food and festivals (Col 2.16ff).

The Apostle Paul wants the Colossians to know that Jesus Christ is fully sufficient for their reconciliation with God.  The language Paul uses is pretty specific.  In v. 22, they are told that God “has reconciled” which is in the past tense (aorist tense for NT Greek readers).  It’s not that their reconciliation is fully experienced, as hinted by the infinitive “to present”, but that God has already rendered a decision in Jesus Christ on the cross regarding their reconciliation (see Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 106).  Therefore the Colossians don not have any need for any other than Christ.  They do not need Christ plus…  But can they accept that?  Can they have faith in the decision God has made in Christ or will they turn also to some  additional “spiritual” advise?

That’s a question we who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ must ask ourselves as well.  Will we have faith in the decision God has made for us in Christ or will we turn to an additional spiritual/religious offering in addition to Christ?  Or to put it another way, can we allow the story of separation and salvation to be our complete story or must we believe their is still a separation that needs Christ plus _________ to bring about salvation?

In a subsequent post, I’ll discuss ways in which Christians are still tempted to take a “Christ plus…” option.  But for now we really need to wrestle with the stunning and glorious claim of the gospel…to believe that we have been reconciled with God by the death of Jesus Christ, that we can stand before God washed in the blood of Jesus as people who are holy and blameless.

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5 responses to “A Story of Separation and Salvation

  1. this is a great post, rex. as always.

    here is where im having a problem– “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. ”

    the “IF”. you are only reconciled if?

    who does this if all the time? maybe there are people that are continually “established and firm” in their faith, but i don’t know any of them, and i know for a fact i myself am not one of them. this is where i run into a lot of doubt in my own walk. i am not an unwavering stalwart for Christ. and i don’t think i will ever be one, if im honest.

    there are times when my love for Him is so deep and profound that words do not express my gratitude, peace and complete awe of His glory and unyielding love, and i am moved to tears. there are also times (like now) where i refuse to even pray. i don’t just forget or get consumed with busyness, i refuse. i don’t even trust Him with my words, and definitely not my heart. and worship? i would feel like a hypocrite even singing words of praises in His name. at best, i utter a single “mercy”. or a “why?”. and that is literally all i have. that certainly doesn’t sound like an “established and firm” believer who “doesn’t move from the hope held out in the gospel” to me.

    yet i am a believer. a baptized one. one who even went to a church for 5 years who didn’t use musical instruments. (i add this because surely i get an extra check mark in the “you made yourself unnecessarily miserable for christ” column). beyond this (and more importantly), i believe in the goodness and love of God and his sacrifice for us. i even believe that trial and hardship purify and direct your heart and course toward Him and are for your ultimate good.. i’ve experienced this.

    but what about the times where you are so ANGRY with God because of the trials and pain you endure yourself and also ones you love? when you see the person you love destroyed by the effects of war? when you see their heart, mind and spirit blacken, and their eyes deaden because of their sight and deed, and their self condemnation for it. the literal destruction of a person– God sanctioned. or the aftermath of death or an abusive childhood/relationship/fill in the blank?–God sanctioned. the lies and shame and gossip spread that turns friends into enemies and separates brothers/sisters in Christ.– God sanctioned. Genocide and rape.– God sanctioned. i could go on……..

    what then? it makes for a torn heart at best. at least in my case. My point in all of this: what about our salvation then? what if i were to die today feeling all of this on my heart? It sure isn’t love for God’s word or mercy or sovereignty that i feel… it’s more anger and confusion. a questioning of His intentions. i identify with the colossions, as i was not brought up in a christian home and was once “alienated” from God. well, what happens after you find him (or rather He finds you), you taste the gift that only the cross brings and then life happens and your road aint so paved? Does that make your salvation an “if” ?

    • Jen,

      First off, when I read your comment my first thought was that you have a stronger faith in God than you realize. There are certainly times in life when we experience grief and disappointments that leave us angry with God…and even at times unable to pray. I know what this is like because I went through it after my oldest son passed away.

      From a biblical standpoint, books like Job and the various lament Psalms (e.g., Ps 22, 42 & 43, 77, 88, 142, 143…to name a few) not only give us permission to be angry with God but also give us language that expresses that “complaint” (the meaning of lament) in very candid terms. I don’t think that having such anger and disappointment is a lack of faithfulness or in any way means that our salvation is in jeopardy. In fact, your comment reflects a profound faith in God because your anger and disappointment with God is actually an acknowledgement that God could do something about it…which is why we become angry and disappointed. God, in his sovereign providence, could do something about suffering but for some unknown reason, he has, at the very least, allowed it.

      In regards to the conditional statement of Colossians 1.23, the condition is about not turning to other sources to try achieve salvation. For example, the condition is about living our life in Christ (2.6) with the faith that God has reconciled you to himself in Christ rather than living in submission to some other philosophy (2.8) that dictate what can and cannot be tasted and touched (2.20-22) as though your salvation/reconciliation with God depends on that philosophy in addition to Christ. In my next post, I’ll point out ways in which I believe this is done in our contemporary culture.

      I hope that helps you understand the point of Colossians 1.21-23 more and helps you in your own faith. More importantly, I hope you know that you are a beloved child of God. I am sorry for the struggles you are experiencing. I wish it were different but with you, I hope in Christ for the day when he comes again and suffering will be no more. Thank you for your faith…it is inspiring.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. Is salvation primarily a decision of God’s will, Theletist-based, or is it ontological- a change in the nature of our being? In our Tradition we opt for the latter. When we are united to Christ in baptism, He imparts the Eternal life of Christ into our hearts, our spirits, and we become different creatures, not justified by a legal decision on God’s part, but by a change in our being that is the fruit of our union with Christ. Any legally justifying ‘word’ or ‘decision’ is posterior to that. Salvation is imparted, and not imputed. Being made righteous is ontological and not forensic.
    In that way the Orthodox Tradition is similar to the Tradtional Wesleyan in the West.

    • Ben,

      I’m not sure what you mean by “Theletist-based” salvation. As for salvation being ontological…if you are meaning tranformation in a theosis sense, I would say yes. I would not want to reduce the picture of salvation to simply being justified (in a forensic sense) or being reconciled. There is too much scripture regarding sanctification and such to reduce salvation a singular beginning point. There is a beginning point, hence the aorist tense of “reconciled” in v. 22. But a fuller biblical picture seems to warrant describing salvation in past, present, and future tense.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  3. Pingback: A “Christ Plus” Faith « Kingdom Seeking

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