Colossians 1:13–14 (ESV): 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
A problem with our theology today is that we have made the Gospel all about us. While we may decry those who teach a salvation that is similar to fire insurance, we may also present a picture of the Good News that is much smaller and less encompassing than it truly is.
When John the Baptist began his ministry, he preached, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Matthew 3:2 (ESV). Likewise, when Jesus began his ministry he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Matthew 4:17 (ESV).
Notice the different emphasis than what is often preached today. Did Jesus say, “Repent, because your life has no eternal purpose”? Did he teach “Confess your sins because you are going to Hell”? Yes, both of these statements are true for the unbeliever. But do these statements accurately represent the focus of Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministry?
Yes, oftentimes we will preach about getting ready because we are in the last days. We encourage people to turn from sin so they will not be left behind to suffer during the Great Tribulation when God brings judgment on the world and Satan rules over earth with few limitations. This is a valid reason for people to consider their ways and turn to God, but does this represent the meaning of Jesus’ challenge to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand?
When Jesus said that the kingdom of God was at hand, he was telling the people that the rule of God was near, and that they needed to surrender themselves fully to God’s plan for the world. You see, beginning with Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden, the world has been in rebellion against God and part of the kingdom of Satan. Christ came to rescue us from that dark domain of sin and slavery and give us freedom and hope.
Paul painted a vivid word picture in Colossians 1:12-14 as he reflected the Gospel. In verse 12, he pictured the saints – the people of God – as living in light. Then he wrote: 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son Colossians 1:13 (ESV). In our sin, we were like soldiers of an evil kingdom, blinded in our hearts and minds as to the wickedness of our ruler and our own actions.
Jesus Christ came to rescue us, even though we were actively his enemies, revealing to us our sinfulness and slavery to sin, enabling us to defect from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of heaven. The result of that defection, along with our recognition and repentance of sins, is redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ blood, shed on our behalf, purchases our freedom from the domain of darkness and gives us an inheritance with the saints in light!
The Gospel, understood in this way, is not merely about “getting saved so you don’t go to Hell”, even though this is a major benefit of the Good News. Rather, the Gospel is about the kingdom of God coming into this world. The Gospel releases us from captivity to sin and Satan, and restores us, making us new creations in Christ Jesus who share hope, life, freedom, and restoration to others.
What amazing good news this is! In sin we were trapped. We had no goodness within us that could make us fit to be near God. We had no way of escape, no hope. But God came to us. He took the the first step! And because he did, life will never be the same for us.
We no longer belong to sin, Satan, or this world. Our citizenship has been transferred. Our allegiances have changed. We wear robes of white instead of the garb of darkness.
Is this clarification of the Gospel a splitting of hairs?
I don’t think so. When we teach a salvation that is all about “us” – be saved so you don’t go to Hell – I am afraid we do a disservice to both God and the unbeliever. God’s salvation is for the person who is ready to forsake their sin and become his obedient follower. The person who only wants assurance of not going to Hell is truly focused only on their own needs and concerns. Yes, the sinner praying to accept Christ is not making as deep a commitment as what we see the believer making when he or she is entirely sanctified. But the divorce of Christ’s lordship from Christ’s salvation is unbiblical.
In fact, this kind of cheap grace seems to dominate the understanding of too many about the Gospel. As long as they have said a prayer or have been baptized with water at some point in their life, some feel they are saved and alright with God – even if their life does not show consistent evidence of salvation. I am reminded of the “half Christians” of early American history. Such belief and lifestyle is dangerous – it gives false hope to those who are deluded by it and it creates disillusionment in those looking on, who see hypocrisy instead of holiness.
And so I would argue that we desperately need an understanding of a Gospel in which the rule of God breaks into our world, redeeming us from sin and dramatically changing us from being captive soldiers of darkness to free soldiers of the Light.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your great grace that rescues us from the domain of darkness, transferring us to your kingdom. Thank you for saving us from sin. Help us to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, even while we physically abide in this world. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.